In 1947, a few parts of undivided India, primarily Punjab and Bengal, were torn asunder and a new nation came into being: Pakistan. This event, directly or indirectly, affected millions of people in India and is still talked about although nearly 70 years have gone by since then. The turmoil of those times and the events that led up to these epoch-making events are captured in Dr. Madhav Godbole’s book, “The Holocaust of Indian Partition: An Inquest” .
In this well researched book, Dr Godbole examines in a systematic manner the events that led to the partition, the key personalities involved and the roles they played before, during and after the partition. He also covers in the book the after effects of the partition and how even now, decades later, we still speak of the partition with a mixture of emotions. While some maintain it was a big blunder, others say it is was the only solution to what otherwise would have been an enormous problem which would affect India as a whole. In fact, it is suggested that the country would have become “unlivable” and ” ungovernable.”
In the introduction, Dr Godbole himself writes, ” The machinations, political strategies, confabulations and processes which led to the Partition of India have fascinated me for a long time. But, more than the partition itself, what captivated me was the colossal human tragedy which was the traumatic and inevitable culmination of the partition. It showed how millions of common, innocent persons, far removed from politics, became mere pawns in the hands of apparently larger than life Indian politicians and the British who were in authority , in their games of one-upmanship.”
The key players described in the book are Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy who presided over the partition of India, ( who by the way was invited by the Indian leaders of the time to be the first Governor General of Independent India); Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the leading figures of the Congress party who became India’s first Prime Minister; Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, another Congress leader who became the Home Minister in the first cabinet of independent India and who played a pivotal role in amalgamating the Princely States into the Union of India; Mahatma Gandhi, whose influence had considerably waned within the Congress party at the time of the partition but maintained his strong views which were often contradictory; and last, but not the least, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, undisputed leader of the Muslim League, who fought for an independent nation for the Muslims and became the first Governor General of Pakistan.
The partition of India resulted in what came to be known as one of the biggest migrations of refugees in history. An estimated 12 million people fled the lands of their ancestors to seek shelter in India or Pakistan as the case may be depending on whether they were Hindus, Sikhs or Muslims. It was ironical that Jinnah who fought for a separate homeland for the Muslims himself died within a year of partition in September 1948.
The book explores what the compulsions were for Lord Mountbatten to declare August 1947 as the date for independence when earlier it had been announced to be in June 1948. This change in the schedule, compressing the time frame to an almost unbelievable target date, led to events there being hardly any arrangements made by the British to over see what became a traumatic partition. The book speaks of the ill preparedness and even naivety of the Indian leaders who believed everything would be fine once people accepted the date of transfer of power from the British (whom they had opposed for decades). Most leaders underestimated, as did the British themselves, the extent of the fury that would be unleashed on religious lines. None of them envisaged the massacres, rapes and unprecedented violence which shattered the tranquility of a country unaccustomed to violence of such magnitude.
The after effects of the partition are also discussed in the book, including Nehru’s and Patel’s views on “secularism” and the genesis of what is now the “Kashmir problem.” The book leaves one thinking of how lessons taught by history are often ignored at our own peril. Of how, personal and political objectives sometimes gain greater significance than what matters to the common man and how the British who had ruled large parts of India at that time since 1858, left the country in the lurch. A sad end to what was once touted as the Jewel in the British crown.
As the title suggests, this is a scholarly book and does not have the fast pace of fiction. It is replete with notes and references cutting across many sources. The author, Dr. Madhav Godbole is a distinguished Civil Servant himself who served in the Indian Administrative Service from 1959 till he resigned as the Union Home Secretary in 1993. He has authored 14 books in English and in Marathi and writes extensively on current affairs.