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The Last Days of the British Raj and Division of India

An senior air warrior and political observer who has the pulse of the region and can sense a change when it comes.



1947 was a watershed in Indian history as it marked the end of an empire that for 150 had given stability and peace to the subcontinent. It was the end of an era when the British Raj was dismantled and replaced by two states of India and Pakistan, but this may not have happened in case Nehru and Patel, the two leaders of the Congress party had not deliberately played into the hands of Mohammed Ali Jinnah the leader of the Muslim League and the British Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten.

The Thinking of Patel and Nehru

Nehru and Patel had been leading agitations against the Raj for almost 4 decades and both were aging. They were anxious for the fruits of their endeavor and wished to wield political power. With an adamant Jinnah, both Nehru and Patel felt the fruits of office slipping from their grasp. As per the much-researched book by Leonard Mosley ‘The Last Days of the British Raj’, both Nehru and Patel were dictated by their own ambitions. They could not care less whether Pakistan was created; so long they could be at the helm of the emerging power structure in India. This aspect of partition has received very little attention from Indian historians, though many western writers have alluded to it.


The Partition of India

The partition is a much-discussed and researched subject, but now after a lapse of almost 70+ years, we can sit back and analyze what really happened. In this, we are indebted to a study by the American author Stanley Wolpert who in his book ‘Shameful flight’ presents a damming indictment of how the British handled the transfer of power. He also excoriates Lord Mountbatten and Nehru as the arch-villains of this period.

Mountbatten had a one-point plan. He was tasked with creating a state that would be in perpetual conflict and thus weak. He encouraged Jinnah to ask for Pakistan. Till 1942, Jinnah was not thinking of Pakistan. He wished to be Prime Minister of the entire India. Gandhi was favorably inclined. But Nehru and Patel were dead set against it and persuaded Gandhi to let a separate Muslim majority state be created so that Jinnah could be side-lined.

Creation of Pakistan

Till 1942 when Gandhi launched his quit India movement, the notion of a separate homeland for Muslims remained in the notebooks of Intellectuals. But within 5 years, partition and the state of Pakistan were a reality. These five years were crucial as Nehru aided by Patel formulated a plan that would make him the Prime Minister of India. He was stoutly opposed by Jinnah who felt he had the right to lead India as Prime Minister. As the leader of the Muslim League, he orchestrated violence and rioting in Bengal and Punjab by his call for direct action in 1946. Large-scale communal riots broke out and the entire Bengal and Punjab were in flames.

This violence unnerved Nehru and Gandhi and probably at this time, Nehru decided that it was better to give away the Muslim majority areas to Jinnah. In this, he was persuaded by Lord Louis Mountbatten who had come with a brief from London to divide India. As the viceroy, he played on the anglicized sentiments of Nehru and won him over. A subtle hint was also dropped that he could be Prime Minister only with Jinnah out of the way. In reality, it was a devious plan to divide India as formulated by Attlee. Nehru is reported to have discussed this with Sardar Patel in 1946 and both willingly went to Mahatma Gandhi and convinced him that it was better to give Jinnah the Muslim majority areas. Thus Jinnah got Pakistan without having significantly agitated for it.


The Plan that was Rejected

It should not be forgotten that the British cabinet Mission to India in early 1946 released a plan on May 16 calling for a United India, comprising autonomous provinces, based on religion. Congress rejected the plan. The next plan was presented on June 16 and called for the establishment of two states of India and Pakistan. This was a devious plan and Nehru and Gandhi swallowed it hook line and sinker.

The initial plan presented by the British Cabinet Mission was presented, with a view that Gandhi and Nehru in particular would reject it. The Cabinet Mission had thus kept the second plan ready, which called for the division of India. In hindsight in case Nehru had accepted the earlier plan, India would not have been divided. But his personal ambition where he saw himself as the successor to Gandhi and the future Prime Minister led him to convince Gandhi to reject the plan. In this Nehru emerges as the arch villain who helped create Pakistan for his own ambition. His plan to sideline Jinnah thus proved fruitful, though India was divided.

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Last word

Jaswant Singh, ex-Foreign Minister of India and a BJP leader in his book “ Nehru, Jinnah, and Independence’has argued that the inflexibility of Nehru led to partition. To a point it is true. Had Nehru been flexible India need not have been divided. But the observation of Stanley Wolpert is closer to the truth when he states that Mountbatten had a brief and he convinced Nehru to side with him. His brief was some; divide India so that the seeds are sown for a perpetual conflict. That Nehru allowed himself to be convinced is a tragedy of immense proportion. The rest is history as Pakistan emerged out of India.

But in hindsight one can say that the British plan was not entirely successful, as India has emerged as a power to reckon with while Pakistan which is a warped image of India is almost a failed state. The two-nation theory enunciated by Jinnah and Mountbatten has also collapsed and one realizes that religion cannot be the basis of statehood, not in the sub-continent at least. The creation of Bangladesh by a revolution that led to the defeat of the Pakistan army is an example that religion alone is not a cementing factor.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 12, 2021:

Chrish, sweet of you to have given your opinion and comment. Stay blessed.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 12, 2021:

Thank you, Peggy, for sparing time and commenting.

Chrish Canosa from Manila Philippines on July 12, 2021:

The light of Gandhi's nonvoilence principle still lives in people's hearts. This is a great history to look back. I really appreciate your articles professionalism, very organized.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed_ Gandhi

One of my favorite!

Thanks again, have a wonderful day!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 12, 2021:

Thanks for sharing this history with us. In looking back, the reasons things happen often become more clear.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 12, 2021:

Bill, thanks, I am fascinated with history and the inside tales.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 12, 2021:

I always enjoy these trips through history with you. Thanks for taking me along.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 12, 2021:

John, thanks for reading and commenting.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 12, 2021:

Thank you Ishika for your comment.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 12, 2021:

Sankhajit, thanks, that was the British plan.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 12, 2021:

Mohd Aslam, I agree, Pak has not progressed like India and even Bangladesh has overtaken it. The only thing bearing fruit is extremism, blasphemy laws and poor economy.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on July 12, 2021:

A very interesting history lesson. Thank you for sharing, MG.

ISHIKA MEHERE from NAGPUR on July 12, 2021:

Wow interesting.

Sankhajit Bhattacharjee from MILWAUKEE on July 11, 2021:

How could you stop the civil war?

Mohd Aslam, London on July 11, 2021:

This is a nice article. The fact is the division should never have taken place because this division

did not benefit Pakistan which never developed like India.

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