It’s been 71 years since India became independent. In this time, the country has experienced a whirlwind of events, from violence (communal riots and terror attacks) to moments of pride (the Mars Orbiter Mission).
But no discussion on independent India is complete without addressing partition, the carving of a large part of erstwhile India to create Pakistan and Bangladesh. Tensions, rivalry and antagonism between India and Pakistan originated with partition and have continued till date.
While the aftereffects of partition are living history, one wonders what would have been if India had not been partitioned at all. How different would our lives be if Pakistan was still a part of India? What would the politics and economy look like?
Partition has had several obvious economic disadvantages, including the size of the workforce, territorial and maritime claims, and the ability to extend eco-political power relative to what could have been.
One of the most notable aspects of the pre-colonisation period of Indian history is the economic prosperity the country had seen. India was one of the biggest exporters in the continent (if not the entire world), having a GDP higher than Western economies. However, during the exploiting period of British colonisation, India’s economy faltered, with the India’s share of world share falling from 27% to 2%.
Had India continued on the path of agricultural specialisation and domination in international trade, it would’ve been a pioneer in advanced agrarian technology too. The Green Revolution came to India as late as the 1960s, despite the country having the specialisation since the 19th century. But British colonialism robbed India of the chance of becoming an agrarian and innovation powerhouse.
Any chance of a quick return to prosperous times was made difficult by partition, not least due to the loss of territory; today, the agricultural sector accounts for 24% of Pakistan’s GDP and 19.6% of Bangladesh’s GDP.
Another advantage of an un-divided India would have been the extended maritime borders.
Bangladesh’s maritime claims are roughly the size of their land area, while Pakistan has an offshore territory of 290,000 sqkm. Such an offshore presence would’ve certainly strengthened India’s ability to conduct maritime trade, increasing its geo-political standing.
An un-divided India—as opposed to the festering India-Pakistan rivalry—would have prevented the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), one of the initiators of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. The Belt and Road Initiative has become the fundamental instrument through which China is strengthening its presence in its immediate neighbourhood and beyond.
But an un-India, free of neighbourhood conflict, would have perhaps realised its potential as a superpower, at least enough to counter or surpass China.
Homogenous economic development
The Kashmir issue has long been a point of contention between India and Pakistan, and it has in fact dominated domestic politics. The tussle in the state has prevented a homogenous development of the nation. Today, Delhi has a GDP five times larger than that of Jammu and Kashmir, despite being 150th the size. Such is the inequality in economic development. If India has remained unpartitioned, the issue perhaps wouldn’t have existed.
Political and cultural impact
Ties with other countries, the way we perceive politics in totality and the development of radicalism would have been vastly different had the partition not taken place.
Culturally, the undivided nation would have seen rising tolerance and acceptance of differences, while preserving several cultural elements.
Politicisation of religion
One of the biggest impacts of the partition was the politicisation of religion. The British perfected the art of ‘divide and rule’, setting the stage for inter-religious conflicts.
England also chose to leave nations in a state of conflict, allowing it the possibility of exerting geo-political influence through intervention in the future, and this is what was encouraged in India, partitioning the land into a Muslim state (Pakistan and East Pakistan), and a secular state (India).
No partition would’ve meant an entirely different political landscape for the region.
The Muslim-Hindu divide has dominated most of recent Indian cultural history. From the Babri Masjid riots to the Gujarat riots, inter-communal violence has become an undeniably proof of the difficulty the nation faces in pleasing the several diverse parts of India’s population. Had partition not occurred, this concept of division would’ve been far less significant, increasing tolerance.
An undivided India would have undoubtedly been more tolerant of diverse cultures, allowing each to thrive and grow.
Without the accompanying political instability, perhaps radical Islam wouldn’t have existed the way it does in the region. In fact, much research has shown that radical Islam exists because Islamists fear “their religion and culture will disappear into the maelstorm of the modern world.”
Rishit Jain is a writing analyst at Qrius.
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