Published On: Tue, Nov 6th, 2018

Indian Independence – Lord Mountbatten too Late

By the time of the arrival of Lord Mountbatten to negotiate terms for Indian independence, the Punjab was already in the grip of communal violence on a scale hitherto unseen in India. The ethnic cleansing of entire communities, murders, violence, assassinations, terrorist bomb blasts, rapes, kidnapping of women and arson had become commonplace.

Indian Independence, Lord Mountbatten

Brief History of the Punjab from the Early1800s

As the power of the Mughal Empire declined across India, the Punjab became a Sikh Empire until it was finally conquered by the British in 1849.

After almost 100 years of British rule, the Punjabi landscape had been totally transformed with vast areas of scrub land and virtual desert irrigated by the creation of the Punjab Canal Colonies and the construction of a network of over 10,000km of railway line across the region.

The Punjab Canal Colonies were not only a British irrigation scheme but also a social experiment in population mobilisation. They created one of the richest agricultural areas of India, with the railway track being used for the export of surplus grains and foods.

The creation of the Canal Colonies also contributed to the mobilisation and fragmentation of the population of the Punjab, as the British moved whole communities and groups, reputed to have a talent for farming and agriculture, onto the new smallholdings. Furthermore, grants of land holdings were made to many of the former soldiers, with records of service under the British in the Punjab Army.

Population by Religious Belief

It is unsurprising that the Punjab became such a macrocosm of Indian communalism at the time of the partition of India as in 1941 the population comprised a Muslim majority of 53.2% mainly consisting of peasants and craftsmen, with the wealthier, landowners and industrialists being from the Hindu and Sikh communities, who comprised a total of of 29.1% and 14.9% of the population respectively. The area epitomised the struggle for both political and economic gain occurring throughout India and became the focal point of a race to rule India.

Violence Erupts in the Punjab

Whilst violence, against both people and property, first erupted in the major cities of Lahore and Amritsar and the surrounding districts, it soon spread to engulf the whole of the Punjab. Ostensibly, the violence was triggered by the resignation of the Punjabi Prime Minister Kisr Tiwani together with a call to arms by the Sikh leader Master Tara Singh, who envisaged a Sikh homeland in Eastern Punjab.

Certainly, by the time of the June 1947 announcement of the plan for the partition of India, most of the destruction in the Punjab had already taken place, with refugees and displaced peoples attempting to move to areas of safety around the region.

British Reaction to Violence in the Punjab

British fears that the massive conflagration engulfing the Punjab, could spread to the rest of India may well have contributed to what has been seen as the unseemly haste with which Mountbatten concluded negotiations with the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, thus dividing British India and creating Pakistan.

Certainly, Britain had no will or, indeed, finance available to police a major communal crisis which centred upon a struggle for political gain by Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. Also consideration had to be given to American opinion regarding the dissolution of the British Empire and the sterling trading bloc, which had hindered the US economy for so long.

About the Author

- Paul Linus is an eminent online journalist who has been writing news, features and editorials on different websites from across the world for about a decade. He can be contacted at knowledgeherald@gmail.com

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