Sardar Patel opts for Partition in December 1946

Plainly Speaking  by Dr.Hari Desai

                                                      Illiustration Courtesy: Ajit Ninan,TOI

Sardar Patel opts for Partition of India
  • On 25 December 1946, Vallabhbhai was all set and willing to see India divided
  • Patel’s industrialist friend, Ghanshyamdas Birla, had played an important role
  • Winston Churchil advised Jinnah on the ‘moth-eaten and truncated Pakistan’

None should be shocked or surprised if one says that Sardar Patel (31 October 1875 - 10 December 1950) was the first person to accept the Partition of British India as the only solution of the ongoing communal problem. Rajmohan Gandhi, who wrote a well-researched biography of Patel, and even V. P. Menon, who  was a   confident of both, the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, and the Minister of States, Sardar Patel, records the facts leading to the conclusion that the Sardar gave green signal to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for accepting the Menon scheme of Partition of British India; keeping Mahatma Gandhi in dark. Alan Campbell-Johnson records in his “Mission with Mountbatten” on 1 June 1947 quoting his letter to his mother from Viceroy’s House, New Delhi: “Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel, the two big Congressmen in the Interim Government, accept Partition on the understanding that by conceding Pakistan to (Mohmmad Ali) Jinnah, they will hear no more of him and eliminate his nuisance value, or, as Nehru put it privately, that by ‘cutting off the head we get rid of the headache’.”
Almost six month before officially accepting the formula of Partition of British India, Patel had made up his mind to get rid of Jinnah by accepting his demand for Pakistan, Rajmohan indicates in his “Patel : A Life”. By the announcement of Prime Minister Clement Attlee on 20 February 1947, the indication of Partition was clear. “About two months earlier- ‘late in December 1946 or early in January 1947-, Menon had outlined to him(Patel) a scheme for transfer of power on the basis of partition and Dominion status, and Patel had responded with approval. This was  a considerable change, for as late as December 15 he had referred to Pakistan as Jinnah’s ‘mad dream’ and reacted with indignation to any suggestion that Congress might ‘agree to help him’ in realizing it.  About two week later - Menon does not give the exact date -, Vallabhbhai was willing to see India divided.” Gandhi adds : “Considering, moreover, that Vallbhbhai was quite ill throughout the first week of January, and in the light of Menon’s testimony that after Patel expressed his consent he, Menon,  ‘dictated the outline of a plan’ in the Sardar’s presence, we are probably right in fixing December 25, 1946 as the date of the change.” Menon had two arguments. Firstly, ‘it was better that the country should be divided rather than it should gravitate towards civil war.’ Secondly, ‘by consenting to Dominion status, Congress would gain British goodwill which would help in bringing the princes round’. Patel’s industrialist friend, Ghanshyamdas Birla, had played an important role at this juncture.
Mountbatten arrived in India on 22 March 1947 and took over as the Viceroy two days later. As per the 20 February 1947 announcement of PM, Clement  Attlee, the British had expressed ‘intention  of transferring power in British India to Indian hands by June 1948’.The Cabinet Mission’s Plan of 16 May 1946 did not fulfill the hopes of all Indian parties. The Muslim League showed all tantrums and refused to join the Constituent Assembly (CA) to prepare the Constitution for undivided Free India. Gandhiji offered to make Jinnah the Prime Minister of Free India to avoid the Partition. Jinnah saw a trap in it and even refused to join the Interim Government headed by Pandit Nehru in the initial stage on 2 September 1946 but later made his people join it on 15 October 1946 “to carry out his mission for Pakistan”. Sardar Patel describes in the Constituent Assembly on 10 October 1949, the havoc played by the British officials on the people of Punjab by joining hands with the Muslim Leaguers, creating a situation to resign from the Interim Government.
Patel told the Constituent Assembly: ”It was a time of touch and go and we could have lost India. Then we insisted that we had come to a stage when power must be transferred immediately, whatever happens, and then we decided to resign. It was at that time that Lord Mountbatten came. I give you this inner history which nobody knows. I agreed to Partition as a last resort, when we had reached a stage when we could have lost all. We had five or six members in the Government, the Muslim League members. They had already established themselves as members who had come to partition the country. At that stage we agreed to Partition; we decided that Partition could be agreed upon on the terms that the Punjab should be partitioned-they wanted the whole of it-that Bengal should be partitioned-they wanted Calcutta and the whole of it.”
  “Mr. Jinnah did not want a truncated Pakistan, but he had to swallow it. We said that these two provinces should be partitioned. I made a further condition that in two months’ time power should be transferred and an Act should be passed by Parliament in that time, if it was guaranteed that the British Government would not interfere with the question of the Indian States. We said, ‘we will deal with that question; leave it to us; you take no sides. Let paramountcy be dead; you do not directly or indirectly try to revive it in any manner. You do not interfere. We shall settle our problem. The Princes are ours and we shall deal with them.’ On those conditions we agreed to Partition and on those conditions the Bill in Parliament was passed in two months, agreed to by all the three parties. Show me any instance in the history of the British Parliament when such a Bill was passed in two months. But this was done. It gave birth to this Parliament.”  K. M. Munshi records in his “Pilgrimage to Freedom”: “Even Churchil advised Jinnah to accept the ‘moth-eaten and truncated Pakistan’. The India Independence Act, 1947 passed by the British Parliament paved way for the transfer of power to the Indian Union and the Pakistan Union on 15 August 1947, ahead of the original declaration.
Menon joined the States Ministry headed by Patel and with the consent of the Sardar he could carry out the Plan to accede the Princely States to India on three subjects i.e. Defence, External Affairs and Communication. He had earlier submitted this plan to the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, to achieve the basic unity of India but  unlike Linlithgow, Patel after consulting Nehru wholeheartedly agreed to the Menon Plan, pending active co-operation of  Mountbatten. Menon describes the events  in his book “Integration of the Indian States”.  Today even after 69 years of his death, Patel continues to be the national hero.

(10 June 2019)

Sardar Patel opts for Partition in December 1946 Sardar Patel opts for Partition in December 1946 Reviewed by Dr.Hari Desai on June 10, 2019 Rating: 5

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