Written By: Wong Sean Yew (19-U4), Lee Keng Yan (19-U1)
Designed By: Sit Jie Ren (19-I4)
As part of Humanities and Aesthetics Week 2019, The Origin* would like to present a three-part international history special, featuring key events that have played a prominent role in shaping the world we know today. In this article, we explore the Partition of India, an issue that has resulted in long-standing tensions between India and Pakistan, a nuclear arms race, as well as the formation of new states such as Bangladesh. Just this year, a fighter pilot was shot down over the heavily disputed region of Kashmir, straining tensions in the region.
In an attempt to avoid a repeat of the Indian rebellion of 1857, where Hindus and Muslims fought against the British together, the United Kingdom employed the strategy of “Divide and Rule”. Through the creation of reserved seats in elected councils for Hinduism and Islam, two politically segregated communities with distinct identities were formed. This resulted in conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims, which averted threats to British supremacy (Al Jazeera, 2017).
Origin of the Indian Partition Concept
Repeated calls for Indian independence and the dearth of British resources following the Second World War resulted in the hasty British exit from India in 1948 (Al Jazeera, 2017). However, as a result of the fault lines eventuated by British governance, key political players in India had differing ideas for an independent India. Muhammad Ali Jinnah of the All-India Muslim League, who was entrenched as the political leader of Muslims in India, grew increasingly wary of the possibility of the Muslims becoming a minority in the Hindu majority of India and oppressed by the Hindus (The National Archives, n.d.). As such fears heightened among the Muslims, the ethno-nationalist differences between the two groups grew ever-larger, which culminated in the All India Muslim League demanding the creation of an entirely new Muslim state during its 1940 Lahore Session, and hence the partition of India (Story of Pakistan, 2003). This gave rise to the “two-nation theory”, where the British Raj would be released as two separate states; Pakistan created from the majority Muslim areas and India constituting majority Hindu states. Jawaharlal Nehru of the Indian National Congress, the other dominant party with a Hindu political base, strongly disagreed with this as his secular principles instilled in him a strong belief that all Indians should co-exist as equals, despite their religious differences (Aliprandini, 2017).
Drawing of the Radcliffe Line
Amid the intense communal violence, Clement Atlee, then Prime Minister of Britain and Lord Louis Mountbatten, Viceroy of India, hastened Indian independence. They favoured Jinnah’s idea and the adoption of the “two-nation theory”, resulting in Nehru’s eventual acquiescence. The British then made another poor choice, by assigning Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer who had never been to India with the monumental task of demarcating the borders of India and Pakistan (The Radcliffe Line) within a month. To assist him with his task, he was only provided with outdated census data from 1909 and limited access to useful grassroots data. As a result, the demarcations were highly inaccurate and failed to take into consideration several pertinent factors. Several regions that supported the All-India Muslim League in elections were awarded to India instead of Pakistan. In addition, most of the economic powerhouses of the Indian subcontinent, such as Delhi, Mumbai, and Calcutta, were awarded to India, resulting in an extremely unfavourable economic position for Pakistan (Bates, 2011). Inevitably, several issues persisted in its enforcement, with its ramifications still being felt today.
Relation to today’s context
The ramifications of the Radcliffe lines can be seen after independence, with the occurrence of one of the largest human migrations in history. Due to fears of being marginalised, Hindus who found themselves in Pakistan fled for India, and Muslims who were in India fled for Pakistan. This resulted in intense violence between the two groups and the massacre of innocents. In the decades that followed, a sense of deep distrust persisted between the two countries, with a nuclear arms race taking place between the two and the alleged use of terrorist cells by Pakistan to launch attacks in India.
Particularly, and especially relevant this year, was the exclusion of princely states under the Radcliffe line. Princely states were not directly under British rule and were given the prerogative to join either India or Pakistan or remain independent. For the most part, this did not matter much as most states were enclaves within each country. However, Kashmir is a notable exception; while governed by a Hindu king, it has a majority Muslim population. Kashmir did not join either country at first, but due to Pakistani pressure, the ruler of Pakistan agreed to join India for military assistance (Blackmore, 2019). This resulted in a territorial dispute between Pakistan and India, exacerbated by Kashmir’s strategic significance as the origin of both countries’ water supply. Just this year, fighter jets belonging to the two nations were downed over Kashmir, greatly inflaming tensions between the two countries, resulting in retaliatory airstrikes and terrorist attacks (Safi, Zahra-Malik & Farooq, 2019).
In conclusion, the significance of the past is undeniable, as seen from how one fateful decision led to the deaths of millions of people and the geopolitical landscape of the Indian subcontinent today.
For more in-depth reading about this issue, feel free to access the following links.
Aliprandini, M. (2017, January 8). Jawaharlal Nehru. Retrieved from https://eds-b-ebscohost-com.proxy.lib.sg/eds/detail/detail?vid=2&sid=dbccddb0-477e-4001-af07-e8cf064bcd74%40pdc-v-sessmgr05&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#AN=15316820&db=f5h
Tharoor, S. (2017, August 10). The Partition: The British game of ‘divide and rule’. Al Jazeera, Retrieved from
The National Archives (n.d.). Jinnah calls for Pakistan. Retrieved from
Story of Pakistan (2003, June 1). Lahore Resolution. Retrieved from
Blakemore, E. (2019, March 04). The Kashmir conflict: How did it start? National Geographic Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/2019/03/kashmir-conflict-how-did-it-start/
Bates, D. C. (2011, March 03). History – British History in depth: The Hidden Story of Partition and its Legacies. BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/modern/partition1947_01.shtml
Safi, M., Zahra-Malik, M., & Farooq, A. (2019, February 27). Pakistan says it has shot down Indian jets after Kashmir cross-border attack. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/27/pakistan-india-jets-shot-down-airstrikes-kashmir