How did this division intensify the very conflict it was intended to resolve? Part of the answer lies in the drawing of the boundary. My primary goal is to clarify and analyze the boundary-making process, but having identified specific flaws in this division, I hope to lay them out in terms that might be useful for decision-makers considering partition as a tool to resolve conflict in other regions of the world.
This research explores the balance between structural influences and the role of individuals. My story centers on a small number of individuals: Radcliffe, the man who had responsibility for the boundary line; Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India; Nehru and Patel, leaders of the Indian National Congress; and Jinnah, head of the Muslim League. But my argument also has a great deal to do with the sweeping drives of British imperialism, Indian and Pakistani nationalism, and decolonization. My conclusions about the forces that shaped the Indo-Pakistani boundary would seem to support a structural approach, but the lessons of this particular division could be read another way. If at any point enough individuals had decided to take another pathfor example, if Radcliffe had withdrawn his services once he reached India and was informed of the August 15 deadlinethe outcome could have been dramatically different. Alternatively, if the key individuals had had different backgroundsfor example, if all the Indian leaders had not been lawyers, but rather businessmen or engineersthe outcome could again have been very different. The story of the Radcliffe Commission concerns individuals attempting to do what they saw as best, and as a result both bowing to and struggling against the pressures of larger structural forces.
However, Indian independence had not always been such an urgent goal for the British Government. The first half of the twentieth century saw a series of small steps towards self-government in South Asia. Traditional imperialist historiography holds that these ventures marked carefully incremented progress, part of the process of training Indians to govern themselves. Other interpretations, including but not confined to South Asian nationalist schools, argue that these steps were actually sops intended to keep nationalists satisfied enough to prevent a more serious threat to British rule.5 This view holds that HMG had no intention of letting go its "jewel in the crown"until it had no choice.
Many historians, imperialist and nationalist alike, trace the roots of partition to the Morley-Minto reforms of 1909. These changes increased Indian participation in their own governance, anticipating an eventual move to self-rule.6 By creating separate electorates for different religious groups, however, these reforms also "embed[ded] deeply in Indian life the idea that its society consisted of groups set apart from each other. . . . The result was the flowering of a new communal rhetoric, and ultimately, of the Pakistan movement."7 Politicians found religious rhetoric useful for rallying support, with dangerous results. The elections of 1937 and 1945-46, in which both Congress and the Muslim League rhetoric played on communal themes, provided further evidence of a lack of political cooperation at the highest levels.
With the onset of the Second World War, the Government of India found itself in a difficult position. HMG declared war on Indias behalf, without even a pretense of consulting Indian leaders. Indian politicians and public opinion were outraged. The prospect of civil unrest loomed.8 In 1942, with the Allies in urgent need of a reliable Indian base, Churchill dispatched Sir Stafford Cripps to India at the head of a Cabinet delegation charged with exploring the possibility of self-government after the war. Cripps offered an implicit promise that if India fought in World War II it would be granted freedom; Congress rejected this offer with Gandhis memorable phrase that it was a "post-dated cheque on a bank that was failing."9 In the aftermath of Crippss failed mission, Gandhi launched the "Quit India" movement, which the British repressed violently. Most Indians subsided into more or less supportive attitudes.10
With the end of the war, Indian leaders and people alike expected to be repaid, with independence, for their wartime backing. In Britain, the Conservatives were voted out and the Labour Party took power, under Clement Attlee. Meanwhile, the India Office was losing patience with its viceroy, Lord Wavell. Relations between the India Office and Wavell had been steadily worsening throughout 1946. Wavell, a career military man whose stolid exterior concealed a bent for writing poetry, had been viceroy of India since 1943. Left with the difficult job of guiding India through treacherous post-war waters, he sent increasingly blunt warnings to London that their Indian policies were misguided and inadequate to the challenges ahead. Lord Pethick-Lawrence, Britains Secretary of State for India, resented these warnings and paid less attention to them as time went on. In particular, Wavells outline of potential partition boundaries, the first serious discussion of the issue, received little attention. However, Wavells "Breakdown Plan," calling for a withdrawal of all British presence in South Asia, alarmed HMG. Attlee sent another cabinet mission to India in hopes of negotiating a less drastic outcome.11 The resulting proposal, known as the "ABC Plan," called for a loose federation to consist of three groups of provinces, each of which had the option to "opt out" of the federation. This proposal met a curious reception. It was first accepted, then rejected, by Congress; the Muslim League initially announced that it would cooperate, but in the aftermath of the Congress decision it renounced constitutional methods and declared "Direct Action" Day on August 16, 1946. "Direct Action Day" became the "Great Calcutta Killing," and the next thirteen months saw rioting and violence across North India.12
By the beginning of 1947, Pethick-Lawrence and Attlee had lost all confidence in Wavell, regarding him as "frankly defeatist." In February 1947, they asked him to resign, appointing Lord Louis Mountbatten, a career naval officer and cousin to the king, in his place. Although Mountbatten was given a June 1948 deadline by which to disentangle Britain from India, he concluded shortly after his arrival in India that a rapprochement between the various parties was impossible. Within a few months he decided to move the decolonization deadline up, to August 15, 1947.
Boundary Commission Format and Procedure
This structure limited the commissions effectiveness, but the most serious flaw was the extremely tight timetable that the British Government, Congress, and League imposed on the entire partition effort. Radcliffe arrived in India on July 8 and met with Mountbatten and the nationalist leaders soon thereafter. It was at this meeting that Radcliffe learned, apparently for the first time, that the boundary must be completed by August 15. He protested, but Mountbatten, Nehru, and Jinnah stood firm. Despite warnings that the time restriction could wreck the end result, they wanted the line finished by August 15.
Radcliffes efforts were further hampered by the fact that he was almost completely ignorant of the information and procedures necessary to draw a boundary, procedures that were well established by 1947.14 Moreover, he lacked any advisors versed in even the basics of boundary-making, and only his private secretary, Christopher Beaumont, was familiar with the realities of administration and everyday life in the Punjab. Radcliffes South Asian colleagues, all legal experts like himself, were as ignorant as their Chairman of boundary-making requirements.
However, Radcliffe was not as unbiased, nor as ignorant, as the Indian leaders assumed. On the contrary, his wartime experience as director-general of the British Ministry of Information, along with his sound Establishment background, left him intimately familiar with the goals and interests of His Majestys Government. There is no evidence that Radcliffe was biased against Hindus, Muslims, or Sikhs, but he was certainly biased in favor of preserving British interests. As far as its undeclared political ends were concerned, then, the Radcliffe Commission was well arranged. Unfortunately, the forces that shaped the commission to fulfill political needs also prevented it from following well-established boundary-making procedures.
The commissions membership, composed entirely of legal experts, hampered its boundary-making effort but added a valuable veneer of justice and legitimacy to what was, in reality, a chaotic jumble of events. Its composition of equal numbers of Congress and League nominees paved the way to deadlock but created an appearance of political balance. The presence of these political nominees came at the expense of the use of the necessary geographical experts, but satisfied the demands of Congress, League, and of course the British Government to have their own men on the commission. The absence of outside participantsfor example, from the United Nationsalso satisfied the British Governments urgent desire to save face by avoiding the appearance that it required outside help to governor stop governingits own empire. The Commissions extremely tight timetable made it impossible to gather the survey and other information vital to a well-informed decision, but speedily provided all parties with the international boundary that was a prerequisite for the transfer of power.
Analysis of the Boundary Decision
The primary feature of this line was that it divided Amritsar, now in India, from Lahore, which went to Pakistan. By and large it followed major administrative divisions, although it did meander between villages in the Kasur region southeast of Lahore. The two most controversial elements of this line involved Gurdaspur and Ferozepore. Pakistani critics interpreted Radcliffes decision to grant most of Gurdaspur District to India as an attempt to provide India with a land link to Kashmir. As one element of the beginnings of the Kashmir conflict, this allegation remains controversial. It is worth noting that no all-weather road linked Kashmir and India in 1947; when the first Indo-Pakistani war began in late 1947, India airlifted troops and supplies into Kashmir rather than take an overland route. The other controversy was over Ferozepores allocation to India; this decision came as a surprise in the wake of early August leaks indicating that Radcliffe would allocate a section of Ferozepore to Pakistan.
In accordance with Mountbatten, Nehru, and Jinnahs demands that he complete his work before August 15, Radcliffe submitted his award on August 12. By this time, Mountbatten had changed his mind (for reasons discussed below) and asked Radcliffe to delay the award until after August 15. Radcliffe refused, but Mountbatten had his way, choosing not to release the award until August 16, when he discussed it with the Indian and Pakistani leaders at a meeting in New Delhi. On August 17, the award was finally published.
Allegations of Bias
I argue, however, that these allegations and angry resentments miss the point. On the contrary, it would not be surprising if Mountbatten offered Radcliffe advice, nor if Radcliffe took it. As one historian has noted, "Radcliffe was a barrister following a brief"and Mountbatten was his client.21 Those who object to Mountbattens interference are buying in to the myth that the partition was a rational, objective process.
The Problem of "Other Factors"
Even by Mountbattens standards, this statement about Radcliffes "rule of thumb" is rather peculiar. Perhaps by the time Mountbatten gave this interview, in the early 1970s, he had developed reservations about the partition process. Until his death, Mountbatten staunchly defended his actions in 1947, making it unlikely that he would openly question himself.24 However, Mountbatten had a great capacity for remembering history differently than other observers, invariably along lines most flattering to himself. Given Hodsons statement that it was the viceroy himself who brought up the notion of "balance," one wonders whether Mountbatten subconsciously transferred responsibility for his own idea onto Radcliffes shoulders, before criticizing it. This speculation may seem rather convoluted, but Mountbatten was a notably twisty individual. A colleague famously told him, "Dickie, youre so crooked that if you swallowed a nail youd shit a corkscrew!" Mountbattens biographer records that this was "a remark which Mountbatten remembered and repeated, though characteristically changing the recipient of the insult.25
Some observers felt Radcliffe gave too much weight to economic considerations, neglecting his mandate to determine the "contiguous majority areas" of religious groups. For example, the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bengal were awarded to Pakistan despite the fact that the Muslim population amounted to only three per cent. When Nehru complained on August 16, Mountbatten explained Radcliffes decision, emphasizing "the economic ties that bound Chit-tagong District and the Hill Tracts together."26 Radcliffe apparently thought these economic necessities more important than the overwhelmingly non-Muslim population.
Whenever possible, Radcliffe used existing administrative borders. The commissions terms of reference directed it to draw its lines within the two provinces of Bengal and Punjab, so the existing provincial administrative boundaries were not an option. Within provinces, however, Radcliffe seems to have preferred existing lines, using district, tehsil, thana,27 and even village boundaries. His textual description of the boundary relies very little on "natural" landmarks like crest or rivers. In the Punjab award, Radcliffe repeatedly notes that although nearby rivers present apparently logical natural boundaries, the new boundary must run along the existing district or tehsil borders.28
Mountbatten recalled later that he had counseled Radcliffe "not to take defence considerations under judgment in making the award."29 In a memo dated May 11, 1946, Field Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Armed Forces, discussed the repercussions of Partition for imperial and Indo-Pakistani defense. He concluded that without a united India, the British military position in South Asia would be irreparably damaged. Furthermore, although he considered the possibility of Indo-Pakistani conflict, he saw no way to define a defensible frontier.30 Radcliffe himself seems to have consistently operated on the assumption that India and Pakistan would have good relations after independence. Other decision-makersand those impacted by the divisionstook this view as well. Radcliffe repeatedly expressed hope that India and Pakistan could work together to solve some of the most difficult infrastructure problems created by his boundary award. Mountbatten himself seemed optimistic that inclusion in the Commonwealth would keep India and Pakistan on mutually friendly terms, emphasizing that Dominion Status meant membership in a community of cooperative nations.
The Role of Infrastructure
The irrigation systems and other infrastructure of Punjab and Bengal had been built under a single administration. They were never intended to be divided. No partition line Radcliffe could have concocted would have allowed Pakistan and India to operate their infrastructure separately, without cross-border interference. In the few weeks he had, Radcliffe seems to have tried to minimize infrastructure disruptions, but he was well aware that his proposal was flawed. In his attempt to draw the boundary near the Suleimanke headworks in Punjab, for example, he emphasized that his intention was to award this equipment to Pakistan and acknowledged that the reality of the terrain might necessitate that "the boundary shall be adjusted accordingly."33 Several months later, the Suleimanke headworks were "reallocated" in a clash between Indian and Pakistani soldiers.34 In an optimistic moment, Radcliffe expressed the hope that "a solution may be found by agreement between the two States for some joint control of what has hitherto been a valuable common service."35 Events soon proved this optimism unfounded.
The Boundary Announcement Delayed
It is difficult to see how these concerns, either for Indian or Pakistani national joy or for the evasion of British national responsibility, could outweigh the potential benefit of making administrative, military, and constabulary arrangements before the actual transfer of power took place. Governor Jenkins of the Punjab had begged Mountbatten repeatedly for advance notice of the award. On July 30, Jenkins told the Viceroy that "even a few hours would be better than none."37 As it was, in some border regions whose destiny was uncertain, both Indian and Pakistani flags were raised. In some cases Pakistani officials set to work in territories that later became Indian. As August 15 drew closer, many administrators joined the last-minute flow of refugees themselves, disrupting administrative access across India by leaving their posts empty. In short, the Punjab found itself in administrative chaos, ill prepared to deal with the impact of partition.
When Mountbatten released the award to the Indian and Pakistani leaders on August 16, both sides objected furiously to various aspects of the boundary. In the end, they agreed to issue the decision as it stood, with no public statement of their disappointment. When the award was finally announced, on 17 August, the border forces in place were inadequate to stop the communal massacres. Violence was particularly severe along the new border areas, although there was serious bloodshed in Delhi as well. The first Indo-Pakistani war broke out in late 1947; both Pakistan and India sent troops into Kashmir, where they remain today. Subsequent wars in 1965 and 1971 made it clear that Radcliffes boundaries were not neat lines but raw and restless divisions.
REPERCUSSIONS OF PARTITION
In 1947, Kashmir was a princely state, whose ruler was entitled to choose for himself between India and Pakistan; Radcliffe had no direct responsibility for the Kashmir question. However, there are a number of interesting links between Kashmir and the Radcliffe award. Those links include the fact that the water feeding the Punjabi irrigation system originates in Kashmiri rivers, as well as allegations that Radcliffe awarded India certain areas of northern Punjab as a strategic corridor to Kashmir. One of the most intriguing connections between the Radcliffe award and the Kashmir problem involves not the substance of the award but the possibility that Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of British India, who delayed the announcement of the Radcliffe award until two days after independence, may have done so in an effort to coerce the Maharajah of Kashmir into acceding to India rather than Pakistan.40 The truth of these allegations remains uncertain; what is clear is that the political successes that the Radcliffe Commission enabled have been less lasting than its failures.
Although estimates of partition casualties remain controversial, it is clear that great suffering, on a scale rarely seen in human history, accompanied the partition. Violence, and the memory of violence, is therefore one of partitions legacies to the South Asian region. It is not 1947s only legacy, of coursethat year also brought independence and great pride to many Indians and Pakistanisbut partitions scars remain in the minds, if no longer on the bodies, of many South Asians. It is not only the actual survivors of partition who exhibit this damage; their descendents are also marked. Pakistani bitterness against India and Indians and Indian bitterness against Pakistan and Pakistani are facts of life in South Asia. Many other Indians and Pakistanis long for peace, feeling that the people across the border are their kinfolk, but government propaganda and certain streams of public discourse, including those generated by media and educational institutions, reinforce cross-border resentments.
LESSONS OF PARTITION
In addition to the irregular boundary-making process detailed above, the larger South Asian partition was flawed in several major ways. The most significant error, for which all parties must share responsibility, was misguided reliance on a best-case result, combined with consistent refusal even to acknowledge the possibility of a worst-case outcome. Mountbatten and the rest of the interim Government of India ignored repeated warnings from Sir Evan Jenkins, the highly respected Governor of the Punjab, that the division would result in large-scale violence.
In addition, the architects of partition refused to provide a sufficiently prolonged timetable to allow for
If they had provided more time for government institutions and local communities to absorb and adapt to the implications of the Radcliffe award, the level of violence might have been lowerand the authorities abilities to impose law and order higher.
In their rush to achieve their own political goals, British Indias most powerful parties decided not to complete territorial partition before final political separation. This decision left Indian and Pakistani citizens in the peculiar predicament of not knowing which country they were in on August 15 or 16. Additionally, Mountbattens delay in announcing the Radcliffe Line meant effectively that India and Pakistan had no boundaries for the first two days of their existence. Even if the award had been announced a few days earlier, provincial and local officials would not have had enough timeparticularly in the demanding circumstances they facedto make the necessary administrative arrangements.
Finally, they did not define cooperative procedures for resource sharing or, failing that, clear and complete division of linked infrastructure systems. The result was severe infrastructure disruptions, with consequences not only for communications and transportation, but also for the food supply of millions of people. Future partitions must include these elements in order to avoid the failures that so tragically limited the effectiveness of the South Asian partition. The daunting nature of this task, particularly the intricate problem of linked infrastructures, makes it clear that partition must be a last resort. Further work on the conditions under which partition is likely to be more or less successful is also required to understand the full nature of this diplomatic option.
Finally, this project challenges the notion that partition can be appraised in absolute terms, as a flawed approach that merely aggravates violence.42 In reality, it often both limits and exacerbates tension; one of the paradoxes of the 1947 partition is that it stimulated new violence even as it resolved political conflict on some levels. I hope this analysis will contribute to a more nuanced and practical understanding of the ways that partition can contribute to containing violence, the steps and conditions required for effective divisions, and the limits of this particular tool for peace.
February 15, 2002