Sep 092015

I am slightly surprised, but nevertheless delighted, that this site appears to rank No. 1 for search terms surrounding ‘Divide and Rule’. I am surprised because ‘Divide and Rule’ is such a widespread cliché and it appears almost everywhere in casual writing about Indian history. So why here? I have only mentioned it in one article. But I am most surprised because I have long considered the whole ‘Divide and Rule’ explanation within Indian history as a broad myth, adopted for modern convenience by several sections of the Indian public and intelligentsia. My view is then, perforce, a minority opinion. If more people come here to read about it, then surprise must yield to frank astonishment.

This discovery has led me to look at some of the other material across the web on this subject, and further surprises awaited. I found two serious articles, written coherently and with accurate supporting detail, also arguing that the supposed British policy of Divide and Rule is/was a myth. One, here, takes a Muslim point of view, and maintains that belief in a supposed Divide and Rule policy serves to discredit the reality of the demand for Pakistan, and underplays the degree of Hindu/Congress intransigence about concessions to minorities. Another, here, is written from an Indian nationalist stance and does not seem to support any obvious agenda, despite appearing in a publication that supports right wing Hindu opinion.

My own chief objections to the Divide and Rule idea is that it ignores all the relevant information against the existence of such a policy and invents a good deal of the evidence used to support its alleged reality. It is a simple imputation of malice against the British, in a rather unrealistic way. Why? My guess is that it is simply to mask the chief weakness of the Indian National Congress’s campaign for independence, which was a pervasive lack of unity among the population of India. This lack of (political) unity was actually a long term factor, which originally aided the British intruders, and remained a debilitating weakness in all attempts to be rid of British rule.

It is a straightforwardly political historical point of view, closely allied to Congress ideology and interests. It comes freighted with the idea that India has always been a unified entity, and that the arrival of the British destroyed this. Two myths right there, in a row. A valid counter-argument might be that when the British finally left, various strands of disunity remained, and did not disappear, as the main Congress ideologues had promised. But here the self-perpetuating ability of conspiracy theories comes to the fore. Of course the division was so effectively done that it has proved irreparable, and the fact that various divisions still persist is conclusive proof that the original policy not only existed but was brilliantly effective.

Crediting one’s enemies with superhuman powers often goes along with ascribing inhuman vices to them too, but neither is ever a very credible approach, and both risk producing potentially damaging consequences among those willing to believe them. Impotence is the most obvious, but an inability to see plain realities is another.

At another level, Divide and Rule sloganeering might be countered by saying that the degree of unity in pre-colonial India has always been greatly exaggerated for political reasons, and that this often coincides with a similar willingness to exaggerate the degree of division in contemporary India. As such the Divide and Rule myth looks rather like an unfortunate amalgam of misplaced historical national consciousness coupled with populist pessimism about modern India. Both seem quite unwarranted, and surely neither can be of any real help to Indians today.

 Posted by at 11:47 am

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