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India's struggle for freedom and partition revisited
The youth of India@70 know little about the history of our struggle for independence and the partition and ethnic cleansing that followed. Misinformation abounds. Some believe Pandit Nehru could have avoided the partition if he had agreed to Jinnah being the PM of India.

My brother says that the British partitioned India as a part of its divide and rule policy. I have not come across any evidence to suggest that these statements are true. This article seeks to put the record straight before saffron historians rewrite the history of our freedom struggle and the partition. The article has been researched for on the web. The sites visited are far too numerous to be listed in this short article.

India became a British Crown Colony in 1858. The Sepoy Mutiny and the battles that followed shook the British who decided to impose direct Crown rule on India. It passed the Government of India Act 1858 and made major changes in the way India was governed. It divided India into eight major states, five minor states and 565 princely states. There was a central government in Kolkata and provincial governments in the states. The Viceroy represented the British Crown in India. Political activity was allowed.

In 1905 Lord Curzon divided the Bengal Province into the Muslim-majority province of East Bengal and Assam and the Hindu-majority province of West Bengal. This sowed the seeds of division among Indians in Bengal on religious lines and attracted armed resistance to the move. At the Delhi Durbar of 1911, King George V announced that the capital of British India would be moved from Calcutta to Delhi. The partition of Bengal was also rescinded in 1911.

Indian National Congress (INC)

The INC was established in 1885 and spearheaded the Independence Movement. Mr. A O Hume was one of the founder members. It was secular and its social policy was "Sarvodaya" or lifting of all sections of society. Congress became a mass movement in 1915 on arrival of Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa. At its peak, over 15 million Indians were involved in its organizations and over 70 million Indians participated in its struggle for independence against the British Empire. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was elected Congress President in 1938 and 1939. He was expelled from the party in 1939 by Gandhi for holding contrary views.

Indian Muslim League (ML)

The Hindu protests against the partition of Bengal in 1905 led the Muslim elite in India to form the All India Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906. The League favoured the partition of Bengal, since it gave them Muslim majority in the eastern half. It was a political party in British India that developed into the driving force behind the creation of Pakistan. It did not take part in the independence struggle.

Hindu Maha Sabha (HM)

HM was formed in 1909 to protect the rights of the Hindu community in British India after the formation of the ML in 1906 and the British government's creation of separate Muslim electorate under the Morley-Minto reforms of 1909. Madan Mohan Malviya presided over its first session at Lahore. HM accused INC of being a pro-Muslim secular-socialist organization. HM did not take part in the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930.

In 1939, when the British declared India's engagement in WW II without even consulting Indian people, INC ministers of provincial governments resigned in protest. Sensing an opportunity, both ML and HM formed coalition governments in Bengal, Sindh and North West Frontier Province. BJP has a similar coalition government in J&K with PDP. It was also seen as an opportunity to strengthen their mass base, and weaken INC's mass base.

HM did not take part in the Quit India Movement of 1942. In March 1943, Sindh Government became the first Provincial Assembly of the sub-continent to pass an official resolution in favour of the creation of Pakistan. In spite of HM's public opposition to any political division of India, the MH Ministers of the Sindh government did not resign. They simply protested. HM's lust for power was obvious and this had open support of its President, Veer Savarkar and prominent leader Shyamapada Mukherjee. RSS was founded in 1925 but not as a political party.

India's freedom struggle

India's struggle for independence is deemed to have started with the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. But the Mutiny and the events that followed were efforts by some Indian rulers to fight and defeat the British. There was no organized effort to oust the British at all India level. The rebellions by different rulers in different parts of India were defeated by the British. Organized and all India freedom struggle started only after INC was formed and started the movement.

Swadeshi Movement

Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the INC leader, started the first Swadeshi movement consisting of the boycott of foreign goods and social boycott of any Indian who used foreign goods. He was jailed. There was a split between the moderates and the extremists in INC in 1906 and INC remained fragmented until 1914, when Tilak was released from prison. Re-unification took place in 1915. In the 1916 Lucknow session of the Congress, Tilak's supporters were able to push through a resolution which asked for the British to declare that it was their intention to confer self-government on India at an early date. The year 1915 also saw the return of Mr. Gandhi to India. Gandhi made his political debut in India in 1917 in Champaran district in Bihar.

Non Cooperation Movement

In 1920 Gandhi began his campaign of non-cooperation, prompting many Indians to return British awards and honours; to resign from civil service, and to again boycott British goods. In addition, Gandhi reorganised the Congress, transforming it into a mass movement and opening its membership to even the poorest Indians. The INC, under the presidency of Jawaharlal Nehru demanded Purna Swaraj or "complete independence" at its annual session in Lahore in 1929. Gandhi subsequently led an expanded movement of civil disobedience, culminating in 1930 with the Salt Satyagraha in which thousands of Indians defied the tax on salt, by marching to the sea and making their own salt by evaporating seawater. Although, many, including Gandhi, were arrested, the British government eventually gave in, and in 1931 Gandhi travelled to London to negotiate new reforms.

Quit India Movement

The Quit India movement was started by INC in 1942. HM, RSS and ML joined hands with British government in actively opposing the Quit India Movement. INC had opposed Indians fighting for the British in World War II. VD Savarkar, President HM, went on a nationwide tour encouraging Hindu youth to join army in large numbers. Communist Party of India (CPI) opposed Quit India Movement. They had been banned by the British government and used this as an opportunity to get the ban lifted by cooperating with the government. Indian Capitalists and Westernised Oriental Gentlemen opposed Quit India Movement. They were a privileged class in British India and were worried by rise of the "Swadeshi Movement" urging boycott of foreign goods and the Dhoti and Khadi culture. The Princely States were also opposed to Quit India Movement.  The Princes were also a privileged class and were worried that democracy would curb their autonomy, privileges and powers.

Subhash Chandra Bose and INA

Subhas Bose escaped from detention in Kolkata and fled to Germany in 1939. He founded "Azad Hind", a Provisional Indian Government-in-exile on 21 October 1943 at Singapore. The government claimed authority over Indian civilian and military personnel in British colonies in South East Asia and the Indian territories which would fall to the Japanese forces and the Azad Hind Fauj or Indian National Army (INA) during the Japanese offensive towards India during World War II. The Azad Hind government had its own currency, court and civil code. Japan gave it nominal authority of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1943. Japanese officials made all the decisions, and throughout its existence it was entirely dependent on Japanese support. INA went into action against British Indian Army in the Imphal-Kohima sector.

The Japanese suffered a catastrophic defeat in the battle and both the Japanese and the INA had to retreat. Azad Hind Government ended with the surrender of the last of INA troops in Rangoon. The death of Netaji was the end of the entire Azad Hind Movement. Though the movement did not survive it created a tide of militant nationalism that swept through India and inspired many revolts at individual level. Indian political parties did not support the Movement. However, INC provided legal assistance during INA trials.

Naval Mutiny

The Naval mutiny was revolt by Indian sailors of the Royal Indian Navy on board ships and shore establishments at Bombay harbour on 18 February 1946. The revolt spread from Karachi to Kolkata and ultimately came to involve over 10,000 sailors in 66 ships and shore establishments. The mutiny was repressed with force by British troops and Royal Navy warships. Total casualties were 8 dead and 33 wounded. Only the Communist Party supported the mutiny. The INC and the ML condemned it. INA and the Naval Mutiny sowed the seed of doubt about the loyalty of Indian Armed Forces to British Rule and facilitated our independence.

Individuals and groups who sacrificed themselves

Many individuals and groups fought the mighty British Raj to avenge misrule and atrocities by them. This article is too small to mention all of them. Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki created mayhem by planting bombs near police stations and other Government offices. They took part in the famous Muzaffarpur bombing. Prafulla Chaki committed suicide to avoid capture. Khudiram was hanged in 1908. Binoy Basu, Badal Gupta and Dinesh Gupta shot the Inspector General of Prisons, General NS Simpson dead at Writer's Building situated at Kolkata. They were killed in the fire fight that followed.

Matangani Hazra was one of the first women members of the Indian National Congress and actively participated in the Quit India Movement started by Mahatma Gandhi. Bina Das shot the Bengal Governor Stanley Jackson at the Convocation Hall of Calcutta University. She was sentenced to nine years for her failed attempt. Udham Singh followed Brigadier General Edward Harry Dyer, the butcher of Jaliwanwalabag to Britain and killed him. Bhagat Singh dropped a bomb in the British Parliament to draw attention to India's independence struggle. Kartar Singh Sarabha was hanged for taking part in the Ghadar Mutiny. Hemu Kalani took part in sabotage of British vehicles and railway tracks. He was hanged on 21 January 1943. There were thousands of others including Shivaram Rajguru and Chandra Sekhar Azad who laid down their lives while avenging British brutality and in the independence struggle. Not one of them was from Hindu Mahasabha or RSS.

Britain agrees to independence

Laour Party came to power in Britain after World War II. The new prime minister decided to expedite grant of independence to India as early as possible.

Partition of India

The first to demand a separate state for Muslims was the philosopher Allama Iqbal. He was the president of ML. In his presidential address to the 1930 convention of the Muslim League at Lahore, said that there should be a separate nation for Muslims. Otherwise Muslims will be dominated by Hindus. Jinnah supported the idea and quit INC. Jinnah made clear his commitment to two separate states at the 1940 ML conference in Lahore. He never wavered from this position. Politicians and community leaders on both religions whipped up mutual suspicion and fear which culminated in dreadful events such as the riots during the ML's Direct Action Day of August 16, 1946.

HM advocated "Hindu Raj" at sessions in Nagpur in 1938. The session also advocated the use of Hindi as sole language of India. Mr. Golwalkar, founder Sarsanghchalak of RSS (RSS chairman) said "that the non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture . . . in a word they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizens' rights." The HM along with RSS ensured Partition by frightening Muslims with their ideology. The RSS role is downplayed because it is politically convenient to project the ML to be solely responsible for the Partition.

ML insisted on Partition and launched "Direct Action" to ensure it. It asserted that since Muslims are separate Nation and they must have a separate country to themselves. It was apprehensive that if British leave, Hindus will take over the country and will oppress Muslims. This is happening today.  

Muslim land lords of Punjab and Muslim peasants of Bengal supported partition. The former wanted to retain their hold on their land and power. The latter wanted to rid themselves of Hindu land lords and money lenders.

Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and the INC believed that India should be a democratic secular State where all citizens enjoy full rights. INC opposed Partition. The Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten also opposed partition.

Muslim League Launches Direct Action

Direct Action, also known as the "Great Calcutta Riot" or "The Week of the Long Knives", started on August 16, 1946. The ML had planned general strike on the day to assert its demand for a separate homeland for Muslims. The protest triggered massive riots in Kolkata between ML and its Volunteer Corps and Hindus and Sikhs. Retaliatory attacks on Muslims by Congress followers and supporters led to further riots in the surrounding regions of Bengal and Bihar. The riots spread to other major cities. More than 4,000 people lost their lives and 100,000 residents in the city of Kolkata were left homeless in 72 hrs of rioting. As public order broke down all across northern India and Bengal, the pressure increased on the British to accept a political Partition of India as a way to avoid a full scale civil war. Britain capitulated.

Britain concedes demand for partition

Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, took the responsibility to partition British India, and to hand over power to the INC in India and ML in Pakistan. Sir Cyril Radcliffe was given the task of drawing the dividing line between India and Pakistan. On July 18, 1947, the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act that approved independence for India and the partition arrangement. The task of dividing India is given to Sir Cyril Radcliffe. The dividing line between India and Pakistan is called Radcliffe line. Radcliffe was not willing to draw the line in three months but he was forced to do so. The line was released on August 17, 1947.

Horrors of partition

Large scale religious rioting, looting and ethnic cleansing started in Punjab, Sindh and Bengal, as soon as the lines were established. About 145 lakh people left their homes with whatever little they could carry and crossed the borders to reach the relative safety of religious majority. Women faced unimaginable atrocities. Based on 1951 Census of displaced persons, 72,26,000 Muslims went to Pakistan from India while 72,49,000 Hindus and Sikhs moved to India from Pakistan immediately after partition. About 112 lakh people switched countries in the west, with Punjab accounting for most of it. 53 lakh Muslims moved from India to West Punjab in Pakistan and 34 lakh Hindus and Sikhs moved from Pakistan to East Punjab in India. About 12 lakhs moved in each direction to and from Sind. About 33 lakh Hindus fled from East Pakistan to Assam, Tripura and West Bengal. The newly formed governments of India and Pakistan were completely unequipped to deal with migrations of such staggering magnitude, and massive violence and slaughter occurred on both sides of the border. Estimated number of deaths varies from around 500,000 to 10 lakhs.


The struggle for independence after 1858 was both non violent and violent. INC spearheaded the non violent struggle while Azad Hind Fauj, Indian Sailors and countless individuals and groups took the violent path. Both contributed. Conspicuous by their absence was Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS. They joined hands amongst themselves to keep themselves and the British in power and to keep INC out of power. 

The prime reason for partition was the insecurity in the minds of the Muslim minority created by the demand that Indian Muslims give up their way of life and adopt Hindu culture or Hindutva as defined by RSS. After 1940, the Muslim League insisted on partition and creation of Pakistan and took to violence to get their way. RSS is now in power and Hindi and Hindutva is on their agenda. Can we prevent history from repeating itself?

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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