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Why Gandhi Accepted Partition
|by Dr. Rajinder Puri|
Recently Mahatma Gandhi's grandson and scholar Mr. Rajmohan Gandhi delivered a lecture on Gandhi and Punjab. I could not attend the lecture but had the good fortune to interact briefly with Mr. Gandhi before he delivered it. I understand that while he recalled the relationship between the Mahatma and Punjab he did not address the most intriguing and inexplicable aspect related to the subject. Despite his known and passionate opposition to the Partition why did not Gandhi actively oppose it when the Congress Working Committee formally accepted it as early as June 3, 1947? Instead the Mahatma observed on that crucial moment his day of silence.
I believe I have the answer to clear this mystery. Up till that time the riot casualties in the Punjab province were just about 1000 dead. This hardly justified the Congress reneging on its solemn pledge to the people of India to not accept Partition. But Nehru and Patel were both keen to accept Partition and take over the reins of government in an independent India. Gandhi wanted to avoid a confrontation with his protégés at that stage. He had good reason to believe that despite Congress accepting Partition it would not occur because the Muslim League would not accept it.
It might be recalled that Jinnah had virtually no strength of his own in Punjab. He was heavily dependent on the Unionist Party which was the strongest in the state. The Unionist Party in a coalition with the Congress and the Akali Dal governed Punjab under its Chief Minister, Sir Khizr Hayat Khan Tiwana. After the riots in Rawalpindi in March 1947 which claimed 1000 lives the Punjab assembly was divided between the dominant Muslim areas in the west and the dominant non-Muslim areas in the east. The last election under British rule, the National Constituent Assembly poll, which was considered to be a referendum on the creation of Pakistan, had already taken place in 1945. In that election which had a separate Muslim electorate the majority of Muslims voted in favour of Pakistan. It then remained for Punjab and Bengal provinces to give their verdicts in the provincial elections held in 1946.
The Unionist Party, which had prominent Hindu and Sikh leaders such as Sir Chhotu Ram, who died in 1945 before independence, and Sardar Baldev Singh along with Muslim leaders, was bitterly opposed to the partition of Punjab. The tallest Unionist Party leader Sir Sikander Hayat Khan said before his death in 1942 that if the creation of Pakistan meant the partition of Punjab then his party would strongly oppose Pakistan. Sir Khizr pleaded with Governor Jenkins that Britain stay on in Punjab after independence rather than divide it! After the Punjab assembly was divided following the Rawalpindi riots the West Punjab assembly dominated by Punjabi Muslims voted overwhelmingly against the partition of Punjab. The Hindus and Sikhs in the East Punjab assembly not wanting to live in Pakistan, the creation of which had been endorsed in the preceding Constituent Assembly election of 1945, voted for the partition of Punjab.
The two successive British Governors of Punjab, Sir Evan Jenkins and Sir Bernard Glancy, were both bitterly opposed to the partition of Punjab. Given the intermingled demographic population in the province both foresaw disaster in the event of the state’s division along communal lines. Jenkins predicted carnage and chaos worse than was feared in Palestine. Both knew that without Punjab there would be no Pakistan. That is why Glancy along with the British Viceroy Lord Wavell wrote to Whitehall that the Boundary Demarcation Plan to partition Punjab be announced early to indicate which Muslim territories would comprise Pakistan. Wavell and Jenkins knew that a partitioned Punjab would have been unacceptable to the Muslim leaders of the province. They also knew that minus Punjab Pakistan would have been unacceptable to Jinnah. The Pakistan proposal thereby would have been scuttled. However, Whitehall did not respond to the advice sent by Glancy and the Viceroy.
It is reasonable to believe that Gandhi therefore calculated that the Partition plan was bound to fail when it came to the crunch. He did not anticipate Britain's diabolical strategy. Independence for India and Pakistan was granted first, the Boundary Demarcation Award was declared only one day later! Where in the world or in history has any nation without determined boundaries ever been declared independent? The boundaries were announced two days after Pakistan was created. As feared the worst carnage claiming close to a million lives occurred within a short span of four months.
Later Gandhi, outsmarted, desperately sought to undo the spirit of the Partition by planning to settle down in Lahore with 50 Punjabi refugee families after obtaining the consent of Jinnah. Dr. Sushila Nayar went to Lahore to finalize the arrangements for Gandhi's proposed camp. Gandhi was to depart traveling by foot on February 14, 1948. On January 30 he was assassinated. The rest is history.
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Dr. Ratul Chowdhury
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