By Prem Vaidya
AUGUST 15, 1947. Do you remember that day? Year-after-year we are asked to celebrate this day as ?Independence Day?! A day of horrors and dismay…a day of incalculable human losses… a day with emotionally charged atmosphere throughout the Indian sub-continent… a day of political bankruptcy… a day of Partition of India that was accompanied with communal holocaust the like of which this country had never witness before.
After World War II, India'sIndependence was inevitable; it was just a matter of time. But certainly not its division or horrors of vivisection!
The trials for treason of the officers of the ?Indian National Army? at the Red Fort?the revolt followed by the Royal Indian Navy personnel in Mumbai, Karachi, Kochin, Vishakhapatnam and Kolkata compelled the British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee to announce: ?Britain is transferring power due to the fact that the Indian mercenary army is no longer loyal to Britain and Britain cannot afford to have a large British Army to hold down to India.?
Please note the glittering act of divine Providence. Queen Victoria who ruled over the single largest unit of the Indian subcontinent in the Empire, had to be liquidated by her own great-grandson?Lord Mountbatten as the last Viceroy of India, thereby dissolving the legacy of colonialism of the British Empire ?where the sun never sets?!
Six thousand miles away from the Indian soil, the fate of India was decided on the last day of May 1947 by His Majesty'sGovernment on the basis of the ?Mountbatten plan? for the ?Partition of India? and the ?transfer of power? to the dominions of India and Pakistan.
Then the leaders of the Indian National Congress, asked our countrymen to accept this Partition. The land of the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Sindhu rivers that had enriched a fertile land which sustained the oldest civilisation for more than 4,000 years had to be now divided among its own people. In the West, the land from where the Aryan culture spread throughout the country became a ?foreign land? for us. To the East, our own people from ?Sonar Bangla? became hostile to us in the name of ?East Pakistan?.
?Keep a part of India?, was Winston Churchill'sparting advice to General Ismay who was going to India as military aide to Lord Mountbatten. There was an attempt towards balkanisation of India! The 562 Indian princely states? the symbol of the British Raj? had been guaranteed their sovereignty. After August 15, the princes would be free to decide whether to join India or Pakistan or remain as autocratic independent sovereign states! And so, there were some princes and their stooges??Dewans? and Nawabs who cherished the hope of maintaining their sovereignty even after the departure of British!
Ironically, in the British terminology, it was ?transfer of power? and not the Indian Independence. Transfer of power of just 11 British-administered provinces to India and Pakistan!
On June 3, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah accepted the ?Mountbatten plan?, the Partition of India into two dominions?India and Pakistan. The dominion of Pakistan would consist of Muslim-majority provinces and districts of Bengal and Punjab.
Where the sovereignty of India was not negotiable, it was negotiated by the leaders of two main Indian political parties: the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League! All India Congress Committee (AICC) finally accepted the resolution of Partition plan supported by Nehru. On June 4, Gandhiji in his prayer meeting regretfully announced the decision.
Maulana Azad, the author of India wins Freedom, says:
?The AICC met on 14th June 1947…Congress was now considering an official resolution for dividing the country. Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant moved the resolution and after Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal spoke on it, Gandhiji had to intervene…It was impossible for me to tolerate this abject surrender on the part of the Congress. In my speech I clearly said that the decision which the Working Committee had reached was the result of a most unfortunate development… After the first day´s debate, there was very strong feeling against the Working Committee'sresolution. Neither Pandit Pant'spersuasive-ness nor Sardar Patel'seloquence had been able to persuade the people to accept this resolution… It therefore, became necessary for Gandhiji to intervene in the debate… When the resolution was put to the vote, 29 voted for it and 15 against. Even Gandhiji'sappeal could not persuade more members to vote for the Partition of the country.? (p. 215-16).
Vinoba, a stanch disciple of Gandhiji, who never indulged in politics, at last gave vent to his feelings. He said: ?This was a Himalayan blunder. Even the weak support lent by Gandhi to the Congress Working Committee'sresolution was not proper.? (Vinoba?Life and Mission by Suresh Ram, published by the Sarva Seva Sangh, pp. 36-37).
In reality, the Partition was neither agreed to by the vast majority of Hindus and Sikhs nor even by a majority of Muslims. Despite the fact that Pakistan was created on the basis of a homeland for Muslims in the Indian sub-continent, whereas today, India and not Pakistan is the home for the second largest Muslim population in the world, next only to Indonesia!
On August 14, 1947 in Karachi, now in Pakistan, in the newly formed Constitution Assembly, amidst thunderous applause, Mohammed Ali Jinnah unwrapped a small flag and announced that the green flag with the crescent and star and band of white would be the national flag of Pakistan. And then, pointing towards the white band, he described as representing the minorities who would be safe in Pakistan!
In Punjab it was considered an occasion for mourning. Even Gandhiji, who had earlier warned the British, said, ?You will have to divide my body before you divide India,? had yielded with a sense of helplessness.
Alas, one-sixth of the people of the world were forced to separate for two different allegiances?secular India and Muslim Pakistan. Within a month, by September end most of the Hindus from Sindh and Sikhs from Punjab province were pushed out of Pakistan and their land and property grabbed! What followed has been described as the biggest mass migration in history.
A flashback worth remembering here?At the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1929, as the New Year dawned, 40-year old Jawaharlal Nehru, as the president of the Indian National Congress, had unfurled the flag of ?Independent India? on the banks of River Ravi at Lahore, taking a pledge for poorna SWARAJ?complete indepen-dence?for the whole Indian sub-continent. Alas, that very place, from August 15, 1947 became a ?foreign land? for us!
On August 17, 1947, two days after the Partition, the Radcliffe Award (Sir Cyril Radcliffe, Chairman of two Boundary Commissions) was announced for further chopping off of the Muslim majority districts of Punjab and Bengal for Pakistan. With lightning speed the communal riots erupted among Hindus and Muslims. Nearly 40 per cent of Sikh population from West Punjab suddenly became homeless and were forcibly uprooted to leave from their homeland to India as refugees! The Congress leaders wanted freedom at any cost without any preparation for the consequences of Partition. While counting on fingertips, some of the leaders were celebrating the freedom whereas the countless suffered and perished on both sides. A 300-km stretch of the Indo-Pak border, from Pathankot to Ferozepur, was dangerously disturbed.
Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, speaking on October 2, in a nation-wide broadcast on All India Radio, on Gandhiji'sseventy-eighth-birthday, said: ?The British Government had inflicted a grievous wrong on this country by imposing Partition and we had acquiesced by accepting it. No amount of regret would bring back a lost opportunity. Mistakes of an hour might have to be atoned for by the sorrow of years.?
With remarkable foresight, Sardar Patel used his ingenuity and with the help of his secretary, V.P. Menon, all the princely states were integrated into the Union of India with a stroke of the pen?wiping off all the yellow patches (representing the princely states) from the map of India!