By M.V. Kamath
The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India'sPartition by Narendra Singh Sarila; Harper Collins; pp 436; Rs 500
The events that ultimately led to the partition of India have been covered in the past by several historians of distinction but for all that has so far been written, the full truth, it would seem, still calls for revelation. When the author of this study, Narendra Singh Sarila who, incidentally, once served as ADC to last Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, was researching in the Oriental and Indian Collection of the British Library in London on some other matter, he came to learn, to his surprise that the partition of India in August 1947 may not have been totally unconnected with the British concern to keep the Soviet Union as far away as possible from the waters of the Indian Ocean. Russia has been a bugbear of the British in India even long before the former was taken over by communism. But with Stalin'stake over of Russia and especially after the Soviet Union'spowerful victory over Germany in 1945, the Soviet dictator'sambitions, it would seem, to extend his country'sinfluence right up to the Arabian Sea, went on increasing, correspondingly increasing Britain'sworries.
A free India, Britain knew, would not care to play second fiddle to London; but a Muslim-dominated Pakistan, was as M.A. Jinnah its vilest proponent frequently made clear, only too willing to do so. That was made clear as early as on June 3, 1947 by Britain'sforeign secretary Ernest Bevin, while addressing the British Labour Party'sannual conference, when he said that the division of India ?would help consolidate Britain in the Middle East?. Famous words. What is clear is that even if there was no Jinnah, Britain would still have sought to vivisect India. Jinnah was only a convenient instrument. He came in handy when Britain was desperately looking for a scapegoat to justify the partition of the Indian sub-continent which, it knew, it could no longer hold on to, after the end of the Second World War. This much is clearly brought out by Sarila in his well-documented book. Jinnah surely is a villain. But the greater villain was Britain. It is not insignificant that as late as on November 15, 2002, the then British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said in an interview to the New Statesman that his country has been guilty of ?some quite serious mistakes? where India is concerned and that a lot of the problems he has to deal with ?are a consequence of our colonial past?. What Sarila has done is to quote chapter and verse to prove his point that Britain had deliberately planned the partition of India and had also tried very hard to inveigle the United States in its criminal venture. Revealed are correspondence culled from the Oriental & Indian section of the British Library, the Mountbatten archives in the Hartley Library in Southampton, the Public Records Office in Kew, the archives of the US States Department, the National Archives in Washington and the Library of the US Congress. Even without Straw'sopen confession, Sarila has pinned down Britain as the main, indeed the only, party guilty of dividing India. Lord Wavell, Mountbatten'spredecessor turns out to be the arch villain. The whole approach was to retain at least some part of India, hopefully in the North-West ?for defensive and offensive action against the USSR in any future dispensation in the sub-continent?. And Britain knew that this was best achieved by having a willingly subservient Pakistan as its client. The United States was not willing to go along with Britain. President Roosevelt wanted to see a free and independent India?and not a partitioned India.
In the early stages the British were not even willing to take Washington into confidence. US Ambassador to Delhi, Henry Grady was to write back to the State Department saying that ?the British have been friendly but have made no attempt to consult with us on common problems or to ask for our advice.?
In the early stages the British were not even willing to take Washington into confidence. US Ambassador to Delhi, Henry Grady was to write back to the State Department saying that ?the British have been friendly but have made no attempt to consult with us on common problems or to ask for our advice?. Neither, he complained, had the UK High Commissioner in Delhi nor Mountbatten thought of the US ?as partners?. Indeed, he added, ?on more than one occasion Mountbatten had warned Nehru against dollar imperialism?.
On his part, Jawaharlal Nehru, though he never acknowledged America'searly stand in favour of total independence, nevertheless told Ambassador Grady that ?while there was some fear in India of US economic penetration? India would still want US capital goods and that ?while USSR in the past had held considerable attraction for Indians, internal troubles now are such that interest in USSR has declined?. The revelations made by Sarila of many leading people who figured in the Indian independence struggle, such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajagopalachari and V.K. Krishna Menon are fascinating and throw a lot of light on what went wrong.
Britain poisoned the American mind to an unbelievable extent, especially on the situation in Jammu & Kashmir. All this is recorded in so many words. One wonders, though, whether things would have turned so bad had (a) Congress governments not resigned from several provinces where they were in power from 1939 and (b) and the Congress had not misjudged British strength in 1942 and called for the Quit India Movement. The resignation of Congress ministries enabled Jinnah and his Muslim League to come to the fore; and Congress reluctance towards supporting the war effort further alienated Britain from the party. Inevitably, Britain leaned towards Jinnah and his League, with what consequences, we all know. Sarila does not dwell at any length on these issues, but that does not detract from the value of his work; especially revealing is a chapter on what the author calls the ?Kashmir imbroglio?. It surely, given Britain'svicious role, would not come as a surprise to learn that even Mountbatten once hinted at partition of Jammu & Kashmir. This book has to be read to be believed. It is a most welcome addition to books dealing with the partition of India even while making one wonder how many more secrets still remain to be unveiled!