Could the partition of India and Pakistan repeat itself in UK and Scotland?

When India was liberated from British rule more than 75 years ago, the territory was divided, or partitioned, into India and the new state of Pakistan.  East Pakistan later became Bangladesh.

The British oversaw the partition along with the newly appointed Indian and Pakistani leaders in their respective newly formed nations.

British civil servant Sir Cyril Radcliffe drew up the borders between India and Pakistan, in 1947, dividing the sub-continent very roughly into

  • a central and southern part, where Hindus had the majority, and
  • two parts in the northwest and northeast with mostly  Muslim populations.

But Hindus and Muslims were scattered throughout British India.

Hence, after the declaration of the partition, more than 15 million people traveled, often hundreds of miles, to cross the new frontiers to their respective nations.  It has been called the largest exodus in human history.

Almost 75 years later, history may be repeating itself.

Last October, the United Kingdom swore in Rishi Sunak as its new prime minister.  Sunak's parents are Indian Hindus who migrated to the U.K. from East Africa.  Sunak was born in Southampton in 1980.  His father was a doctor, his mother a pharmacist.  He went to the boarding school Winchester College, then studied philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford and business at Stanford University in the U.S.

Sunak was first elected as a member of Parliament in 2015, rose quickly, and was made chancellor of the Exchequer in February 2020 under then–U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson.

He was one for the records, or the glass ceilings that were broken.  Sunak is the first British Asian and first British Indian prime minister.

Meanwhile, last month, Humza Yousaf was elected leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which made him the first minister of Scotland, which is part of the United Kingdom.  The first minister is the head of the Scottish government, the equivalent of a prime minister.  The word "prime" means first.

Yousaf's father is originally from Pakistan and emigrated from there to Scotland with his family in the 1960s, while his mother was born into a South Asian family in Kenya.

After studying politics at Glasgow University, he briefly worked in a call center before becoming a parliamentary assistant to a member of the Scottish Parliament and later an aide to former first minister Alex Salmond.

Yousaf made history as the first ethnic minority leader of a devolved government and the first Muslim to lead a major U.K. party.

Upon being elected as the 14th leader of the SNP and first minister of Scotland, Yousaf announced his intention to deliver Scottish independence and even demanded a referendum.  The last referendum occurred in 2014, when the people of Scotland elected to remain with the United Kingdom.

Yousaf said: "The people of Scotland need independence now more than ever before, and we will be the generation that delivers it."

He even emphasized that Scotland is a European nation and added, "I was determined then, as I am now, as the 14th leader of this great party, that we will deliver independence for Scotland — together as a team."

In response, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Sunak acknowledged the election result and claimed to be looking "forward to working with him [Yousaf]."

However, Sunak's office rejected his request for another independence referendum, citing the need to prioritize issues such as inflation, the cost of living, and hospital backlogs that affect Scotland as well as the rest of the U.K.

More than 75 years ago, the British oversaw the partition of India.

The British may once again oversee a partition, only this time it will be a British Hindu leader of Indian origin and a British Muslim leader of Pakistani origin who may supervise the partition of the United Kingdom. 

The obvious difference, of course, is that this partition will be done via a referendum — the people of Scotland will have to vote to break away from the U.K. 

Despite the potentially serious nature of the situation, many observers could not help but notice the irony.

If the partition occurs, it will have consequences in the James Bond universe.  Sir Sean Connery and Sir Roger Moore may no longer be from the same country.

Image: Scottish Government via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 2.0.

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