IPF Webinar on Partition of India
August 21, 2021
Prof. Jagbir Singh, Chancellor, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda
Prof. Raghuvendra Tanwar, Professor Emeritus, Kurukshetra University
Dr. Kuldeep Ratnoo, Director, India Policy Foundation
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo:
I welcome everyone to today’s webinar. The topic of today’s webinar, “Partition of India”is timely and important considering the prevailing situation in the world and especially in ourneighbouring countries. The younger generation of today predominantly get the information on partition from secondary sources like books, television footages, internet etc. and do not get objective accounts of what really happened. They do not have in-depth knowledge about partition. To understand this topic better, we have invited two highly experienced scholars to speak on the topic. We express our gratitude to Prof Jagbir Singhji and Prof Raghuvendra Tanwarji for accepting our invitation to speak today.
I first extend my welcome to Prof Jagbir Singhji. He has over 50 years of experience in Punjabi literature and culture. He has authored several books and has presented papers in numerous national and international seminars. He has edited several volumes and has given in-depth insights into Indian knowledge systems. He has edited the NCERT textbooks on Indian knowledge systems for classes XI and XII. He has been associated with India Policy Foundation for a long time and has been a constant source of guidance for us. I once again welcome Prof Jagbir Singh ji to today’s webinar. Thank you for being with us sir.
Prof Raghuvendra Tanwarji is an expert of modernIndian history. He taught history at Kurukshetra University and retired as professor. Presently, he is the Director of Haryana Academy of History and Culture. He has several research publications and books on modern history to his credit. Among his most recent works is a book on partition of India. He has deep knowledge of pre-independence and post-independence history of India. He is also associated with India Policy Foundation and has been guiding us. I welcome you sir and request you to share your thoughts on the partition of India.
Prof. Raghuvendra Tanwar:
Thank you Kuldeep ji. I am very happy to be associated with this online discussion on the partition of India. Most of us have heard something or the other about India’s partition. Some have seen films; some have read books and others have heard different versions. So, I will not be touching on things that are very familiar to you like the stories that have gone down from generation to generation. What I will be sharing with you are key fundamentals which are not commonly known with regard to the partition of India. It is very important to understand the concept of a mainstream narrative. I will deviate from the issue of partition for a few minutes.
Through the ages, the historical discourse or historical narrative is usually controlled by those who have emerged victorious. So, you have mainstream narratives that could be dubbed as ‘selective’,for example, the freedom movement in India in the mainstream narrative. What do I mean by the mainstream narrative? It is what we teach in our schools, colleges, on which we test our civil servants, we test candidates in our entrance examinations etc. It is the story that you are expected to answer. So, the mainstream narrative of India’s freedom struggle would invariably mean the story of one particular perception. The common student or common person doesn’t really understand the nuances involved. The struggle for India’s freedom was not monochromatic. There were so many streams which have gone unknown and unnoticed. You talk of revolutionaries; most would come up with a few names like Shaheed Bhagat Singh and few others. But thousands of others were involved in all this. Likewise, the mainstream narrative talks of the Gandhi movements, the peace movements etc., but no one has really paid so much attention to what really happened in 1942. The point I am trying to make is, the monochromatic the narrative is, whether it is of the freedom movement or anything else, it is often just one side of the story.
When you talk of partition of India, it is a classic example of a story that is only partly explained. The mainstream narrative has hidden so much from us in what we call the distortions to history or misrepresentation of history. The falseness of the narrative in the partition issue that has been spread for 75 years is that the differences among the major communities were irreconcilable. The second narrative is that partition was unavoidable. The partition crisis that happened in 1947 is a result of a historical process. It was a bubble that burst in 1947. This is also a false narrative. The third false narrative on partition is that it enjoyed mass support. I have been working on this issue for almost 30 years now. I have travelled the world; I have not been able to see this mass support anywhere. Another false narrative was that partition would solve the communal problem. The fifth and the most important point is that partition in the mainstream narrative has been treated as an extra baggage. These are the false streams that have gone around.
When you talk of partition, what is really critical is that it destroyed a way of life. Out of the 29 districts in pre-partition Punjab, there was not even one district that did not have representation from all communities. We could say that it was a Sikh village but it was improbable that the village did not have any Muslims. This cultural social evolution of Punjab society that existed for so many centuries was supposedly challenged. Co-existence was a way of life. My focus is on Punjab. The most important thing when it comes to partition is that violence that happened was spontaneous. There were tensions and stress before too considering that there were two major communities that had different languages, festivals etc. But there was never so much stress that communities were asked to leave from that place. This has never happened in the history of Punjab. This was the first time that a majority community had said that the minority community cannot live there and exchange of population had to be done. It was partition of society. It was partition of an evolutionary process that had existed for hundreds of years, if not thousands.
I will briefly give you some figures. It is estimated that about 6 million non-Muslims moved into what became India and about 6.5 million Muslims moved out to what became then West Pakistan and today’s Pakistan. And an estimated 4 million non-Muslims moved out of then East Pakistan and today’s Bangladesh into India. About 1 million people Muslims moved out from India to today’s Bangladesh. The figures of the killings have different dimensions. After having spent a lot of time on this, and reading the works of Prof Kirpal Singh, who spent a lifetime studying partition, I can say that around 5,00,000-6,00,000 people died in the partition. Some people claim nearly 20 lakh people died, but that figure seems exaggerated. The official figures in archives are around 30 or 40 thousand, but it is generally accepted that 5 to 6 lakh people died. The estimated loss of property due to partition, according to a study conducted by Prof C.N. Vakil of University of Bombay, is pegged at around Rupees 2.5 lakh crore of today’s value. The most dramatic figure about partition relates to women. We don’t have any figures of the number of women that were abducted, violated or who disappeared. But even the most conservative sources would agree to around 1,00,000 women being abducted or violated.
The other narrative which we need to understand deeply and which have been greatly understated is the nature of violence. There is no comparison to this in the history of civil wars. We can say that Hitler’s Germany was much more violent, Mao’s China was much more violent, Stalin’s Russia was much more violent but those were the armed people. They had arms and power and the government was unleashing violence. That was a different story. The kind of civil war that happened in India was not seen anywhere in the world. In Lahore, they had to open a hospital only to treat women whose breasts weremutilated. Countless such stories are there. When you check the actual records, you will not be able to reconcile with this fact. This is something that you need to understand. When the honourable prime minister referred to the horrors of partition and some people said this was being dramatized, that was very unfortunate. You have to understand the horrors of partition. You have toread about thosehorrors to understand the seriousness of the issue.
The other day Julio Riberio, who was DGP of Punjab many years ago, wrote an article in The Tribune, saying it is incorrect to remember the horrors of partition. I was shocked. I realised that he was born in Goa, was in the Maharashtra cadre and served in Punjab for a few years, so he would not understand the nuances of partition. The same thing happened with me too once whenI was in University of Southampton. There, they had organised a program on 60 years of Indian independence and I was asked to address the conference. When I finished addressing, a lady scholar from Cambridge asked me why do scholars from Punjab, Haryana and Delhi draw attention to the horrors of partition? For a minute, I was taken aback and couldn’t find an answer to the query. But then I realised that this is part of a broader narrative, partition is not to be discussed and the horrors are not to be discussed because it is an extra baggage and we should forget about it. So, this narrative of understating the partition of India is nothing new.
I am raising a very fundamental question. Do unpleasant events in our history cease to be history? Should we forget them because it is unpleasant and it destroys the beautiful picture of Indian independence by being a blackspot? We need to be answering these. There are thousands of families that have suffered the trauma of partition. History cannot be forgotten. Nations do not forget their history, whether it is good history or unpleasant history. Therefore, the horrors of partition cannot be forgotten and should not be forgotten. In today’s age if 15-20 people die in a communal clash, we will have headlines on it for days together. Has anyone ever fixed responsibility for partition? Have we questioned why this happened? These things don't happen suddenly. Something must have gone wrong somewhere. When we talk of 5,00,000 people dying or 6,00,000 people dying and thehuge loss of property, these things do not happen all of a sudden. Have we ever questioned this? Perhaps we never questioned this as it was wrapped in the larger narrative of freedom movement. I am no less patriotic than anyone else. But after 75 years of independence, we do have the right to ask this question. History is always viewed from a distance. 75 years is a reasonably good distance. Now we will have to raise unpleasant questions which we have begun to realise and they have to be answered. When you are not asking or answering a question, it means you have absorbed the mainstream narrative that has understated the horrors of partition.
I will touch upon how this anarchy emerged and where did things go wrong. I am not holding anyone responsible. A teacher of history should not make a judgement. It was told to us that partition was a continuous evolutionary process. I suggest that it was the colonial mindset. If you look at the decade of 1940s, it was the by-product of the world view of colonial powers. India was too big to be allowed to remain so. The geostrategic location of India was such that it could not be allowed to exist in such a big manner. It is very important to understand that the whole concept of the two-nation theory was very elitist in nature. This was not the thought of common populace. Few people would decide on this but they would pass on the impression that this was from the masses. Please be assured that the partition and the two-nation theory did not enjoy mass support. I have no doubt in this. It was an elitist decision, a leadership decision and the common man had no interest in the two-nation theory. Historical coexistence was a fact. Two-nation theory could be refuted from its root.
I came across a writing of Jayaprakash Narayan. He has questioned the credibility of the Constituent Assembly and the Interim Parliament on decisions such as this. He says that they did not have the nation’s support even when some of them were elected at some point. Please remember that at that time no more than 15 per cent of the population had the right to cast votes in the elections. That 15 per cent most often comprised income tax payers, senior government officials, big landlords etc. They did not represent the majority voice of the nation. This is none other than the great JP who said this in one of his writings.
The India Congress Committee approved partition on the 14June 1947. But do you know about the day long debate that took place? Gandhiji walked out of the meeting and it was not a unanimous resolution of the AICC. If you look at the figures, you get a feeling that there was consensus. But when you look at the debate that took place, you will get a different picture. Not even ten per cent of the speakers were with the leaders on this, all of them were in opposition. Even the socialists like Lohia, JP, Acharya Kripalani, Rajendra Prasad, Tandon, you could go on. There was intense opposition to this. So, you have to remember that partition did not enjoy unanimity and it was opposed very clearly.
Another fundamental question I want to raise here.Did Britain have the right to sit on judgement? Why did we give Britishers the right to decide on partition? The narrative of freedom movement was anti-Crown and anti-British. Gandhiji was a mass movement leader and the idea that was sold to the masses was to expel the British because they have done great harm to India. But if you look at the history of Britishers in India after 1945, then it was the exact opposite of the slogans that were raised till then.
Mountbatten gave the first Jawaharlal Nehru lecture in Cambridge in 1966. There he said that he attended around 200 farewell lunches and dinners during his brief stayof 15 months in India. You can imagine the kind of environment that was going on. We felt obliged to British when they were about to leave. Mountbatten’s successor C. Rajagopalachari said in the farewell lecture, “You left us with a kiss and not with a bang.” Jawaharlal Nehru said that thousands would be unhappy as Mountbatten was leaving.
When Queen Elizabeth got married in November 1947 in England, a lavish dinner was organised in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Union Jack was unfurled besides the Tricolour. The reports say that wine and whisky flowed in celebration. Remember, in November 1947, the blood had not yet dried in Punjab. When Multan and Rawalpindi were burning in March 1947, Inter Asia Relation Conference was held in Delhi on March 21, 1947. Thirty seven villages were burnt just 100 kilometres from the venue of the conference and 4000 people were killed, as per Tribune’s headline of that day. See the paradox! I am not casting any aspersions. I am only trying to create the context of the anarchy.
In 1945, England had a debt of 3000 million pounds, their stores were empty and street violence was seen everywhere. Was it really possible for them to handle a vast nation like India at that point? It was beyond their capacity. They would have had to leave in 6-7 months or within a year. The British administrator Penderel Moon writes that India would have blown up in Britain’s face. Many opinion makers, like Ian Stephens, who was then editor of The Statesman, wrote that India was ready to blow up. So,they were already running away but we felt obliged to them. This question occurred to me late, it did not occur when I wrote my first book on partition. How did we land up giving the British the right to sit on our judgement? Before leaving India, they sent one official to India and he took all the decisions about our future, and we agreed. Sir Radcliff was given time till June 1948 to work out modalities for the British to leave India but they advanced it by a year. What could be a bigger irony than this?
Whenever I speak on partition, the question that I get asked everywhere is why therewas anarchy and violence. There are two sides to this – one is the ground reality and the other is the flaw in policy. First, I will speak about the policy flaw. Sikhs, because of their dynamic nature, were present all over Punjab. They were an integral part of partition and were given assurance that the exchange of population would take place along with property. Sikh leadership realised by May that property exchange will not happen and only population exchange will take place. Jawaharlal Nehru was in Mussoorie on 29 May 1947 and he rushed to Amritsar by road on 30 May 1947 to meet the Akali leadership at 11 pm. Nehru gave Akali leaders an assurance that property will be exchanged along with population.
On 4 June 1947, a historic press conference was held in Delhi where transfer of power was announced. Sardar Patel was conducting the press conference. A question was raised regarding population exchange in that conference and Mountbatten answered in the negative and said hardly 2000-4000 people may change sides. You get shocked when you read reports of that time. Would you believe that the first conference to organise the exchange of population was held only on the 7th of September. By then Punjab and Bengal had lost hundreds of thousands of people. On 30th September, the violence was at its peak in Punjab. I will give you an anecdotal incident. Prime Minister Nehru and Liaqat Ali, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, went on a Peace Mission. Durgadas, then a young reporter with Hindustan Times, who later became its editor, had accompanied them. Hewrote that a huge crowd of Sikhs was coming from Pakistan and they were so aggrievedthat they did not even look at the two prime ministers. Nehru, to show his concern, crossed the road and by coincidence spoke to an old Sikh woman. He asked her from where she was coming, but instead of answering, sheasked Nehru angrily in herrustic Punjabi “if you had to do this, then why didn’t you tell us?” I am quoting from what Durgadas wrote. This is the gist of partition, coming from a rustic woman who had no idea what Nehru had become and what really transpired between leaders before the partition.
Gandhiji repeatedly said in his evening prayers that the rich had fled and the poor had been left behind. 90 to 95 percent people were poor. Very few were resourceful and well informed. Exchange of property in Punjab started as early as 1946. I have seen columns of advertisements seeking property. So, if you look at the reports of June-August 1947, you will see that all senior leaders were appealing to the masses that it was a temporary arrangement and nothing would happen, sostay where you are and peace will prevail. This question has to be answered as to why people had to run at the last minute? Because they were assured that nothing would happen and it was only a temporary arrangement and it would be resolved soon. I would agree with the basic understanding that the masses faced the brunt of the partition, the violence and the trauma because they had no idea what was coming. I am married into a family which had faced the trauma of partition. In May 1947, they had come to Manali from Pakistan. By the time they could go back, partition happened and they could come back to India with only a handful of clothes. Thousands and thousands of families had gone through this trauma of partition because it was not projected as a permanent solution. Big leaders were appealing for communal harmony but they had already changed sides. All the ground level British officers were amazed at how Indian leaders had accepted dominion status at the cost of division. So many officers had written this in their personal papers which are now preserved at the Southampton, Centre for South Asian Studies in Cambridge and other major universities.
The second major issue of anarchy is the advancement of date of partition. Much has been written about this, so many theories have been proposed and fine pieces of scholarship have been done on this. In Shimla, in early May 1947, Krishna Menon met Lord Mountbatten and discussion took place. Mountbatten was very keen that India should retain its Commonwealth connection with the Crown and this is from Mountbatten’s personal minutes in his handwriting. I am not quoting this from a secondary source. He had written that Krishna Menon said that India would consider a Commonwealth connection if the Dominion status was preponed. If independence is given in 1947 instead of 1948, then Congress leadership would consider remaining part of Commonwealth. Mountbatten wrote that this idea was so great that he felt like as if it came from his own staff, his own team. Then the historic meeting with Nehru took place and the whole process was preponed. British officers were stunned. Jenkins was the Governor of Punjab. He was one great man who had foreseen everything. In his telegrams, he asks how it is possible to divide Punjab in a span of just one or twoor three months.He said it wasn’t possible. Ian Stephens, the editor of Statesman which was not a pro-Indian paper, said that it was a total disaster. How can you prepone such a big task by a year? Proper planning was needed for the division of country. But this hurried decision caused all the problems.
Violence happens only if something has gone seriously wrong which brings us to the third aspect of anarchy. W.H.A.Rich was SSP Lahore which was the most important position inPunjab in 1947. In his personal diary wrote that he was in a holiday mood and was supposed to depart Punjab in May 1947 but he suddenly got a letter that he was supposed to guide the partition of Punjab. This had happened with so many British officials. I was going through the figures of Indian Civil Service officials who agreed to partition and found that 55 per cent of them had not made a choice. The entire Punjab government was on the move. You will be shocked to know that the Governor of Punjab could not convey an order from Shimla to Jalandhar. He used the channel of All India Radio to convey the message to his officers. Communications did not exist.
How was the government functioning? I will draw your attention. On 3 November 1947, there was a meeting of Punjab Legislative Assembly. You can read the statements of Gopichand Bhargav, Shanno Devi where they said that politicians were to a large extent responsible for the violence in Punjab and they also stated that officers were murdering their own community people for properties. The premier of Punjab said on the floor of the Assembly on 3 November 1947 that there is so much corruption in Punjab that it is impossible to change it. So, the anarchy did not happen suddenly, it did not fall like a parachute. You must also understand that the divide was so impulsive. The main aim of violence was to humiliate others, to destroy the authority of the male figure. It was chauvinistic. Women were abducted to insult the head of the family. One of the major causes of violence in Punjab was the massacreon the trains. There are reports which state that trains were halted for days together in Delhi or Lahore just because they were unable to find drivers from the community to which the passengers who were being ferried belonged to. Reports also state that on many occasions the nearby villagers were aware that a train was coming even when the officials were in the dark. The whole system was corrupted – from the policemen to the patwaris who were allotting properties in Punjab. Most British officials took their work seriously. We have several examples. In Multan, a British SSP was injured, a very fine officer who saved a train in Amritsar was killed and there are several other countless examples.
So, the violence and the anarchy were partly sponsored, partly spontaneous. But it was a complete failure of the state administrative system, whether it was communication, information gathering or the will. The will was missing. Orders were being disobeyed and there was blatant violation of hierarchy. The problem must not be seen at the district level. It is something that is handled at the higher level. I will give you a classic example. Pakistan was to be created as an independent state and in Karachi, a big function was to be organised. There wereEmergency Council Meetings on 2 August 1947 and on 5 August 1947 which were chaired by the Viceroy. The minutes of the ECM meetings are revelatory. It said that in Karachi, for ceremonial procession of the Viceroy, six horses were needed. They did not have six horses that so the horses had to be brought from Delhi as it had 12 horses. Delhi would need six for the function there but the leg of one horse was fractured and a replacement had to be found. This is actually recorded in the minutes of the meeting and the dates need to be noted here.ECM is worried about sending the injured horse. The ADC to Viceroy suggests that instead of horses, two cars can be sent.Mountbatten orders in the minutes that if his car is to be sent to Karachi, then ensure that it comes back to Delhi. Just feel the time. Look at the distance. In Punjab, violence had erupted and it was burning and in Delhi, the Viceroy is sitting with his supreme council and worried about how to replace an injured horse for his ceremonial procession. This was the stake of the colonial state.
I will give you one more example. A critical meeting takes place to decide the national flag of India. Nehru was there and Mountbatten was there. Suddenly Mountbatten gives an idea to put a Christian cross in the national flag. But Nehru did not react violently as did Jinnah. Nehru says he will discuss the idea with other Congress members but he does not think that it will be accepted because Congress has some “extremist” elements. On the other hand, Jinnah asks how can the Christian cross be there along with the half crescent? This is the kind of temperament the leaders had.
Dr Ambedkar had predicted much of what had happened. It did not resolve the communal issues and it did not resolve the problem for which it was created. Today, if you look at the problems on the Indian subcontinent, invariably they lead us in some way or the other to the decisions taken in August 1947. Dr Ambedkar had said that if you are not careful with drawing your national boundaries, you are going to create a permanent problem. So, partition did not solve the communal problem but had left a huge series of problems which this country faces today and will continue to face in years to come because there is no solution to it.
These are some random thoughts that I was inclined to share with you. And finally, the whole process fits into a larger geopolitical network. In history, we have a saying that you should put yourselves in that time perspective. Go back to 1947. The world was a different place in 1947 and the manner in which they visualised, India is being visualised by sitting in London.I have used some photographs of Round Table Conferences in my forthcoming book. So, you see Egypt being decided, Palestine being decided, Siam (Thailand) being decided, and that being decided, this being decided, and India also being decided. So, the irony of it is that we werea pawn in the larger chessboard. The British were sitting at the round tables, and the round tables went round and round and the future of the worldwasbeing decided in London.
So, I will leave you with this thought that perhaps we went drastically wrong in allowing the British to decide our future. There was no rationale for partition. There was no reason for it. But we did it and we are obviously paying the price. With these words, I am happy to have shared my thoughts with you and my gratefulness to the authorities of India Policy Foundation, Prof Kapil Kapoorji and Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo and other members. Thank you so much!
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo:
Thank you so much, Prof Tanwar! You have vast knowledge but in limited time you have thrown light on some very important issues. The decision of partition was taken by leaders and common people had no role in it. Secondly, you showed us the priorities of the higher British officials and other officers who were least concerned about Punjab burning, people getting killed and all the violence that took place. Thirdly, people were lied to that it was going to be a peaceful transfer of power and population exchange will take place only in limited number and that too for a short period. The most important point that came out from your talk is how the decision of partition was forced on the people by those in power and how it was the common people who bore the brunt of that decision.
I would now request Prof Jagbir Singh ji to share his thoughts. He has been working in the field of Punjabi history and culture for 50 years and is a renowned scholar of Indian knowledge systems. Another reason why his presence is important to us today is because he had seen and experienced partition as a kid. The memories are powerful tools in helping us understand partition. I request Prof Singh to share his memories and thoughts with us.
Prof. Jagbir Singh:
Thank you Kuldeepji! Prof Tanwar has presented a meticulous view of partition. I have experienced partition as a 10-year-old. We have been witness to gruesome incidents. Prof Tanwar explained the politics behind partition and the colonial policy of communal divide and rule. For the people of Punjab, the joy of getting independence was supressed in the horrors of partition. It was so horrifying that we never celebrated the transfer of power.The colonial power had created such an atmosphere that partition was the only way forward. But it was extremely painful.The horrors of partition should never be forgotten. If we don’t learn our lessons from history, then history will keep getting repeated.
The present government has taken a step in the right direction by keeping aside 14 August of every year to remember the horrors of partition and the humanitarian crisis that followed so that such events are not repeated again.
I was born in a village in Ludhiana. I will share the experiences that I had as a 10-year-old and the events that took place in our village. We used to get information that from the newly formed state of Pakistan, trains were coming with the slaughtered bodies of Hindus and Sikhs. It was horrifying. And I know that the religions that are part of our culture – Sanatan Dharma, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainismare by nature non-violent. The major feature of our culture is that we are pluralistic and have an inclusive outlook. The violence from this side was not initiated, it occurred as a defensive or a retaliatory measure. I can say this with certainty because nobody told anything to the Muslims who lived amongst us in our village. But when we heard that trains from Pakistan were coming with slaughtered bodies, then just for a day, some Nihangs came to our village from outside and wanted to attack the Muslims. The violence that ensued resulted in just one death and the whole village mourned that death. One Muslim ran away but returned couple of days later and lived peacefully in the village. Our villagers had sent some Muslims to the nearby camps. But news kept coming that in some other villages, Muslims were also killed as Hindus and Sikhs were killed in Pakistan.
Another incident I remember is that my uncle used to live in Ludhiana cityand I went to visit him. There, I had seen crowds from both sidesmoving in different directions. Nothing was happening but then something occurred and my memories are still vivid. A crowd was coming from Pakistan and from it one man suddenly took out his kirpan and started attacking Muslims. He was stopped immediately by the other Sikhs.
What put us on the path to violence was the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British. Politicizing of religion and instigating the sentiments had a huge role to play in what happened. The whole world knows that our religion is peaceful and there is no violence is us. We cannot hide the fact that the religions that came from outside were violent in nature. It does not mean that we hate those belonging to another religion. But a culture that isn’t pluralistic has an inborn tendency of fundamentalism. This plays a huge role in the spreading of violence.
As rightly pointed out by Tanwarji, along with population exchange, the promise of property exchange was given but it was never fulfilled. What was the role of Sikh community in this? In the conference that happened in Shimla, only one Sikh leader was invited and it was Master Tara Singh. Maulana Azad opposed this and said that Congress should be consulted and the Sikh representative should be sent after taking into consideration Congress suggestions. Master Tara Singh originally belonged to a Hindu family. His name was Nanak Chand. He accepted Sikhism after being influenced by Sikh teachings. There is no conversion in our faiths. Anyone who follows the teachings of Guru Nanak can be called a Sikh.
In my view, it is also important to remember the events that followed the partition. Master Tara Singh was instigated by the Muslim League to take back what the British forcibly took from Sikhs. When British took over, the Khalsa was a stakeholder in Punjab which automatically gave them a claim over Punjab. The Muslim League accepted this argument and said that even Sikhs should be included in the two-nation theory argument. The Muslim League told Master Tara Singh to take one part of Punjab into Pakistan but Master Tara Singh refused and said he wants Punjab to be part of India and Sikhs cannot accept the domination of Pakistan. He said that the Sikh traditions are deeply linked to India. So, Master Tara Singh decided to stay with India. It was a good decision as it was natural for the Sikhs to be with India. The societal and cultural relations that Sikhs have with the Hindu society are timeless. Sikh leadership took a very good decision but they were not treated properly.
After partition, the ruling party amended its policy. They changed the focus of divide and rule. Muslims got a nation of their own but what the Hindu society got was secularism. Our culture and traditions were not respected. The leftist historians and their narrative completely overlooked the various resistance movements against the invaders in the country and instead eulogised the Mughal rule. Punjab remained under rule of British only for 100 years, but maintained their independent identity. And then there were Marathas and Rajputs.
During partition Sikh society took the decision to be with India. Jawaharlal Nehru had promised the Sikhs that they will get an exclusive geographic location in the country which can be seen as the symbol of Sikh freedom. But what happened was opposite to what was promised. During the beginning, when the Congress government did the linguistic division of states, Punjabi was not given its share. Sikhs had to fight for their rights and they felt betrayed. They did not get the region they were promised that would have served as the symbol of their freedom. Instead, Punjab was kept outside the linguistic division of statesand had to fight for its rights. This fall out of partition sowed the seeds of suspicion and separatism. The Sikh society had stood with the nation during the time of partition. During Emergency, Akali Dal stood with all the other parties and they were made to suffer for this. Their government was dismissed to teach them a lesson and then Operation Blue Star and the Sikh massacre in Delhihappened. They felt that like Muslims they were also in minority but Muslims were appeasedwhile the Sikhs were oppressed. This is the truth.
The present government had tried to punish the culprits of 1984 riots but the narrative propagated by one particular party was so strong that they tried to put the blame on the entire Hindu society and also it tried to involve the Indian state in what had happened. Indian state is democratic and what the ruling party does is its responsibility and the state can’t be blamed for it. There are examples where the guilty have been held to account. The first is that of Sajjan Kumar who was given life imprisonment. When we talk about India’s partition, it is necessary to understand history which gives us an idea of the root cause of all problems that the nation is facing even to this date. 10 lakh people were killed and 1.5 crore people were displaced in the violence that followed partition.
Solutions to the problems can be found only when we don’t turn a blind eye to history. We need to look at history with open eyes like that of a historian and make people understand what the nation has gone through. Today, India is in a position of strength. Till now, Leftists have been spreading the narrative that the nation is fragmented in different parts. We need to counter this delusional narrative. I have witnessed the violence and horrors of partition and will never be able to forget them. I was in Delhi in 1984 and was witness to the massacre of innocents that took place. It was a political party and its leader that were responsible for the gruesome massacre. The Hindu society can never be blamed for what happened. This is something that historians need to throw light on.Otherwise, the false narratives will keep misleading us. It is this false narrative that also led to separatist thoughts. Guru NanakDevji had a deep connection with India because of which the links of the Sikhs to the country also go deep. I conclude my thoughts with this. Thank you!
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo:
Thank you Prof Jagbir Singh ji for sharing your experiences and throwing light on how partition and incidents thereafter affected the Sikh society.Now we will move on to the Q&A session.
Dr Avik Sarkar: Can you throw light on how partition affected Bengal?
Prof Tanwar: When we talk of the horrors of partition, there is a difference in the sense thatin Bengal it was more organised. In Bengal when the population exchange started, it was reasonably well organised as both the governments, in East as well as West were doing it willingly. The difference is that in Punjab, the system had completely broken down, there was no government worth the name. This had not happened in Bengal. Another reason is that most of the population that came out from today’s Bangladesh and what was then East Bengal, was urbanised, small time shopkeepers, small businessmen etc. and they chose the area around the present-day Kolkata to settle down. So, you do not have the impact of spreading into the rest of Bengal. In Punjab, it was the other way. In Punjab, you had large number of people owning land holdings and land allotment was a big issue. Lot of violence took place because of this. Even the exchange of population, in Punjab you are talking about 6 million that way and 6.5 million this way. In Bengal, the total exchange does not exceed 4 million and that also upto 1952. The impact and trauma of partition was felt more strongly in Punjab than in Bengal, partly because the leaderships in Bengal acted maturely once it was decided. Punjab naturally becomes the focal point when we talk of the extremity of partition.
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo: Some people have mentioned about British having fears due to rising influence of Soviet Union in 1940s. It is said that the British perhaps wanted to divide India, and keep Pakistan under their influence due to the strategic locations, like airport of Peshawar, ports of Karachi, Chittagong etc which could be critical to counter Soviet Union. How do you see that?
Prof Tanwar: It is difficult for today’s generation to imagine the world of 1940s. The initiation of the Cold War after 1945, for example. India was far too big to be cowed. I am not just talking in the context of partition. If you look at Kashmir, there are sections of the media in 1946, across the world, British newspapers, American newspapers, even Australian,that have visualised a base for the non-communist world. Kashmir is being visualised as a base for containing the expansion of Soviet Union. Anybody who has read history will know that most of the problems that Afghanistan had was because it was in the southern part of USSR. The three Afghan wars are an example. You have the attention of the world being given to Afghanistan even in the 16th century. I personally believe that if the world has not gone through a Cold War, you would not have had the Kashmir problem. The irony is if you look at the reports of the time, they are sitting in London and deciding the future of small countries, small principalities. India’s basic problem has been its size. We are a big nation. Visualise India going from Afghanistan to Burma. Giving princes the right to choose was ridiculous. The idea was to traumatise and bifurcate the nation thereby lessening its power. It was part of the broader frame of world geopolitics.
Ramaswamy Subramony: Sri Aurobindo had asked the Congress to accept the Cripps Mission proposal of 1942 to avoid partition. If Congress had accepted this proposal, would history have been different?
Prof Tanwar: In fact, the transfer of power which took place in June 1947 was almost a replication of the Cripps Mission. A lot of people have been discussing this. Sri Aurobindo was much ahead of his times. He was one of the brightest minds we had. So, there are many others who have said this. In 1942, we still had a reason for not doing it and in 1947 we had no reason for accepting partition. As I pointed out to you, Britain in 1945 was not in a position to hold on to a country as big as India. Britain was devastated and there was no way it could have controlled India. You are right in saying that the Congress did commit a series of mistakes. Partition of India was not an evolutionary process, it was a decision taken by few people and it never enjoyed mass support.
Prof Sushant Mishra: What was the impact of positions taken by leaders like Jogendra Nath Mandal, who migrated to Pakistan after partition?
Prof Tanwar: The case of Jogendra Nath Mandalis rare. You don’t have many leaders of his calibre actually changing sides. He is an exception in the sense. But you must understand that most of the exchange of the population that takes place is in a very calculated manner. We still do not know what made Mandal to take the step that he did. I will not be able to comment more on that. He stands out as an exception. We do not have any other example of a prominent leader changing sides. In literary field, in artistic field, there are some examples of people changing sides, but not of politicians.
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo: Though ultimately, he had to return to India.
Prof Tanwar: It happened with many people. You have to understand the spontaneity. I will give you a small example. When the Punjab legislative assembly is meeting for the last time in Lahore, there are a lot of emotions. Even in Bengal. Co-existence was so deeply rooted that any aberration to this was not acceptable to the common man. The bottom line is that India was not a divisible country. India was never designed to be divided. It was an enforced decision. Bengal was never meant to be divided. And whenever something happens in a forced manner, impulsions and passions do take precedence.
Dr Hari K Sharma: Can we say that partition was a continuous tragedy? It divided India in 1947, created the problem of Kashmir, there is communal discord and there is the problem of majority versus minority in post independent India. Many issues are still unresolved.
Prof Tanwar: With Kashmir, I wouldn’t agree to that. I think we are on the way to restoring things. But partition has opened up a pandora’s box. I spoke about the evolution of two-nation theory, you are creating a division where it did not exist. I was born in a village which is 20km away from Kurukshetra. It was a Hindu-Rajput village. Incidentally, my village was the last village to be vacated by Muslims in 1947 because my father and grandfather insisted that we will not allow any Muslim to leave India. Our village was surrounded by a huge mob which had faced the trauma of partition. For three days, villagers protected every Muslim family and then a military convoy came and picked them up. My village was incidental in the sense that it was the last village. But there were thousands of other villages like this where people didn’t want to leave. The Sikhs had evolved in a unique manner as a religious faith. But even there, the division was enforced when it didn’t exist. I would totally agree with the view that the partition opened up a pandora’s box which seems to be unending. Prof. C.N. Vakil in his studies refutes the two-nation theory and clearly says that partition did not solve the problem. We should understand that the common Kashmiri masses never had faith in the two-nation theory. If they did, the history of India would have been different today. I know many western scholars have taken a different stand but I do not agree. I have dealt with this issue in detail in my book.
Chandan Sharma: Is there any official data about how many people were displaced and killed during the partition of Bengal?
Prof Tanwar: We have the figures. I am going by the figures cited by C.N. Vakil in his monumental work on the economic impact of partition. He suggests a figure of around 2 million non-Muslims who migrated out of the East and came into West Bengal and around 1 million who went the other way. We do not have the exact figures for 1947 but the process of migration and immigration in Bengal continues upto 1952. The loss of lives could be from 3,00,000 to 7,00,000, or may be even more, as per different accounts, in Punjab. But exact data about Bengal is not in my knowledge.
Rajesh Saxena: Can you throw some light on the reasons why leaders like Nehru allowed Britishers to decide on the future of India and what was the response of his contemporary leaders like Patel and Ambedkar?
Prof Tanwar: This is a very fascinating question. As we move away from partition, we are adding a bit of queries to the patriotic fervour. We have begun to raise questions which would have been uncomfortable 30-40 years ago. Today one feels comfortable raising these questions. I did a study in 2006, it was a 700 pages book. But this question didn’t occur to me then. Why did we gave the right to British our future? Can India today give a right to small countries like Britain and France to decide our future? The times have changed but at that time this was a question that nobody thought of asking. Regarding the second part, the Congress has two streams of thought. The mainstream narrative of history teaching has focussed on one side. You have heard of the Gandhian movements and the Sarvodaya movements but you have not heard much about leaders like Lohia or Jaiprakash. Where were the Congress leaders put in prison? In Ahmednagar, Naini, Hazaribagh, Yeravda etc. And leaders like Jaiprakash and Lohia were put in prison in Lahore, the most notorious fort prison in the country were Pathans were the jailers. There, a normal human being would break down in a few days. So, the British dealt with different leaders in a different manner. Go through the AICC proceedings of 15 June 1947. You will be surprised at the kind of lectures that are given in this meeting. Gandhiji even expressed displeasure for being kept in dark by Nehru. But Nehruji’s persona was so great that howmuchever you disagreed with him, you were bound to agree with him. This is how the Congress functioned. Lohia gives details of that meeting in his book “Guilty men of India’s Partition”. Rajendra Prasad said, “Nobody can divide what God has created”. There were disagreements when it came to individual decisions but collective decision was always in favour of the leadership. This is an irony of the times.
Q: What is your take on the book of Pandit Nehru, Discovery of India? Was India united before 1947?
Prof Tanwar: I totally disagree with this hypothesis that India became a nation only after 1947. Who were the princes who were ruling India? Some were left over of Mughals, some were feudal lords, other regional empires and some used to survive on British support. The notion of nation was there even before 2000 years. You have Shankaracharya travelling from extreme south to Kashmir in north. If you walk across the country, do you ever get the feeling that we are not together? At least I don’t get it. I would definitely not buy the concept that India emerged a nation only after 1947. I am in no position to comment on the book “Discovery of India”.
Rajnish Kumar: Unification of Germany has taken place. Earlier merger of East and West Germany.Do you see any possibility of that in case of India?
Prof Tanwar: In my forthcoming book, I have used a cartoon that was published in the Hindustan Times of 1948. In this cartoon, the Hindu Mahasabha president Bhupatkarji is shown asking Jawaharlalji about what he has done. Jawaharlalji in his reply said that the division is between two brothers and it is for a short time. In the background, they have shown Jinnah and Liaqat Ali putting a new board for a shop which says ‘Pakistan New Enterprises.’ Jawaharlal himself has said this that sooner or later, economic compulsions would bring these two countries together. When violence was at its peak, there is a speech by Gandhiji in the Panipat Ashram asking people why are they getting worried as things are going to get back to normal. A lot of leaders were saying that it was a temporary phenomenon. The common people believed that it would be a temporary thing and things would come back. Vast majority of the peasantry were not keen to come. A farmer has strong connections with his land, his cattle, trees. It is very difficult to part with that. Personally, I no longer foresee the two countries coming together but may be after 30-50 years due to economic compulsions, they may. In the case of Berlin, the roots were not totally disconnected. In the case of India and Pakistan, I don’t know how deep the roots have been cut. Europe is a different story.
Brig Kapil Dev Malhotra: Why was Burma was separated from India in 1937? Did the Nawab of Bahawalpur make a request to be part of India as he feared stoppage of water coming from Indian sources?
Prof Tanwar: With regard to Burma, you have to visualise things from the British point of view. They are a colonial ruler. 1937 is not a critical year. The war had not started and they are gloating in all the wealth and happily taking decisions. But the idea of this huge country emerging as a superpower someday has always bothered the British for a long time. It would bother any colonial power. It is ironical that India was being colonised by a country that was just one-fiftieth our size. So, whether it is Burma or Kashmir later on, they are always focussing on this. Burma separation was a part of a bigger global strategy and it suited them then.
With regard to Bahawalpur, the question is of all the 500 plus princely states, the problem arose only in a handful of them. In Punjab, a ruling prince had asked Mountbattenwhy not the British reconsider the decision to leave India. This is recorded in the handwritten note of Mountbatten. So, it is difficult to say whether water was a concern. The princes had their own little politics going on. But the iron man Sardar Patel was firm in his approach and we know what happened.
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo: What was the reaction of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the North West Frontier Province and his request to Nehruji to include North West Frontier Province as part of India and Nehruji rejecting that saying that it is far?And then Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan said that Dhaka is too far from Lahore and if you are agreeing to that, Delhi is not so far from Peshawar.
Prof Tanwar: This is a very relevant point. It is one of the great ironies of this period. So many of the problems that we are facing today might not have existed had slight bit of vision taken place. Again, it is not for me to pass judgements on a prime minister or on his point of view. If you read the history of this period, they are very clear on this. They visualise their future with India. The same has happened in Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province. These are mistakes which cannot be undone. Supposing we had not declared a ceasefire in Kashmir, imagine the map of Kashmir today. Supposing we had not gone to the UN, imagine the map of Kashmir. I will give you one small example of how these decisions were taken. I have explained it in my forthcoming book and dealt inan in-depth manner in my book on Kashmir. Jawaharlal Nehru went to meet Lord Mountbatten and Liaqat Ali was waiting at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Mountbatten had told Nehru to meet him for 10 minutes before meeting Liaqat Ali. The minutes of the meeting are available. That meeting went on for an hour. Nehru made a record of this meeting wherein he mentioned that Mountbatten told him to talk about United Nations and plebiscite with Liaqat Ali in order to set things right. The idea of a plebiscite comes from this one-hour historical meeting. Then there was the issue of Rs 55 crore which Patel was not in favour of giving to Pakistan. Mountbatten told Nehru that he would convince Patel. These hugely consequential decisions were taken at such ridiculous meetings. Kashmir’s case was simple black and white. The Army commanders were telling not to impose a ceasefire but we did and you have the problem there today. These hugely consequential decisions were brought to a really personal level and were taken based on personal equations. Only after the decision was taken in such informal meetings that it used to go to the cabinet for approval.
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo: Thank you very much sir! I express my gratitude to Prof Raghuvendra Tanwar, Prof Jagbir Singh and all other participants for the very good discussion that we have had. We hope to continue having such healthy discussions on this topic. Thank you everyone!