Thursday, August 27, 2009

Second thoughts.

The other day, while watching Deepa Mehta’s 1947: Earth, it occurred to me that the only victim of partition I witnessed at first hand was a hapless hack Victoria driver being butchered in the 13th Khetwadi Lane facing my 233 Khetwadi Main Road terrace. Why the “cracking” of India as Bapsi Sidhwa called it could not be achieved without bloodshed and strife and monumental human tragedy is something that has always puzzled me.

Looking around for clues, I’m dumbstruck by the unconscionable haste with which partition was announced and carried out. On 4 June 1947, quite out of the blue, Lord Mountbatten announced at a press conference that the British would quit the sub-continent by 15 August of the same year, i.e., in less than 3 months − instead of the earlier set deadline of June 1948 for the transfer of power. Eleven months earlier, on Jinnah-decreed Direct Action Day, 16 August 1946, policemen in Bengal were allowed to go on a holiday by Governor Fredric Burrows with Lord Wavell’s tacit assent. The Calcutta massacre went on without police or military intervention for three days. It is as if the British Raj had washed its hands of the erstwhile Jewel in the Crown and wanted to get the hell out of India at the earliest without involving itself further in the emerging mess.

Had Churchill been the British PM instead of Attlee, the holocaust might have been avoided or at least postponed for a while given that he would never have agreed to the colony’s independence readily. That would have been a blessing in disguise as it might have given the Indian leaders time to think up a cogent and workable plan of action for an orderly partition and the massive migration involved when the moment arrived.