Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Partition: 1947

This post coincides with the 65th anniversary of 'Independence' - that point in 1947 marking the end of the British Raj and the division of the Indian subcontinent into the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. The entire subject remain complex though over the next couple of posts, I hope to explore a few thoughts and opinions on the matter. In this post I begin by starting with a brief history.

British Colonial administration did not directly rule all of "India". There were several different political arrangements: Provinces were ruled directly and the Princely States had varying legal independent arrangements.The Indian National Congress formed in 1884 by a mixture of Indian (Hindu and Muslim) and English activists led for the initial calls to have more Indian representation within the administration.

By 1906 the All India Muslim League had been formed in Dhaka in reaction to what some elite Muslims viewed as Hindu dominance in Congress. As the appeal of Mohandas Gandhi and the Free India movement increased, a number of different scenarios were proposed. Amongst the first to make the demand for a separate state was the philosopher Allama Iqbal, who, in his presidential address to the 1930 convention of the Muslim League, proposed a separate nation for Muslims.

The 1946 Cabinet Mission aimed to reach an agreement between Congress and the Muslim League amid growing tension. Nehru, leading Congress was unwilling to accept a decentralised state and Jinnah, leading the Muslim League (made up largely of the 'secular' landed Muslim elite) returned a demand for Pakistan as a bargaining chip. Initially most Muslims opposed partition and there was no pre or post Pakistan 'plan' right up to the announcement in June 1947 that the British had set a date for handover.

Religious communalism fuelled the British decision to exit early (Lord Louis Mountbatten having just been made Viceroy of India in February 1947) and sealed - by accident - the decision to partition the subcontinent. Sir Cyril Radcliffe never having visited India before was employed to draw the boundaries between the two states in July 1947 five weeks before the end of British rule. On August 15 1947, India was granted her independence, and Pakistan the day before. Note, this was before Radcliffe Boundary Committee had made the announcement on the boundaries and before either country knew their borders. Significantly, partition led to the biggest sudden movement of people in human history  - with up to 12 to 15 million people uprooted within a short period and the after effects felt for years.

More in my next postings ...

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