Friday, August 17, 2012

The story behind Indian Independence -II


A stunned silence prevailed in the house of Commons when Attlee announced his majesty Government's desire to concede freedom to India by a date not later than June 1948. This did not prevent Churchill to make a last ditch attempt. "It is with deep grief that I watch the clattering down of the British Empire with all its glories and all the services it has rendered to mankind. Many have defended Britain against her foes. None can defend her against herself.....let us not add by shameful flight, by a premature hurried scuttle-- at least let us not add to the pangs of sorrow so many of us feel, the taint and sneer of shame,” he made an impassioned appeal. But this was one occasion when his skills as an excellent orator let him down. For once, instead of going by his dictate's, the House of Commons that day verbalized history. As soon as the division bell rang, the mandate to end British rule in India was passed by an overwhelming majority. With just 14 months remaining for 30 June, the days of the British Raj in India were numbered.

But the fact is that like everyone else, Mountbatton himself was blank as on which date to declare Indian as an independent nation. Also then not many people aware that the hidden agenda behind the new viceroy's charter was being dictated by a six year old plan to dissect India mooted by the cabinet mission headed by Sir Stafford Cripps which had come to India in 1942 (When at the peak of World War the Japanese army was on the verge of overrunning India.) Cripps plan contained Britain's solemn pledge to accord a dominion status after the War, in return for Indian army's cooperation to defeat the Japanese. The Cripps plan bent dangerously towards considering Muslim League’s discordant cries for an Islamic state, which was unpalatable to the congress leadership. Gandhi had bluntly asked Cripps to "Take the next plane home" as what he was offering was unacceptable "post dated cheque on failing bank." Whereas everyone thought that the plan was bunked once Cripps went back to England, years later this was to be the guiding light behind the new viceroy's charter. As part of this hidden agenda though Mountbatton was to avoid making the same mistakes as Cripps of trying of force an agreement upon the belligerent Indian leaders, instead he had six months to get them agree to a unified India. If he failed to do so by 1st October 1947, he was to revert to the second alternative of having a Muslim dominated Pakistan carved out of a fragmented India with a weak government at the centre.
As per his plan Mountbatton had upto 1st October 1947 to decide on the future course of action by the quick succession of events that followed his arrival in India even swept him off his feet. The communal frenzy claimed 41 lives in Calcutta and left 41 mutilated bodies on pavements of Bombay- all within a span of two days. The government, the civil service and the law and order machinery were bitterly divided between the Congress and Muslim League leaders who barely spoke to each. The feedback received from many a seasoned India hands including Field Marshal Sir Claude Auckinleck, commander-in-chief of the Indian army were far from satisfactory. With all his expectations of landing in a marvelous country known for its hospitality and leisurely Tiger safaris turning out to be plain wishful thinking, Mountbatton was quick to realize that he was sitting atop a simmering volcano, which could burst and moment. This quick obviously shook the man who back home in London had proudly boasted that he could find a solution to India's problems in ten days time. But within the first 10 days of his stay Mountbatton  made the most important decision of his life, to transfer power at the earliest possible, much before June 1948 the date himself had proposed to Attlee his first report to the his majesty's government on 2 April 1947. Mountbatton spelt out his concerns, “the scene here is one of unrelieved gloom. I can see little ground on which to build any agreed solution for the future of India. The only conclusion that I have been able to come to is that unless I act quickly, I will find the beginnings of a civil war on my hands."

Privately Mountbatton started searching the corners of his mind for possible alternatives for Indian independence. He was personally of the view that the greatest single legacy Britain could leave behind was a single and undivided India and did not want history to remember him as the man who divided the land which constituted ‘16 million of the 52 million square mile land on the surface of the globe.’ Even his chief of staff Lord Ismay wanted India to look back upon its association with Britain with pride.

What followed was hectic round of parleys with Gandhi, Nehru and Vallabh Bhai Patel on one side and Mohammad Ali Jinnah on the other. Like Gandhi and Patel, Jinnah too was a Gujarati from Kathiawar and just like the others, he was a lawyer who had practiced and honed his debating skills at London's Inns court. But unlike Gandhi, Jinnah had returned as a ‘pucca-brawn sahib’ from England. Despite his failing health, this 6 foot tall man appeared to live on “will-power, whiskey and cigarettes” and had to be fortified with secretly administered injections by Dr. J.A.L Patel a Bombay physician who had cured him of tuberculosis. But all this did not prevent him from relishing Caviar, Champagne, Brandy and Oysters, disliking khadi and wearing expensive English- style dresses which he changed three to four times a day. A man who once told Gandhi that civil disobedience was for ‘the ignorant and the illiterate’ despite being a Gujarati he just couldn't stand Gandhi whom he considered to be a orthodox Hindu and a "cunning fox". He found Nehru to be an equally despicable “arrogant Brahmin" who was “only fit to be an English professor and not a politician”.

A successful lawyer who strayed into politics, Jinnah was for all practical purpose a congressmen fighting against the British till the dhoti-clad ‘uncivilized’ Gandhi emerged as leader of the Congress. A further insult to his injured ego came after the Government of India Act, which gave some local autonomy to the Indian provinces, was passed in 1935. Buoyed by its initial success in the 1937 elections, the congress refused to share power with Jinnah and his Muslim League even in the province which had a substantial Muslim majority. This proved to be the proverbial last straw and Jinnah swore to get Pakistan as he and the Muslim League could never get a fair deal till as long as Congress ruled India.

A man who could recite fewer verses from the holy Quran than Gandhi and could hardly speak a few sentences in Urdu- the only thing Muslim about Jinnah was that it was the religion of his forefathers. A man, who ate pork, drank heavily, shaved his beard every morning and avoided the Friday Namaz at the mosque, Jinnah was an unlikely candidate as a Muslim leader, yet he swore to lay the foundations of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland.

When Louis Mountbatton arrived in India, Jinnah immediately realized that this was the man he had to cultivate, if he wanted to get anywhere near achieving his impossible dream of Pakistan. Even though Jinnah's first attempt at diplomacy proved to be a fiasco this did nothing to kill his unrelenting enthusiasm in trying to persuade Mountbatton that ‘an urgent surgical operation’ was the need  of the hour to save India standing as the verge of disaster.

Jinnah arrived well prepared for his first meeting with the new Viceroy and his wife Edwina. It was a case of hours of meticulous planning going haywire at the last minute when Jinnah who in all  his rehearsal  prior to the meeting had visualized Edwina Mountbatton to be standing between him and the Viceroy-- without even realizing that  their positions had  change blurted out the practiced phrase--'a rose between two thorns'. Indeed Jinnah standing in the middle proved to be the greatest thorn in Mountbatton flesh one which the admiral wouldn't forget for long times to come.

Jinnah was adamant in his demand for partition and on the basis of his two nation theory argued that the Indian states of Punjab and Bengal with Muslim majority should go to Pakistan. Mountbatton who was reluctant to give in to his demand for Pakistan in the first place tried to reason out with him that these state also had a sizable Hindu population and going by his own logic he would have to divide Punjab and Bengal so that the Muslim areas could go to Pakistan and the Hindu areas remained in India. When Jinnah protested that this would give him an economically ''moth-eaten'' Pakistan, Mountbatton who was not in favor of giving him any made it clear that moth-eaten or not this is all he was going to get and could either take it or leave, ''you have got your Pakistan, which at one in the world thought you'd get, I know you call it moth-eaten, but it’s Pakistan,'' Mountbatton later told Jinnah.

What Jinnah failed to realize was that even after the surgical amputation to carve out a Muslim dominated Pakistan, India would still have almost 50 million Muslims-making it the Country with the third largest Muslim Population after Indonesia and Pakistan. Apart from diluting the strength that undivided India could enjoy in world affairs, Jinnah also failed to appreciate that the Pakistan he was demanding would always remain a logical and geographic aberration. Firstly the Punjabi and Bengali Muslims had nothing else in common apart from a shared religion. They did not speak the same language and did not have to anything in common apart from shared cultural, linguistic or historic traditions. As Lord Curzon who had tried to divide Bengal into two administratively manageable halves on the basis of religion had learnt after much bloodbath in 1905-both Punjabis and Bengalis were, Indians first, Punjabi or Bengalis next and Hindus or Muslims later. Yet apart from the insurmountable problems in dividing the heats and mind of the Punjabis and Bengalis by physical boundaries, Jinnah also failed to appreciate the problems he was in for given the fact that, the Pakistan of his dreams would be a geographic nightmare with two heads 970 miles  apart with the mighty Himalayas and Indian territory in between. Even as early as April 1974, Sir Fredrick Burrows the last British Governor General of Bengal had predicted that East Bengal was condemned to turn into the  greatest rural slum in history in the event of India's partition and Mountbatton himself believed that the future Pakistan was so inherently unviable that it would ''fail on this own demerits''. In fact as Mountbatton told C. Raja Gopalachari who was to be the first Indian Governor General after independence, “East Bengal would be out of Pakistan in a quarter of a century”-his prediction came true a year earlier in 1971 when Bangladesh became independent. But Jinnah still insisted on his sandwich of doom-Pakistan. Almost on the verge of death due to failing health the stubbornness behind Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan was partly due to the fact that he did not want death to cheat him of the glory and splendor as a head of state. Like nothing else he wanted to be the first Governor General of free-Pakistan. When Mountbatton pointed out that he had chosen the wrong job as Governor General was only a Symbolic post whereas Prime Minister enjoyed all the Powers, true to his dictatorial style of running the Muslim League the future Quaid-e-Azam coldly replied: "In Pakistan, I will be Governor General and the Prime Minister would do what I tell him to do."

When every logic and argument failed, partition of India was inevitable. And plan Balkan named after Balkanization of states of central Europe after World War I took shape. Under this plan each of India's 11 provinces was given the option to choose whether to join Pakistan or remain in India. By now Patel and Nehru once strongly in favor of unified India had reconciled themselves to partition. Rearing to get down to the task of building an independent India Patel suggested that Jinnah should be given Pakistan, which anyway wouldn’t survive and five years down the line Muslim league would be knocking India's doors for reunification. Nehru on the other hand detested partition but saw himself as its greatest beneficiary as with Jinnah gone, there would be no one to contest his position and the future prime Minister of India so he too gave up his protests. Gandhi-who at one stage suggested giving 'the whole baby to the Muslims, instead of dissecting it' implying that Jinnah and Muslim League be offered the chance to form the government of the whole of India instead of a part of it, was left all alone ironically the man who once said “let the whole nation be in flames. We will not concede one inch to Pakistan" and whose instinctive understanding of the pulse and soul of the masses convinced him that partition would lead to sickening slaughter and terrible violence, too gave in without much of a protest. A broken hearted man he timidly told the viceroy that he was unable to carry his colleagues with him and silently accepted defeat. But this was one silence; future generation of Indians would never pardon Gandhi for. He himself realized this and paid a heavy price for it. "Today I find myself alone. Even Patel and Nehru think I am wrong and peace is sure to return if partition is agreed upon. They wonder if I am not disoriented with age... May be all of them are right and I alone am floundering in darkness,” he lamented.

"Everybody is eager to garland my photos and status but nobody wants to follow my advice,” said the frail old main who could see ahead of times and how true his own assessment has proved even today. "They call me a Mahatma but I tell you I am not even treated by them as a sweeper" he bitterly told a friend later. “I shall perhaps not be able to witness it but should the evil I apprehend overtake India and her independence be imperiled, let posterity know the agony this old soul went thinking of it" he told Manu.

At this stage Sardar Patel-the iron-man of India was quick to realize that like himself Mountbatton too was in a hurry to get on his mission so he went a step further to propose that like Canada, India and Pakistan be declared dominion nations under the commonwealth instead of waiting for the lengthy procedures of drawing up the constitution and electing people's representatives to whom the power could be transferred. The Congress, he suggested could be prepared to accept the commonwealth, if Mountbatton acted quickly and ensured that India was granted independence long before the deadline of 30 June 1948. This clinched the deal. surprisingly even Winston Churchill who once believed that the subcontinent in the hands of “inexperienced, theoretical and probably corrupt Indian's seething with communal passions could not even survive for long without the efficient British administration of proven integrity, too agreed to lend his conservative party's support to the legislation for granting independence to India in the British parliament-if Mountbatton could work around all the Indian parties to publicly accept his plan.

Thus with Gandhi marginalized even in his own party and Attlee, Churchill, Patel and Nehru backing him-Mountbatton's task became all the more easier as Jinnah though vacillating in his last few days couldn't bring himself  to say: no to the "moth-eaten" Pakistan for which he had lobbied so hard. Mountbatton whose patience was running low called Jinnah to his side and said. “If you do not you head Mr. Jinnah then you are through and there'll be nothing more I can do for you. Everything will collapse. This is not a threat. It is a prophecy if you don't nod your head at that moment, my usefulness here will be ended and you will have lost your Pakistan and as far as I am concerned, you can go to hell. Jinnah was always in favor of independent Pakistan joining the commonwealth but for the Congress it was a identity crisis as since 1857 for the last 90 odd years it had been fighting to server its links with the British imperialists. But Sardar Patel’s proposal changed the scenario.

2 June 1947: The seven men representing the hopes and aspirations of the 400 million Indians, waited with baited breath in the viceroy’s study for Mountbatton to announce the future course of action approved the British cabinet 48 hours ago. The Congress was represented by its president Acharya Kriplani, Nehru and Patel with Jinnah, Liaqat Ali and Rab Nistar from the Muslim league and Sardar Baldev Singh representing the six million Sikhs who were one of the most likely people to be affected by whatever decision was taken by the others. Gandhi was Conspicuous by his absence, as he did not hold any official position in the Congress. Before any of seven men got a chance to express any last minute reservation, Mountbatton plucked the ground under their feet by placing a 34 page typed in single space titled “The Administrative Consequences of Partition.” It was for the time that seven leaders got a glimpse of the magnitude of the problems that lay in store. While everyone seemed to agree that partition was inevitable, none of them had so far realized how difficult it was going be. How were they to divide the Taj Mahal or the Indus River, which had centuries of common and shared traditions behind them? While they could still somehow divide the material assets like cash in banks, stamps in post  offices, books in libraries, research centres, roads, bridges, universities. Hospitals, Furniture inkpots or brooms but how were they to divide the brains, hearts and minds where common memories and shared moments were stored? All the seven men were so much stunned by the magnitude of the assets and losses to be transferred to even think of asking the next question, when was this going to take place. Later when Gandhi came to know about the proceedings of this meeting his spontaneous reaction was of extreme sorrow but he simply said, "May God protect them and grant them all wisdom".