THE NEHRU ERA, 1947-1964: INDIAN INDEPENDENCE

Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.

                                                                                     Jawaharlal Nehru

India towards Independence

Introduction

With the end of the World War II in 1945, the British government started to talk about the transfer of power to Indian Hindus and Muslims. Cripp’s Mission visited India on 16 May 1946 and proposed a plan for the British withdrawal from India. The first round of talks could not be successful because Muslim leaders thought that the Muslim League was the only one who could represent Indian Muslims. However, differences between the Congress and the Muslim League arose on the issue of powers of the Constituent Assembly. The Muslim League rejected the Cabinet Mission Plan in the middle of 1946. In September 1946, the Congress formed the government at the Centre.

 

 

On 16 August 1946, Jinnah’s Muslim League launched the Direct Action Day; resulting in communal  conflagration. The first Coalition Interim Government, formed by the Congress  and the Muslim League was an unmitigated disaster.

This conflict  resulted in widespread communal riots in various parts of India where thousands were killed in the riots and many became homeless. In June 1947, Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy to India, then floated a plan to partition of India. This was strongly opposition by Gandhi , but negotiations between Muslim League and Congress didn’t progress ultimately leading to partition of India based on religion.  Attlee’s announcement of  20 February 1947 about the handing over responsibility to Indian authorities  was regarded as “the greatest disengagement in history”. Lord Mountbatten  succeeded Lord Wavell as Viceroy ofIndia and announced his plan of Partition on 3 June 1947.4 “Britain’s insecurity and the errors of judgement of the Indian leaders resulted in the Partition of India”.”  Indian Independence Act, 1947 created two independent states in the Indian sub-continent, i.e. Indian Union and Pakistan. India got its independence on 15th August, 1947. At the stroke of midnight (14th -15th August, 1947), transfer of power took place and India was divided into India and Pakistan in August,1947.

 

Partition

The demand for Pakistan did not arise in a vacuum. It was a product of certain political developments which took place after 1937. The period after 1937 witnessed serious changes in the politics of both the Hindu communal and the Muslim communal forces. In the popularisation of the Pakistan demand the British Policy also played a very active role, by giving it acknowledgement and credibility

 

The Partition Plan was agreed upon by the parties concerned in June,  1947. Then Mountbatten swiftly put the partition machinery in place. An  Armed Forces  reconstruction Committee was to divide the Army, Navy and Air Force and to establish in each of the Dominion of India and Pakistan – a  separate command and control with Field Marshall Auchinleck as Supreme  Commander. A Partition Council under Mountbatten, an Arbitral Committee  under Patrick Spens, a Steering Committee consisting of Indian and one  Pakistani official and 10 Expert Committees were constituted to divide all assets  between the two countries.

 

Radcliff Boundary Commission, June 1947

The border between India and Pakistan was determined by a British Government Commission Report usually referred to as The  Radcliffe Award named after Sir Cyril Radcliffe  on 27 June 1947. Both, in Punjab and Bengal, the Boundary Commission consisted of two Muslim and two Non -Muslim High Court judges, two nominated  by Congress and two by Muslim League with Sir Cyril Radcliffe as a common chairman.  Radcliffe and the other commissioners had no specialized knowledge needed for the task. He went on to make all the difficult decisions himself. He undertook the unenviable responsibility of finding a solution to the perilous problem left unresolved by the Mountbatten Plan, viz., to draw the  boundary lines of the two large provinces-Punjab and Bengal- with a population  of 88 million involving 175,000 square miles! The Commission was obliged to submit its report by 15 August 1947. The Radcliff Report was submitted on 13  August 1947. Radcliff drew the boundary line “as surely as a surgeon’s scalpel  servers the bone and muscle ofa limb in an amputation

Maps Depicting Comparison between Pre And Post Partition India

 

 

Radcliff Award

The Radcliff Award, submitted on 13 August 1947, was kept as a close  secret. Mountbatten postponed the announcement of the Award till after  Independence lest it might create explosive situations within India and Pakistan  and mar the celebrations. The Award was sure to “cause anguish to many millions of people” on both sides.” The postponement, however, made possible  the joyous celebrations of Independence Day the 15 August 1947.

 

REASONS FOR ACCEPTING PARTITION OF COUNTRY

The pre-independence India was endowed with a rich legacy of a century old struggle for the country’s freedom. India was fortunate to have a galaxy of great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, MaulanaAbul KalamAzad and others – all known for their vision and mission, mental caliber and moral integrity, pure patriotism and supreme sacrifice. They built up a broad-based all-India organization, revived the morale of a fallen people and devised instruments answering violence by non-violence. All of them fought for I) National unity, integrity and stability; 2) Self-reliant national
economy; 3) Liberal participative democracy; 4) Establishment of a secular welfare state; 5) Radical social reconstruction; and 6) Independent foreign policy.

 

But, the Congress acceptance of Partition was the consequence of its failure over the years to bring the Muslim masses into the nationalist mainstream and since 1937, to stem the advancing tide of Muslim communalism.

The partition of British India into India and Pakistan was the culmination of a long policy of divide and rule started by the British following the publication of William Hunter’s book, ‘Indian Musalmans’ in 1871.

The seeds of division between the Hindus and Muslims in India were sown and subsequent communal politics starting with Aligarh Muslim University along with a militant Hindu tinge in revolutionary activities in the early 1900s provided the ideological roots for eventual separation of the two communities.

The partition movement in earnest started only after the Muslim League’s under performance in the 1937 elections where congress and regional parties won majority of the seats even in Muslim majority areas and thus instilling fear in the Muslim elite of Hindu political domination. By 1946 it was clear to the Congress leaders that the Muslims were behind the League as it had won 80 per cent Muslim seats in the elections.

The breakdown of the Interim Government only confirmed the inevitability of Pakistan. Moreover, the Interim Government had no power to intervene in the provinces . Nehru realised that there was no point in holding office when “murder stalks the streets and the most amazing cruelties are indulged in by both the individual and the mob”. Immediate transfer of power would at least bring about a government that would have the power to fulfill its responsibilities.
The other reasons why Congress accepted the demand for partition were:

  1. Communal riots

 

There were wide spread communal riots which had broken out long before the partition of India on August 15, 1947. The British wanted to leave India as soon as possible and they never wanted to take the responsibility of bloodshed of partition on their head.  Sardar Baldev Singh had been appointed as Defence Minister, yet the army and police was in the hands of the British practically and the interim government was incapable of establishing peace and thus this resulted in wide spread communal riots.

  1. Intrigues of British officers

The British followed a policy of ‘divide and rule’ and they had sympathy with the Muslims. So, the Indian leaders came to conclude that in order to put an end to this communal riots, the partition should be accepted. The English were worsening the situation by giving all the key positions to the Muslims. Even arms were supplied to them. So, the Indian leaders thought it is better to accept the partition.

  1. Failure of Congress leadership

It is true that Nehru and Gandhi made major errors of judgement in their dealings with the Muslim League. In the 1920s Gandhi ignored Jinnah and tried to make common cause with the mullahs. In the 1930s Nehru arrogantly and, as it turned out, falsely, claimed that the Muslim masses would rather follow the socialist path.

  1. Jinnah attitude

From the late 1930s he assiduously began to stoke religious passions. The process was to culminate in his calling for Direct Action Day, the day that set in train the bloody trail of violence and counter- violence that made Partition inevitable. Also, it is also argued that, Mahatma Gandhi had given undue importance to Jinnah which made Jinnah to use this for partition of India.

 

  1. Failure of interim government

Members of league, who were taken in interim government, put hurdles in the way of smooth working of govt so much so that Sardar Patel was sick of them. He made up his mind to give a separate part of country to them

  1. Desire for a separate country by Muslims

Muslim League was able to mobilize the Muslim masses for a separate country during the early 1940s while the congress leaders were busy with the Quit India Movement. They made the masses believe that Muslims will be treated as second class citizens in a Hindu dominated Independent India. The polarization of Muslims in India was evident in the 1946 elections where the Muslim League came to power in Muslim majority areas. The realization that the Muslim leaders and Masses want a separate country was well understood by the Congress and the pressure for partition of the country became intense.

7. Principle of partition already in Congress

Though in 1942, the congress working committee criticized the secessionist idea, but still they issued a statement to the effect that they were against compelling people to stay within a territorial unit against their will. C. Rajagopalachari’s formula in 1944 proposed to have a plebiscite on the issue of partition. Further, the cabinet mission had stipulated that all communities must be represented in the New India.

No doubt, in the partition of India and making of Pakistan, the policies of the English Govt, and the Muslim League were responsible to a great extent but the policy of appealement of the Muslims, adopted by the congress also proved helpful in this field.

Unfortunately congress did not try to understand the isolationist and aggressive policy of the Muslim and it continued to sustain the false, hope that there might be some miracle by which the communal problem could be averted forever.

The leaders of congress failed to under stand the Muslim character and they continued to commit blunders. In 1916 A.D. of the Lucknow Pact, they accepted the principle of separate franchise for the Muslims and the next blunder was committed by them at the time of accepting the communal electorate system in 1932 A.D.

  1. Direct Action day violence

When the Congress had still not accepted the partition demand, the Muslim League launched the Direct Action Day on 16 August 1946, a day of insane rioting and violence in which thousands of people from both communities were killed. Congress believed that partition was necessary to establish lasting peace in the region.

  1. Congress policy of strengthening India

The Congress felt that there was one alternative to get ride of this problem and that was the partition of India

  1. Formation of weak Pakistan

Various leaders of India opined that from political, economic, geographical and military points of view, Pakistan would prove to be a weak nation instead of being a stable one and owing to its own shortcomings; Pakistan could again be incorporated into India. In fact, the unwanted optimism of the Indian leaders also contributed to the making of Pakistan.

  1. Development of Transfer of power

The British Prime Minister Attlee declared on 20th Feb. 1947 A.D. that in every condition the English would leave India by June 1948 A.D.

This declaration created a fear in the hearts of the Indian leaders in cases, India was not divided by that date, a civil war would breakout and the country divided into various parts. So, the members of the congress accepted the partition proposal because they did not want to annoy Mountbatten nor did they wish to offend the British Government in that any valid reason.

Gandhi and Partition

It is common knowledge that Gandhi was so distressed when partition became an imminent reality that he no longer wished to live for 125 years, as he had stated earlier. One popular interpretation is that Gandhi’s advice was ignored by his disciples, Nehru and Patel, who wanted power at any cost and though he felt this betrayal acutely, he did not wish to condemn them publicly because they had been his faithful followers.

Gandhi’s own statements, however, suggest that the main reason for his helplessness lay in the communalisation of the masses. The Muslims began distrusting the Hindus and then the Hindu and Sikhs also got convinced that mutual co-existence was impossible. It was the Hindus’ and Sikhs’ desire for Partition that made him a mass leader without any masses behind him in his struggle for unity. The Muslims had already declared him to be their enemy. When different segments of people wanted partition, what could be or the Congress do but to accept it? At his daily prayer meeting on 4th June 1947 Gandhi said:

“The demand has been granted because you asked for it. The Congress never asked for it …. But the Congress can feel the pulse of the people. It realised that the Khalsa as also the Hindus desired it”.

Socialists and Gandhians appealed to Gandhi to launch a struggle for unity bypassing the Congress leaders. Gandhi pointed out that the problem was not that he was unwilling to go ahead without the Congress leaders. After all, few had agreed with his assessment in 1942 that the time was right for a struggle of the Quit India type, and yet he had defied their counsels and he had been proved right. The crucial lacuna in 1947 was that there were no “forces of good” upon which he could “build up a programme”. He confessed –

            “Today I see no sign of such a healthy feeling. And, therefore, I shall have to wait until the time comes”.

The time never came, for political developments were moving at too fast a pace. Partition was announced on 3rd June and implemented on 15th August 1947. Gandhi’s advice to Congressmen, conveyed in his speech to the AICC meeting on 14th June 1947, was to accept Partition as an unavoidable necessity for the present, but not accept it in their hearts and fight to reverse it later, when passions would subside.

In conclusion, The partition of India was primarily the result of the persistent efforts of the Muslim League from 1940 onwards to obtain a separate homeland for the Muslims. Through an astute combination of constitutional methods and direct actions, the League, under Jinnah’s stewardship, consolidated its position and forced the political situation into a deadlock, from which partition was the only escape. But Pakistan could not have been created without the help given by the British. British authorities used the communal card in their moves to counter the national movement which was growing from strength to strength. They gave credibility to the Pakistan demand, recognised the League as the sole representative of Muslims and gave the League the power to veto progress in political settlements. Even when their own interests inclined them towards leaving behind a United India, they proved incapable of standing up to Jinnah and tamely surrendered to the blackmail of direct action. Official inaction in checking the rapidly deteriorating communal situation reached a point from which partition appeared preferable to civil war.

The Congress for its part, failed to prevent the partition despite its long-standing commitment to a United India. Its weakness lay on two fronts. It failed to draw the Muslim masses into the national movement and was not able to evolve a strategy to successfully fight communalism.

 

Consequences of Partition

 

Communal Riots

In Punjab

On 15 August 1947, India emerged as a Sovereign state amidst a  holocaust of bloodshed, arson and abduction widespread barbarity  and magnitude unparalleled in the history of the world . Even before India was partitioned, violence erupted in Punjab. In the beginning of March 1947, a cruel combination  of campaigns, riots, demonstrations led to the fall of the three decade old Hindu  – Muslim – Sikh Coalition Government in Punjab. In March, communal violence rocked  Punjab. When India was partitioned Punjab was caught in the conflagration of  communal frenzy. The Punjab police collapsed and the Army was ordered to restore communal harmony. Soon after independence, a special Punjab Boundary Force of  55,000 men was set up to enforce order in Punjab.

In Delhi

Delhi was not spared of communal violence either. A dozen Muslim  porters were slaughtered at the railroad station. A unruly mob looted Muslim  shops and butchered their owners. Similar attacks were carried out across the  city. Old Delhi’s Green Market suffered the worst attack as many were slaughtered and over half  of them had deserted their homes.

 

In Bengal

Bengal was abnormally quiet at the dawn of independence. But within  a couple of weeks the communal virus affected Calcutta. The train load of  refugees arriving from Punjab with their tales of horror spread the contagion of  communal cholera in the city. The Muslim slums were set on fire. Gandhi, who  was staying at Hydari House, Calcutta, undertook a fast unto death, restored  sanity to the city and called off his fast on 4 September 1947.

 

It is impossible to precisely estimate the number of people killed in the  communal carnage during the months of August-September, 1947, since the  large number of those left to die on the roadside, thrown into the wells, cremated in their homes, fields and villages, was beyond calculations. To say that the  casualty would be about a few millions would be an exaggeration. An conservative estimate  of communal deaths range from 200,000 to 500,000 could be a possibility.

Mass Migration

Communal carnage was compounded by mass migration. Millions of  men, women and children migrated from India to Pakistan and vice versa. People  driven by fear, insecurity and uncertainty started moving from both sides of the border in Punjab. Ten and a half million people were uprooted within three months after independence. Such a mass migration on such a scale and intensity had never been recorded in the history of the world. This unprecedented exodus which could very well be about ten  times the number of refugees the creation of Israel, so such was the scale of migration which affected millions.

 

Refugee Rehabilitation

Marching columns of refugees started pouring into Punjab, Bengal  and the capital Delhi. It was a migration of no return. In particular, the communal  carnage in Delhi had rendered thousands of people homeless. Violence in the  city threatened to bring down the capital itself. To meet this challenge, a meeting  of Mountbatten, Nehru and Patel was held on 6 September 1947 and it was  decided to set up an Emergency Committee of the cabinet to deal with the  situation. The Committee commenced its work with lightning speed. The first major responsibility of the Nehru  was to contain the communal violence and to arrange for refugee rehabilitation.  The Army was called into service and Air Force was instructed to do dawn-to-dusk reconnaisance flights over India’s half of the Punjab province. Arrangements were made for emergency medical supplies.

While containing communal violence in the capital, efforts were initiated  to rehabilitate the refugees. Delhi Muslims, who wanted to flee to Pakistan were  assembled in a series of refugee camps for transportation to their destination. They were lodged in Humayun’s Tomb and the Purana Qila. Between 150,000 to  200,000 refugees were accommodated in these refugee camps. Nehru paid  personal attention to these camps. Gandhi who returned from Calcutta to Delhi  on 9 September 1947 went each day to the refugee camps to console the inmates.

 

The Hindu and Sikh migrants from West Pakistan found it easier to  occupy lands, houses and buildings left behind by Muslim migrants to Pakistan from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and resettle. Further, linguistic affinity facilitated  Punjabi and Sindhi refugees to settle in today’s Himachal Pradesh, Haryana,  Western Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi. The rehabilitation and resettlement  of refugees from East Pakistan however, posed the following special difficulties:

Firstly, the inflow of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan due to repeated bursts of activity and  continued for years.

Secondly, a large number of Hindus had stayed there in the initial  years of independence.

Thirdly, there was a steady stream of refugees from the other
end for several years.

Fourthly, unlike the refugees from west Pakistan who spread  over northern states in India, the migrants from the other half of Pakistan preferred  to settle mainly in Bengal, partly in Assam and Tripura. Thus, providing them with continuous work and shelter, psychological assurance became a difficult task.

 

Transfer of Power, July 1947

Indian Independence Act, 1947

The Indian Independence Bill was introduced on 4 July 1947 in the  British House of Commons and passed on 18 July. The Act came into effect the  same date. Punjab was divided into West and East Punjab and Bengal into East  and West Bengal. The independent Dominions ofIndia and Pakistan were each  to be under a Governor General appointed by the British king. The King ceased  to be the Emperor of India and his suzerainty over the princely states lapsed.  The Constituent Assembly of each Dominion became a Legislature with full powers. Till the framing of a new constitution, the GOI Act 1935, was to be in  force with necessary modifications.

 

Independence Day Celebrations, August 1947

India became independent at mid night of 14-15 August 1947. It was  the fulfillment of a dream and the fruit of a successful struggle.” The last  Viceroy of Colonial India, Lord Mountbatten, became the first Governor- General of Independent India. On 15th August, Nehru unfurled the  tricolour national flag on the ramparts of the Red Fort, amidst chanting of full- throated ‘Jai Hind’ and ‘Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai’. Sucheta Kripalani had sung Iqbal’s ‘Hindustan Hamara’ and the first verse of Jana Gana Mana, composed  by Rabindranath Tagore. Lord and Lady Mountbatten joined the celebrations of India’s Independence.

 

First Prime Minister

The Interim Government lasted until 15 August 1947 when Nehru  became the First Prime Minister of Independent India. The Indian Constituent  Assembly took over the sovereign powers. After a ceremony in the  Council Chamber, the Governor-General, Mountbatten invited Rajendra Prasad to be the President of India.

Nehru Government

Nehru’s Cabinet was heterogeneous, eclectic and inclusive. ‘It  consisted of Caste Hindus, nationalist Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Sikh and a  Parsi. His cabinet consisted of the stalwarts of the Independence Movement  and the best brains available then. Sardar Patel was the Deputy Prime Minister. Some of Nehru’s Ministers agreed to disagree with him and a few had  subsequently resigned.” , if found wrong. He maintained proper balance between continuity and change, stability and flexibility. Nehru’s cabinet  “set a standard that would never again be matched, while establishing a  precedent for diversity that all his successors would strive to emulate”.  Nehru  worked through the major institutions of the cabinet, the Parliament, the Congress Party, and the Bureaucracy Nehru, now 58, embarked on his 17 years of  governance.