Last year a British Indian Director, Gurinder Chadha released a movie “Viceroy’s House” about the partition of India. The feature film is based on the goings-on at Viceroy’s House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan) in Delhi. The film blames Winston Churchill for the partition of India. Chadha originally hails from Jhelum in Pakistani Punjab. She had to hurriedly migrate with her mother and spent some time in a refugee camp. Gurinder Chada in an interview to a movie journal says, “My film is based on Top-Secret British documents that look at what Britain and America had to gain from the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. As part of my research I read Narindra Singh Sarila’s The Shadow Of The Great Game, which exposes these Top Secret Government files that had been sealed for fifty years. These documents show that the decision to divide India was influenced by the World Map and who would retain power in the region”.
After the end of the World War II, the west was keen to restrict the influence of their war time allay Stalin. Both Britain and America wanted to restrict Russian approach to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. They were keen to create a corridor by partitioning India to restrict the Russian advance. Lord Archibald Wavell at Churchill’s behest drew a secret plan to divide India. The war-time prime minister, who otherwise fiercely opposed the concession of freedom to India, analysed Jawaharlal Nehru as being pro-Soviet Union and therefore likely to give the Communist power access to the warm water port of Karachi and consequently an easy passage to the Middle East. In contrast, he assessed the Muslim leadership demanding Pakistan as being pro-West and therefore likely to be resistant to Moscow.
The partition plan was discussed and prepared in the War Cabinet Meeting held on May 19, 1945. In the movie Wavell gives a file to Cyril Radcliffe containing the secret note circulated after the cabinet meeting. The movie has some shots showing the actual file which is now declassified by the Home Office. Radcliffe had been sent to demarcate the border between the two new countries. He had never visited India before. He was given just few weeks to do the job. When he mentions to Lord Ismay that it is impossible to undertake such an assignment in such a short time, Lord Ismay shows him a map in the file where in the entire border is already marked in red! He tells Radcliffe that he has only to demarcate the border on the ground as already decided by the Cabinet Mission! Incidentally, the partition plan was given the name of Mount Batten Plan and ironically Mount Batten knew nothing about it. He was called to England just to give the impression that it was his plan! It was a plan already prepared by Lord Archibald Wavellat Churchill’s behest and handed over to him for implementation!
Ashish Ray in London Tribune writes, “In the “great game” of carving out spheres of influence between Britain and the Soviet Union, Churchill was attempting to checkmate what he perceived to be the United Kingdom’s post-war, Cold War rival; but at a heavy cost to the people of India.The fact is access to the waters of the Arabian Sea through Pakistan has been denied to Russia to date. But if Churchill’s objective was to thwart communist enlargement and hegemony, he has failed, for China is comfortably ensconced not merely in Karachi, but in Gwadar, which is even closer to the Gulf.”
Rakesh Ankit after studying the de-classified documents wrote a detailed research paper on the subject, “The Cold War and its Impact on the Evolution of the Kashmir Crisis, 1947-48” which appeared in the Journal of the Oxford University History Society in 2009.According to him, “‘Power Politics’ made a large contribution to the evolution of the Kashmir crisis. While the dispute emerged for local, regional and religious reasons its evolution and eventual ‘internationalization’ bears the stamp of concerns which had nothing to do with the individuality of the crisis and the merits of the cases of the two protagonists. In other words, while the events in and around the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir from August 1947 to January 1949, a period which saw an entire range of conflict, from local skirmishes to full-fledged invasion to pitched defensive warfare, were manufactured by a set of circumstances, personalities and concerns, which were all essentially local or regional and sub-continental or religious in nature, once the crisis erupted it was manipulated by the British-led Western Block, as far as possible, in the pursuit of its own vital interests stretching from the Middle East to Central Asia to the Far East.
These vital interests can be broadly categorised as defensive, strategic and geo-political (aimed at the former Communist USSR) and ideological or religious (aimed at the Islamic Middle East).” In fact, Rakesh has quoted extract from Bevin’s letter to Marshall which states, “Kashmir was on the Soviet frontier. Russia might well intervene as she had in Greece and China, playing on the tribes and on communal feeling. Whoever controlled the valley of Kashmir controlled the strategic and commercial communications between India, Pakistan and Central Asia.” The main western interest was the access to Central Asia and containment of the Communist Russia.
In fact, it was decided in a meeting in Paris between Bevin and Marshall that the Anglo-American interests would be best served by keeping the Kashmir corridor passing through Gilgit with Pakistan as India could create problems. The ceasefire and the extent of areas under each country too were decided by the western powers as both the armies at that time were controlled by the British Officers. The details of the intrigues, conspiracies or even the actual happenings on the ground have been put down by many authors like Lord Birdwood, Dr. Josef Korbel, Alistair Lamb and recently by Christopher Snedden. In spite of these vast resources about the happenings of 1947, to simply put all the blame on Mohammad Ali Jinnah is not fair!”
Incidentally, the so called Tribal Raid is also alleged to be a British Plan. They did not want the Maharaja to completely accede to India as it would mean loss of the strategic corridor. They wanted the Indian Army to be sent to Kashmir but there was no excuse to do that. David Devadas writes in his book that the Indian Army Chief who was British knew three days in advance that the Tribesmen were coming but he did not inform Nehru. It is also alleged that all the Tribesmen were not from the Pushtoon Tribal Area. There were quite a few mercenaries who were from Agha Khans Tribe in Hunza who indulged in loot and rape rather than complete their mission of capturing Srinagar! These were allegedly arranged by the British. The raid gave the Indian Army an excuse to land in Kashmir. Again the Indian Army did not go all the way to capture Muzaffarabad or even Gilgit which they could easily do but stopped leaving the strategic corridor to Pakistanis as had been envisaged in Bevin-Marshall meeting!
Adil Najam, Dean, Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University wrote a detailed article on Errors of Royalty in the partition of India, which appeared on August 15, 2017. One would like to conclude with his last para.
“Nowhere does the unfinished business of partition bleed more profusely than in the continuing conflict between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir.Would a little more attention and a few more weeks of effort in 1947 have spared the world a nuclear-tipped time bomb that keeps ticking on both sides?We can never know the answer to this question.
Nor can, or should, I believe, India and Pakistan blame the British and Mountbatten for all their problems. Seventy-one years on, they have only themselves to blame for missing opportunity after opportunity to fix the troubled relationship they inherited.
However, maybe, today, on the anniversary of their birth, both India and Pakistan can take a break from simply bashing each other and recognize that at times history can deal you a bad hand in many different ways – in this case, due to the hasty and monumental errors of a British royalty. But also recognize, it is on you to learn from history and fix it”.
The most surprising fact about the movie is its virtual ignorance among the people in India and Pakistan. Has it been deliberately suppressed by both the countries? May be because of so many uncomfortable questions it raises about partition!