Indian and Pakistani Independence and Partition (1947)


Figure 1.-- The Raj included colonial India was composed of 565 separate states. At the time of independence there was no agreement as to which country each princly state would join. The formula agreed to by Congress and the British was that the aristocratic rulers were allowed to chose whether to join India or Pakistan. It was assumed that their choice would be goverened by both geogrphy and the religion of the majority of the population. Obviously a pribcipality in the middle of India with a majority Indian popiulation would join India and prinipalities in Pakistan with a majority Muslim population would join Pakistan. This formulae worked well, although some of the Maharajas wee reluctant to give up their power and perogatives. The one problem proved to be Khasmir.

The current conflict dates from the independence of India after World War II. Lord Mountbatten was sent to India by Britain's post-War Labour Government to be the last Viceroy and oversee independence. His wife Edwina played an important role in partnership with her husband, a rather complicated relationship. India's independence was achieved by the Congress Party. Ghandi through the Congress Party had promoted the idea of a secular Indian state in which people of all faiths could live harmoniously. Muslims were an important part of the Congress Party coalition. Here both Ghandi and Nehru played central roles. The two admired each other and were close friends, but did not agree on many issues. In the negotiations over independence, Muslim leader Jenna insisted Muslims needed a separate state--Pakistan. Britain granted India independence August 15, 1947 and two new states were creates--India and Pakistan. Inter-communal rioting in 1947 resulted in hundred of thousands of deaths if not more than a million. There was no accurte accounting. Muslims fled from India and Hindus from Pakistan--one of the largest migrations in history. Thousands more died in violence as these collumns foraged or food and were set upom by villagers also inflamed by religious and national zealotry. The two collumns also fought with each other. The British have been criticised for leaving India before key aspects of independence, such as the facr of the princely states had been finalized. At the time, however, the Indians were pressing for independence.

Indian Culture

India was the location of one of the four great rivel valley civilization and one ff the great subsequent world cultural centers. It is a glorious cultural past with more thn to millenu of learning, literature, science, and art. Among the greatest of Indian achievements was the concept of zero and wgat are today called arabic numers--the central basis of modern mathemtics. There were a long pre-colonial history, including te Mughals, Deccani Sultans, Nayaks, Maraathans, the Rajiputs, Sikhs, and many others. But begnning with the later Mughals,Indian had began to decline, in pat because of the intolerance of the later Mughals. Despite the glories of Indan culture, it should be remembered that like China, India never made the leap to modernity. They never developed what is now called the killer aps of modernity, including free mrket capitalism and democracy. [Ferguson]. As a result, the Mugals and Rajiputs could not resist the Eurioean colonial powers. But even more important, India like China, could not creae a modern state capble of lifting the vast population from abject poverty.

British Raj (1857-1947)

The British Raj or rule is generally dated from the time that time that the British Government took over from the British East India Company and extended Crown (British Government) control throughout the Sub-continent. As part of the reforms following the reimposition of British control was that the British Governmrnt commenced direct rule. This period of direct Bitish rule is reffered to as the Raj. The Raj was established by an amazingly small number of British soldiers and colonial administrators. The British seized control over the entire subcontinent and beyond, including not only India, but modern Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka and smaller dependencies like the Maldives. . The British had some major advantages. One was tge Royal Navy and control of the sea. This gave them great mobility, able to concentrate their limited military force at any critical hot spot. It also rnabled them to control trade, an important economic influence. Also the British were not establishing rule over a subject people used to self government, but replacing in many instances Muslim rulers who were seen by much of Hindu India as just as alien as the British and often more willing to interfere in religious prctice. India was by far Britain's most important colony--the jewel in the Crown of the British Empire. Tensions between Hindus and Muslims were kept in check by the British Raj, altjhough the British also played on this division in administering India. Huge fortunes were made in India and wealth transferred basck to Britain. India's modern infrastructure was built during the Raj. Britain set polieces to benefit Britain and not India. But many Indians took advantage of the stable political situation. While British policies undercut local indistries. Serious famines were not well handled. On the other hand, Britain founded a modern education system and laid the foundation for a demoratic ystem. Notably, most of the serious problems India now faces date from either centuries old traditions or socialist policies adopted by India after independence and not the Raj.

Independence Movement

The Indian struggle for independence began in earest after World War I (1914-18). Mahatma Gahandi inspired the Indian people in an unorthodox independence movement led by the Congress Party. Congress included both Muslim and Hindu leaders. Largely through Ghandi's influence it was a non-violent movement. The independence movement led by Mahatma Ghandi and the Congress Party gained considerable strength during the 1920s and 30s.

Indian National Congress (INC)

The Indian National Congress (INC) is commonly reffered to as the Congress Party or just Congress. The Party was founded by A. O. Hume (an English civil servant), Dadabhai Naoroji and Sir Dinshaw Edulji Wacha (1885). It became the leading force in the Indian independence movement. It has been estimated that over 15 million Indians were active members and more than 70 million participated in the Congress organized independence struggle. India's independence was esentially achieved by the Congress Party as it was achieved with remarkavly little violence. As a result of this achievement, Congress dominated Indian politics for decades. Independence along was a major achievement. But Congress should also be credited for acceepting the British heritage of democracy and law and making it a central element of modern India. This was no small achievement in a country as large and diverse as India. This was a rare achievement in the new nations that achieved independence after World War II. Congress was for three decades India's dominant political party. Congress' dominance of Indian politics ended (1967), although iy continues to be a major political force. Perhaps Congress' most important, Congress tolerated the transition to an opposition party when finally lost an election. [Robinson and Brass] Thus India to date is the world's largest democracy with a vibrant, competitive party system."

Muslim League (ML)

The Muslim League (ML) was founded during the British Raj as the All India Muslim League. The ML was founded to safeguard the rights of Indian Muslims (1906). At the time the most important political movements was the INC. The INC was not an exclusivly Hundu movement, but because Hindus were a majority of the Indiuan popukation, the INC was dominated by Hindus. The British for some time favored the ML because it was a potentially ally against the INC and its goal of an independent India. The ML soon proved to be less compliant than the British expected and also adopted the goal od self-government (1913). The ML eventually joined the INC 'Quit India' movement. ML leaders for decades promoted the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity in a united and independent India. And this included Mohammed Ali Jinnah who emerged as the ML leader at the time that indepedence became a real responsibility.

INC Independence Leaders

Mohandas Ghandi through the Congress Party had promoted the idea of a secular Indian state in which people of all faiths could live harmoniously. Muslims were an important part of the Congress Party coalition. Ghandi promoted non-violent methods to achieve independence. Ghandi is undoiubtedly one of the great figures of the 20th century. His influence was a major factor in the independence movement not becoming violent and eventually descending in the bloodbath and dictatorship that often followed violent revolution. Both Ghandi and Nehru were educated in Britain. The very Anglicized Ghandi attempted to practice law in South Africa, but eventually retuned to India where he plunged into an asecticism that Nehru and other Congress leaders did not share. What Ghandi and Nethru did share was a commitment to democracy and law as well as socialism. Democracy and law is proving to be the great strength of modern India. Socialism cripelled the Indian econony for decades. Not all of Congress was as commiited to non-violence, but Ghandi had imense prestige with both the Indian people and much of Congress' leadership. Here both Ghandi and Nehru played central roles. The two admired each other and were close friends, but did not agree on many issues, especially as Ghandi turned to pre-industrial economics. Other important Congress leaders included the Bengali poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and his nephew , the artist Abanindranath Tagore. B.R. Ambedkar emerged as the author of the indeoendent India's constitution. The main Muslim leader was Mohammad Ali Jenna.

World War I

Both the INC and the Muslim League (ML) supported sending Indian volunteer troops to fight for Britain in World War I. More than 1 million Indian soldiers fought for the British. Indian troops fought with the BEF in Belgium. They played an important role in the Middle East. The indian people and many of those soldiers expected political concessions from the British leading to evential independence. With the German surrender, however, the Britain failed to offer the expected concessions.

Self Rule

Britain had begun to move India toward self rule--swaraj. It was formula pursued in Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka). Mahatma Gandhi popularized the term before full political independence wasnpossible. He used it to mean independence from foreign domination. He laid stress on governance not by a hierarchical government, but self governance through individuals and community building. His focus was at first on political decentralization What the British offered was not independence and fell short of what Congress wanted. This process of self rule was derailed by World War II. Congress refused to support the British war effort and major Congress leaders were arrested anf interned. Congress while causing disruptons in the inter-War eradid not oppose the British when war broke out. India in fact played an important role in the British war effort.

The Idea of Pakistan

The idea of Pakistan as a separate Muslim state was first raised by the Islamic poet Muhammed Iqbal (1930). It was a Muslim student at Cambridge, Choudhry Rhamat Ali, that forst gave the idea of a Musloim sate a name -- Pakistan (1933). The ML eventually, as independence became a real posibility, adopted the goal of a separate Muslim nation to be called Pakistan which would be created through partition at the time Britain granted independence. And Jenna became its primary spokesman.

World War II (1939-45)

The British by 1939 were having increasing difficulties governing India. The Congress Party while refusing to support the War efort, decided not to actively oppose Britain or to take advantage of British defeats in the early stages of the War. Some Indian POWs taken by the Japanese were recruited by anti-British nationalists and formed the Free Indian Army. Under Subhashchandra Bose, they fought alongside the Japanese in Burma. Overall, India played an important part in the Allied war effort. Indian units fought with other British Empire forces in both the Pacific and European theaters. About 2.5 million Indians (including modern Pakistan) were mobilized. Some Indian units played important roles in the early stages of the War before Britain had fully mobilized and American joined the War. The Fifth Indian Division ngaged the Italians in the Sudan ans subsequently the Germans in the western Desert. The Indians played a major role in quelling a pro-NAZI revolt in Iraq. A successful revolt would have cut the British off from the Iraqi oil fields whigh would have undermined the naval and land defenses of Egypt and the Suez Canal. the Division along with eight other Indian Divisions fought in Burma. After the Japanese surrender, the Indian forces then disarmed the Japanese forces in Malayia and Java. India provided important bases for the recinquest of Burma and delivering supplied to the Chinese. India also was a source of food and other supplies for British and Commonwealth forces as well as the British homefront.

British General Election (1945)

Prime Minister Churchill believed in the Empire and was opposed to Indian independence. He was willing to persue self rule, but wanted to retain India in the Empire. This could have resulted in a vilolentvstruggle for independence after the War. The issue, however, was resolved by the British people. After VE Day the British held a general election. Churchill who had participated in the openong phase of the Potsdam Conference flew home to add his voice to the election debate. The result came as a great shock. The British people who had endured enormous privation during the War wanted change. And the result was a stunning election victory for the Labour Party. The election was not a repudisation of Churchill's war leadership. It was a vote for the future. The British decided that Labour's vision of a a more just, less class-based system was what they wanted for the future. Major important changes such as in education and health care came out of the new Labour government. Other measures such as nationalization of key industries probably hurt Britin for decades to come. Churchill was shocked. Clemme told him that it could have been the best thing that could have happened for him. She was probably right. The new British primeminister was Clemet Atlle. One of the changes introduced by Labour was in the British Empire. Atlee and Labour did not share Churchill's attachment to the Empire. They decided to move rapidly with Indian independence.

Lord Mountbatten: Last British Viceroy

Lord Louis Mountbatten after completing his military duties in Southeast Asia was sent to India by Britain's post-War Labour Government to be the last Viceroy and oversee independence. His wife Edwina played an important role in partnership with her husband, a rather complicated relationship. Edwina is an historical figure almost as interesting as her husband. Mountbatten was as English as one could imagine, but was in fact born a German prince. His father came to England as a youth because he wanted to be in the Navy. He rose to First Sea Lord when World War I broke out. He was firced to resign with the growth of anti-German sentiment. The family name was changed from Battenberg to Mountbatten and they lost their princely status. He was close to the Prince of Wales (future Edward VIII) and accompanied him on his Empire tour after World War I. (Edward's brither was dissapointed not to go.) He married Edwina Ashley who was both fabulosly rich and considerable social standing. The two had a complex relationship including multiple affairs. He followed his father into the Royal Navy and had a notable World war II record. He was the perfect choice for viceroy and Edwina added considerably to his success. Mounbatten reveled in the various uniforms he could wear. Edwina on the other hand plunged into charitable efforts in which she could dress down. Their activities soon brought them in close contact with both Ghandi and Nehru. The personal relationship that developed proved instrumental in the ensuing negotiations for independence. The relationship between Edwina and Nehru is widely believed to have become intimate. [Von Tunzelmann]

Negotiations

Negotiations over India's future were complicated. The ML had been formed in opposition to the INC. The British colonial government before ad during Workd war II attempted to play the INC and ML off one another--the standard colonial tactic of dividing the colonial peoples. The two main political parties, however, generally cooperated in their mutual goal of getting Britain to 'Quit India'. Some historians blame the chaos that ensued and the violence accompanying the birth of two newly independent nations to varying degrees on the haste with which the British withdrew from India after World War II. There may be some truth in that, but some resonsibility has to be laid to the doors of the Indian politicans themselves. Ibdependence was announced soon after Labour victory in the British General Election (July 1945). With Britain's Labour Goverment conceding independence, the negotiations that ensued were largely neotiations among the Indians and not with the British about the shape of independent India. Mountbatten's role became orimarily one of a moderator and facilitator in the negotiations. In the negotiations over independence, Muslim leader Jenna decided that Muslims needed a separate state--Pakistan. The British Prliament passed the Independence Act which proposed the date for the formal transfer of power to the Indian Government--June 1948. The new viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, unilaterally advanced that date to August 1947. Many issues were thus let unresolved at the time power was turned over to th Indians. Mountbatten has also been criticized for focusing largely on negotiating with Jinnah (Muslim League) and Nehru (Indian National Congress) to the exclusion of of other Indian politicans and groups. The importance of the ML and INC was firmly established by Constituent Assembly elections (July 1946) which explains and certainly to an extent justifies Mountbatten's decesion, but does not mean that he made a real effort to deal with a universal franchise.

Independence

Britain granted India independence August 15, 1947. This was an cachievement of enormous importance. A vast number of Asians granted indeppendence and given access. In addition it was accomplished without violence, at least violence between the Indians and British. This was an enormous accomplishment, of both British and Indian natinalist reades. It is difficult to imagine a libera denocray emerging if there had been a violent struggle. An indian historian credits India's new nationlist leaders. [Vajpeyi] We believe that Britain's enlighted approch and the victory of the Labour Party in the 1945 General Election should not be underestimated. Two states were creates--India and Pakistan. The British have been criticised for leaving India before key aspects of independence, such as the fate of the princely states had been finalized. At the time, however, the Indians were pressing for independence.

Democracy

Western historians have tended to credit liberal political ideals absorbed by the Indian political elite as responsible for the democracy that emnerged in independent India. We tend to ascribe to this view, but are open to the idea that Indian culture may have also been an important factor here. Notably the British and French arranged for elections as they exited their colonial empires. India is one of the rare colonies that developed a vibrant democracy after independence. `An Indian historian points to Indian culture a long history to explain why the Indians suceeded. But this only occurred only in majority Hindu India and not in Muslim majority Pakisan whre democracy failed. The Indian historian maintains that India's nationalist leaders turned to Indian traditions and ancient texts and not just liberal Btitish ideals as they moved toward independence--swaraj. [Vajpeyi] Many of India's anciant political texts were largely unknown to the vast majority of the populationas India move toward independence. They were, however, known to some of the emerging nationlist leaders, including Nehru. Surely it was the British example that inclined Indian nationalist leader toward democracy. But it was perhaps deeply imbeded traditions that made democracy work in India. There were self-governing village bodies, the panchayats, which had existed for millenia. And the tolerant trditions of the early Mulghals set an important precedent. All of this was largely lost to most Indians, at least in an academic sense, by the time of the Raj. Some of the major nationalist leasers, including Nethru, were familiar with the ancient texts and influenced by them. [Vapeyi] Two key concepts inflencing Nehru were dharma (Ethical order) and artha (pragmatism). Dharma was central to the Emperpor Asoka's rule embodiing an inclusive rule two millenia ago. His grandfather, the Emperor Chndragupta, leaned more toward artha and realpolitik pragmatism. In Nehru's own career, dharma dominated the independence struggle and once indepedence was achieved , artha became more important. [Vajpeyi] Democracy is to often seen as election and majority rule, but a key aspect of democracy is protecting minority populations. And here Nehru drew from both ancient Indic and British liberal traditions. He insisted, "It is strnge that anyone could be so foolish as to think that religion and faith can be thrust down a person's throat at the point of a sword or bayonet." History of course shows that it can be done, albeit often at considerable cost. Nehru turned to the Emperor Asoka when he helped create the symbols of independent India. The state seal was created from the lion capitals that topped Asokan columns. The wheel of law (dharmacakra), another Asokan artifact, was placed at the center of the new national flag.

Partition

The Partition of India was the difficult process of dividing the subcontinent along sectarian lines as India ahieved indpendence. Congress dominated by socialist, secular leaders wanted a united mult--religious India. Muslims leaders with a more religious outlook, fearful of Hindu rule demanded a separate state. The issue began to surface years before actual independence as Indian leaders negan to think about independence and rhe depature of the British. India was not a united state before the arrival of the Europeans and the eventual creation of the Btitish Raj. Thus for the first time in history under British rule India meaning the sub-continent was united. This did not create a religious problem at first, because Mulims and Hindus were not ruled by a Muslim or Hindu-dominated national government. The Indian National Congress (INC) was organized and met for the first time (1885). From the beginning it was dominated by majoriy Hindus, but included many Muslims. The first major problm surfaced when When the British attempted to divide Bengal along sectarian lines (1905). The INC organized huge protests against the division plan. This resulted in the formation of the Muslim League (ML). And as the issue of independence advanced, the ML was at the spearhead of efforts to safeguard the rights of Muslims in the Raj and in any future independence negotiations. The idea of Pakistan or a separate Muslim state did develop until fairly late in the independence movement. And some historians speculate that the early demands for a separate state were really just a 'bargaining chip' to gain more influnce for Muslims in a Hindu majority state. The goal being a loosely federated India with a degree of autonomy for Muslims and the possibility of Sharia Law rather than Brutish influenced secular law. Only in the late-1930s did the idea of an independent Pakistan emerge as a real goal. As Parition was carried out, northeastern and northwestern predominantly Muslim sections of India after difficult negotiations drawing the new birder became the Pakistan, while the southern and majority Hindu regions section became India, albeit with a huge Muslim minority. Unresolved at the time of independence and parition was the status of Khasmir. And independence was a disjointed affair. Pakistan celebrated its independence on August 14. India celebrates independence on August 15. And notably, the border between the two now indepebdent states was not announced until August 17. The actual boundary line was hurriedly drawn by a British lawyer, Cyril Radcliffe. This may sound strange, but it left to Indians the border would have almost certainly resulted in a deadlock. This is why Congres and the ML agreed to him. Radcliffe not only had virtually no knowledge of Indian affairs, but he was working with out-of-date maps and census materials. Many Indians were shocked by the result, especially those living near the new border. Not only were farms and families separated, but whole communities were divided. Delaying the announcement of the border until power ws transferred meant that the rioting and refugee flight was followed became the responsibility not of the British Government, but of the two independent Indian governments.

Inter-communal Violence

Inter-communal rioting broke out at independence as a result of partion (1947). Muslims fled from India and Hindus anbd Sikhs from Pakistan as vicious riots and communal rampages forced people from their homes. Peoples who lived together peacefully for centuries were suddenly caught up in inter-communal rioting, one of the great and least reported human tragedies of our time. Much greater attention has been given to events in Palestine at the same time involving much smaller numbers of people and deaths. These were terrified, for the most part impoverished people, forced from their ancestral homes. Partition set in motion the largest mass migration in history. Some 10-13 million people were set in motion--most of it on foot. These people including children and the elderly fled across the sudenly delineated borders. Many had to move long distnces on foot without any humamitarian support such as feeding stations or sanitary and medical facilities. It was beyond the capability of the security forces to contol. Thousands more died in violence as these collumns passing each other in opposite directions along major roads. And as they foraged for food and were set upon by villagers also inflamed by religious and national zealotry and protcting their fields. The situation was most severe in the western Punjab and Bengal which were cut in two by partition. The violence resulted in hundred of thousands of deaths, probably more than a million. There was no accurte accounting. While the deaths is often the headline story, much more was involved. Often omitted in the discussion is the huge numbers of women raped--in a traditional society often seen as a fate worse than death. Women in the refugee collumns were brutally raped, sometimes tortured. There were organized gang rapes and murdersd. And it should not be thoufgt that this ws done jusr by the othr religious groups. Actions by their fellow religionists seem even more common. Besides religious and national passions, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were all involved in undesguised criminality. Partition and the line drawn on the map unleashed an episode of mass depravity unmatched in recent history. Unlike other horific events, this was not organized carnage, but appeas to have been lrgely spotaneous. And the carnage would have been much worse had Ghandi not worked tirelessly to contain the volence. Many historians blame partition primarily on competition between elites vying for power. This narative is brought into question by the mass violence which seems to have spontaneously erupted among the population itself.

The Princely States

The Raj included colonial India was composed of 565 separate states. At the time of independence there was no agreement as to which country each princly state would join. The formula agreed to by Congress and the British was that the aristocratic rulers were allowed to chose whether to join India or Pakistan. It was assumed that their choice would be goverened by both geogrphy and the religion of the majority of the population. Obviously a pribcipality in the middle of India with a majority Indian popiulation would join India and prinipalities in Pakistan with a majority Muslim population would join Pakistan. This formulae worked well, although some of the Maharajas wee reluctant to give up their power and perogatives. The one problem proved to be Khasmir.

Sources

Ferguson, Niall. Civilization: The West and the Rest.

Robinson, Francis, and Paul R. Brass. The Indian National Congress and Indian Society, 1885-1985: Ideology, Social Structure, and Political Dominance (New Delhi: Chanakya Press, 1987), 480p.

Vaspeyi, Ananya. India's Founding Father: Righteous Republic (Harvard, 2014), 342p.

Von Tunzelmann, Alex. Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire (Henry Holt, 2007), 401p.







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Created: 1:53 AM 4/27/2006
Last updated: 7:03 PM 8/30/2017