K. Hussan Zia
When the idea of a separate state or states to safeguard the interests of Muslims of India was first officially adopted by the Muslim League at its annual session in March 1940 it met with strong opposition not only by the Congress and other Hindu parties but also by the British as well as Muslim religious parties including Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, the Ahrars as well as Khaksars. The latter made two attempts on Jinnah’s life and even succeeded in wounding him on one occasion.
In August 1942, the Akali Sikh leader Gayani Kartar Singh proclaimed in Amritsar, ‘If Pakistan is foisted upon the Sikhs with the help of British bayonets, we shall tear it into shreds as Guru Gobind Singh tore up the Mughal Empire’ (‘A History of the Sikhs, vol. 2, by Khushwant Singh, New Delhi, 1991, p. 252).
Master Tara Singh threatened a Sikh uprising and declared an ‘Anti-Pakistan Day’ on 11th March 1947. In a fiery speech from the steps of the Provincial Legislature he denounced Muslims, Jinnah and Pakistan ‘Our motherland is calling for blood and we shall satiate the thirst of our motherland with blood —- I have sounded the bugle. Finish the Muslim League’.
He then proclaimed the Sikh slogan ‘Raj karay ga Khalsa baki rahay na ko’ (only the pure Sikhs will rule; no one else will survive) and proceeded to hack down the pole bearing the Muslim League flag and tore the banner to shreds with his kirpan (dagger) to the shouts of Pakistan Murdabad —- death to Pakistan (The Punjab Boundary Force and the Problem of Order, August 1947, vol.8, by Robin Jeffrey, as quoted by French).
How Pakistan came into being despite such formidable opposition is a question that is often asked. The simple answer lies in the conviction and resolve of the Muslims of India to have a space of their own where they could live freely, without being dominated by the Hindus. Exhausted by the long war, Britain realized she could no longer hold on and decided to give India her freedom. It only remained to be decided in what form power should be transferred to avoid chaos and possible civil war.
A country-wide election to the Central and Provincial Assemblies was held at the end of 1945 in which the Congress Party fielded candidates on the Muslim as well as non-Muslim seats for a united India. Muslim League, on the other hand, contested only in the seats reserved for the Muslims as did various other Islamic religious and regional parties like the Unionists, that had opposed the creation of Pakistan.
Muslim League won eighty-seven percent of the Muslim votes cast and every single seat reserved for them in the Central Assembly. It also won 428 of the total 492 (87 percent) seats in the Provincial Assemblies. In Sind, it won all but one seat. In Bengal, the League collared ninety percent of the vote. In NWFP it fell one vote short of a majority in the Assembly and Dr. Khan Sahib of the Khudaee Khidmatgars formed the government with the help of the Congress Party. In Punjab, the League bagged 79 of the 86 seats reserved for Muslims and was the largest party in the Assembly but the Governor called on Sir Khizar Hayat Tiwana, who’s Unionist Party had only ten seats, to form the government in collaboration with Congress and assorted Hindu and Sikh groups.
The election firmly established two facts —- that the Muslims did not want to be a part of Hindu-dominated united India and secondly, it was only the Muslim League that represented the interest and aspirations of their vast majority.
There were intelligence reports that the Congress was soon going to embark on plans to overthrow the government through a large-scale mass movement. Viceroy Wavell cabled Pethick-Lawrence, the British secretary of state that Congress leaders had been making speeches ‘intended to provoke or pave the way for mass disorder —- asserting that the British could be turned out of India within a very short time; denying the possibility of a compromise with the Muslim League; glorifying the INA; and threatening the officials who took part in the suppression of the 1942 disturbances with trial and punishment as war criminals’ (Transfer of Power Documents 1942 – 1947, Vol VI, p. 451).
Wavell assessed the political situation in India at the time as: ‘Congress feel that HMG dare not break with them —- their aim is power and to get rid of British influence as soon as possible, after which they think they can deal with both Muslims and Princes; the former by bribery —- and if necessary by force; the latter by stirring up their people against them. —- They will continue —- until they consider themselves strong enough to —- revolt against British rule’. (Transfer of Power Documents, Volume IX, pp. 240-2).
The British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee thought, ‘The situation might so develop as to result in a civil war in India, with all the bloodshed which that would entail’ (Transfer of Power Documents 1942-1947, Vol. IX, P. 319). He had decided to hand over power to avoid such an eventuality. He would have much preferred if India remained united but when the Cabinet Mission failed in 1946, the only option left open was to partition the country. To get the Congress Party to agree to it, the latter was assured that it will be done in such a way that Pakistan will not be a viable country and unlikely to survive for long.
Mr. Gandhi had dispatched an emissary from his own entourage, Sudhir Ghosh, to London to liaise privately with the Labour Government. While studying at Cambridge he had established durable links with Quakers and Labour politicians, including Pethick-Lawrence and Cripps. Privately, the former considered him a ‘vexatious embarrassment’ while Wavell referred to him as ‘that little rat’ and a ‘snake in the grass with a very swollen head’. Nonetheless, he remained Mr.Gandhi’s man for making back-room deals with the Labour Party. His first mission was to arrange for the removal of Wavell and replace him with someone more acceptable to Congress.
A telephone conversation between Vallabhbhai Patel in Delhi and Sudhir Ghosh in London on 28th August was intercepted and reported to Wavell. In it Patel was heard saying ‘Cripps had promised if there was any disturbance in Calcutta, he will order Section 93 (dissolution of Muslim League Government and the imposition of Governor’s Rule in Bengal). What is he doing’? Ghosh told him that Cripps was out of the country but he would take up the matter with another minister. Patel then told him to remain in the country and await further orders ‘We are taking charge on 2nd September’ (Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division, by Patrick French, p. 254). There could not be clearer evidence that at least some members of the Labour Government were colluding with the Congress.
Earlier, Wavell had recorded that the Cabinet Mission had been ‘unable to remain really impartial’ and had been ‘living in the pocket of Congress’, further concluding the Mission ‘might have succeeded had Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence not been so completely in the Congress camp’ (Wavell: The Viceroy’s Journal, edited by Penderel Moon, pp. 287, 324). Jinnah wrote to Attlee, with a copy to Churchill that the conduct of the Cabinet Delegation had ‘impaired the honour of the British Government and shaken the confidence of Muslim India’ and ‘shattered their hopes for an honourable and peaceful settlement’ (Transfer of Power Documents, Vol. VII, p. 527).
Wavell sent transcripts of the intercepts of telephone conversations Ghosh had with Gandhi to Attlee, with a note of protest stating ‘I cannot continue to be responsible for the affairs in India if some members of your Government are keeping in touch with the Congress through an independent agent behind my back’ (Transfer of power Documents, VIII, pp. 328-9). It had become a familiar refrain. There had been frequent complaints from him and his staff about the ‘lack of realism and honesty’ on the part of the cabinet in London (Wavell: pp. 397-409).
Sudhir Ghosh did not cut much ice with Secretary of State for India, Lord Pethick-Lawrence but found Attlee ‘a great deal more understanding’, who told him in early September 1946 that ‘there was a good case for a new viceroy but there was no sense in making a change unless he was in a position to find someone who was obviously better than the present occupant of the post’ (The Collected Works of Mahatama Gandhi, VXXXV, p. 518). The Transfer of Power record, as well as Wavell’s own journal, is replete with pleas and exhortations on the subject while stressing the need for honesty, fair play and justice. Wavell was no politician and obviously had not adjusted to their ways. It made him an obstacle both for Congress as well as the British Government and the time had come for him to go home for their scheme to be put into effect as envisaged.
After the Japanese surrendered, Nehru had gone to Burma as a guest of Mountbatten. Following their discussions, Krishna Menon, who was an influential member and councilor for the Labour Party in Britain, conveyed it to the British Minister and Congress sympathiser, Stafford Cripps in a secret meeting that Mountbatten’s selection would be most acceptable to Congress (Freedom at Midnight, by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, foot note p.19). In mid-December 1946 Attlee sounded out Mountbatten to replace Wavell as the viceroy in India.
He took over on 24th. March 1947 while still remaining in regular contact with Krishna Menon. In one of his letters to Mountbatten after a meeting with Attlee, Menon informed him: ‘no lack of desire on the part of the P.M to be of assistance. I found there and everywhere else that the Fuhrer (Jinnah) had overplayed his hand’ (Transfer of Power Documents, Vol. XII, p.255). The Congress Party had already agreed to the creation of Pakistan composed of provinces having a majority of Muslims provided parts of Punjab and Bengal, where Muslims were in minority, were joined with India.
There is evidence to suggest that based on assurances given to them, Congress leaders accepted Pakistan only as a stopgap measure. In a letter to India’s representative in China, K. P. S Menon on 29th April 1947, Nehru wrote that he was in no doubt eventually India would have to become one country and it could well be that Partition was but a stepping stone on the path towards that goal (Nehru: The Making of India, by M. J. Akbar, London, 1989, p. 405).
To ensure this happened, India withheld Pakistan’s share of finances and other assets after independence. Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, who became Supreme Commander of both India and Pakistan after Partition reported to Whitehall on 28th September 1947: ‘I have no hesitation whatever in affirming that the present India Cabinet are implacably determined to do all in their power to prevent the establishment of the Dominion of Pakistan on a firm basis. In this, I am supported by the unanimous opinion of my senior officers, and indeed by all British officers cognizant of the situation, (Auchinleck, by John Connel, London, 1959, p. 1379).
British complicity in the nefarious scheme is clear from minutes of the meeting Mountbatten had with the Provincial Governors on 15th April 1947. In it he told them ‘—— partition of India would be a most serious potential source of war. —– A quick decision would also give Pakistan a greater chance to fail on its demerits. The great problem was to reveal the limits of Pakistan so that the Muslim League could revert to an unified India with honour’. When the Acting Governor of Bengal informed him that in the event of partition, ‘Eastern Bengal alone was not a going concern and never would be. It could not feed itself —- It would become a rural slum —- Muslims knew it as well as Hindus, so they felt that the object of the cry (by the Hindus) to partition Bengal was to torpedo Pakistan’, Mountbatten replied, ‘Anything that resulted in torpedoing Pakistan was of advantage in that it led the way back to a more common-sense solution’ (Transfer of Power Documents, Vol. X, pp. 242 -244, 250 and Shameful Flight, by Stanley Wolpert, p. 142).
It had been originally announced that the transfer of power was to take place on 30th June 1948. Citing the example of Irish independence when Britain had taken more than two years just to agree on the modalities of the transfer of power to Ireland, Jinnah asked for more time. Instead, for good measure, Mountbatten advanced the date to 15th August 1947 giving Jinnah less than two months to set up a new country! Not only that, eight tehsils in central Punjab adjoining Pakistan, including Ajnala, Gurdaspur, Batala, Jullunder, Nakodar, Ferozepur, Zira, Fazilka and parts of Shakargarh and Lahore where Muslims were in majority, were all awarded to India to ensure the latter had access to Kashmir and control of rivers flowing into Pakistan.