Dr. Ishtiaque Ahmed in The Friday Times on the Radcliffe Award
One of the bitterest and most enduring controversies surrounding the partition is the Radcliffe Award.Viceroy Linlithgow had ruthlessly smashed the Quit India movement, but his successor Viceroy Wavell believed that it would not be possible to control another wave of protests and, therefore, preparations had to be made to pull out of India if such an emergency arose. In a top-secret communication of 27 December 1945 he sent a “Breakdown Plan” to the Secretary of State for India, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, in which he noted:
We should base ourselves on two points of principle:
If the Muslims insist on self-determination in genuinely Muslim areas this must be conceded.
On the other hand there can be no question of compelling large non-Muslim populations to remain in Pakistan against their will (Ahmed 2012: 73-75; TOP, Vol. VI: 700).
On 7 February 1946, Wavell submitted to Pethick-Lawrence a “Breakdown Plan”. His idea was that if compelled to give an award, the demarcation of ‘genuinely Muslim areas’ (ibid: 912) should include:
1. Sind, North West Frontier Province, British Baluchistan and Rawalpindi, Multan and Lahore divisions of Punjab; minus Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts.
(b) In Bengal, the Chittagong and Dacca divisions, the Rajshahi division (minus Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling), the Nadia, Murshidabad and Jessore districts of Presidency division; and in Assam, the Sylhet district.
2. In the Punjab, the only Moslem-majority district that would not go into Pakistan under this demarcation is Gurdaspur (51-per cent Moslem). Gurdaspur must be attached to Amritsar for geographical reasons and Amritsar, being sacred city of Sikhs, must stay out of Pakistan. But for this case of importance of Amritsar, demarcation in the Punjab could have been on divisional boundaries. Fact that much of Lahore district is irrigated from upper Bari Doab canal with headworks in Gurdaspur district is awkward but there is no solution that avoids all such difficulties.
With regard to Calcutta (23 per cent Muslim population) in Bengal, it should also remain in India or be made into a free port if negotiations between the parties could successfully reach such an arrangement (ibid: 913).
The Partition Plan of 3 June 1947
The final drama in the partition saga began with the arrival of Lord Louis Mountbatten as the last viceroy. His negotiations with Indian leaders led nowhere. From 19 May onwards, Mountbatten was in the UK for consultations with the British Cabinet and the India Office and did not return to India until 30 May. He met the Indian leaders on 2 June. They were handed copies of his partition plan at 10 a.m. with the request that they give their replies and comments by midnight, but that the statement was final. Much of the text had in fact been shared with the Indian leaders in various revised forms, but the early date of the transfer of power had not been mentioned. Both India and Pakistan were to be accorded dominion status.
Nehru and Patel had already been taken into confidence about an early British withdrawal from the subcontinent and were themselves in favour of it. However, the exact day of withdrawal being brought forward from June 1948 to mid-August 1947 may not have been intimated to them. There is no doubt that the Muslim League, the Sikhs and possibly other Congress leaders learnt about it only on 2 June. The Viceroy remarked: ‘The severe shock that this gave to everyone present would have been amusing if it was not rather tragic’ (Ahmed 2012: 214; TOP, Vol. XI 163).
Announcement of the Partition Plan
Mountbatten announced the Partition Plan over All-India Radio in the evening of 3 June 1947. The British government also issued a statement from London on 3 June. It stipulated among other things:
5. The Provincial Legislative Assemblies of Bengal and the Punjab (excluding European Members) will … each be asked to meet in two parts, one representing the Muslim majority districts and the other the rest of the Province. For the purpose of determining the population of districts, the 1941 census figures will be taken as authoritative.
9. For the immediate purpose of deciding on the issue of partition, the members of the Legislative Assemblies of Bengal and the Punjab will sit in two parts according to Muslim majority districts (as laid down in the Appendix) and non-Muslim majority districts. This is only a preliminary step of a purely temporary nature (emphasis added) as it is evident that for the purposes of a final partition of these provinces, a detailed investigation of the boundary question will be needed and, as soon as a decision involving partition has been taken for either province, a Boundary Commission will be set up by the Governor-General, the membership and terms of reference of which will be settled in consultation with those concerned. It will be instructed to demarcate the boundaries of the two parts of the Punjab on the basis of ascertaining the contiguous majority areas of Muslims and non-Muslims. It will also be instructed to take into account other factors. Similar instructions will be given to the Bengal Boundary Commission. Until the report of a Boundary Commission has been put into effect, the provisional boundaries indicated in the Appendix will be used (Ahmed 2012: 216-217; TOP Vol. XI:90-1).
The Appendix was based on district-wise majorities as recorded in the 1941 census. It showed that Muslims were in the majority in three of the five administrative divisions of the Punjab:
1. Rawalpindi Division: Attock, Gujarat, Jhelum, Mianwali, Rawalpindi, Shahpur.
2. Multan Division: Dera Ghazi Khan, Jhang, Lyallpur, Montgomery, Multan, Muzaffargarh.
3. Lahore Division: Gujranwala, Gurdaspur, Lahore, Sheikhupura and Sialkot districts (Ibid: 94).
Amritsar, which belonged to Lahore division, had a non-Muslim majority (emphasis added) and was, therefore, not included among the Muslim majority areas in the appendix. Besides Amritsar district, Hindus and Sikhs were in a majority in the following division and their districts:
4. Jullundur Division: Ludhiana, Ferozepore, Jullundur, Hoshiarpur, Kangra.
5. Ambala Division: Gurgaon, Rothak, Hissar, Karnal, Ambala, Simla.
The Partition Plan stipulated that the members of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, organised separately into a western and an eastern bloc, would vote on the issue of partitioning the Punjab. Accordingly, members of the Western Section of the Assembly (presided over by the Speaker Diwanm Bahadur S.P.Singha) and that of the Eastern Section (presided over by the Deputy Speaker Sardar Kapur Singh) voted on 23 June 1947 (Ahmed 2012: 219)
With regard to the voting, 72 members from East Punjab met in a separate session. They rejected by 50 votes to 22, a motion by the Muslim League leader the Khan of Mamdot that the province should remain united. On the other hand, in the West Punjab section a motion to partition the Punjab was rejected by 69 votes to 27. In communal terms, 88 Muslims, including Khizr Tiwana and seven other members of the Unionist Party, two Indian Christians (Diwan S. P. Singha and Fazl Elahi) and one Anglo-Indian (Mr Gibbon) voted for a united Punjab; Hindus, Sikhs and representatives of the scheduled castes, numbering altogether 77, voted for partitioning the Punjab (Ibid: 567). With regard to Bengal, the voting took place on 20 June. The Muslim majority eastern bloc voted 106 against the partition of the province and 35 for it; the non-Muslim majority western bloc voted 58 for partition and 21 against it.
A British lawyer, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who had never stepped on Indian soil before was appointed as chairman of the Boundary Commission
A British lawyer, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who had never stepped on Indian soil before was appointed as chairman of the Boundary Commission. Four more members, two nominated by Congress (of which one was to be a Sikh) and two by the Muslim League were added. It heard the arguments of the counsels representing the disputing parties: the Muslim League, the Congress, the Sikhs as well as a number of minor groups. The Commission met in Lahore during 21 July -31 July 1947. The counsels representing the two main adversarial blocs – the Muslim League, on the one hand, and, the Congress-Sikhs, on the other, put forth maximalist claims. The four nominated judges took equally partisan positions. The Muslim League’s stand was that contiguous Muslim and non-Muslim areas were the main term of reference and “other factors” applied only to extraordinary situations demanding deviation from it. Arguing that the tahsil should be used as the unit to determine contiguity the Muslim League counsel could claim that such contiguity continued as far in the east as the Sutlej River in the vicinity of Ludhiana.
On the other hand, Congress and Sikhs insisted that “other factors” were equally important. The other factors, according to them, referred to greater ownership of land and other forms of property (75 per cent agricultural land and other types of property belonged to the Hindus and Sikhs). Both sides stuck to their respective stances. The Sikh counsel insisted on the zail (a revenue unit of 12 villages) as the correct unit for determining contiguity. With such an approach he could claim contiguity right up to Lyallpur in the west. The Congress supported the Sikhs. Therefore an agreed formula of partitioning Punjab could not be agreed upon. The same happened at the Bengal Boundary Commission’s hearings in Calcutta. Consequently, instead of an agreed settlement a government award became necessary (Ahmed 2012: 253-273).
The Radcliffe Award was ready on 13 August but was revealed to political leaders two days after India and Pakistan had celebrated their independence
The Radcliffe Award
The Radcliffe Award was ready on 13 August but was revealed to the political leaders on 16 August and made public on 17 August – two days after India and Pakistan had celebrated their independence! The most controversial aspect of the boundary award was that three of the four tahsils of Gurdaspur district on the eastern bank of the Ujh river (which joined the Ravi a little further down) – the tahsils of Gurdaspur, Batala and Pathankot – were awarded to India and only one, Shakargarh, was assigned to Pakistan. Curiously enough, however, instead of choosing the Ujh-Ravi rivers as the cut-off point for the border, ‘The tahsil boundary and not the actual course of the Ujh river shall constitute the boundary between the East and West Punjab’ (ibid). Such an arrangement gave both India and Pakistan some foothold on the other side thus making the border quite erratic.
There is considerable literature available alleging that Mountbatten had the original text altered
There is considerable literature available alleging that Mountbatten had the original text altered so that the whole of Gurdaspur in which Muslims formed a very slim majority would not be awarded to Pakistan. The reason he did so, it is alleged, was to provide a land route for India into Kashmir through Pathankot. Notwithstanding the controversies, the Radcliffe Award relied essentially upon the principle of Muslim and non-Muslim majority contiguity and did not recognize claims to property as a valid basis for awarding territory. Therefore, these areas in which Sikhs in particular owned much of the land, and Hindus and Sikhs together owned most of the urban property, went to Pakistan. In this sense, then, the Radcliffe Award was more sympathetic to the claims of the Muslim League than to those of Congress and the Sikhs.
Had the tahsil been used as the unit of contiguity Pathankot tahsil of Gurdaspur, which had a 60 per cent Hindu-Sikh majority would have been awarded to India even if Gurdaspur and Batala tahsils which had Muslim majority would have been given to Pakistan. Wavell’s reasons for giving the three tahsils of Gurdaspur to India was to protect Amritsar from being surrounded on all sides except the east by Pakistani territory. This is easily understood by looking at the maps. The most interesting point to note is that the Radcliffe Award was almost identical to Wavell’s Boundary-Demarcation Plan of 7 February 1946. Only a very tiny portion of Kasur tahsil of Lahore district was given to India to make the international border equidistant between India and Pakistan.
There is no doubt that the Congress Party was determined that if India is divided so must Bengal and Punjab. Therefore it had on 8 March 1947 came out in support of the Sikh demand for a partition of the Punjab. Similarly it exerted its influence to have Bengal partitioned as well. The main consideration was defence and security. The international border that was drawn in Bengal and Punjab was far away from Delhi. Had Bengal and Punjab, as a whole, been given to Pakistan, as Jinnah wanted, Delhi would have become a frontier city.
Herein lies the security problem that beset Pakistan from the very onset. With Lahore, Sialkot and other major towns in West Pakistan bang on the border and East Pakistan lacking any military infrastructure worth the name, Pakistan was a security nightmare.