India Won Partition In 1947

Samirnath Mallik

As Abul Kalam Azad decided to retire, Jawaharlal Nehru was elected as the President of the  Congress party. Earlier, both Congress Party and Muslim League had accepted the details of the British Cabinet Mission Plan. On 10 July 1946 Nehru held a press conference in Bombay making an astonishing statement: The Congress had agreed to participate in the Constituent Assembly and regarded itself free to change the Mission Plan as it thought best.

For Jinnah, Nehru's statement proved a shot in the arm. He viewed it as Congress rejecting the Mission Plan. Jinnah reiterated his demand for Pakistan, rejecting the Mission Plan. The League Council decided to take resort to direct action to form Pakistan.

Azad was extremely perturbed; as the scheme, for which he worked so hard, was about to fall through. He persuaded Nehru to hold a Working Committee meeting to discuss the new development. Azad pointed out that to save the situation, it must be made clear that Nehru's statement was his personal opinion and did in no way, reflect any change of policy of the Congress party.

Nehru however felt it would be embarrassing not only for himself but also for the Congress. Accordingly the AICC resolution made no reference to Nehru's statement, but reiterated the earlier declaration. Congress Working Committee thought this declaration would settle the issue.

But Jinnah did not accept this declaration and held that Nehru's statement represented the real mind of the Congress party.

The acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan in its entirety by the Congress Working Committee led the Viceroy immediately to invite Nehru to form an interim Government at the Centre. Nehru invited Jinnah to cooperate in its formation. Jinnah rejected Nehru's invitation. Meanwhile the situation in the society was rapidly deteriorating.

August 16, 1946 was a black day for Calcutta. Jinnah declared this day as the Direct Action Day (DAD). The Government in Bengal was under the control of the Muslim League and Suhrawardy was the Chief Minister. He announced DAD as a holiday for the Calcutta police, so no police was available.

Muslim League members started attacking Calcutta Hindus and scorched their properties. The British Government at the Centre deployed army in Calcutta, but gave no order to control violence. Sarat Chandra Bose asked the Governor to control the situation immediately. Then the retaliatory violence spread allover India. The two sets of violence costed many thousands of lives and many more were injured.

August 16, 1946 was a black day not only for Calcutta but also for the whole of India. Killing and looting made it almost impossible for a peaceful agreement between the Congress Party and the Muslim League. This was one of the greatest tragedies of Indian history, for which Nehru was largely responsible. His unfortunate statement in Bombay Press Conference reopened the whole question of political and communal settlement.

Nehru did another immense harm to the national cause, when in 1937 the first provincial election was held under Government of India Act 1935. Ismail Khan and Khaliquzzaman were then the leaders of the Muslim League in the UP. When Azad came to Lucknow for forming the Government, he talked to both of them.   They assured Azad of full support to the Congress program. The local position was such that neither of them could enter the Government alone. So Azad held out hopes that both of them would be included in the
Government. But when Azad came back to Allahabad, he learnt, to his regret, that Nehru had written to them that only one of them could enter the Ministry, in effect, denying entry of the Muslim League in it.

Had the League offer of full support in UP been accepted, the entire League would have been, for all practical purposes, merged with the Congress, as one knew that the League had originated in UP and had greatest number of supporters in this province. Jinnah took full advantage of the situation and started an offensive leading to partition of India.

Azad tried persuade Nehru to change his stand, but he did not relent. Azad then went to Wardha to meet Gandhi. When Azad explained to him the whole situation, he agreed with him and said that he would advise Nehru to change his stand. Gandhi did meet Nehru, but he did not insist on the matter.

Congress accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan fully; the only objection raised by certain leaders from Assam was the grouping of Assam and Bengal together. They feared this grouping would result in the domination of Muslims in Assam coming from Bengal.

Amid bitterness and atrocities between the Muslim and Hindu communities, Congress Working Committee undertook to form the interim government. Wavell felt he should persuade the League to join the government. After several discussions with him, Jinnah changed his earlier stand and decided to join the government.

Jinnah induced Muslim League to take a resolution that he would have full authority to select members for the government. He then excluded those having inclination to the Congress. He chose Liaquat Ali and Jogen Mandal among others. The Law ministry was offered to Mandal, who posed a difficult problem for the British Secretary to work with him.

Wavel suggested the Defense Minister should be neither Hindu or Muslim. So the Sikh minister from Punjab took charge for defense. Wavel also suggested that an important portfolio be given to Muslim League. Sardar Patel insisted on having the Home portfolio. So Liaquat Ali was offered the Finance department, the most important one. Patel realized this later, when he had to seek affirmation from finance to appoint even a room cleaner.

Jinnah was not sure if Liaquat could handle the Finance. Some Muslim officers officers from the Finance department considered the offer from Congress was a real windfall and assured Jinnah that they would help  Liaquat in every way.

Gandhi pressed Azad to join the government. He also suggested it would be most appropriate for  him to serve as Education minister.

It was a declared policy of the Congress that Indian society would be of socialist pattern. Liaquat framed a budget, which was ostensibly based on this Congress declaration, but it was a clever device to discredit  Congress. He framed measures calculated to harm the national economy.

British Prime Minister Attlee took a personal interest in Indian freedom. He wanted to fix a date for withdrawal of British power in India. Viceroy Wavell, however did not agree about fixing a date. He argued that Britain would fail in its duty if it transferred power before settling the communal issue. When Attlee was not convinced, Wavell offered his resignation.

When Viceroy Wavell resigned, Mountbatten was appointed Viceroy and Governor-General with instruction from British Prime Minister Attlee to transfer power before 30 June 1948.

The situation was deteriorating every day. After riots in Calcutta, it spread to Noakhali and Bihar, then to Bombay and other parts of the country. The situation worsened by the deadlock between the Congress and the League in the Executive council. Moves by Sardar Patel of Home Ministry were fettered by Liaqat Ali governing Finance. Also  other portfolios felt equally frustrated in working with Finance department.

A truly pathetic situation had developed by the foolish action of the Congress Party in giving Finance to the Muslim League. Mountbatten took full advantage of the situation. With dissensions among the members, he gradually assumed full powers and started mediating between the Congress and the League. He tried impress both parties on the inevitability of Pakistan.

Till the very end Pakistan was for Jinnah a bargaining counter. But his actions had annoyed and irritated Sardar Patel so much that he fell the first victim in India to Mountbatten's idea. He openly said tat he was prepared to have a part of India if only he could get rid of Muslim League.

Having convinced Sarda Patel, Mountbatten turned to Nehru.  First he was not  at all ready to accept his idea. Mountbatten started discussing with him till his opposition thinned out. He was helped by his wife, who had an attractive and friendly temperament and could convince others of her husband's thoughts.

In London Nehru met an Indian named Krishna Menon, who admired Nehru's views and Nehru was very pleased with him. When war broke out, Menon requested money from Nehru to carry out propaganda in London for India. Nehru in turn asked Azad to send the money, which however was not approved later by Gandhi and Patel.

During the Interim government Nehru wanted to appoint Menon as the High Commissioner in London, to which Wavell did not agree. When Mountbatten perceived that Nehru had a weakness for Menon, he felt that Menon could be useful in persuading Nehru to his idea of partition. He then offered Nehru to support Menon for the post.

For Maulana Abul Kalam Azad undivided India and Hindu-Muslim unity was close to his heart. When he found Patel and Nehru yielding to Mountbatten's idea of partition of India, he turned to Gandhi, who said what many of us have read in different papers:

" If the Congress wishes to accept partition,it will be over my dead body. As long as I am alive I will never agree to the partition of India. Nor will II, if I can help it, allow Congress to accept it."

Gandhi met Mountbatten. Sardar Patel came to Gandhi and was closetted with him for several hours. Gandhi again met Mountbatten for the next two days. As Azad wrote in his book, when he met Gandhi again, he got the greatest shock of his life : Gandhi had changed! Though he was not in favour of partition, he did not speak vehemently against the idea.

Gandhi told Mountbatten that he could ask Jinnah to choose the members of the Cabinet and form the Government. Mountbatten was greatly impressed  by this idea of Gandhi and said that if Congress adopted his idea, the partition might be saved. But this moved could make no progress, as  both Nehru and Patel opposed it and they forced Gandhi to withdraw his idea.

Then Azad once again pleaded with Gandhi that the present state of affairs might be allowed to stay for two years, during which the Congress and the League might come to a settlement, which Gandhi himself had suggested a few months ago. Gandhi neither rejected nor showed any enthusiasm for it.

By that time Mountbatten had framed his own proposal for partition of India. Before he left for England, Azad appealed to him not to bury the Cabinet Mission proposal and be patient, as there was still hope that the plan would succeed. In the absence of Gandhi's vehement denial of partition.

Mountbatten did not take Azad's appeal seriously. Also he might have thought that Cabinet Mission proposal was not his brain child. He wanted to be remembered in history as the man who had solved the Indian problem.

Azad could partially foresee the consequences of partition. He pointed out to Mountbatten that when Jinnah declared "direct action" even before any partition, there was bloodshed and immense misery suffered by the people. If the country was divided in such an atmosphere, there would be rivers of blood flowing in different parts of the country and British government would be responsible for the carnage. To this Mountbatten immediately replied, " I am a soldier, not a civilian. Once partition is accepted in principle, I shall issue orders that there are no communal disturbances anywhere in the country."

Mountbatten's proposal won the conservative (Churchill) support, who opposed the Cabinet Mission proposal framed by the Prime Minister Attlee. So the British Cabinet immediately accepted it.

For more than one thousand years Muslims and Hindus in India were living peacefully in different areas. With two regions carved out of India to form Pakistan, Muslims were made to believe that they were wrongly denied a land for them. They thus drove away Hindus from Pakistan. In retaliation they were driven from India by Hindus. About 15 million people crossed the western and eastern borders and were turned refugees. Though there was no war, the attacks led to deaths close to 1 million innocent men, women and children of both religions.

We may compare this number of deaths with those killed in other cases. In the American Civil War (1859-1864) the number of deaths were close to 0.5 million.  They were mostly soldiers, white and black.

During the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler (1933-1945) 6 million Jews were killed in Holocaust. Most of them were killed in gas chambers and bullet firings. Also a number of them were killed through extreme cruelty. The Nobel laureate Physicist Max Planck went directly, somewhat like Gandhi, to Hitler in an attempt to reverse Hitler's devastating racial policies. His younger son was implicated in an attempt made on Hitler's life in 1944 and in early 1945 he died a horrible death in the hands of Gestapo.

World War II (1939-1945) killed about 60 million people, of which 20 millions were soldiers and the rest civilians, including those killed in Holocaust. The civilians were killed through deliberate genocides, mass bombings and starvation.

[The above material is collected mostly from Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's book INDIA WINS FREEDOM, with additional inputs from different sources. I thank Rabin Chakraborty for technical help in preparing the article.]

Jan 30, 2020

Samir Mallik

Your Comment if any