Thursday, August 30, 2007

Partition of India: Part Two

On 2nd April, 1947, in his personal report at the completion of his first week in office, Mountbatten painted a very gloomy picture. The Cabinet was fiercely divided along communal lines with two major parties having irreconcilable differences. The entire country, especially Punjab, N.W.F.P, Bihar, Calcutta, Bombay, U.P and parts of Delhi, were reeling from riots and communal tension.

Sikhs in Punjab, as a retaliation for the atrocities committed on them in the districts of Attock, Rawalpindi, and Jhelum since March 5, 1947, were planning on seizing the major irrigation centres. In his next weekly report on the 9th of April, Mountbatten pondered over a general election in Punjab, but concluded that it was not going to solve anything and governor's rule under section 93 was to continue. That decision was triggered by Punjab governor Sir E.M. Jenkins' detailed analysis dated 4th April, 1947 where he concluded that out of 175 seats in Punjab, 90 were Muslim certainties, 82 non-Muslim certainties and 3 were uncertain. Therefore, in an election, the Muslim League would have a very slim majority and consequently their government was going to be extremely unstable. The last line of Jenkins' report was ominous.
..."A Muslim Ministry now would mean instant civil war". (The Transfer of Power, Volume 10, Page 119)

In spite of the doom and gloom around him, for a while Mountbatten tried to keep an open mind about the possibilities of transferring power to an unified India, but time was the biggest concern as June 1948 deadline was non-negotiable. From the notes of Viceroy's Staff Meeting on April 11, 1947: [Mountbatten Papers, Page 190 of The Transfer of Power, Volume 10]

..." The Viceroy said that it had always been and would remain his main desire to hand over power to an unified India with a strong centre. The next best to this would be to hand over to an unified India with a weak centre -- such as was envisaged in the Cabinet Mission plan."

For a brief period, the "Gandhi plan" -- a scheme supporting an All-India Jinnah government -- seemed promising even though it had been proposed by Gandhi without consulting Nehru, Patel and other major Congress leaders. The outline of the plan was: (Transfer of Power, Volume 10, Page 140)
..." Outline of a scheme for an Interim Government pending Transfer of Power.

1. Mr. Jinnah to be given the option of forming a Cabinet.

2. The selection of the Cabinet is left entirely to Mr. Jinnah. The members may be all Moslems, or all non-Moslems, or they may be representatives of all classes and creeds of the Indian people.

3. Mr. Jinnah must stipulate, on behalf of the League or of any other partes represented in the Cabinet formed by him that, so far as he or they are concerned, they will do their utmost to preserve peace throughout India.

4. There shall be no National Guards or any other form of private army.

5. Within the framework hereof Mr Jinnah will be perfectly free to present for acceptance a scheme of Pakistan, even before the transfer of power, provided, however, that he is successful in his appeal to reason and not to the force of arms which he abjures for all time for this purpose. Thus, there will be no compulsion in this matter over a Province or part thereof.

6. In the Assembly the Congress has a decisive majority. But the Congress shall never use that majority against the League policy simply because of its identification with the League, but will give its hearty support to every measure brought forward by the League Government, provided that it is in the interest of the whole of India. Whether it is in such interest or not shall be decided by Lord Mountbatten as a man and not in his representative capacity.

7. If Mr Jinnah rejects this offer, the same offer to be made mutatis mutandis to Congress.

Discussed between Gandhi and Mountbatten without involving any other major Congress leaders, this proposal drew a very sharp critique from Mr. V.P. Menon, Mountbatten's political advisor. In a letter dated April 4, 1947, he pointed out that the plan was not practical because on several occasions in the past, similar plans had been rejected by Jinnah. As an example, he cited Jinnah's success in persuading League leadership not to accept Lord Linlithgow's offer for participation in Central Government in August, 1940. Also with a Congress majority in Central Legislature, the League government would be powerless and Mountbatten would have to be deeply involved in party politics to break gridlocks. He further argued --
(Transfer of Power, Volume 10, Page 124)

..."7. According to Gandhi's proposal, Jinnah is at liberty to plan for Pakistan and even to put his plans into effect provided that he is successful in appealing to reason and does not use force. This is asking for the impossible. If Jinnah could persuade the Sikhs and the Hindus of the Punjab and the Hindus of Bengal to join

Pakistan, he would automatically get his Pakistan without joining the Interim Government in dubious terms. On the other hand, if Jinnah still persists in his scheme of separation, he will be giving his case away by entering the Central Government. This was the main motive which induced him to keep out of the Central Government in the past"...

... "10. It is suggested that if Jinnah rejects the offer the same offer is to be made mutatis mutandis to the Congress. It should be borne in mind that all the factors that have been mentioned as working to the disadvantage of Jinnah will for the same reason work to the advantage of the Congress. H.E's main task is to find a solution to the present deadlock between the League and the Congress. It is no solution to suggest that power should be transferred to the Congress to the exclusion of the Muslim League. If the proposition were as simple as that, it would have been solved long ago."...

In spite of V.P. Menon's detailed arguments and conviction that League would not accept this plan,

and Krishna Menon's assertion that at that point it was even beyond Gandhi to convince Nehru, Patel and other major Congress leaders, Mountabatten was hopeful during a follow-up meeting with Jinnah.

(Mountbatten papers: Viceroy's interview No. 42. Transfer of Power, Volume 10, Page 124)

..."I told him that I regarded it as a very great tragedy that he should be trying to force me to give up the idea of a united India. I painted a picture of the greatness that India could achieve -- four hundred million people of different races and creeds, all bound together by a central Union Government, with all the economic strength that would accrue to them from increased industrialization, playing a great part in world affairs as the most progressive single country in the Far East.

I finally said that I found that the present Interim Coalition Government was every day working better and in a more co-operative spirit; and that it was a day-dream of mine to be able to put the Central Government under the Prime Ministership of Mr. Jinnah himself.

He said that nothing would have given him greater pleasure than to have seen such unity, and he entirely agreed that it was indeed tragic that the behavior of the Hindus had made it impossible for the Muslims to share in this.

Some 35 minutes later, Mr. Jinnah who had not referred previously to my personal remark about him, suddenly made a reference out of the blue to the fact that I had wanted him to be the Prime Minister. There is no doubt that that it had greatly tickled his vanity, and that he had kept turning over the proposition in his mind.

Mr. Gandhi's famous scheme may yet go through on the pure vanity of Mr. Jinnah!" ...
(to be continued)

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