Author: Stanley Wolpert
Year of Publication: Was originally published in 2006 by Oxford University Inc., New York. Later it was published in Pakistan by Oxford University Press in 2009.
Pages and Chapters: The book contains 238 pages and 10 Chapters.
Brief Description of the Author: Stanley Wolpert is regarded an authority on the Indo-Pakistan history. He wrote a number books on the history of subcontinent covering the 1947 Partition. Some of his known books include “Jinnah of Pakistan”, “Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan”, and “A New History of India”.
Theme of the Book: The book is based on an epic research work that gives behind-the-scene disclosures of the meetings and thinking process of the British rulers, particularly that of Sir Winston Churchill who was British Prime Minister at that time. Besides, it presents the last seven years’ account of Lord Cripps, Lord Mountbatten as well as Congress and League leaders before the Partition. The book focuses on the theme that when the British decided to leave India, they didn’t have a proper plan to transfer the power. The consequences of their lack of preparation were catastrophic as, among other things, there were left unresolved border disputes between India and Pakistan. Besides, the mass exodus of refugees from both the sides triggered civil riots. All the 10 Chapters of the book closely communicate in chronological order. One of the strengths of the book is its combination of global events with politics in India. The writer paints memorable portraits of all the key participants, including Gandhi, Churchill, Attlee, Nehru, and above all Jinnah, with special focus on British Viceroy Lord Louis Mountbatten.
a. After the fall of Singapore in 1942, Churchill wanted to win the Indian support so as to block the Japanese invasion towards India. Cripps was sent to India with a plan for winning support of Indian politicians but he failed. The first Chapter narrates the progress of the Cripps mission that was sent into motion by the fall of Singapore. The opening chapter sets the narrative of the British manipulation of the of politics of subcontinent, based on vested interest
b. The Cripps Mission’s proposals of 1942 were rejected by both Congress and Muslim League. After the failure of the Mission, Gandhi launched “Quit India” movement, which badly failed.
c. Gandhi was arrested. He went on fasting, which started deteriorating his health. Meanwhile, food crisis erupted in Bengal. The authorities had to release Gandhi for health reasons. Divergent ideas on both the sides, particularly between Congress and Muslim League leaders persisted the deadlock. However, the British were trying to unite them.
d. Summit Failures and Cabinet Obstacles: Every effort was made to hold parleys between both the political parties. The rulers thought that while India was broken politically, the general public had one object in common, i.e. an eventful freedom and Independence from the British dominance. Gandhi wanted the united India and ouster of the British while Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted a separate homeland called Pakistan. That was the rock on which the Simla conference failed.
e. From the End of WW-II through Cabinet Mission: What the Cabinet Mission proposed, nothing was agreed between both the parties. The British cabinet agreed to authorize the Viceroy to invite the newly elected Indian representatives to join his council as India’s interim government but the response of all political leaders was discouraging.
f. The Cabinet Mission’s failure to bridge the gap between India’s National Congress Party and the Muslim League compelled Lord Wavell and his cabinet to try to patch together a representative political council to work in harness with the Viceroy as New Delhi’s government.
g. On December 18, 1946 Lord Mountbatten was made the last Viceroy of India. The moment he landed in India, he sensed that he has a pressure to transfer the power as quickly as possible. On June 2, 1947 he met both Gandhi and Jinnah and gave them a plan for the transfer of power. Both the sides accepted it with own conditions. Mountbatten was however satisfied with even a partial agreement. On June 3 the British Cabinet approved the plan.
h. On June 3, Nehru and Jinnah made announcements for the Partition and Transfer of Power. Nehru was not happy with the Partition, and Jinnah requested the Muslims to maintain peace and order on this occasion. Gandi was highly disturbed. Anyway the ceremonial flag raising of Jinnah as the first Governor-General of Pakistan was done at Karachi on August 14. This followed by raids and murders which became a routine generally in the Amritsar district.
i. After the Independence, the riots were common and thousands of lives were lost.
j. Indo-Pak War started in October 1947, just two months after the Independence.
Conclusion: Stanley Wolpert places the blame for the catastrophe largely on Lord Mountbatten,, the flamboyant cousin of the king, who rushed the process of nationhood along at an absurd pace. Wolpert takes readers beyond Churchill’s iconic status as leader of the Allied Forces to a reckoning of his position as inveterate enemy of any progress on the question of Indian Independence. The unseemingly haste is significant because both Commander –in-Chief Auchinleck and Wavell had warned of the real possibility of civil war breaking out if a negotiated settlement was not put in place. The Viceroy’s worst blunder was the impetuous drawing of new border lines through the middle of Punjab and Bengal. Virtually everyone involved advised Mountbatten that to partition those provinces was a calamitous mistake that would unleash uncontrollable violence. Indeed, as Wolpert shows, civil unrest among Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs escalated as Independence Day approached, and when the new boundary lines were announced, arson, murder, and mayhem erupted. The Partition uprooted over 10 million people, from five lakh to one million of the people died in the ensuing inferno.
Book Review by Dr Atique Ur Rehman