India’s Independence And Birth of Pakistan

The Last Effort and Fall of Tipu Sultan by Henry Singleton, c. 1800. After the defeat of Tipu Sultan of Mysore, most of South India was now either under the company’s direct rule, or under its indirect political control.

The history of the Indian subcontinent in the mid-20th century is a tale of struggle, sacrifice, and eventual triumph. The path to India’s independence from British colonial rule was long and fraught with challenges, culminating in the partition that led to the creation of two sovereign nations: India and Pakistan. This narrative explores the pivotal events, key figures, and transformative movements that shaped the destiny of millions, altering the geopolitical landscape of South Asia forever.

The Prelude to Independence

The prelude to Indian independence is a rich and intricate narrative of resistance, political evolution, and the interplay of various leaders and movements, each contributing to the eventual liberation of India from British colonial rule. This period was marked by a dynamic interplay of ideologies, strategies, and visions for India’s future, reflecting the country’s diverse social, religious, and cultural fabric.

At the forefront of the struggle was the Indian National Congress, established in 1885. Initially, the Congress was a platform for educated Indians to discuss their civil rights and propose reforms to the British authorities. However, by the early 20th century, it evolved into a mass movement advocating for Swaraj, or self-rule, inspired by the leadership of figures such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha, or non-violent resistance, became a cornerstone of the Congress’s strategy, leading to widespread national campaigns against British laws and practices. These included the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1922), the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930-1934), and the Quit India Movement (1942), which galvanized millions of Indians across the country to demand independence.

Parallel to the rise of the Congress was the emergence of the All-India Muslim League, founded in 1906. The League initially worked for the rights of Muslims within the British Indian Empire but gradually moved towards advocating for a separate nation. Under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the League articulated the concerns of Muslims about being a minority in a predominantly Hindu India. Jinnah’s Two-Nation Theory, positing that Hindus and Muslims were distinct nations, with their own customs, religion, and traditions, became a central argument for the creation of Pakistan. The Lahore Resolution of 1940, which formally called for independent states for Muslims in the northwest and northeast of India, marked a definitive turn in the Muslim League’s demand for a separate nation.

The interwar period saw significant developments that further complicated the struggle for independence. The British government attempted to placate Indian demands for self-rule through reforms such as the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms (1919) and the Government of India Act (1935), which proposed limited self-governance but fell short of full independence. These half-measures, coupled with repressive actions like the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919, only fueled the desire for complete autonomy.

The divergent paths of the Congress and the Muslim League underscored the complex fabric of Indian society and the challenges of forging a unified national identity. While the Congress envisioned a secular India where Hindus, Muslims, and other communities could coexist, the Muslim League increasingly pressed for a separate Muslim homeland to protect their political and cultural rights. This ideological divide laid the groundwork for the partition of India, a momentous and tumultuous event that accompanied independence.

The final years leading to independence were characterized by intense negotiations between the Congress, the Muslim League, and the British government, against a backdrop of communal violence and political unrest. The culmination of these efforts was the Indian Independence Act of 1947, which led to the creation of two independent dominions, India and Pakistan, on August 15 and August 14, 1947, respectively. This momentous event marked the end of British rule in India but also set the stage for the challenges of nation-building and reconciling the diverse aspirations of its people.

The Quit India Movement and World War II

Robert Clive with Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey. Mir Jafar’s betrayal towards the Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah of Bengal in Plassey made the battle one of the main factors of British supremacy in the sub-continent.

The Quit India Movement of 1942, also known as the August Movement, was a critical juncture in the Indian independence struggle, signifying a decisive shift towards an all-out demand for the end of British colonial rule. Initiated by the Indian National Congress during a time of global upheaval due to World War II, the movement embodied the Indian populace’s growing frustration and anger against colonial oppression.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s call for a non-violent mass struggle under the slogan “Do or Die” aimed to bring the British administration to a halt and force them to negotiate India’s independence. The movement was launched following the failure of the Cripps Mission, which proposed limited self-governance but fell short of offering complete independence or addressing key Indian demands, especially during the wartime context.

The British response to the Quit India Movement was swift and severe. The government deployed the army and police to suppress the uprising, leading to widespread arrests, including almost the entire leadership of the Indian National Congress, thereby decapitating the movement’s leadership structure. Gandhi, Nehru, and other key leaders were imprisoned, which led to a lack of central coordination and direction for the movement. Despite this, spontaneous protests, strikes, and acts of sabotage erupted across the country, showcasing the deep-rooted desire for independence among the Indian populace. The British administration resorted to mass detentions, censorship, and violent crackdowns to quell the unrest, resulting in significant loss of life and property.

World War II significantly influenced the political landscape of India and the trajectory of the independence movement. The British government’s unilateral decision to involve India in the war without consulting Indian leaders or the populace provoked widespread resentment. This act was seen as a blatant disregard for Indian autonomy and fueled the demand for independence. The war exposed the vulnerabilities of the British Empire and demonstrated India’s strategic importance, both militarily and economically, to the British war effort. The significant contributions of Indian soldiers and resources to the war effort, coupled with the sacrifices made, bolstered the argument for India’s capability to govern itself.

The war also had far-reaching effects on the global political order, weakening European colonial powers and igniting movements for self-determination and decolonization worldwide. In the case of India, the end of World War II marked a pivotal moment, as the British government recognized the unsustainability of its colonial rule in the face of mounting international pressure, the changing global dynamics, and the steadfast determination of the Indian people for self-rule.

The Partition of India

Map “Prevailing Religions of the British Indian Empire, 1909” Key: Pink Hindu Green Muslim Diagonal lines Sikh (small area in Punjab) Yellow Buddhist (Burma and Chittagong Hill Tracts) Blue Christian (Goa) Purple Animist (several inland hilly areas) The Andaman islands are not mapped.

The Partition of India in 1947 marked the division of British India into two independent dominions, India and Pakistan, along religious lines. This event was the culmination of years of communal tension, colonial policies, and political negotiations, resulting in one of the most significant and traumatic episodes in South Asian history. India emerged as a secular nation with a Hindu majority, while Pakistan was established as a Muslim-majority state, consisting of West Pakistan (now Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

The historical context of the Partition is deeply rooted in the British colonial strategy of divide and rule, which exacerbated the communal divide between Hindus and Muslims. Over time, the political landscape evolved with the rise of the All India Muslim League and its demand for a separate nation for Muslims, articulated through the Lahore Resolution of 1940. The post-World War II period saw Britain acknowledging its inability to maintain its colonial hold over India, leading to negotiations that ultimately failed to prevent the partition due to irreconcilable differences over how to ensure political representation and protect the rights of Muslims in a post-independence India.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s insistence on a separate nation for Muslims to avoid marginalization in a Hindu-majority India, contrasted with the Indian National Congress leaders’ views, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. Despite Gandhi’s opposition to the partition based on his commitment to unity and communal harmony, the escalating communal violence and political deadlock made the division seem like the only solution.

The delineation of the new borders, known as the Radcliffe Line, was hastily done by Cyril Radcliffe, leading to the partition of Bengal and Punjab based on district-wise religious majorities. This division resulted in administrative, logistical, and humanitarian challenges, including the division of infrastructure and services.

The aftermath of the Partition was catastrophic, triggering one of the largest mass migrations in history, with millions crossing borders amidst widespread communal violence that resulted in the death of an estimated one million people. The partition also laid the groundwork for the ongoing India-Pakistan rivalry, particularly over Kashmir, and had lasting impacts on the demographic, cultural, and political landscape of South Asia.

Independence and Its Aftermath

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (seated in the carriage, on the right, eyes downcast, with black flat-top hat) receives a big welcome in Karachi in 1916 after his return to India from South Africa

The dawn of independence on August 15, 1947, for India, followed by Pakistan a day earlier, represented not just the culmination of a prolonged struggle against British colonial rule but also the beginning of a complex journey towards nation-building and self-governance. Jawaharlal Nehru, stepping into the role of India’s first Prime Minister, was faced with the monumental task of steering the nascent democracy through the challenges of partition, communal violence, and the need for economic and social reforms. His vision for India was rooted in principles of secularism, socialism, and non-alignment, aiming to unify a diverse and divided society into a cohesive, progressive nation.

Simultaneously, Pakistan, conceived on the principle of providing a separate homeland for Muslims as per the Two-Nation Theory, embarked on its own journey under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. As the first Governor-General of Pakistan, Jinnah’s leadership was pivotal during the critical early years, navigating the challenges of establishing a new state that was bifurcated into West and East Pakistan, each with its own distinct cultural and geographical identity.

The joy of liberation from colonial rule was marred by the human tragedy of partition. The division of British India triggered one of the largest mass migrations in human history, accompanied by horrific communal violence that led to the loss of countless lives and the displacement of millions. Both India and Pakistan were thrust into the immediate task of managing this unprecedented crisis, rehabilitating refugees, restoring law and order, and laying down the administrative and economic foundations for their respective countries.

In India, the post-independence era was marked by efforts towards economic development, social reform, and the integration of princely states into the union. The adoption of the Constitution in 1950 set the tone for a secular, democratic governance structure, focusing on justice, equality, and liberty. Nehru’s leadership was instrumental in guiding the country through these formative years, despite the myriad challenges that came with partition, including the contentious issue of Jammu and Kashmir which led to prolonged conflict with Pakistan.

Pakistan, on the other hand, faced the daunting task of forging a unified national identity and establishing governance structures that could accommodate the diverse needs of its two wings. The early years were characterized by efforts to integrate migrants into the social fabric, stabilize the economy, and establish Pakistan’s position in the global geopolitical landscape, which was increasingly defined by the Cold War dynamics.

The independence of India and Pakistan and the ensuing years were a period of transformation, marked by significant achievements and formidable challenges. The legacy of this era is complex, reflecting the aspirations, struggles, and resilience of the people of both nations as they embarked on paths to forge their destinies in the post-colonial world. The journey since independence has been shaped by internal dynamics and external influences, reflecting a continuous evolution of their identities, policies, and roles on the global stage.