Few events have been more important to the history of modern South Asia than the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947. The coming of partition has cast a powerful shadow on historical reconstructions of the decades before 1947, while the ramifications of partition have continued to leave their mark on subcontinental politics fifty years after the event.
Yet, neither scholars of British India nor scholars of Indian nationalism have been able to find a compelling place for partition within their larger historical narratives (Pandey 1994, 204–5). For many British empire historians, partition has been treated as an illustration of the failure of the “modernizing” impact of colonial rule, an unpleasant blip on the transition from the colonial to the postcolonial worlds. For many nationalist Indian historians, it resulted from the distorting impact of colonialism itself on the transition to nationalism and modernity, “the unfortunate outcome of sectarian and separatist politics,” and “a tragic accompaniment to the exhilaration and promise of a freedom fought for with courage and valour” (Menon and Bhasin 1998, 3).