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History Who Divided India?

Discussion in 'Punjab, Punjabi, Punjabiyat' started by kds1980, Aug 29, 2009.

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  1. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    Historian Stanley Wolpert's book -- Shameful Flight -- revisits Partition, and lays the blame for one of the most horrific episodes of the 20th century squarely on the shoulders of a Briton, finds Arthur J Pais.

    Admiral Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas 'Dickie' Mountbatten, the favourite cousin of British King George VI, was famous for his charm. His sycophants in England called it irresistible.

    His admirers in the British government even thought of him as a statesman who could charm discontented nationalist leaders of the British Empire, and tease out of them agreements that seemed impossible for other British diplomats to obtain.

    So Mountbatten was sent to a deeply restive, increasingly riotous and ceaselessly rebellious India in March 1947 as Britain's viceroy, to hammer agreements that could allow the British to withdraw from the subcontinent with dignity -- leaving the country unified.

    'Mountbatten viewed the prospect of ruling India during the Raj's sunset year as challenging as a hard-fought polo game, as he put it the King -- 'The last Chukka in India -- 12 goals down,' writes historian Stanley Wolpert in his riveting, disturbing and provocative book, Shameful Flight: The Last Years of the British Empire in India.

    "It was a task for only a person of deep insights into India," says Wolpert -- considered by many to be one of the best historians writing on the subcontinent -- in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "The mission needed a person of great diplomatic skills and [one] who absolutely lacked arrogance."

    What Wolpert would discover some 55 years after the Partition of India -- and the concomitant fleeing of more than 10 million Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs from one side to another -- was so horrifying that the 79-year-old historian might have had a hard time believing it.

    Mountbatten was not only totally inept at dealing with fractious Indian political parties, Wolpert writes, he hastened the process of Independence. The British government wanted to leave India by 1948 but Mountbatten cut the time by half to mid-August 1947 because he was impatient to get back to England and build his naval career.

    Much of it had to do with vindicating his father's reputation.

    First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy Prince Louis of Battenberg was forced to resign from the fleet during World War I because of his German origin. The family changed the last name to Mountbatten to avoid further vilification. His then 14-year-old son resolved to join the navy and remain in it until he became First Sea Lord.

    "So Mountbatten resolved to make fast work of his India job," Wolpert says. "The British cabinet gave him a longer time, but he never had any intention of using it."

    In his book published by Oxford University Press -- and which reads in parts like fine detective fiction -- Wolpert has directed quite a bit of blame for Partition at many Indian leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Independent India's first prime minister.

    One of the reasons for the Labour government in Britain, which had come to power soon after World War II, to grant hasty independence to India was because there was hardly any trust between the Labour and Indian leaders, Wolpert argues.

    "There were many Left-leaning Labour leaders who thought their proposals for a gradual transfer of full power to India were not appreciated by Indian leaders," Wolpert says.

    "They felt Indian leaders were not being grateful, not appreciating the efforts Labour was putting in to end the colonial rule, unlike the Tories led by (Winston) Churchill."

    Many of Wolpert's finger pointing is bound to cause debate and controversy. Already, Professor Ainslee Embree of Columbia University has called the book 'engrossing, but very controversial.'

    Dilip Basu, professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, while calling the book 'a delightful read,' added: 'It will be of great interest to anyone curious about whatever happened to the great British Empire and those who often wonder why Indians and Pakistanis endlessly fight with each other.'

    The central villain in the book is undoubtedly the arrogant and unrealistic Mountbatten.

    "Partition maps revealing the butchered boundary lines drawn by Sir Cyril Radcliffe," Wolpert says, "through the Sikh heartland of Punjab and the east of Calcutta in Bengal, were kept under lock and key on Mountbatten's orders."

    Radcliffe, a barrister, had never set foot on Indian soil before 1947. "He was to accomplish, in a month, work that should have taken at least a year," Wolpert points out. "He was so afraid of what he had done -- worried that Sikhs, Hindus or Muslims would kill him -- (that) he left India hastily."

    Wolpert says had the governors of Punjab and Bengal known about the way the two provinces were being partitioned, "they could have, with their early knowledge, saved countless lives by dispatching troops and trains to what would soon become the lines of fire and blood.

    "The rapid departure of the British from the region was the catalyst for over half a century of violence, a legacy that lives on today," the historian says, discussing why Partition still holds interest for him.

    "The Indian leaders as well as their counterparts in England failed to appreciate how bad and how weak a viceroy Mountbatten was," Wolpert continues. "In many ways, he was the worst viceroy of India, he was the centerpiece of this tragedy."

    Shameful flight

    The failure of the British government to see the larger picture and Mountbatten's preoccupation with his career created explosive conditions made worse by the warring Indian leaders, he says.

    "I still wonder how it was possible for the leaders of Great Britain, barely two years after defeating, with American support, the armies of Hitler and Mussolini, to withdraw 14,000 British officers in such unseemly haste from India," he adds.

    Churchill, who was bitterly opposed to an independent India, cautioned against the sudden departure. He thought the original 14-month schedule was too hasty. His opposition 'could be counted as one of history's supremely ironic moments,' writes Wolpert.

    'How can one suppose that the thousand year-gulf that yawns between Muslim and Hindu would be bridged in 14 months?' Churchill asked. He called the time limit a 'guillotine,' adding that the hasty exit could bring a terrible name to Britain. The 'shameful flight' could result in chaos and carnage. 'Would it not be a world crime,' he asked, 'that would stain our good name for ever?'

    He warned it would be a 'shameful flight, by a premature hurried scuttle.'

    Even the eventual founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who would not give up his demand for an independent Muslim State, was worried over the way the Partition was being rushed.

    Wolpert, professor of history emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles, dedicates his newest book 'To the memory of the millions of defenseless Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh victims of the British India's Partition.'

    "For half a decade, I have pondered the question of the tragedy of Partition, and I have dealt with it in some form or the other in many of my books," Wolpert says. "I have also been trying to understand the role of the major people involved in Partition."

    Wolpert had been thinking of a book exclusively focusing on Partition for many years but, but because of his other assignments, could begin working on it only about six years ago.

    "I am glad I waited for," he said from his Los Angeles home on a Sunday afternoon. "After half a century of studying and teaching Indian history and writing 20 books on the subcontinent, I finally got an opportunity to reflect on one of the most momentous events in history."

    He sees parallels between the aftermath of 9/11 and what happened in India in 1947. He sees the "same kind of madness, the same kind of arrogance (as in Mountbatten's decisions) in going to war against Iraq."

    Petty politics

    The infighting between the Indian leaders added to the tension and problems.

    Some of them changed their minds too quickly. Jinnah, who complained the British were prepared to give him only a moth-eaten Pakistan -- meaning a country with the partitioned states of Punjab and Bengal -- at one point suddenly told the British he was not averse to the idea of an independent Bengal ruled by a fellow Muslim League leader.

    Nehru gets a lot of blame for going with Mountbatten's desire for not just partitioning the country hastily but also for agreeing to divide Punjab and Bengal.

    Gandhi had refused for seven years, since Jinnah proposed a separate Muslim nation, to support a 'vivisection of the Mother,' arguing 'Muslims can never cut themselves away from their Hindu or Christian brethren. We are all children of the same Mother.'

    He was so serious about saving India that he sent word, a few months before Partition, to Jinnah through Mountbatten that he would not object to Jinnah being the leader of free and united India instead of Nehru. But Jinnah -- who always mistrusted the Mahatma, calling him 'wily Gandhi' -- had no use for such overtures.

    Nehru is also faulted for not listening to Gandhi in getting Jinnah to mediate in the escalating violence in undivided Kashmir. Gandhi even wondered if holding a plebiscite in Kashmir could end the looming violence there.

    Why did Nehru listen so much to Mountbatten?

    Nehru had talked about Mountbatten's fatal charm," Wolpert says. "Of course, he was flattering Mountbatten when he said that. But Nehru unfortunately came too much under the influence of Mountbatten, exacerbated by Nehru's education in England. Nehru was charmed by the English upper world, he thought he could trust and work with Mountbatten.

    "Mountbatten's royal blood appealed as much to the rulers of princely states in India," Wolpert continues, "as his radical views and social charms did to Nehru. His charm was so much Nehru was blinded by it."

    Asked if Nehru's relationship with Mountbatten's wife Edwina played a role, the historian says, "It helped him cloud the danger of what Mountbatten was doing."

    Wolpert doesn't fight the idea that Partition looked inevitable by 1947, and he understands why Nehru, seeing the way Hindus had been killed in Bengal and Punjab, agreed to the partition of the two provinces.

    "But the real solution to any massacre is not to make more violence by drawing a line blindly through a province," the historian points out.

    Years after Partition, Mountbatten would whisper now and then how he had botched up the Independence process.

    Nehru 'finally awakened,' and admitted in a letter to the Nawab of Bhopal, a friend, 'Partition came and we accepted it because we thought that perhaps that way, however painful it was, we might have some peace.

    'And yet, the consequences of that Partition have been so terrible that one is inclined to think that anything else would have been preferable,' Nehru added.

    At the end of his six-year research and writing, Wolpert was looking for a picture for the book's dust jacket. He had gone through hundreds of pictures of Partition. And he had also seen pictures offering glimpses of thousands of people who perished in the tragedy -- some estimates believe over a million were killed.

    "Suddenly, I came across an image that encapsulated the tragedy," he says. It is a picture by the well-known photographer Margaret Bourke-White, showing mostly bare-footed refugees going to places they felt would be safe from the communal carnage.

    The image of a Sikh man in the same photograph carrying a woman on his shoulders also spoke volumes, Wolpert says. "The picture brought to our attention the fact that these poor, barefoot people with no possessions had to make the perilous journey because of the idiocy and arrogance of those who had a duty to protect them."
     
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  3. Imran520

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    English men had divide the India.........
     
  4. AngloSikhPeace

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    True, the British were the ones who divided India. They were the ones drawing the lines on the map, arbitrary lines that ignored the realities of India beyond 'Hindus here, Muslims over there'. But it is equally the fault of the Indian people themselves.

    Who came up with the naive, insane 'one nation' theory, the idea that because all Indians have at least some connection to a common Vedic past they should be thought of as a single people? The Hindu Indian nationalists (educated by British eurocentrism) did.

    Who came up with the equally mad theory that Muslims and Hindus are two separate nations? The idea that fundementally different peoples, such as Bengalis and Panjabis, or Sindhis and Balochis, should be part of a separate Pakistan solely because of their religion? The Muslim nationalists did. Again, educated by others, be that the British with their obsession with classifying and dividing the the different ethnic groups of the world, or be that Hindu fanatics (precursors of the RSS) who utterly rejected the notion that there could be such thing as a native Indian form of Islam.

    And who eagerly joined in with these disputes? Who refused to take up the role as mediators of peace given by our Gurus? Who shunned the Dalits and failed to take up their cause? Who eagerly joined arms with Nehru and co? It is a shame to say, but this is what we did. Yes, Sikhs are just as guilty for partitioning Panjab as both the Hindus and Muslims are. Just as Sikhs were butchered and forced to convert to Islam in Pakistan, Muslims in East Panjab too were given the same treatment.

    People can argue on and on about this. They can point their fingers and go 'Look! They started it!' like little children. They can talk about reunification and bringing back their old lands like wannabe emperors. They can talk about how it was all a terrible accident and we can get on with our lives now. But the real truth is that the partition is a warning of what happens when we refuse to recognise the human race as one. It must never be forgotten by any of the parties involved. We all have blood on our hands, British, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh alike.
     
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  5. Harry Haller

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    bravo
     
  6. spnadmin

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    AngloSikhPeace ji

    Would you help by being more specific? How did Sikhs contribute to the madness of dividing up India? My own take on this is - Once Sikhs realized that a land grab was in play, Sikhs made their own appeal for an independent Punjab. That kind of political response is not unusual when matters of nationhood are being negotiated, even today. The Sikh claim was unacceptable to the power brokers named in your essay. Sikhs were put off during the dialog with many different kinds of promises of autonomy and home-rule which were never honored, and were probably never intended to be honored. So shedding light on specifics would be helpful to me.

    The philosophical ideal of seeing the human race as one had already been disfigured during this moment in history. What could Sikhs have done once it was clear that the historical claims of Sikhs and the fundamental political rights of Sikhs were certainly being side-lined? Nonetheless, Sikhs were patient through all the years when they were handed a bill of fake goods.

    Just my thoughts and I stand to be educated in this regard. The partition is not an area where I am fully informed.
     
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    #5 spnadmin, Nov 8, 2013
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  7. AngloSikhPeace

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    There was a piece I read a short time ago (by a Pakistani professor I think) which laid the blame for the partition of Panjab (the actual decision to draw a line rather than the bloodshed that followed) at the feet of the Sikhs. The argument was that the Muslims wanted all of Panjab for themselves, and the Hindus would probably have accepted this just as they accepted the total Pakistani ownership of Sindh. However, the Sikhs would not accept the idea of being under Muslim rule. An independent state would not be possible, so instead the Sikh leadership pushed for the partition of the province into two halves.
    Personally though I feel that it was entirely reasonable for the Sikhs to have feared becoming part of Pakistan. Knowing what the Pakistanis later did in Bengal it is certain that such a move would have been a disaster for the Sikh nation. There was no choice but to push for a partitioned Panjab. But what Sikhs did have a choice about was their involvement in the violence that followed. Rather than remaining neutral, Sikhs joined hands with Hindus in the communal mayhem and killed on just the same scale as the Muslims.

    The real strategic mistake of the Sikhs was to trust Nehru. The project to unify the subcontinent and create a single, Hindi-language nation-state should have been treated with the same level of suspicion as the Pakistan movement, but naively Sikhs gave everything over to the Indian side in the hope that their promises would be honoured. Had the Sikhs been more forceful in their negotiations, more sceptical of Indian intentions, and tried to acquire concrete gains rather than empty promises, there might never have been a later Khalistan conflict at all.

    As for the moral mistake, obviously it was to join in with the partition massacres. It doesn't really matter who started the fighting, revenge murder is still murder. By the end, east Panjab was almost completely ethnically-cleansed of its Muslim population. It was a terrible, terrible black mark on the honour of the Sikh nation as a whole, one that won't disappear. That was the day we failed our Guru and spat in the face of everything we were taught.


    So you are correct that in many ways, the Sikh hand was forced into accepting the partition by other parties. But even a forced hand can still make choices.
     
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  8. spnadmin

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    AngloSikhPeace ji

    I am fully aware of Sikh participation in the mayhem that followed partition immediately thereafter. Unfortunatelly this is always the fall-back argument when a different question is being asked. I am also aware of Sikhs who did make moral choices. Something is missing.

    What are the specifics of how Sikhs contributed to an immoral or amoral partition decision before 1947? During the negotiating phase the British, and Hindus and Muslims of India, had cards on the table. It seems to me that there is an historical record of the heavy-duty negotiators being quite open there would be no place for Sikhs at the table. This in spite of promises to the contrary. Did Sikhs trust others to negotiate for them? Did Sikhs naively believe that their interests in Punjab would be served by men of honour?

    This is a little too convenient especially at a time when no one even knows who represents the best interests of Muslims in Pakistan today.
    Just a little too self-serving of the professor. Punjab was the breadbasket of India and strategically important even now. What reasonable Hindu would let Pakistan have all of Punjab? If my reasoning is even partially correct, then Sikhs look like more like burnt offerings of real-politik and less like the correlative victims of civil conflict.

    p/s Sorry! A Pakistan without Punjab, even part of it, would have been an economically threadbare place. Imagine Pakistan without West Punjab today and my hypothesis seems serious.
     
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  9. AngloSikhPeace

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    Before 1947? I don't think you will find one really. The Sikhs, like any small nation in such a situation, were busy looking out for their independence, and were not in a situation were they could possibly engage in some sort of imperialist plan for their own gain.

    Rather than immoral or greedy, the Sikh leadership repeatedly made incompetent and naive decisions, entrusting everything to British officials and the Indian Congress Party.

    A paper on the events.
    http://www.global.ucsb.edu/punjab/journal/v19_2/Sandhu.pdf

    Note, I don't agree with the conclusion that Sikhs would be better off in Pakistan, especially judging by what happened to Hindus and their own co-religionists in Bangladesh. Think of what would have happened if the Pak army had stormed the Darbar Sahib in 1984 rather than the Indian one. I doubt there would be anything left of Harmandir Sahib. He may be right that the Sikhs would certainly have had more political and cultural clout in Pakistan than in India, but the cost to the Sikhs if things happened to go wrong would have been enormous. In 1947 the Pakistani leadership promised the Sikhs the same position as the Copts in Egypt. Today we know how well that worked out for them.

    The Pakistani plan was to take over all of Panjab because Muslims made up the majority of the province. Would Panjabi Hindus have accepted that? I doubt it, any more than the Sindhi Hindus did. But if losing East Panjab would have been beneficial for the Congress goal of attaining a cohesive India, then the politicians may have thought of it as a necessary sacrifice.
     
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  10. spnadmin

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    OK AngloSikhPeace ji

    You and I must be on the same planetary transmission at this moment. I just found the article that you just posted.

    http://www.global.ucsb.edu/punjab/journal/v19_2/Sandhu.pdf

    I do not think great injustice is made right by spreading blame around in equal proportions, even to those standing on the sidelines. This leaves me wondering why the professor saw the need to 'explain' the 'misguided' nature of Sikh involvement in the partition. Nonetheless,

    After skimming the article, 2 things stand out. Sikh leadership trusted the British to negotiate for them whilst everyone on both sides of the clock in Delhi underestimated how weak Mountbatten was. Sikhs were divided on the issue of communalism and therefore no single political figure would be permitted to have the stature required to negotiate as a Sikh for Sikhs. I hope I am misreading the last one -- because it is ominous to my thoughts of tomorrow.

    Let me see how far I get with this. At least we are getting closer to my question.
     
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  11. dalsingh1zero1

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    So it boils down to lack of Sikh political acumen then? I've always found it staggering that our menfolk were gallivanting on European battlefields, ignorantly blissful to the tornado that was about to hit their homeland. Says a lot.


    I think you are way off here. As horrible as it may sound, laying back and getting slaughtered isn't much of a plan. And plenty of Sikhs didn't murder but saved Muslims.

    You SHOULD point the fingers at the people who unleashed a wave of rape and murder and caused an ugly reaction to it. That's not excusing Sikhs who massacred but lets not forget cause and effect here. Given what the Pakistanis did, OF COURSE there was going to be a serious and hostile reaction.
     
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  12. spnadmin

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    dalsing1zero1 ji

    First have to read that article to see exactly what the counter-arguments are. However, this is my naive take on the matter. As I said I am not well-informed, but pretty good at scoping out political strategy.

    Gandhi made no bones about his dislike of Sikhs. Nehru saw the handwriting on the wall. Punjab could not be let go for economic and strategic reasons. It is the door to Central Asia. For Nehru, half Punjab was better than no Punjab at all. And an undivided Punjab where Sikhs are in the majority? In that scenario Sikhs dominate both the breadbasket and the door to Central Asia. In other words, Sikhs would have to be reckoned with into an uncertain future.

    From a bargaining perspective - letting go of some of Punjab made sense to him both economically and strategically. From the point of view of internal Indian politics - a united Punjab was a threat to Indian communalism.

    The British were going to settle their chips with Nehru and Jinnah. What negotiating position did Sikhs have? Any sense of political obligation to Sikhs -- that only made sense as a thing of the past. They were departing anyway.

    So we know what happened.
     
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  13. spnadmin

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    I am hoping Gyani ji will enter this discussion. Until he does, I am copying here what he wrote to me and Mai Harinder Kaur ji just recently on the question of how Sikhs thought of partition before 1947. Emphasis on BEFORE, when the negotiations were taking place.

    "The SIKHS were actually DEAD AGAINST PARTITION....simply becasue they KNEW they would be the BIGGEST LOSERS..Sikhs had absolutley HUGE Properties in West Punjab - gifted by the British as rewards for World war One contribution - a typical soldiers reward was 25 HECTARES of Land in Baar area (between two rivers) or nearby to water sources !! Many got way way MORE than that !! Secondly the SIKHS had way way MORE SACRED Gurdwars in WEST Punjab...East Punjab had almost NONE except for Amritsar ( Which was also a MUSLIM MAJORITY area and was going to paksitan together with Lahore !!) Master tara Singh BURNT the Flag of Muslim league in Lahore and as aresult his house was PLOUGHED OVER !! by the muslim league goondas !! Actually NEHRU BOUGHT OVER the Sikh rep Baldev Singh by promising him the Defence Minister Post in Delhi..and eh betrayed the SIKHS by telling the British the Sikhs agree to divide Punjab but must get AMRITSAR and Gurdwaras like Nankanna which had 20,000 acres of property attached, dehra sahib panja sahib kartarpur etc...

    Baldev Singh regretted on hsi deathbed that he sold out his kaum..."
     
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