The Partition of India
By 1947, the British had ruled the Indian sub-continent for nearly two hundred years. Between the First and Second World Wars, Indian politicians began demanding self-government and then independence. Prominent among these politicians was the charismatic Congress leader, Mahatma Gandhi. However, the Hindu-dominated Congress Party was regarded with suspicion by the Muslim League. The League was fearful of the ‘minority’ status of Muslims in an independent India. The British sometimes exploited this division to maintain their rule.
In 1940, Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League called for the establishment of a separate Muslim state to be called Pakistan.
In 1945, after millions of Indian soldiers had served the British during the Second World War, the new Labour Government committed itself to Indian independence. In February 1946, mutinies in the Indian navy and army helped to convince the British government that India was in danger of slipping into anarchy. A delegation of three British cabinet ministers went to the country and proposed a complex federal system which would keep an independent India with a single national government but allow self-government to Hindu and Muslim majority areas. The plan did not get sufficient support from either the Muslim League or Congress to succeed. Elections to a Consituent Assembly resulted in a majority of seats falling to Congress.
Jinnah called for a Direct Action Day on August 16th 1946 which unleashed months of terrible atrocities where Muslims attacked Sikhs and Hindu`s and vice-versa. British troops were unable to halt the violence but were not attacked themselves.
In February 1947, Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy, announced that India would become independent in August 1948.
To force an agreement, and because the British were losing control of the country, Mountbatten brought forward the date of independence to August 1947. Congress reluctantly agreed to partition the country into two new states, India and Pakistan. Mountbatten gave five weeks to the Radcliffe commission to draw up borders which was done very hurriedly and using out of date maps.
The results were only announced after independence had been declared. It helped to fuel continuing terrible communal atrocities and ethnic cleansing. At least half a million people died. It has been estimated that more than eleven million lost their homes, fleeing or emigrating to one of the two new states.
The last British troops left India in 1948.