Gandhiji had an endearing trait of character: that he
talked to people of different temperaments at their mental level.
When I had spoken, I found Gandhiji in a very somber mood.
He said, “So far it was my desire to live upto the age of one
hundred and twenty-five years, but now I have no such desire.
The objective before me was not just to attain freedom, but also
to remove all the social ills in the society which had festered
during the 200 years of the British rule. They have practically
divested us of our traditions of tolerance and harmony, and,
instead, fomented hatred and discord through their communal
policies. I had thought that we could change the entire system
and people of this country and would live together like
brothers, in love, harmony, and peace, so that coming
generations may be blessed with all of that, which, thanks to
the British, we have been deprived of. Therefore, in addition to
the freedom of my country, the primary objective of my life
was maintenance of cordial relations between the Hindus and
the Muslims. Since I could not attain my objective, this
freedom has become tainted. Today, when I see Hindus and
Muslims separated, with a more or less permanent gulf, I feel

politically and spiritually defeated. I have no desire to live any
Then glancing towards me he said, “How could I
consider it a day of freedom and joy when I had to say goodbye
to your father, Badshah Khan, at the Delhi Railway Station. He
was my comrade, friend, companion, and fellow freedom
fighter, and now that we have attained independence, we are
parted. Perhaps we may never see each other. Now you see
what joy this independence has brought for me?” Gandhiji
paused and then continued; “If you look around at India today,
you will see that all the empty spaces and bazaars of Srinagar
are crowded with Hindu and Sikh refugees from NWFP.
Similarly, in Bengal, Bihar and Delhi, Muslims are suffering
the trauma of partition. The Punjab situation is, by far, the
worst. Caravans of Muslim refugees are going towards
Pakistan, and, similarly, unending streams of Hindu and Sikh
refugees are coming to India. They are being massacred
enroute. Men have turned brutes. Barbarism is rampant; every
group of refugees is faced with well-organised attacks.
Bloodshed has become a daily occurrence; people are being
killed irrespective of their age or sex. Is this the freedom that
we wanted to attain?”
Then Gandhiji asked a poignant question. “When I
cannot remove this mutual hatred and ill-will between Hindus
and Muslims, and cannot create feelings of love, peace, and
harmony in the name of God and religion, you tell me whether
there is any point in my living any more? I would prefer death
to this kind of life.”
These were incontrovertible facts which only a seer
could have perceived, one who was above all vested interests.
Assuming that partition was inevitable, we should have
conducted it like sensible, prudent, and responsible men. This
type of occurrence is not unprecedented in world history.

Indian Independence: Partition Source 9

Minutes of a meeting held at Government House, New Delhi, 16 August 1947, to receive the awards of the Boundary Commissions which demarcated the boundaries between India and Pakistan in Bengal and the Punjab.

[IOR: L/P&J/10/117]

The Indian leaders present at this meeting to consider the awards of the Boundary Commissions were severely critical of the awards. The Chittagong Hill Tracts in particular were hotly disputed. These had a large Hindu majority and Nehru consequently argued for them to become part of India. However, the Tracts were regarded as having an intimate physical and economic association with East Bengal and no proper communication links with Assam, thus Sir Radcliffe awarded them to Pakistan (see Map 2). The Punjab was another area of dispute. Sikhs made up a large proportion of the population in this area and had important historical and religious associations with it. Tara Singh, a leader of the Sikhs, demanded a separate Sikh state if partition was to go ahead. This came to nothing and the Punjab was divided on the basis of majority areas of Muslims and non-Muslims as well as other factors like administrative viability, natural boundaries, and communication, water and irrigation systems (see Map 3). Sikhs migrated into the Indian Punjab where the claim for a separate Sikh state was to be renewed immediately after partition.


The Awards of the Boundary Commissions

Minutes of a meeting held at Government House, New Delhi at 5 p.m. on Saturday, 16th August.


Viscount Mountbatten of Burma – Governor-General, India. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru – Prime Minister, India. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan – Prime Minister, Pakistan. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – Home Minister, India. Mr. Fazlur Rahman – Minister of the Interior, Pakistan. Sardar Baldev Singh – Defence Minister, India. Mr. Mohammed Ali – Cabinet Secretary, Pakistan. Rao Bahadur V.P. Menon – Secretary of the States Department, India. Lt. Col. V.F. Erakine-Crum – Conference Secretary to the Governor-General of India.

1. The meeting considered the awards of the Boundary Commissions, copies of which had been given to the Ministers after the Joint Defence Council meeting that morning.


2. Pandit Nehru said that he had never considered that the allocation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts to East Bengal was possible under the terms of reference of the Boundary Commission. Eminent lawyers had confirmed this point of view. These Tracts were an excluded area, and were not represented in the Bengal Council. He and his colleagues had given assurances to petty chiefs from the Chittagong Hill Tracts who had come to see them, that there was no question of the territory being included in Pakistan. The population of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, though small (approximately ¼ million) was 97% Buddhist and Hindu. There was not the least doubt that the people themselves would prefer to form part of India. On religious and cultural grounds, the Chittagong Hill Tracts should form part of India. Sir Cyril Radcliffe had had no business to touch them.

3. The Governor-General explained the reasons why Sir Cyril Radcliffe had included the Chittagong Hill Tracts in East Bengal. He emphasised particularly the economic ties which bound Chittagong District and the Hill Tracts together. He stressed the importance to Chittagong Port of the proper supervision of the Kannaphuli Ariver, which ran through the Hill Tracts.

4. Mr. Fazlur Rahman gave his opinion that the Chittagong Hill Tracts could not exist if separated from Chittagong District. In his view, the allocation of these Tracts to East Bengal was unquestionably permissible under the terms of reference. In fact the “contiguity” clause of the terms of reference would not have permitted their allocation to West Bengal.

5. The Governor-General said that it had been Sir Frederick Burrow’s view that the whole economy of the Chittagong Hill Tract would be upset if they were not left with East Bengal. However, he had confirmed that Sir Frederick had not expressed any view on this matter to Sir Cyril Radcliffe, so he could not be said to have influenced the decision.

6. The Governor-General suggested the possibility of a compromise whereby the upper waters of the Karnaphuli would be protected through the allocation of a strip of territory on either side of the river to East Bengal, while the administration of the rest of the Hill Tracts would be undertaken by India.

7. This was not considered a satisfactory solution by either party. Pandit Nehru’s view was that India should undertake the administration of the whole territory; a strip on either side of the river allocated to Pakistan would cut the territory in two. If the Chittagong Hill Tracts were given to India, an agreement between the two Dominion Governments, whereby Pakistan would obtain all desired facilities, could well be made.

8. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan said that he could not consider any suggestion of an adjustment in this territory alone. The awards of both Commissions must be looked at as a whole. If this was done, it would be found that Sir Cyril Radcliffe had completely ignored the fundamental basis of his terms of reference. Moreover, the Chittagong Hill Tracts were the only source of hydro-electric power in East Bengal.

9. The Governor-General then suggested that the two Governments might agree on an exchange of territory, whereby the Chittagong Hill Tracts would go to India and some predominantly Muslim area which had been allotted by the Commission to India would go to Pakistan.

10. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan emphasised that the awards of the Commissions, taken as a whole, had been so unfavourable to Pakistan, that he could not consider any minor modification only, such as had been suggested.

11. Mr. Fazlur-Rahman protested strongly against the allocation of the Districts of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri to India. In his view, Sir Cyril Radcliffe had violated the basic principle of his terms of reference in making this decision.


12. Pandit Nehru said that he considered that the award of the Boundary Commission in the Punjab was likely to have a bad effect among the Sikhs, who presented a particularly difficult problem.

13. Sardar Baldev Singh also considered that the reaction to the award would be very unfavourable on the Sikh mind.

14. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan said that it would have a similarly unfavourable reaction among the Muslims. He emphasized that he, as Prime Minister of Pakistan, considered it his duty to stand up for the rights of the Sikhs in West Punjab as much as the India leaders stood up for their rights in East Punjab. He empahsized that complete religious freedom would be allowed.

15. Sardar Patel’s view was that the only solution to the Punjab award was a transfer of population on a large scale.

16. The Governor-General said that he had spoken to Mr. Jinnah about Nankana Sahib. Mr. Jinnah had stated that he had it in mind to give the Sikhs any religious assurances that were required in connection with their Gurdwara there. The Governor-General suggested that a specific statement on Nankana Sahib might be made by the Pakistan Government at the same time as the issue of the Boundary Commission award.

17. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan said that he understood that it was Sir Francis Mudie’s view that the Punjab Boundary Force should be separated and be put under the control of the two Governments rather than under joint control. It was agreed that this suggestion should be considered at the meeting at Ambala the following day.

18. Pandit Nehru suggested that he and Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan should also visit Lahore and Amritsar the following day, and this was agreed.

19. Pandit Nehru said that he had received particularly alarming reports from Lahore, where many hundreds of Sikhs and Hindus were gathered together in relief camps without proper protection and without rations. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan undertook to get in touch with the Prime Minister of West Punjab and ask him to ensure that full measures were taken for the protection of refugees. He further suggested that the Punjab Boundary Force should be asked to assist in the evacuation of refugees.

The Publication of the Awards

20. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan said that he was opposed to any suggestion that adjustments between representative of the two Governments should be made at the present meeting. He considered that the awards of the Boundary Commission should be published as the stood.

21. The Governor-General suggested that in the communiqué stating that the awards had been considered by the Prime Ministers, it might be stated that they had come to the conclusion that there were certain unsatisfactory features which they proposed to take up forthwith on a governmental level. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan was opposed to this suggestion. He considered, and it was agreed, that the communiqué should only make mention of the fact of the meeting, and not draw attention to any dissatisfaction, nor to any proposals for the transfer of population.

22. Pandit Nehru finally emphasized that he and his colleagues felt themselves to be in a moral impasse about the Chittagong Hill Tracts, because, throughout the previous two or three months, they had given countless assurances to the representatives of that territory that it could not be included in Pakistan. Furthermore, this action had been taken after consultation with lawyers.

23. It was agreed that the Governor-General should issue the awards in the form of a Gazette Extraordinary the following day, and that copies of the awards should be sent immediately to the Governors of East and West Bengal and East and West Punjab.

24. It was further agreed that a draft communiqué handed round at the meeting should be issued that night, subject to certain amendments which were made. Visit of Minister of one dominion to the other dominion.

On August 14-15, 1947, according to Pakistan they got a ‘Homeland’ for the subcontinent’s Muslims, Indians claim they got Independence, while the British called it the ‘Transfer of Power’ (those interested can see the huge volume published by the British with that title).

The two countries went on a very different political trajectory right from the word go. Mohammad Ali Jinnah chose to become the first governor general, with Liaquat Ali, the number two as his prime minister. As a consequence Pakistan, despite the 1973 parliamentary constitution, has always had a strong presidential bias.

In India, on the other hand, by choosing to retain Lord Louis Mountbatten, the post of the head of State was kept largely ceremonial. The roots of current religious extremism and violence against minority religions and minority Muslim sects were inevitable as despite Jinnah’s own personal belief in secularism, the foundation of Pakistan was on Islam. Zia-ul Haq merely took it to the logical conclusion.

India chose to separate religion from nationality in deference to the plural ethos of its majority and long history of the Indian subcontinent where separation of the faith and nation was the norm. Possibly the only exception was during the reign of Ashoka. India becoming plural was as natural as Pakistan becoming an Islamic State.

Nehru chose to give his famous ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech in English and not Hindi or Hindustani. The number of English speakers and its influence has only increased after the British left.

Over 65 years ago, one of the enduring human tragedies occurred when the Indian subcontinent was divided on religious lines. Nearly one-and-half million innocent people lost their lives during Partition. Even till today, one fifth of humanity, living in South Asia, continues to pay the price of that division.

No Indian or British historian has yet attempted to explain that event satisfactorily. The first question is: Why did Lord Wavell, the Viceroy, on June 11, 1945, abruptly call off the Simla talks when all the political parties favoured the creation of a united India?

The second question arises from the British cabinet’s statement that the transfer of power to Indians would take place by June 1948? (The British government’s statement of June 3, 1947.) Lord Louis Mountbatten as viceroy had insisted on this cut-off date when he went to confer with the cabinet in London in May 1946.

Why, then, on his return from London a fortnight later, did he then suddenly declare that the Partition of India would take place with inexplicable haste on August 15, 1947, almost a year ahead of schedule?

To understand the events of 1947 one has to go back to 1942, when on August 9, Mahatma Gandhi gave the call for ‘Quit India’ and do or die. This came at a particularly decisive moment in World War II. The Germans were at Stalingrad and Japan ruled the Pacific.

The Americans were worried about the impact this would have on the war effort and President Roosevelt dispatched a personal emissary Colonel Johnson to India and brought immense pressure on the British to promise Independence to Indians in return for cooperation by the Congress in the war efforts.

The Cripps mission was borne out of this compulsion. Gandhi rejected this by dubbing it as ‘post dated check issued on a falling bank’. But Churchill was unmoved and believed that Congress leaders were ‘Men of straw’ and that with the help of Jinnah the British would control the situation.

In the early hours of August 9, a massive British crackdown began. Congress leaders were arrested and taken to various high security prisons. On hearing news of their arrest, disturbances broke out in Bombay, Ahmedabad and Poona. But like all such movements, it was difficult to sustain action in the absence of a trained leadership and a proper organisation.

The British were helped by the fact that Indian Communists and Muslim League elements provided active help and information to the British police to round up the nationalists. There was no second rung Congress leadership to fill the vacuum created by the arrest of leaders, and no plans for an underground network.

Nearly 10,000 Indians died in police firing. In less than two months time the movement died down. A subsequent Congress appeal for mass non cooperation issued in November 1942 evoked no popular response…

The war effort, except for some minor hiccups, did not suffer greatly. When Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in Asia in 1943, and the Japanese advanced into Burma, India was well under control. He was one year too late. In the event, the 1942 movement was a failure and had virtually no effect on the Allied war effort.

According to historian R C Muzumdar (Advanced History of India), the Congressmen neither did anything nor died for the country!

The acceptance of Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan was the price the British were prepared to pay for this. A faction of the Congress and some revolutionaries did try to sabotage the war effort. But Gandhi and Congress had not thought through the consequences.

In the Tehran conference of November 1943, the future world organisation (the United Nations) was discussed and China was accepted as a Great Power along with the UK, the US, the USSR and France. The Indian contribution to the war effort, much greater than China’s, was discounted.

An American delegate to the conference remarked that India was yet to win its ‘Yorktown’ (the decisive battle of the American war of independence) and as such had no right to sit at the high table of great powers.

The failure of the 1942 Quit India movement, change in the Allied fortunes of war made Pakistan a certainty. On May 12, 1945, Churchill, much before his later famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech at Fulton (March 5, 1947), had written to Truman that an iron curtain has drawn down upon the front in Europe.

He predicted a future contest with the Soviet Union; he was convinced that India would not side with the West. Thus the concept of Pakistan, the dream of Jinnah, acquired a new significance in the post-war world. Wavell’s abrupt end to the Simla Conference in June 1945 can be understood in this backdrop of pressure from London.

On March 30, 1947, during the concluding session of a Muslim League working committee meeting, Jinnah suddenly collapsed and was rushed to the Breach Candy hospital. Dr Patel, his personal physician, declared that it was only the patient’s timely arrival that had saved him.

By a unanimous decision the working committee decided to keep this occurrence secret. Jinnah regained consciousness soon and refused the doctor’s orders to stay in the hospital. Jinnah’s stubbornness ultimately overrode medical advice and he was discharged the very next day. It is most unlikely that the British did not come to know of this.

The British realised that without Jinnah, the creation of Pakistan was next to impossible. It was the news of Jinnah’s illness that prompted the advancement of British departure from India, with tragic consequences.

Understanding these factors behind the events of 1947 helps us see the extraordinary influence the British have over American approach to the subcontinent. The British time and again have shown their almost ‘paternal’ love for Pakistan. This author has seen enough evidence in even JFK era papers of the kind of dependence the US has on UK as far as the subcontinent is concerned.

If seen objectively and not from the point of view of ‘durbari’ historians, the record of the past can teach us much about the present.

The date August 15 was also carefully chosen by the British. It was on this very day that Japan surrendered in 1945. What better way to thwart any possible Indo-Japanese linkage in future than to make India (and South Korea) celebrate while Japan remembers its humiliation! Specially relevant in the days of 1947 when the stories of Japanese support to Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army were a household word in India!

Based on the research conducted by the author and the late Lieutenant General Eric Vas for their book Unmaking of Pakistan: If Bose Had Lived?’, published by Strategic Books as an e-book.

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