Tuesday, August 25, 2009

15th August, 1947 - A Nation's Tryst With Destiny

At the stroke of the midnight hour on the on the 15th of August, 1947, India attained independence and a day before, Lord Mountbatten was at Karachi to inaugurate the Dominion of Pakistan. Thus, two new Dominions came into existence to usher in an era of communal peace & amity in the sub-continent. On the eve of the occasion, Nehru’s famous extempore on our ‘tryst with destiny’ and the arrival of a day to ‘redeem our pledge’ is now well entrenched as a voluble testament in the annals of Indian history.

Let us trace down the sequence of events from a year before the D-day –16th of May, 1946 to be precise - when the historic ‘Cabinet Mission Plan’ was drawn up after two months of deliberations, one which both the Congress and the Indian Muslim League had initially agreed to, on principle. This was perhaps, the first major step by the British to eventually hand over the reins to their subjects, with the formation of an ‘Interim Government’ comprising mainly of the Congress and the Indian Muslim League members. It was described by Gandhiji himself as ‘the best document the British could have produced in the circumstances’.

Initially, the League accepted the Plan in toto but then suddenly back-tracked as they felt that the Congress had reneged on the clause, which called for the grouping of provinces and wanted to go into the Constituent Assembly with a sense of hegemony. With the benefit of hindsight, this was perhaps, justified as the League had accepted the Plan on the basis of distribution among the Centre, the Provinces and the Groups. Nehru’s statement during the AICC meet on the 17th of July, 1946 in Mumbai, that the Congress had only accepted a participation in the Constituent Assembly and nothing else, added fuel to fire. That the Congress did not accept the Plan in its entirety, after having consented just a month earlier, sowed the seeds of doubt in the minds of their counter-parts. Jinnah’s plea for a vivisection purely on religious grounds suddenly gathered momentum, through his fragile premonition that the two communities could never live together peacefully in an Independent India.

This is where Lord Wavell might have erred in his judgment, when he invited Nehru to head the Interim Government leaving out the Muslim League - who had decided to boycott it - instead of trying further to bring the warring factions together. 16th of August, 1946, was a calumny in India’s political history when Jinnah played a final, desperate card calling for a ‘Direct Action Day’, which on principle, was ‘Pakistan Day’. Who would have realized that exactly a year before the dawn of independence, destiny would have unleashed a carnage - a 4-day terror regime that would claim close to 6000 lives.

The Interim Government was formed on the 2nd of September, 1946 and Congress adopted the resolution that India should be a Democratic Republic. Nehru, in his own capacity extended the offer to the League to join the Interim Government, which was crucial to curb the communal conflagrations that had gripped the nation, which they did after a lot of persuasion on the 15th of October, 1946. However, by this stage the feeling of suspicion, distrust & mutual antipathy had made such deep inroads in both the Congress and the League that there was no way the Interim Government was going to function smoothly. Even as the Constituent Assembly used to be in session, the League members boycotted it time and again. As the Congress and the League were at dagger’s drawn on every possible issue, ranging from Defence to Home to Finance to Communications, partition began to appear an inevitability and even as Lord Mountbatten arrived in India, the Congress had reconciled itself to Pakistan as a ‘lesser evil’.

With the mounting communal passions, the Labour Government headed by Clement Atlee took a conscious decision on the 20th of February, 1947 that power must be transferred before the 30th of June, 1948 to responsible Indian hands. Subsequently, the White Paper, based on the plan formulated by Lord Mountbatten, to partition India, was given constitutional approval by the British Parliament and finally the Royal Sanction on the 18th of July, 1947, which became a qualifying decree to the fate of 40 crore Indians, who had for centuries lived in peace and amity.

In retrospect, what would have happened if Lord Wavell had been able to convince Atlee not to make haste and hold on to the reins a little longer? What if he had not been forced to resign to be replaced by Mountbatten, who had pre-meditated every one of his moves before landing in India? What if the Congress Working Committee had agreed unanimously to have Jinnah at the helm of affairs? Could we have avoided the discomfiture of a divided nation?

Such questions shall be raised time and again without any tangible answers. It has been 62 years since we gained independence; let us savour as of now.