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Runup to Partition - August 1946 - August 1947

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. Thus began India's bloodiest year of civil war since the Mutiny nearly a century earlier.

That day witnessed communal killing on an unprecedented scale. Although in the City of Calcutta the Muslims were no more than one-fourth of the total population of the city, 'the hinterland, on whichthe life of Calcutta as a city and port depended and of which it formed an integral part, was a Muslim majority area. Even today it is impossible to assess the exact number of those killed. Eyewitnesses described heaps of dead bodies on the streets. For a full day, in certain sensitive areas for longer, the city became a killing field for mercenaries. Both communities, described by contemporaries as "The Great Calcutta Killing", perpetrated slaughter, rape and plunder. The Hindu-Muslim rioting and killing that started in Calcutta sent deadly sparks of fury, frenzy, and fear to every corner of the subcontinent, as all civilized restraint seemed to disappear. By the close of 1946, communal riots had flared up to murderous heights, engulfing almost the entire subcontinent. This violence was the principal factor in winning finally the acceptance of the Congress and the British for the partition of the country and the creation of a Muslim-majority state of Pakistan. The two peoples, it seemed, were engaged in a fight to the finish. Partition seemed preferable to civil war.

On 04 March 1947 violence began with rioting in Lahore City, extending then to several other cities in West Punjab, and followed by rural massacres" in several districts involving heavy casualties and "much burning." The massacres of Sikhs and Hindus in the far western Punjab in Rawalpindi Division in March 1947 was the first link in the chain for which vengeance was required. By 21 March 1947, order had been restored everywhere, as emotions of the moment did not lead to immediate revenge and retaliation. But between March 21 and May 9, the progression was from "minor incidents in many districts" to serious rioting and burning and then an "outbreak" of widespread violence. From 10 May 1947 onwards began a communal 'war of succession'.

The failure of the Cabinet Mission Plan to preserve the unity of India was followed by the replacement of the Viceroy, Lord Wavell. In February 1947, Viscount Louis Mountbatten was appointed Viceroy. Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten was born in Windsor, and shared close links with the British royal family - his great grandmother was Queen Victoria and he himself was uncle to Prince Philip. He established good relations with Jawaharlal Nehru, but was unable to persuade the Muslim leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah of the benefits of a united, independent India. As a member of a Royal family, people in India expected him to be fair and above board. But Mountbatten developed some bias against Jinnah and Pakistan, and his policies damaged Pakistan rather badly. Once it was decided by the Muslim League not to accept Mountbatten as the first Governor General of Pakistan, Mountbatten seemed to have gone out of the way to damage Pakistani interests and favored India in almost all areas and issues.

Compared to Mountbatten's role in securing the accession of Jaipur, Jaisalmere, and Hyderabad - where he forcefully argued with the rulers to join India - he did not play a similar role in the case of Kashmir. At no stage did he make any attempt to impress upon the Maharajah that in view of the geographical and strategic factors coupled with the fact of the overwhelming Muslim population that the State should accede to Pakistan. Nehru had never made any secret of his passion for Kashmir, and Nehru's close ties with the popular Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah was well known.

Mountbatten had specific instructions to arrange for a transfer of power by June 1948. Shortly after reaching Delhi, he conferred with the leaders of all parties and with his own officials. Fearing a forced evacuation of British troops still stationed in India, Mountbatten decided that the situation was too dangerous to wait even that brief period. Mountbatten assessed the situation and became convinced that Congress was willing to accept partition as the price for independence, that Jinnah would accept what he had contemptuously dismissed in 1944 as a 'moth-eaten' Pakistan, a Pakistan bereft of something like half of Bengal and the Punjab and most of Assam, and Sikhs would learn to accept a division of Punjab, India's richest province. Mahatma Gandhi notably excepted, the leadership of the Congress party came gradually and reluctantly to the same conclusion. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru's deputy, likened it to the cutting off of a diseased limb. Mountbatten's decision to give Britain only 73 days to get out of India, after having been responsible for Indian affairs for almost 250 years, appeared hasty.

On June 3, 1947, 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. The June 3, 1947 Partition Plan was prepared by Mountbatten in consultation with the British Government. It was based on a fundamental principle that transfer of power should take place according to the wishes of the people. The principle of partition was specified in the plan : The all Muslim majority areas were to constitute part of Pakistan and similarly the Hindu majority areas were to go to India. Besides, the 565 princely States at that time including the State of Jammu and Kashmir were given the option either to join Pakistan or India. Such joining to either State was to be determined by the geographical contiguity and communal composition of the population. The State of Jammu and Kashmir with a 77 % Muslims majority (according to 1941 Census) would have acceded to Pakistan.

The Indian Independence Act, a bill providing independence to India, was introduced in the House of Commons on 4 July, 1947, and was passed on 15 July, 1947. On 16 July 1947, it was passed by the House of Lords and received the Royal assent on 18 July, 1947. The Boundary Commission appointed under the Indian Independence Act 1947, submitted its report, commonly known as the Radcliffe Award, on August 12, 1947. The Boundary Commission awarded to India parts of several districts of Punjab in which the population was predominantly Muslim. Under the Award, the Muslim majority areas of Gurdaspur, Batala, Ferozepur, and Jullundhar were given to India.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the Chairman of the Boundary Commission on India and Pakistan, had handed over the Muslim majority districts of Gurdaspur and Kapurthala to India. Radcliffe decided to allot three-fourth of the Muslim majority district of Gurdaspur to India, giving India access to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Without Gurdaspur India had no claim whatsoever to Kashmir. As the events unfolded, later it was revealed that this crude violation of the June 3 Partition Plan might have been deliberatly undertaken to afford India a corridor and access to the valley of Kashmir. The Muslims with marginal majority in these two districts of the Punjab were taken aback when they learnt on 15 August 1947, four days after the declaration of independence, that they were in India and not in Pakistan. Simultaneously, the Hindus and Sikhs, aided by militias and partisan elements of soldiery from Bikaner, Kapurthala and Patiala states started a down-right massacre of Muslims in East Punjab. In a matter of a few weeks hundreds of thousands of Muslims who were not killed were thrown out of the borders.

The Pakistan-India boundary continues irregularly southward for about 1,280 kilometers, following the line of the 1947 Radcliffe Award, named for Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the head of the British boundary commission on the partition of Punjab and Bengal in 1947. Although this boundary with India is not formally disputed, passions still run high on both sides of the border. Many Indians had expected the original boundary line to run farther to the west, thereby ceding Lahore to India; Pakistanis had expected the line to run much farther east, possibly granting them control of Delhi, the imperial capital of the Mughal Empire.

The award in Punjab generated a wave of indignation in Pakistan. It was regarded as extremely unfair, disgusting, abominable and one-sided. Quaid-i-Azam said that it was an unjust, incomprehensible and even perverse Award. He further said that as the Muslims had agreed to abide by it, it was binding. But when the Radcliffe Award partitioning Punjab and Bengal was announced, millions of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs found that they no longer "belonged" to the place they were born in and where their families had lived in forever.

The Punjab Boundary Force, established on 19 July 1947, had no more than 23,000 men at its maximum; nowhere near the 50,000 many (including Mountbatten) have claimed. The Force's area of operations extended to twelve civil districts covering 37,500 square miles, an area somewhat larger than Ireland. The Boundary Force was supposed to protect the population of Sialkot, Gujranwala,Sheikhupura, Lyallpur, Montgomery, Lahore, Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpour, Jullundur, Ferozpur and Ludhiana. Of the population of 14.5 million, more than 90 percent was located in 17,000 villages, many of them with no road links with the outside world. Muslims were in a slight majority over Sikhs and Hindus combined, but the three communities were evenly distributed. At its greatest strength, the Boundary Force was in a position to allot four men to every three villages or fewer than two men to a square mile; to the population, it stood in a ratio of 1:630.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:28:05 ZULU