Partition of Punjab!

Coming to the act of partition, the British Government had appointed Sir Cyril Radcliffe as head of the Boundary Commission that demarcated the borders between India and Pakistan. He had never even visited the country. An ICS officer, Mr. Christopher Beaumont had been appointed as his secretary to assist him along with four Indian judges.

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There is a perception that partition was the exclusive brainchild of Mr. Jinnah. In fact, the idea was first suggested by a prominent Hindu leader, Lala Lajpat Rai to the Nehru Committee that had been set up by Mr. Gandhi for preparing a constitution for the country (‘A History of the Freedom Movement in India’, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, p. 110). This was in 1927 —- three years before poet-philosopher Iqbal proposed it at the Muslim League session in Allahabad.

The resolution that was passed by the Muslim League at Lahore in 1940 does not call for partition nor does it refer to religion in any way. It had only asked for the grouping of provinces in which Muslims were in majority. Partition was mentioned as an alternative only in the event that Congress did not agree to the groupings.

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It was not the first choice

Similarly, it is sometimes suggested that the British had colluded with Jinnah to partition India. There is no evidence and no basis for this assumption. If anything, the British had been vehemently opposed to it and did everything in their power to keep the country united. Immediately after the Muslim League Resolution was passed in 1940, both the Viceroy Linlithgow and the Secretary of State for India, Lord Zetland made it clear that partition was not acceptable to Britain (Libert or Death, by Patrick French, Harper Collins, p.125). Every British official that I met from the Secretary of State for India in 1947, Lord Listowel downward told me the same thing.

There is even the possibility that one of the reasons for the advancement of the date for handing over power from the original 30th June 1948 to 15th August 1947 was to give Pakistan almost no time to set up a new country from nothing. When some doubts were expressed about Pakistan’s viability at the Provincial Governors meeting on 15th April 1947, Mountbatten told them, ‘A quick decision would also give Pakistan a greater chance to fail on its demerits —– Anything that resulted in torpedoing Pakistan was of advantage in that it led the way back to a more common-sense solution’ (Transfer of Power Documents, Vol. X, pp. 242-244, 250 and Shameful Flight, by Stanley Wolpert, p. 142).

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Raddcliff award

Coming to the act of partition, the British Government had appointed Sir Cyril Radcliffe as head of the Boundary Commission that demarcated the borders between India and Pakistan. He had never even visited the country. An ICS officer, Mr. Christopher Beaumont had been appointed as his secretary to assist him along with four Indian judges. The judges were peremptorily dismissed by him shortly afterward. One has to wonder why the boundary line was drawn by Radcliffe alone?

My father was a judge and had opted to serve in Pakistan. He had been transferred to Gurdaspur, a Muslim majority district, in the expectation that it would be allocated to Pakistan. My ancestral home was in another Muslim-majority district, Jullunder. In the end, Radcliffe awarded both of these districts to India.

When asked for the basis on which he did this, he told the reporters that he had destroyed the record because he feared ‘someone would kill him’. It made no sense since these were official legal documents and not his personal property.

As early as 22nd April, Pundit Nehru had discussed the accession of Kashmir to India with Mountbatten (Transfer of Power Documents, Vol. X, p.194). On 14th. June Krishna Menon wrote to Mountbatten threatening that Britain’s future relations with India might be put at risk if Kashmir was not made a part of India (Transfer of Power Documents, Vol. XI, p. 201). On 4th. August Mountbatten told some state rulers that the State of Jammu and Kashmir was ‘so placed that it could join either Dominion provided part of Gurdaspur were put into East Punjab by the Boundary Commission’ (Transfer of Power Documents, Vol. XII, p. 335). Again, one has to ask, why this special interest by Mountbatten in Gurdaspur when the matter had rested with the Boundary Commission? 

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According to Radcliffe’s secretary Beaumont, a map showing the boundary line in the award was handed over to the viceroy on 9th August. Ferozepur and Zira tehsils had been included in Pakistan (Transfer of Power Documents, Vol. XII, pp.395, 619). A copy of this map was provided to the governor of Punjab, Sir Evan Jenkins who locked it up in his safe where it remained until it was discovered by his successor, Sir Francis Mudie after independence.

This map was changed later after the award had been finalised and both Ferozepur and Zira tehsils, along with an obscure village in Lahore District that had been originally awarded to Pakistan were taken out and given to India. According to Beaumont, this was done under pressure from Mountbatten. Only five individuals, Radcliffe, Mountbatten, his Chief of Staff Lord Ismay, Principal Private Secretary George Abell and Beaumont were aware of this last-minute change. All five of them pledged to keep it a secret.

Beaumont who became a judge in Britain remained uneasy and eventually wrote a deposition revealing the truth and deposited it with the Warden of All Souls College, Oxford with the specific instructions that it should only be disclosed after his death and only to people approved by the Warden as well as the Principal Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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I learnt about it when the news broke in 1992 and got in touch with Mr. Beaumont. To cut a long story short, we met once or twice a year and exchanged many letters. He also introduced me to Lord Listowel who was the Labour Party Whip in the House of Lords at the time and was kind enough to answer my questions for more than two hours. After much persuasion, Mr. Beaumont gave me a copy of his deposition and permitted me to publish it in my books, ‘Pakistan: Roots, Perspective and Genesis’ and ‘Muslims and the Partition of India’.


The question remains as to why Radcliffe awarded the districts of Gurdaspur and Jullunder, where the Muslims were in majority, to India. The answer becomes clear when one takes a close look at the map and how the boundary line was drawn. It had everything to do with giving India land access to Kashmir State.

Starting from near Amritsar the line runs along River Ravi, leaving Shakargarh tehsil to the west in Pakistan. Just short of the Kashmir border where the river turns eastward, the line leaves the river and turns north to the border of Kashmir, in the process cutting off the north-eastern part of Shakargarh tehsil adjoining Kashmir which was also awarded to India.

There can be no apparent reason for lopping off this piece of Shakargarh tehsil which had been awarded to Pakistan other than to give India convenient land access to Kashmir. With Gurdaspur going to India, Jullundur, where the Muslims were also in majority, no longer remained contiguous with Pakistan and was also given to India.

Mr. Beaumont had confirmed to me both verbally and in his letters that from the very start Radcliffe had taken it for granted that Gurdaspur will be a part of India. How could that be when Muslims were in majority in the district? It is for consideration that a British lawyer who had no knowledge of anything about the country should engage in such surgical and detailed gerrymandering for no apparent reason unless the line had already been drawn for him by someone else!

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The fact that Radcliffe was not censured for the misdeed and went on unchecked to become Law Lord and the Chief Justice of Britain is a clear indication that his actions met with the approval of the British Government and were in accordance with its policy.

There was a longstanding intimate connection between Congress and the British Labour Party that was governing Britain at the time. It operated through Mr. Krishna Menon who acted as the unofficial link between the two, especially on matters related to Partition (‘Transfer of Power Documents, Vol. XI’, p.201).

In addition, there was also a dubious character, Sudhir Ghosh, who reported directly to Sardar Patel. One of his tasks was to get Viceroy Wavell replaced with someone more acceptable to Congress. Wavell called him, ‘the little rat’ and also ‘a snake in the grass with a very swollen head’. He had also protested to Prime Minister Attlee about these dealings with the British Government behind his back but got no response from him. (‘Transfer of Power Documents, Vol. VIII’, pp. 328-9 and Liberty or Death, p. 255).

Carnage and Migration

Lastly, Muslims and Hindus had been living together peacefully in India for close to one thousand years. It is true they had different social and cultural orders and lived separately but it was peaceful and there is no evidence in the history of widespread violence like the one that erupted at the time of Partition.

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The violence witnessed this time was not because of religion, as is sometimes suggested. As someone who saw it firsthand, I can vouch that it was predominantly because the transition was not planned properly. The British were in too much of a hurry to up stakes and leave even when they knew that it would lead to large-scale disturbances, instability and lawlessness. Unfortunately, Congress too wanted them to leave at the earliest regardless of any consequences.

East Punjab had no provincial government. The British and Muslim officials in the district administrations had been replaced by Hindus and Sikhs. The lower echelons of Punjab police were mostly composed of Muslims. Thinking their loyalties had become doubtful, they were disarmed and discharged from service (‘While Memory Serves’, by Sir Francis Tuker, p.442). The virtual absence of an effective law enforcement agency led to a total breakdown of law and order.

To assist the civil administration Punjab Boundary Force composed of twenty-five army battalions was set up on the 1st of August. This was disbanded a month later by the Indian Government. After that violent mobs, sometimes a thousand or more strong including men from the Sikh states’ armies, had a free hand to loot, burn, rape and murder in villages and cities without any fear of consequences.

A flood of desperate refugees moved by trains, trucks, oxcarts and on foot in convoys that were at times over twenty-five miles long. The last convoy composed of Meo tribesmen from Rohtak and Hissar arrived in Lahore in December. Pakistan alone received a total of nine million refugees. An estimated one million were either killed or died of disease. Britain had failed to live up to her responsibilities and to a lesser extent, Congress was complicit in it.

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India tried all it could to make it a stillbirth including withholding her share of finances, military equipment and other assets including water from the rivers. Even the Supreme Commander, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck felt obliged to write to the British Prime Minister Attlee that he has ‘no hesitation in affirming that the present Indian Cabinet are implacably determined to do all in their power to prevent the establishment of the Dominion of Pakistan on a firm basis (‘Liberty or Death,’ by Patrick French, Harper Collins, p. 344). Yet she lives on and will continue to do so if only her people stopped breeding like rabbits.


The writer is a retired naval officer and is the author of ‘Pakistan: Roots, Perspective and Genesis’ and ‘Muslims and the West: A Muslim Perspective.’ The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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