Midnight’s Furies, The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition by Nisid Hajari
Midnight’s Furies by Nisid Hajari is a grim account of the final year of the British Raj and the birth of an independent India and Pakistan. Until the massacres in Rwanda in 1994, the Partition conflict stands as the bloodiest civil unrest of the 20th C. And its effects are still felt today as Pakistan/India tensions spawn discord throughout the region.
How things spun out of control so fast is a fascinating if horrifying tale. As Hajari points out in the preface, it is even more surprising given that in 1946 India and Pakistan “had more in common with each other –politically, culturally, economically, and strategically-than with any other nation on the planet.”
But it was never going to be easy–a thousand years of tradition including three hundred years of British occupation to be overhauled in one year.
Granted there was an established administrative framework in India thanks to the British, but the “to do” list was enormous. From divvying up the assets of the Empire, decommissioning the formidable and fully integrated Indian Army, establishing a constitution and judicial system, setting monetary and foreign policy to designing a flag and selecting a national anthem—all times two.
Just moving millions of people from one region to another was a logistical nightmare. (In the end, fourteen million people were uprooted.)
And the deadline for the British withdrawal was one year. And the British were broke. And tired.
India’s Partition has been exhaustively studied, and there is plenty of blame to go around. But according to Hajari much of the responsibility can be laid at the feet of the two leaders, India’s Nehru and his older Pakistani counterpart Jinnah. Although intelligent, sophisticated men both all too often allowed their individual ambitions and mutual apathy get in the way of the greater good.
Hajari’s book is rigorously researched and tightly focused, (bloody skirmish by bloody skirmish) as he parses myth from fact.
I initially thought that Midnight’s Furies might be too specific for many readers, but the NCN Book Club members found it thought provoking and timely.
On this same subject, I also recommend Indian Summer—a more novelistic nonfiction account of the last days of the Raj.