Jinnah and Partition

Print edition : September 09, 2005

Mohammed Ali Jinnah with Mahatma Gandhi. - THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

The Century has given birth to a great epoch; but the great moment finds a petty generation.

- Goethe

THE world waited long for the dawn of India's independence, but what it witnessed was, in the immortal words of Faiz, a stained dawn: India was partitioned amidst bloodshed. Its independence was inevitable. Its partition was not.

Many had mooted it. If V.D. Savarkar propounded the two-nation theory in 1923, Lala Lajpat Rai proposed partition in The Tribune of December 14, 1924: "A clear partition of India into a Muslim India and a non-Muslim India." Punjab and Bengal were to be partitioned as well. The Muslim League's Lahore Resolution of March 23, 1940, brought the idea into the mainstream of politics. Mohammed Ali Jinnah used the two-nation theory in its justification.

The evidence is irrefutable that it was a bargaining counter he had to devise because in 1939 the Viceroy kept asking him for a concrete "alternative":

(1) A Working Committee draft of October 22, 1939, spoke of a "confederation of free states". (2) On January 19, 1940, Jinnah wrote of two nations "who both must share the governance of their common motherland". (3) Only 24 hours earlier, the draft provided for "a central Agency... the Grand Council of the United Dominions of India". Jinnah dropped it to raise the price. (4) The Lahore Resolution itself envisaged a centre for the interim period ("finally"), a typical Jinnah tactic for bargaining. (5) An English friend of Penderel Moon "who knew Jinnah" was told, "in reply to his expressions of surprise at such a dramatic revolution... that it was a tactical move". (6) There is overwhelming testimony by several of Jinnah's confidants. I.I. Chundrigar, a Leaguer close to him, told H.V. Hodson, the Reforms Commissioner, in April 1940 that the object of the Lahore Resolution was not to create "Ulsters" but to achieve "two nations... welded into united India on the basis of equality". It was, he added, an alternative to majority rule, not a bid to destroy India's unity. Jinnah himself told Nawab Mohammed Ismail Khan, one of the few who thought for himself, in November 1941, that he could not come out with these truths "because it is likely to be misunderstood especially at present". But "I think Mr. Hodson finally understands as to what our demand is." (Hodson regarded it as a bid for a set-up on "equal terms" motivated by the fear that Muslims might be reduced to being "a Cinderella with trade union rights and a radio in the kitchen but still below-stairs".) (7) Professor R.J. Moore's Escape from Empire refers to a file in the Jinnah papers in Pakistan's archives containing his correspondence with Cripps in 1942 on "the creation of a new Indian Union". Significantly, it is still embargoed. (8) On April 25, 1946, he was offered two alternatives - the Pakistan as it came to be established in 1947 or an Indian Union superimposed on groups of Muslim provinces. Jinnah rejected the first and said he would consider the second if Congress did the same. His own proposals of May 12 envisaged not Pakistan but a confederation. (9) Mumtaz Daultana, a prominent Leaguer of Punjab, told Ayesha Jalal: "Jinnah never wanted a Pakistan which involved the partition of India and was all in favour of accepting the Cabinet Mission's proposals" of May 16, 1946; which he did. (10) Documents in Volume VI of The Transfer of Power 1942-47 record top League leaders like Nazimuddin and Ispahani of Bengal, Saadullah of Assam, Aurangzeb Khan of the North West Frontier Province and Khaliquzzaman expressing their scepticism to Governors early in 1946. (11) Liaquat Ali Khan suggested federation, not confederation, to Stafford Cripps in 1942.

Sikandar Hyat Khan, Premier of Punjab, was opposed to Pakistan. The Governor of Punjab, H.D. Craik, wrote perceptively to the Viceroy on April 1, 1940: "It is reasonable at present to assume that Muslims would accept something less than partition, but the longer time that elapses without any concrete alternative being put forward, the more the support and favour partition proposals are likely to receive from the Muslim masses, who will now follow Jinnah's lead blindly" (emphasis added, throughout).

As Craik noted, a "concrete alternative" to Pakistan had urgently to be devised. That was not done. The "Muslim masses" fell for it. Jinnah became Quaid-e-Azam, inebriated with power. He could not possibly achieve Pakistan except by an accord with the Congress. He did not adopt a conciliatory approach; but mobilised mass support using abrasive rhetoric. He said at Kanpur on March 30, 1941, that "in order to liberate seven crores of Muslims where they were in a majority he was willing to perform the last ceremony of martyrdom, if necessary, and let two crores of Muslims be smashed". It is unlikely that he was prepared for that, which itself suggests the bargaining tactic he used. But "smashed" they were; thanks not least to the politics of an arrogant man who fancied that the Muslims of India were his to save or get "smashed".

The British government's statement on August 8, 1940, on India and the war said "it goes without saying that they could not contemplate transfer of... [power]... to any system of government whose authority is directly denied by large and powerful elements in India's national life. Nor could they be parties to the coercion of such elements into submission to such a government". In August Jinnah won the Pakistan he had demanded in March. He had now only to secure Muslims' support in the Pakistan provinces. The Congress also accepted the principle of non-coercion. It made Pakistan inevitable by refusing to propound an alternative to it; by refraining from pointing out forcibly and at the outset that it entailed partition of Punjab and Bengal - and the loss of many a League leader's lands - and by treating Muslim Congressmen as irrelevant.

Jawaharlal Nehru with Sir Stafford Cripps in 1946.-

These volumes document the drift. The Jinnah Papers record his enormous success in mobilising the Muslim masses. Even during a long holiday in Srinagar he had to resolve the perpetual feuds among the League's provincial satraps. The piece de resistance are the minutes of his talks with Prem Nath Bazaz. He refused permission to print them.

Dr. K.M. Ashraf was a scholar, a member of the Communist Party of India and the All India Congress Committee (1934-45). Jaweed Ashraf has rendered a service by publishing this study written in 1946 for submission to CPI's general secretary, P.C. Joshi, who did not circulate this critique. Another volume on a similar theme is under publication. Volume 2 has the very revealing minutes of a talk that CPI leader Dr. Z.A. Ahmad had with Jawaharlal Nehru on June 27 and 28, 1945. One of the most brilliant pamphleteers of his day, Joshi's pamphlet, They Must Meet Again, on the Gandhi-Jinnah talks is a classic of its kind.

Lionel Carter's compilation is useful because all Governors of Punjab were in close touch with Prime Minister Sikandar Hyat Khan, a Leaguer out to espouse the flaws in the concept of Pakistan. He drew up a "formula" in July 1942. Its "underlying idea... is... to bring home to all... that Pakistan should it ever eventuate, would smash the Province as it now exists", the Governor reported. (The text of the formula is reproduced on page 317.) It stipulated that the Punjab Assembly could decide to join the Union or not only by a vote of three-fourths of the total membership. If it failed to secure such a vote, a referendum could follow. Its result would, in any case, entail partition of Punjab.

A similar formula was mooted in the proposals which Cripps made to Indian leaders on behalf of the British government in March 1942 - a Constituent Assembly set up immediately after the war; every province having the right to reject the Constitution, but if the majority in favour of accession was less than 60 per cent of the Assembly, the minority would be entitled to demand a plebiscite. Cripps also offered formulae on an interim government to conduct the war. The Cripps offer was rejected by the Congress and the League. Gandhi called it "a post-dated cheque on a tottering bank". But, for the first time ever, the partition of India was put as an item on the agenda.

The Congress' response to the League's demand was strange. On April 2, 1942, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) criticised the secessionist idea, only to add: "Nevertheless, the Committee cannot think in terms of compelling the people of any territorial unit to remain in the Indian Union against their declared and established will.... " Its election manifesto of 1945 reiterated this principle, thus setting at naught the Jagat Narain Lal resolution, adopted by the AICC on May 2, 1942, which ruled out "liberty to any component State or territorial unit to secede".

The Congress would ridicule the Pakistan cry and call Jinnah names. It did not ask him searching questions on his vague demand nor demonstrate vigorously its consequences. Its policy was to parley with the British for immediate transfer of power, leaving Jinnah high and dry, and the communal issue one for it to settle unilaterally once it was in power.

C. Rajagopalachari, Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and M. Asaf Ali disagreed with Gandhi on the Quit India Movement. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad and others blindly followed him. Azad's memoirs India Wins Freedom (1959) was the first exposure of the truths behind the "do and die" cry and the commitment to non-violence. "Truth to tell... it was certainly not non-violent even at the start," K.M. Munshi admitted. Azad recalled: "Gandhiji's idea seemed to be that since the war was on the Indian frontier, the British would come to terms with the Congress as soon as the movement was launched. Even if this did not take place, he believed that the British would hesitate to take any drastic steps with the Japanese knocking at India's doors. He thought that this would give the Congress the time and the opportunity to organise an effective movement."

What was Azad's plan? "As soon as the Japanese army reached Bengal and the British army withdrew towards Bihar, the Congress should step in and take over the control of the country... in this way alone could we hope to oppose the new enemy and gain our freedom.... " He had even recruited volunteers. "I was surprised to find that Gandhiji did not agree with me... if the Japanese army ever came to India it would come not as our enemies but as the enemy of the British."

The AICC passed the Quit India resolution on August 8, 1942. The next morning the leaders were arrested. Gandhi was "very depressed... he had not expected this sudden arrest". He had come to believe that "the Allies could not win the war". Others agreed. Patel "felt convinced that the Allies were going to lose the war", Munshi recorded.

Unlike Nehru and Azad, Rajaji did not acquiesce in Gandhi's decision. He wrote to him on July 18: "It is essential that before a demand for withdrawal can be reasonably made, the major political organisations of the country namely, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, should evolve a joint plan with regard to the provisional government which can take over power." Gandhi retorted on July 20: "Why don't you form a league (sic) with Muslim friends to propagate your idea of settlement?"

It was a fundamental divide. Rajaji knew that transfer of power depended on accord with the League. Gandhi and the Congress sought a deal exclusively with the British. "I am not in favour of making any approach to Jinnah," Patel said when S. Satyamurthi pleaded in the Working Committee in April 1942 for "an approach to the Muslim League".

As in 1937-39, the Congress sought total power. The Pakistan resolution and Jinnah's growing popularity made not the slightest difference to its outlook. Rajaji shared Craik's view that "a concrete alternative" had to be evolved and "urgently", too - tell Jinnah he can have Pakistan, but what next? He got the Madras Congress Legislature Party to adopt the resolutions on April 23, 1942, to "acknowledge the Muslim League's claim for separation" and "invite" it to forge an accord on "a National government" to fight the war - against the Axis. The Leaguers "will themselves say that they don't want it if you do not keep it in your pocket but throw it on the table".

The Congress' plan was bizarre. In 1945, Nehru confided in Z.A. Ahmed: "I may tell you this but do not convey it to anyone else, that sometime before August 1942 Gandhiji gave in to me and others on the question of non-violence... he realised that he would not be able to achieve his larger objective if he stuck on to non-violence... . Our estimate was that if the Japanese occupied the Eastern part of India, conditions of complete administrative disorder and anarchy would be created throughout the unoccupied parts... under these conditions our idea was to organise guerilla forces in order to capture power in territories where the administrative machinery was in a state of collapse." Since "no guerrilla bands can function without the help of the regular army" the possibility of the guerillas fighting the Japanese "in the front line... was ruled out". This confirms Azad's account.

Analysing this very episode in detail, Nirad C. Chaudhuri concluded that both Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose were simply ignorant of international affairs (The Times of India; February 28, 1982). He called Nehru "India's ineffectual angel" in a brilliant review article on the first volume of S. Gopal's biography (The Times Literary Supplement; November 14, 1975). Gandhi could control him with ease.

Remember, on June 22, 1941, Hitler attacked the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour. The United States, the `unsinkable aircraft-carrier', was at war with the Axis. True, Singapore fell on January 15, 1942, but as a historian records, by mid-June 1942 "the limit of Japanese power [was] reached". Nehru wrote in his prison diary on November 21, 1943: "My presumption in posing as the sole authority on international affairs is, no doubt, irritating" to the captive audience comprising Azad, Patel, and the rest. The diaries of one of them, Asaf Ali, reveal the enormity of the blunder in which they had acquiesced. (M. Asaf Ali's Memoirs edited by G.N.S. Raghavan; Ajanta, 1994; a neglected work.) He wrote: "A bad gambler's throw has produced this situation... . Gandhiji expected that a compromise would follow the adoption of the Quit India resolution" - the Brits would capitulate in the face of certain defeat.

YET, for all the havoc they had so irresponsibly wrought, the Congress leaders had learnt not a bit. They were sore at Rajaji for his formula in April 1944 - for a plebiscite on Pakistan in areas "wherein the Muslim population is in absolute majority" - and at Gandhi for his variant of this formula which he offered Jinnah during their talks on September 24, 1944. B.R. Ambedkar exposed the flaws in both formulae (Pakistan or The Partition of India; 1946; pages 408-411).

Its crux was division of India - if at all - by a Congress government after it had won power from the British. "The case became one of an executed promise [by Jinnah] against an executory promise" [by Gandhi]. It was vague on essentials. But Gandhi squandered away a fine opportunity to question Jinnah on the Lahore Resolution. Ambedkar listed seven questions. Gandhi asked instead: "What is your definition of `minorities'?" and "What is the connotation of the word `Muslim'... ?"

Nehru and Patel left prison in 1945 with a two-fold resolve - "the Congress should keep as far away from the League as possible", Nehru told the AICC on October 23. "This is war. We shall face the Muslim League and fight it." Patel concurred. The AICC extolled "the methods of negotiation and conciliation vis-a-vis the British... no matter how grave may be the provocation... " Ashraf remarked: "The Congress declared war on the League while at the same time, it adopted a policy of surrender towards British imperialism."

The British were ready to quit. The Congress sought a deal with them. Nehru talked of redressing Muslim grievance, but with whom? Congress Muslims had been marginalised completely. Nehru went so far as to demand on November 11, 1945, that the League must change "its present policy and its leadership". Patel reported to Gandhi on December 28, 1945, his reply to the Aga Khan's plea for talks with Jinnah: "We have decided not to have any truck with him." Gandhi replied on January 11, 1946: "Yours indeed was a fitting reply regarding Jinnahbhai." Nehru was perfectly consistent. He wrote in his diary on December 28, 1943: "Instinctively I think it is better to have Pakistan almost anything if only to keep Jinnah far away and not allow his muddled and arrogant head from (sic) interfering continually in India's progress" (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; First Series: Vol. 13, page 324). He accurately predicted: "I cannot help thinking that ultimately the Muslims of India will suffer most" (ibid; page 24). How was he going to avert that? Forget the League. Had the Congress anything to offer the Muslim minority in our plural society, if only to undermine Jinnah's hold on it?

In a letter to Cripps on January 27, 1946, Nehru hinted at his readiness to accept "separation" coupled with the partition of Punjab and Bengal. Publicly, however, the line was to reject Pakistan without propounding any alternative.

The British government sent a mediatory Mission of three Cabinet Ministers, Secretary of State for India Pethick-Lawrence, A.V. Alexander and Stafford Cripps. It arrived in India on March 23, 1946, and left on June 30. On May 16, 1946, it published "the Mission's Plan". Partition was decisively rejected.

It envisaged a Union confined to defence, foreign affairs and communications based on three groups of provinces. The provinces were free to secede from the groups, after the first general elections under the scheme. But they could not secede from the Union. All they could ask for was "reconsideration of the terms of the Constitution" after 10 years. It would have been open to the provinces of Group A (the States which now form the Union of India) to confer on their group voluntarily subjects beyond the minimum subjects. Group B comprised Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan and the NWFP. Group C comprised Bengal and Assam. Far from establishing a "weak" centre, it would have yielded a strong centre, the India of today in Group A in federal union with Pakistan.

Paragraph 19 laid down the procedure, which the Constituent Assembly had to follow - "divide into three sections", which would "settle the powers and the constitutions for the groups and the provinces".

Patel wrote to Munshi the next day: "An authoritative pronouncement in clear terms has been made against the possibility of Pakistan in any shape or form." Both were accomplished lawyers. Azad exclaimed: "All schemes of partition of India have been rejected once and for all." But by the end of 1946, partition became an agreed inevitability. In cases of contributory negligence, judges ask: "Who had the last clear chance to avert the accident?" This was the last clear chance to save India's unity. Blame for the partition must fall on those who wrecked Cabinet Mission's Plan.

The circumstances in which Jinnah accepted it are as important as his acceptance was radical. Cripps had prepared Scheme A for a limited union and B for partition of India and of Punjab and Bengal. On April 25, Jinnah preferred the union to the Pakistan of today; but, only "if the Congress were prepared to consider it and if he could be assured of that". On May 12, both sides presented their proposals to the Mission. Jinnah's was not for partition but a confederation. In a settlement this bargainer would have improved on his own proposal. He did just that by his acceptance of the Plan. "I do not think any responsible man could have allowed the situation to give rise to bloodshed and civil war. The situation was such that we did, in all anxiety, try to come to a peaceful settlement with the other major party. We had the courage - it was not a mistake - to sacrifice three subjects to the Centre. That has been treated with contempt and defiance by the Congress."

As K.M. Panikkar pointed out on October 10, 1945, no Constituent Assembly can succeed unless a Congress-League accord, on the basics and on the procedures, "is evolved before" it meets. The Plan was a proposal. Words like "we recommend" meant it was not an award. It became a pact between the Congress and the League if it was accepted. The British undertook to transfer power to a Union set up under the pact. Either side could reject it. Conditional acceptance is tantamount to rejection. Acceptance on the basis of one's own "interpretation" is a disingenuous form of rejection. The Plan laid down the fundamentals of both the Union and the Assembly. If they were set up under the Plan, the parties had to abide by the prescribed procedure. It was part of the deal. It said explicitly [para 19 (vii)] that the basics (the Union and the Groups) could not be changed nor "any major communal issue" decided except with the consent of both communities.

However, Patel claimed on May 26 that "it is open to the Constituent Assembly to accept or reject" the Mission's "recommendations". On June 15, he wrote: "We do not accept the groupings as proposed in the scheme." The Plan would be used only to enter the Assembly, not to work the compromise. The Congress would use its majority to do what it pleased. There would be no compromise with the League.

Nehru told the Mission in private on June 10: "The Congress were going to work for a strong centre and to break the group system and they would succeed. They did not think that Mr. Jinnah had any real place in the country." On July 10, he told the press, after he had become Congress president: "What we do there [in the Constituent Assembly], we are entirely and absolutely free to determine. We have not committed ourselves to any single matter to anybody." This is the famous "outburst" which Nehru baiters and Congress apologists alike cite to explain the collapse of the Plan. It is pure myth. Patel had taken the same stand. Azad, who fostered the myth, said on June 26 as Congress president: "I am convinced that the Congress interpretation cannot be challenged." He signed the letter of June 24 intimating acceptance of the Plan, as interpreted by the Congress in a resolution on May 24. The Mission as well as Jinnah had rejected this interpretation on May 25 and June 27, respectively - before Nehru's "outburst" on July 10.

The Congress had 207 members in the Constituent Assembly against 73 of the League. In Group C, comprising Bengal and Assam, it had 32 members against 36 of the League, in a House of 70, with two Independents. Since the League would have had to provide a chairman to work Group C, it would have been left with 35 members against 32 of the Congress. How could the League possibly have prevented Assam's secession? If it did, it would have faced the Congress' retaliation in the entire Constituent Assembly, as the British repeatedly reminded the Congress. No gerrymandering could have prevented Assam's secession. Muslims were only a third of its population.

Once the Constituent Assembly began its work, compromises would have had to be worked out. But the Congress had set its face against any compromise from the outset. It went unilateral in 1942 under Gandhi's leadership. It adopted this stance in 1945-46 also. On both occasions, it was led by Gandhi and he led it from the front with grim determination. He laid down the line publicly and at the outset before others spoke. He told a prayer meeting the very next day after the Plan was out (May 17): "The provinces were free to reject the very idea of grouping... subject to the above interpretation, which he held was right", the Plan was a laudable one.

He wrote to Pethick-Lawrence on May 19: "You say in your answer to a question: `If they do come together on that basis, it will mean that they will have accepted that basis, but they can still change it if by a majority of each party they desire to do so.' You can omit the last portion of the sentence as being superfluous for my purpose. Even the basis in para 15 of the State Paper is a recommendation. Do you regard a recommendation as obligatory on any member of the contemplated Constituent Assembly?"

Gandhi's detailed analysis, dated May 20, appeared in Harijan on May 26: "The best document the British government could have produced in the circumstances." He sought immediate transfer of power. The Plan was "an appeal and an advice... in my opinion, the voluntary character of the statement demands that the liberty of the individual unit should be unimpaired. Any member of the sections is free to join it. The freedom to opt out is an additional safeguard.

"A province could refuse at the outset to sit in the Section assigned to it and participate in its work. The procedure prescribed was what the Mission `proposes' [does not order] what should be done."

The character of the place as a compact between the two parties was studiously ignored. It was a matter between the Congress and the British.

Gandhi met Pethick-Lawrence on May 19 to press his line after meeting the CWC. He asked for "the immediate end of Paramountcy" over the princely states and withdrawal of British troops. "Acceptance of `Quit India' by the British is unconditional whether the Constituent Assembly succeeds or fails." He wanted a "homogeneous National Government", that is, one run by the Congress. This was the very line he took in 1942.

On May 25, the Mission issued a formal statement which said: "The interpretation put by the Congress resolution on paragraph 15 of the statement to the effect that the provinces can in the first instance make the choice whether or not to belong to the section in which they are placed does not accord with the Delegation's intentions."

The issue was squarely joined. On June 13, Gandhi wrote to Cripps ominously: "You will have to choose between the two - the Muslim League and the Congress." Implying there could be no compromise between the two on the basis of the Plan. He said at a meeting that day: "Even the Constituent Assembly plan now stinks. I am afraid we cannot touch it."

Cripps caved in (vide the writer's article "Cripps and India's Partition"; Frontline, August 2 and 16, 2002). A member of the Constituent Assembly had to give an undertaking "that the candidate is willing to serve as a representative of the Province for the purposes of paragraph 19 of the Statement".

This bound him to abide by the Plan once he became a member of the Constituent Assembly elected under the Plan and for its implementation. On June 24, the Mission and the Viceroy met Gandhi and Patel at 8 p.m. Gandhi felt that "by signing the declaration... a member of the Constituent Assembly might be bound morally to accept the Delegation's interpretation". Cripps agreed to the deletion (The Transfer of Power, Vol. VII; page 1,027). The Viceroy, Lord Wavell, furiously protested the next day: "I consider that there has either been a reversal of policy which has not been agreed, or that the assurance given to Mr. Gandhi is not entirely an honest one" (ibid; page 1,032). Prof. R.J. Moore holds that Wavell "justly described" it as "a dishonest assurance" (Escape from Empire, page 138).

The change was Gandhi's idea: "Why not say `under the State Paper as a whole'?" Cripps clutched at the straw. The Plan was scuttled effectively. On June 26, the CWC accepted Gandhi's formulation. "Taking the proposals as a whole", it decided to join the Assembly. Jinnah came to know all about this secret deal, he told Colin Reid of The Daily Telegraph.

The League withdrew its acceptance of the Plan and adopted the "Direct Action" resolution. Wavell, shaken after the Calcutta riots, tried to persuade Gandhi on August 27 to issue a declaration accepting the Plan as it was intended to be worked. He failed. He was convinced that "the Congress are practically asking us to hand over India to a single party".

To Louis Fischer, Gandhi said in confidence on July 17: "Jinnah is an evil genius. He believes he is a prophet." G.D. Birla was told on November 26 that the Plan "will probably have to be changed". He was not averse to "convening our own Constituent Assembly irrespective of the British government" provided the Congress had "a certain degree of status and strength".

Gandhi drew up a "note on the Constituent Assembly" on December 3, 1946. By then, first the Congress and later the League had entered the Interim Government. But the League boycotted the Constituent Assembly on the grounds that the Congress had not accepted the Plan. Gandhi sent his note to Patel on December 4 and wrote: "There is certainly no weakness on our part in giving up the Plan."

Despite his withdrawal, Jinnah had not given up on the Plan. From his queries to Sir B.N. Rau, Constitutional Adviser to the Constituent Assembly, "it is a fair inference that his mind had not been finally made up against the League's participation" in the Assembly, B. Shiva Rao of The Hindu noted. But if he entered it despite the Congress' stand, he would have accepted that stand, and the Congress' majority unfettered by the Plan. London invited Nehru, Jinnah and Baldev Singh for talks to resolve the tangle. Nehru did not yield. On December 6, the British government issued a statement which recorded that it had received "legal advice" that the Congress' interpretation was wrong.

It concluded: "There has never been any prospect of success for the Constituent Assembly, except upon the basis of an agreed procedure. Should a Constitution come to be framed by a Constituent Assembly in which a large section of the Indian population has not been represented, His Majesty's Government could not of course contemplate - as the Congress have stated they would not contemplate - forcing such a Constitution upon any unwilling parts of the country." - Accept the Plan and share power, or partition India. The Congress preferred the latter.

On December 15, Gandhi told Congressmen from Assam: "As soon as the time comes for the Constituent Assembly to go into Sections, you will say, `Gentlemen Assam retires.' Each unit must be able to decide and act for itself... . Else I will say that Assam had only manikins and no men. It is an impertinent suggestion that Bengal should dominate Assam in any way" - by 35 votes to 32, presumably.

As with the Plan, so with the statement, the Congress professed to accept it but subject to its interpretation. As late as on May 16, 1947, Mountbatten pleaded with Patel to accept the Plan. If the League misbehaved in Section C, it risked retaliation at the Centre, he pointed out. He had admitted to London on May 1, 1947, that Jinnah "might be right in... [his] belief" that the Congress had no intention of working the Plan "fairly" and that "Mr. Jinnah's fears had some foundation". The Plan was "dead". The Congress' stand led the British to declare on February 20, 1947, that power would be transferred by June 30, 1948, whether to a Union or to provinces. Like Cripps, Mountbatten plumped for the Congress. If he "fell foul of Congress it would be impossible to continue to run the country".

Not surprisingly, on March 8 the Congress asked for the partition of Punjab and Bengal and invited the League for talks. Gandhi's note suggests that he was prepared for partition. The Assembly could frame a Constitution "for all the Provinces, States and units that may be represented" in it. His instructions to the CWC removed all doubt. But it was to be a Pakistan minus not only Assam but also the NWFP, "the Sikhs in the Punjab and may be Baluchistan". He called them "seceders" from Groups B and C. The British would have to quit. "It will be open to the boycotters to avail themselves of the Constitution" framed "for whole India". Jinnah's truncated Pakistan would rejoin India (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 86; page 286).

Gandhi's reaction on February 24 to the British declaration shows the sharpness of his intellect: "This may lead to Pakistan for those provinces or portions which may want it... The Congress provinces... will get what they want."

He gave a formula on April 4: Jinnah to be Prime Minister of India - backed by a Congress majority in the Constituent Assembly and liable to a sack any moment. An elaboration of April 10 hinted at partition as an alternative to the League entering the Constituent Assembly. Thus the League was offered an Assembly freed from the Cabinet Mission's restrictions - with Jinnah as Prime Minister as a sweetener - or a Pakistan minus even the NWFP. When neither worked, he said on May 6: "The Congress should in no circumstances be party to partition. We should tell the British to quit unconditionally."

He wrote to Mountbatten on May 8 asking him to "leave the government of the whole of India, including the States, to one party". On June 3, 1947, the Partition Plan was published, which both the parties accepted. The next day Gandhi said: "I tried my best to bring the Congress round to accept the proposal of May 16. But now we must accept what is an accomplished fact."

H.M. Seervai's comment is fair: "It is sad to think that Gandhi's rejection of the Cabinet Mission's Proposal for an Interim Government and of Cabinet Mission's Plan should have had the unfortunate consequence of destroying the unity of a free India for which he had fought so valiantly and for so long" (Partition of India; 1994; page 177).

Sir Chimanlal Setalvad wrote: "The cherished boon of a United India had fallen into their (the Congress) lap, but they by their own want of political wisdom threw it out and made it beyond their reach." It was "a great personal triumph for Mr. Jinnah... But has he succeeded in doing good to the Muslims themselves and to his country?" Partition had laid "the foundations of interminable quarrels" and would "bring untold suffering to generations yet unborn" (The Times of India, June 15, 1947).

Azad told the Viceroy on April 8 that partition would "spell disaster for the Mussulmans". But Nehru and Patel were set on it. Gandhi, however, began campaigning against partition after his return to Delhi on May 24, driving Mountbatten to denounce him repeatedly in private as "a dangerous Trotskyist", a Wrecker. He found the change hard to understand. Gandhi, as well as Nehru and Patel, rejected the Sarat Bose-Suhrawardy pact on a united Bengal as a sovereign state. It would have buried the two-nation theory at the very birth of Pakistan. Jinnah told Mountbatten on April 6, 1947, that a united Bengal was acceptable to him. Gandhi, however, demanded for the minorities in united Bengal safeguards, which he would not concede to the minorities in a united India. (vide the writer's essay on the united Bengal plan in The Partition in Retrospect edited by Amrik Singh; pages 246-258.)

Two men foresaw the consequences clearly. Azad predicted that the fate of Muslims going to Pakistan would be worse than that of uninvited guests (Kamalistan; March 1956; page 28). Nehru told Z.A. Ahmed that if the Congress accepted Pakistan "Hindu opinion inside the Congress would go over to the Hindu Sabha". He had noted in his Autobiography that "many a Congressman was a communalist under his nationalist cloak".

SINCE 1939, Jinnah played irresponsibly with fire. True, as R.C. Majumdar, a historian with a pro-Hindu Right bias, accepted, "one important factor which was responsible to a very large extent for the emergence of the idea of partition of India on communal bias... was the Hindu Mahasabha" (Struggle for Freedom, 1969; page 611).

But Nehru's and Jinnah's remedies - wholly different though they were - proved worse than the disease. Gandhi, a devout Hindu, was an enemy of communal violence. He was livid when idols were placed inside mosques. He said on November 30, 1947: "It is the duty of those who have installed the idols to remove them from there... By thus installing idols in the mosques they are desecrating the mosques and also insulting the idols" (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi; Vol. 90; page 144).

He would have given his life to save the Babri Mosque as, indeed, he did to save the Muslims.

It is men of fine qualities who failed India. It had no Nelson Mandela; a man of vision with a passion and talent to reach out to the adversary and compromise. The Congress leaders failed dismally. But Jinnah also could well have assured Assam publicly that it would not be coerced - and thus saved the Plan that he himself hailed as an achievement.

Jinnah's dream was shattered with the partition of Punjab and Bengal, and the massive killings. For a secular Pakistan, the presence of a large, powerful and articulate minority was indispensable. Their exodus also affected Muslims in India adversely. It is not in Pakistan but in India that the values of democracy and rule of law, which he cherished all his life, are respected. Yet, the fact remains that though he recklessly broke the mould of constitutional discourse and played with fire, the final responsibility for partition was not his. He had "no real place in the country", Nehru had declared.

In a sense, Jinnah was an expellee whose dreams lie buried in India as well as in Pakistan. He might well have cried in the words the gifted poet Sahir Ludhianvi used when he was honoured by the Ludhiana Government College, which had expelled him for communist activities:

Tu aaj bhi hai merey liye jannate khayal /hai tujh mein dafn meri jawani ke chaar saal

Lekin hum in fizaon ke paaley huey to hain /Gar yan ke nahin to yan se nikaley huey to hain

(You are for me still the heaven of my dreams / On your grounds lie buried four years of my youth.

But I have been very much brought up in its atmosphere/If I do not belong to it, I was at least an expellee from this place).

Jinnah Papers: Quest for Political Settlement in India 1 October 1943-31 July 1944; Second Series Volume X; Editor-in-Chief Z.H. Zaidi; Quaid-e-Azam Papers Project; distributors Oxford Unviersity Press, Karachi; pages 775, Rs.750.

Hindu-Muslim Question and Our Freedom Struggle 1857-1935 by K.M. Ashraf, Volumes 1 and 2; Sunrise Publications, New Delhi; pages 290 and 328, Rs.1,575 for the set.

Punjab Politics 1940-1943: Governor's Fortnightly Reports edited by Lionel Carter; Manohar; distributed by Foundation Books; pages 427, Rs.995.

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