Congress leaders accepted Pakistan only as a stopgap measure
When the idea of a separate state or states to safeguard the interests of Muslims of India was first adopted by the Muslim League at its annual session in March 1940 it met with strong opposition not only by the Congress and Hindu parties but also the British and some Muslim parties, including the Jamaat-i-Islami, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, the Ahrar and the Khaksar. Two Khaksar members made attempts on Jinnah’s life. On one occasion one of them succeeded in wounding him. In August 1942, Akali Dal leader Gayani Kartar Singh proclaimed in Amritsar, “If Pakistan is foisted upon the Sikhs with the help of British bayonets, we shall tear it into shreds as Guru Gobind Singh tore up the Mughal Empire” (A History of the Sikhs, vol. 2, by Khushwant Singh, New Delhi, 1991, p. 252).
How did Pakistan come into being despite such formidable opposition? The answer lies in the conviction and resolve of the Muslims of India. Exhausted by the long war, the British realized that they could no longer hold on and decided to give India its freedom.
Elections to the Central and Provincial Assemblies were held at the end of 1945 in which the Congress fielded candidates on many Muslim seats with a campaign for a united India. Muslim League contested most of the seats reserved for Muslims.
Muslim League won eighty-seven per cent of the Muslim votes cast and all the seats reserved for Muslims in the Central Assembly. It also won 428 of the total 492 (87 per cent) seats in the Provincial Assemblies. In Sindh, it won all the seats but one. In Bengal, the League polled 90 per cent of the vote. In the NWFP, it fell one seat short of a majority in the Assembly.
In the Punjab, the League bagged 79 of the 86 seats reserved for Muslims and was the largest party in the Assembly but the governor called on Sir Khizar Hayat Tiwana, who’s Unionist Party had only 10 seats, to form the government which he did with the support of Congress and assorted Hindu and Sikh groups.
The election established two facts - that the Muslims did not want to be a part of Hindu-dominated united India and that the Muslim League represented the interest and aspirations of a vast majority of Muslim voters.
There were intelligence reports that the Congress was going to embark on a plan to overthrow the government through a large-scale mass movement. Viceroy Wavell cabled Pethick-Lawrence, the British secretary of state, that Congress leaders were making speeches “intended to provoke or pave the way for mass disorder…” (Transfer of Power Documents 1942 - 1947, Vol VI, p. 451).
Wavell assessed the political situation in India at the time as: “Congress feel that HMG dare not break with them - their aim is power and to get rid of British influence as soon as possible, after which they think they can deal with both Muslims and Princes; the former by bribery - and if necessary by force; the latter by stirring up their people against them. - They will continue - until they consider themselves strong enough to - revolt against British rule’. (Transfer of Power Documents, Volume IX, pp. 240-2).
The British prime minister, Clement Attlee thought, “The situation might so develop as to result in civil war in India, with all the bloodshed which that would entail” (Transfer of Power Documents 1942-1947, Vol. IX, P. 319). He had decided to hand over power to avoid such an eventuality. He would have much preferred if India remained united but when the Cabinet Mission failed in 1946, the only option left open was to partition the country. To get the Congress to agree to it, the latter was assured that it will be done in such a way that Pakistan will not be a viable country likely to survive for long.
Mr Gandhi had dispatched an emissary from his own entourage, Sudhir Ghosh, to London to liaise privately with the British government. While studying at Cambridge he had established durable links with Quakers and Labour politicians, including Pethick Lawrence and Cripps. Privately, the former considered him a ‘vexatious embarrassment’ while Wavell referred to him as ‘that little rat’ and a ‘snake in the grass with a very swollen head’. Nonetheless, he remained Mr Gandhi’s man for making back-room deals with the Labour Party. His first mission was to arrange for the removal of Wavell and replace him with someone more acceptable to Congress.
A telephone conversation between Vallabhbhai Patel in Delhi and Sudhir Ghosh in London on August 28 was intercepted and reported to Wavell. In it Patel was heard saying “Cripps had promised that if there was any disturbance in Calcutta, he will order Section 93 (dissolution of Muslim League Government and imposition of Governor’s Rule in Bengal). What is he doing”? Ghosh told him that Cripps was out of the country but he would take up the matter with another minister. Patel then told him to remain in the country and await further orders. There could be no clearer evidence that at least some members of the Labour government were colluding with the Congress.
Elections to the Central and Provincial Assemblies were held at the end of 1945 in which the Congress fielded candidates on many Muslim seats with a campaign for a united India.
Earlier, Wavell had recorded that the Cabinet Mission had been “unable to remain really impartial” and had been “living in the pocket of Congress”, further concluding that the Mission “might have succeeded had Cripps and Pethick Lawrence not been so completely in the Congress camp” (Wavell: The Viceroy’s Journal, edited by Penderal Moon,, pp. 287, 324). Jinnah wrote to Attlee, with a copy to Churchill that the conduct of the Cabinet Delegation had “impaired the honour of the British Government and shaken the confidence of Muslim India” and “shattered their hopes for an honourable and peaceful settlement” (Transfer of Power Documents, Vol. VII, p. 527).
Wavell sent transcripts of the intercepts of telephone conversations Ghosh had had with Gandhi to Attlee, with a note of protest. It had become a familiar refrain. There had been frequent complaints from him and his staff about “lack of realism and honesty” on the part of the cabinet in London (Wavell: pp. 397-409).
Sudhir Ghosh did not cut much ice with Secretary of State for India, Lord Pethick Lawrence but found Attlee “a great deal more understanding.” The latter told him in early September 1946 that “there was a good case for a new viceroy but there was no sense in making a change unless he was in a position to find someone who was obviously better than the present occupant of the post” (The Collected Works of Mahatama Gandhi, VXXXV, p. 518).
Wavell was not a career politician. This made him an obstacle both for Congress and the British government and the time had come for him to go home for their scheme to be put into effect as envisaged.
After the Japanese surrendered, Nehru had gone to Burma as a guest of Mountbatten. Following their discussions Krishna Menon, who was an influential member and councilor for the Labour Party in Britain, conveyed it to the British Minister and Congress sympathiser Stafford Cripps in a secret meeting that Mountbatten’s selection would be most acceptable to Congress (Freedom at Midnight, by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, foot note p.19). In mid-December 1946 Attlee sounded out Mountbatten to replace Wavell as the viceroy in India.
He took over on March 24, 1947 while still remaining in regular contact with Krishna Menon. The Congress Party had already agreed to the creation of Pakistan composed of provinces having a majority of Muslims provided parts of Punjab and Bengal where Muslims were in minority were joined with India.
There is evidence to suggest that based on assurances given to them, Congress leaders accepted Pakistan only as a stopgap measure. In a letter to India’s representative in China, KPS Menon on April 29, 1947, Nehru wrote that he was in no doubt that eventually India would have to become one country and it could well be that Partition was but a stepping stone on the path towards that goal (Nehru: The Making of India, by MJ Akbar, London, 1989, p. 405).
To ensure this happened, India withheld Pakistan’s share of finances and other assets after independence. Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, who became Supreme Commander of both India and Pakistan after Partition reported to Whitehall on September 28, 1947: “I have no hesitation whatever in affirming that the present India Cabinet are implacably determined to do all in their power to prevent the establishment of the Dominion of Pakistan on a firm basis. In this I am supported by the unanimous opinion of my senior officers, and indeed by all British officers cognizant of the situation,” (Auchinleck, by John Connel, London, 1959, p. 1379).
British complicity in the nefarious scheme is clear from minutes of the meeting Mountbatten had with the provincial governors on April 15, 1947.
In it he told them “- partition of India would be a most serious potential source of war. - A quick decision would give Pakistan a greater chance to fail on its demerits. The great problem was to reveal the limits of Pakistan so that the Muslim League could revert to a unified India with honour”. (Transfer of Power Documents, Vol. X, pp. 242 -244, 250 and Shameful Flight, by Stanley Wolpert, p. 142).
It had been originally announced that the transfer of power was to take place on June 30, 1948. Citing the example of Irish independence when Britain had taken more than two years just to agree on the modalities of the transfer of power to Ireland, Jinnah asked for more time. Instead, for good measure, Mountbatten advanced the date to August 15, 1947 giving Jinnah less than two months to set up a new country.
Not only that, eight tehsils in central Punjab adjoining Pakistan, including Ajnala, Gurdaspur, Batala, Jullunder, Nakodar, Ferozepur, Zira, Fazilka and parts of Shakargarh and Lahore where Muslims were in majority, were all awarded to India to ensure the latter had access to Kashmir and control of rivers flowing into Pakistan.
Over and above all this Pakistan had to accommodate and settle nine million destitute refugees from India. The fact that it survived and prospered and continues to do so against all odds can only be attributed to the resilience, fortitude, determination, unity of purpose and spirit of sacrifice of its people.
The writer is author of Pakistan: Roots, Perspective and Genesis