On this day, 74 years ago, Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy and the Governor-General of India, announced a plan to tear up India into two nations – India and Pakistan. The day June 3 will always be remembered in the country as the day when Indian National Congress-led by Jawaharlal Nehru, lost large Indian territories to yet-to-be-created Islamic nation – Pakistan.
On this day in 1947, Lord Mountbatten announced that British India would be free from the shackles of the Britishers and would become a free country. However, the independence for India also came at a huge cost as it was decided that British India would be partitioned on the religious lines – Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.
Fearing the onslaught of Muslim League supporters, the Indian National Congress-led by Jawaharlal Nehru, readily agreed to the Mountbatten plan that sought to gift Indian territories to Mohammad Ali Jinnah-led Muslim League to establish their own Islamic nation – Pakistan.
So how did it all start?
On February 20, 1947, Clement Attlee, the then British Prime Minister, declared that the British would quit India in June 1948. As Indians united and stood up against the century-old British oppression, the mighty British Empire began to crumble and finally decided to quit India after two hundred years of its imperialism.
The statement in the British Parliament by Attlee meant that a deadline was already fixed for the transfer of power even if the Indian politicians had not agreed on a constitution. Secondly, the British would relinquish control either to some form of central government or in some areas to the existing provincial governments if the constituent assembly was not fully representative, i.e., if the Muslim majority provinces did not join the assembly.
It is important to mention that Muslim League-led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had boycotted the Constituent Assembly after Cabinet Mission had rejected the idea of Pakistan. The ‘Direct Action’ call given by Muslim League leaders and the inability of the Congress leadership to stop violence and negotiate a better deal with Pakistan had eventually provided MA Jinnah with an upper hand in the talks with the British.
In his statement, Attlee had stated that the British paramountcy on the princely states would lapse with the transfer of power, but these would not be transferred to any successor government in British India. The statement by Attlee had contained clear hints of partition and even Balkanisation of the country into numerous states, sending jitters across the country.
Earl of Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, arrives in India
To perform this job, George VI, King of the United Kingdom and the Emperor of British India, sent his cousin Lord Louis Francis Albert Victor “Dickie” Mountbatten to India as his last viceroy.
Earl Louis Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy and the Governor-General of India, who arrived in India on March 22, 1947, had his task cut out – to liquidate the British empire and quit India as soon as possible. Initially, he was given time until June 1948 – not 1947 – to complete his mission. But, in a hurry to get back to Britain to advance his naval career, Dickey decided to prepone the transfer of power by ten months, to August 1947. To achieve this, he worked out a plan after having long discussions with Congress and the Muslim League leaders.
As Mountbatten’s efforts to keep India united failed and with increasing communal riots in the country, he asked Ismay, his Chief of Staff, to prepare a plan for the transfer of power to responsible hands and the division of the country. It was discussed that the entire plan was to be kept secretive, and none of the parties in India should have any information before the plan was finalised.
However, even before the announcement of the plan, Jawaharlal Nehru, who was staying with Mountbatten as a guest at his residence at Simla, had a look at the plan, who rejected the plan in totality. Mountbatten then asked VP Menon, the only Indian working in his personal staff, to present a new plan for transferring power.
Later, Mountbatten went to London, where he got it approved without any alteration. Attlee and his cabinet approved in a meeting that lasted not more than five minutes. On May 31, Mountbatten returned to India and met the Indian leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Acharya Kripalani, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Liaqat Ali, and Baldev Singh. After both Congress and Muslim League leaders approved the plan without raising any objections. Later, Mountbatten discussed it with Gandhi and convinced him saying partition was the best plan under the circumstances.
On 3 June 1947, Lord Mountbatten announced a plan offering a key to the political and constitutional deadlock created by the refusal of the Muslim League to join the Constituent Assembly formed to frame the Constitution of India.
Under this Plan, the British would immediately transfer power to two successor authorities — the Congress and the Muslim League and the plan envisaged dividing British India into two dominions – India and Pakistan on a territorial-cum-communal basis. The idea of Mountbatten was to divide India but to retain maximum unity, to which Congress readily agreed.
Accordingly, the country would be partitioned, especially the two major British provinces – Punjab and Bengal so that a limited Pakistan would emerge. The initial plan said that each of the 11 provinces of British India and each of the 559 princely states would be allowed to join India or Pakistan or remain independent.
Finally, on June 3, the plan was made public by Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, and it is thus known as the 3rd June Plan.
The main points of the Mountbatten Plan are:
1. The provincial Legislative Assemblies of Punjab and Bengal were to meet in two groups: the Muslim majority districts and the non-Muslim majority districts. If any of the two decided in favour of the division of the province, then the Governor-General would appoint a boundary commission to demarcate the boundaries of the province based on ascertaining the contiguous majority areas of the Muslims and the non-Muslims.
2. The Legislative Assembly of Sindh was to decide either to join the existing Constituent Assembly or the New Constituent Assembly.
3. To decide the future of the North-West Frontier Province, a referendum was proposed. The electoral college for the referendum was to be the same as the electoral college for the Provincial Legislative Assembly in 1946.
4. Baluchistan was also to be given the option to express its opinion on the issue.
5. If the people of Bengal decided in favour of partition, a referendum would be held in the Sylhet District of Assam to determine if it would continue as a part of Assam or be merged with the new province of East Bengal.
Thus, the League’s position on the creation of Pakistan was tactically conceded by the Indian National Congress in exchange for the Congress’s position on the unity of the future Indian state, especially on not granting independence to princely state, but be a given to choice to join either India or Pakistan. The idea was to keep Pakistan as small as possible.
On June 3, 1947, Mountbatten was able to bring leaders of both – Indian National Congress and Muslim League around a conference table, where they collectively endorsed Mountbatten’s plan. In less than half a day, the new plan was accepted by both sides – Congress and the Muslim League, paving the way for the partition.
The acceptance of the plan by the Congress and the Muslim League meant that British India would be partitioned into two newly independent nations – Indian and Pakistan.
Under the plan, the dominions of India and Pakistan would remain within the British Commonwealth. The British paramountcy over 559 princely states in India would not be transferred to the two dominions and would lapse consequentially. The princely states would be free to join either of the two dominions.
Radcliffe partition and communal violence:
As per the plan, a Boundary Commission headed by Sir Cyril Radcliffe was constituted by the British government tasked to delineate the boundaries between India and Pakistan in the provinces of Bengal and Punjab. Radcliffe, who had never previously set foot in India, was assigned to create artificial boundaries between the two countries. Apparently, he had worked with Mountbatten earlier, and since he had never been to British India, he was considered unbiased. Both Nehru and Jinnah agreed to the appointment, which the Partition Council formally approved.
What followed it was a rapid transformation. There were communal riots on an unprecedented scale, which left several thousand dead as British Empire was preparing for a hurried exit from India, which turned a blind eye to the communal violence. The botched process of partition saw the slaughter of more than a million people. More than 20 million people along religious lines were displaced, creating overwhelming refugee crises in the newly constituted dominions. Untold numbers were maimed, mutilated, dismembered and disfigured as British Empire stood and silently watched the dissolution of its ‘crown jewel’ India.
Indian Independence Act
On July 5, 1947, the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act, which was based on the Mountbatten Plan. The Act that was implemented on August 15, 1947, provided for the creation of two independent dominions of India and Pakistan with effect from August 15, 1947. The Indian Independence Act was the legislative culmination of the Mountbatten Plan, and the passing of the act is considered as the official declaration of Indian Independence.
According to the act, the two new dominions – India and Pakistan-were to have a governor-general responsible for the effective operation of the Act. In addition, the constituent assembly of each new dominion will have to exercise the powers of the legislature of that dominion, and the existing Central Legislative Assembly and the Council of States were to be automatically dissolved.
Until each dominion adopted a new constitution, the governments of the two dominions were to be carried on according to the Government of India Act, 1935, the Indian Independence Act stated.
As per the provisions of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, Pakistan became independent on August 14, while India got its freedom on August 15, 1947. Mohammad Ali Jinnah became the first Governor-General of Pakistan. India requested Lord Mountbatten to continue as the Governor-General of India.