OFf the shelf
Documenting the 'division'
V N Datta

Select Documents on Partition of Punjab-1947, India and Pakistan, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal-India, and Punjab-Pakistan
edited by Dr Kirpal Singh. National Book Shop, Delhi. Revised and enlarged edition.
Pages LXXVI + 789. Rs 995.

In his preface to the volume under review, Dr. Kirpal Singh writes that his present work is a revised and enlarged edition of his compilation which was published in 1991. The partition of Punjab has been a special field of Dr Singh’s study and research ever since he produced his Ph.D. thesis on it. Thereafter, he went to England to collect and compile his material to form a book. In 1998 he made another trip to England, and using the Public Records Office, London, he added to his compilation some new material from the proceedings of the British Cabinet. It would have helped the reader if Dr Singh had mentioned specifically the nature of new material he has incorporated in his new edition of the book.

Dr Singh has made a definite contribution to the understanding of Sikh religion and the political history of Punjab. The Punjab source-material is at his fingertips. He is proficient in the Persian language. His first edition of Partition of Punjab has become a vade mecum for the researcher.

Since then, much source material on the partition of Punjab has been published. Recently, Lionel Carter has brought out two excellent volumes on the Unionist Party in Punjab (1937-47). Raghuvendra Tanwar has given a new dimension to the Partition study by focussing on the public reaction to the traumatic events in the period under study. The opening of the Cripps papers, the Churchill archives and R. Coupland’s diaries provide ample material for the revision and reinterpretation of our views on the Partition of India and Punjab. The present work has kept the earlier preface intact, though there was a need for a fresh look at his interpretation of the partition of Punjab.

Dr Singh is absolutely right that in the allotment of the major portion of Gurdaspur district to India, the Sikh factor was crucial. Supposing that Gurdaspur district was allotted to Pakistan, then Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs, would have been surrounded by the Muslim areas of Sialkot, Jammu and Kashmir, and Kapurthala.

In this connection Mountbatten’s meeting with Lord Radcliffe on April 9, 1947, was significant. In his letter to Lord Ismay dated April 9, 1947, Mountbatten wrote: "I said to him (Radcliffe) that the Sikh attitude has become worse than we had anticipated, and when he was balancing the border of East and West, I hoped he would keep the Sikh problem in mind." Mountbatten further added that "generosity to Pakistan should be more in Bengal than in Punjab since there was no problem in Punjab." Mountbatten’s predecessor too had expressed similar views and recommended the inclusion of Gurdaspur in East Punjab.

Dr Singh maintains that in the retention of Ferozepur and Zira Tehsil in India the Sikh pressure worked. This view is not tenable. On the other hand, much pressure was brought on Mountbatten about Ferozepur and Zira by Jawaharlal Nehru and Sadul Singh, the ruler of Bikaner state, who had known Mountbatten since his childhood. Both Mountbatten and Sadul Singh had served on the staff of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII. K.M. Panikkar, the Prime Minister of Bikaner state, met Mountbatten on August 11, 1947. Panikkar told Mountbatten that the ruler of Bikaner wanted it to be conveyed that if the Ferozepur head works and Ganga water on which Bikaner’s existence depended were not allotted to India, then Bikaner would have no option but to join Pakistan. Thus the boundary in respect of Ferozepur and Zira was changed at the last stage.

Dr Singh’s scholarly introduction provides a valuable guide to the documents listed in the volume, and supplies a background to the crucial events that occurred in Punjab relating to the partition of the province. He maintains that the Cabinet Mission proposals paved the way for the success of the Partition. Singh doesn’t go into the question why the Cabinet Mission failed.

The East Punjab Liaison Agency records dealing with the recrudescence of violence in West Punjab provide a vivid and moving account of the untold misery which the Hindu and Sikh minorities suffered at the hand of the Muslims. The last 20 pages of the book contain the text of the interviews which Dr Singh had with some of the leading British personalities who had played a decisive role in the decision-making process relating to India. Lord Altlee made two highly significant comments, firstly, that Jinnah was a little, very little man; and secondly, a very perceptive view—when the Indian political parties could not settle their contentious issues in any way, what could Britain do under such circumstances except to partition the country.

After the country was partitioned, Mountbatten wrote in his diary that both the countries would regret their decisions in future. Nehru called it ‘division’. The British thought it ‘partition’. Krishan Menon said that it was ‘a shock solution.’ But Jinnah said that only future would tell "whether we were right or wrong."