Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why the 15th of August?

And not the 16th of August or the 13th of September was the date that was decided upon for India’s (and Pakistan’s) independence.

Well, because British India’s last Viceroy (and independent India’s first Governor -General) was a bit full of himself.

The 15th of August, 1945 was the day on which Japan had surrendered—special for Mountbatten because he had been the Supreme Commander for South-East Asia during World War II. In Freedom at Midnight, a book which accords the same position to Mountbatten as the New Testament to Christ, he says:

“I thought it had to be about August or September and I then went out to the 15th August. Why? Because it was the second anniversary of Japan’s surrender.”

On its own, that India’s date of independence was decided such that it would soothe its Viceroy’s vanity might not seem so important. However, when put in context—the extreme haste, even panic in which Britain withdrew from India (transfer of power was originally fixed for June 1948) might have exacerbated the frenzied killings that accompanied Independence—it might have been, tragically so.


Vikram said...

Also shows how comfy the INC was with the Brits ? Why did they not press for a different date ?

Hades said...


While the INC was a bit too comfortable with Mountbatten, something that helped it immensely in getting a number of (somewhat dodgy) concessions during Partition and the run up to it, they did not press for a different date for two reasons (might be more; this is off the top of my head):

1) The Congress desperately wanted a quick transfer of power. This was to squeeze the AIML as well as because it feared that the rumblings from beneath (all manners of strife—commie, communal etc--were breaking out at the time) might overwhelm its somewhat tenuous hold on India.

2) They (and the AIML, the governor of Punjab as well London) were lied to by Mountbatten. Mountbatten assured everyone that the Punjab Radcliffe award would be published with as much time to go to the 15th as possible. Radcliffe on his part had the award ready by the 9th but M didn’t publish it till the 17th. The reason was that M wanted the carnage that would ensue to be blamed on India and Pak and not himself (since on the midnight of the 14th, he wld become a figurehead in India and no one in Pak).

The delay resulted in massive panic and bedlam eventually; because for two days Punjabi Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, although “independent”, did not know which country they were in and who their new rulers were. For example, in Lahore, the propertied classes were largely Hindu, who stuck on in the hope that Lahore would go to India. That did not happen and Lahore, as well as the rest of West and East Punjab, was emptied of its minorities.

A very detailed account of this is presented in a book called “Partition of India: Legend and Reality” by HM Seervai.