December 2, 2020

Partitioned Freedom- Part I

Revisiting India's Partition- The Preceding Events, the Political Haste, the Tired Leadership, and the Sordid Consequences
Keywords: Independence | India’s Partition | Mahatma Gandhi | June 3rd Plan | God-made Triangle | Mass Exodus | Vivisection | Moral Sin | Resistance | Resolution
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Image Courtesy: Flickr

On the night of August 14-15, 1947, when India was celebrating its independence, the architect of the independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi was not among the revellers. When his protégé Jawahar Lal Nehru was making that epochal speech about ‘India’s tryst with destiny’, and the ministers of his new cabinet were taking the oath of office, Gandhi was not rejoicing. A 1000 miles away in Kolkata, he was in a sombre mood, tired of the day-long fasting and prayers.

Overnight, the land under their feet, on which they had lived for generations, became foreign to those millions who found themselves on the wrong side of what was to be their future home.

“I cannot rejoice on August 15. I do not want to deceive you. But at the same time I shall not ask you not to rejoice. Unfortunately, the kind of freedom we have got today contains also the seeds of future conflict between India and Pakistan”, he had told his colleagues in July that year.

Gandhi no doubt was prophetic about the future conflict. But what was the ‘kind of freedom’ that put him off? The proclamation of India’s independence was to be a moment of jubilation and pride for over 350 million Indians. But it became a moment of sorrow and suffering for several million among them. While granting independence, the British had partitioned India into two in a hurried manner creating Pakistan as a separate nation. Overnight, the land under their feet, on which they had lived for generations, became foreign to those millions who found themselves on the wrong side of what was to be their future home. Not unexpectedly, massive violence broke out on both sides of the clumsily carved out frontiers.

India’s partition was not a smooth and peaceful affair. It happened over the dead bodies of hundreds of thousands of innocents. Historians wrote poignantly that the Sindhu river flowed not with water but with the blood of tens of thousands of Hindus and Muslims. Millions were uprooted, and leaving everything behind, were forced to undertake an arduous and often hazardous trek of hundreds of miles seeking a new home and meaning for lives. “It was the world’s largest and rarest exodus”, wrote Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre in ‘Freedom at Midnight’.

Why did this tragedy take place? Who was responsible? 

“It was the world’s largest and rarest exodus”, wrote Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre in ‘Freedom at Midnight’.

None of the leading lights of India’s independence movement wanted India to be divided. Neither did the majority of the people of India – both Muslim and Hindu.

“Vivisect me before vivisecting India”, Gandhi warned firmly, when he was informed about the Muslim League’s Lahore Resolution of March 24, 1940 in which the League demanded that the “areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North Western and Eastern Zones of India should be grouped to constitute ‘independent states’ in which the constituent units should be autonomous and sovereign”. Although the word ‘Pakistan’ was not used, the reference to ‘autonomous and sovereign independent states’ made the intentions of the League amply clear. They were demanding a separate country. This resolution became popular later in history as the ‘Pakistan Resolution’. 

For Gandhi, the Pakistan resolution was a ‘moral sin’. It militated against all his lifelong convictions, especially his dearest idea of Hindu-Muslim unity. It was totally unacceptable to him. “The step of Mr. Jinnah is like that two brothers have a fight on same cow and they cut it and divide it”, Gandhi lamented. Yet the country was divided before his eyes.

“Vivisect me before vivisecting India”, Gandhi warned firmly, when he was informed about the Muslim League’s Lahore Resolution.

Jawahar Lal Nehru, in his typical romantic way, proclaimed that the idea of partition was “fantastic nonsense”, a fantasy of some mad people. Yet he became one of the enthusiastic supporters of the ‘June 3rd Plan’ for the country’s partition. Sardar Patel went one step further and declared in his typical style “Talwar se talwar bhidegi” (sword will clash with sword), meaning that the countrymen would fight till the end against partition. But even he became a mute witness to the passing of the ‘June 3rd Plan’. 

Dr Rajendra Prasad, who was in jail during the Quit India Movement, went on to write the book India Divided, in which he spoke of the ills of partition and how illogical the thought was. The book was published in early 1946. Even before the ink on the pages of that book could dry up, India was partitioned. 

Not just the Indian leaders, many British leaders too did not support the idea of partitioning India. Lord Wavell, who was the British viceroy during 1943-47, had opposed it in 1944, stating, “India is a God-made triangle, you cannot divide it.” Even Clement Atlee’s original mandate as Britain’s Prime Minister to Mountbatten, who was sent to Delhi to replace Lord Wavell in February 1947, was not to partition India. “Keep it united if possible. Save a bit from the wreck. Bring the British out in any case”, were Attlee’s instructions to Mountbatten.

Yet the country was partitioned. 

Mountbatten presented the final plan for India’s partition to the leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League in a meeting on June 3, 1947. Thus it began to be famously called as the ‘June 3rd Plan’. Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sardar Patel, and Acharya Kripalani were present from the Congress while the League was represented by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaqat Ali and Abdur Nishtar. Mountbatten later claimed that “the Indian leaders agreed unanimously, without any sort of reservation, to the choice of 15th August”.

When the partition plan was brought before the Congress Working Committee on June 14, 1947 there was vocal resistance. Gandhi, who declared six years earlier that it should happen over his dead body, intervened to ask the members to support the partition. Acknowledging that he was one of those who steadfastly opposed the division of India, Gandhi, nevertheless, urged the members to accept the resolution as “sometimes certain decisions, however unpalatable they might be, had to be taken”. Gandhi also indicated that if the resolution was rejected, they would have to find a “new set of leaders”. He also insisted that it was essential for peace in the country.

Unfortunately, at that momentous juncture, people were not ready for the fight to save India’s integrity, and the leaders too were not ready.. “We became old” one of them confessed later.

While nobody wanted the partition of India, nobody was there to stand up against it when the moment came. It needed people to come on to the streets to fight the forces of vivisection, and leaders to lead that resistance. Unfortunately, at that momentous juncture, people were not ready for the fight to save India’s integrity, and the leaders too were not ready.. ‘We became old’ one of them confessed later.

Why?

Click to Read Part II

15 comments

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  • The vast majority of Indian generation born post independence are not aware of true history of partition. Good that it is presented in a succinct manner. These should be part of curriculum of syllabus of students

  • Once the seed of two nations was sown during partition of Bengal and subsequently by voting overhelmingly for the Muslim League by the Muslims of India could the partition have been avoided? If yes at what human cost? The tragedy is that the idea still persists today as the people who voted for it but stayed in India in large numbers are still clamouring for their exclusive ideology at the expense of other faiths whom they consider Kafirs. At the same time minority populations in the divided parts are dwindling at an alarming rate.

    • An honest summing up of our present political situation .by Dr Dutta .No one wants to acknowledge it ,much less Congress Leaders .

  • The facts on ugly divide of India are eye opener. Whether lessons will be learnt by our neighbours? It has become a power game of domination. Sting leadership like now can only correct mistakes for correct path of development.

  • Looking at the happenings we feel at the time of partition all Muslims and Christians should have gone to Pak.If that was done these conversions .religious roits would not have happened.Along with that law should have been passed propagation of missionaries in Hindustan

    • I agree that would have been the right solution. But vegetable-eating Hindu leaders of the time lacked courage badly.

  • Yes, the Partition of the country was and still is, a painful thing. The article covers the historical aspects that led to the unforgettable event.

  • I have read Freedom at Midnight when it was published in Bimonthly Magazine “Caravan” and subsequently bought the Book also. I wish all the present generation atleast read once who are all throwing mud on the past Leaders responsible for their tireless fight to achieve the Freedom

  • Root Cause of India’s partition was raging hatred of Bengal and Bengali leaders ( like Subhash Bose Shyama Prasad Mukherjee etc.) who exposed the hypocracy and sham politics of Congress, Muslim League, and British Colonials.

  • Mountbatten was pursuing a time bound agenda conceived by him. The personal ambitions and aspirations of Nehru and Jinnah became more important. Gandhi was dejected and a broken man. The country was treated hunted prey, each one vying for the juiciest portion. Personal egos of the key players was responsible for the mayhem that followed.

Ram Madhav

Ram Madhav

Ram Madhav is an Indian politician, author and thinker. Formerly, he has served as the National General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and has also been a member of the National Executive of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

Ram Madhav also serves as a Member of the Governing Board of India Foundation, a New Delhi based premier think tank which seeks to articulate Indian Nationalistic perspective on issues of National and International importance.

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