[Reproduced from Abstracts of Sikh Studies, Jan-Mar 1998]
Punjab Da Batwara Te Sikh Neta
Reviewed by Tharam Singh
by Kirpal Singh
Published by Singh Brothers, Bazar Mai Sewan, Amritsar
Pages: 113; Price: Rs. 60/-
This small book is in hard cover which has a pleasing design. The author has based it on the series of articles he wrote for Ajit, Jalandhar, from September to November, 1993.
The accout is necessarily a bit disjointed and repetitive, but is absorbing nevertheless, because the facts are obtained ‘straight from the horse’s mouth.
The book is made up of 12 short chapters, (3 to 5 pages each) and opens with a Preface outlining the stands taken up by the Muslim League and the Congress to the Partition Plan being finalised by Lord Mountbatten in May 1947 and the demands proposed by Master Tara Singh and Giani Kartar Singh. We learn how Sardar Baldev Singh undermined the position of the Sikhs by agreeing to the Partition Plan of 3rd June, 1947, without obtaining the consent of his own party.
In Chapter I, an interview with Lord Ismay, the then Chief of Staff of Lord Mountbatten, reveals the defects in the Partition Plan. “A job that needed three months preparation was done in three days.” We then learn that the partition of Punjab was proposed during the second Round Table Conference in London in 1932, by Sardar Ujjal Singh, the Sikh representative.
In Chapter II, we have the words of Lord Attlee, the Prime Minister in 1947, in England, giving reasons for the raw deal handed down to the Sikhs : “Mr Jinnah was a very small-minded man and your Tara Singh was also troublesome.” The writer has explained what he meant by it — the former could not come to terms with the Sikhs and Tara Singh was said to be involved in a conspiracy to kill Muslims.
Then follows a short history of the formation of the Muslim League and how it found favour with the British as against the Congress which was bent on ‘Quit India Movement’ during World War II. Sir Stafford Crips arrived in India in 1942, and his Draft Declaration of Self-Government for India found no favour with the Congress. The Sikhs also submitted a memorandum demanding partition of the Punjab.
Chapter III introduces us to Major James Short, close to Sardar Baldev Singh, but who arrives in India only on 22nd July, 1947, when major decisions had already been taken. Here the background is given about the Cabinet Mission Plan of 16th May, 1946, with the states grouped into Hindu and Muslim majority groups.
i. Bihar, U.P., Orissa, C.P., Bombay and Madras.
ii. Assam and Bengal.
iii. Punjab, NWF Province and Sindh
Congress party agreed to this scheme. The Muslim League accepted it first, but rejected it subsequently, and announced in August, 1946, its plan of Direct Action. This led to the outbreak of riots in Calcutta in August, 1946.
Chapter IV deals with the spread of the riots through Bihar to District Rawalpindi in Punjab. Fire-arms were on open sale in the NWFP. The statement in the House of Commons by Clement Attlee on 22nd Feb., 1947, that Britain was handing over power by June, 1948, set the smouldering fires into a full blaze. The riots broke out in Rawalpindi district in March, 1947, and Pt. Nehru flew over the riot affected areas, and was shown the deep well into which Sikh and Hindu women had jumped to save their honour. He then agreed to the principle of partition of Punjab, which had been vigorously demanded by the Sikhs all along.
In Chapter V, we see Lord Attlee ordering replacement of the experienced Viceroy Lord Waveall by Lord Mountbatten — a complete stranger to India. On 18th April, 1947, Mountbatten met the Sikh leaders — Master Tara Singh, Giani Kartar Singh and Baldev Singh, who proposed the transfer of Hindu and Sikh populations into East Punjab along with partition of Punjab into East Punjab and West Punjab.
In Chapter VI is detailed important correspondence between Penderal Moon and Lord Ismay. Moon suggested that Sikhs should join Pakistan. Consequently, two meetings between Mr Jinnah and Maharaja Yadvinder Singh and later Master Tara Singh and others were arranged, but no agreement could be reached.
Chapter VII is centred around the author’s meeting with Lord Patrick Spence, who in 1947, was Chief Justice of the Federal Court at Delhi and who chaired the Arbitration Tribunal set up druing 1947. His term expired on 31st March, 1948. Lord Spence’s comments are brief and incisive :
1) The main cause of the turmoil was Britain’s undue haste to quit. Age old ties were broken in a few days. Our old promises and policies were thrown aside in our hurry to get out of India.
2) It would have been far better if Indian leaders had been called to London, and told that Britain would frame the first constitution for them.
He also criticises the constitution of the Boundary Commission : “Why appoint an outsider as Chairman, who knew nothing about the people of the area or about their language or about the geography of the area.”
At the Shimla Conference, Mountbatten asked E. Jenkins, M.A. Jinnah and Pt. Nehru about the feasibility of the exchange of population in Punjab. The replies of the three make interesting reading.
Chapter VIII is centred around the views of Francis Mudie who served as Governor of West Punjab in 1947, and had personal contact with Jinnah. Here also we read about the frantic efforts of Giani Kartar Singh and Justice Harnam Singh to salvage something from the grasping hands of M.A. Jinnah and Pt. Nehru. The Sikhs had no spokesman to plead their case. Major James Short, who was brought in at the last hour, was no match for the high calibred V.P. Menon and Lord Ismay. We read here how till the end Pt. Nehru was saying : “There is no great urgency for an exchange of populations.”
Chapter IX deals with the recommendations of the Boundary Commission and how Giani Kartar Singh and Sardar Harnam Singh’s last minute efforts paid off in saving the Tehsils of Zira and Firozepur for East Punjab.
Chapter X details the diligence of Francis Mudie, the Governor of West Punjab, urging the Sikhs to go out of Pakistan. Mob fury was at its worst and the slaughter of the Sikhs was urged on by the greed to acquire the abandoned properties and lands. Newspaper reports of the day are quoted describing the holocaust as the biggest tragedy ever enacted in the history of man.
Chapter XI is a stirring account of the heroism displayed by an Akali, Chakar Kaur Singh, in rescuing stranded women and children from Pakistan as recorded in his diary.
The last Chapter is an evaluation by the author of the whole exercise of Partition from the Sikh viewpoint and of the technical failures of Sikh leaders at the top to put up a convincing case for securing their “promised” homeland. In brief, it can be ascribed to a lack of clear goal and to poor advocacy. They made good agitators, but poor negotiators. Their first blunder was to take the promises of Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi at their face value, and forget the fact that politics is frequently divorced from all ideals of truth and morality. Sardar Baldev Singh’s failure to grasp the early (1946) offer of a Sikh majority state comprising Patiala, Nabha, Faridkot, Jind and Kapurthala as a starting point, and to work and expand on that idea has also been mentioned.
All in all, this book is an authentic and absorbing account of the eventful days from 1942-1948, when the political future of the Sikhs was sealed by the harsh demands of M.A. Jinnah on the one hand and the wily schemes of the Congress on the other.