Independence and Partition, 1947 The birth of India and Pakistan as independent states in 1947 was a key moment in the history of Britain’s Empire and its army. But the process of partition was attended by mass migration and ethnic violence that has left a bitter legacy to this day.
Self-government The long campaign for Indian independence, which had begun with the Indian Mutiny (1857-59), grew in intensity following the Second World War (1939-45). Indians increasingly expected self-government to be granted in return for their wartime contribution. But with this came serious inter-communal violence between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. The recently elected government in Britain was determined to grant independence and hoped to leave behind some form of united India. But, despite repeated talks, the mainly Hindu Indian National Congress and the Muslim League could not agree on the shape of the new state.
Clement Attlee, Prime Minister when India and Pakistan gained their independence in 1947 After another failed conference in 1946, Muslim League leader Muhammed Ali Jinnah called for ‘direct action’ to create a Muslim state. Violence escalated and the threat of civil war loomed. In August of that year, six British battalions had to be deployed in Calcutta. They took nearly a week to restore order. The violence quickly spread to Bombay, Delhi and the Punjab.
Partition Eventually, the British concluded that partition was the only answer. On 2 June 1947 the last Viceroy of India, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, announced that
Britain had accepted that the country should be divided into a mainly Hindu India and the mainly Muslim East Pakistan and West Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The 'Princely States of India', not directly ruled by the British, were given a choice of which country to join. Those states whose princes failed to join either country or chose a country at odds with their majority religion, such as Kashmir and Hyderabad, became the focus of bitter dispute.
Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, talking to Indian soldiers, 1945 Law and order Mountbatten confirmed the date for independence as 15 August 1947. As soon as this was announced, British troops were withdrawn to their barracks. In the weeks leading up to independence, responsibility for maintaining law and order was handed over to the Indian Army. This was a chiefly British-officered force with other ranks recruited from across the subcontinent. As well as attempting to keep the peace, they helped administer referendums in the North-West Frontier Province and Assam. Bloodbath Partition meant that millions of people found themselves on the ‘wrong’ side of the borders. Ten million became refugees in what was the largest population movement in history. Muslims travelled to Pakistan; Sikhs and Hindus to India. Mountbatten was later criticised for rushing the partition process and failing to tackle the migration and communal violence that attended the birth of the new nations.