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Sri Aurobindo and The Mother On India

A Divided Freedom

As the Second World War was moving to its final stage, the British Government released Gandhi in May 1944. On his release, Gandhi proposed to meet Jinnah and discuss the communal situation with him. As a result they held a series of parleys from 9 September till 27 September. In these parleys, the question of Partition was discussed. The discussions were centred on the Rajagopalchari or the CR formula as it was called. The principal provisions of the formula were:

·                    The Muslim League was to endorse the demand for independence of the country and cooperate with the Indian National Congress in forming an Interim government.

·                    Contiguous districts in the Northwest and East of India would be demarcated and plebiscite would be held to decide whether or not they should be separated from India.

Gandhi accepted the right of self-determination and even of secession of the two predominantly Muslim territories in India while Jinnah was demanding for Pakistan. In essence Gandhi insisted on independence first and secession later while Jinnah wanted Pakistan first and independence later. Jinnah continued to insist that the Muslims of India constituted a separate nation. This was Jinnah’s trump card. In the words of Sri Aurobindo: “The idea of two nationalities in India is only a newly-fangled notion invented by Jinnah for his purposes and contrary to the facts. More than 90% of the Indian Mussalmans are descendants of converted Hindus and belong as much to the Indian nation as the Hindus themselves. This process of conversion has continued all along; Jinnah is himself a descendant of a Hindu, converted in fairly recent times, named Jinahbhai and many of the most famous Mohammedan leaders have a similar origin”.

 The talks broke down as Jinnah refused to negotiate any further. Durga Das had written earlier regarding the talks: ‘Mr Jinnah will never come to an agreement during the war. While he is intransigent he is on top; the moment he settles with the Congress, the League will get merged in the nationalist movement and will never be able to dictate terms to the Congress’. Sri Aurobindo too had remarked: “Instead of doing what is necessary, the Congress is trying to flirt with Jinnah, and Jinnah simply thinks that he has to obstinately stick to his terms to get them. The more they try, the more Jinnah becomes intransigent”.

In early 1945, Lord Wavell the Viceroy of India announced a plan ‘designed to ease the present political situation and to advance India towards her goal of full self-government’. He proposed that a Conference be held in Simla, the summer capital of India, to which leaders of all the parties in India would be invited. This list included the Congress, the Muslim League, the Scheduled Castes, the Sikhs, and some other groups. The main topic of discussion would be the formation of a new Executive Council. It was suggested that all the members of this body would be Indians, except the Viceroy and the Commander in Chief. Gandhi raised an objection to the classification ‘Caste Hindus’ whom the Congress was supposed to represent. Jinnah objected on   two counts: first, that the list of members suggested by the Muslim League would be final and second that all Muslim members were to be from the Muslim League alone. Despite these objections, the Conference met and discussions were held. The Viceroy was unable to accept the demands of Jinnah; failing to convince him he announced that the Conference had failed. This act of the Viceroy gave Jinnah the veto power, which he used, to full effect in the following days.

In August 1945, the War came to an end with the dropping of two atom bombs on Japan. No doubt, Britain with the help of the Allies had crushed both Germany and Japan; but in the life and death battle it had exhausted its manpower and economic resources to such an extent that it could never again hope to recover its old power and prestige. The world situation had completely changed and it was evident that India would get her freedom as a result of new world circumstances. In the words of Leonard Mosley: “From the moment, in 1945, when war was over and the post-war world began to reshape itself, no one of clear mind had any doubt that the Indian people would achieve the independence from British rule…. After Singapore, Burma and the sinking of her finest ships by the Japanese, Britain would never again be able to demonstrate in Asia the background of strength and influence which had for so long enabled her to rule a million people with one man on the spot”. It is clear therefore that it was the world circumstances and not the Quit India movement that was responsible for India’s freedom. The question then predominant was no longer the attainment of freedom, which was inevitable, but the communal problem.

Some time towards the end of 1945 elections were held in the Provinces. The Congress won seven provinces, while the Muslim League won in Bengal and Sind. In Punjab it was forestalled by a coalition of the Congress and the Akalis. But one thing became clear in these elections; the Muslims were solidly behind the League while the rest of the country was with the Congress.

At the same time two other factors hastened the ushering in of freedom. The first one was the trial of the INA soldiers and the second one was the revolt of the sailors serving in the Indian Royal Navy.

The soldiers of the INA were charged with committing war against the King. A Military Tribunal was set up and three officers were put on public trial; the Indian public did not know much about the INA till then, but as a result of the public trial they came to be regarded as a band of patriotic heroes who fought for the liberation of the motherland. The trial aroused great interest all over the country and popular demonstrations were held leading sometimes to violent demonstrations. The Government quailed before the storm and although the officers were convicted to sentence of transportation for life, it was soon changed to being simply cashiered.

On 18 February 1946, some ratings of the Signal School in Bombay went on a hunger strike in protest against the treatment being meted out to them by Royal Navy. Soon others in different parts of the country joined them and the situation began to get completely out of hand. They took possession of some of the ships and strikes and hartals were organised all over the country. The police had to open fire and the military had to be called in to restore order. Finally, due largely to the efforts of Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the ratings surrendered on 23 February. 

On 19 February, one day after the Mutiny broke out, the Government announced the decision to send out a special mission consisting of three cabinet Ministers. This group known as the Cabinet Mission was made up of the following members: Lord Pethick Lawrence, Secretary of State for India, Sri Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade and A.V.Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty. They were, in association with the Viceroy, sent to find an agreement with the leaders of the different political parties on the principles and procedures relating to the constitutional issue. They arrived in India on 24 March 1946. They spent five weeks meeting the leaders of all the parties and representative groups. On 5 May, a conference of leaders of the Congress and Muslim League was held in Simla to consider the grouping of provinces, the character of the federal union and the setting up of the constitutional machinery. But it was unable to arrive at a consensus and therefore the mission issued a statement containing its own proposal on 16 May 1946. The main points of the Cabinet Mission Plan were:

·                    The formation of an undivided Union of India embracing both British India and the States, which should deal with three subjects: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Communications.

·                    The provinces would have complete autonomy with all other powers vested in them. The demands of the Muslim League would be thus met.

·                    A proposal for the creation of an intermediate level between the centre and the provinces. It was proposed that there could be three regional groupings – one in the northwest, one in the northeast and one consisting the rest of the country. The provinces in each group would be allowed to associate themselves in units, each having its own executive and legislature.

Both the Congress and the League seemed to be in two minds with regard to the proposals of the Cabinet Mission; they were reluctant to reject them outright and yet unwilling to accept them as they stood. The Muslim League at first accepted the Plan with the hope that it would ultimately result in the establishment of Pakistan. The Congress, despite its reservations, agreed to join the Constituent Assembly. Then followed an unfortunate incident, which changed the whole course of events. Nehru who was elected President of the Congress gave a Press conference on 10 July. In the words of Leonard Mosley: “And on 10 July after he had been elected President, he called the Press together for a conference to discuss the policy as the new head of Congress. It was a moment in history when circumspection should have been the order of the day. There was much to be gained by silence. The fortunes of India were in the balance, and one false move could upset them. Nehru chose this moment to launch into what his biographer, Michael Brecher, has described as one of the most fiery and provocative statements in his forty years of public life”. He   goes on to say: “Did he realise what he was saying? He was telling the world that once in power, the Congress would use its strength at the Centre to alter the Cabinet Mission Plan as it thought fit”. That was the flashpoint and soon “the Hindus and Muslims were back in two fuming camps”. This was the just the thing that Jinnah was waiting for, arguing that this statement of Nehru represented the real mind of the Congress. Quite inevitably, the Muslim League decided to back out and demanded the immediate establishment of Pakistan. In order to bring this about, Jinnah called upon the Muslims to resort to Direct Action. He explained that the participation of the Muslims in the proposed constitution making machinery was fraught with danger. He said that while the British had machine guns to enforce their will and the Hindus the weapon of civil resistance, the Muslims alone remained defenceless. It followed that they must bid good-bye to constitutional methods and prepare for self-defence and self-preservation by resorting to direct action. 16 August was fixed as the day for Direct Action. While the tension was building the Viceroy decided on 12 August to invite the Congress to form the Interim Government; that proved to be the last straw for Jinnah. Nehru invited Jinnah to participate in the Interim Government but he declined the invitation. At that time, the president of the All-India-Jamaitul Ulma-I-Islam , Shabbir Ahmad Usmani declared that no power on earth can crush the Muslims. ‘Living he is a Gazi and killed in action he is a martyr’.

In Calcutta, on 16 August the day began with public demonstrations, hartals and hoisting of the Muslim League flag. Soon clashes began and spread to the whole city. Utter confusion prevailed in the city and the hooligans had a field day indulging in stabbing, killing, arson and criminal assaults on women. The mob fury continued for four days with the Government standing by and proving to be utterly ineffective to meet the situation. It is estimated that thousands were killed, tens of thousands injured, lakhs left homeless and property worth crores of rupees destroyed. Bengal was then under the Muslim League and the Chief Minister was Suhrawardy. The Statesman wrote: ‘this is not a riot. For three days the city concentrated on unrestrained civil war. Upon whom the main guilt for it rests is manifest. Where the primary blame lies is where we have squarely put it – upon the Provincial Muslim League Cabinet and particularly the Chief Minister’.  The rioting soon spread to other parts like Noahkali and Tipperah where the Muslims were in a majority. The Hindus were butchered mercilessly and in retaliation the Hindus in Bihar took revenge. All in all it was a sordid story of horror and cruelty. This was the way Jinnah had chosen to prove his point: Hindus and Muslims could not live together.

The Interim Government led by Nehru was sworn in on 2 September. The Muslim League refused to participate in it. However on 13 October, Jinnah agreed to participate and sent a list of five ministers who would be accommodated. One of the ministers was Liaquat Ali Khan who was given the important Finance portfolio. ‘In the government but against it’, Liaquat used his pivotal position to bring the government to a standstill.  Elections to the Constituent Assembly were held in the second half of the year and were completed by December. It was decided to convene the Assembly on 9 December. Jinnah called upon the members of the Muslim League to boycott the Assembly. Naturally the Congress demanded that the League should either attend the Assembly or quit the Interim Government. This led to a complete deadlock. Jinnah knew that all that he had to do was to boycott the Assembly in order to render nugatory any decision regarding the Constitution of an Indian Union. Jinnah warned in his speeches that the only alternative to Pakistan was civil war. Under this threat, the British government decided that the decisions of the Constituent Assembly could not be implemented in so far as they affected the areas under Muslim majority. A month later, the League demanded the dissolution of the Assembly.

The country was facing a grave crisis. It was at this time that Prime Minister Atlee took a bold decision. He was of the view that it was necessary to take a clear-cut decision and he decided that the British government should fix a date for the withdrawal of British power in India. As a result, Attlee announced: “The present state of uncertainty is fraught with danger and cannot be indefinitely prolonged. His Majesty’s Government wish to make it clear that it   is their definite intention to take necessary steps to effect the transference of power to responsible Indian hands by a date not later than June 1948”. In order to perform this task he announced that Lord Mountbatten would replace Lord Wavell as Viceroy. Immediately the political tempo was whipped up.

The Muslim League made a desperate attempt to secure control over the Provinces, which it planned to be attached to Pakistan. Direct Action was started in Assam but with little success. But in Sind and the North-West Frontier Provinces a systematic genocide was carried on against the Sikhs and the Hindus who were in a minority. On January 27, 1947 Mian Iftikharuddin said at a Lahore public meeting of Muslims: “We have come here to tell you that if you can carry on the fight with the same determination and discipline as had been displayed during the past three days, not only will you have achieved victory in the Punjab, but you will also have reached nearer to your goal of Pakistan.”

Lord Mountbatten arrived in India on 22 March. He was sent with all the powers to effect the transfer of power. Immediately he held meetings and consultations with all parties. He was soon convinced that partition was inevitable. Jinnah was determined to have even a truncated Pakistan. He said: “I do not care how little you give me, so long as you give it to me completely”. Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru accepted the plan with a heavy heart. Gandhi however remained adamantly opposed to partition. He even went so far as to suggest that Jinnah could be made the first Prime Minister of a United India. The Congress rejected the proposal outright. Gandhi then not only withdrew his proposal but also withdrew himself from all politics leaving all negotiations to the Working Committee.

Mountbatten then, along with the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh leaders worked out a scheme, which was approved later by the British Cabinet. On 3 June, Prime Minister Attlee announced in the House of Commons the scheme known as the June 3rd or Mountbatten Plan. The Plan dealt with the method by which power would be transferred to Indian hands and particularly the methods by which Muslim majority provinces would choose whether to remain in India or join the new State Pakistan. The next day, Mountbatten announced that the final transfer of power would not be later than June 1948, but a few days later it was decided that the date would be 15 August 1947.  On 12 June the Congress Working Committee met and passed a resolution accepting partition. An extract from the resolution: “The Congress had worked hard and sacrificed everything for the sake of unity. But there was a limit beyond which it could not go. The choice today was between accepting the statement of June 3 or committing suicide”. Gandhi, who a few days back, opposed the formation of Pakistan now supported the resolution. However there were still some Congress leaders who opposed this resolution. One such person was Purushottam Das Tandon. He said: “ Acceptance of the resolution will be an abject surrender to the British and the Muslim League. The admission of the Working Committee was an admission of weakness and the result of a sense of despair. The Partition would not benefit either community – the Hindus in Pakistan and the Muslims in India would both live in fear”. Despite all this the plan was accepted and so in less than ten weeks, India was to be free and partitioned. The provinces of Baluchistan, Sind and the North-Western Provinces went to Pakistan. Punjab and Bengal were to be divided. East Punjab and West Bengal were to be part of India while West Punjab and East Bengal were to form part of Pakistan. Boundary commissions were set up to delineate the boundaries between these two provinces.

 While all this was happening, the Princely States, which were also ruled by Britain, were left free to decide their own fate. They could become sovereign States or voluntarily join India or Pakistan. If they chose to be free, as at one time it seemed that they would, it would have meant a balkanisation of India with very grave consequences. Sardar Vallabhai Patel with the help of VP Menon convinced the princes that it was in their interest to join the Indian Union. By August, most of them had signed the Instrument of Accession by which they became formally part of India. Three States however held out; these were the States of Junagadh, Kashmir and Hyderabad. Soon after India attained independence, Junagadh’s eccentric ruler escaped to Pakistan, while the Maharaja of Kashmir acceded to India in the month of October. The Nizam of Hyderabad held out for over a year.

As the boundary lines were being drawn, the communal hatred and cruelty that was seething for the last one year reached its crescendo. There is perhaps no parallel in the history of India to the barbarity and massacre that took place in the following days. The story may be summed up thus: six hundred thousand dead, 14 million driven from their homes, one hundred thousand young girls kidnapped, forcibly converted or sold on the auction block.

The Dominion of Pakistan was inaugurated in Karachi on 14 August. On 15 August India became an Independent State. It was a moment of sorrow and destruction but at the same time millions of Indians were celebrating with great joy and enthusiasm.

Gandhi’s dreams of non-violence and Hindu-Muslim unity lay inevitably shattered in pieces, for they were built on castles of sand. On the other hand Sri Aurobindo said: “Pakistan was created by falsehood, fraud and force”.

On the midnight of 15 August, Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the Constituent Assembly. Here is an extract from that speech: 

“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall resume our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will wake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity”.

It is important to note that 15 August was the birthday of Sri Aurobindo. On the same day, Sri Aurobindo too gave a message. Here is an extract from the message:

“August 15th, 1947 is the birthday of free India. It marks for her the end of an old era, the beginning of a new age. But we can also make it by our life and acts as a free nation an important date in a new age opening for the whole world, for the political, social, cultural and spiritual future of humanity. As a mystic, I take this identification, not as a coincidence or fortuitous accident, but as a sanction and seal of the Divine Power which guides my steps on the work with which I began life. Indeed almost all the world movements which I hoped to see fulfilled in my lifetime, though at that time they looked like impossible dreams, I can observe on this day either approaching fruition or initiated and on the way to their achievement. ….

India is free but she has not achieved unity, only a fissured and broken freedom.... The old communal division into Hindu and Muslim seems to have hardened into the figure of a permanent political division of the country. It is to be hoped that the Congress and the nation will not accept the settled fact as forever settled or as anything more than a temporary expedient. For if it lasts, India may be seriously weakened, even crippled: civil strife may remain always possible, possible even a new invasion and foreign conquest. The partition of the country must go, —it is to be hoped by a slackening of tension, by a progressive understanding of the need of peace and concord, by the constant necessity of common and concerted action, even of an instrument of union for that purpose. In this way unity may come about under whatever form—the exact form may have a pragmatic but not a fundamental importance. But by whatever means, the division must and will go. For without it the destiny of India might be seriously impaired and even frustrated. But that must not be”.




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