1947: The partition of India

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The partition of India: I

1947 Partition

Dawn April 29, 2007

REVIEWS: The play of forces

Reviewed by Shahid Javed Burki

There is no other subject in the history of the South Asian subcontinent that has attracted more analytical and historical interest than that of the British decision to partition their Indian empire into two parts, a predominantly Hindu India and a predominantly Muslim Pakistan. What was extraordinary about that decision was not that the British were made to recognise that the India they had ruled for almost two centuries could not be kept united. What made the move by London in response to the unrelenting pressure by Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League such a historic event was the acceptance that religion could be the basis of partition. Both the Hindu-dominated Congress Party and the British administration operating out of New Delhi had advanced secularism as the basis for governance. A secular state that protected the rights of all religious communities was the ideology pursued by the Congress although some of the political idiom used by Mahatama Gandhi had deep Hindu overtones. The British also believed that they could bring peace to the potentially divisive population over which they ruled by keeping religion out of politics as well out of statecraft.

Jinnah and his Muslim League stood these arguments on their head. They demanded the recognition of India’s large Muslim community as a separate entity since their faith distinguished them from the rest of India. This concept, developed over time in response to the campaign by the Congress to keep India united, eventually took the form of a two-nation theory. Not only were Muslims distinct from all other religious groups, argued Jinnah, they were, in fact, a separate nation that deserved a state of its own.

Much of the existing literature on the Indian independence movement and the partition of British India, accordingly, looks at the fateful events leading up to the creation of two states in what was once a colony administered by London from three very different angles. The British writers have focused on how London attempted to keep India united while recognising that minorities had political, social and economic rights that should not be overwhelmed by the majority. The Indian historians have examined the events from the perspective of a movement led by some extraordinary men who were able to challenge the once powerful British administration without shedding much blood. In a century that had witnessed some extremely bloody convulsions, the Indian Independence Movement was surprisingly peaceful. When blood was eventually shed, it was not to expel the colonialists but in sectarian violence among the subcontinent’s different religious groups.

The Muslim examination of the independence movement is understandably focused on how this particular community organised itself politically and successfully challenged two more powerful forces — the Hindu-dominated Congress Party and the British administration. The Muslim League’s success in creating the state of Pakistan could not have been anticipated in the early 1940s when Jinnah raised the demand for the creation of an independent Muslim state. But the political acumen of this man, the honesty of purpose he displayed, his extraordinary charisma, his ability to keep a fractious people under one political umbrella, all contributed to the success of the movement he launched to procure a separate state for the Muslims of British India. In examining the creation of Pakistan as a historical event of great significance, the Pakistani historians have understandably focused on Jinnah’s role, his personality and his character.

Narendra Singh Sarila’s book — the subject of this review — is a very different account of the events that led to the departure of the British from India and their decision to leave the country divided not united. Sarila brings many credentials to his book. As a young diplomat he was appointed to serve on the staff of Lord Louis Mountbatten, India’s last Viceroy and the man given an enormous amount of power and freedom to determine the future of the land the British had once ruled. In some of the more recent writings of foreign historians — for instance the recent book by Stanley Wolpert — Mountbatten does not emerge as an attractive character. He seems to have been motivated in his actions by several flaws and weaknesses in his character. These led to the decisions that were to hurt Pakistan and benefit India. While Sarila’s Mountbatten is also not an attractive historical figure, the reasons for some of his actions are found in the play of forces that had considerable historical content. As suggested by the title of the book, the author believes that the British decision to partition India was not the result of a brilliantly conceived and articulated programme of action by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Instead, it was the outcome of the ‘great game’ that the British and other western powers continued to play in the region that was to become first West Pakistan and later Pakistan.

Sarila is obviously influenced in his thinking by the 9/11 event and the ensuing conflict between the West, led by the United States, and radical Islam. He sees the growth of radicalism among the Muslims of the northwestern areas of South Asia — parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan — as an outcome of the game the British played. The chain of events and motives behind the British move in the 1940s as seen by Sarila was the product of a simple logic. By the time Mohammad Ali Jinnah raised his demand for the creation of Pakistan, the western powers had already brought much of the Muslim world under their political control. The British and the French had carved out the remnants of the Ottoman Empire into their spheres of influence. By extending them to South Asia by creating a Muslim state they could also dominate what were then India’s northwestern areas. This was an attractive proposition and was behind their push for the creation of Pakistan. In this story, Jinnah comes out as a pawn of the imperial powers rather than as an independent operator working to secure political freedom for the community of which he was a member.

Using the idiom of counterfactual history, the author carries forward his argument to the present times. He strongly implies that 9/11 would not have occurred had the British not played the great game by creating Pakistan. Had India been left united, New Delhi would have been able to absorb Islamic militancy within its political, economic and social structures and not allow it to parade so aggressively on the world scene. This is an important book and needs to be read in Pakistan since it puts clearly an argument that has begun to be made by the Indian establishment in its dialogue with the West. ________________________________________

The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India’s Partition

By Narendra Singh Sarila


ISBN 0786719125

320pp. $26.95

The partition of India: II

1947: Partition II

Dawn December 20, 2007

REVIEWS: Behind the scenes

Reviewed by A.R. Siddiqi

The story of Partition is an elegy without end. It is black with the congealed gore of the dead and resonant with the desperate yells of those in throes of death waiting for a saviour.

It was on the whole a weird combination of the shocking ignorance of the masses about the distinction between ‘freedom’ and ‘Partition’ and the hugely misplaced vision of the Indian (Hindu and Muslim) leadership to equate the end of the British Raj with independence. As the author would put it, while words like ‘Pakistan’, ‘Swaraj’ and ‘Partition’ acquired ‘concrete’ meaning ‘freedom’ itself was not clearly defined.

The ‘meanings’ of Pakistan had been ‘deliberately and conveniently avoided and ignored’ for the Muslims of South Asia by the Muslim League’s ‘elected’ legislators who gathered in Delhi in April 1946, to demand a single state instead of two (or more) sovereign autonomous states.

The ‘talismanic’ word, Pakistan was used ‘strategically’ to ‘rally’ the gullible, unwary masses round a cause little understood and still less explained. When an eccentric British member of the Indian Civil Service, Malcolm Darling, during his long equestrian journey through the north Indian countryside asked a village herdsman about Pakistan, he answered: ‘sanu kutch patta nahien!’ (we know nothing about it).

What Pakistan really meant was even more ‘opaque’. Was it the territorial quest for a new, sovereign Muslim country or a political interpretation of a ‘wildly improbable millenarian dream?’ Pakistan meant ‘myriad things’ to different people. The proposition could be interpreted either way to suit the pragmatic or Utopian perceptions of the Muslim League leadership.

Meanwhile ‘the issue of territory was repeatedly fudged’. Rehmat Ali, the young Cambridge scholar who coined the acronym Pakistan in the early ’30s, had a ‘pan-subcontinental’ view of Pakistan based on doctrinaire rather then physical borders regardless of demographic and communal (Hindu-Muslim) ratios of the respective areas or the zones. His was virtually a formula for the Balkanisation of India with the territorial and administrative balance titled heavily in favour of the Muslim minority.

Rehmat Ali’s notional map showed a ‘fragmented patchwork of the subcontinent’ including such largely princely states as Hyderabad and Bhopal and cities like Aligarh and Delhi with predominantly Hindu population as independent entities outside India’s body politic and parts of Muslim Pakistan. Rehmat Ali’s Pakistan was ‘an imaginary nationalistic dream as well as a cold territorial reality.’ The dream was dominated by wishful thinking or an ecstatic vision of a Utopia sans cartography — almost a heaven on earth. One is irresistibly reminded here of the ‘Cloud-Cuckoo Land’ of Aristophanes in The Birds, one of his best surviving plays, ‘where the birds are kings and gods’: a Utopian sort of a commonwealth.

Imagine a land mass as big as India being divided ‘against the clock’ in some five weeks. Radcliffe arrived in India on July 8, 1947, and by August 17 his Boundary Commission award was out in its absolute finality beyond any question.

The ‘open-ended, conveniently ambiguous Pakistan demand’ came ‘crashing into territorial realities of population ratios and land usage’. The border drawn was little more than an ‘unknown border line’ open to endless mutually conflicting, antagonistic interpretations, endangering the cross-border peace and harmony of the two neighbours, born out of a huge trust deficit. The June 3 plan had been ‘so rushed’ and ‘inadequately’ thought out, that it had been difficult to decide ‘who was a rightful Pakistani and who was a rightful Indian.’ At the stroke of midnight on August 14, 1947, centuries old fellow citizens, even families, stood divided without a tangible thought about their status as to which state and society they actually belonged.Was it a casual leave taking or a traumatic farewell for ever? How on earth could such a catastrophic metamorphosis — from one of a compatriot to a foreigner — take place overnight? None of the leadership on either side of the divide had prepared the people, even remotely, to mentally accept the wages of the holocaust and lessen its stunning impact.

Besides the great human tragedy accompanying the infamous Radcliffe award, there were a ‘variety of eccentric features’ it ‘bestowed’ on the subcontinent’s political geography. The award created a ‘geographical settlement’ difficult to manage ‘at the best of times, even if all parties were in agreement.’

In Punjab the ‘most contested’ parts were Lahore, Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur and Jullundar. In Bengal, Murshidabad and Malda the two Muslim majority districts, notionally conceded to Pakistan were awarded to India. The Pakistan flag raised at the district headquarters in Malda was suddenly replaced by the Indian flag on August 17.

The author candidly highlights the problems involved in the division of the military forces on religious lines and their role in accelerating partition. She writes at some length about the outbreak of the massive naval mutiny in Bombay in February 1946. Thousands of naval staff mutinied against the harsh behaviour of their British officers and ‘low pay and bad food’. The naval mutiny almost coincided with the disbandment of the Azad Hind Fauj of Subhash Chandera Bose after the surrender of the Japanese forces.

The Second World War and Partition ‘bled’ into each other hastening partition. Nearly half a million Indian soldiers had to be ‘cut and pasted into the new national formation’. The task, which Auchinleck had ‘reckoned’ would take five to 10 years had to be completed by March 1948 in all respects.

The author blames the British squarely for their ‘detached and diluted sense of responsibility’ in their ‘shameful flight’ (Stanley Wolpert’s words) from India. The British lost both their ‘manpower and the moral will to continue the Raj at the chalk face of empire…’ Mountbatten’s advancing the transfer of power date from June 1948 to August 1947 at a whim, made it even more incumbent for the British morally and practically to ensure a smooth transfer of power.

Yasmin Khan’s is a wide, all-embracing prism reflecting myriad of real-life characters behind the scenes little known to the outside world and yet contributing significantly to the traumatic epic of Partition. Gandhi, Jinnah, Jawahar, Mountbatten and others of their class, though centre-stage, had a supporting cast of scores prompting from the wings.

Industrial tycoons like Birlas and Dalmias played a significant role in generously funding the loungers and thus affecting the political agenda, no matter in how small a way. Communally-driven militias like the R S S, the Muslim League National Guard, and Zilma Pakhtoon with their ‘rigid, right wing’ ideologies formed the ‘dark underbelly’ of Partition. ________________________________________

The Great Partition: The making of India and Pakistan

By Yasmin Khan

Penguin Books, India

Available with Paramount Books, Karachi

ISBN 0-67-008158-2

251pp. Rs876

Bilateral myth making over India's partition

By Khaled Ahmed


(This is a review article on Narendra Singh Sarila's book The Untold Story of India's Partition: the Shadow of the Great Game).

(Courtesy: The Friday Times)

Part I

When Pakistanis talk of the 1947 partition, they present it as a conspiracy hatched by the British and the Hindus to force on the Muslims a division that would be unviable and lead to the new state 'relapsing' into India. When the Indians think of partition they present it as a conspiracy between the Muslim League and the British Raj to do the nationalists out of their right to rule united India, a sequel to the Raj's old strategy of divide and rule. If you are objective, you will find that both the theses are only partially tenable. It means that the fault lies in the partisanship through which they squeeze the facts of partition. The result they produce by this case-building turns out to be quite the opposite of what they desire.

New facts and their new understanding

First of all, the three actors in pre-partition India seem to pursue their varying interests, which is quite normal in human affairs. The nationalists, desiring a pluralist undivided India, could have won the day, but for the mistakes their leaders made. The separatists were understandably politically weak; but can they be faulted for not exploiting these mistakes? It is time both Indians and Pakistanis learned to cultivate political distance from the phenomenon of partition and not extend the pre-partition politics of division into today's environment. Once we have gotten rid of this dated mind-set, the politics of partition will appear as a fascinating and at times entertaining tripartite clash of interests. As more and more sources of information on the period are released for public scrutiny, the story of how it all happened becomes even more riveting.

Narendra Singh Sarila in his book The Untold Story of India's Partition: the Shadow of the Great Game (Harper Collins India; Distributed by Vanguard Books Lahore) has written a gripping narrative on the basis of the new material he was able to study. For anyone who is not steeped in the lore of Indo-Pak rivalry, the book offers enough new information to make a case for retelling the story of India's break-up. But if the book is read with bias, its effectiveness will be halved and one will be tempted to rebut the author with the help of his own material. If that happens it would be tragic. The new facts must help Indians and Pakistanis to understand each other better. This book can achieve that objective even though the author wears his Indian-nationalist bias on his sleeve.

British and the post-1947 Great Game

Lord Wavell viceroy of India from 1943 to 1947, being a military commander with a global perspective, thought that the Soviet Union would threaten the British empire, and that in India the All India Cngress would be more prone than the Muslim League to side with the Communists. Wavell was of course thinking of the Middle East and its oil wealth. Linked to this feeling was the strategic 'possibility' that a region within India could be separated to act as the forward defensive glacis against the advancing Soviet Union. By 1946, more and more British military leaders were thinking of the threat of 'Russia' and that the next imperial war would be fought in the region. In the background was Europe's and Britain's own socialism which these military men could not have looked at with any serenity.

The Liberals had come to power in Britain under Attlee when the generals started thinking on lines later adopted by the United States as state doctrine in the 1950s. They thought that Pakistan could be allowed to be created so that it could be used as a base from where to counter the growing Soviet threat to the Middle East. Did Attlee succumb to this argument? Probably not. He may have kept his own point of view under the bushel, but he and his party were not overly enthusiastic about dividing India. After all, at that point, America, as it stood on the threshold of Cold War, thought that dividing India would unleash the power of the Left in the rump India, which might then threaten the global balance. Atlee cannot be faulted too much for being tentative in his support of the nationalists in India and for not rejecting Wavell's thinking out of hand, because he was living in the aftermath of the Second World War and the promise of the coming Cold War it held for Britain.

Cngress blunders on the eve of Second World War

The thinking of the British militarymen was not wide of the mark either. After all, in the 1980s, America did rely on Pakistan to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Siding with the Soviet bloc, India stood isolated for the decade of the Afghan war, and finally when the Soviet Union collapsed, India found itself in the wrong camp and had to undo the Nehruvian model to correct itself by becoming an ally of the United States. The British generals were right about the left-leaning politics of the nationalists. On the other hand, their analysis of the Muslim Leaguers was purely strategic.

They did not necessarily find Muslim politics very palatable. Even a rightwing Briton could not have taken too kindly to the abuse of religious symbols in Indian politics. After all, Wavell, an enemy of India according to the book, did the ultimate wrong to the Muslim League by suggesting a partition of India that Pakistan has always seen as unfair.

Lord Linlithgow who preceded Wavell as viceroy of India became the most blatant opponent of Cngress because, on the eve of the Second World War, he had to posit Indian politics more or less as President Bush posited world politics to Pakistan after 9/11. Did the Cngress party act wisely in the face of this challenge? Author Sarila says it did not, and that is really the truth. Can the Muslim League be faulted for filling the political vacuum left by the Cngress and standing by the British against Hitler? In extremis, the British Raj was to do what suited its strategy of fighting the World War. That Indian politics was communally divided was a fact and there are some Indian writers who think that the Cngress leadership could have prevented this division from becoming separatist.

Muslim League's more pragmatic approach

It pays to be cold-blooded in view of past history and in line with the thinking of many good Indian writers today on global and regional politics. Cngress won the 1937 election under the 1935 scheme of representative provincial assemblies. Muslim League had been trounced. It is understandable that the Cngress was in a hurry to extract a pledge of independence from the British and thought that the time for pressure tactics was appropriate on the eve of the Second World War. The Muslim League was down in the dumps and understandably ready to do anything to revive itself. When the British entered the war against Germany in September 1939, the Cngress was ruling in eight out of 11 provinces. For reasons that are difficult to understand, the Cngress decided to resign from these governments - the pretext that Cngress was not consulted on entry into war remains flimsy - awarding a walkover to the Muslim League and forcing the viceroy to further refine his policy of supporting the Muslim League as a political makeweight.

Author Sarila is right when he says that this resignation had far-reaching effects. It not only brought the Muslim League to power through the backdoor, it made partition possible by loosening from the Cngress hold the Muslim-majority province of the NWFP. VP Menon thought it was a blunder; so did Jinnah who called it a 'Himalayan blunder' and declared the day of Cngress's resignation as the Day of Deliverance. It has taken a BJP interregnum in the recent past to allow Cngress to think straight in strategy, but the habit of reluctance to take the big decisions on time and give up nitpicking when nimble footwork is required, persists in Cngress.

Hindu mind and its inscrutability

However, if you look at the realistic way the Cngress government in 2005 has behaved towards the United States, Israel and Iran, you can only wish that Nehru had the wisdom before 1947 to act with more pragmatism and flexibility. Surprisingly, Gandhi had less of the Hindu nebulousness in his political thinking, although what he did to Linlithgow in the shape of an advice to surrender to Hitler was the unkindest cut of all, a piece of tantric mystery no Anglo-Saxon could stomach. (Hugh Tinker in his book on the viceroys tells us that Linlithgow was not the most brilliant man to serve in India.) If after that the viceroy decided to use the Muslim card, who can blame him? The inscrutable Hindu mind must have baffled him then, just as the Americans were periodically baffled by the mysteries of the Hindu mind even when a more clear-minded BJP was in power. (See Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott's account of his dealings with parable-quoting foreign minister Jaswant Singh, in Engaging India.)

Jinnah moved in deftly and began asking the British to promise that if they decided to quit India they would pledge support to the rights of the minorities. In 1940, he began saying that the Muslims were a nation apart; that meant that now the nation needed a separate territory to live in and Hindu Raj was not the place for them to be in. For a man whose party had lost electorally in 1937, this was a great comeback. And the British were in the middle of a war unto death with Germany. Linlithgow therefore decided to keep quiet over Jinnah's overt separatism. He didn't have to divide but he blinked at it and thought it was good for his rule during the War, although it may have contributed to tilting India into communal massacres in the days to come.

Unrealistic theories of defiance

What use was Cngress's challenge to Linlithgow? Cngress could not set foot in Punjab where men were enlisting for war 200,000-a-month, and Cngress supporters from big business like the Birlas were producing over-time for the war effort and making profits hand over fist. Jinnah was more pragmatic. He played his cards right although he knew he could be sabotaged by people like Cripps in the British government. Raj politics was not black and white, it did not lend itself to principles, and that is the way it had to be played. Jinnah became the sole spokesman under the Conservative Party in London, and when the Labour Party came to power, its efforts to right the political balance in favour of the politically more powerful Cngress came up against the 'precedents' set by the earlier administration. Attlee had to send Mountbatten to wield the hatchet and partition the country according to the map drawn originally by Wavell. If Wavell was anti-Cngress, was his map favouring the Muslim League? No. What were theBritish trying to do?

After having made the Himalayan Blunder, Nehru thought the viceroy was 'slow of mind, solid as a rock with almost a rock's lack of awareness'. But Nehru himself is comparable to today's American-educated Indian intellectual advocating an anti-Americanism that can only hurt India's interests. The same kind of Westernised anti-Westernism and anti-Americanism haunts the Muslim intellectual who refuses to see that he can be despatched in short order by the Islamists standing behind him. Nehru's fabian-socialism was very British and half the time he was defying Britain it could be a kind of self-indulgence that one can today associate with the panache that America-educated intellectuals of South Asia display in their unrealistic theories of defiance. On the other hand, pragmatism born of the trading interests among the less heroic Gujarati community, for instance, could have kept India together. But that would have meant delay in independence.

Part II

Partition and the Indian leaders

By Khaled Ahmed

Jinnah is at times described as just the kind of Gujarati India needed, coaxing the British out of India constitutionally and not arousing religious sentiments to get the masses under one flag. He was snubbed into opposition by two leaders. Unfortunately he was put off by the fellow-Gujarati Gandhi because of the latter's use of religion in politics; he was put off by the more combative personality of Nehru. It was when he was being squeezed out of the Cngress that he jumped into the politics of thrust and parry that we see today played out in South Asia among our politicians.

The turning-point was the 1920 Nagpur Cngress Party session in which Gandhi sensed the 'northern warrior' audience's mind and suggested the dissolution of the 'British connection'. Jinnah opposed it for being unpragmatic and was hooted down in the presence of his young wife, Ruttie, but anyone from the trading Gujarati communities, like the Parsis, would have stood with Jinnah on the argument of not taking the Raj on frontally, no matter what the Nagpur audience had to say.

Jinnah-Gandhi differences

Jinnah did not resign from the Cngress after Nagpur. Perhaps he knew he must have looked outlandish in his non- swadeshi dress and his English, but his style too was different. After the Rowlatt Act brought about the Jallianwala massacre, Gandhi decided on a Satyagraha agitation; Jinnah simply resigned from the Imperial Legislative Council. He had already resigned from the Muslim League because he could not countenance the Khilafat Movement; Gandhi found it easy to use it as a 'discardable' political tool. Jinnah was to learn his tough lessons during these early years; later, as a spoiler, he showed how well he had learned them.

Narendra Singh Sarila in his book The Untold Story of India's Partition: the Shadow of the Great Game (Harper Collins India; Distributed by Vanguard Books Lahore) has taken another look at the politics of those years.

In 1942, with the Japanese threatening to invade India, it was Gandhi's turn to do something inscrutable: he tabled a resolution asking the British to 'quit forthwith' and told the Japanese that India had no quarrel with them. Almost all the Cngress High Command disagreed with it but passed it, only to change it over-night without convening another session when Nehru said he would quit Cngress instead if it went public.

Rajendsra Prasad and surprisingly Vallabhbhai Patel thought Gandhi was wrong but went along because they had some kind of mystical faith in 'Bapu'. Sarila writes: 'The above record allows us a peep into how those leading the fight for India's freedom were going about their business'. If the Muslim League, seeing the British in India thus beleaguered, decided on opportunism, what was wrong with it?

Viceroys pro-Pakistan and pro-India

The author doesn't like a 'mediocre' Wavell because he advanced Linlithgow's project of promoting Jinnah and the League when he took over in 1946. But the Pakistanis cannot be greatly pleased about the way he proposed to draw the borders between India and Pakistan, giving Muslim-majority Gurdaspur to India so that India should have access to Kashmir. Pakistanis hate Mountbatten for being close to Nehru as viceroy but there are many steps he took as governor general of India that Indians have reason to hate. Sarila says his reports to London as governor general of India remain unsealed, which means that the final verdict on him is still pending. The truth may not be to the liking of both India and Pakistan. As one reads the book, one is more and more convinced about the bilateral myth-making about Partition.

Wavell thought Nehru was sincere and courageous but 'unbalanced'; he thought Jinnah was unhappy, arbitrary, self-centred, lonely, "but straighter compared with Cngress and more sincere". (Sarila omits "compared with Cngress"). If you go back to his Viceroy's Journal you will find Wavell describing most Muslim and Hindu leaders as people of merit undermined by serious personality disorders. India and Pakistan need to go back and see what had happened to their leaders. They had certainly made mistakes and landed themselves in a mess, and no amount of historiographic theorising about divide-and-rule and other mutually insulting doctrines can hide the true pathology of the men who pretended to give us freedom in quick time, cutting corners and falling out with one another in the process.

The communal bloodshed which formed the backdrop to this agony in history more often than not originated in this pathology.

From Wavell's Dairy

It should be interesting to quote Wavell here about the dramatis personae of partition.

Pethick-Lawrence: The S. of S., the old PL is a sentimental pacifist with a strain of rather pugnacious obstinacy if crossed, and I think a good deal of self-satisfaction and some vanity. He is more genuinely non-violent than Gandhi, with him it really is a creed, while I believe that for Gandhi non-violence is a political weapon far more than a creed. The approach of the S. of S. to these tough crafty Hindu politicians was often too abject. He was a very bad draftsman of a document, wordy and indefinite. Stafford Cripps: He was much the ablest of the party...but he is an ambitious man and was quite determined not to come away empty-handed this time; and this made him over-keen and not too scrupulous. My predecessor told me, apropos of the Cripps Mission of 1942, that C. was 'not quite straight under pressure, and he was right.

Even Rajagopalacharia would I am sure let them (the Mission) down if it suited his book or that of the Cngress; and was throughout a propagandist of the Cngress cause. Gandhi was true to form and was the real wrecker;...and he is as unscrupulous as he is persistent. He has brought to a fine art the technique of vagueness and of never making a statement which is not somehow so qualified or worded, that he cannot be pinned down to anything. His practice of mixing prayers with politics, or rather making prayers a medium of propaganda, is all a part of the make-up. He is an exceedingly shrewd, obstinate, domineering, double-tongued, single-minded politician; and there is little true saintliness in him.

Nehru: He is sincere, well-meaning and personally courageous, but lacks balance and political courage. Sardar Patel: He is more like a leader than any one of them, and might become the easiest to do business with. Not an attractive personality and uncompromising, but more of a man than most of the Indian politicians I have met.

Jinnah: He over-called his hand in the end, and was too uncompromising on the non-League Muslim issue; but he is straight compared with Cngress, and does not constantly shift his ground, as they do, though he too drives a hard bargain. Sarojini Naidu spoke of Jinnah as of Lucifer, a fallen angel, one who had once promised to be a great leader of Indian freedom, but who cast himself out of the Cngress heaven. Fazlul Haq:

The most notorious crook in Bengal. I cannot stomach him. Suhrawardi: Perhaps Jinnah trusts him as little as I do. I dislike him and distrust him intensely. I have always thought him a dishonest and self-seeking careerist with no principles.

Indian leaders: It is weary negotiating with these people; it takes weeks or months to make any progress on a point which ordinary reasonable men would settle in an hour or so. How they will ever make a constitution (under United India) at this rate I cannot imagine. These people make me tired and discouraged. I am not sleeping properly and am letting these wretched people worry me. Raja Ghazanfar Ali: The only one I had not met, looks rather an irresponsible sort of buccaneer.

Feroz Khan Noon: Feroz Khan Noon who delivered one of the outbursts without thinking which he sometimes gives tongue to. He has really very few political principles. He tries to trim between Jinnah and Khizr, and I think is trusted by neither. Ambedkar: He is sincere, honest, and courageous, but he is not an attractive personality.]

An 'unviable' India and Cabinet Mission

If Wavell thought of the British army withdrawing from what was to become India and locating it in what was to become Pakistan in order to defend the Middle East from Communism, he was disabused by the lack of support his favourite Jinnah enjoyed in the Muslim-majority provinces in Sindh, the NWFP and Punjab. On the other hand, the Cngress did not come to the help of a beleaguered Jinnah, the "sole spokesman" manqu‚.

Gandhi's 1944 talks with him came to naught because he could not easily embrace the proposals made to him. Sarila sees it, but one wonders if the Indian leaders read the signals emitted by the great post-Second World War economic mentor of the Western world, John Maynard Keynes, about the future of British Raj. The economic non-viability of the Raj in India was perhaps the most persuasive argument heard in London, not the internecine turmoil of Indian politics. India was no longer buying British goods, therefore India, instead of being a source of income, was a liability, pulling the British economy down. It was a piece of 'strategic overextension' rather than a bulwark against Britain's global foes.

In 1946, the Cabinet Mission arrived to propose a confederal 'interim' constitutional structure for a united India. Both the parties rejected the proposal although Muslims thought its chief Cripps was pro-India while both hated its Quaker member Pethick ("Pathetic") Lawrence because his passivity could be interpreted as leaning either way. Nehru and Patel rejected the proposal (for their separate reasons), which caused Jinnah to reject it too after first accepting it. Attlee had thought that the Cngress would welcome the Cabinet Mission and see it as the British liberals' big concession to it, but that was not to be. In fact Attlee was right in thinking even as a liberal that it was too late for the Cngress to keep India intact.

Meanwhile the 1946 elections showed the Muslim League coming back handsomely to claim Muslim support all across India. Who is to blame for this, if not the leaders of India fighting for freedom but disagreeing over how it should come.

The British militarymen all thought that since Hindus and Muslims will never agree, a division would come in handy in the coming days of the Cold War with Pakistan serving as a military base. They were off the mark over Russia's advance to 'warm waters'; it was only at the fag-end of the Cold War that it happened in the shape of the Afghan war, but that actually brought an end to the Communist threat forever. Pakistan became India-centric, proving once again the theory that if you separate divided communities and give them independent states to run, the will fight inter-state wars, in a way carrying on from where they had left off when the world saw them fighting senseless communal civil wars. Pakistan was pragmatic given its 'mission statement' and joined up the superpower that was ultimately to win the Cold War. The pragmatism that gave it its nuclear weapons failed when it came to ideology. The 'threat from the west' that the British generals foresaw in the shape of Communism was to come from another creed, Talibanisation, which in turn threatened Britain on 7/7 this year when Al Qaeda killed 52 in London.

Out of personality disorders came partition

Author Sarila captures the weak moments of the leaders that let India be divided. When the endgame came in the shape of Partition Nehru was 'tired, worried and unhappy'. In 1947, Attlee announced that since no one agreed to legally decide the communal quarrel in India through the legislatures, London would create a kind of Central Government as a prelude to handing over power in 1948. Communal riots indicated that the leaders had actually let their quarrel get of out hand and were now at the mercy of violent events. The Interim Government that was formed had Nehru as prime minister who was obsessed with foreign affairs, already laying the foundation of India's future non-aligned anti-imperialist foreign policy at the expense of keeping his cabinet together where Liaquat Ali Khan as finance minister was following a separate Muslim League policy.

Gandhi is killed for refusing to deny Pakistan its share

Gandhi rose in stature when he announced his opposition to the post-1947 Indian policy (more Patel's than Nehru's) of withholding Rs 550 million from the assets that had to go to Pakistan. (An earlier instalment of Rs 200 million had been paid.) Nehru and Patel were great but Gandhi regained the stature he had earlier lost through 'inscrutability', by forcing Nehru to pay Pakistan's dues. He was killed for it, but the man lives forever, far above all the mistakes the Hindu and Muslim leaders of India made in trying to decide what kind of freedom they wanted from the British Raj.

The two states tilted into war in Kashmir much earlier than any pessimist had ever anticipated. It took over 50 years for the two countries to sense that the world was laughing at the pathology of their predictable bilateral violence. Today they are thinking of their economies rather belatedly and have seemed to stop minding that they should be economically interdependent, forming a regional market that for once should ensure that their populations don't wallow in poverty.

See also

1947: The Last Years of the British in India

1947: The partition of India

Lord Louis Mountbatten

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