The Partition of British India, simply called Partition or the Partition Era, refers to the splitting of India by the colonial authorities on the eve of the subcontinent's breaking away from British rule. More importantly, it refers to the various humanitarian, societal, economic, political, and criminal crises that arose from the rushed manner the British had carried it out. This event also created a great deal of the initial vitriol between India and Pakistan, which was made much, much worse later by The Kashmir Question, which itself was a direct consequence of this event.
It's really saying something that in the Indian Subcontinent, almost nobody uses the term "Post-Independence" to refer to the timeline of events after 1947. Instead, the term used is "Post-Partition".
Generally used as a backdrop in a great deal of Indian and Pakistani literature and media due to its tragic and dramatic nature. And it must be said that in most cases, they're radically toning down the actual tragedy, because the full-up presentation is way, way worse than any single work can actually encompass.
It must be said that up until 1939, most people weren't taking the idea of partition seriously. It had existed as something of a speculative concept among the Muslim Elites for quite some time, but the bulk of the subcontinent's population regarded it as fundamentally absurd and wanted nothing to do with it, even Muslims themselves, who saw themselves as fundamentally Indian first and everything else next.
In addition, as detailed on the The Raj page, the British never controlled more than two-thirds of the subcontinent. Most of what remained was split up between hundreds of small kingdoms who owed fealty to the British Empire (think the Holy Roman Empire and All the Little Germanies, In India!), collectively known as the Princely States. The Big Four were Kashmir (modern day Jammu and Kashmir), Hyderabad (modern day Telangana), Junagadh (modern day Gujarat) and Travancore (modern day Kerala). They all contributed heavily to the British Government in exchange for being more or less autonomous within their own borders, and generally being left alone to do their own thing.
All of this changed with the Round Table Conferences held from the 1930s onward.
The First Conference was held in November 1930, and was called by Ramsay Mac Donald in the Royal Gallery at the House of Lords in London. The main reason the British even agreed to it was that by that point, India was quickly becoming ungovernable, with the locals not at all happy about being denied representation, equal rights and generally being kicked around and exploited mercilessly by the Empire. A number of high-profile assassinations, militant activity and small-scale insurgencies were making things explosive, and the high-handedness of the Imperial Police wasn't helping matters in the slightest. Also, MacDonald (and by extension, most of the Labour Party at the time) was far more favourable to giving the colonies some form of self-government, and he figured that he might be able to hammer out a way to ensure the British had their cake and ate it too, while giving the Indians something for the trouble.
Needless to say, it didn't work out. At All.
The British had about 16 representatives at the First Conference, the Indians had about 58 from the British Provinces and 16 from the Princely States. However, most of the Indian delegates weren't leading figures or politicians, but mostly just low-level representatives - for the simple and unsurprising reason that most of India's political leadership at that time was rotting in jail due to the Civil Disobedience Movement of the 1930s orchestrated by Mahatma Gandhi.
To say that it was heavily lopsided in favour of the Princely States and the British is to put it mildly. However, some moves forward were made, such as the planning for the setup of a Federal Structure, Provincial Constitutions, Defence Services and all the other factors that go into the development of a Dominion State. The initial plan was that India would eventually turn out like Canada or Australia, with a British Governor-General and a more-or-less local government to run things. So far, so good. Then some bright spark asked about how the Princely States would figure into this calculation. The British suggested that it be built like a federation, with a relatively weak centre and relatively strong provinces. The Princely States agreed tentatively, with the condition being that they got to rule their own internal affairs with minimal interference from the Central Government. The Muslim League (the only ones actually backing the two-nation theory) also agreed to this, figuring that they could create smaller, exclusive Islamic Enclaves which they could then rule as they deemed fit.
Naturally, all hell broke loose back in India when the news got out. The people, and damn near every other party than the Muslim League, threw out the recommendations and demanded a full re-organisation and internal redistricting, with a strong centre and weak states. This demand the Princely States deemed unacceptable, understandably enough, but they engendered very little sympathy from the public, if any at all. This antipathy towards the Princely States was largely because they were seen as a gang of Sell-Out Lords, who'd compromised their independence for money, so no Indian who wanted self-rule was going to tolerate them. The bitter memory of 1857 also haunted people's minds, when the ancestors of these Lords had fought each other instead of the East India Company, resulting in them getting stomped flat by the British later.
Suffice to say, things went downhill after that, and the Conference ended without much getting done other than agreeing that some form of self-government had to be put in. The Princely States and the League pulling those stunts sowed the seeds of mistrust between them and every other Indian political outfit. And that, for all practical purposes, is where the problems began.
The Second Conference was held in September 1931. There were quite a few differences this time around. To begin with, Gandhi and the then Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin, had come to an agreement that the Indian National Congress (at that time, India's leading political party) had to get some representation, and Gandhi agreed to be their delegate. Also, Labour had lost the elections, and the new government was a Conservative coalition, who were a lot less sanguine about the prospects of giving "those filthy darkies" any form of representative government at all. They caved anyway since to not do so would only make matters worse.
The composition was more or less similar to the last time, but with fewer representatives from the Princely States, and Gandhi pretty much dominating the scene, along with a number of other prominent political leaders. It was even more of a mess than the first one. Gandhi outright declared that the Congress was the party of All Indians, that the Untouchables (historically the lowest of the low in India's caste system - think the Burakumin in Japan) were Hindu and shouldn't be discriminated against (something the Untouchables themselves were kind of split on - which would have consequences down the line that India is still grappling with) and that the idea of a weak Centre with such a diverse populace (culturally and confessionally) was ridiculous. He (and by extension, the Congress and most of India's political parties) outright threw out the scheme of separate electorates and special safeguards for minorities.
Needless to say, the British rejected all of Gandhi's proposals out of hand, as did the Princely States and the Muslim League. The representatives of the Untouchables, B.R. Ambedkar, also refused, citing that they would always be seen as second-class citizens no matter what, since he believed that the prejudice against them was too deeply ingrained into India's fabric to be fully cleansed. The actual merit of that position is Flame Bait incarnate in India even to this day - suffice to say, do not bring it up in polite company. We mean it.
At the end of it, the talks effectively ended with the British agreeing to create a system of Communal Awards (as a compromise solution) to the problem of minority representation, with the provision that any free agreement between the parties could be substituted for this award. Other than that, it was nothing but a total deadlock. The failure of talks further polarised the political landscape, and all the parties began bitterly issuing recriminations against each other, with the Muslim League sticking out as the main villains for sabotaging the talks (not without good reason - they basically obstructed proceedings along with the Princely States in the Conference, leaving Gandhi and the British frustrated).
The first incidents of sectarian violence began to break out roughly around this time, as the goon squads of all the major parties began to duke it out. However, it was quelled relatively quickly. This time.
With the situation rapidly deteriorating, the British called a third conference in November 1932 to try and talk it out. None of the major Indian political parties attended, believing it was no use. And within Britain, Labour pretty much sat it out, calling it an exercise in futility - and being in the Opposition at that time probably contributed to their antipathy as well. Which meant that it was again mostly delegates who were pushovers or British officials.
About the only thing that was decided was that the Communal Awards would be kept and that elections would be held in 1937. This was the precursor to the Government of India Act of 1935, which implemented most of the proposals from the First and Second Round table Conferences, with a few concessions to all sides to sweeten the deal.
However, the whole thing was riddled with "safeguards" - which was a polite euphemism for saying that the Viceroy had the final say on what would happen and what wouldn't, as opposed to the will of the elected representatives. It was effectively just window-dressing, and made it clear to anyone with a brain that the British had no intention whatsoever of relinquishing power over India and it's peoples. Despite the provisions guaranteeing equality with British laws and customs, as well as equal treatment for Indians on par with the British, there were a hundred ways to undermine those provisions - all at the behest of the Viceroy, of course.
Naturally, people were pretty annoyed about it, but the Conservative government in London was unwilling to compromise and basically gave the Indians an ultimatum of take-it-or-leave-it. At that point, the politicians in India conceded, not without grumbling, and agreed to accept the bill, as well as contest the elections which were scheduled for 1937. Jawaharlal Nehru (who would go on to become India's first Prime Minster) called it "A Machine with no engine and all Brakes."
Unfortunately for everyone involved, he was to be proven right.
The government held the first Provincial Elections from December 1936 to February 1937 in eleven Provinces. The frontier provinces were excluded, since it was full of nothing but warring tribals and border problems with the Afghans, and the British saw no reaosn to give them any ideas. Roughly 30 Million people had acquired the right to vote, of which 15.1 Million actually did. While an extremely restricted franchise, even the political leaders of the time admitted it was better than nothing at all. But the real jolts were to come once the results were released.
The Indian National Congress ended up forming the governments in nine provinces, with the Unionist Party (a Sikh representative group) winning the other two provinces. The Muslims League, to its humiliation, failed to win even a single province and ended up with just a little over a hundred seats. Even worse for them, they failed to do well even in areas that were historically Muslim plurality, with the message coming loud and clear that the locals just weren't interested in the Two-Nation theory at all. The only places they won seats at all were in areas that had a minority of Muslims, and where they could play on the fears of being dominated. But the bigger take-away was that the electorate in general, didn't care about such esoteric points, and cared more about local issues than anything else. It also showed the League a very uncomfortable truth - that it's members were generally seen as Aristocrats and Elites, out of touch with the man on the street.
To say that the Muslim League took the results badly is to put it mildly. They desperately attempted to form some sort of coalition government with the Indian National Congress, citing the Communal Awards and asking them to not nominate any Muslims or minorities except those put forward by the League. The Congress flat out refused to even consider it, since they figured (correctly) that the League was in no position to make demands, and that as the winners of the popular mandate, they could appoint who they damn well pleased.
Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, went into a year-long Heroic BSoD, as did most of the League, being forced to sit in the opposition. Unfortunately for everyone, they drew exactly the wrong lessons out of all of this, and came to the conclusion that the only reason they'd lost was because the majority played spoilsport with them, and the only way to ensure "true justice" for Muslims was for them to have not their own state, but their own country. This was the point where the two-nation theory became an inevitability, and set the subcontinent down the path it eventually went.
The elected ministries did try their best to administer their Provinces under the rules of the Government of India Act, but found most of their work being stymied by the Viceroy, Lord Irwin and later Lord Linlithgow, exactly as everyone had feared. The final straw was in 1939, when Viceroy Linlithgow pledged to provide all support to the British Government in London on the outbreak of hostilities with Nazi Germany, without even bothering to consult the elected officials of the people he was supposedly representing.
The Provinces, understandably upset, agreed to cooperate with the Viceroy only on the condition that Dominion Status or Total Independence was guaranteed after the War was brought to a conclusion. The British Government naturally refused to issue any such assurance. Jinnah, sensing the opportunity to get back at the Congress for denying him power, offered his full and unconditional support to the British Government, and called upon all Muslims to do the same.
The Congress Ministries resigned en-masse, with their governments being dissolved. To further spite the Congress, Jinnah declared the day of the resignations as "The Day of Deliverance" and the British, annoyed at the Congress, gave him full backing.
In practice, nothing much changed. Both Muslims and Hindus stepped up as volunteers to the British Indian Army, since there already had been a long martial tradition throughout the subcontinent. Kipling's Finest had all the volunteers it would ever need.
But the optics of the move were horrible. What had been nothing more than a political protest had turned into a sectarian issue thanks to British policy and the League's behaviour. Unsurprisingly, the Indians regarded the League as The Quisling, siding with their hated oppressors instead of standing by their own countrymen for the cause of Freedom. And the fact that it claimed to speak for all Muslims - despite it being blatantly obvious it wasn't - fuelled sectarian violence across the subcontinent. The fact that the optics of the move made it look like more Muslims were joining the Army than Hindus (in reality, it was the other way round) made the situation even worse, with the Muslim Community feeling that they were taking the bulk of the responsibility for fighting, while the Hindus and everyone else were sitting it out.
Things only went downhill from that point onward.
In 1940 in Lahore, the Muslim League put out a resolution where it affirmed it's backing for the Two-Nation Theory. Jinnah claimed that Muslims and Hindus were irreconcilably different, and that they would never coexist in peace unless they had their own separate nations. This resolution was known as the Pakistan Resolution, and demanded that the Muslim plurality provinces of Bengal, Sindh, Punjab and the Frontier be granted to the League as a separate nation. The hidden implication within the resolution was also that any other area with a Muslim plurality should join them too - this would become an explosive point later on.
It was only at this point that Lord Linlithgow, the Viceroy, realised that the situation had deteriorated too far. He offered to guarantee Dominion Status to India from the British Government. Having not taken the Pakistan idea seriously, Linlithgow supposed that what Jinnah actually wanted was a non-federal arrangement without Hindu domination. To allay Muslim fears of Hindu domination the 'August offer' of 1940 was accompanied with the promise that a future constitution would take the views of minorities into consideration. Unfortunately for him, by that point both the Congress and the League, irreconcilably opposed to each other and the British, told him to get stuffed and called the proposals too little, too late. Both sides demanded Purna Swaraj - Total Independence. Which meant no British overlordship, not even in name, not even as a face-saving gesture, nothing at all. Occupiers Out of Our Country was now the only thing both sides agreed on.
The Congress started off a second round of Civil Disobedience, the height of it being the "Quit India Movement" in 1942. The objective of the movement was pretty much self-explanatory. Unfortunately for them, the man in charge of Downing Street was one Winston Churchill, and being the hardline Imperialist that he was, was willing to brook no defiance from anyone, least of all people he considered his racial inferiors. With the Japanese moving up Malaya and the Fall of Singapore, the prospect of losing India was simply too much for the British, and the movement was ruthlessly suppressed, with Martial Law being declared across India, and hundreds of thousands of people being jailed or outright shot out of hand. A combination of malicious neglect and incompetence also resulted in a famine in Bengal, historically a breadbasket of the north, which made an already horrible situation even worse. Sectarian violence flared up and was aggravated by all of this, resulting in increasing political, social and religious polarization that would have devastating consequences down the line.
In late 1942, Sir Stafford Cripps was sent to negotiate with the Congress for supporting the Empire in the War in exchange for Dominion status after the War ended. The only reason Winnie was even willing to try was because The United States began piling on diplomatic pressure on the British to end their domination of India, and Roosevelt was adamant that the British decolonise. However, desperate to not lose the alliance they'd already made with the Muslim League, the Cripps Mission included a clause that said that no part of the British Indian Empire would be forced to join the post-war Dominion.
Needless to say, the Cripps Mission was doomed to fail from the start, and that's exactly what happened. The League threw out the idea, saying that it was not addressing their Pakistan Resolution and the Congress, with most of it's members in jail and adamant about a unified India, also rejected every single proposal, sticking to their "''Purna Swaraj'' or Bust" platform. The end result was the Congress, effectively immobilized by being in jail until August 1945, could do nothing to stop the violence flaring up across India, which the League kept fanning, with sectarian clashes becoming commonplace as the League's supporters clashed with other right wing groups, further deepening the polarization across the subcontinent.
Needless to say, the British soon began seeing the League as Unwanted Assistance, as did every other political outfit. This With Us or Against Us mentality would persist, and would go on to be the last step along a bloody path that had been in the making for the past decade.
By late 1945, the situation in the subcontinent had deteriorated to the point that the British were just barely hanging on. Exhausted by the War and unable and unwilling to continue, the government under Clement Attlee figured they may as well just give in, and ensure an orderly exit from the subcontinent.
Despite this, in 1946 there were a series of mutinies of Indian Armed Forces across the subcontinent, the worst being that of the Royal Indian Navy in February 1946 at Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Karachi. While all the uprisings were suppressed due to the main political parties playing truant as they were afraid of a strong military undermining them post-Independence, the British ultimately saw it as the point of no return. The weekly intelligence summary issued on 25 March 1946 admitted that the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force units were no longer trustworthy, and, as far as the Army was concerned, "only day to day estimates of steadiness could be made".
In early 1946, new elections were held in India. With the announcement of the elections the line had been drawn for Muslim voters to choose between a united Indian state or Partition. Earlier, at the end of the war in 1945, the colonial government had announced the public trial of three senior officers of Subhash Chandra Bose's defeated Indian National Army who stood accused of treason. Now as the trials began, the Congress leadership, although it had never supported the INA, chose to defend the accused officers. The subsequent convictions of the officers, the public outcry against the convictions, and the eventual remission of the sentences created positive propaganda for the Congress, which enabled it to win the party's subsequent electoral victories in eight of the eleven provinces.
British rule had lost its legitimacy for most Hindus and conclusive proof of this came in the form of the 1946 elections with the Congress winning 91 percent of the vote among non-Muslim constituencies, thereby gaining a majority in the Central Legislature and forming governments in eight provinces, and becoming the legitimate successor to the British government for most Hindus. Had the British intended to stay in India, the acquiescence of the Indians to British rule would have been in some serious doubt after those election results.
The Muslim League won the majority of the Muslim vote as well as most of the reserved Muslim seats in the provincial assemblies, and it also secured all the Muslim seats in the Central Assembly. It was finally able to make good on the claim that it and Jinnah alone represented India's Muslims - and Jinnah quickly interpreted this vote as a popular demand for a separate homeland.
The British were desperate at this point, and came up with the Cabinet Mission. Through this mission, Britain hoped to preserve the united India which they and the Congress desired, while concurrently securing the essence of Jinnah's demand for a Pakistan through 'groupings' - what that term meant was never made clear. The Cabinet mission scheme encapsulated a federal arrangement consisting of three groups of provinces. Two of these groupings would consist of predominantly Muslim provinces, while the third grouping would be made up of the predominantly Hindu regions. The provinces would be autonomous but the centre would retain control over defence, foreign affairs and communications. In essence, it was the same nonsense that the British had hoped to push through at the First Round Table Conference.
Needless to say, the League voted in favour of it, and everybody else flat out rejected it. The League was incensed, and proclaimed the 16th of August as "Direct Action Day" to "peacefully" demonstrate the feelings of the League. When asked to specify Jinnah retorted: "Go to the Congress and ask them their plans. When they take you into their confidence I will take you into mine. Why do you expect me alone to sit with folded hands? I also am going to make trouble."
What followed next was a indication of the turmoil that was going to follow, and in more ways than one, actively contributed to it.
Following Jinnah's declaration of 16 August as the Direct Action Day, acting on the advice of R.L. Walker, the then Chief Secretary of Bengal, the Muslim League Chief Minister of Bengal, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, requested the Governor of Bengal Sir Frederick Burrows to declare a public holiday on that day. Governor Burrows agreed. Walker made this proposal with the hope that the risk of conflicts, especially those related to picketing, would be minimized if government offices, commercial houses and shops remained closed throughout Calcutta on the 16th. Unfortunately, the Hindu businesses, and the Hindu community in Bengal in general, regarded this as little more than a thinly veiled threat, and refused to close up shop, defiantly refusing to follow the order.
On the morning of the 16th, Suhrawardy gave a speech to the assembled followers of the League in Calcutta, preaching that they be restrained in their dealings - but he rather spoilt the effect by asserting that till 11 o'clock that morning all the "injured persons" (read - targets of injustice) were Muslims, and the Muslim community had only retaliated in self-defence. The implication went out to the dumber and more bloodthirsty sections of the assembly (many of whom were armed with sticks and knives) that it was an open invitation to disorder. As such, within an hour, massive communal riots flared up all across the city, and would continue the entire week, in some of the worst atrocities seen till date in the region - a record that wouldn't be eclipsed until a year later.
The British were caught completely off-guard by this horrifying turn of events. It must be said that the local authorities, under the League's control, deliberately downplayed the situation, allowing the rioters to go after anyone they didn't like. The targets retaliated, burning down whole districts, which only made the situation worse. Finally, the Army had to be mobilised, and the riots were only put down once the Gurkhas were sent in. The butcher's bill came up to 10,000 dead, Hindu and Muslim alike. Funnily enough, the Europeans and Christians were left alone, as both sides expended their vitriol on each other.note
And it wasn't restricted to Bengal. The madness spread across all of North India, only that it wasn't as bad as it was in Bengal. Which isn't really saying much.
Needless to say, it effectively made the Partition an inevitability. Too much blood had been spilled, too many grudges had been made, for any sort of peaceful resolution to come out of it. And the fact that the League had (whether by inaction or deliberate malice) not quelled the rioting made for the worst optics.
By this point, British India was in total chaos. The old Viceroy, Linlithgow, was recalled and Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, was sent in to try and resolve the situation somehow. Mahatma Gandhi also met with Jinnah in September 1944 (several times). Every meeting was described as an exercise in futility, and Gandhi himself remarked that it was testing his patience beyond what he considered possible. The fundamental problem was that for Jinnah and the League, Partition had become so much of an ideé fixe that they were absolutely unwilling to consider any alternatives. Wavell waited long enough, lost his patience and, in one final desperate attempt, called the Shimla Conference in June 1945 to try and see if any headway could be made.
It was not to be. The Conference descended into chaos on the very first day of the meeting, after Jinnah used some rather unfortunate language against the Congress and Gandhi. Four days later, the Conference was reconvened (mostly to try and let everyone cool off from the exchange on the first day) and Wavell announced that he was setting up a new Council to study the idea of Partition, it's possibilities and what could be done. He asked both sides to submit a list of candidates. The candidates were chosen with a completely sectarian view, the League appointing Muslims and the Congress appointing everyone else. Wavell and the Congress objected to the Leagues's selection, at which point Jinnah refused to cooperate until he received explicit affirmation that the League, and the League alone, was representative of India's Muslims.
Wavell was incensed at the League's obstinate obstructionism and simply called off the Conference. Worse, the General Election had concluded in Britain while all this was occurring in India, and the new Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, was in a hurry to decolonise. As such, he told Wavell to halt his efforts and convened the Cabinet Mission to try and work out a solution.
Worse was yet to come. A number of senior leaders had looked over the lands the League was demanding and realized that the League had no idea of the situation on the ground. Where they talked of Muslim Majority provinces, in reality most were just Muslim Plurality and the overwhelming majority of the populations within most of the regions the League was asking for were non-Muslims. Ambedkar noted that the League "didn't seem to know what it was doing, or was distorting the facts", and that they would get only about half of the regions they'd asked for. As it turned out, he was spot on about that.
When the Cabinet Mission had it's first meeting in May of 1946, it unveiled it's intentions to the parties in attendance. The British wanted to keep India and its Army united so as to keep it in their system of 'Imperial Defence' even after granting it Independence - against the Soviet Union. To preserve India's unity, the British held preparatory discussions with the elected representatives of British India and the Indian states so as to secure agreement to the method of framing the constitution, to set up a constitution body and to set up an Executive Council with the support of the main Indian parties. Trouble was, Jinnah didn't care. The League presented it's own plan, with a partitioned state. The plan was rejected by the Cabinet Mission and the talks again ended in failure.
Reaching an impasse, the British proposed a second plan on 16 June 1946 to arrange for India to be divided into Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority India that would later be renamed Pakistan since Congress had vehemently rejected 'parity' at the centre. A list of princely states of India, which would be permitted to accede to the dominion or attain independence, was also drawn up.
The Viceroy began organising the transfer of power to a Congress-League coalition, in an attempt to try and get some kind of consensus going. But in a "provocative speech" on 10 July 1946 Nehru was quoted in the press as saying "We are not bound by a single thing except that we have decided to go into the Constituent Assembly". By this Nehru effectively "torpedoed" any hope for a united India, or at least that's how the League saw it. Having been "duped in such a way", Jinnah withdrew the Muslim League's acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan on 17 July.
Nehru became the head, vice-president in title, but possessing the executive authority. Sardar Vallabhai Patel became the home member, responsible for internal security and government agencies. Congress-led governments were formed in most provinces, with the League in control of Sindh and the Bengal. Jinnah and the League condemned the new government, and vowed to agitate for Pakistan by any means possible. Disorder arose in Punjab and Bengal, including the cities of Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta. Over 5,000 people were killed across India, and Hindu, Sikh and Muslim mobs began clashing routinely. Wavell stalled the Central government's efforts to stop the disorder, and the provinces were instructed to leave this to the governors, who did nothing to try and stop the violence - mostly because they were toothless under the Government of India Act that the British had introduced not too long ago. To end the disorder and rising bloodshed, Wavell encouraged Nehru to ask the League to enter the government. While Patel and most Congress leaders were opposed to conceding to a party that was organising disorder, Nehru conceded in hope of preserving communal peace.
League leaders entered the council under the leadership of Liaquat Ali Khan, the future first Prime Minister of Pakistan who became the finance minister, but the council did not function in harmony, as separate meetings were held by League ministers, and both parties vetoed the major initiatives proposed by the other, highlighting their ideological differences and political antagonism. At the arrival of the new (and proclaimed as the last) viceroy, Lord Mountbatten of Burma in early 1947, Congress leaders expressed the view that the coalition was unworkable - and the one thing they did not want, the Partition, was now an inescapable reality.
Attlee had appointed Lord Louis Mountbatten as India's last viceroy, who was given the task to oversee British India's independence by June 1948, with the instruction to avoid partition and preserve a United India, but with adaptational authority to ensure a British withdrawal with minimal setbacks. Mountbatten had hoped to revive the Cabinet Mission scheme for a federal arrangement for India, but despite his initial keenness for preserving the Centrality of Power the tense communal situation caused him to conclude that Partition had become necessary for a quicker transfer of power.
However, the Congress, now realizing the inevitability of the task ahead, decided to make it as miserable as possible for the League. In the vindictive words of Sardar Patel and V.P. Menon (his advisor) "We will give them nothing but a moth-eaten scrap for what they've done." And they had precisely the tools with which to do it.
Between the months of December 1946 and January 1947, Patel worked with Menon on the latter's suggestion for a separate dominion of Pakistan created out of Muslim-majority provinces. Put simply, most of the areas the League had demanded were a Muslim plurality, but not a majority. Which meant that they wouldn't get them, and would only get the Frontier Provinces (bordering Afghanistan) and about half of Bengal - nothing more. In simple terms, Pakistan would have the poorest, fallow, troublesome provinces to rule, and with little hope of improving them with their meagre resources.
Predictably, the League was furious, but Mountbatten had had enough, and told Jinnah in no uncertain terms that he could take what he was being offered, or get nothing at all. The end result was that the League got less than half of the provinces they'd wanted, and with everything they desired locked solidly out of their reach. Jinnah reportedly just sat in Stunned Silence throughout the subsequent negotiations.
Upon being asked why he'd made the plan as he had, Patel gave the following statement,
Late in 1946, the Labour government in Britain, its exchequer exhausted by the recently concluded World War II, decided to end British rule of India, and in early 1947 Britain announced its intention of transferring power no later than June 1948. However, with the British army unprepared for the potential for increased violence, the new viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, advanced the date for the transfer of power, allowing less than six months for a mutually agreed plan for independence. In June 1947, the nationalist leaders, including Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad on behalf of the Congress, Jinnah representing the Muslim League, B. R. Ambedkar representing the Untouchable community, and Master Tara Singh representing the Sikhs, agreed to a partition of the country along religious lines - in stark opposition to Gandhi's views. The predominantly Hindu and Sikh areas were assigned to the new India and predominantly Muslim areas to the new nation of Pakistan; the plan included a partition of the Muslim-majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal.
The problem for the planners was basically that India's maps were roughly seven years old. No proper census had taken place during the War, and most of the maps were woefully uninformative as to the situation on the ground regarding the actual demographic situation. On paper, the sectarian divisions seemed clear enough. In practice, it was a hodgepodge of several communities living beside each other for generations that was not adequately reflected on the maps.
Faced with this, but unwilling and unable to spend more time hashing out the situation, the British sent in Sir Cyril Radcliffe to draw out a Partition line based on what data he had available. Radcliffe went on record saying that he knew the maps were out of date - his concerns were dismissed out of hand with the brusque dismissal of "There's no time. Get it done. No excuses." The absence of some experts and advisers, such as the United Nations, was deliberate, to avoid delays. The absence of outside participants also satisfied the British Government's urgent desire to save face by avoiding the appearance that it required outside help to govern or stop governing its own empire.
The consequences were to prove historic. And soaked in the blood of millions.
On 11:59 PM, 14th of August 1947, Pakistan was declared as a separate state. Exactly one minute later, on the 15th of August, India was declared an independent nation. While both were still provisionally under the rule of Great Britain as Dominions, they were to secede fully upon the development of a fully written Constitution from the Constituent Assemblies of both states.
Pakistan its eastern and western wings separated by around 1,700 kilometres of Indian territory celebrated independence on August 14 that year; India did so the following day. The new borders, which split the key provinces of the Punjab and Bengal in two, were officially approved on August 17.
For once, there was little violence. People thronged the streets, rejoicing in their freedom after decades of struggle. It was truly the End of an Era, and there was a wave of optimism and joy that had seldom been seen even in the least dark days of Imperial rule. Everything seemed possible.
The population of undivided India in 1947 was approximately 390 million. After partition, there were 330 million people in India, 30 million in West Pakistan, and 30 million people in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). This figure was soon to change. All of these events would soon be overshadowed by the carnage that would follow.
Those few days of joy were soon punctured by the dawning reality that now significant populations of minorities were on the sides of the Radcliffe Lines where they shouldn't have been. Largely so that they wouldn't have to deal with the situation, the British had deliberately not shared all the details of the Partition Plan to the local authorities, so they wouldn't have to deploy their resources. So it wasn't until the lines had been drawn, with no concern for the opinions of the people actually affected by them, that those in the redrawn areas knew which country they were "supposed" to be in. The idea was that they could hand over the problem to the new governments, wash their hands off of the whole thing, and then deplore the violence when it inevitably broke out, mostly because the Empire didn't have the resources to deal with it in the aftermath of World War II.
In panic, many people sold off, or just flat out abandoned, most of their possessions, property and in some cases even their families, packed up what little they could and began to cross over to what they hoped was safety on the other side of the border. Trouble was, the sectarian tensions stirred up by the League and other right-wing organizations on all sides, along with a near total breakdown of law and order as the British hastily pulled out of several areas, resulted in widespread rioting, looting, arson. Practically every kind of atrocity that could be perpetrated was now unfolding in front of two woefully unprepared nations and an Empire that no longer cared to keep the peace. And the refugees found themselves smack dab in the middle of this orgy of violence. And those refugee columns were targeted by the rioters and right-wing militia with extreme prejudice.
Many millions of Muslims packed up and began fleeing towards Pakistan. Even more non-Muslims packed up and began fleeing towards India. Upward of 17 Million People crossed over the newly drawn borders , hoping to find safe haven and set up new lives from the wreckage of their old ones, in what has been described as the greatest mass-migration of human beings in all of recorded history. For reference, the Migrant Crisis of Europe in 2017 involved less than 3 Million.
- The Punjab: The mostly Muslim western part of the province became Pakistan's Punjab province; the mostly Sikh and Hindu eastern part became India's East Punjab state (later divided into Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh). Many Hindus and Sikhs lived in the west, and many Muslims lived in the east, and the fears of all such minorities were so great that the Partition saw many people displaced and much intercommunal violence. It was little more than retributive genocide, ethnic cleansing and demographic restructuring in the most brutal fashion possible. The newly formed governments were completely unequipped to deal with migrations of such staggering magnitude, and massive violence and slaughter occurred on both sides of the border. Estimates of the number of deaths vary, with low estimates at 200,000 and high estimates at 2,000,000. The worst case of violence during among all regions is concluded to have taken place in the Punjab. Virtually no Muslims survived in East Punjab and virtually no Hindus or Sikhs survived in West Punjab. Many cities were turned to nothing but piles of rubble and became ghost towns for many years. One of the reasons for the staggering scale of the violence was that most of the people there had been former soldiers or serving troops just returned from World War II. They needed little incentive to erupt into violence, and there were weapons pretty much everywhere in a thoroughly militarised society. The results can be imagined, and are stomach-turning in the extreme.
- Bengal: The province of Bengal was divided into the two separate entities of West Bengal, awarded to the Dominion of India, and East Bengal, awarded to the Dominion of Pakistan. East Bengal was renamed East Pakistan in 1955, and later became the independent nation of Bangladesh after the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. While the Muslim majority districts of Murshidabad and Malda were given to India, the Hindu majority district of Khulna and the Buddhist majority, but sparsely populated, Chittagong Hill Tracts were given to Pakistan by the Radcliffe plan. The killings here were less gory and protracted, but that's not saying much.
- Sindh: Most of Sindh's prosperous middle class at the time of Partition was Hindu. At the time of Partition there were 1,400,000 Hindu Sindhis, though most were concentrated in cities such as Hyderabad, Karachi, Shikarpur, and Sukkur. Hundreds of Hindus residing in Sindh were forced to migrate. Some anti-Hindu violence in Sindh was precipitated by the arrival of Muslim refugees from India with minimal local Muslim support for the rioters. Sindhi Hindus faced low scale rioting unlike the Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs who had to migrate from West Punjab. However, on the 6th of December 1947, communal violence broke out in Ajmer in India, precipitated by an argument between Sindhi Hindu refugees and local Muslims in the Dargah Bazaar. Violence in Ajmer again broke out in the middle of December with stabbings, looting and arson resulting in mostly Muslim casualties. Many Muslims fled across the Thar Desert to Sindh in Pakistan. This sparked further anti-Hindu riots in Hyderabad, Sindh. On 6th of January 1948, anti-Hindu riots broke out in Karachi, leading to an estimated 1100 casualties. In all, about 776,000 Sindhi Hindus fled to India. The arrival of Sindhi Hindu refugees in North Gujarat's town of Godhra sparked the March 1948 riots there which led to an emigration of Muslims from Godhra to Pakistan.
- Delhi:For centuries Delhi had been the capital of the Mughal Empire and of previous Turkic Muslim rulers of North India. The series of Islamic rulers keeping Delhi as a stronghold of their empires left a vast array of Islamic architecture in Delhi and a strong Islamic culture permeated the city. The 1941 Census listed Delhi's population as being 33.22% Muslim. However, thousands of Hindu and Sikh refugees from Punjab poured into the city, fleeing the butchery in the west. This created an atmosphere of upheavals as anti-Muslim pogroms rocked the historical stronghold of Indo-Islamic culture and politics. Pakistani diplomats alleged that the Indian government was intent on eliminating Delhi's Muslim population or was indifferent to their fate. Most accounts of the Delhi violence put the figure of Muslim casualties in Delhi as being between 20,00025,000 dead. Tens of thousands of Muslims were driven to refugee camps regardless of their political affiliations and numerous historic sites in Delhi (such as the Purana Qila) were transformed into squalid refugee camps. At the culmination of the tensions in Delhi 330,000 Muslims were forced to flee the city to Pakistan. The 1951 Census registered a drop of the Muslim population in the city from 33.22% in 1941 to 5.33% in 1951.
The death toll from the events of the Partition are generally accepted to be somewhere around 2.5 Million Dead. Another 2.23 Million are missing, Hindus and non-Hindus, and are also generally written off as dead, bringing the butcher's bill to roughly 5 Million. Close to 14 Million people were displaced, refugees in either India or Pakistan, and their bitter hatred would form the nucleus of most of India and Pakistan's political hawks, who have never, not ever agreed to peace.
The refugee trains have never stopped. Even now, people routinely flee across the borders. However, since 1971, most of them have been fleeing to India. The flow to Pakistan has all but dried up.
And this is where it starts getting messier than ever before. What, you thought what happened so far was bad? Oh, you innocent naive soul, you.
Attentive readers will no doubt remember when we noted in the first folder that the British never controlled more than a third of India at any given time. The rest of India was split up into hundreds of Princely States, essentially semi-autonomous sections which acknowledged Britain as their suzerain, in exchange for protection and lower taxation, while providing troops and a tithe of their income. Now, with the Empire gone, they had to deal with the newly formed Dominions of India and Pakistan.
Most of them had relatively little by way of choice. It was straightforward - join India or Pakistan, or be assimilated forcefully and the Nobles reduced to penury. In most cases, there was no resistance. Most were too small and meaninglessly ineffective to put up any real opposition, and were absorbed without incident into their country of choice.
All three were headaches of the first magnitude. All of them had rulers who did not share the religious roots of their subjects. Junagadh and Hyderabad were Hindu-majority states with Islamic rulers, and Kashmir was a Muslim-plurality state with a Hindu ruler. Sardar Vallabhai Patel used merciless coercion to include the first two into India - in Junagadh's case with a naval blockade and by instigating a popular uprising against the Nawab (roughly analogous to a European Duke) who fled the region to Pakistan - his Prime Minister was a certain Shahnawaz Bhutto, whose family continues to be a thorn in India's side right up until the present day. Hyderabad was integrated into India through a "Police Action" (in actual fact, a full-scale invasion) and with near universal popular support in the state for it. For these reasons, he's known as "The Iron Man of India."
This approach backfired spectacularly with Kashmir.
The Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir came into existence in the 19th century at the defeat of the Sikh Empire to the British. The Dogra clan, which had been essential to this victory, were given the northern territories of the former Sikh Empire by the British to govern. At the time it didn't matter much, as with the British controlling everything one Maharaja was as good as another. However, when it became clear that they were going to quit India in 1947 the Maharaja of Kashmir at the time, Hari Singh, was faced with a dilemma: the clan he was head of, the Dogras, were Hindu but their subjects were mostly Muslim. In lieu of the rising political temperature with the Pakistan Movement his own population began demanding he accede to Pakistan. The problem with this was that, as a Hindu ruler, his family would be left out of the political loop entirely (unlike in other princely states, where the princes often served as the first governors of the area or as part of the Parliaments of either India or Pakistan), and would perhaps be forced to give up their personal assets as well. On the other hand, to chose to join India would have sparked a revolution, and he'd lose there too.
So instead, he decided that Kashmir would be an independent state. As a strategically located entity of considerable size and economy, Kashmir could pull it off. Less than a year after the choice, this independence was put to the test. Afghan tribal armies known as "Lashkars" began an assault on the Kashmir State Forces in North-West Kashmir near the city of Gilgit. Almost at once, the garrison protecting Gilgit, the Gilgit Scouts, revolted and proclaimed loyalty to Pakistan, which was believed to have supported these lashkars. Soon the nearby vassal states of Hunza and Nagar independently pledged their loyalty to Pakistan as well, and it became clear that the Maharaja's forces were about to be routed. In desperation, Maharaja Hari Singh appealed to India to step in and assist.
Jawaharlal Nehru agreed on the condition that Kashmir accede to India. Having little choice in the matter, Hari Singh agreed and soon his state forces were officially absorbed into India, and New Delhi joined the fight. So began the First Kashmir War. This ended early in 1948 in a ceasefire that divided Kashmir in two, with a large chunk of northern Kashmir in Pakistani hands along with a smaller, but more populated, sliver of the western edge of the princely state. This ceasefire line has remained in place since then with little variation.
So, to sum up, India and Pakistan went to war with each other within two months of Partition, over a land dispute which was no doubt inflamed further by the butchery on both sides of the Radcliffe Line. Welcome to the Subcontinent.
The Partition's legacy has been immense. More than a billion live in it's shadow, looming over every facet of the subcontinent's politics. India and Pakistan, born in blood and carnage, with endless suspicion and hostility on both sides, both on the Governmental level and even at the public level, have never forgiven each other. Both sides see each other as responsible for the horrors of the Partition, blaming each other endlessly for the problem. The only thing constant about the politics of the subcontinent is this - Nothing is forgotten, and Nothing will be forgiven.
Both sides have fought four Wars, and endless insurrections against each other are commonplace. No one even considers the possibility of peace without being declared traitors and worse by their fellow men. Much like the ArabIsraeli Conflict, this is one of those arguments that has never really gone away, and probably never will until one side or the other ceases to exist. Given the presence of Nuclear Weapons on the subcontinent, the horrifying nature of the solution is painfully obvious.
Every attempt to find peace between the neighbors has ended in abject failure. Every time an olive branch is extended, some fresh atrocity breaks out, sparking fury and the resumption of hostilities. Both sides take a perverse pleasure in humiliating or bringing down each other in any way possible, no matter how petty or serious. Peace on the subcontinent has always been seen as a Tragic Dream, a mistake and a folly of a naive Wide-Eyed Idealist who'll be broken to reality faster than glass breaking when it is thrown against a rock.
With all of that in mind, it is also worth noting that there has been no major conflagration on the subcontinent since 1999. Will that peace last? Only the future knows.