Why Gandhiji was so anguished at partition of India that on August 15, 1947 he wasn’t in Delhi

gandhi-jinhahBy Rajindar Sachar*

Some people have attributed Congress acceptance of partition of India in 1947 to the fact that “the persuasive voice of Gandhiji which made the working committee accept the partition and which but for Gandhiji’s intervention, working committee might not have approved”.

This is grossly unfair and presents a wrong picture of final efforts by Gandhiji to prevent partition throughout, upto the final stages. In fact it is now well known that when Jinnah was insistent, Gandhiji made a last desperate attempt by asking Nehru and Patel to step aside and let Jinnah be the first prime minister of undivided India and also let him from his ministry, the way he likes, including the choice if he wants to have only Muslim League Ministers in the Central Cabinet and assuring him that the Congress will not object.

One cannot say what Jinnah’s reactions would have been. But considering that Jinnah is on record on insisting that his house in Mumbai/ Delhi be not declared evacuee property because he wished to have good Indo – Pak relations and would like to spend one month every year in India and continue his contacts, it would have been worth while trying. But this suggestion could not be given a concrete shape because Nehru and Patel forthright said negative to this proposal. So for many of us who were quite grown up at that time this reference to Gandhiji’s acceptance of partition is painful and does not represent true factual position.

In fact, a reference to the socialist leader, Dr. Rammanohar Lohia’s book, “Guilty Men of India’s Partition”, and who was present in that final Congress working committee meeting gives a correct factual position. Dr. Lohia who along with Jayaprakash Narain attended that meeting has written:

“I should like especially to bring out two points that Gandhiji made at this meeting. He turned to Mr. Nehru and Sardar Patel in mild complaint that they had not informed him of the scheme of partition before committing themselves to it. Before Gandhiji could make out his point fully, Mr. Nehru intervened with some passion to say that he had kept him fully informed. On Mahatma Gandhi’s repeating that he did not know of the scheme of partition, Mr. Nehru slightly altered his earlier observation. He said that Noakhali was so far away and that, while he may not have described the details of the scheme he had broadly written of partition to Gandhiji…

“I will accept Mahatma Gandhi’s version of the case, and not Mr. Nehru’s and who will not? One does not have to dismiss Mr. Nehru as a liar. All that is at issue here is whether Mahatma Gandhi knew of the scheme of partition before Mr. Nehru and Sardar Patel had committed themselves to it. It would not do for Mr. Nehru to publish vague letters which he might have written to Mahatma Gandhi doling out hypothetical and insubstantial information. There was definitely a hole in the corner aspect of this business. Mr. Nehru and Sardar Patel had obviously between themselves decided that it would be best not to scare Gandhiji away before the deed was definitely resolved upon.

“Keeping turned towards Messrs Nehru and Patel, Gandhiji made his second point. He wanted the Congress party to honour the commitments made by its leaders. He would therefore ask the Congress to accept the principle of partition. After accepting the principle, the Congress should make a declaration concerning its execution. It should ask the British government and the Viceroy to step aside, once the Congress and the Muslim League had signified their acceptance of partition. The partitioning of the country should be carried out jointly by the Congress party and the Muslim League without the intervention of a third party. This was, I thought so at that time and still do, a grand tactical stroke.

“Much has been said about the saint having simultaneously been a tactician, but this fine and cunning proposal has, to my knowledge, not so far been put on record… there was no need for anyone else to oppose the proposal. It was not considered. I am writing this to put record straight”.

Gandhiji’s anguish at the partition of the country was so unbearable that he refused to be in Delhi on 15th August – what nobility that the greatest fighter for the freedom of India refused to share this glory and left Delhi to fight against the communal carnage taking place at Calcutta and to give solid assurance of safety to the minorities!

There is another aspect which is not so publicly commented, namely, that though I accept that conditions in the country had reached a level that it was not possible to prevent partition, but yet we have not given sufficient thought to the fact that millions of death, most immeasurable destruction in the process of partition could have been averted if the leaders of the parties had shown statesmanship in carrying out the process of partition.

It is well known that Prime Minister Attlee had given June 1948 as the date by which British government will leave India when Mountbatten was sent to India in March 1947. Had this schedule been observed necessary and detailed arrangements for the safety of millions of population moving from both sides of India and Pakistan could have been made. No doubt, pain, slaughters and mutual hatred would still have been there. But both the governments could have made safe arrangements for exchange of population and kept the government machinery intact for doing the needful.

But no, it did not happen – and the reason was the unexpected unilateral announcement by Mountbatten in June 1947 that Independence Day would be on August 15th 1947, which left no time for any adequate and safe arrangements to be made for such unprecedented large migration of population. Of course, no one knows why this sudden announcement by Mountbatten at a press conference in June 1947 fixing 15th August 1947 as Independence Day was made.

The real reason was the vanity and self-glorification of Mountbatten, who had accepted the surrender of Japanese Navy on 15th August 1945, when he was the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command (SEAC), of Allied powers. Our politicians were unfortunately too self-obsessed with ignorance and vanity and as consequence kept ominous silence resulting in the death of millions and the destruction of massive property. Can history forgive them? I doubt very much.

*Source: PUCL Bulletin, March 2017

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