| THE SHADOW OF THE GREAT GAME: THE UNTOLD STORY OF INDIA'S PARTITION |
By Narendra Singh Sarila
Price: Rs 500 Pages: 436
In some ways, Narendra Singh Sarila's eminently readable account of the agony of Partition that accompanied the ecstasy of Independence can be called a restatement of an obvious fact-that when the British Raj in India became untenable, the perfidious Albion changed his policy of Divide and Rule to Divide and Quit. And in this, the growing differences between Hindus and Muslims (which the British had exploited cynically but hadn't invented) and Mohammed Ali Jinnah's uncompromising demand for Pakistan had come in handy. But that would be a superficial view. What Sarila has done, after elaborate and painstaking research, is to break new ground and challenge conventional wisdom on India's vivisection.
The author-a former ADC to Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British India and the first governor-general of independent India, and later a member of the Indian Foreign Service-asserts that Britain's careful calculations of its strategic interests in the Middle East, immensely magnified by oil, drove it to the conclusion that these could be safeguarded only if the northwestern part of the subcontinent with a Muslim majority could be separated from the rest of India and used as a British base in the Cold War. The main threat to these interests was a possible southward thrust by the Soviet Union; hence the emphasis on the continuance of the Great Game.
|DIVIDING LINES: Lord Wavell formulated the Partition Plan |
Sarila's principal thesis is that it was not Mountbatten but his predecessor, Lord Wavell, who had formulated the Partition Plan a good 13 months before the dashing sailor's arrival in Delhi and had forwarded it to his bosses in London on February 7, 1946. There is a certain irony in this because at the time of Wavell's appointment as viceroy (he was until then commander-in-chief in India), the comment in London was that this bespoke of Winston Churchill's "contempt for both India and Wavell". Indeed, as the author reveals, Churchill had directed the new viceroy "not to take any initiative".
However, when Wavell's top secret plan reached Whitehall, the arch-imperialist was out of power. His place was taken by the under-rated, pipe-smoking Clement Attlee who, according to Sarila, slowly gave effect to Wavell's ideas behind a characteristic "smokescreen". In his famous telegram, Wavell clearly recommended that partition of India also had to mean partition of Punjab. The dividing line in Punjab that Wavell drew was exactly what Lord Radcliffe adopted later. In short, Jinnah was not the creator of Pakistan but an instrument used by the British for their own purpose.
In all probability, some would question Sarila's "conspiracy theory". After all, the Wavell telegrams, to-gether with his and Radcliffe's maps included in the book, were published in the Transfer of Power volumes long ago. Why has no one else attached any importance to these so far? To this, Sarila's answer is that he has based his findings on a host of British and American top secret documents that have been "unsealed" only in recent years. Anyway, a fresh debate on the history of Partition provoked by revelations in the book under review should be most welcome.
Sarila deserves credit for boldly pointing out that the resignation of the Congress ministries within two months of World War II was a big mistake and the Quit India Movement an even bigger blunder. These left the field clear for Jinnah and convinced his British patrons that a united, Congress-ruled India would never let Britain use its soil for the preservation of British defence interests. On the other hand, the author errs in exaggerating American pressure on Britain to respect India's right to freedom. F.D. Roosevelt did say something to that effect. But he fell silent after Churchill growled at him.
Sarila's account also takes the lid off the painful fact that the Indian leaders, who were taking part in protracted negotiations with the representatives of the Raj, were paying no attention to British strategic motives, thanks to the lack of any tradition of strategic thinking in this country. However, as premier Indian strategist K. Subrahmanyam pointed out at the book's launch, the tragedy is that the situation hasn't changed 58 years later, National Security Council or no National Security Council.