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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 14:26 GMT
Flashback to Indian partition
Mohammed Ali Jinnah on 17 August 1947
Mohammed Ali Jinnah: Founding father of Pakistan
Astrologers could not decide on an auspicious day for the independence of India so it fell at midnight between 14 and 15 August 1947.

The British colony was divided along religious lines and two nations were born - the secular but Hindu-dominated India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on 17 August 1947
Pandit Nehru campaigned with Gandhi to achieve Indian independence
But even as the celebrations were getting under way it was questioned whether partition could lead to peace among the subcontinent's different groups.

Some observers say it has fuelled regional animosities and argue that it established a sinister precedent.

Since partition, India and Pakistan have waged three wars against each other - two of them over the unresolved issue of Kashmir.

Peace declaration

The first ceremonies to symbolise the transfer of power from Britain to one of the new dominions took place in Karachi on the morning of 14 of August.

At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will wake up to life and freedom

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

British Viceroy Louis Mountbatten and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who at midnight was to become governor general of Pakistan, addressed the Constituent Assembly.

Lord Mountbatten read a message from King George VI pledging the support of the British Commonwealth to Pakistan. Mr Jinnah assured the world that Pakistan would work to preserve peace.

The next day, Mr Jinnah addressed the nation during the inauguration of the Pakistan Broadcasting Service.

"The creation of the new state has placed a tremendous responsibility on the citizens of Pakistan," he said. "It gives them an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how a nation containing many elements can live in peace and amity and work for the betterment of all its citizens irrespective of caste or creed.

"Our object should be peace within, and peace without. We want to live peacefully and maintain cordial friendly relations with our immediate neighbours and with the world at large."

Free India

After the ceremony in Pakistan, Lord and Lady Mountbatten flew to Delhi, where special events to mark the transfer of power took place. He was to stay on as Governor General of India, while Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru became the country's first prime minister.

That night people were very expectant, very hopeful of things to come

Saeed Suhrawardy

The special ceremony began at 11pm in the State Council building.

"At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will wake up to life and freedom," Nehru said.

As the last chimes of midnight died, an assembly member blew a conch shell and a great cheer rose in the hall.

Tens of thousands of people celebrated outside the building - many more did so in cities around India.

Mahatma Gandhi, regarded as the father of Indian independence, did not attend the celebrations. Instead, Gandhi - who strived for a united India - spent the day with Indian Muslims in Calcutta.


Journalist Saeed Suhrawardy, an Indian Muslim from the town of Mirzapur, was 17 at the time and remembers the night clearly.

"I think the whole town was awake," he said. "There was no television at that time and few radios. So radio shops were very crowded with people waiting for the speech of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. It was like a festival, at least in my place there was no tension.

"That night people were very expectant, very hopeful of things to come."

But Saeed Suhrawardy recalls that there were also fears that night.

Viceroy Mountbatten
Lord Mountbatten is said to have found the situation very dangerous

"Reports coming from other places made the minorities fearful for events to come.

"In our town we did not have any record of communal violence. But there were stories of violence, riots, attacks on trains and bloodstained trains arriving with dead bodies."

Saeed Suhrawardy did not think of migrating after partition. Many others did.

As soon as the new borders were known some 10 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs fled from their homes on one side of the newly demarcated borders to the other side.

About one million people were killed during the exodus, and to this day many families are separated by the border.

Religious rivalry

The origin of partition is still a matter of debate.

The name Pakistan - or "Land of the Pure" - did not come into existence until 1933, when it was coined by Rahmatullah Chowdhry, a Cambridge student.

Partition timeline
1930: Alama Iqbal advocates the two-nation theory
1933: The name Pakistan is coined
1940: Jinnah calls for a separate Muslim state
May/June 1946: Both parties accept Cabinet Mission Plan
July: Plan collapses
Aug: Hindu-Muslim violence kills thousands
June 1947: Mountbatten plan for partition approved
July: India Independence Act passed in Britain
Aug: Separate states of Pakistan and India are born

Three years earlier, the poet Alama Iqbal had advocated the establishment of a separate Muslim state at a Muslim League conference. But it was not until 1940 that his two-nation theory was adopted by the League.

The 1930s saw a growing mistrust between the Muslim League and the All India Congress.

The League's leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah - until 1940 reluctant to advocate the creation of two nations - is said to have feared that the country's Muslim minority would be subjugated by the Hindu majority.


During World War II Britain's mobilisation of the Indian economy and military forces was opposed by Congress.

Fearing the movement's ability to sabotage the war effort, Britain is said to have exploited the Hindu-Muslim rivalry in an effort to curtail the Congress.

Hundreds of refugees scramble to get on a train to flee to the other side of the border
Millions fled as the new borders were demarcated

After the war, Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee came to power in Britain.

In 1946, he sent a Cabinet Mission to India that put forward a plan for Hindus and Muslims to work together.

This was initially accepted by both sides, but within week the plan had collapsed. Some say it was Nehru who changed his mind, others say it was Jinnah.

Jinnah called for Direct Action on 16 August 1946 to protest against Congress and the British.

In Calcutta this led to three days of Hindu-Muslim violence - the bloodiest in nearly a century - and thousands of deaths.

A year later, Lord Mountbatten was sent to India to replace Lord Wavell as viceroy, with plans to transfer power no later than June 1948.


The new viceroy is said to have found the situation too dangerous to wait even that brief period, and to have become convinced that partition was unavoidable.

Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi was against partition
On 3 June 1947, he presented his plan to Nehru and Jinnah. They both accepted it.

A month later, the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act, ordering the demarcation of the dominions of India and Pakistan by midnight 14-15 August.

Two boundary commissions worked against the clock to partition the states of Bengal and Punjab in such a way as to leave a majority of Muslims to the west of the new Punjab border (what is currently Pakistan) and to the east of the new Bengal border (East Pakistan, which in 1971 would become Bangladesh).

Under the partition plan, Kashmir was free to accede to India or Pakistan.

Sharp reminder

Three days before partition, the Hindu ruler of Muslim-majority Kashmir, Maharajah Hari Singh, said that he wanted to remain independent.

However, in a series of events which are still the subject of controversy to this day, a Pathan tribal force entered Kashmir with Pakistani backing. The Maharajah decided to accede to India, allowing Indian troops to be airlifted to the state.

Pakistani and Indian forces ended up at the point now known as the Line of Control, splitting the territory unevenly.

Nearly 55 years and two wars later, the status of Kashmir remains unresolved - one of the many reminders of a partition that has left thousands of families separated by the line which divides India and Pakistan.

'We have decided to accept these proposals'
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru - 3 June 1947
'Great responsibilities lie ahead'
Mohammed Ali Jinnah - 14 aug 1947
Message from the King to the Indian Assembly
Lord Louis Mountbatten - 15 Aug 1947
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