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Partition of India (Legend and Reality)

Item Code: NAF237
Author: H.M. Seervai
Publisher: Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9789350351277
Pages: 327
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 460 gm
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Book Description
About the Author

H.M. Seervai, a scion of the famous Wadia Master Builders, was born in Bombay on 5 Dec. 1906. He was educated in the New High School, Bombay, and joined the Elphinstone College, Bombay, in 1922, graduating in 1926 with a first class in Philosophy. In 1932 he was appointed for a term as a Lecturer in English at the Elphinstone College.

Having graduated in Law, he started practice on the Original Side of the Bombay High Court in 1932 and joined the Chamber of Sir Jamshed Ji Kanga, who had been Adv.-General from 1923-1935. Seervai was appointed Adv.-General of Maharashtra in 1957 and was Adv.-General for 17 years. In 1967, he published Constitutional Law of India, a Critical Commentary (now in its 4th edition) which was acclaimed as a classic and won for him the Award of Padma Vibhusan in 1972, and led in 1981 to his being elected a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, the highest academic honor in Britain. In March 1994 he received from the International Bar Association a "Living Legends of Law Award of Recognition".

Seervai's interest in civil liberties found expression in his book, Emergency, Future Safeguards and the Habeas Corpus Case (1978). He has been the President, People's Union for Civil Liberties, Bombay Unit, since 1983.


Preface to the Second Edition

The first impression of Partition of India: Legend and Reality with a new introduction (1990) has been sold out. Due to a demand for this book in India and Pakistan I decided to bring out a second edition with a full index.

There has been a revival of interest in Lord Mountbatten’s part in the partition of India. Two biography of Mountbatten have appeared in 1994 which are not available as this preface is going to the press. The first is Mountbatten the private story by Brian Hoey. Mr. Andrew Roberts in his eminent Churchillians has written debunking biographies including that of Mountbatten. Robert is sharply critical of Mountbatten part in partitioning India. The Sunday times (London) published on 26 July 1994 extracts containing his criticisms. The P.T.I., London, put out a long message dealing with those extracts; and they were published in the Indian express. Mr. Roberts account is full of inaccuracies which cannot be exposed in a brief Preface. But he rightly condemns (i) Mountbatten blatant bias toward Hindus which alienated Muslim; (ii) the haste with which Mountbatten Partitioned India; and (iii) his unpardonable decision not to disclose Radcliffe Punjab award as soon as it was ready for had he done so the governor of Punjab and his official aided by the army could have saved thousands of lives and ensured an orderly migration of people from India to Pakistan and vice-versa.

In the present book at p. 150 refer to a note in Mr. Christie diary (9 Aug., 1947) that lord Mountbatten was having to be strongly dissuaded from asking Radcliffe to alter the award in 1992 Mr. Beaumont private secretary to Radcliffe chairman boundary commission for partitioning India made a statement which the daily telegraph (London) published on 24 Feb., 1992 in his statement he said inter alia that on Aug., 1947 Radcliffe told Beaumont that Mountbatten had invited him (Radcliffe) to lunch ad he was not to bring Beaumont as there was not enough room at the table for an extra guest. Because added having lived for more than 6 months in the house occupied by ismay I knew this to be untrue.

On 8 Aug, 1947/ Radcliffe had completed the Punjab line allotting the ferozepur and Zira ub-districts to Pakistan after his lunch with Mountbatten Radcliffe altered the Punjab line by allotting ferozepur and Zira to India. Beaumont commented Mountbatten interfered and Radcliffe allowed himself to be overborne Grave discredit to both.

Mr. Roberts criticism of Mountbatten are not new. In the 1st edition of this book I made those criticism and many more in a review of my book in economist London (21-27 April 1990) it was said; As for the massacres and population exchanges Mr. Seervai proves his case that it was Mountbatten who was largely responsible. The reviewer criticized the haste in shifting the date for independence from 1 June 1948 to 15 Aug 1947 and pointed out the disastrous consequences of concealing Radcliffe Punjab award for 4 days instead of published it immediately so that proper security measures could be taken Mountbatten concealed the Award because he did not want the violence that was festivities in which he was to star thanks to Mr. seervai concise and rigorous presentation of the material there must be a reappraisal of reputations.


Preface to the First Edition

In his excellent book the last days of the British Raj Mr. Leonard Mosley wrote: “The official documents dealing with the transfer of power in India will not be officially documents dealing with the transfer of power in India will not be officially released until 1999 but in the interim period between that date and the present moment I hope this book will throw some light upon events which have hitherto been obscured. Fortunately historians and student of history did not have to wait till 1999 to know the British side of the story relating to the transfer of power. For in 1967 prime minister Harold Wilson announced his Government decision that documents relating to the transfer of power to India would be published. The editors of the series of document to be published were to be independent historians who were to be give unrestricted access to the records and freedom to select and edit documents for publication Prof. mansergh a distinguished historian was offered and accepted the post of Editor-in-Chief. The reference to unrestricted access was necessary because a large part of the documents were most secret. As a result of this decision 12 volume of documents entitled the Transfer of Power 1942-7 (Transfer of Power) were published under the editorship of Prof. Mansergh between 1970 and 1983. He contributed an introduction and notes to each of the 12 volume and discharged his duty as Chief Editor with great skill and complete impartiality. Again in 1973 Mr Penderel Moon published Wavell the Viceroy journal which contained an almost day-to-day account of the problems which faced Wavell as viceroy and the manner in which he tackled them from 1943 to 1947.

In 1980 on reading the fresh material which emerged from the 10 volume of the Transfer of power and the viceroy journal I believed that the time had come for a reappraisal of the events during the years 1942-1947 which ended with the partition of India. Accordingly I gave a brief historical account of the transfer of power to India in the introduction to the undernoted book. This historical account showed that many judgment passed opinions expressed and surmises made before the official document in the Transfer of power and the viceroy journal were published required to be revised corrected or rejected and that some myths had been destroyed.

However this brief historical account of about 35 pages was transformed in 1986 into a monograph of 150 pages. Many circumstances led to this change. First and foremost after my account was printed the documents in Vols. XI and XII of the transfer of power to India further vol. XII contained revelations about the part which Mountbatten played during the last few month of his viceroyalty revelations which made it necessary to revise radically the contemporary verdict on his services to India a task made easier by Prof. Ziegler official biography entitled Mountbatten published in 1958.

In 1985 Dr. Ayesha Jalal published the sole spokesman Jinnah the muslim league and the demand for Pakistan. Her books was derived from a Doctoral thesis submitted to trinity college Cambridge of which she was a fellow. Her carefully researched and well documented thesis propounded the paradox that it was the congress that insisted on partition. It was Jinnah who was against it. In this context she developed a related theme, namely, that what Jinnah was really after was party between Hindus and muslims in the central Legislature and the central executive as the only effective safeguard against a permanent domination of the muslims by an overwhelming and permanent Hindu majority with the publication of the 12 volumes of the transfer of power the viceroy journal Ziegler Mountbatten and Ayesha Jalal book on Jinnah authentic material for a reappraisal of what happened during 1942 to 1947 appeared to be nearly complete. The present book partition of India: legend and reality reproduces the monograph I wrote in the introductory chapter of the supplement to my constitutional Law of India with change in the form necessary for a separate publication.

A part of the title of this book speaks of legend and reality because the narrative in my book shows that many legend and myths have grown up around Gandhi Jinnah, Nehru, Azad and Patel and around the two viceroy Lord Wavell and Lord Mountbatten with the publication of Wavell. The viceroy journal although a great commander and a good man was unfitted for delicate political discussion was seen to be baseless. On the contrary his stature has grown with the years and the tribute deserved and just in paying that tribute Azad was undeterred by the fact that his colleague Gandhi Nehru and Patle were against Lord Wavell azad wrote to lord Wavell must belong the credit for opening a closed door and he ended his tribute by observing. I am confident that India will never forget the services of Lord Wavell and when the time comes for the historian of independent Indian to appraise the relation of England and India he will give lord Wavell the credit for opening a new chapter in these relation. How true and just this tribute was became apparent after Wavell departure. When came into his own. For Gandhi and Nehru asked that the cabinet mission Plan should be enforced as an award although they had ignored the advice which Wavell had repeatedly pressed upon both of them to accept the mission had repeatedly pressed upon both them to accept the mission plan which gave India the last chance to preserve its unity.

On the other hand the publication of Vols. X to XII particularly of Vol. Xii of the transfer of power and Ziegler Mountbatten has been had the opposite effect of lowering Mountbatten charter conduct and statue as a viceroy. In the present book I have spoken of his great betrayal of Punjab when at a secret meeting on 9th August 1947 he decided deliberately to withhold publication of the Radcliffe award was ready to be announced on 9th August 1947. Further I have shown that the only description which can be given of the last five days of his viceroyalty is that they will live in infamy since the event as they actually happened are now known I have added that the contemporary verdict on Mountbatten will be reserved and history will pass on him the dread sentence: "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting".

At the end of Partition of India: Legend and Reality I have made three additions which became necessary by the publication of two important books, which were published after I had written my monograph on the Transfer of Power. In November, 1988 an unexpurgated edition of Maulana Azad's India Wins Freedom was published. The 30 pages suppressed in the 1959 edition of India Wins Freedom and now restored in the 1988 edition, threw a fresh and revealing light on the events between 1940 and 1947 which ended in the partition of India and the disasters which followed Independence Day. I have therefore added a Note at the end of my narrative in the Partition of India: Legend and Reality explaining the circumstances under which, and the manner in which, the 1959 and 1988 editions carne to be written. I have also shown, that some of the statements made in the blurb to the 1988 edition are not correct.

Having regard to the position which Azad occupied in the Congress, and to the important part which he played during 1940- 1946 in the negotiations with the Viceroy, with the Cripps Mission, and with the Cabinet Mission and Wavell, which resulted in the Mission's Plan, I have inserted at the end of this book Post Scrip II entitled "Shattered Dreams". This Post Script has been prompted by the publication in the 1988 edition of the 30 pages suppressed in the 1959 edition. In my view, these 30 pages throw a fresh light on the great men who shaped our destiny between 1940 and 1947, and, secondly, they put in their proper perspective the events that led to the tragedy and disasters of partition. I have entitled Post Script II, "Shattered Dreams" because it seems to me that all that Azad dreamed of for the Congress, for Hindu-Muslim unity, and for the unity of India, lay shattered at his feet. But the failure of his dreams did not detach him from the Congress or make him lose faith in India's destiny. He remained a staunch Congressman to the end, and served India inside the Union Cabinet and outside it.

I have added Post Script I entitled "Building Bridges". For after I had written my monograph I read Mr Rajmohan Gandhi's admirable and attractively written book, "Eight Lives: A Study of the Hindu-Muslim Encounter." As the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and C. Rajagopalachari, or Rajaji as he was called, Rajmohan's childhood and youth was spent in close contact with leading members of the Congress and in an atmosphere hostile to Jinnah and the Muslim League. Overcoming the political influences of his youth, he has made a fair and objective study of Eight eminent Muslims who influenced the political life of India in the twentieth century. Three of these lives, namely, those of Jinnah, Abul Kalam Azad and Liaquat Ali Khan, deal with the part which they played in India's fight for freedom - Azad on the side of the Congress, led by Gandhi and Jinnah as he emerged after 1937 as the leader of the Muslim League with Liaquat Ali Khan as his right hand man. No one can read the 63-page study of Jinnah's life without realizing that Rajmohan Gandhi has held the scales even between the Congress and the Muslim League. He has not hesitated to criticise Mahatma Gandhi for rebuffing Jinnah's appeal to Gandhi to find a nationalist solution of the Hindu-Muslim problem. Again, supporting Jinnah, Rajmohan Gandhi said: Jinnah was right when he accused Congress of dishonesty over the Mission Scheme, and he was right too in accusing Pethick-Lawrence and Cripps of collusion with the Congress." I have entitled Post Script I, "Building Bridges" because the object of his study of Eight lives is to see whether bridges cannot be built between Hindus and Muslims in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. All who value the unity and integrity of India must acknowledge their indebtedness to Rajmohan Gandhi for his courage in writing this wise and thought-provoking book. And they should join him in the hope that "some Hindus may, God willing, find themselves moving closer to Muslims than they were, even as the writer of these pages did."



Leopold von Ranke the first modern historian my great-uncle… wrote to the scandal of his contemporaries: I am a historian before I and a christen; my object is simply to find out how the things actually occurred and when discussing Michelet the French historian: He wrote history in a style in which the truth could not be told.

As a I have said before god himself has given the mind sovereignty in the material world. And I say today that only those will be able to get and kept swara in the material world who have realized the dignity of self-mastery in the spiritual world those whom no temptation no delusion can induce to surrender the dignity of self reliance and self-mastery in the spiritual world those whom no temptation no delusion can induce to surrender the dignity of intellect into the keeping of others.

As a reprint of my book partition of India: legend reality has been called for I would like to deal with some criticisms directed against it in some reviews. I pass by reviews which take the form of the reviewers flaunting their pet theories as to how a book on the partition of India should be written.

A very young reviewer ended his review of legend and reality by saying.

Seervai bless his soul is an optimist. He feels that reading and writing about the partition can only bring Hindu and Muslim closer together. May be so but should such noble pursuit be undertaken at the cost of destroying the images that a young school-boy carried with him to bed every night? Sometimes it is better not to allow reality to obscure legend.

The same theme runs through some reviews by older men who have learnt by experience that it is unwise to make a public confession that they prefer illusion to reality.

I make no apology for relying heavily on the documents published in the 12 Volumes on the Constitutional relationship between Britain and India entitled the transfer of power 1948-7 (the T.P. documents). It is a remarkable publication. The 12 volumes contain a summary of documents running to 760 pages. They contain 7482 documents occupying 12,480 pages with a full index of names and subjects in each volume. The foreword to vols. 1 and 3, and the introduction to each volume written by Prof. Mansergh, show the trouble taken by the editors to secure all available documents on the constitutional relations between Britain and India. The T.P. documents differ fundamentally from the documents forming a record of the work done, decision taken and plans prepared for securing freedom from British rule in India by the Indian national congress the Muslim league the Hindu Mahasabha and other political organizations. Each political party ordinarily described the happenings in India and Britain on Party lines. Obviously the actions and decisions of these political parties had to be taken into account and decisions of these political parties had to be taken into account when shaping government policy. However the T.P. documents show how British and responsibility for government was discharged in war as in peace and more particularly the reason for which and the means and the stage by which it was decided to transfer it to Indian hands transfer of power Vol. I foreword p. vi. Most of the T.P. documents’ were published could only make guesses as to what was happening on the British side. In post script II to legend and reality I have given instances where some of Maulana Azad guesses in India wins freedom (1959) turned out right and some turned out wrong.

Since a critic has referred me to durga Das India from Curzon to Nehru & After (1969) let me give an illustration where durga Das statement and guesses are directly contradicted by the T.P. document after observing that Wavell was treating Nehru as his prime Minister Durga Das observed:

“When Wavell consulted Nehru the latter… told him ‘How can I stop you from seeing (Jinnah) if you want to… (Wavell) now proceeded to talk to Jinnah directly and Nehru missed an opportunity of cutting the League leader down to size (Had Nehru as Prime Minister firmly resisted this move event might have taken a different course with Labour in (London)” ibib. Pp. 231-32 (italics supplied)

The reader of Legend and reality will find at pp. 80-84 that the real position was completely different. The congress accepted Wavell’s invitation to form an interim Government in terms of para 3 and 4 of Wavell’s letter to Azad dated 30 May 1946 which expressly denied to the interim Government the status of a Dominion cabinet. Consequently Nehru was not the Prime Minister presiding over the Cabinet: he was the vice president the executive council who presided when the viceroy of absent and how was a minister in charge of foreign affairs. Again the correspondence between pethick Lawrence and Cripps shows that far from the Labour government supporting Nehru against Wavell it supported Wavell against Nehru because both Cripps and Pethic Lawrence were agreed that the assurance sought by Nehru that the viceroy would not see Jinnah re. the interim government could not be given. Pethick Lawrence went further and stated they must stand behind the viceroy and give him freedom to see any political leader in India.

This illustration which can be multiplied shows that no book written about the partition of India can be correct as to what was happening on the British side without reference to the relevant volume of the T.P. documents. It is not surprising therefore that writers as different from each other as Moore in his escape front empire and Ayesha Jalal in her Jinnah the Sole spokesman wolpert in his Jinnah and Prof. Ziegler in his Mountbatten have relied on the T.P. documents although all the 12 volumes were available to Prof. Ziegler alone. These writers have rightly proceeded on the saying why gaze into the crystal when you can read the book? The 12 volume of the Transfer of Power 1942-7 replaced the crystal by the book.

There are two other factors which enhance the value of the T.P. documents as a correct account of the Transfer of power to India. The government of Provinces the viceroy the secretary of state for India and the members of the British cabinet were all discharging the duties of their high offices according to the tradition of the British administration in India of complete candour of communication before final decisions were taken.

Those who wrote these documents were not projecting their image on the political stage with the exception of Mountbatten. They were discharging their duty in the full confidence that under the then current practice the documents which they wrote would not be made available to the public till after 50 years had passed.

Further independent historians were given unrestricted access to all documents and the power to select and publish them. Prof. Mansergh who was the editor in chief assisted by assistant editors has discharged the duty entrusted to him not only with great insight into and historical knowledge of what was happening in India but he and they have done so with complete impartiality. He and his assistants felt no temptation to protect the reputation of the viceroy of India or of the Prime minister of Britain. For example when the minutes of the viceroy staff meeting 12 august 1947 cryptically stated the meting discussed action necessary as a result of the fact that it commission as early as it was hoped” (transfer of power, Vol. XII, minutes of the viceroy 69th staff meeting which showed that Radcliffe was ready to announce the Award as early as 9 august 1947. Again when prime minister Attlee wrote to Pethick Lawrence about sending out to India Mr. Tom Johnson who had some experience of India in the article on Tom Johnson in the dictionary of National Biography 1961-70 (Oxford University press 1981)”. Finally the illuminating introduction to each volume has been written by Prof. Mansergh in a style in which touch can be told. He was not concerned with cutting down anyone to size or putting anyone on a pedestal.

Apart from the unwillingness of some reviewers to prefer reality to legend the main criticism of legend and reality is directed to the following points:

(a) My criticism of Mahatma Gandhi for introducing religion into politics.
(b) The view I expressed that Gandhi by rejecting the cabinet mission plan which preserved the unity of India made the partition of India inevitable.
(c) That although the congress from its foundation till 1946 had adhered to its goal of a united India that unity was not to be purchased at any price and the price demanded by the cabinet mission plan was too high. The grouping provision of the plan equated Group A which numbered 19 Crores of Hindus with groups B and C (which between them numbered 9 crores of Muslim) in framing provincial constitutions. This parity was worse than Pakistan and was unacceptable.
(d) That partition did not solve the Hindu Muslim problem for the Muslims remained a large minority in India and Hindus remained a relatively small minority in Pakistan.
(e) That my view that after the mid twenties Gandhi lost interest in Hindu Msulim unity is not correct Jinnah must bear the blame for not promoting Hindu Muslim unity.
(f) That I should have realized that the congress was a national and not a Hindu organization and it alone had the right to speak for the whole of India.

The face that Gandhi intruded religion into politics to secure a hold on predominantly Hindu masses and during the Khilafat movement to secure Hindu Muslim unity is indisputable. The two admissions which I have set out at p. 13 of legend ad reality are enough to prove it. To bring a large number of muslims in to the congress fold on the Khilafat issue did promote Hindu Muslim unity on the frail thread of the Khalif being the spiritual head of the Muslims. He did so against the advice to Jinnah and against the views of liberal statesman like srinivasa sastri. But when kamal Ataturk abolished the Khalifate the frail thread snapped and Hindus and Muslims parted in bitterness and anger. This bitterness and anger appeared in Gandhi statement that:




  Acknowledgemets VII
  Preface to the Second Edition IX
  Preface to the First Edition XI
  Introduction XVII
I Partition of India: A Fresh Appraisal 1
II Introductory 6
III 1937-1942 : Elections to Provincial Legislature- Their Aftermath 20
IV The Transfer of Power 27
V The Cabinet Mission 42
VI The Cabinet Mission Plan 62
VII The Dismissal of Lord Wavell and the Appointment of Lord Mountbatten 96
VIII Lord Mountbatten’s Viceroyalty : 23 March 1947-15 August 194 119
IX Radcliffe’s Boundary Award on the Punjab 150
X Mountbatten’s Responsibility for the Massacres and The Migrations in Punjab 172
XI Retrospect 178
  (a) General 178
  (b) The Viceroyalty of Wavell in Retrospect 189
  (c) The Viceroyalty on Mountbatten in Retrospect 202
  Post Script I : Building Bridges 219
  Post Script II : Shattered Dreams 226
  Index 256


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