From Bolshevik Revolution to Cold War: Partition in a different light
Just as the French Revolution had sent shivers across all the monarchies of Europe, a century and a quarter later the Bolshevik Revolution too rattled all the colonial powers to their core. And they didn't wait to respond. Even before the First World War formally ended, Anglo-French, American and Japanese forces were dispatched to nip the revolution in its bud. But this typically arrogant imperial intervention failed as the Bolsheviks remained steadfast. However, the colonial powers didn't give up; they bided their time and adopted a policy of slander, squeezing and, when possible, confronting the Soviet Union. And the rise of Stalin provided them with ample ammunition to actively pursue this policy. So, contrary to popular belief, the Cold War didn't start in the aftermath of the Second World War—but much earlier—it remained a key policy of the imperial camp till the war's outbreak.
Fast forward to the early thirties, Hitler emerged as a key figure and made clear his intense hatred for the Bolsheviks as much as the Jews. And instantly, the Anglo-French ruling elites, with very few exceptions, cheered him as the right answer to Stalinism. They were least bothered about his Jewish persecution because they had pursued a similar policy for nearly two millennia. Between the years of his rise to power and invasion of Poland in September 1939, Britain and France were actively cheering him and assisting his crushing of the German communists while ignoring the plight of the Jews, or his alarming rearmament drive. This obviously got Stalin worried and he hastily made a peace deal with Hitler. Of course, it didn't work out but that's a different story. What is important here is that the Anglo-French hatred of the Bolsheviks and their active support for Hitler were no less responsible for the eventual outbreak of the war. Neither of the two can wash their hands of their diabolical role in helping to create a crazy monster. No western mainstream history book would care to mention this, however.
Although the Soviet Union was an allied power in the war, it was never trusted either by the Anglo-French or the Americans. Of course, the feeling was mutual. In the pre-war years, the three had waged first a "hot" and then a Cold War against Russia while it encouraged "red" revolutions in their countries. The war had ravaged the entire European continent. Part of Russia was also destroyed, but it managed to not only survive but also to repulse the German onslaught that turned the tide of the war. By the end of the war, Russia emerged as the most powerful state in all of Europe. This got all three other powers very worried that Russian influence might help the communists/socialists come to power in all other countries of Europe. America, the emerging superpower, was unwilling to accept such an eventuality because it hated the communists as much as the European colonials. Moreover, it was nurturing its own imperial ambition. But Russia was still technically an ally and, having far more military strength than the Anglo-Americans in Europe, couldn't be forced to withdraw while the Americans remained. A diabolical plan was devised and executed, which still haunts the world and remains a matter of intense debate.
By July 1945, the Manhattan Project successfully detonated the atom bomb. Even after most of the scientists involved in the project warned of its devastating impact, the US leadership had other considerations. It would demonstrate the power of the bomb, bring the Japanese to their knees, while simultaneously making Russia aware that the US imperial ambition was global and was here to stay. Russia was expected to acknowledge that and refrain from challenging it. Thus, the Cold War that was put in the freezer during the war was re-launched. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were its first victims even if many were of the opinion that there was no compelling military necessity. The US leadership, however, couldn't care less if a hundred thousand Japanese civilians were vaporised so as to view the impact of the bomb and establish its hegemony. Yet, this was just the beginning. More would follow.
Now let's shift our attention to the Indian subcontinent. By the end of the war, India was boiling with rage. On the one hand, the chasm between the two large communities had become deeper, and on the other, Britain could no longer afford to hold on to India indefinitely. It was immersed in huge problems of its own. First, its economy was in a shambles; second, its control over the Indian army—its prime asset—was no longer guaranteed. And third, the huge military presence of Soviet Union in the heart of Europe and just across India's northwest border was enough to scare the British to rush into things and obviously make rash decisions. Their hatred was so intense that Churchill even wanted to nuke Russia. They were also worried that if it got time, it would influence both European and Indian politics and throw the Brits out unceremoniously.
Moreover, American pressure to decolonise was also active. All these concerns combined made them scuttle and run. What would happen to India was no longer their concern. Their view was, if the Indians couldn't settle their differences quickly and peacefully—which were in fact actively encouraged by the Brits—let them go to hell. Such callous indifference was at the heart of the colonial project. It left India drenched in blood, with a partition that could have been avoided.
It may sound odd now but if there were a satellite view of history, it would show one single incident that played the most crucial role in shaping the 20th century: the Bolshevik revolution. It made friends and foes alike, changed global power alignment, and influenced politics, culture and technology. So it may not be an exaggeration to say that India's partition was an unwitting second victim of a protracted Cold War. Yes, there were multiple compelling internal causes but the Cold War dynamics was no less responsible for the vivification in India and the bloodbath that followed.
Ali Ahmed Ziauddin is a researcher and activist. Email: email@example.com