(a) Direct Action Day (August 16, 1946)
The Muslim League now took a course of action which had no parallel in the recorded history of India. The Direction Action Day, fixed for August 16, was an invitation to the worst communal holocaust. On August 16 and the days following it bands of Muslim rowdies went on rampage of indiscriminate killings, arson, rape and looting. The events in Calcutta, on account of their sheer horrendousness, have been known as the “Great Calcutta killings”. The Muslim League Government in Bengal encouraged and directly took part in organising attacks against the Hindus.
This communal madness soon spread to other parts of North India, particularly East Bengal and Bihar. What followed Direct Action Day was a virtual civil war between the Hindus and Muslims. When the insensitive Government finally realised that the butchery, pillage and arson were no longer a one-way traffic, it cried halt and peace was restored after about a week.
Amidst this insanity and unreason, the lone symbol of sanity, courage and dignity was the seventy-seven year old Mahatma Gandhi, who went to Calcutta and Noakhali to restore peace.
(b) The Interim Government (September 2, 1946)
Four days before the great communal inferno was ignited, the Viceroy Lord Wavell invited Jawaharlal Nehru, the leader of the largest party in India, to form an Interim Government, which was sworn in on September 2, 1946. It was composed of 12 members (including 3 Muslims) nominated by the Congress with Jawaharlal Nehru as its Vice-President. It was the first time since the coming of the British that the Government of India was in Indian hands.
The Muslim League at first refused to join the Interim Government, but was Persuaded to change its stand. On October 13 five Congress appointees resigned to make way for the League’s nominees. It became clear, however, that Muslim League joined the Interim Government not to work sincerely and cooperate with the Congress, but to paralyse the functioning of the new Government. Liaqat Ali, who was given the Finance portfolio, used his position to bring this about. The tactics of the League effectively brought the business of the Government to a virtual standstill.
(c) The Constituent Assembly (December 6, 1946)
In the meantime elections to the Constituent Assembly were held between July and December 1946, and the Constituent Assembly met for the first time on December 6, 1946 with Dr. Rajendra Prasad as its President. The Muslim League, adhering to its resolution rejecting the Cabinet Mission Plan, refused to join the Constituent Assembly and began to press its demand for Pakistan. In view of the continued boycott of the Constituent Assembly by the League, the British Government finally ruled that the decisions of the Constituent Assembly would not be applicable to the Muslim-majority areas. This decision further strengthened the hands of the League and crippled the working of the Constituent Assembly.
(d) Attlee’s Declaration (February 20, 1947)
While the country was passing through these uncertainties, Prime Minister Attlee announced on February 20, 1947, in the House of Commons, that the British would quit India after transferring power “into responsible hands not later than June 1948”. Attlee apparently believed the announcement of the terminal date for the British withdrawal from India would bring pressure on the Indian people to settle their differences before then.
Attlee also announced the appointment of Lord Mountbatten as Viceroy in place of Lord Wavell. Lord Mountbatten, the 34th and the last British Governor- General and Viceroy, arrived in India on March 22, 1947 and immediately began to take measures for the transfer of power.
Renewed Communal Violence: Shortly after Attlee’s declaration the Muslim League escalated the communal violence. By whipping up communal passions, it brought about the downfall of the non-League Coalition Ministry in the Punjab and again called for ‘Direct Action’. In the renewed communal violence all the communities — the Hindus, the Muslims and the Sikhs — “vied with each other in the worst orgies of violence”. The conflagration soon spread from the Punjab to the North-West Frontier Provinces and other parts of North India.
Mountbatten was meanwhile holding discussions with the Indian political leaders, but found that the leaders of the League were adamant about breaking up the country along communal lines. Mahatma Gandhi was vehemently opposed to the idea and had declared: “If the Congress wishes to accept partition it will be over my dead body. So long as I am alive, I will never agree to the partition of India”. Another staunch opponent of the proposed partition was Abul Kalam Azad.
Mountbatten, after nearly two months of discussions, had come to the conclusion that partition was the only choice. The Congress leaders, too, were brought around to this view in the prevailing circumstances. Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru had first-hand experience of working with the Muslim League in the Interim Government, with its undiluted capacity to stall the functioning of administration. The Congress leaders had also to consider the widespread communal violence and bloodshed that was ravaging the country, Jinnah’s uncompromising attitude on the issue of partition, and the British decision to transfer power as soon as possible.
After the reluctant consent of the Congress for the partition of India, Lord Mountbatten held final discussions with the Congress, the League and the Sikh leaders, to seek their agreement on his partition plan. On June 3, 1947, Prime Minister Attlee announced the Partition Plan or the June 3rd Plan in the House of Commons.
(e) The June 3rd Plan (1947)
Lord Louis Mountbatten was sworn in as Governor General on 24 March 1946. According to the instructions drawn up for him by the British Government, he was (i) to aim at establishing a government in India on the basis of the Cabinet Mission Plan of 16th May 1946; (ii) in case (i) was not achieved by 1 October 1947, to report to the Government of England on the steps considered necessary to hand over power by June 1948; (iii) not to hand over power and obligations under Paramountcy to any successor government earlier than the transfer of power, yet negotiations with individual Indian States for adjusting their relations with the Crown were to be initiated straightaway; (iv) to treat the Interim Government with the same consultation and consideration as a dominion government and to give it the greatest possible freedom in the day-to-day administration of the country; (v) to maintain the closest-to-operation with Indian leaders; (vi) to ensure that the transfer of power was effected with full regard to the defence requirements of India; and of avoiding any breach in the continuity and organisation of the army and a collaboration in the security of the Indian ocean.
In return for the above and before being inducted into office, Mountbatten asked for a time limit on the transfer of power. This was accepted and announced by the then Labour Prime Minister, C. R. Attlee, in the House of Commons on 20 February 1947.
To discharge his responsibilities effectively, Mountbatten drew up two sets of plans. The first visualized maintenance of the integrity of the existing provinces that would initially become independent successor states; their later unity under an emasculated centre was envisaged as a sequel. The second plan contemplated a partition of the provinces of Punjab, Bengal and Assam into two parts each, separating the Hindu dominated districts from those controlled by the Muslims. Two separate independent Dominions of India and Pakistan would thus, emerge, each with its own Governor General.
By January 1947, the Indian National Congress had accepted the 16th May Cabinet Mission Plan in its entirely along with the interpretations put on it by HMG in December 1946. Even though it had accepted it earlier, the All India Muslim League, however, now completely repudiated the plan and demanded for Pakistan the five Muslims majority provinces of Punjab, Sind, the North-West Frontier Province, Bengal and Assam along with Baluchistan and a corridor through India. It demanded a sovereign, independent Pakistan and refusal to accept any provision for common links or any organisation of State to discharge such functions. It visualized two defence forces and two separate heads of State.
On 17 May, Mountbatten, accompanied by Menon, flew to London, with a draft of his new plan. DHe returned on 31 May and invited seven leaders of the Congress, the League and the Sikhs (Nehru, Patel, J. B. Kripalani, Jinnah, Liaqat Ali Khan, Abdul Rao Nishtar and Baldev Singh) to meet him on 2 June. He gave each a detailed outline of the plan which, while failing to concede the demands of any party in full, represented what appeared to the Governor- General to be the largest measure of common agreement.
Attlee announced the plan in the House of Commons on 3 June; hence it came to be known as the June 3rd Plan’.
In essence, the June 3rd Plan, as it came to be called, envisaged that :
- The work of the existing Constituent Assembly was not to be interrupted.But the constitution framed by the Assembly would not apply to all those parts of India unwilling to accept it;
- In order to ascertain the wishes of the different parts, two methods were suggested:
- through the existing Constituent Assembly which would be joined by the representatives of the dissident parts; or
- through separate Constituent Assemblies of representatives of the dissident parts.
- As for the provinces, the following arrangements were envisaged:
- in the Punjab and Bengal the Legislative Assembly would be divided into 2 sections, one for members belonging to the Muslim majority districts and the other for the non-Muslim districts. If they opted for partition of the provinces, each section would join the Constituent Assembly the province would join;
- the Legislative Assembly of a province would decide which Constituent Assembly the province would join;
- in the N. W. F. P. this choice would be exercised through a referendum of the electors (viz. voters) of the Legislative Assembly;
- the district of Sylhet in Assam would also decide its choice by means of a referendum;
- the Governor-General would prescribe the method and mode of ascertaining the will of the people of Baluchistan;
- there would be elections in parts of the Punjab, Bengal and in Sylhet to chose representatives for their respective constituent assemblies.
- There would be negotiations:
- between the successor governments concerning the Central subjects in regard to the administrative consequences of partition;
- between the successor governments and HMG for treaties in regard to matters arising out of the transfer of power;
- between the parts of the partitioned provinces concerning the administration of provincial subjects.
So far as the Indian States were concerned, the policy contained in the Cabinet Mission memorandum of 12 May 1946 would apply, namely, HMG would cease to exercise the powers of Paramountcy, and the rights surrendered by the
States to the Paramount power would revert to the States. It would then be open to the States to enter into political relations with the successor governments.
In its penultimate paragraph, the June 3rd plan envisaged ‘the earliest transfer of power’ in India. With this end in view, the British Government affirmed that they are willing to anticipate the date June 1948 for the handing over the power by the setting up of an independent Indian Government or Governments at an even earlier date. Accordingly – HMG propose to introduce legislation during the current session for the transfer of power this year on a Dominion Status (g. v. ) basis to one or two successor authorities according to the decisions taken as a result of this announcement’.
Mountbatten handed over the above statement to the three leaders and asked them to communicate to him their acceptance by midnight. Nehru generally accepted, as did the Congress Working Committee. Jinnah, however, was reluctant to commit himself. When he saw the Viceroy that evening the latter handed him a message from the British Conservative leader, Winston Churchill indicating that, if Jinnha did not accept the plan, it would spell the death-knell of his dream of Pakistan. On the night of 3rd June, Mountbatten, Nehru, Jinnah and Baldev Singh Broadcast over All India Radio their respective statements on the new plan.
Mountbatten reiterated that, as a result of his plan, “power can be transferred many months earlier than the most optimistic of us thought possible, and at the same time leave it to the people of British India to decide for themselves on their future, which is the declared policy of HMG; Nehru announced his party’s decision to accept the plan; Baldev Singh maintained that the plan was worth while; Jinnah, however, struck a neutral note. Gandhi accepted the plan and indicated that the blame for the partition envisaged was not the responsibility of the Viceroy. ‘If both of us, Hindus and Muslims, cannot agree on anything else, then the Viceroy is left with no choice’.
The Council of the League convened on 9 June and passed a resolution accepting the Plan. On 14 June, the All India Congress Committee accepted its Working Committee’s earlier resolution on 2 June, thereby giving its approval to the plan.
(f) Boundary Commission (1947)
After the acceptance of the June 3rd Plan, it was deemed necessary to have a body to settle the boundaries of the new dominions of India and Pakistan.
Two Commissions were accordingly constituted, the first to deal with the partition of Bengal, as also the separation of the district of Sylhet from Assam the second, with the partition of the Punjab. Each was to consist of a Chairman and four members – two nominated by the Indian National Congress and two by the All India Muslim League. It was understand that all the members would have the status of High Court Judges.
The terms of reference laid down that the commissions were to demarcate the boundaries of the two parts of the respective provinces of Bengal and the Punjab on the basis of ascertaining the contiguous majority areas of Muslims and non-Muslims. The Bengal Commission, in addition, was required to demarcate the Muslim majority areas of Sylhet district and the contiguous non-Muslim majority areas of the adjoining districts of Assam.
In Bengal there were the indisputably non-Muslim majority districts of Midnapore, Bankura, Hooghly, Howrah and Burdwan and the Muslim majority areas of Chittagong, Noakhali, Tippera, Dacca, Mymensingh, Pabna and Bogra.
Except for them, all other areas, including Calcutta, were subject to contention and rival claims. Similarly in the Punjab, there was a great deal of controversy over the three divisions of Lahore, Multan and Jullundur and a part of the Ambala division. There were differences not only among those tendering evidence, but also among the members themselves. Neither as regards the Punjab nor Bengal, were the members able to reach satisfactory agreement among themselves. It was therefore, resolved that the Chairman would give his own conclusions in both cases.
The final award itself was ready on 13 August and Lord Mountbatten’s original plan was to hand it over to the two parties immediately. It was none the less clear that he had to go to Karachi that day (13 August) to inaugurate the new dominion of Pakistan. Thus, the earliest that party leaders could be summoned together was on 17 August. No one, not even Mountbatten, it has been suggested, had seen the text of the award before them.
The Congress had claimed for West Bengal about 5% of the area and 46% of the population; under the Redcliffe award it got only 36% of the area and 35% of the population. Of the total Muslim population of Bengal 16% as in West Bengal there were 42% non Muslim in East Bengal. In the Punjab, Sikhs had claimed territory on the basis of religion and culture, a rational distribution of canal colonies, river waters and irrigation system. Thus they claimed for east Punjab all portions of the river Chenab. The Redcliffe Award gave to East Punjab
only 13 districts comprising the whole of Jullundur and Ambala divisions, the Amritsar district of the Lahore division and certain tehsils of Lahore and Gurdaspur districts.
Additionally, East Punjab obtained control over three of rivers of the united Punjab. The Beas, Sutlej and upper waters of Ravi. Roughly 38% of the area and 45% of the population were assigned to East Punjab, West Punjab obtained 62% of the area and 55% of the population, together with a major percentage of the income of the old province.
The Radcliffe award satisfied no one. The Indian press characterized it as self-contradictory, anomalous, arbitrary unjust to the Hindus of Bengal and the Punjab. The Pakistani press declared that the country had been cheated, that the award was a biased decision and an act of shameful partiality.
(g) Partition Council (1947)
After the acceptance by Indian political leaders of the June 3rd Plan, Lord Louis Mountbatten presented them a paper entitled “The Administrative Consequences of Partition”. After ‘many meetings and much argument’, the Governor General persuaded the politicians to set up a Partition Committee consisting of Vallabhbhai Patel and Rajendra Prasad belonging to the Indian National Congress, as well as Liaqat Ali Khan and Abdur Rab Nishtar of the All India Muslim League with himself acting as Chairman. Later, when the provinces decided on Partition, the Committee came to be known as the Partition Council. The Congress continued to be represented by Patel and Rajendra Prasad with C. Rajagopalachari, as an alaternate member; while M. A. Jinnah, and Liaqat Ali Khan, with Nishtar as an alaternate member, represented the Muslim League.
By an order of the Governor-General under the Indian Independence Act the Partition Council continued to function even after 15 August 1947. Its composition was then altered to include two members drawn from each dominion cabinet. India continued to be represented by its original members and Pakistan by such ministers as were able to attend meetings in New Delhi.
The Council functioned through a steering committee of two senior officials H. M. Patel for India and Chaudhri Mohammad Ali for Pakistan. The steering committee was assisted by ten expert committees of officials representing both countries. They covered the entire gamut of administration; organization, records and personnel; assets and liabilities; control revenues contracts, currency and coinage, economic relations (trade and controls), domicile; foreign relations and the armed forces. The steering committee was meant to ensure that concrete proposals were evolved and put up within a specified time to the Partition Council for decision, and therefore take steps to implement them.
The expert committees which began their investigations in the third week of June were able to put up agreed recommendations on a large number of subjects, while the steering committee was saddled with a few unsettled issues. Only a few points remained to be sorted out by the Arbitral Tribunal after 15 August. Even these matters Mountbatten was determined to resolve by a mutual give and take. With this end in view, the Pakistani representatives, Ghulam Mohammad and Sir Archibald Rowlands met Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad and Rajagopalachari who, after discussion, remitted the outstanding issues to the steering committee. The latter was able to resolve differences and evolve mutually acceptable compromises. The result was that all references to be Arbitral Tribunal were withdrawn.