PARTITION OF THE PUNJAB (1947) was the result of the overwhelming support the Muslim demand for the creation of Pakistan, an independent and sovereign Muslim State, had gathered in India. When the word Pakistan was first mentioned, the idea had been laughed out of court, even by the Muslims themselves. But within the next half a decade, it had annexed almost the total support of the Muslim population. During the discussions in England that preceded the passing of the Government of India Act 1935, Pakistan had been mentioned, but no one had taken it as a serious proposition. By the end of 1938, however, Pakistan was being seriously canvassed in Muslim League circles, and in March 1940, under M.A. Jinnāh's leadership, the League passed at Lahore the famous Pakistan Resolution, demanding the Partition of India and the formation of the Muslim majority zones of the northwest and northeast into independent sovereign States.
This uncompromising demand for Pakistan and the partition of India aroused intense opposition throughout the whole country, not least among the Sikhs. Just as the Muslims were unwilling to submit to a permanent Hindu majority in a united India, so the Sikhs viewed with alarm the prospect of becoming a permanent minority in a Muslim State, which would be their fate if the whole of the Punjab was included in Pakistan. But the Sikh leaders were in a dilemma; for any division of the Punjab so as to exclude from Pakistan the predominantly non-Muslim areas would also divide the Sikhs.
In an endeavour to break the deadlock that arose between Congress and the League over the Pakistan issue Mr Rājagopālāchārī in 1944 persuaded Mahātmā Gāndhī to offer to Mr. Jinnāh a Pakistan consisting of those contiguous areas in the northwest and northeast of India in which Muslims were in a majority. This offer meant the exclusion from Pakistan of practically the whole of Assam and nearly half of Bengal and of the Punjab, both of which would have to be partitioned. Mr Jinnāh rejected it as "a shadow and a husk, a maimed, mutilated and moth-eaten Pakistan," and adhered inflexibly to his demand for a sovereign Pakistan of six provinces.
By this time he and the League had gained greatly in strength. Ever since the passing of the Pakistan Resolution, he had been methodically working to marshal all Muslims under his leadership, and to crush other leaders who were unwilling to bow to his dictation and were lukewarm in their support of the demand for Pakistan. In Bengal,, Fazl ul-Huq was displaced as premier in 1943 by a more staunch Muslim Leaguer; and in the Punjab Sir Khizar Hayat Khān Ṭiwāṇā, who on Sir Sikandar's death had succeeded him as Premier, was expelled from the League in 1944. His Muslim followers had now to choose between loyalty to him and the Unionist Party he led and loyalty to Mr. Jinnāh and the League. Though Sir Khizar retained the support of most Muslim members of the provincial assembly and continued as Premier, he was weakened, for a rift opened in the ranks of his Muslim followers.
Fresh elections held at the end of World War II in the cold weather of 1945-46 confirmed that Mr. Jinnāh had secured the backing of almost all Muslims in India. The League won every Muslim seat in the Central Legislative Assembly and the majority of those in provincial assemblies. Its most striking success was in the Punjab where Sir Khizar's Muslim Unionists were reduced to a handful of seven and all the remaining seventy-nine Muslim seats had gone to the League. With the support of Congress Hindus and Akālī Sikhs, Sir Khizar was able to form a government and continue as Premier, but it was virtually the end of the once powerful Unionist Party that under his leadership might have stood as a bulwark against the demand for Pakistan and the resulting partition of the Punjab.
To the Muslim masses Pakistan had been little more than a vague utopia, but after the League's electoral successes the demand for it had to be squarely faced. Lord Wavell, the Viceroy, proposed to the Labour Government in England that if Mr. Jinnāh persisted in the demand for a completely sovereign Pakistan, he should be told that all he could get would be a truncated Pakistan, shorn of Assam, West Bengal, including Calcutta, and about half of the Punjab. The Viceroy believed that when plainly confronted with this prospect, Mr Jinnāh might be prepared to settle for the best terms he could get for the Muslims within a united India. This was in effect the course adopted when in March 1946 a Cabinet Mission came out to India to try to solve the constitutional problem. It was made clear to Mr. Jinnāh that he would have to forgo either part of the territory or some measure of the sovereignty that he demanded for Pakistan. If he insisted on full sovereignty, he could only have a reduced Pakistan of contiguous Muslim majority areas. The alternative was for him to accept an all India Union limited to defence, foreign affairs and communications within which the full Pakistan provinces that he claimed could be formed into sub-federations with wide powers. Mr. Jinnāh rejected, as he had done previously, a truncated Pakistan, and the Mission themselves remarked that, involving as it would a radical partition of the Punjab and Bengal, it "would be contrary to the wishes of a very large proportion of the inhabitants of these provinces" and "would of necessity divide the Sikhs," leaving substantial bodies of them on both sides of the border. The other alternative Mr. Jinnāh grudgingly consented to consider, and the Mission, having vainly pied to bring him and the Congreess leaders to agreement on its principles, themselves elaborated it, putting forward a scheme for a three-tier constitution : Provinces, groups of Provinces and a minimal Union, and suggesting procedure for framing a constitution on this basis. A Constituent Assembly, elected by the Provincial legislatures, would divide up into three sections, one representing the six Hindi majority provinces and the two others the provinces in the northwest and northeast of India claimed for Pakistan. These sections, meeting separately, would draw up constitutions for the provinces included in them and decide whether a Group should be formed and with what subjects. All the sections would then meet as a whole to frame the Union constitution.
The Sikhs were represented before the Cabinet Mission by Master Tārā Siṅgh, Giānī Kartār Siṅgh, Harnām Siṅgh, a lawyer from Lahore, and later by Baldev Siṅgh, then development minister in the Punjab Government. The Sikh delegation was united in its opposition to Pakistan. The delegates marshalled all the arguments they could to impress upon the Cabinet Mission of the utter impossibility of the Sikhs either living in a Muslim State or having territory inhabited by them handed over to the Muslims. The Sikh Spokesman, Master Tārā Siṅgh, said that he was for a united India; but if Pakistan was conceded, he was for a separate Sikh State with the right to federate either with India or Pakistan. Giānī Kartār Siṅgh elaborated the latter alternative as a "province of their [Sikhs] own where they would be in a dominant, or almost dominant position" this province would comprise the whole of Jalandhar and Lahore divisions, together with Ambālā, Hissār, Karnāl and Shimlā districts of the Ambālā division, and the districts of Montgomery and Lyallpur. Baldev Siṅgh defined the Sikh State in somewhat the same terms as consisting of "the Punjab excluding Multān and Rāwalpiṇḍī divisions, with an approximate boundary along the Chenāb, an area comprising the Ambālā division, the Jalandhar division and the Lahore division."
The Central Akālī Dal representing nationalist opinion and led by Bābā Khaṛak Siṅgh presented through its working president, Amar Siṅgh, a separate memorandum to the Cabinet Mission on behalf of their party. It drew attention to the faulty compilation of census figures which made the Muslims a majority community in the Punjab. It opposed the partition of the Punjab and reiterated the demands that had been made by the Chief Khālsā Dīwān many times since the introduction of democratic institutions, viz. 33% representation in the Punjab, 5 % in the Centre and one Sikh member in the Central Cabinet. In addition, it demanded an 8 % representation in the Constituent Assembly (as recommended by the Saprū Committee); a permanent 14% Sikh quota in the defence services; Sikh representation in U.P., Sindh, Bihār, Bengal and Bombay and an increase in Sikh representation in the North West Frontier Province. The Central Akālī Dal supported joint electorates with reservation of seats for minorities and the setting up of special tribunals for the protection of minorities.
Mr. Jinnāh and the Council of the Muslim League and the Congress Working Committee both reluctantly accepted the Mission's scheme. The Sikhs, though saved by this scheme from division, rejected it. They resented their inclusion, without any safeguards, in an overwhelmingly Muslim group of provinces, and declined at first to elect representatives to the Constituent Assembly. The Congress Committee's acceptance of the scheme was, however, ambiguous, for they said that they adhered to their interpretation of its provisions regarding the sections and the grouping of provinces, although this interpretation had been declared by the Mission to be erroneous. Furthermore, there was failure to reach agreement on the formation of an Interim Government, and the proposals ultimately put forward by the Viceroy and the Mission were rejected by the Congress because, in deference to Mr. Jinnāh, no Congress Muslim had been included. However, the Mission, anxious to show that something had been achieved, announced that constitution-making could now proceed with the consent of the two major parties. It seemed that the division of India had been averted and that there was no longer any need to consider the partition of the Punjab and Bengal. But the Congress and the Muslim League interpreted the proposals differentiy, especially on the question of the grouping of provinces. The All India Congress Committee on 6 July 1946 called to ratify acceptance of the Mission's Scheme and again at a Press conference four days later, Jawāharlāl Nehrū expressed reservations as regards the grouping of provinces, which was for the League the real attraction of the Mission's plan. On 29 July at a meeting in Bombay, the Council of the League withdrew their previous acceptance of the Mission's proposals and authorized its Working Committee to prepare a programme of 'direct action' for the achievement of Pakistan. This resolution proved decisive; all attempts over the next few months to persuade the League to rescind it and to work the Cabinet Mission plan were unavailing. Nothing less than a sovereign Pakistan would now satisfy them.
The immediate sequel to the Resolution was the outbreak on 16 August of communal rioting in Calcutta on an unprecedented scale known as the Great Calcutta Killing. The casualties were estimated at 5,000 dead and 15,000 injured. This was followed in October by Muslim assaults on Hindus in East Bengal and these in turn provoked Hindu assaults on Muslims in Bihār. Shortly before the Calcutta Killing Lord Wavell had invited Nehrū to form an Interim Government, and this took office at the beginning of September, but without the inclusion of any League members, as Mr. Jinnāh declined Nehrū's invitation to collaborate. Lord Wavell, however, in the hope of easing the communal tensions himself opened negotiations with Mr. Jinnāh and at the end of October, five League nominees joined the Interim Government on the understanding that the League would rescind their Bombay Resolution withdrawing acceptance of the Cabinet Mission scheme and take part in the work of the Constituent Assembly that was about to be summoned.
With the League's entry into the Government communal outbreaks were for the time being halted; but no progress was made in the solution of the constitutional problem as Mr. Jinnāh declined to call a meeting of the League Council to reconsider the Bombay Resolution on the ground that the Congress had not accepted unequivocally the Mission's scheme and were bent on misinterpreting its provisions in regard to grouping. At the beginning of December, in the hope of resolving the differences, the leaders of both parties, along with a Sikh representative, Sardār Baldev Siṅgh, were invited to London for discussions. The main point now at issue was whether under the Mission's scheme the voting in the sections regarding provincial constitutions and the formation of Groups should be by provinces, as the Congress contended (which would almost certainly preclude the formation of Groups), or by simple majority vote, as the League claimed and as the Mission had intended. At the end of inconclusive discussions, the British government issued a statement upholding the latter interpretation.
The All-India Congress Committee agreed to accept this interpretation, adding only the qualification that there must be no compulsion for a province and that the right of the Sikhs should not be jeopardized. But Mr Jinnāh was in no mood to accept any qualifications. On 31January 1947 the Working Committee of the League declined to recommend to the League Council reconsideration of its Bombay Resolution and called on the British government to dissolve the Constituent Assembly, which had met in December without the League representatives, and to declare that the Cabinet Mission plan had failed.
The British government now took a bold step that Lord Wavell had long been urging on them, and on 20 February fixed a date for the transfer of power to Indian hands. It was to be not later than June 1948. At the same time they announced that Lord Mountbatten was to replace Lord Wavell as Viceroy. No reason for the change was given, but the fact was that they had lost confidence in Lord Wavell's ability to handle Indian politicians. The instruction they gave the new Viceroy was to do all in his power to persuade the Indian parties to work for a unitary government on the basis of the Cabinet Mission plan, but, if by 1 October he found that this was impossible, to report what steps he thought should be taken for handing over power by June 1948. The Cabinet Mission plan was, however, now totally unacceptable to Mr. Jinnāh and the League who had decided that they must have nothing less than a sovereign independent Pakistan however small it might be. So, as Lord Mountbatten soon realized, the best hope of reaching agreement now lay in the adoption of a plan for a truncated Pakistan involving the partition of Bengal and the Punjab and the division of the Sikhs, that Mr Jinnāh had previously rejected and that the Cabinet Mission had condemned. Although all parties disliked this unsatisfactory solution, it was one to which they could all be reconciled. The Congress had always said that they would not contemplate compelling the people of any part of the country to remain in a united India against their will, and the Congress leaders were now ready to allow Mr. Jinnāh to take those Muslim-majority areas which, on a population basis, he could indisputably claim. Mr. Jinnāh and the League had reluctantly come to understand that if they insisted on a sovereign Pakistan, then they would have to be content with a truncated Pakistan, for this was all they could get by agreement and they were not in a position to take more by force. Even the Sikhs, who would suffer most from a partition of the Punjab, as this would divide them and leave about two million of them on the Pakistan side of the line, were prepared to accept it rather than that the whole community should be engulfed in Pakistan, agreed to the partition. They were influenced by recent experience. Early in March in outbreak of communal rioting in the Punjab, Sikhs in villages and small towns in the predominantly Muslim districts of Rāwalpiṇḍī and Attock had been savagely attacked by Muslim mobs and felt compelled to fly for their lives. This foretaste of Pakistan convinced many of them that so far as possible they should not come under Muslim rule.
Lord Mountbatten speedily coaxed the principal parties into acquiescence in the partition of the land and drew up a plan for giving effect to it. He announced this plan on 3 June; Mr Nehrū, Mr Jinnāh and, for the Sikhs, Sardār Baldev Siṅgh intimated their consent to it; and the next day Lord Mountbatten told a Press conference that it would be carried out and power transferred to two Dominion Governments by 15 August. This gave little time for the completion of all the work entailed by the division of the country and the partition of Bengal and the Punjab. But Lord Mountbatten was impressed by the need to act quickly.
It was a feature of the Plan that the partition of Bengal and the Punjab should be shown to be in accordance with the popular will as expressed by the provincial legislatures. In the Punjab the Legislative Assembly had first to meet as a whole and vote on whether the undivided province should join India or Pakistan. Thereafter it had to meet again in two parts one representing the Muslim majority districts and the other more or less eastern half of the province, and vote separately on whether the province should be partitioned. If either part voted for partition, then partition would follow. The two parts would also vote on whether the areas that they represented should join India or Pakistan. A Muslim majority in the Assembly as a whole secured a vote in favour of joining Pakistan, but a non-Muslim majority in the eastern part dominated mainly by the Sikhs voted for partition and for that part joining India by 50 votes to 22.
Partition necessitated a division of the assets and liabilities of the Provincial government. At the centre, for the division of the much larger assets and liabilities of the Government of India, a Partition Council was set up consisting of two Congress and two League members of the Interim Government, aided by a Steering Committee of two officials and several expert committees of officials, and with an Arbitral Tribunal in the background. In the Punjab there was no ministry from which members of a Partition Council could be drawn, as after Sir Khizar's resignation, the Governor had assumed charge of the administration under section 93 of the Government of India Act 1935. But on the analogy of what was being done at the centre a Partition Committee of two Muslims, a Hindu and a Sikh was formed and with the aid of officials this worked fairly smoothly. A few disputed matters were referred for decision to the Partition Council at the Centre.
The Plan provided for Boundary Commissions to be set up to demarcate the actual lines of division in the provinces of Bengal and the Punjab. Both Commissions were composed of four High Court judges, two nominated by the Congress and two by the League under the chairmanship of an English barrister, Sir Cyril Radcliffe. Their terms of reference were to demarcate the boundaries on the basis of ascertaining the contiguous majority areas of Muslims and non-Muslims, and in doing so to take into account also other factors. The reference to other factors was inserted to satisfy the Sikhs who had been given to understand that, in drawing the line of division, population would not be taken up to be the sole criterion. The Commissions began work in July and submitted their reports on 13 August. The division of opinion among the judges on the Commissions particularly in regard to the weight to be given to 'other factors' was so wide that the ultimate awards were those of Sir Cyril alone. The members of the Central Partition Council had publicly pledged themselves on 22 July to accept and enforce the Commission's awards, but an attempt to get a similar pledge signed by the members of the Punjab Partition Committee came to nothing owing to serious difference of opinion among its members.
Throughout May, June and July communal strife persisted in the Punjab. In Lahore and Amritsar there were numerous cases of arson, stabbing and bomb throwing; in the Guṛgāoṅ district villages were raided and burnt by the rival communities; and as 15 August approached, the situation further deteriorated. A secret intelligence report indicated that the Sikh leader, Master Tārā Siṅgh, was engaged in plots for the sabotage of certain canal headworks and for bomb outrages, including the assassination of Mr Jinnāh. His arrest and that of other Sikh leaders was mooted, but was turned down on the unanimous advice of the Punjab Governor and the Governors-designate of East and West Punjab that such arrests would only make matters worse. The imposition of martial law was also considered, but was opposed by the Governor and the senior military commanders who said that they had not enough military officers to enforce it and were convinced that its inevitable failure would only aggravate the disorder.
In anticipation of trouble on a wider scale, as soon as the boundary line was announced, a special force, known as the Punjab Boundary Force and consisting of over 50,000 Indian troops of mixed units not yet divided up community-wise, was formed early in August to maintain control in twelve districts of central Punjab where the greatest disturbances were apprehended. It was to be responsible to the Joint Defence Council, an overall Indo-Pakistan authority set up for the period of transition. As 15 August approached, inter-communal rioting started in the districts of Lahore and Amritsar. After 15 August the attacks by both sides on the minority community developed into an orgy of mass killing which soon spread from the central Punjab to the outlying districts and beyond. The disorder and the slaughter far exceeded anything that had been expected and was quite beyond the control of the Boundary Force. The twelve districts assigned to it had populations 14.5 million distributed in nearly 18,000 towns and villages over an area of 37,500 square miles. This enormous area of disturbance was more than the Boundary Force, at first much below full strength, could effectively cover, especially as heavy monsoon rains impeded its movement. It was without any proper intelligence system; it could look for little help from the civil administration which virtually had broken down, while the mainly Muslim Punjab police were, in West Punjab, almost entirely partisan and in East Punjab deserted or were afraid to act. The Boundary Force could, therefore, do little more than slightly check the general slaughter and prevent a complete holocaust in Lahore and Amritsar. It was much criticized, some of the troops composing it succumbed to communal loyalties, and on 31 August it was broken up, two new Dominion Governments taking over the forces located on each side of the boundary line and assuming complete responsibility. This change and appeals for peace by leaders did not effect much improvement. The mass killings were brought to an end by mass migrations in opposite directions.
Migrations from East to West Punjab and vice versa had begun before 15 August, but were frowned upon by the authorities, and as late as 6 August the Partition Council at Delhi was still aiming at stopping the exodus and encouraging the return of those who had already left. After 15 August the rioting in both halves of the Punjab set going a vast movement of mass migration which nobody had foreseen and nobody could arrest and which in three months emptied East Punjab of all Muslims and West Punjab of all Hindus and Sikhs. Joint appeals by political leaders for an end to violence had little effect, and the refugees, moving by road and rail, were constantly exposed to attack by members of the opposite community. The two new Dominion and Provincial Governments, unable to restore peace or check the migrations, soon found that their main tasks were to afford protection to the outgoing refugees, herding them into camps where they could be safeguarded and then providing escort for their onward journey, and to make arrangements for the reception and resettlement of refugees coming in from the opposite direction. The great majority of the refugees moved by road and for several weeks huge columns of them, sometimes as much as 50 miles in length, with their goods and chattels piled on bullock carts or carried on head, could be seen slowly making their way across the Punjab in opposite directions.
The magnitude of these massacres and migrations is without known historical parallel in any part of the globe. Estimators of the casualties range from 200,000 to 1,000, 000; the former is probably nearest the truth. Estimates of numbers of persons who migrated are more reliable.. Roughly three and a half million Hindus and Sikhs migrated from West Punjab to India and five million Muslims from East Punjab to Pakistan. The Muslims lost rather more lives than the Hindus and Sikhs, but considerably less property. This is illustrated by the fact that the Hindus and Sikhs had to abandon 6.2 million acres of land in West Punjab, the Muslims only 3.96 million acres in East Punjab. The resettlement of refugees in India was carried out efficiently and fairly quickly but cuts had to be made in their claims to immovable property owing to the paucity of assets left by the Muslims. Resettlement in Pakistan dragged on for many years and was not concluded till after the military regime took over in October 1958.
After recovering from the shock and dislocation of Partition, both halves of the Punjab made considerable economic progress, both agriculturally and industrially, though probably not greater than would have been achieved, if the province had remained undivided. The quickest and most remarkable recovery was that of the Sikhs in East Punjab. As a community the Sikhs had suffered most from the Partition, since such a large proportion of their total population was affected. But many of the Sikhs who migrated from the colony districts of West Punjab were exceedingly good cultivators and to some extent they recouped their losses by developing with exceptional energy and enterprise the diminished holdings allotted to them in East Punjab.
The migrations enabled the Sikh community to keep together despite the Partition, and although the sufferings at the time were intense; on a long view, the Partition was not without benefit to the Sikh community, for with the hiving off the non-Punjabi speaking districts of East Punjab to form a new state of Haryāṇā, the Sikhs are consolidated in a single compact state, known simply as Punjab, in which they enjoy a predominating influence.