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The Partition of India

Sentiments of Indian nationalism were expressed as early as 1885 at the Indian National Congress, which was predominantly Hindu. In 1906 the All-India Muslim League formed with favorable relations towards British rule, but by 1913 that changed when the League shifted its focus and began to view Indian self-government as its goal. It continued to favor Hindu-Muslim unity towards that end for several decades but in 1940 the League began to call for a separate Muslim state from the projected independent India. The league was concerned that a united independent India would be dominated by Hindus. In the winter of 1945-46 Mohammed Ali Jinnah's Muslim League members won all thirty seats reserved for Muslims in the Central Legislative Assembly and most of the reserved provincial seats as well.

In an effort to resolve deadlock between Congress and the Muslim League in order to transfer British power "to a single Indian administration", a three-man Cabinet Mission formed in 1946 which drafted plans for a "three-tier federation for India." According to those plans, the region would be divided into three groups of provinces, with Group A including the Hindu-populated provinces that would eventually comprise the majority of the independent India. Groups B and C were comprised of largely Muslim-populated provinces. Each group would be governed separately with a great degree of autonomy except for the handling of "foreign affairs, communications, defense, and only those finances required for such nationwide matters." These issues would be addressed by a minimal central government located in Dehli.

The plan, however, did not take into account the fate of a large Sikh population living in Punjab, part of the B-group of provinces. Mughal emperors' persecution of Sikh gurus in the 17th century had infused the Sikh culture with a lasting anti-Muslim element that promised to erupt if the Punjab Sikhs were to be partitioned off as part of a Muslim-dominated province group. Although they did not make up more than two per cent of the Indian population, the Sikhs had since 1942 been moving for a separate Azad Punjab of their own, and by 1946 they were demanding a free Sikh nation-state.

As leader of the Muslim League, Jinnah accepted the Cabinet Mission's proposal. However, when Nehru announced at his first press conference as the reelected president of Congress that "no constituent assembly could be bound by any prearranged constitutional formula," Jinnah took this to be a repudiation of the plan, which was necessarily a case of all or nothing. The Muslim Leagueís Working Committee withdrew its consent and called upon the Muslim nation to launch direct action in mid-August 1946. A frenzy of rioting between Hindus and Muslims ensued.

In March of 1947 Lord Mountbatten was sent to take over the viceroy, and encountered a situation in which he feared a forced evacuation of British troops. He recommended a partition of Punjab and Bengal in the face of raging civil war. Gandhi was very opposed to the idea of partition, and urged Mountbatten to offer Jinnah leadership of a united India instead of the creation of a separate Muslim state. However, Nehru would not agree to that suggestion. In July Britain's Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act, which set a deadline of midnight on August 14-15, 1947 for "demarcation of the dominions of India." As a result, at least 10 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs fled their homes to seek sanctuary on whichever side of the line was favorable to them. The ensuing communal massacres left at least one million dead, with the brunt of the suffering borne by the Sikhs who had been caught in the middle. Most of them eventually settled in Punjab.

Jinnah presided as the governor-general of Pakistan, which was geographically divided into East Pakistan and West Pakistan and separated by Indian territory (including half of Punjab and half of Bengal). However, ownership of Kashmir remained in dispute until it came to a head and war broke out once again in 1965. The unrest did not end there; in 1971 tensions between East and West Pakistan over Bengali autonomy developed into another civil war, with the result that Bangladesh became an independent country in 1972 and West Pakistan remained Pakistan.

Indian Independence

Between 1940 and 1942, the Congress launched two abortive agitations against the British, and 60,000 Congress members were arrested, including Gandhi and Nehru. Unlike the uncooperative and belligerent Congress, the Muslim League supported the British during World War II. Belated but perhaps sincere British attempts to accommodate the demands of the two rival parties, while preserving the unitary state in India, seemed unacceptable to both as they alternately rejected whatever proposal was put forward during the war years. As a result, a three-way impasse settled in: the Congress and the Muslim League doubted British motives in handing over power to Indians, while the British struggled to retain some hold on India while offering to give greater autonomy.

The Congress wasted precious time denouncing the British rather than allaying Muslim fears during the highly charged election campaign of 1946. Even the more mature Congress leaders, especially Gandhi and Nehru, failed to see how genuinely afraid the Muslims were and how exhausted and weak the British had become in the aftermath of the war. When it appeared that the Congress had no desire to share power with the Muslim League at the center, Jinnah declared August 16, 1946, Direct Action Day, which brought communal rioting and massacre in many places in the north. Partition seemed preferable to civil war. On June 3, 1947, Viscount Louis Mountbatten, the viceroy (1947) and governor-general (1947-48), announced plans for partition of the British Indian Empire into the nations of India and Pakistan, which itself was divided into east and west wings on either side of India. At midnight, on August 15, 1947, India strode to freedom amidst ecstatic shouting of "Jai Hind" , when Nehru delivered a memorable and moving speech on India's "tryst with destiny."

Jawaharlal Nehru : Speech On the Granting of Indian Independence, August 14, 1947

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long supressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of Inida and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals, which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?

Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this Assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now.

That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.

And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this One World that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.

To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make an appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.

II

The appointed day has come-the day appointed by destiny-and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent. The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning-point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about.

It is a fateful moment for us in India, for all Asia and for the world. A new star rises, the star of freedom in the East, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materializes. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed!

We rejoice in that freedom, even though clouds surround us, and many of our people are sorrowstricken and difficult problems encompass us. But freedom brings responsibilities and burdens and we have to face them in the spirit of a free and disciplined people.

On this day our first thoughts go to the architect of this freedom, the Father of our Nation [Gandhi], who, embodying the old spirit of India, held aloft the torch of freedom and lighted up the darkness that surrounded us. We have often been unworthy followers of his and have strayed from his message, but not only we but also succeeding generations will remember this message and bear the imprint in their hearts of this great son of India, magnificent in his faith and strength and courage and humility. We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest.

Our next thoughts must be of the unknown volunteers and soldiers of freedom who, without praise or reward, have served India even unto death.

We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries and who unhappily cannot share at present in the freedom that has come. They are of us and will remain of us whatever may happen, and we shall be sharers in their good [or] ill fortune alike.

The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.

We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.

To the nations and peoples of the world we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy.

And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service.

JAI HIND.


Nine Unknown Men

Nine Unknown Men are a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka.