The Pakistan Paradox


Pakistan focuses the concern of quite a few chancelleries and international organizations today. Not only is it a nation that possesses nuclear weapons without having a stable political system, the military having held the reins of power on a number of occasions since independence in 1947, but is also wracked by Islamist forces, many of which have links with the Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda and possibly the Islamic State. A serious compounding factor, the civil and especially the military authorities show considerable ambivalence with regard to certain Islamist groups that they view as allies against India in Kashmir, but also in Afghanistan, where NATO, now on its way out, has been mired in war since 2001 against the Taliban and groups based in Pakistan where Al Qaeda leaders are suspected of hiding.

Western fears about Pakistan have, however, been a poor advisor for sociological and political analysis, portrayals of the country too often being oversimplified. This is not to say that certain trends are not alarming, but in attempting to explain them, it is important to discard preconceived notions and avoid culturist conflations. The present book sets out to decipher this complexity. It is not a work of field research per se, but an essay based over fifteen years of familiarity with Pakistan.

The new nation was thus born with an image of India as a villain, a Satan, and a monster next door, out to devour the newborn state (Mohammad Waseem, Politics and the State in Pakistan, Islamabad, National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, 1994, p.99)

 Since the beginning, Pakistan has been confronted with the monumental task of formulating a national identity distinct from India. Born out of a schism of the old civilization of India, Pakistan has debated over the construction of a culture of its own, a culture which will not only be different from that of India but one that the rest of the world can understand. (M. Ali, “In Search of Identity”, Dawn Magazine, 7 May 2000).

As the two excerpts above indicate, Pakistan was born of a partition that overdetermined its subsequent trajectory not only because of the difficult relations it developed with India, but also because this parting of ways defined the terms of its collective quest for identity. Indeed, the 1947 Partition was the outcome of an intense struggle as well as a trauma. It grew out of a separatist ideology which crystallized at the end of the nineteenth century among the Urdu-speaking Muslim intelligentsia of North India, whose key figure was none other than Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder in 1877 of the Anglo-Mohammedan Oriental College in Aligarh, a little town not far from Delhi. The Aligarh movement–as it was to be remembered in history–turned to politics in the early decades of the twentieth century when it became the crucible of the Muslim League. This party, founded in 1906, was then separatist in the sense that it obtained from the British Raj, a separate electorate for the Indian Muslims. The demand for a separate state emerged much later, in the 1940s, under the auspices of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, although in formulating it he did not outline contours of the future Pakistan until the last year of the Raj, nor did he fully grasp the traumatic implications Partition would have.


The 1947 Partition resulted in unprecedented violence. One million people died and about ten million others, crossed borders. The plural is in fact required here because Pakistan was then made up of two wings (and therefore had two borders with India), the two areas of the Raj where Muslims were in majority. East Pakistan (made up of East Bengal) and West Pakistan (made up of West Punjab, Sindh, the North West Frontier Province, the area that was to become Baluchistan, and a few princely states). Violence and migration were of such magnitude that this tragic episode can be regarded as the first example of ethnic cleansing in history (indeed, the word safai, cleaning was used at that time by the local actors). Not only millions of Muslims from East Punjab and Hindus from East Bengal crossed over and settled down in the western part of their now truncated former province, but Muslims and Hindus of both countries took refuge in the country where their community was a majority. The circumstances in which Pakistan was born are thus largely responsible not only for the way it has related to India, but also for its complicated trajectory.

Three Wars, Three Constitutions and Three Coups

The history of Pakistan over the last sixty-five years had been marked by chronic instability due to internal and external factors. In 1947, the British awarded Pakistan the status of a dominion. Under the aegis of M.A. Jinnah, the new Governor General, the 1935 Government of India Act became its interim constitution, minus its initial references to imperial control. It would take nine years for the country to give itself a constitution. In the course of this endeavour, political parties eventually lost the initiative as a result of their own internal divisions and the hunger for power of senior bureaucrats. In 1954, one of them, Ghulam Mohammad, the then Governor General who had taken over from Khwaja Nazimuddin, the successor of Jinnah (who had died in September 1948), dissolved the Constituent Assembly (with the consent of the Supreme Court) and had another one elected. The 1956 Constitution was not particularly democratic, but it could not be fully implemented anyway since another bureaucrat Iskander Mirza, and then the Commander-in-Chief of the army, Ayub Khan, seized power in 1958. Till 1969, the latter established a military regime that claimed to modernize Pakistan in the framework of Martial Law and then, after 1962, of a new constitution. This second constitution was authoritarian, but did not completely disregard political pluralism, especially after 1965 when Ayub Khan further liberalized his regime. But eventually, after months of unrest, he had to resign in favour of another general, the chief of the army, Yahya Khan in 1969.

By the end of 1970, Yahya Khan, having few other options, gave Pakistan its first opportunity to vote. The Bengalis of East Pakistan seized it to win the elections by massively supporting the Awami League, a party whose nationalism had been exacerbated by years of exploitation under the thumb of West Pakistan. Its leader, Mujibur Rahman asked for a confederal system that would give East Pakistan considerable autonomy. But almost all West Pakistanis–including the winner of elections in Punjab and Sindh, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)- rejected this option and supported repression. Civil war ensued and resulted in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971-after a military intervention of India, New Delhi arguing that violence and flow of refugees to West Bengal had to stop.

The arrival in power of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to whom Yahya Khan handed the reins in 1971, marked the beginning of the first democratic transition. Not only was the army subjected to a civilian government, but a third parliamentarian Constitution was promulgated in 1973. However, Bhutto displayed such authoritarian tendencies that the federal dimension of this text was stillborn and the social reforms (including land reform) that the PPP had promised were not truly implemented. Finally Bhutto rigged the 1977 election, a move that resulted in mass protests from the opposition. These events provided the army with an excuse to seize power once again led by General Ziaul Haq.

The second military coup gave birth to a dictatorial regime and even a police state: in contrast to the Ayub years, scores of politicians were sent to jail, opponents were tortured, and Bhutto was even executed in 1979. Zia also instrumentalised Islam in order to legitimize his rule. His Islamization policy affected all areas of life: education (with development of Quranic schools), law (with the setting of Sharia courts), and the fiscal system (with the transformation of zakat and ushr into compulsory state coordinated contributions). This policy gained momentum in the context of a new kind of war: the anti-Soviet jihad from 1979-88 in Afghanistan, its foot soldiers being mostly the Afghan Mujahideen who had found refuge in Pakistan. While Zia, like Ayub Khan resigned himself to seeking the support of Pakistani citizens through elections, he never gave up his uniform and it was not until his mysterious death in 1988 that Pakistan’s second democratic transition became possible.

This transition was not as substantial as the first one. While the generals returned to their barracks, they continued to be in charge of key policies regarding Afghanistan, Kashmir (India at large) and defense (including the nuclear program. They were also in a position to oust prime ministers one after another between 1988-99. Benazir Bhutto who had won the 1988 elections, benefitting from the PPP political machine and her family’s prestige-partly based on her father’s martyrdom--was the first prime minister to be dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in the 1990s. She was replaced by her archenemy, Nawaz Sharif, after army supervised elections in 1990. But Sharif alienated Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the army as well. He was dismissed in 1993 and replaced by Benazir again. She herself was eased out in 1996, this time by the President Farooq Leghari, enabling Nawaz Sharif to stage a comeback. The 1997 elections were different from the three previous ones because they gave Sharif’s party, the PML(N), the two-thirds majority that allows the prime minister to reform the Constitution: the thirteenth amendment re-established the parliamentary nature of the Constitution and deprived the president of the power to dismiss the prime minister and to dissolve both the national and provincial assemblies. But Sharif misused power. He did not respect either the independence of the judiciary or freedom of press. Furthermore, he alienated the army-including the chief of the army, Pervez Musharraf–by bowing to American pressures during the Kargil war.

In October 1999, Musharraf’s coup brought the army back into power. He then militarized the state and the economy more than his predecessors. Not only were (ex-) army officers appointed to positions normally reserved for civilians, but their business activities benefited from the patronage of the state more than ever before. While Zia had profited from the anti-Soviet US-sponsored war in Afghanistan, Musharraf exploited the fact that Pakistan had become a frontline state again during the war the US once again sponsored this time against the Taliban and Al Qaeda after the 11 September attacks in 2001. While Musharraf–like Ayub Khan-was ousted from power in 2007-08 in the wake of street demonstrations, those who protested so effectively this time were affiliated with a specific institution, the judiciary-hence the fear of ‘a government of judges” expressed by supporters of parliamentarianism after democracy was restored,

The 2008 elections brought back the same parties-and the same families, the Bhuttos and the Sharifs, both freshly returned from exile-as in the 1980s-90s. Benazir was assassinated in December 2007, but her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, was elected as President after the PPP won the 2008 elections. The new government, with the support of key opposition parties, restored the parliamentary nature of the 1973 Constitution that Musharraf, like Zia had presidentialised. Not only federalism but also the independence of the judiciary were at last in a position to prevail. However, the civilians failed to reassert their authority over the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the military intelligence agency that since the 1980s has become a state within the state, and the army retained the upper hand on key policies such as relations with the Taliban, the Kashmir issue and the nuclear program. The army justified its role by arguing that the country was facing huge challenges ranging from the unleashing of ethno-nationalist violence in Baluchistan and Karachi to the rise of both sectarian and jihadi Islamist movements, some of which were affiliated with Al Qaeda and attacked the Pakistan state because of its association with the US in the global war on terror.

However, the escalation of violence did not prevent Parliament from completing its five year term in March 2013 and citizens from voting in large numbers two months later, mostly in favour of Nawaz Sharif, who in June became the prime minister for the third time.

The alternation of phases of democratization and military rule every ten years or so is not the only the source of instability in Pakistan. The recurrence of armed conflict is another cause. Some of these conflicts come under the category of civil war, such as the 1970-71 in Bengal or during the 1973-77 insurgency in Baluchistan-and the war that started in the mid 2000s in that area, Others have primarily opposed Pakistan and India, overtly or covertly. As early as 1947-48, both countries fought each other in Kashmir. In 1965, Pakistan attacked India, whereas in 1971, the conflict was a sequel to the the movement for Bangladesh. The most recent conflict, the 1999 Kargil war (named after a town in Jammu and Kashmir) was short and circumscribed.

Thus the number of military coups (three-four if one includes Yahya Khan’s martial law episode in 1969-70) is equal to the number of wars with India (three-four if one includes the Kargil war). This is not just by chance. In fact, Pakistan’s political instability is to some degree overdetermined by the regional context, and more especially by the sentiment of vulnerability of Pakistan vis a vis India.

Between India and Afghanistan: Caught in a Pincer Movement?

In the beginning, this sentiment (which would be exploited by the army subsequently) stemmed from the conditions in which Partition took place. Pakistan resented the slow and incomplete manner in which India gave the country its share of the military equipment and the treasury of the defunct British Raj. Pakistan also felt cheated by the way the Kashmir question was settled. On 15 August 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was one of the last princely states that was still undecided about its future. The Maharaja-a Hindu-and the main party-the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference-were not willing to join Pakistan in spite of the fact that the state was comprised of a majority of Muslim subjects. But they did not support accession to India either, fearing Pakistani retaliation.*

*Jammu and Kashmir was largely connected to the rest of India via roads which had now become a part of Pakistan.

On 22 October 1947, 5000 paramilitaries from the Pashtun tribal belt who were not in uniform but were supported by Pakistani officers infiltrated Jammu and Kashmir and established a parallel government ( the government of Azad Kashmir-free Kashmir) while they were approaching Srinagar, the state capital.*

The Pakistan army formally entered the war in April 1948.

The Maharajah turned to India and Nehru sent troops on 27 October. Three days later, the government of Pakistan deployed its own soldiers, but India’s military superiority enabled New Delhi not only to retain the Valley of Srinagar, but also to reconquer key positions such a Baramulla. Certainly, when the matter was brought before the UN Security Council, India was asked to organize a referendum in Jammu and Kashmir to let the local people decide whether they wanted to remain part of the Indian Union or not. But this referendum was supposed to take place after the withdrawal of Pakistan’s troops-which did not occur. In fact the Line of Ceasefire that was officially agreed in the truce signed on 1 January 1949 gave Pakistan control of a fraction of the erstwhile princely state that was divided in two. Azad Kashmir and the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, which were amalgamated to form the Northern Areas. These regions were directly administered by the central government. Most Pakistanis considered that without Kashmir as part of their country, Partition remained unachieved.

Furthermore, some of them feared that India had not resigned itself to the very fact of Partition and that New Delhi would try to reunite with the subcontinent one day or another. Not only did the Hindu nationalists dream of Akhand Bharat (undivided India), but statements made by a few Congress leaders lent themselves to a similar interpretation. Party President, Acharya Kripalani declared in 1947, Neither the Congress nor the nation has given up its claim of a united India. Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel concurred when he said, Sooner than later, we shall again be united in common allegiance to our country.*

*Cited in Muhammad Ayub Khan, Friends not Masters. A Political Autobiography, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 1967 p.136. The very fact that Ayub cites them in his autobiography shows that one of Pakistan’s most important leaders believed these words to be true and/or used them to cultivate obsessive fears in his own country. Patel, according to another minister of the Indian government, Abdul Kalam Azad, was “convinced that the new State of Pakistan was not viable and could not last”-even though, “he was the greatest supporter of partition” among Congressmen, “out of irritation and injured vanity” (Abul Kalam Azad, India Wins Freedom, Hyderabad, Orient Longman 1988, p.225). Nehru himself at one point mentioned the possibility of creating a “confederation” between India and Pakistan, something the Pakistanis found utterly unacceptable (cited in Aparna Pande, Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy, London and New York, Routledge, 2011, p.30).

The fear of India was reinforced by an encirclement complex due to the attitude demonstrated by Afghanistan. In the early 1940s, the Kabul Government had asked the British upon their departure to allow the Pashtun tribes of the Raj to choose between claiming independence and becoming part of Afghanistan. Pakistan was not an option. At the same time, the Muslim League was disturbed by Kabul’s unwillingness to recognize the Durand Line as an international border. In 1947, this attitude prevented the Pakistanis from having distinct borders, its territory not being clearly defined (or stabilized)on the eastern side either. These difficulties harked back to the pervasiveness of Pashtun nationalism on both sides of the Durand Line. Certainly, this nationalism remained fuzzy. It was not clear whether its supporters were in favour of a separate country made up of Pashtun tribes or whether they were willing to incorporate Pakistan’s Pashtuns into Afghanistan. Whatever their agenda, it was bound to undermine the project of Pakistan’s founders. The latter felt especially threatened because Pashtun nationalists developed excellent relations with India. The main architect of Pashtun nationalism under the Raj in the North West Frontier Province, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, was a staunch supporter of the Congress and was known as “Frontier Gandhi” because of his close relationship to the Mahatma.

In June 1947, Afghan Prime Minister Muhammad Hashim Khan declared, if an independent Pukhtoonistan cannot be established, then the Frontier Province should join Afghanistan. Neither of these options came about and so in September 1947, Afghanistan was the only country that voted against Pakistan’s admission to the UN. The Afghan representative to the UN declared then declared that his country could not recognize the North West Frontier as part of Pakistan so long as the people of the North West Frontier have not been given the opportunity free from any kind of influence-I repeat, free from any kind of influence–to determine for themselves whether they wish to be independent or to become a part of Pakistan.*

*cited in the Aparna Pande, Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy.

One month later, Afghanistan softened its stance but made three demands in exchange: that the Pashtuns of Pakistan should be granted a proper province, that Pakistan should give Afghanistan access to the sea, and that both countries should sign a treaty according to which they agreed to remain neutral if one of them fought a war against a third country. None of these demands were met.

The leaders of Pakistan were convinced that Kabul and New Delhi tried to take their country in a pincer movement, as Ayub Khan confided in his autobiography. Indeed, in 1949, at a time when Afghanistan formally rejected the Durand Line, many Indian cities celebrated Pashtunistan Day, which Kabul had decided to celebrate every year on 31 August.

The Paradox

The fear of encirclement, and more especially of India, partly explains the role of the Pakistani army in the public sphere. Indeed, the military could project themselves as the saviours of a vulnerable country, and this argument was likely to appear even more convincing in the post-jinnah context when the political personnel looked weak, factionalized and corrupt. But there are other factors to the democratic deficit affecting Pakistan since the 1950s. To make sense of it, one needs to understand the way civilians related to power. Pakistani politicians not only occasionally collaborated with military rulers, compromising their reputation, but when they were in charge of the government they also tended to display authoritarian tendencies. Bhutto rigged the 1977 elections and many of his successors as prime ministers showed little respect for the independence of the judiciary and sometimes even for freedom of the press.

Pakistan’s democratic deficit can also be measured by the centralization of the state. Even when a federal constitution was (re-) introduced, the provinces were never given the autonomy they demanded, whereas almost all of them-East Bengal, West Punjab, Sindh and the NWFP—had experienced form of self-administration under the Raj and coincided by and large with an ethnic-linguistic group.

Centralization, once again may be explained by the need for a strong unified state to face India. However, on that front too, one should not focus mainly on this external factor. Certainly, the 1940 Lahore resolution through which the Muslim League officially spelled out its separatist agenda, recognized a prominent role for the provinces of the country envisioned, but their autonomy was drastically reduced as early as 1946 in the last pre-Partition blueprint of Pakistan as Jinnah imagined it. And in 1947, the citizens of the new country were required to identify not only with one religion-Islam-but also with one language-Urdu, an idiom that became the country’s official tongue even though it was spoken only by a small minority.

These developments reflected sociological dynamics. The idea of Pakistan was primarily conceived by an Urdu-speaking upper caste elite group fearing social decline. Made up of aristocratic literati, this group embodied the legacy (and the nostalgia) of the Mughal Empire. Their ancestors had prospered thanks to land and administrative status the emperors had given them between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. But in the nineteenth century, colonization called the privileges into question, not only because the British took over power from some of the Muslim rulers, but also because they did not trust the Muslims (who were seen as the former dominant group) as much as they did the Hindus.

Furthermore, the Hindus asserted themselves at the expense of Muslims because of their growing role in the economy (through trade and then industrial activities), because of their adhesion to the university system, which resulted in their increasingly important role in the administration, and because of their political influence that developed parallel to the democratization of the Raj almost in proportion to their numbers. The separatism of the Urdu-speaking elite crystallized in this context in the nineteenth century and was subsequently exacerbated (especially in the (1930s-1940s) in reaction to the fear of losing their traditional status-eventually prompting them to work towards obtaining a state to govern. The Muslim League leaders argued that they demanded Pakistan to protect Islam from Hinduism, but they also(and more importantly) did it to protect their interests from the growing influence of the Hindus,

The following pages will elaborate on this sociological interpretation of the Pakistan project, which is not new. Hamza’s Alavi developed a similar analysis In the 1970s-1980s at a time when Paul Brass argues in a similar vein that the League’s claim that Islam was in danger in the 1939s-40s was a political ploy used by elite groups to mobilize Muslim masses in support of their idea of Pakistan. But the present book’s approach is less Marxist than Alavi’s reading and less instrumentalist than Brass’s interpretation for the simple reason that it emphasizes the weight of the cultural and societal parameters that defined the mentality of the Muslim elite during the Raj.* More importantly, this book offers a reading of the Pakistan trajectory that focuses on the implications of these sociological factors for the country since its creation.

*Regarding Alavi’s approach, it may be sufficient to say that his definition of the “salariat”-the key actor behind the Pakistan project in Alavi’s view-is too restrictive. As will be shown, the idea of Pakistan was crafted by an intelligentsia that was not only motivated by vested interests, but by a specific upper caste Islamic culture. This is why an interpretation of Muslim separatism in terms of class needs to be supplemented by an analysis taking societal dimensions into account.

The history of Pakistan has been overdetermined by three sets of tensions all rooted in contradictions that were already apparent in the 1940s. The first one can be summarized by the equation Pakistan = Islam + Urdu. While all the ethnic groups of Pakistan could identify with one variant or another of Islam, they could not easily give up their linguistic identity, all the more because it often epitomized full-fledged national sentiments (or movements). Hence a first contradiction between the central (ising) government and centrifugal forces (which sometimes have given rise to separatist movements).

The second tension pertains to another form of concentration of power that the army officers and the politicians have developed over the course of time. Indeed, from the 1950s onwards, Pakistani society has been in the clutches of a civil-military establishment which has cultivated the legacy of the pre-Partition Muslim League in the sense that it was primarily interested in protecting its interests and dominant status. The elitist rationale of the Pakistan idea therefore resulted in social conservatism and the persistence of huge inequalities. Certainly, some politicians have fought for democracy, but they have never managed to dislodge from power a very well entrenched civil-military establishment and promote progressive reforms in a decisive manner-either because they were co-opted or because they eventually turned out to be autocrats themselves. In fact, some of the main opposition forces to the system that have emerged have been the judiciary (when the Supreme Court had the courage to rise to the occasion), civil society movements (including the media) and the islamists. In the absence of a credible political alternative within the institutional framework, the tensions that have developed have been especially radical. What has been at stake in most crisis that Pakistan has experienced has been the regime itself, not only in political terms, but also, sometimes in social terms.

The role of Islam in the public sphere is the root cause of the third contradiction. Jinnah looked at it as a culture and considered the Muslims of the Raj as a community that needed to be protected. They were supposed to be on a par with the members of the religious minorities in the Republic to be built. His rhetoric, therefore, had a multicultural overtone. On the contrary, clerics and fundamentalist groups wanted to create an Islamic state where the members of the minorities would be second-class citizens. Until the 1970s, the first approach tended to prevail. But in the 1970s the Islamist lobby (whose political parties never won more than one-tenth of the votes) exerted increasingly strong pressure. It could assert itself at that time partly because of circumstances. First, the trauma of the1971 war led the country to look for a return to its ethno-religious roots.second, the use of religion was part of Z.A. Bhutto’s populist ideology, which associated socialism with Islam. Third, Zia also used religion to legitimize his power and to find allies among the islamists.

The promotion of Islam by Bhutto and Zia was partly due to external factors as well. The former supported Afghan Islamists who were likely-so he thought-to destabilize the Pashtun nationalist government of Kabul. The latter backed the same Afghan leaders and other mujahideen (including Arab groups like Al Qaeda) against the Soviets in order to make the Pakistan army’s presence felt in Afghanistan and thereby gain strategic depth vis a vis India. Zia’s Islamization policy also (re) activated the conflict between Sunnis and Shias, an opposition that was exacerbated by another external factor: the proxy war that Iran and Saudi Arabia fought in Pakistan from the 1980s onwards.

The critical implications of the legacy of Zia’s Islamization—which also resulted in the massive infiltration of jihadis in Kashmir in the 1990s—became clear after 9/11 when the US forced the Pakistan state to fight not only Al Qaeda but also the Taliban and the Islamist groups that the ISI had used so far in Indian Kashmir and elsewhere. In response, these groups turned their guns towards the Pakistani army, its former patron, and intensified their fight against their traditional targets, the Shias and non-Muslim communities, creating an atmosphere of civil war.

The three contradictions just reviewed provide a three part structure to this book, which is therefore not organized chronologically. This thematic framework is intended to enhance our understanding of the Pakistan paradox. Indeed, so far, none of the consubstantial contradictions of Pakistan mentioned above has had the power to destroy the country. In spite of the chronic instability that they have created. Pakistan continues to show remarkable resilience. This can only be understood if one makes the effort to grasp the complexity of a country that is often caricatured. This is the reason why all sides of three tensions, around which this book is organized, must be considered together: the centrifugal forces at work in Pakistan and those resisting on behalf of Pakistan nationalism and provincial autonomy; the culture of authoritarianism and the resources of democracy; the Islamist agenda, and those who are fighting it on behalf of secularism or “Muslimhood” a la Jinnah. The final picture may result in a set, not of contradictions, but of paradoxes in which virtually antagonistic elements cohabit. But whether that is sufficient to contain instability remains to be seen.

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Nationalism without a Nation and even without a People?

After sixty-one years of its existence, Pakistan has gone from a ‘nation’ searching for a country to a country searching for a nation (Lal Khan, Pakistan’s Other Story, Lahore, The Struggle Publications, 2008 p.298).

Nationalism is a modern ideology that was yet unknown in mid-nineteenth century British India when the first signs of separatist trends that would give birth to a Pakistan crystallized. The Muslims were even less an exception to the rule as, despite their relatively small numbers—they made up one-fifth of the population of the Raj— they were wracked by both religious and social divisions.

Which Islam (s)?
Regarding religion, diversity among Muslims tended to be underestimated in British India as elsewhere due to a dominant analysis of Islam in purely scriptural terms. Differences are easily levelled when the fundamental theological and philosophical principles that can be said to constitute the core of Islamic faith are enshrined in a single scriptural source and are supposed to be universally adhered to by all those who call themselves Muslims. From such a standpoint, it is easy to define a Muslim based on the pillars of Islam:

1. Shahada (professing faith in Prophet Muhammad as enshrined in the Quran)
2. Daily prayers
3. Fasting for Ramadan
4. Zakat (almsgiving)
5. Pilgrimage to Mecca.

But this interpretation reflects a classic bias consisting of understanding a culture or civilization through what Robert Redfield called the great tradition.

In British India more than anywhere else perhaps, the little Muslim tradition, that of the people and not of the clerics, was highly complex and partly syncretic. More so it readily made room for seemingly heterodox elements such as the cult of saints or possession rites, in which certain trances had a curative purpose akin to exorcism.

This heterogeneity owed much to India’s distance from the Islamic crucible in the Middle East, both from a geographic and cultural standpoint. Not only was Islam transformed on arriving in India through contact with Turkish and Iranian influences, but Indic civilization was extremely foreign to it. Since it was unable to take over entirely, its followers and promoters were obliged to adapt—as elsewhere, like in Indonesia for instance. This adjustment resulted in various types of synthesis, the Sufi phenomenon being one of the more striking of them.

Sufism took on considerable importance in India due to its affinities with the Hindu ideal of asceticism. Its main figures attracted a number of followers, mostly from the lower strata of Indian society, and allowed a particular form of Islam to assert itself. This popular congregation-based Islam established the cult of saints and institutionalized dargahs—places of retreat of the holy men and later their tombs and shrines—which became places of pilgrimage. In the sixteenth century, under Akbar’s reign, the ulema declared that the pilgrimage to Mecca was no longer an obligation, while pilgrimage to shrines of Sufi saints was spreading.

Among the congregations, the Chishtis became one of the most popular. Established in India in the late twelfth century by Khwaja Muinud-din Chishti, a native of Sajistan (at the crosswords of contemporary Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan), its epicentre soon became the Dargah of Ajmer (Rajasthan) where the founder of the Chishti order had moved and was buried. This Sufi order owed its influence—including among Hindus devotees—to the ascetic nature of the Chishti line that has come down through time. Other congregations on the contrary would become associated with the government, such as the Suhrawardis who would obtain benefits in kind (land in particular). Still others, such as the Naqshabandis, originating from Central Asia, would not only develop close relations with the authorities, but also show a sense of orthodoxy that resulted in hostile reactions to the Hindus—and the Shias.

Aside from the Sufi orders, other sects constantly developed within Indian Islam. The Muslims of the subcontinent first brought with them one of the structuring divisions of Middle Eastern Islam, the opposition between Sunnis and Shias. This schism for a long time remained latent, probably due to a strong demographic imbalance, the latter being only a small minority. But the political and social influence of this group should not be underestimated. Among them were many landowners as well as major dynasties such as the one that ruled over the Awadh kingdom in Lucknow until the mid-nineteenth century.

Among the Shias, the Ismailis mainly settled in western India, in Gujarat and the Bombay region. The Bohras formed the largest group among them. They recognize Ali as successor to the Prophet, but-like other–they diverged from the Twelvers after the death of the sixth Imam in AD 765, considering that his elder son, Ismail (and not his second son) should have taken over from him. Paying allegiance to the Cairo-based Fatimid Caliphate, they established their own church. Bohras experienced a schism in the sixteenth century that spawned two groups, the Dawoodi Bohras and the Sulaimani Bohras. While the latter would remain in the Middle East, the former migrated to India in 1539 and adopted a separate leader, the Syedna, to whom they paid full allegiance (and taxes). There, they attracted Hindus—including Brahmins—in relatively large numbers. Bohras have adopted a dress code that makes them easily identifiable. Other Ismailis coming from the Middle East, the Khojas, followed a partly similar trajectory. When they migrated to India in the twelfth century, their leader the Aga Khan-who claims to descend from Ali-remained in Persia till the nineteenth century, when they moved to India as well. Like the Bohras, the Khojas are mostly converts from Hinduism, but they have primarily attracted members of merchant castes such as the Bhatias (whose marriage customs they have retained). Muhammad Ali Jinnah-who married a Parsi-was born in a Khoja, business family.

The creation of new sects has continued into the modern era. In the late nineteenth century for instance, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1915) founded a movement known either by his namesake Ahmadi, or after his place of birth, Qadian, in Gurdaspur district in Punjab. This man claimed to be the new Messiah, contradicting the Muslim belief that Muhammad was the last Prophet. At his death, his disciples numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

Although the Ahmadis were recruited among various castes, the Bohras and the Khojas, as mentioned above, came from Brahmin castes and merchant castes-and continued to pursue some of their caste-related activities after having left Hinduism. The coincidence of caste and sect is not rare in Indian Islam. This is the case of Memons. Originating with the conversion of one Hindu merchant caste, the Lohanas, in Gujarat by a Sufi saint in 1400, the Memons finally settled in Bombay in the early seventeenth century, where they prospered in trade and industry while maintaining a separate religious identity. At the other end of the social scale, the Moplas were Muslim peasants from Kerala who descended from the early Arab migrants settled on the Malabar Coast starting in the eight century. Exploited by the Hindu landowners, the Moplas were known for their frequent uprisings–the jacquerie of 1836 being the most famous of a long series of them. An ethnic community speaking its own language, Malayalam-which gave rise to a literature written in Arabic, Mappila Pattu-the Moplas also have their own priests, Musaliyars.

Castes and Tribes
Despite the egalitarian values that Islam professes to promote, at least since the Raj which reified social categories, the Muslims of South Asia form a hierarchical community, be they part of caste-based milieus or of the tribal world-or even a combination of the two. * The fact that the mechanisms of the caste and tribe overlap is not so surprising since caste implies endogamous practices that flow from relations of kinship also characteristic of tribes.

*In his seminal work on the Pashtuns, Barth shows that their predominantly tribal universe allows for caste practices in the Swat Valley. (Frederick Barth, Political Leadership among the Swat Pathans, London, The Athlone Press,1965).

The Pashtun tribal structures are based on a segmentary lineage system, each tribe comprising clans, sub clans and still smaller kin groups claiming that they descend from a common ancestor. Social hierarchies in this milieu have traditionally been fluid since they rely on the observance of (or disregard for) a code of honour, Pashtunwali, based on—among other things—righteousness and courage (for instance in seeking justice—a quest which has resulted in cycles of family-related vendettas). Tribal chiefs were men who best complied with life-style and displayed leadership qualities— hence the notion of individual captaincy emphasized by Frederick Barth. As a result, they received the title of Khan, whereas those who came under them were usually known as Maliks. Yet, Khans, were primus inter pares who could lose their status if their personal qualities eroded—and if rivals joined forces to dislodge them from power. The theoretically impermanent character of these hierarchies reflected the fundamentally egalitarian nature of Pashtun social order that was evident from the modus operandi of the jirgas, the plenary assemblies convened when an important issue had to be sorted out collectively. Certainly, only those who had inherited land were allowed to take part in jirgas, but land was regularly redistributed to prevent the best plots from remaining with the same families forever. This basically egalitarian system known as wesh was spoiled by the British when they recognized property rights of the big Khans. They did so to promote a group of landlords on whom they could rely to establish their authority via indirect rule. This policy, which took shape at the expense of small Khans precipitated the decline of the jirga culture. The big Khans henceforth exerted decisive influence in the assemblies thanks to the protection of the British, to whom they paid allegiance in return. Pashtun society had become (more) hierarchical.

Baloch society was also structured along somewhat similar tribal segmentary lineages during the Raj, but in a rather more inclusive perspective. Indeed, Baloch tribes were the by-products of migrations dating back to the sixteenth century. When the British Raj established authority over the Baloch area, at the confluence of today’s Pakistan and Iran, these tribes had already amalgamated groups coming from Iran as well as Pashtuns, Sindhis and Punjabis. Hence their resilient multilingual character and the fact that language has never been a distinctive cultural feature of the Baloch. Their unity came more from endogamous practices and their solidarity against others when they came under attack. Hierarchies were also more marked than on the Pashtun side right from the beginning because of the authority of Khans and Sardars who dominated the jirgas.

While tribes prevail west of the Indus, caste hierarchies play a dominant role in Punjab and Sindh, two regions more directly connected to Indian civilization. The caste system which originated in the Hindu world is based on three complementary criteria:

• The relation of purity and impurity, Brahmins of the top hierarchy embodying the first pole and Untouchables, at the extreme, representing the epitome of impurity in the social sphere.
• Professional specialization, each caste being traditionally associated with a socio-economic activity linked to its status.
• Caste endogamy, which perpetuates the social structure over time, each caste providing the frame of a closed marriage market.

Indian Islam softened the contours of this system without really questioning it. The most discriminating criterion of the Hindu caste hierarchy, the relation to purity and impurity, has generally not been as preponderant among the Indian Muslims as among the Hindus. As a result, upper caste and lower caste Muslims could generally attend the mosque together. But the Arzals (former Untouchable converts) usually remain excluded from it unless they remain on the steps outside. Similarly, they could read the Quran but not teach it.

Although observance of the relation to purity and impurity is less systematic in Muslim circles than in Hinduism, Indian Islam has established a social stratification based on geographic origin that is nearly as strict. The so-called noble (Ashraf) upper castes are made up of descendants of Muslims who (allegedly) migrated to India from abroad, whereas those who converted to Islam after it spread throughout Indian territory make up the two lower categories, the Ajlafs (lower castes) and the Arzals (formerly Untouchables) *.

*This rule is subject to many exceptions; some upper castes having gone from Hinduism to Islam without a drop-in status. Such is the case of Rajput castes in North India, for instance.

The first are subdivided into three categories in which are found:

1. those of Middle Eastern extraction (the Syeds who claim descent from the Prophet and the Shaikhs who say they have roots in Mecca and Medina),
2. those claiming a Central Asian, and particularly Afghan, lineage, the Pathans (or Pashtuns) and
3. last, the Mughals who claim Turkic or Tartar origins. *

*Few, the Mughals are concentrated in Rohilkhand, a region on the Ganges plain.

The Rajputs (a high Hindu warrior caste) are the only converts who are part of the social elite. The others are part of the Ajlafs when they are of Shudra origin, which is most usually the case. These were lower caste Hindus primarily cultivators and artisans who converted to Islam in the vain hope of escaping an oppressive social system. Most of them are weavers (Julaha or Momins). The Arzals are the descendants of Hindu Dalits who followed the same route with the same result. Among them are mainly sweepers (Bhangis in Sindh and Churas in Punjab) to whom are assigned the most thankless cleaning tasks.

Traditionally, these status groups often matched caste-specific jobs and were more reminiscent of the Hindu hierarchy as many indian Muslims came from this religion. The Syeds and Shaikhs, like the Brahmins, were scholars occupying positions of power in the traditional state apparatus; the Pathans—reminiscent of Hindu Kshatriyas-dominate the military (more so since the British saw them as a martial race and recruited them into the army in great numbers). As for the Memons, Bohras and Khojas, they usually ran business. The Ajlafs have remained cultivators and artisans—a particularly high number of weavers converted by entire caste. As for the Arzals, they formed a populace that can be exploited at will—and still do.

These social divisions go together with a legacy of strong geographic contrasts. A brief comparison between the Muslims of Bengal, those of the Gangetic Plain and those of Punjab suffices to illustrate the point. The first, primarily a result of mass conversion of castes of Hindu peasants, remained traditionally at the bottom of the social pyramid, even when the ruling dynasties were of Islamic faith. Not only were the Muslims of Bengal less numerous in urban centres—such as Calcutta— but in the countryside they were often under the command of Hindu landowners. At the other geographic extreme of India in Punjab—another predominantly Muslim province, like Bengal—the Muslims were also predominantly rural, Hindu merchants and intelligentsia dominating in the cities. But Punjab which warrants attention because of the key role it will play in Pakistan*—in contrast to Bengal, experiences some radical changes under the Raj. The British who were grateful to the Muslims of Punjab for their help during the 1857 Mutiny developed the economy of the region through the creation of a sophisticated irrigation system. The canal colonies would contribute to the formation of a new class of farmers in which Muslims would be over-represented since the Hindus were more over-represented in the cities, among traders and professionals. The British also protected the farmers from moneylenders by passing the Punjab Alienation of Land Act in 1900, which prevented non-agricultural tribes (mostly Hindu traders) from acquiring land.

*At the Quetta Command and Staff College, the soldiers trained to become the officers of the Pakistan Army learn that each country is organized around a vital province, its heartland, whose loss results in disintegration. In case of Pakistan, Punjab is naturally this key province.

Finally, the British recognized pirs (descendants of Sufi saints in charge of their dargah) as part of the cultivating group -making their land inalienable—and other groups (including. Muslim Jats and Rajputs) as a martial race, which gave then new opportunities in the army. The Muslims of Punjab did not for all that constitute an elite as they did in Gangetic India.

The Ganges Plain from Delhi to Bihar, the true crucible of Muslim civilization in India, was the area in which several Muslim political structures were experimented, from the Delhi Sultanate to the Mughal Empire—of which the capital was also Delhi for most of the time. After the gradual disintegration of the Mughal Empire, it was also in this region that many successor states ruled by Muslim dynasties, including the Kingdom of Awadh, took shape.The British who took over most of them in the first half of the nineteenth century, baptized the region the North-Western Provinces and Oudh in 1860, later renaming it the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh in 1902 without changing its borders—which independent India would moreover keep for many years as the northern province of Uttar Pradesh was not subdivided until 2000.

Muslim society in this area was dominated by Ashraf of four categories, the Syeds, The Shaikhs, the Mughals and the Pathans. This elite—into which Muslim Rajputs readily include themselves without being accepted by the Ashraf as regards marital unions—is clearly distinct from the long list of Ajlafs* and even more so from the Arzals. The Syeds and the Shaikhs have a virtual monopoly on clerical occupations, which are often handed down from father to son. At the bottom of the social pyramid, the Bhangis suffer discrimination that excludes them not only from holy places but also restricts commensality. It is worth noting that in Northern India Muslim society there were practically no large merchants likely to go into industry.

*It includes Julahas (weavers), Darzis (tailors), Qasabs (butchers), Nais or Hajjams (barbers), Kabariyas (green grocers), Mirasis (musicians), Dhuniyas (cotton carders), Fakirs (beggars), Telis (oil pressers), Dhobis (launderers) and Gaddis (herdsmen and milk producers). See Ghaus Ansari, Muslim Caste in Uttar Pradesh.

From both a social and religious standpoint, Indian Islam across the territory delineated by the British Raj thus formed a mosaic that complicated the ascendancy of communal boundaries. It was a mosaic that not only fragmented the group but also made it more porous to outside, particularly Hindu, influences, as much due to forms of religious synthesis as to social ties. In fact, popular Hinduism and popular Islam have been the crucible of many syncretic practices which developed in particular around places of what thus became joint worship. Yet, even if Islam’s adaptation to Indian soil and its own internal tensions clearly show that this religion does not have the fine sociological unity that a scriptural approach would lead one to believe, the scale of the theological and doctrinal conflicts among Muslims of the Great Tradition should not be exaggerated. After all, Indian Islam has always seen, much more than many others, overwhelmingly dominated by Sunnism and a school of law, the Hanafi school.

This overview also suggests that the Muslims of the United Provinces were in a very peculiar situation, which explains their pioneering role in the movement that was to lead to Pakistan. The Muslims of the Ganges Plain formed a small minority in the province. In the first census, which took place in 1881, there were about 6 million of them, as opposed to 38 million Hindus. But although they were less than 14% of the total, they continued to be most influential, as evident from the fact that they accounted for two-fifth of the urban population. This overrepresentation in towns and cities—in stark contrast with the situation of their co-religionists of Bengal and Punjab—reflected their key position in the bureaucracy but should not conceal their importance as a landed group as well, since the Muslim aristocracy used not to live in villages. This is a legacy of their past domination and sign of their resilience.

Although they made up an eighth of the population, the Muslims owned one-fifth of the farmland, often as large landlords. The Taluqdars in Awadh, whose ancestors under the Mughal Empire were in charge of collecting taxes and meting out justice, continued to dominate the country, as the British recognized their property rights. Numbering fewer than hundred, these men exerted an influence that had as much to do with their prestige as their economic clout—including as moneylenders. The other pole of Muslim power came from the over representation of the Ashraf elite within the administration. Civil servants, whose prominence dated back to the Mughal Empire, retained power in the successor states—particularly the Kingdom of Awadh—that was handed from one generation to the next. In 1882–statistics not being available prior to that—the Muslims still made up 35% of the civil servants in the United Provinces—and even 45% of the Uncovenanted Civil Service.* Although they occupied two poles of power—one more rural and informal, the other more urban and administrative—these two groups, Muslim landlords and civil servants were part of the same world, that of an elite proud of its past and cultivating the refinement of the Ashraf culture. It was within this relatively small circle—there were 2.5. million Ashraf in 1881 in the United Provinces—that Indian Muslim separatism was born in the wake of the 1857 Rebellion when the status and the interests of this elite group were challenged.

*Francis Robinson points out that Muslims occupied 55% of Tahsildar posts, highly sought after as these local officers wielded great influence over their district.

By courtesy:

IMG_1069 (1)

Origins of the Colonial Indian Navy

Colonial Indian Navy-Establishment of the Bombay Marine

The English East India Company was established in 1600.

In 1612, Captain Thomas Best encountered and defeated the Portuguese at the Battle of Swally. This encounter, as well as piracy, led the English East India Company to build a port and establish a small navy based at the village of Suvali, near SuratGujarat to protect commerce.

The Company named the force the Honourable East India Company’s Marine, and the first fighting ships arrived on 5 September 1612.

This force protected merchant shipping off the Gulf of Cambay and the rivers Tapti and Narmada. The ships also helped map the coastlines of India, Persia and Arabia.

In 1686, with most of English commerce moving to Bombay, the force was renamed the Bombay Marine. The Bombay Marine was involved in combat against the Marathas and the Sidis and participated in the Anglo-Burmese Wars. The Bombay Marine recruited many Indian lascars but commissioned no Indian officers until 1928.

Expansion of Her Majesty’s Indian Navy


Sailors of the Indian Navy breaching the Delhi gates during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

In 1830, the Bombay Marine became His Majesty’s Indian Navy. The British capture of Aden increased the commitments of Her Majesty’s Indian Navy, leading to the creation of the Indus Flotilla. The Navy then fought in the China War of 1840.

Her Majesty’s Indian Navy resumed the name Bombay Marine from 1863 to 1877, when it became Her Majesty’s Indian Marine. The Marine then had two divisions; the Eastern Division at Calcutta and the Western Division at Bombay.

In recognition of the services rendered during various campaigns, Her Majesty’s Indian Marine was titled the Royal Indian Marine in 1892. By this time, it consisted of over 50 vessels.

The Royal Indian Marine in World War I

The Expeditionary Forces of the Indian Army that travelled to FranceAfrica and Mesopotamia to participate in World War I were transported largely on board ships of the Royal Indian Marine. The convoy transporting the first division of the Indian Cavalry to France sailed within three weeks of the Declaration of War, on 25 August 1914. At the outset of the war, a number of ships were fitted out and armed at the Naval Dockyard in Bombay (now Mumbai) and the Kidderpore Docks in Calcutta (now Kolkata). The Indian Marine also kept the harbours of Bombay and Aden open through intensive minesweeping efforts. Smaller ships of the Indian Marine, designed for operations in inland waters, patrolled the critical waterways of the Tigris, the Euphrates and Shatt-al-Arab, in order to keep the supply lines open for the troops fighting in Mesopotamia. A hospital ship operated by the Indian Marine was deployed to treat wounded soldiers.

By the time the war ended in 1918, the Royal Indian Marine had transported or escorted 1,302,394 men, 172,815 animals and 3,691,836 tonnes of war stores. The Royal Indian Marine suffered 330 casualties and 80 of its personnel were decorated with gallantry awards for service in the war. The Royal Indian Marine played a vital role in supporting and transporting the Indian Army throughout the war.

The first Indian to be granted a commission was Sub Lieutenant D.N Mukherji who joined the Royal Indian Marine as an engineer officer in 1928.

The Royal Indian Navy in World War II

In 1934, the Royal Indian Marine became the Royal Indian Navy (RIN). Ships of the RIN received the prefix HMIS for His Majesty’s Indian Ships. At the start of the Second World War, the Royal Indian Navy was very small and had eight warships. The onset of the war led to an expansion. Additionally, Indian Sailors served on-board several Royal Navy warships. The large number of Indian merchant seamen and merchant ships were instrumental in keeping the large stream of raw material and supplies from India to the United Kingdom open.

Indian sailors started a rebellion also known as The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny in 1946 on board ships and shore establishments, which spread all over India. A total of 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 sailors were involved in the rebellion.

The Royal Indian Navy retained its name when India gained independence in August 1947 as a dominion within the Commonwealth. It was dropped when India became a republic on January 26, 1950.

Partition and Independence of India

In 1947, British India was partitioned and the Union of India and Dominion of Pakistan gained independence from the United Kingdom. The Royal Indian Navy was split between India and Pakistan, with senior British officers continuing to serve with both navies, and the vessels were divided between the two nations.

More information: Vessel type, India …

Vessel type



Frigate HMIS Tir

HMIS Kukri

HMPS Shamsher

HMPS Dhanush

Sloop HMIS Sutlej

HMIS Jumna

HMIS Kistna

HMIS Cauvery

HMPS Narbada

HMPS Godavari

Corvettes HMIS Assam
Minesweeper HMIS Orissa

HMIS Deccan

HMIS Bihar

HMIS Kumaon

HMIS Rohilkhand

HMIS Khyber

HMIS Carnatic

HMIS Rajputana

HMIS Konkan

HMIS Bombay

HMIS Bengal

HMIS Madras

HMPS Kathiawar

HMPS Baluchistan


HMPS Malwa

Survey vessel HMIS Investigator
Trawler HMIS Nasik

HMIS Calcutta

HMIS Cochin

HMIS Amritsar

HMPS Rampur

HMPS Baroda

Motor minesweeper(MMS) MMS 130

MMS 132

MMS 151

MMS 154

MMS 129

MMS 131

Motor launch (ML) ML 420
Harbour Defence Motor Launch(HDML) HDML 1110

HDML 1112

HDML 1117

HDML 1118

HDML 1261

HDML 1262

HDML 1263

HDML 1266

Miscellaneous All existing landing craft

When India became a republic on 26 January 1950, the name was changed to the Indian Navy, and the vessels were redesignated as Indian Naval Ships (INS).

Vice Admiral R. D. Katari was the first Indian Chief of Naval Staff, appointed on 22 April 1958.

Courtesy of

Drawing Arbitrary Lines

The last British viceroy of India was Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was known as Dickie to his friends. A member of the British royal family, cousin to King George VI, Mountbatten was dynamic and ambitious, and during World War II, he had risen to the post of Commander in Chief of Allied Forces, Southeast Asia. A naval man, his chief career goal was to become Lord Admiral of the British Navy, a post that had been denied his father during World War I because of the family’s German background. In addition to his other qualities, Mountbatten was charismatic and handsome, and his stock was raised further by his marriage to Edwina, an intelligent and driven woman in her own right. Still in his mid-40s at the end of World War II, Mountbatten was at the leading edge of a rising generation of British officials and politicians, and both he and Edwina developed a close relationship with Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister.

Mountbatten was hesitant to accept the post of Viceroy of India when it was first offered to him by Prime Minister Clement Attlee in January 1947. He feared that the situation in India, then threatening to descend into widespread rioting if not outright civil war, could only turn out badly, and he did not want to damage his reputation by presiding over a desperate British departure. He was only convinced to take the post after a conversation with his cousin, the king, and after Attlee agreed to grant him almost unlimited powers to organize the transition to Indian independence. Attlee, for his part, was happy to agree. He wanted someone in India with Mountbatten’s drive and stature to replace the well-intended but pessimistic Lord Wavell.

Mountbatten was sworn in as viceroy on March 24, 1947. He tried to get the situation in hand quickly by arranging face-to-face meetings with top Indian officials, thinking that this personal approach might work better than arranging meetings with all present, which had a history of ending in stalemate. For the rest of March and into the first weeks of April, Mountbatten held several meetings with top Congress Party officials Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel, as well as with Muslim League leaders Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan. He also met with Mahatma Gandhi, the symbolic head of India’s independence movement, who at the time was concerned about both the growing violence in India and the apparent likelihood that the country would be divided. The meetings convinced Mountbatten that the partition of India was now the only realistic possibility left if Britain was to achieve its goals. Jinnah was simply too set in his conviction to see Pakistan become a reality, and Nehru and other leaders were unwilling to grant concessions to Jinnah or his Muslim League that might prevent or delay partition. Britain’s goals were a peaceful withdrawal and the assurance that India and Pakistan remained tied to their soon-to-be-former colonial overlord by accepting membership in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Mountbatten’s charisma was such, and his arguments forceful enough, that even the hesitant Patel agreed to accept the principle of partition. Only Gandhi continued to resist the idea, but he had no official post in the Congress Party or India’s interim government, so his objections had no binding force on the decisions of others.

The agreement that Mountbatten hammered out with India’s leaders was dubbed Plan Balkan by members of the viceroy’s staff who likened it to the divisions of southeastern Europe in the years before World War I. During those territorial divisions, the Turkish Ottoman Empire which had dominated the regions of southeastern Europe known as the Balkans for several centuries, retreated. It left behind a complex patchwork of ethnicities and religious groups that, in that sense was like India. Some of these groups, such as the Serbs, aggressively pursued nationalist interests whereas others sought simply to preserve a sense of territorial or cultural integrity. The conflicts that arose in the Balkans in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries were some of the prime causes of World WarI. Mountbatten’s staff feared that the Balkanization of India would prove violent, as well. One of the administrators, Chief of Staff Lord Ismay, later wrote, No one in India thought it was perfect. Yet nearly everyone agreed that it was the only solution which had any chance of being accepted by all political parties, and of ensuring an equitable deal for all minorities. It was not a gamble. There was no other way. Plan Balkan went through several drafts before Krishna Menon, a congressional civil servant, devised a solution that satisfied Mountbatten’s insistence that India remain within the British Commonwealth. Menon’s proposal was that both India and Pakistan become immediate. Commonwealth members and that India’s many princely states, rather than becoming independent, would join either India or Pakistan. It was, in effect, an acknowledgement that the partition of India was imminent.

Mountbatten approved of the plan and set out to convince Nehru and Patel of its merits.  Both had cone around to accepting the principle of partition but, perhaps impatient to actually govern after years of struggling for independence, they hesitated to remain closely tied to Britain. Jinnah had fewer such qualms, as he recognized that Commonwealth status would enable Pakistan to maintain strong military ties to Britain. Once Nehru was reassured that the plan would not permit individual provinces to break away from India beyond Pakistan, he pronounced himself satisfied. Patel, whose political arm twisting would secure the support of the entire Congress Party, agreed to it on condition that Britain leave India quickly, well before the June 1948 deadline announced by Attlee. Plan Balkan had now become Plan Partition.


On June 2, the viceroy convened a meeting of important Indian leaders, whose number included the Sikh representative, Baldev Singh but not Gandhi, although the Mahatma later turned up on his own. It was the first such gathering of importance since December 1946. There, Mountbatten secured Jinnah’s public rejection of the 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan, which would have left India united. After all the principals left to consider the partition plan,  once again, Mountbatten met with Jinnah, where with some difficulty, he got the Muslim League leader to stop his endless negotiating and acquiesce to the partition plan as it then stood. The deed was done. Mountbatten had already secured the agreements of congressional leaders and the Sikhs. His final gesture at the meeting was to present Indian leaders with a prepared document entitled The Administrative. Consequences of Partition. It required them to face the practical consequences of their decision, to unravel the web left behind by three centuries of common habitation of the subcontinent-three centuries that is, of British presence, in which most of the unraveling would be practical and administrative: the division of government offices and property, the national debt and the armed forces. For many Hindus and Muslims, ties dating back ten centuries would have to be sundered, and many of these ties were abstract yet still vital, notably the connection of villagers to their surroundings and to neighbours who practiced a different faith. The partition plan, meanwhile, became public knowledge on June 3, but it did not specify precisely where the actual borders of India and Pakistan would be.

In a press conference, Mountbatten announced that the date of Britain’s departure would not be June 1948, nor sometime near the end of 1947, as he had originally thought. It would be August 15, 1947, two years after Japan’s surrender ending World War II. On July 4, the official Indian independence Bill was presented to the British Parliament; London having had to scramble to make Plan Partition and the August 15 deadline official. The British pronounced themselves quite pleased with events; one, Lord Samuel, said that “it may be said of the British Raj as Shakespeare said of the Thane of Cawdor, nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it.” Even Conservative leader Winston Churchill, who had announced in 1931 that to leave India would mean the end of the British Empire, gave his assent to the plan, and it passed into law on July 15. London’s leaders seemed to have little comprehension of the chaos their quick departure would cause. Meanwhile, in Delhi, Mountbatten printed up hundreds of large tear-off calendars to be placed in government offices, each new page noting that India was one day closer to independence.

The quickness of Britain’s departure left little time to accomplish the practical aspects of partition now that the ideal had been achieved. India’s governmental assets had to be separated, its civil service divided, its armed forces split, and, most importantly, borders had to be drawn. None of these tasks were accomplished without conflict or misgivings or, in the case of the borders, great violence. Adding even greater risk to the plan was the fact that India would simply take over a going concern with everything in place. Pakistan, on the other hand, would be starting from scratch, without an established administration, without armed forces, without records, without equipment or military stores.

Commissions and committees came up with formulas to divide government property, and the concerned officials were so conscientious that they worried about every railroad car, filing cabinet, desk lamp, and even instruments in police hands. After much discussion both sides agreed on a 1 to 4 ratio for government property. For cash assets and their counterpart, the national debt, the ratio was 82.5% for India and 17.5% for Pakistan. Government employees, meanwhile, generally remained in their places across the subcontinent or, if they worked for the central administration, made a choice between India and Pakistan. Establishing these arbitrary boundaries was reasonably straightforward, if not without conflict.

The division of India’s armed forces was more troubling for those directly involved and provided a clear example of the arbitrary borders being drawn. Although material assets, such as guns and ships, were divided in the same ratio of other government property, the same could hardly be done with the soldiers. Most troops were reassigned based on religion, a task fraught with difficulty, since, for example, many Muslims did not want to go to Pakistan, and other troops were neither Muslim, Hindu, nor Sikh. Many troops felt that their loyalty to the armed forces and to their comrades was more important than their communal ties, and they did not want India’s new borders forced upon them.

Meanwhile, officers were given the choice of either the Indian or Pakistani armies; mostly Hindu and Sikh officers chose India, but for Muslims the choice could be very difficult. Many Muslim officers had families and other ties to India and did not wish to uproot themselves. Others felt loyalty above all to Indian Muslims and the ideal of Pakistan, and they hoped to carry the traditions of the Indian army into the new country. These officers made their choices but, in some cases, brothers found themselves in separate armies, which, within months, were to oppose one another on the battlefield. Their fellow Hindu or Sikh officers, meanwhile were often just as distressed at the very idea of partitioning a force that had served India and the empire loyally for decades and had managed to remain aloof from politics.


Mountbatten’s plan had made no provision for any specific borders between India and Pakistan. No one had. All anyone knew was that Pakistan would have two wings, an eastern and western, separated by hundreds of miles of Indian territory. They also knew that, as part of the agreements tentatively reached already, the eastern province of Bengal would be divided, and so also would the western province of Punjab. Jinnah was forced to accept what he had earlier argued would be a moth-eaten Pakistan, shorn of some economic assets of the two provinces: part of the rich agricultural lands of the Punjab, as well as the Bengali city of Calcutta.

The division of Bengal and the Punjab were about as arbitrary as they possibly could be, the only guideline being to separate areas of dominant Hindu and Muslim populations. To draw the borders, Mountbatten organized two boundary commissions, one each for Bengal and the Punjab. At their head was a prominent London lawyer named Cyril Radcliffe. He knew almost nothing of India, which was one reason he was chosen for the task and flown to India on July 8.  Mountbatten and other officials thought his ignorance of India would allow him to act without prejudice towards either side.

Radcliffe’s commission met in a heavily guarded bungalow on the grounds of the viceroy’s mansion in Delhi. The Englishman worked with eight prominent India judges, four each chosen by Congress and the Muslim League. To his despair, Radcliffe quickly found that the principle of drawing borders based on population concentrations could hardly be done clearly and evenly; Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs (who mostly hoped to live in India) were simply too dispersed. Some areas had a clear majority, but in thousands of villages, especially in the Punjab, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs had lived side by side for centuries. Inevitably, large numbers of people were going to find themselves placed in countries where they did not wish to live or where they might not be welcome.

The potential borders might also give rise to devastating economic effects. The Punjab was watered by the Indus River system, which flowed down from the Himalayas in the north. Complex irrigation networks using these waters had turned the Punjab into the most agricultural part of India. Any new borders would not cross only cross the rivers, they would also split irrigation networks; a water pump that fed Indian fields, for instance, might be placed in Pakistan, making the entire system virtually useless. The economic vitality of eastern Pakistan was also in danger, although the drawing of the border there was generally more straightforward than in the Punjab. Eastern Bengal’s main product was jute, a natural fibre used to make bags and other packaging materials. Most of the jute was processed in factories in Calcutta. If the boundary commission decided to award Calcutta to India, millions of jute farmers would lose their livelihoods, turning eastern Pakistan into the rural slum that many feared. Meanwhile, pending any new arrangements, thousands of Calcutta factory workers might be made idle and therefore a potential threat to civil order.

The partition of the Punjab presented a particular danger to the Sikhs. They made up only 2% of India’s population, but the Punjab was their traditional homeland and was where most Sikhs lived. Drawn to the armed services, Sikhs had served in numbers disproportionate to their total population in the armies of British India, and a military leader named Baldev Singh had served as both the representative of the Sikhs and of the military during the independence negotiations of previous years. Their martial tradition derived, in part, from their perceived need to defend themselves from Muslim kings whose habit of oppressing Sikhs dated back to the seventeenth century. The Sikh population, one-sixth of the total, was scattered throughout the Punjab, and the area had been the home of an independent Sikh kingdom during the early 1800s.

Sikh concerns were not at the forefront of Radcliffe’s boundary commission, whose borders were mostly based on Hindu or Muslim interests. Sikhs in the western Punjab feared that the new borders would place them in a Muslim state where they would face renewed oppression in a repeat of earlier patterns of Muslim-Sikh hostility.  Militant Muslims, meanwhile, had little interest in seeing a large Sikh population maintained in western Pakistan. The situation was ripe for conflict and misunderstanding, especially as both Muslims and Sikhs began to, take up arms to defend themselves or to plunder the other. One of the Radcliffe’s few clear choices was to award the city of Amritsar, the site of the Sikhs’ Golden Temple and their holiest spot, to India.

Some Sikhs lived in India’s princely states, and the Sikh maharaja of Patiala was the head of the Council of Princes that had represented the states in India’s independence negotiations. The princes were very concerned to preserve at least some of their authority and privileges after independence. Many claimed that, since the British had entered into separate agreements with each of them, their states should return to full independence once the British left. Neither Nehru nor Jinnah had sympathy for these arguments, and Mountbatten was not about to let the question of the princely states slow down the rapid march towards independence.  Plan Partition required the princes to choose either India or Pakistan and be forced to sign articles of accession in each case, giving up any claim to political power. In exchange, the princes could keep their titles and a portion of their estates, which were sometimes vast and extremely wealthy. Groups of diplomats travelled to visit each of the princes, and by early August, almost all of them, recognizing the inevitable, had signed the accession documents. Three holdouts remained. One was the Nizam of Hyderabad, reputedly the richest man in the world. He controlled a state that was nearly as large as Britain and theoretically wealthy enough to survive on its own. He was a Muslim prince, however, in a state populated mostly by Hindus, and one that would be landlocked, surrounded by India once independence occurred. Another holdout was the ruler of Junagadh, a small state on the coast, north of Bombay. The third hesitant prince was the ruler of Kashmir, Hari Singh. His indecision, and Kashmir’s strategic importance, led to the first armed conflict between India and Pakistan in the fall and winter of 1947.

Meanwhile, Radcliffe’s boundary commissions proceeded throughout July and early August with their unhappy task. They finally presented their boundary awards to Mountbatten on August 13, and Radcliffe, under heavy guard, returned to Britain, where he remained haunted by his decisions until his death. Mountbatten decided to tell nobody of his partition plan, not even Nehru or Jinnah, before independence had been accomplished. He feared not only escalating communal violence, but that news of the specific borders would dampen enthusiasm over the coming independence celebrations, when any troubles would be the responsibility of the Indian and Pakistani governments, not the British one. He kept the newly drawn borders locked in a safe in his office and diverted any complaints from Indian and Pakistani officials on the matter.

Territorial Loose Ends

India still contained territories controlled by others when it became independent in August 1947. Since Jawaharlal Nehru and other Indian leaders wished to consolidate their new nation and prevent any fragmentation, they had to find ways to incorporate these territories and ensure both that India’s new territorial boundaries were secure, and that further fragmentation would not occur,

 Three princely states remained independent that August, their leaders refusing to accede to India, even though most of their counterparts had already done so. One of these was Kashmir, which only acceded to India under the threat of an invasion from Pakistan and whose status is still a source of conflict. The other two required drastic action by India’s government.  One, Junagadh, was a small state on India’s western coast, north of Bombay. Its prince, a Muslim wanted to cede his state to Pakistan, even though Pakistan lay some 150 miles away and most of Junagadh’s population was Hindu. Nehru’s government mounted a naval blockade of the coastal kingdom and, in October 1947, sent an army of 20,000 to take control of the state by force. The prince exiled himself to Pakistan, and Junagadh’s accession to India was legitimized by a vote among its people in 1948. It was integrated into the state of Gujarat.

 Hyderabad, a large and wealthy kingdom that possessed, among other features, its own currency and its own airline, proved more troublesome. Its leader, the Nizam-ul-Mulk, wanted to remain completely independent of both India and Pakistan. When the Nizam refused to give up his independence, Nehru and his deputy prime minister, Vallabhbhai Patel, granted him a period of one year, until August 1948, to change his mind. After the year had passed and the Nizam still had not given in, the government authorized a large-scale invasion that resulted in four days of fighting and a victory for India, Hyderabad and nearby territories became the Indian state of Andrea Pradesh.

 Other parts of India still remained under the control of European colonial powers. In the south near Madras was Pondicherry, a possession of France since the seventeenth century. Realizing that there was little point to maintaining such a small outpost against the desires of India, the French relinquished it peacefully in 1954. France had already, in 1951, surrendered its other outpost: the settlement of Chandernagore in the suburbs of Calcutta.

 On India’s west coast was the large Portuguese enclave of Goa, the oldest European possession in India. Nehru began negotiating with Portugal’s military government soon after independence, but the Portuguese did not want to give up an enclave that they had held for more than 450 years and that was once the centre of their Asian empire. Fed up, Nehru sent in the army in 1961. The Portuguese were unable to mount any effective resistance over several days of fighting, so Goa became part of India, as did Portugal’s other small outposts, Damian and Diu, north of Bombay. Both Goa and Pondicherry were made Indian states and retained a distinctive part-European character.

Radcliffe had been unable to justify awarding Calcutta to East Pakistan, given the importance of the city to recent Indian history. Moreover, it contained large populations of Sikhs, Hindus and other religious groups. He placed the border of East Pakistan just to the east of the city itself, leaving the region without a major city. Calcutta’s governor H.S. Suhrawardy and other separatists thought, even in the spring and summer of 1947, that East Pakistan should become an independent country. In a clear example of creating new troubles by determining boundaries based on stated religious affiliation alone, Bengali Muslims had little in common with Muslims in the Punjab or other western provinces; indeed, aside from their religion, they were little different from Bengali Hindus, with whom they shared the Bengali language and numerous customs. Jinnah himself, meanwhile, had never even visited eastern Bengal, and it remained separated from Pakistan by hundreds of miles. Still, neither Jinnah nor Nehru was willing to accept partition into three rather than into two, and they completely rejected calls for Bengali independence.

The boundary awards in the Punjab gave the city of Lahore, one of India’s largest, to Pakistan, whereas Amritsar, only 40 miles away, remained in India. Elsewhere, the line was fairly arbitrary. Radcliffe and his advisers used the only available maps, which were old and outdated, and despite a few visits and flyovers, he gained very little accurate sense of the Punjab topography. Sometimes, not only villages but farms and even houses were separated by the blunt axe that severed Punjab. in a last-minute decision that was to have far reaching consequences, Radcliffe awarded the district of Gurdaspur to India. Gurdaspur provided the only reliable land route connecting India to Kashmir. Had the district instead been awarded to Pakistan, it is likely that Hari Singh, Kashmir’s maharaja, would have had no other choice but to cede Kashmir to Pakistan as well.

With the boundary set and the plans protected, Mountbatten prepared for the final withdrawal of Great Britain and the independence celebrations of India and Pakistan. One concession he had to make on the deadline was to shift it to August 14 rather than August 15. Hindu astrologers had pronounced August 15 to be an extremely inauspicious day and, in a nation where people consulted astrologers for important decisions on matters ranging from marriage to starting businesses to going to war, such opinions mattered. Astrologers determined that August 14, however, would be auspicious, and independence ceremonies were scheduled for midnight on that day.

On August 13, Mountbatten and his wife travelled to Karachi, the city proclaimed the capital of Pakistan. They were met there by Jinnah, who had been unanimously elected president, or head of state, by Pakistan’s constituent assembly on August 11, and the two travelled by open car to recognize the new nation’s independence. Jinnah’s lieutenant, Liaquat Ali Khan was to be the nation’s first prime minister and as such, the head of the government. Mountbatten later remembered being rather nervous because of rumoured assassination attempts, but Jinnah maintained his customary cool and aloof demeanor. Pakistan’s independence celebrations were as elaborate as could be expected, but Karachi had few facilities appropriate for large celebrations, or even for large-scale governmental administration. This left most of the celebrating to cheering crowds in the streets, which the two leaders’ car passed through. Karachi, a city of 350,000, was overwhelmed by the 250,000 visitors and migrants who had arrived to witness the independence celebrations and to shout again and again, Pakistan Zindabad! or long live Pakistan!

 Mountbatten gave Britain’s farewells to the assembled representatives of Pakistan’s diverse peoples in the crowded—and heavily guarded—assembly hall that had been chosen for the occasion. He was followed by Jinnah, who thanked Mountbatten and the British and expressed his certainty that the two nations would remain on good terms. Jinnah made a more dramatic speech on August 11, before the constituent assembly. There, he proclaimed that Pakistan would be a nation of complete religious freedom and tolerance, not the Islamic state that many feared. He assured his people that my guiding principle will be justice and complete impartiality, and I am sure that with your cooperation, I can look forward to Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world.

India’s formal independence celebrations began at sundown, when a procession of Hindu sannyasin or holy men, presented a collection of sacred symbols to Jawaharlal Nehru, designated India’s first prime minister, at his Delhi home. Also, that evening, Great Britain’s flag, the Union Jack, was struck from flagstaff at military and government posts around India for the last time. As in Karachi, hundreds of thousands of celebrants and migrants converged on Delhi to witness the celebrations firsthand, whereas millions of others readied festivities of their own in India’s cities and villages.

At midnight, after India’s constituent assembly had been sanctified by further Hindu rites and after a choir had sung the Congress anthem Vande Mataram, (I Bow to Thee, My Motherland), a Sanskrit poem whose adoption had angered Muslims earlier, Nehru rose to speak. His speech delivered extemporaneously, without notes, and delivered across India via the radio, announced:

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now 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.

Soon after, India’s new flag, a tricolour of orange, white and green was raised at Delhi’s Red Fort, an edifice originally erected by the Mughals. The Gandhian spinning wheel that had graced the banner earlier was now replaced by a sign reflecting a much earlier symbol of India’s heritage: the Asoka Buddhist wheel of life. India had achieved independence. The planned processions of Nehru, Mountbatten, and other leaders through Delhi’s streets the next day proved impossible. The crowds were too thick and, to many people’s surprise, both exuberantly happy and peaceful.

At 5:00 P.M. on August 16, Mountbatten revealed Radcliffe’s boundary awards to India’s and Pakistani leaders—Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan had flown into Delhi for the occasion. None were pleased. The placements of Calcutta, Lahore and Amritsar were no surprise, but other issues inspired ill feeling. Balder Singh was dismayed that so many Sikh holy places had been awarded to Pakistan. Indian leaders were unhappy that the mostly Buddhist Chittagong hill tracts, in far eastern Bengal also went to Pakistan. Jinnah, for his part, was disappointed that Gurdaspur District, which again provided India’s only road link to Kashmir, went to the Indians, despite an earlier warning to Mountbatten’s staff that this would have a most serious impact on relations between Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Radcliffe had apparently based his Gurdaspur decision on Nehru’s desire to leave Kashmir connected to India pending the decision of the hesitant maharaja, Hari Singh, to join one of the two nations.

The borders were revealed to the public on August 17, and those Punjabi villages whose residents had cautiously flown both Indian and Pakistani flags on August 15 now knew their status. The immediate effect was to vastly increase a torrent of migration towards India or Pakistan that had already begun. Within weeks, 11.5 million people were on the move. Ten million of these were in Punjab, as 5 million Hindus and Sikhs made their way towards India and a similar number of Muslims headed for Pakistan. These millions were people who had found new arbitrary borders drawn around them, often with little attention paid to tradition or other communal relationships, or to areas that had served the agricultural needs of its inhabitants for generations. The migrations were accompanied by communal violence that left hundreds of thousands dead.  V.P. Menon, a member of Congress who had played a large part in refining the partition plan and convincing many of India’s princes to accede to it, said simply as India became independent, now our nightmares really start. He seemed to understand that the drawing of new national boundaries did not automatically create viable new nation-states, especially in a land as diverse and complex as India, a land where people’s loyalties might be attached as much to a religious community, caste, cultural group, or village as they were to a traditionally defined nation-state.

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The Indian Partition Riots

Many Indians and Pakistanis, especially those from the Punjab, associate independence and partition with forced migrations, loss of property and death. This legacy is one of the reasons why the two nations have maintained a bitter distrust of one another in the years since 1947. Some 11.5. million people migrated between India and the two wings of Pakistan in 1946, 1947 and 1948, and of those, 10 million were from Punjab. The pattern was for Muslims to depart for Pakistan and for Hindus and Sikhs to leave the newly designated territories of Pakistan for India. The process was far from peaceful and estimates of those killed range from 200,000 to over a million. Sometimes the scenes of killing in these partition riots were so horrific that even hardened military men and war correspondents were stunned. New York Times reporter Robert Trumbull wrote: I have never been as shaken by anything, even by the piled-up bodies on the beachhead at Tarawa [a bloody World War II battle]. In India today blood flows oftener than the rain falls. Women and children were not spared and were sometimes killed by family members wanting to save their loved ones from defilement.


India’s religious diversity had periodically inspired violence in the subcontinent’s history, although incidents were usually small in scale and localized. Aside from overt periods of oppression, such as the late 1600s, when Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, a devout Muslim, directly targeted Hindu and Sikh practices and customs, the general pattern was for Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs to live side by side reasonably comfortably, especially in small villages. There, communities often had to share resources and abilities because survival depended on it.

The communal violence that attended partition can be traced to certain aspects of Indian history and village culture, as well as the circumstances of partition itself. First, Great Britain had used a policy of divide and rule in its Indian possessions. After the so-called mutiny of 1857, when Hindu and Muslim soldiers in Britain’s Indian armies revolted against their officers, and British rule in principle, the British purposefully encouraged separation among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Leaders believed that by dividing the communities, order could be maintained and, more important, another large-scale rebellion could be prevented.

Knowingly or not, Indian independence leaders picked up on the practice of divide and rule. Mahatma Gandhi’s actions and sentiments were based in Hinduism despite his belief in the truth and equality of all religions, and many Indian Muslims scoffed at his argument that they did not constitute a true nation but were mostly Hindus who had converted and were therefore fundamentally Indian. Ironically, Gandhi also displeased Hindu fundamentalists. They found him far too open minded with regard not only to Islam but also caste restrictions and the status of untouchables. After the government reforms of 1937, meanwhile, Hindu Congress members who found themselves in important positions often gave precedence to Hindus over Muslims. Muslim League leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah, for his part, stirred up Muslim communal feeling after 1937 with his claims that the British Raj would be replaced by a Hindu one.

The other trend was a shift in everyday relations among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs from 1942 on. The imminence of partition and the encouraging of communal conflict by leaders brought to the surface tensions often ignored or tolerated in the past.  In villages, for instance, Muslims were often indebted to moneylenders for seed, fertilizer and other resources. Since Muslims were forbidden by their religion to engage in money lending, their creditors were invariably Hindus. After the borders were announced in August 1947, Muslim farmers suddenly found it possible to free themselves from debt by forcing the moneylenders to flee to India or by simply killing them. Sikhs, meanwhile, remembered that it was Muslims who had targeted many of their seventeenth-century founders and plotted revenge for these long-ago acts, even though in earlier years few had worried overtly about such distant matters. On an even more trivial level, aspects of life and religion that in other times were little more than objects of curiosity or discussion—dietary prohibitions, dress, festivals—now became reasons to think of others as dangerous and threatening.

Greed also played a part in the partition riots. On both sides of the border, people saw opportunities to seize the property of those leaving. To encourage quick departures, looters and thieves threatened or carried out violent acts. Meanwhile refugees themselves could be targeted by thieves in search of gold, jewelry, cash, and other portable valuables. Often, robbery turned into rape and murder. In some instances, attacks were carried out by organized bands, such as the Sikh jathas, often made up of former soldiers who had been recently demobilized. The Sikhs, especially were afraid that their very way of life was being threatened and were stirred up by radical leaders such as Tara Singh.

The cycle of violence spun out of control, and neither British, Indian, nor Pakistani authorities were able to do much about it until the riots had burned themselves out. Attacks inspired other attacks, as Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs vowed revenge for atrocities committed by their enemies. Many found violence an outlet for their frustration and despair over having to leave homelands that, in many cases, their ancestors had lived in and cultivated for centuries.

There had already been small incidents, but the violence of partition truly began on August 16, 1946, the Muslim League’s Direct-Action Day. For that day Jinnah and the central working committee of the League had called for a “universal Muslim hartal” in response to what they saw as British duplicity and an egregious power grab by Congress in setting up an interim government the previous month. A hartal was a distinctly Indian form of protest, used often by the independence movement. It called for a complete stoppage of work, school and other everyday activities. Hartals were supposed to be non violent and, in most of India, this one too. The major exception was Calcutta, India’s most violent city and a place called the city of the dreadful night by Rudyard Kipling, the British imperialist author. There from August 16 to August 19, communal rioting left about 5,000 people dead and 15,000 more injured. Tens of thousands more were turned into exiles or refugees. Officials gradually restored order, but the poorer quarters of Calcutta remained in constant state of tension and insecurity.

The Great Calcutta Killings started a pattern that was to be repeated for many months. Calcutta Muslims had used the occasion of the hartal to target local Hindus and Sikhs. The latter groups then sought retaliation against Muslims. When on September 2, the Congress dominated interim government took office, a new wave of riots broke out in Bombay and other cities as Muslim activists turned the day into one of mourning. Attacks in Calcutta continued, and they indicate clearly the back-and-forth nature of the communal killings. During September, 162 Muslims and 158 Hindus were killed there.

The British viceroy, Lord Wavell, feared complete collapse in public order and grew increasingly pessimistic about India’s future. He seemed to take to heart Gandhi’s warning that if India wants her blood bath she shall have it.  Muslim League representatives were eventually brought into the interim government, which quelled the violence for a while, but Wavell was not reassured. He told the British Cabinet towards the end of the year that he did not believe that the colonial government or its armed forces could hold India for another 18 months as Prime Minister Attlee hoped. He had also been drawing up plans for the evacuation of British personnel in the event of a large-scale outbreak of violence. Wavell’s attitude left Indian leaders in a troublesome position; it seemed the British could do little about the spread of violence but, because the Indians did not control the country yet, they could do little, either.

The next large-scale outbreak of violence occurred in the Noakhali and Tippera districts of eastern Bengal. It was a region with a long history of communal tension because of the large gap in wealth between the Muslims peasant farmers and Hindu landlords and professionals. In a wave of attacks orchestrated, apparently, by a powerful Muslim League official who used both hired thugs and elements of the League’s paramilitary wing, the Muslim National Guard, Noakhali erupted in a series of thefts, rapes, forced conversions and murders. Thousands of Hindu refugees fled westwards to Calcutta and the province of Bihar, a bit farther west, bringing with them their stories of horror.

In a continuation of the increasingly familiar pattern, Hindus responded to Noakhali with attacks on Bihari Muslims, and the violence even spread to Uttar Pradesh, the province to the west. In the Bihari case, the radical Hindu paramilitary group, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Personal Service Society), sometimes took part. In the last weeks of 1946, Hindu groups killed about 7,000 Bihari Muslims, an estimated 75% of whom were women and children. A horrified Jawaharlal Nehru, the head of the interim government, nearly resigned in despair at the news of Noakhali and Bihar.

Mahatma Gandhi, unhappy with India’s partition and distressed by the turn to violence, adopted the restoration of peaceful Hindu-Muslim relations as a personal crusade. He travelled to Noakhali in the aftermath of the violence there, and walked from village to village, visiting hundreds of Hindu and Muslim families and often asking them something to eat and a place to sleep. Along the way, he begged these ordinary people to end any support for radical activists, and he tried to convince community leaders to sit down with one another and make their peace. He later visited Bihar, where he announced that the sins of Noakhali Muslims and of the Bihar Hindus are of the same magnitude and are equally condemnable. Although Gandhi was usually received peacefully by villagers, he suffered occasional abuse from Muslims and from Hindu radicals.

Vast outbreaks of rioting in the Punjab formed part of the context in which the Congress Party, the Muslim League, and British leaders devised their partition plan in the spring of 1947. By the time Lord Louis Mountbatten arrived to replace Wavell as viceroy and use his personal drive and charisma to move the process forward, the Punjab had erupted. The coalition government in the province, representing Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims not affiliated with the Muslim League was dissolved in March. This created an opening for radical Sikh separatists who, led by Tara Singh, hoped to carve out their own independent state out of the Punjab. With Tara Singh calling for blood, Sikh activists attacked Muslim League representatives in Lahore, Amritsar and other Punjab cities and towns. Muslims reacted in kind, and the riots, murders, robberies and rapes spread from the towns to the countryside. Hindus were inevitably caught up in the violence. An incident there illustrates how small problems became the inspiration for large-scale communal violence.

Soon after Mountbatten took office, he received a message from the British governor of the Punjab citing a small, domestic spat outside of the city of Rawalpindi: A Muslim’s water buffalo had wandered on the property of his Sikh neighbour. When its owner sought to reclaim it, a fight, then a riot, erupted. Two hours later, a hundred human beings lay in the surrounding fields, hacked to death with scythes and knives because of the vagrant humours of a water buffalo.

Mahatma Gandhi: A One-Man Boundary Force

As the Punjab exploded into violence in the months before and after partition, many feared that the city of Calcutta would erupt as well. India’s most violent city, Calcutta had been the centre of the first major outbreak of partition riots, the “Great Calcutta Killings” of August 1946, which had left about 5,000 people dead.

In 1947, however, Calcutta remained mostly peaceful. The main reason was the presence of Mahatma Gandhi, the spiritual leader of India’s independence movement and a man willing to risk his own life to preserve peace in India, In the decades following the World War I era (1914-1918), Gandhi had staged actions ranging from mass marches to hunger strikes to daily prayer meetings to move India towards independence. Also, an advocate of non-violence, he was horrified at the partition riots. In a manner keeping with his patterns of public action, he went to Calcutta in August 1947 to stage a hunger strike to keep the peace. On the tensest day, August 15, the day of independence, he was joined by Shaheed Suhrawardy, the Leander of Calcutta’s Muslims and the sort of corrupt politician whom Gandhi disliked. That day, peace held in Calcutta and the two gave up their hunger strike. Lord Mountbatten, Britain’s last leader of India, called Gandhi a one-man boundary force. It was a reference to the other, official boundary force, a unit of 55,000 troops that was, even then, failing to maintain order in the Punjab.

Over the following weeks, as the Punjab jab erupted even more violently, Gandhi stayed in Calcutta, which remained peaceful. Every day, hundreds of thousands of Calcuttans- Hindus, Muslims and Sikh-gathered in the city’s central open space, the Maidan, to try to catch a glimpse of the Mahatma as he went to his daily prayer meetings. By September, several incidents and misunderstandings had brought communal violence to Calcutta. To stop it, Gandhi now proclaimed a fast unto death. After more than three days of eating nothing, the Mahatma received a pledge from Calcutta’s Hindus, Muslims and Sikh leaders promising to stop any further communal violence. He ended his fast, and the communal leaders were true to their word Calcutta’s peace held.

At the end of July 1947, Mountbatten took steps to form a Punjab Boundary Force to try to restore order to the region. It was to be led by a British officer but be mostly composed of Indian troops, many of them Nepali Buddhist Gurkhas, rather than Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs.  Numbering 55,000 altogether, the force would be advised by both Indian and Pakistani authorities both before and after the independence. Although the force hastily took the field, it could do little. There were simply not enough troops to cover the territory, a problem that was compounded by the fact that most of the violence was taking place in the countryside rather than the cities. In addition, the force could count on little local cooperation. Even the police, who generally came from the regions they patrolled, often took part in or ignored the communal violence.

The Punjab was still in flames when independence arrived. One British official wrote: The Punjab is an absolute inferno and it is still going strong. Thousands have been murdered and tens and hundreds of thousands of refugees are streaming about. There has been a lot of arson. It will take generations of work to put things straight.

Mountbatten remembered looking down in despair from his airplane at the fires burning in towns and villages as he returned from the independence celebrations at Karachi to those in Delhi on August 15. On August 14, Nehru heard from associates that in Lahore, a city he loved, fires were burning, and women and children seeking water were cut down by Muslim mobs. He said, how am I going to talk tonight? How am I going to pretend there’s joy in my heart for India’s independence when I know Lahore, our beautiful Lahore, is burning?”

A British soldier at the scene spoke much more directly. He remembered that in parts of Lahore,

Corpses lay in the gutter. Nearby a posse of Muslim police chatted unconcerned. A British major. . . had also arrived. He and his driver were collecting the bodies. Some were dead. Some were dying. All were horribly mutilated. They were Sikhs. Their long hair and beards were matted with blood. An old man, not so bad as the rest, asked me where we were taking them. “To hospital,” I replied, adding to hearten him, “You’re not going to die.”

“I shall,” he said, “if there is a Muslim doctor.”

The violence in the Punjab was at its worst that August and September when, with the borders known, the great migrations began. Millions set out, carrying whatever they could. There were caravans of refugees miles long, with one containing an estimated 800,000 people leaving West Punjab for India. The numbers could provide protection against attackers, but not from shortages of food and water, nor from disease, and refugees suffered greatly.

Amongst the grimmest episodes of violence were those on the trains that traversed the region especially those that travelled the short distance between Lahore and Amritsar. For refugees, trains were far quicker than walking, especially given the heat and the shortages of fresh food and water, but each train was overcrowded. For attackers, however, it was easy to judge who was on the trains simply by the direction they were travelling. They learned to stop the trains, sometimes with as simple a measure as placing a cow on the tracks. Then they would rob, rape, and murder with impunity. It was common for trains full of corpses to reach the station in Lahore and Amritsar, as well those of smaller towns. During these deadly weeks, there were periods of four or five days at a stretch during which not a single train reached Lahore or Amritsar without its complement of dead and wounded.

An Indian army officer, K.P. Candeth recalled, I remember seeing a train come in from Pakistan and there wasn’t a single live person on it; there were just bodies, dead and butchered. Now, that train entered India and the people saw it. And the next Pakistan-bound train that came, they set upon it, and the slaughter was terrible. These ghost trains in the words of novelist Khushwant Singh in his story of the period, Train to Pakistan, have become part of the common memory of the era of partition.


As fall turned to winter, the violence wound down, even in the Punjab and in Delhi itself, now a city crowded with angry and hungry refugees. Nehru and Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel convinced Mountbatten, now serving as India’s Governor-General, to head an emergency committee designed to restore order in the Punjab, while Indian leaders undertook the same effort in Delhi. Edwina Mountbatten took a leading role in refugee relief efforts and, as peace returned, some emphasized the blessing that, outside of the Punjab, both India and Pakistan had remained mostly peaceful.

The violence of partition had mostly burned itself out when, in early January 1948, Mahatma Gandhi settled in at Birla House in Delhi, the home of a wealthy industrialist who contributed much to the Mahatma’s causes. He started another hunger strike there on January 12, demanding not only the end of communal violence but complete peace between India and Pakistan. This fast brought him near death, but he ended it when a settlement was negotiated between India and Pakistan; its main feature was an agreement by the Indian government to pay Pakistan forty million pounds that the Pakistanis claimed was theirs by right from the partition settlement.

On January 30, on the grounds of Birla House, Gandhi was on his way to his daily prayer meeting when he was assassinated by a Hindu fundamentalist named Nathuram Godse. Alerted Mountbatten quickly reached the scene. Like all other leaders, he was afraid that the event would spark a new and even more brutal wave of violence, especially if a Muslim had pulled the trigger. As he entered the grounds of Birla House, and in response to a voice claiming that a Muslim had shot Gandhi, Mountbatten shouted, without knowing whether it was true: You fool! Don’t you know it was a Hindu?

Gandhi’s death was a turning point. According to journalist Mark Tully and Zareer Masani, more than other event, Gandhi’s death purged the country of communal hatred. Nevertheless, memories of the violence were long lasting and bitter, and they further separated two nations already divided by artificial borders. In future years, the two nations were to carve out separate and often conflicting paths.




Wavell and His Majesty’s Government: the Cabinet Mission

Wavell and the Labour Government

With Labour Party’s victory at the polls in July 1945, Attlee, as the new prime minister, continued his opposition to Wavell’s proposed policies for India. According to Irail Glynn, the Labour Party also preferred, like its predecessor, that men in Whitehall to be the final judges of the policies to be adopted in India. Wavell was this kept in the dark by his own superiors resulting eventually in his failure to deal with the Indians in an atmosphere of mutual trust and to prevent the Pakistan plan from emerging soon.

Labour Party had been a strong supporter of the Congress and a big proponent of self-government in India for years. Above all, during the recent election campaign it had promised that if Labour is returned we would close the India Office and transfer Indian business to the Dominions Office . . . This act would give them confidence that they are no longer governed from Whitehall. At the start of the new parliament on 21 August 1945, Attlee replied to a question by Woodrow Wyatt about transferring Indian affairs to the dominions office by declaring that he had no statement to make.

The Labour Government on 13 August 1945 undertook three important steps:

  • Release of the Congress prisoners
  • Removal of ban on Congress
  • Immediate ordering of general elections in India.

Wavell was called to London immediately in this regard and he gave his briefing about the problems of the Indian political scene. But ground realities were different as the Hindu-Muslim conflict had reached such a point that in the opinion of David McIntyre,

 Only one week before the Victory Parade, Wavell was predicting the possibility of violent uprising, requested orders as to whether he should plan to scuttle or to stay.

  • It had become clear after the Governors’ Conference on 2 August 1945 that elections to verify the claims of the Congress and the League should be held before the formation of the central and provincial ministries.
  • Secondly, the Pakistan issue must be dealt with and its drawbacks brought to notice of all parties, especially the Muslims.

Wavell went to England with this frame of mind but was taken aback, for Whitehall had a diametrically opposite understanding of, and consequently, a different stance concerning the Indian problem. Although the Cripps Proposals had been rejected by both the Muslim League and the Congress, they had remained the only outstanding offer of the British government during the Second World War. R.J. Moore is right in suggesting that,  the irony is that by the time Labour achieved office, its scheme for the transfer of power (Cripps Proposals) was no longer feasible.

The Secretary of State for India, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, in his briefing to the India Committee suggested that the best guarantor of political progress in India were still the Cripps Proposals. He said that while the constitutional issue was being settled, there would presumably be a time lag during which the business of India had to be carried on. He also suggested means for forming a provisional Executive Council from a provincial panel.

Wavell demanded two things during his talks in London:

  • That the Pakistan issue be tackled
  • The elections take place for the Constituent and Provincial assemblies.

The general elections which were held in 1945-46 witnessed that the Muslim voters gave an overwhelming mandate in favour of Pakistan while the Hindus overall voted for Congress which stood for a united India. This most visible victory of the League, however, was not accepted by the Congress and the British as a complete and wholehearted mandate of Muslims for Pakistan.

Durga Das has recorded his meeting with Attlee in 1945 and writes,

Attlee did not conceal his deep agitation over the Muslim demand for Pakistan and agreed with my plea that a minority should not be allowed to hold up progress of the majority to self-rule. He added that his intention was to promote in India a structure that would give her federal unity . . . He considered the Congress as a party which was the true advocate for freedom and the League a disruption its one and expressed the hope that in the impending elections the League candidates in Punjab, Sindh and North West Frontier would be defeated. That would help preserve the unity of India.

 However, contrary to the desires of Attlee and many other well-known political pundits the results of elections to the Central Assembly and the provincial seats forcefully strengthened the case for Pakistan. Even then, Wavell was not ready to accept ground realities and thought that it was time for the British government to make a clear statement regarding its intentions for acceptance or rejection of the Pakistan demand. He held that the Congress and the League would be unable to settle/arrive at any agreement about the Pakistan issue and this would result in a political deadlock. He thought that His Majesty’s Government should not allow another deadlock in the event of parties failing to come to terms and, therefore, must be ready to offer its own plan.

The Labour Government, though it agreed with the seriousness of the demand for Pakistan, wanted to find out for itself whether it could be dealt with effectively by some other means. They decided to send a fact-finding mission consisting of members of the Parliament to India. Wavell welcomed this proposal and rejected the other one according to which the two main leaders from the Congress and the League should go to London for talks. The Parliamentary delegation was able to confirm that Jinnah was firm on his stand. It also concluded that the demand for Pakistan was not a bargaining counter on the part of Jinnah, therefore, it had to be faced and tackled by appropriate political means.

Wavell and the Cabinet Mission

The British government decided, the foundation of a provisional constitution for India must be based upon the 1935 Act, and such a constitution must continue to provide a unitary framework, but within it means of satisfying, to the greatest degree compatible with preservation of India as a single state, the aspirations of Indian Muslims for self-rule. This was the game plan of the India Office as conveyed to the Cabinet Mission on its departure for India.

According to Philip Ziegler, Lord Pethick-Lawrence was technically to be in charge of whatever negotiations were necessary; but in fact, Cripps and the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, took over responsibility. The Cabinet Mission which came to negotiate with Indians about the formula and modus operandi of the transfer of power, did not wish to include Wavell, the Governor General, during its workings in India. Probably they thought they knew more than him, therefore, they thought of him as less than useful. The Labour Government, however, included him after his note of protest. Though they decided to include Wavell as one of the negotiators, he was not taken into confidence about their game plan. Wavell rightly observed, I may be left with all the loose and awkward ends to tie up, and perhaps to implement a policy with which I do not agree. He, therefore, made it clear that he should not be treated as a communicator but negotiator and mediator and if it is the wish of H.M.G. that I should be responsible for implementing in India any settlement to be negotiated, I must really and genuinely be consulted.

Wavell’s relationship with Cripps had never been cordial, and it worsened with time. Wavell thought that Cripps could not be an honest and impartial negotiator because he is sold to the Congress point of view. Wavell deplored that both Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence failed to maintain high standards of impartiality, fair play and justice while they were dealing with the Hindu-Muslim problem. He complained to the prime minister that the late Cabinet Mission had too many unofficial advisers and indirect contacts, which had made his job and the job of the Mission more difficult in settling disputes. Further, he said, I thought it was a mistake that the Mission should have had, outside the official discussions, such a continuous and close touch with one of the two main parties, the Congress. This naturally aroused the deep suspicions of the Muslim League about the intentions of the Cabinet ministers.

Wavell was dissatisfied with the tactics of double-cross and underhand dealings adopted by the Cabinet delegation during their negotiations with the Indian leaders.  Cripps methods created suspicion and confusion as Wavell thought that Abdul Kalam Azad and Jinnah were being presented with different propositions. According to Patrick French, in the end the Delegation created more problems than they solved, and the last chance to retain a united India disappeared.

The Cabinet. Mission Plan had pleased neither the League nor the Congress. The Cabinet delegation, especially Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence, knew that without Congress’s support of the plan, a government of a united India though with a weak centre, could not be formed. Cripps, especially wanting to avoid the formation of a government by Jinnah at all costs, persuaded the Congress to at least accept the long-term part of the plan. Wavell wrote on 25 June 1946:

The worst day yet, I think. Congress has accepted the Statement of May 16, though with reservations on its interpretation. They did not intend to do so, having always said they would not accept the long-term policy unless they accepted the short-term one, the Interim Government. Now Cripps, having assured me categorically that Congress would never accept the Statement of May 16, instigated Congress to do by pointing out the tactical advantage they would gain as regards the Interim Government. So, did the Secretary of State. When I talked to him on this, he defended on the grounds that to get the Congress into the Constituent Assembly was such a gain that he considered it justified. It has left sin an impossible position vis-à-vis Jinnah.

 Describing the delegation members’ underhand dealings with the Congress, Sudhir Ghosh has written:

This ‘parity’ between the majority and minority, between the Muslim League and the Congress, was of course wholly unacceptable to the majority party. In giving Mr. Jinnah such an indication, the Viceroy had seriously slipped up and the Secretary of State was disturbed about it. He sent for me on 12 June and told me how upset he was about it all. Was there no way of persuading Gandhiji to find a way out of this tangle? I told the Secretary of State that only thing to do was to have a heart-to-heart talk with Gandhiji and to appeal to him for help. So, he asked me if I could not fetch Gandhiji to his house for a talk that evening . . . It was because of Gandhi’s influence that the Congress accepted the long-term part of the plan only on 25 June.  

Pethick-Lawrence and Cripps were partly successful in trying to clear up the mess created by Wavell’s assurances to Jinnah because he had refused (Wavell) to allow the Muslim League to form the Interim Government without the Congress, contrary to his earlier assurances. Wavell’s justice, fair play and honesty were now put to the test. He told Alexander,

I should normally ask to be relieved of my appointment after what happened; that I thought I had been placed in an impossible position with the M.L. (Muslim League) and that Cripps had not been quite straight.

He thought of resigning but soon dropped the idea, reasoning that his resignation would badly expose the conduct of the three Ministers and His Majesty’s Government and did not want to embarrass either of them. Though Wavell regretted for a short while the failure of not forming the Interim Government, he still believed, we must try to leave India united; and we must secure the cooperation of the Congress which represents the great majority of Indian political opinion whatever our views on the past record of that party. Besides, he held that too much dependence on the shifting views and actions of a set of inexperienced, short-sighted and sometimes malevolent politicians had caused the failure.

According to Kevin Jeffreys, certainly, in assessing the record of the post-war Labour Government, historians are agreed that Attlee’s party made only limited advances towards its stated aim in 1945—the creation of a socialist commonwealth. In some policy areas, continuity with wartime practice was undeniable. Under Ernest Bevin, for example, the surprising choice as Foreign Secretary, hopes of a ‘socialist foreign policy’ soon disappeared as the Cold War got underway, but in case of India it seems oversimplification of the facts. The Labour Government had high regard and respect for Congress and wanted to quickly transfer power to their so-called socialist brothers. This state of mind led the delegation to appease the Congress at all costs during the negotiations and they used all means, moral or otherwise to enlist its leaders’ support for keeping India united.

 Meanwhile Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence continued their daily secret meetings with the Congress leaders. Lawrence took daily walks, with Agatha Harrison (Secretary, India Conciliation Group), a friend of C.F. Andrews, who was himself an associate of Gandhi which prompted concerns about their integrity in Wavell’s mind. He thought, but far more unfortunate than these was the presence of Agatha Harrison and Horace Alexander, who lived in the Congress camp, were completely sold to Gandhi and saw the S.of S. almost daily.

According to Sudhir Ghosh: why Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence, at moments of crisis in the India-Britain negotiations, chose to meet Gandhiji secretly in the garden at the back of the Viceroy’s house in New Delhi without making knowledge either of the British Viceroy or of the Indian political leaders in a struggle to hand over power to an undivided India is, I see now many years later, a poignant as well as a dramatic story.

 While saluting the services of these English leaders for the Congress, B/R. Nanda, a biographer of Gandhi quite frankly admits:

Not merely the compulsion of events, but a measure of idealism went into the policy which Prime Minister Attlee initiated and carried through during the years 1946-47. And in so far as the British Government was impelled by idealism, by a desire to open a fresh chapter in Indo-British relations, it was a victory for Gandhi, who had pleaded for thirty years for transformation of a relationship between the two countries. Among the advocates of this transformation were several English men and women. Hume and Wedderburn, C.E. Andrews and Horace Alexander, Brailsford and Brockway, Laski and Carl Heath, Mauri Lester and Agatha Harrison who never wavered in their sympathy for the Indian cause in their own day they represented a tiny and not-too-influential minority, but in the fullness of time their opinions became the national policies of their country.

 Even Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence quite frankly admitted that they had contacts with the Congress leaders about the nature of which Wavell was unclear. Lawrence admitted that he wrote a secret letter to Nehru while he was in Simla. However, even such favours failed to win Congress’s support as it kept raising the bar. Even, Pethick-Lawrence later conceded,

We think you will agree that it was our experience that it is the consistent practice of Indian parties to take up a bargaining position well in advance of what they expect to get and we feel that it would be fatal to deal with Nehru’s letter on assumption that it is final challenge under threat of a direct breach with Congress. We regard it rather as another attempt, such as was constantly made during Mission’s negotiations, to squeeze some further concessions out of H.M.G.

The Labour Party did not mind letting Jinnah down while trying to appease the Congress. It cared the least for upholding any moral standards while dealing with him. And the Cabinet Delegation also decided to blame him for its failure.  Lawrence went to the extent of using provocative language and even passed irresponsible remarks about Jinnah.

Wavell before offering the formation of the government to the Congress, wanted some clarifications. He wanted to make it clear to the Congress that it must first accept the statement of May 16 fully and sincerely on the lines laid down by the Mission. Besides he did not want any reduction in the powers of the governor-general unless both parties agreed to it. He also requested Whitehall to stand firm against any blackmailing by the Congress. He wanted to correct the Congress’s impression that they had got the British on the run. But the prime minister told him to carry on with what he had been directed to do. But perhaps the greatest of all the impediments to a solution was the state of mutual mistrust amongst the various political actors. According to Leonard Mosley,

Jinnah and the Muslim League mistrusted the Congress and Congress mistrusted the Viceroy; Wavell mistrusted the Labour Government; Attlee did not necessarily mistrust Wavell but had certainly lost faith in him.

Attlee asked Wavell to accept Sir Maurice Gwyer as political adviser. Wavell felt very bad about it and thought that the prime minister and his Labour Government did not trust his political wisdom because it was not sufficiently pro-Congress. He wrote,

 I had a letter from the PM, pressing me again Maurice Gwyer as Political Adviser. He has obviously been told that I receive nothing but official I.C.S. advice and that my political judgement is therefore unsound, i.e., not sufficiently pro-Congress. I think my judgement is better than H.M.G.’s and shall say so; and tell him that if H.M.G. don’t like it their duty to find another Viceroy, as I will not be a figure-head.

Nonetheless, he acted upon the directions and started negotiations with Nehru. Nehru, sensing the weak and awkward position of the governor-general vis-à-vis his own government in London began to behave as if he had already become the Prime Minister of India and expected Wavell to act accordingly. Wavell, under the circumstances, was forced to accept his suggestions.

Wavell was convinced that a coalition government would not only help to bypass the demand for Pakistan but help avoid a civil war as well. However, Nehru and Gandhi did not share his feelings and insisted that the Congress Party should solely be allowed to form the Interim Government regardless of the consequences. When Wavell warned that one-party rule would lead to a certain civil war, as was obvious from the carnage on the Direct Action Day, Gandhi pounded the table and said, if a bloodbath was necessary it would come about in spite of non-violence. Gandhi in his letter on 28 August told Wavell that Congress would not bend itself to adopt what it considered a wrong course because of the brutal exhibition recently witnessed in Bengal. Such submissions would itself lead to an encouragement and repetition of such tragedies. Therefore, he advised Wavell to wholly trust the Congress concerning the formation of the Interim Government.

Wavell aware of the repercussions and the backlash it would bring to induct one party rule in a multi-religious country with hostile feelings, three days before induction of the Nehru’s government, again asked His Majesty’s Government to declare the Grouping was a mandatory part of the Cabinet Mission Plan. To him, it was not a matter of legal niceties but of practical considerations and also because it would put the full weight of His Majesty’s Government behind that important part of the Cabinet Mission Plan. Wavell wrote:

 Though the consequences may be serious I think it as well that things have come to a head. Calcutta with its 4,400 dead, 16,000 injured and over 100,000 homeless showed that a one-party government at the Centre was likely to cause fierce disorders everywhere. Far from having any sobering effects, it had increased communal hatred and intransigence. If Congress intentions are as Gandhi’s letter suggests the result of their being in power can only be a state of virtual civil war in many parts of India while you and I are responsible to Parliament.

But Pethick-Lawrence did not agree with Wavell’s statement that Congress always meant to use their position in the Interim Government to break up the Muslim League and in the Constituent Assembly to destroy the grouping scheme. In response to him he advised Wavell, we should therefore like you to avoid pressing the grouping question to a final issue before the Interim Government takes over and has a period in office. Thus, Wavell was left with no choice but to invite the Congress to form a new government in September 1946.

But Jinnah was not ready to yield to such pressure tactics on his principled stand for Pakistan, referring to which Ayesha Jalal has written,

Not to be outwitted and without wasting further time, Jinnah accepted Wavell’s offer of joining the Interim Government on 13 October 1946. Wavell had made this offer despite opposition from Nehru and His Majesty’s Government. His aim of bringing the two parties together was an attempt to try and solve the major constitutional and political issues, especially those related to Pakistan, but it seems that enough time had already been wasted and now only the adoption of the Cabinet Mission Plan in its entirety could have ensured the unity of India. Such delays had already created doubts in Wavell’s mind that things were moving too fast to be contained simply by bringing the two parties together.

Wavell sincerely believed that the Congress’s objection to the Grouping clause was contrary to the Cabinet Mission’s interpretation, therefore, he showed reluctance to call the meeting of the Constituent Assembly unless the Congress accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan in its entirety. He maintained that the Compulsory Grouping part was the crux of the Cabinet Mission Plan whereas the Congress leaders believed that accepting that part would result in ‘Balkanization’ of India. In fact,

 at this stage a difference of opinion between the Viceroy and the London authorities was noticed. Attlee and Pethick-Lawrence not only regretted Wavell’s intimation to Congress that he would not call the Constituent Assembly until the point about grouping was cleared up, but also asked the Viceroy not to take any steps which were likely to result in a breach with the Congress.

Now Wavell pressured the Muslim League that it must either attend the Constituent Assembly meetings or otherwise resign from the Interim Government to which Liaquat Ali Khan responded that the League members would be ready to resign whenever required, but they would not accept the long-term plan unless His Majesty’s Government declared that the provinces must meet in Sections. Wavell did try again as he himself was convinced that the League’s stand was right. He also knew of the growing risk of civil war in case of the League’s resignation from the government which might put the life, property and interests of the British imperialists in jeopardy. He was equally aware of the growing tendency towards militancy in the League circles which he himself conceded was because of a lack of firmness and honesty on the part of the British government.

Failing to convince Whitehall to make an unequivocal statement regarding the Cabinet Mission Plan, Wavell on 20 November 1946 announced the decision of His Majesty’s Government to call the Constituent Assembly on 9 December. In fact, the Labour Government itself had been under extreme pressure from Congress leaders like Nehru and Patel who had twice threatened to resign from the Interim Government if their demand for dismissal of the League ministers from the Interim Government was not met. Thus, in order to break the deadlock and to bring about a settlement on the issue of the Constituent Assembly, Whitehall invited two representatives each from the Congress and the Muslim League along with one Sikh to fly at once to London for discussions.

On 2 December 1946 in London, Wavell apprised His Majesty’s Government:

The Muslim League leaders raised cries of Pakistan and Islam in danger originally to enhance their prestige and power and thus their bargaining value as a political party. They have now so inflamed their ignorant and impressionable followers with the idea of Pakistan as a new Prophet’s Paradise on earth and as their only means of protection against Hindu domination, that it will be very difficult to satisfy them with anything else. I think Jinnah is honest in saying that he had great difficulty in putting across the Mission Plan with his party, though he was probably wise enough to recognize it as a reasonable compromise worth trying at least for a period.

He recommended to the British government to make the fullest use of the present discussions to try and restore the Mission’s plan to its originally intended form. He feared that it would be impossible to carry out the present negotiations with any hope of success unless the Labour Government made up their mind ‘whether or not they are prepared to stand up to the Congress’. On their part the British government thought that Wavell had outlived his usefulness in his present position so did not heed his advice and decided to re over him. The immediate reason for his removal, however, was his insistence upon implementing his ‘Breakdown Plan’ in case of a political deadlock which he felt was imminent.

Courtesy of: The Dying Days of the Raj by Muhammad Iqbal Chawla, Oxford University Press Karachi 2011

Wavell and His Majesty’s Government: the Conservative Party

This chapter attempts to investigate the relationship between the British government in India and His Majesty’s Government in London during Wavell’s viceroyalty of India. It discusses the difference in ideas, approaches and plans of Wavell with the British political leaders and bureaucrats such as Winston Churchill, Sir Stafford Cripps, Leopold Amery, Lord Pethick-Lawrence and Clement Attlee, and examines their actions, because they shaped the policies of the British government towards British India.

Wavell and the Conservative Party

Wavell’s relationship with Churchill had never been cordial but it worsened soon after he became the Viceroy of India because the British War Cabinet under Churchill realized, owing to their divergent ideas with Wavell that they had chosen the wrong person at the wrong time and for the wrong place.  Firstly, the War Cabinet had appointed Wavell as no suitable replacement to Linlithgow was available. Secondly, Whitehall wanted to preserve law and order in the country and did not want to touch upon the political and constitutional problems of the country. Amery wrote in his diary, Winston would not have been as keen about Wavell as Viceroy if he had realized how thoroughly Wavell backs up Allenby’s policy of sympathy with Egyptian nationalism. Amery opined that he would not be at all surprised if Wavell went a long way in trying to find a solution to the Indian problem.

Wavell, of whom Churchill thought of in cricketing terms as a ‘night watchman’ inserted to stonewall until the end of the war offered fresh options, on the contrary was a politically savvy military officer who started making plans for political changes in India even before he had assumed the top office in India. His first plan is known to history as the Wavell Plan. He was concerned about the tense political relationship then existing between the British government and the Indians and wanted to change that with a proactive approach.

The War Cabinet* issued a draft directive to the Viceroy, originally suggested by Cripps on 29 September 1943 and then approved it so that the new Viceroy should be able to approach the political leaders in India as and when he considers it desirable. But it was amended on 4 October on a more restrictive sense with the addition of the words but should consult the War Cabinet about the time and form of any invitation to be issued.

*The wartime Coalition Government in UK was headed by Winston Churchill of the Conservative Party and its Cabinet was composed of outstanding political personalities. The India Committee of the British Cabinet set up in 1942 was the powerhouse for Indian policy-and decision-making. Its members were chosen for their wide knowledge of India. Besides Attlee, the Deputy Prime Minister, who chaired the committee, other well-known ministers included Simon, Anderson, Grigg, Butler, Amery and Cripps, and Wavell was indirectly answerable to this committee via the Secretary of State for India, who acted as a middle-man between the Viceroy and the British government. Besides the above, Wavell was also answerable to the War Cabinet and Whitehall with regards to any political initiatives in India

The British Cabinet’s instructions exhorted Wavell to give top priority first to the defence of India and he was warned to beware above all things of raising political issues that might prejudice India’s war effort. All this meant in other words that he should simply forget about the political situation in India. Thus, not only did the Wavell Plan go into cold storage, the course of action proposed and endorsed by a majority of the India Committee was ruled out. Wavell also gathered from his private discussions with Churchill that the latter feared a split in the Conservative Party and some kind of a parliamentary trouble in case of any fresh step regarding political reforms in India.  Churchill was not ready to take this risk and was determined to block it as long as he was in power. *

*Churchill cancelled the meeting of the Cabinet on India and invited Wavell to see him alone. Winston had a formula for a directive which, in Wavell’s eyes, was mostly meaningless. It entailed instruction to improve the lot of the Indians; to make peace between Muslims and Hindus, and only at the end indicated that political progress during the war was not debarred.

Churchill never wished to see his new Viceroy taking initiatives on the political front in India. *

*Though Wavell always came up to the expectations of Winston and won many laurels on the battlefield, he never received the acknowledgements and recognition from the Prime Minister Winston Churchill for his services. In June 1941, Churchill wrote to Wavell that he had concluded that public interest would best be served by the appointment of General Auchinleck to replace you in command of armies of the Middle East. Although he acknowledged and appreciated Wavell’s services in the region but was very angry with him, as he had become impatient at Wavell’s reluctance to take the offensive against the Germans. He got into serious doubts about the intellect and vision of Wavell whom he always saw as an unimpressive and boring kind of person. He thought he was more like ‘the chairman of the golf club’. Quoted in Ronald Lewin, The Chief, p. 26; Churchill transferred him to the position of Commander-in-Chief of India in June 1941. Despite Wavell’s repeated requests he did not grant him home leave for some days. John Connell, Wavell: Scholar and Soldier, pp 464-507, Wavell was called back to London in April 1943, never to return as commander-in-chief for India.  The confidence of Churchill on the generalship of Wavell began to waver. Churchill decided to remove Wavell. Their relations became strained and when Wavell returned to England from the United States of America, instead of going back to India, he was told to take some of his overdue home leave.

He was annoyed with Wavell’s political views and his insistence on pursuing them that he even refused to attend Wavell’s farewell party when he was leaving for India as the viceroy-designate. On 7 October 1943, Amery recorded in his diary,

Winston who seems to have been rather on the rampage at first and more or less accused Wavell of playing for his hand and trying to do a public stunt to which Wavell seems to have said that he had no desire to go to India and was quite willing to resign if the PM did not trust him.

 Wavell, in spite of all these impediments did introduce some confidence building measures in India like his determined efforts to help the victims of the Bengal famine.

At the beginning of his viceroyalty, Wavell had a high opinion of Gandhi, thinking that he would help in resolution of the political deadlock in India. In spite of Whitehall’s reluctance, Wavell released him from prison in 1944 as he had been seriously ill for some time. Wavell also wrote many letters to Whitehall concerning Gandhi’s demand that he wanted to talk to the Viceroy concerning the formation of a national government. Amery wired back to Wavell on 4 October in which he stated that the entire Cabinet was perturbed over his contacts with Gandhi. They considered Gandhi a political dead horse and believed that Wavell’s re-opening of negotiations with him would revive his political career.

Wavell’s actions on behalf of Gandhi led to severe disagreements with the people in London including an exchange between the Viceroy and the British Cabinet which created a row with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who wanted no part of negotiations with Gandhi. The debate gathered momentum over the next few days. Amery maintained that the Viceroy should have avoided a direct collision with the PM and the Cabinet on an issue, not of substance, but of tone and wording. Amery lent his dissent to the War Cabinet’s decision at its meeting on 14 August, recorded in the minutes that on the ground that in a matter not of broad policy, but of wording and tone, the earnest and repeatedly expressed opinion of the Viceroy should not be overridden. 

 Wavell nearly resigned over his stand concerning Gandhi’s release from prison, but he withdrew from his earlier determination to do so. There was a strong Indian reaction to His Majesty’s Government’s decision of not having parleys with Gandhi. Wavell complained to Amery of an obviously hostile Cabinet who seem to have no confidence in my judgement on any matter and justified his complaint by reference to the previous incidents. Indian reactions to Wavell’s reply had been strong and Wavell rightly suggested that the Cabinet has destroyed at one blow my reputation for fairness and good temper in my correspondence with Gandhi. In his protesting letter to Amery, Wavell wrote, they have now turned down my recommendations for:

  1. Indian Finance Minister
  2. Section 93 in Bengal at the beginning of the year
  3. Bajpai’s status
  4. The form of my reply to Mr. Gandhi; and
  5. My requests for food imports, of which my great persistence has produced an inadequate amount. He warned Amery that His Majesty’s Government must really give up trying to treat the Government of India as a naughty and tiresome child whose bottom they can smack whenever they feel like it.

Future interaction between Wavell and Whitehall suffered immensely due to this episode. It substantially weakened Wavell’s position in the eyes of the Indians and he feared that there might be a Congress-League coalition against the British government. *

*Gandhi-Jinnah talks were expected to be held soon and possibly result in a compromise between the two main parties. Wavell believed that Gandhi had the talent and would manoeuvre successfully as Jinnah would not totally understand his feelings and intentions. He wrote that ‘I am sure that Gandhi’s real object is to get the Working Committee out of detention and that he will go a very long way (with the usual mental reservations) in dealing with Jinnah to secure the cooperation of the Muslim League. Having drafted an agreement of some kind he may tell Jinnah that he is at a disadvantage because the working committee, who alone can commit the Congress, are in detention and may suggest a joint approach to Viceroy to secure their release.’ Wavell, Viceroy’s Journal p.87; Wavell to Amery 15 August 1944, Wavell Collections

In the meantime, a further clash between Churchill and Wavell occurred when Whitehall suddenly announced that the pay and allowances of the British forces serving in the Far East were to be increased. Despite the fact that under the rules of defence expenditure the costs would mainly fall on India and would almost inevitably involve a corresponding increase in the pay of Indian forces and result in increased inflation in India, the Delhi government was not consulted. Wavell did not like such decisions being made in London without even consulting Delhi.

In one of his private telegrams of protest to Amery which was imprudently permitted to come to notice of Churchill, Wavell feared that the Council will take the line that if His Majesty’s Government has to bribe the British forces to fight in the Far East, they should pay the bill. Wavell’s use of such flagrant language against him and Whitehall was more than insubordination and highly treasonable in the eyes of Churchill, who condemned Wavell’s seditious language and accused him of insulting the British soldier. Wavell noted in his diary that this exchange of letters and controversy would neither improve Churchill’s mindset about India nor would it improve personal relations between the two.

He visualized right at the outset that if the British government did not take the initiative to break the political and constitutional deadlock in India, it would result in chaos, civil war and partition of India. By middle of 1944, Wavell once again stressed upon the home government to reconsider his earlier Wavell Plan, which had been turned down in 1943. He was also conscious of the fact that India’s services in the war must be recognized along with other contributions which India had made towards turning the tide of war.

Amery had been keenly observing these developments and formulated a new approach to the Indian problem. In his letter of 3 October 1944 to Wavell, he explained his plan in detail stating that India’s main grievance and source of bitterness was not the existing Government of India but Downing Street and the House of Commons. He further added that Indians constantly felt discriminated in all spheres of life by decisions taken by outsiders.

Based on his own soul-searching, Amery suggested to Wavell that he should announce that India would enjoy dominion status. He also visualized that the Viceroy would be more powerful and would exercise the power to override his council or dismiss it with his own judgement and without any prior approval from the Secretary of State for India or Whitehall.

Amery was not only interested in seeing the Delhi government rid of the remote control from Whitehall but also wanted to sideline the demand for Pakistan. He wanted to ensure:

This continuance of unity of India under the present Government does not preclude an eventual Pakistan, though I believe that in fact it would create an atmosphere in which at any rate the extreme Pakistan demand would no longer make the same appeal, and more practical considerations get the upper hand.

 He chalked out a programme in which the Congress would be empowered to impede the Pakistan demand. Therefore, he thought the essence of the idea in fact would be to release the Congress internees and to send an invitation to them to take part in coalition governments in the provinces and to participate in planning the future constitution at leisure. Amery feared that the division in Indian society was so obvious that the proposed Wavell Plan would result in further division among them. Similarly, after the failure of Gandhi-Jinnah talks, Amery suggested that, since the two main organized parties were incapable of finding a solution, both should be excluded from, or sparsely represented on the contemplated constitution-making body. To him, the best remedy was to avoid establishing a council proposed in the Wavell Plan and set up a council consisting of non-political elements instead. It would form a very suitable nucleus, partly because it would already include representatives of the princes.

On 6 December 1944 India Committee met to discuss the Wavell and Amery plans. The Wavell Plan was bitterly criticized by its members including Amery who put forward his own alternative scheme. He explained that what he had in mind was a body of some 40 to 50 persons, thoroughly representatives of all sections, parties, and interest groups and in particular the martial races of the Punjab. However, his idea was dropped, and Wavell’s proposals were postponed for another six months.

However, neither the British Parliament could be bypassed nor, could the two major political parties of India be ignored as proposed by Amery. Wavell was of the view that Amery has a curious capacity for getting hold of the right stick but practically always the wrong end of it.

 As Wavell did not appreciate the response from the India Committee* he decided to write directly to the prime minister. After complaining of the various grievances of the Delhi government against London, he informed Churchill that the current Government of India could not continue indefinitely, or even for long—the British Civil Service, on which the good government of the country had until then depended, might almost be described as moribund, the senior members being tired and disheartened. He said that with the approaching end of the Japanese war, political prisoners would have to be released and they would find a fertile field for agitation in food shortages and unemployment, following the closure of war factories, unless their energies had previously been diverted in trying to solve the constitutional problem.

*Wavell writing to Amery said that ‘I definitely do not agree with your remedy. If we held general elections in the present state of feeling there would be a great increase in communal bitterness, with unfortunate results on the war effort; and I do not believe that a constituent assembly on the Cripps model could be formed or would produce any useful result at this stage. I have reason to think that the Muslim league would not agree to a constitution-making body of this kind. Jinnah told Mudie a few days ago that he would not hear of such a proposal and gave figures to illustrate his objection; he repeated his opinion in another letter that Jinnah told Mudie during their recent talk that the Muslim League would not accept anything of the kind, as the method of the election of the Constituent Assembly outlined in the Cripps offer would be dis satisfactory to the Muslims. Wavell to Amery, 5 December 1944, Wavell Papers, Political Series 1944-45 p. 134.

Wavell, recommending an approach to Gandhi and Jinnah and their followers, said,

But the Congress and the League are the dominant parties in Hindu and Muslim India and will remain so. They control the Press, the electoral machine, the moneybags, and have prestige of established parties.

 He held that even if Gandhi and Jinnah disappeared tomorrow, he could see no prospect of having more reasonable people to deal with. He insisted on consideration of his plan because the commander-in-chief, governors of all eleven provinces, and the senior members of the services supported his plan.

Churchill’s response on 26 November 1944 clearly showed that he disagreed over the urgency of the matter. He held that these large problems require to to be considered at leisure and best of all in victorious peace. Wavell was anxious to write another letter to convince the prime minister of the urgency of the moment and to inform him of the psychological advantage but was restrained by Amery’s advice.* Amery suggested to him to refrain from a direct communique to the prime minister and promised to influence the members of the War Cabinet to get the matter referred to the Cabinet India Committee.

*Wavell wrote that ‘I have been careful not to commit myself with Jinnah or anyone else. It would be quite impossible for me to shut myself up and refuse to see any of the Indian politicians or to try to find out what they are thinking. I am sure it is right that I should continue to see political personalities as opportunity offers, to have a chance to size them up. I think you can trust me not to give away anything.’ Wavell to Amery 27 December 1944, Wavell Papers, Political Series, 1944-45, pp 134-5

The India Committee in its meeting of 6 December disagreed with the vitals of the Wavell Plan but did invite him to London for a face to face meeting where he could justify the details of his plan.

Wavell thought that it would be a grave mistake to postpone, because of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru’s non-party conference, as that would produce no proposals of value; and he proposed that he should reach London about 15 January. Now, Churchill directed Amery to place before the Cabinet the question of whether Wavell should come home at all at this juncture. He feared, I expect he is going to make trouble and stage a scene for resignation. But Wavell was quite conscious of the urgency for getting both the parties to work together in the coalition government and this would, he expected, generate team spirit. Their cooperation would also help to sideline the Pakistan issue. He met with Jinnah on 6 December 1944 and got an opinion. Writing to Amery on 12 December 1944, Wavell told him:

Jinnah was prepared to accept the unity of India as an ideal, but an ideal quite unattainable in present conditions. He said that the Muslims had been led by their experience of Congress domination to regard Pakistan as the only possible solution. I put it to him that if in the critical post-war years, on which the whole future of India may depend, we were busy cutting up the country, all parties would suffer, and that it would be very much better to hold India together for the time being at least and to undertake partition only if the Hindus and Muslims found in practice that they could not carry on.

Wavell thought that Jinnah would cooperate if an Executive Council was constituted under the present constitution.

Wavell arrived in England on 23 March and his first meeting with the India Committee took place on 26 March. * Attlee, who chaired the meeting, was horrified at the thought of a rule by the brown oligarchy. ** Attlee declared, he was dismayed that we should hand over the people of India to a few very rich individuals who would control the caucuses without responsibility to anyone. Wavell noted in his diary on 18 April that Attlee started attacking me at once . . .John Anderson complained that I would not admit that I was making radical changes in the constitution. Cripps was absent; Grigg and Simon were hostile.

*Attlee refused to allow Wavell to see a record of discussions on the Indian constitutional problem in the India Committee, as ‘the making of this request is, I fear, only another example of having a Viceroy with no political experience.’ Hugh Tinker remarks that ‘Attlee’s complaint seems particularly peevish when we recall that the man he chose to succeed Wavell, Mountbatten, had even less knowledge of British politics.’ Hugh Tinker, Viceroy Curzon to Mountbatten p. 193.

**Attlee also held that a government responsible neither to parliament nor to a legislature would leave His Majesty’s Government powerless to protect the Indian masses, who would be defenceless. He also said that the new members would owe allegiance to an outside body and not to the viceroy, who would be forced more and more into the position of a Dominion Governor-General. Therefore, effective control would pass to an Executive Council ‘responsible only to the party caucuses.’

India Committee showed a lack of concern about the Indian problem and tried to avoid the Wavell Plan. They did not want to go beyond the Cripps offer of 1942. Churchill, like Attlee, also disapproved of the Wavell Plan. At that moment, Wavell realized,

now I think we have missed the bus in any case. The sudden collapse of the Germans and the approaching reoccupation of the whole of Burma will make Indian politicians less accommodating than a few months ago. If I got my own way now, I feel it would be too late.

Wavell’s repeated requests annoyed Churchill who gave an ungracious reply to him and said, I do not consider that your visit to this country was necessary at the present time.

In the meantime, the War Cabinet had been replaced by a “caretaker” Conservative Cabinet in June 1945. However, this time both the India Committee and the Cabinet accepted the Wavell Plan but not in its entirety. Thus, Wavell called the Simla Conference in June 1945 which, however, failed to produce any results.

One of the main reasons for Churchill’s continued tense relations with Wavell was that the former was vehemently opposed to granting of freedom to India. Wavell rightly wrote to Churchill, I know you have often found me a difficult and troublesome subordinate; I have not always found you an easy master to serve. Wavell got nothing from Churchill which could have made him popular in India. Amery much later conceded that the failure of the Simla Conference in 1945 was due to Churchill’s obstinacy. Churchill never wanted Wavell to succeed in his political plans for India and it can be rightly said that it was he, not Wavell, who was responsible for the failure of the Simla Conference. *

*Wavell went to see Churchill on 31 August 1945 when he had been ousted from power. He had an hour-long meeting with him. Churchill was in a good mood and ‘revealed that the only reason he had agreed to my political move was that India Committee had all told him it was bound to fail.’ Wavell, Viceroy’s Journal p.168.

By Courtesy : Wavell and the Dying Days of the Raj by Muhammad Iqbal Chawla, Oxford University Press, Karachi 2011