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Reconstruction of Post-colonial India: Introduction


Freedom from colonial rule came with a price. The partition of India involved dividing the provinces of Bengal and Punjab into two. Though not envisaged at the time of the division, it was followed by migration of Hindus from East Bengal to West Bengal and Muslims from Bihar and West Bengal to East Bengal. Similarly, Hindus and Sikhs in West Punjab had to migrate to eastern Punjab and Muslims in eastern Punjab to western Punjab. The boundaries between India and Pakistan were to be determined on the composition of the people in each village on their religion; and villages where the majority were Muslims were to constitute Pakistan and where the Hindus were the majority to form India. There were other factors too: rivers, roads and mountains acted as markers of boundaries. The proposal was that the religious minorities – whether Hindus or Muslims – in these villages were to stay on and live as Indians (in case of Muslims) and Pakistanis (in case of Hindus) wherever they were. There was a separate scheme for those villages where the Muslims were a majority and yet the village not contiguous with the proposed territory of Pakistan and those villages where the Hindus were a majority and yet not contiguous with the proposed territory of India: they were to remain part of the nation with which the village was contiguous. A new complication had arisen by this time and that was the recognition of Sikhs as a religious identity in Punjab, in addition to the Hindus, and the Muslims; the Akali Dal had declared its preference to stay on with India irrespective of its people living in villages that would otherwise become part of Pakistan.

This complex situation was the consequence of the fast pace of developments in Britain on the issue of independence to India. The declaration on February 20, 1947 by Prime Minister Atlee, setting June 30, 1948 for the British to withdraw from India and Mountbatten’s arrival as viceroy replacing Wavell on March 22, 1947 had set the stage for the transfer of power to Indians. This was when the Muslim League leadership had gathered the support of a vast majority of the Muslim community behind it and disputing the claims of the Congress to represent all Indians. On June 3, 1947, Mountbatten advanced the date of British withdrawal to August 15, 1947. As for the communal question and the issue of two nations, the proposal was to hand over power to two successor dominion governments of India and Pakistan. The division of Bengal and the Punjab, as proposed, meant partition – a reality to which Congress finally reconciled. The Mountbatten plan for independence along with partition of India was accepted at the AICC meeting at Meerut on June 14, 1947.

Gandhi, who had opposed the idea of division with vehemence in the past, now conceded its inevitability. Gandhi explained the change. He held that the unabated communal violence and the participation in it of the people across the Punjab and in Bengal had left himself and the Congress with no any strength to resist partition. Sadly, the canker of communalism and the partition system that the colonial collaborators produced took its toll on the infant Indian nation. It began with the assassination of the Mahatma on January 30, 1948. How did the infant nation take up the challenge, resolving some and grappling with some others in the years to come?

Jawaharlal Nehru put this aptly in his address to the members of the Constituent Assembly in the intervening night on August 14/15, 1947, in which he laid out the roadmap, its ideals and the inevitability of taking such a path. “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially….” Teachers may put on screen the full speech by Jawaharlal Nehru and share the experience of listening to it with the class: Speech may be accessed from https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=Uj4TfcELODM

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