Partition of India

Here is a quote from Stanley Wolpert, in Chapter 2 of Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: “If Nehru had realised how precarious the health of his arch adversary was, he might well have waited, instead of agreeing to Lord Mountbatten’s proposed partition plan”.

On February, 20, 1947, Prime Minister Clement Atlee announced His Majesty’s Government’s intention to quit India and to transfer its power ‘to responsible Indian hands’ by June 1948. Lord Wavell was recalled and in his place Lord Mountbatten was appointed Viceroy on March 24, 1947. He was given plenipotentiary powers. There had been no precedent for any Viceroy to have this power. The letter of March 1947 of the Prime Minister to the new Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, sets out the terms and dates of the transfer of power, as well as the date when he had to report back on the non-prospect of a settlement (H.V.Hudson, The Great Divide, Appendix I). It says:

“It is the definite objective of His Majesty’s Government to obtain a unitary Government for British India and the Indian States, if possible, within the British Commonwealth, through the medium of a Constituent Assembly, set up and run in accordance with the Cabinet Mission’s plan, and you should do your utmost in your power to persuade all Parties to work together to this end, and advise His Majesty’s Government, in the light of developments, as to the steps that will have to be taken.

“If by 1st October you consider that there is no prospect of reaching a settlement on the basis of a unitary Government for British India, either with or without the cooperation of the Indian States, you should report to His Majesty’s Government on the steps which you consider should be taken for the handing over of power on the due date.

“The date fixed for the transfer of power is a flexible one to within one month; but you should aim at 1st June, 1948, as the effective date for the transfer of power.”

Within a few days of his assuming office, Mountbatten came to the conclusion that Jinnah would not accept anything less than Pakistan. He then proceeded to evolve his own plan of partition of India. After seeking the final approval of the British Government of the partition plan, Mountbatten returned from England on June 2, 1947. The next day on June 3, he announced the scheme of India's division from All India Radio. His broadcast was followed by those of Nehru and Jinnah accepting the Partition Plan.

Here, all of a sudden, Prime Minister Atlee’s directive with all its emphasis on the deadline of transfer of power by June 1948, with the flexibility of only a month, had lost its importance. In short, the story of the break-up of a country as great as India, which had thousands of years of its own governance and was an epitome of culture and civilisation, was a matter of only two months of assuming the Viceroyalty by Mountbatten.

Jinnah was so down with his health that he died in September 1948; a year after the partition. The Viceroy knew well that Jinnah was about to die without whom the demand for the division of the country would fizzle out. So he was in a hurry to execute his vivisection programme.


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Vol 56, No. 10, Sep 3 - 9, 2023