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Countdown to Independence
Abhishek Kumar

Anything is possible until the final manoeuvre of war and politics. This was the situation in the last few days of India’s Independence. The greatest officer of British rule was forced to change his decision in submission to astrologers. Even in the midst of such a political turbulence, a politician was bothered by the anxiety of losing his cigar case. On the night of 14th August at 12 pm, when the whole nation was celebrating Independence, the Mahatma who was responsible of awakening the country was sleeping quietly in Kolkata. The month of June 1947 was different. Delhi as usual was under a heat wave but that year’s political situation made it even hotter. Delhi had to bear the burning fire on religion’s name in Punjab and Bengal. Mountbatten was feeling the heat even as he sat in an air-condition room in Raisina Hill.

The heat could also be seen in a meeting organised by Mountbatten one June morning. There was a heated argument between Sardar Patel and Jinnah. Patel clearly told Jinnah that he should worry about his people and his area.

Mountbatten again called a meeting of the Partition Council in the third week of June, but this time Jinnah remained silent. He was busy drawing on a paper in the meeting which went on for two hours in Delhi. The paper was left behind on the table after the meeting which was later found by Mountbatten’s media advisor Campbell Johnson. Campbell said, “I cannot claim to be a psychologist but I can tell that the drawing on this paper shows a glimpse of authority and power.”

Mountbatten’s worries started mounting regarding Kashmir after the decision of partition was finalised in the third week of June. He knew that the Kashmir issue would cause a stand-off between the two nations. Mountbatten left for Kashmir immediately. The date for his meeting with the Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh had been fixed, but Hari Singh deferred the meeting on grounds of ill health.

On the other hand Gandhi and Nehru were getting impatient to go to Kashmir. Mountbatten wrote to Col Web in Srinagar “Nehru is looking very tired these days He dosen’t even take proper sleep at night and has become very jittery. It’s not in his interest to go to Srinagar. But at the same time it will not be advisable to deter Gandhi from visiting Srinagar for long”.

While Kashmir had become the centre of a political mayhem and a lot of confusion prevailed among the political circle, Jinnah was concerned more with the diminishing stock of his cigars! He wrote to a person called Yusuf on June 28 to find out his lost cigar case.

The political scenario relating to Delhi’s bifurcation was getting tense day by day. Even after several rounds of discussion the results were missing. Meanwhile, thousands of kilometres away in London, the British government had zeroed down on the person who would be the architect of partition.

In the afternoon of June 27, 1947 Sir Cyril Radcliff was summoned in the chamber of Lord Chancellor. The person who had never stepped on the Indian soil was being given the responsibility of partitioning it. The greatest challenge was to partition Punjab and Bengal. When after an hour the map of the Indian subcontinent was spread before Radcliff he was astounded! 88 million people and 175000 sq miles of territory! The stupendous task of its division was assigned to him – an absolute alien to the land and its people whose fate he was going to decide.

Radcliff reached India to fulfil his mission. The Indian Independence Bill was yet to be passed by the British Parliament. The Bill was presented before the House of Commons at 8.30 pm at night on the eventful day of July 4.

On a similar day of July, Gandhi went to meat Mountbatten as a Congress representative. He invited him to become the Governor General of India on behalf of the Congress. And at the same time advised him to shift to some other bunglow so that the huge Viceroy House could be converted into a hospital. Hearing this the Viceroy said nothing but smiled.

Even before Radcliff could draw the lines of partition, riots broke across the country. The beginning was made at Calcutta. Mountbatten was sure that only one person had a solution to this problem and that was Gandhi. Hence, he immediately approached Gandhi for help.

Mountbatten told Gandhi that he had arranged 55000 troops to take care of the Punjab riots and he was sure he would manage it. However, Bengal was beyond his control and only Gandhi could do something about it.

In this situation of tension and confusion there were also a few jolly moments. Mountbatten described in a very lucid manner the talks between Gandhi and the Indian princes. When Mountbatten told Gandhi- “You talk of considering every one’s stand in this journey towards Independence but at the same time you are forcing the princely states to enter into unwilling agreements. This is like forcing a bride to marry at gun point but at the same time telling her that you love her too.” Gandhi laughed loudly in reply.

Time was flying fast for the princely states. On 10th July the British Prime Minister told them that time was running out and they should quickly take a decision. On the same evening Atlee declared in the Parliament that Mountbatten would become the Governor General of India and Pakistan.

On 15th July – exactly a month before Independence, the British Parliament gave a nod to the Indian Independence Bill. With each passing day some important event was registering its presence on the pages of history. On a certain date of July a name plate was removed from a chamber of Bombay High Court. It read- M.A Jinnah, Bar at Law. Meanehile, in Bulandsahar, a junior judge Mohanlal Saxena registered his name in history by being part of the British judiciary and yet giving a judgement in Hindi.

Mountbatten was aware of the rapidly passing time. Almost 25 days before Independence he circulated a 25-page calendar among the government officials, which indicated the number of days that remained for Independence.

As days were passing the British government was fast winding up all its colonial remains. On 26th July, in a cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Atlee declared that the flag on British residency in Lucknow would be removed on 14th August and sent to London. The flag was perpetually there since 1857.

Radcliff was busy with the partition of territory between India and Pakistan and the task of division of property had been assigned to two bureaucrats - Choudhary Muhammad Ali and H M Patel. Situation came to such a crux that they were locked in the bedroom of Sardar Patel so that they might arrive at some conclusion.

Finally it was decided that the entire government property would be divided into two portions. 80% would go to India and 20% to Pakistan. Consensus was arrived at the distribution of property with great difficulty. However, the distributors got stuck on the issue of the distribution of a gold chariot. Finally the matter was resolved by a toss, which was in India’s favour. The only thing that was spared was a mental hospital in Lahore. It was decided that the decision in this regard would be taken later on.

With the start of August changes became prominent. On 4th August Hotel Taj decided to hoist the national flag on its roof and stop playing the British National anthem-“God Save the King”.

Jinnah departed to Pakistan on 7th August. He was dressed in an outfit that he donned very rarely- sherwani and churidar. He appeared in a very different mood. He didn’t even listen to Hirabai Barodkar’s classical music on All India Radio, which was his daily habit. He took out important papers from his cupboard at his 10 Aurangzeb Road residence and left for Palam Airport at 12:25 noon. Mountbatten gave two gifts to Jinnah before his departure, his ADC Ehsan Ali and a Rolls Royce.

The Viceroy also gave Jinnah his special DC3 Aircraft to leave for Karachi. On the last stair of the aircraft Jinnah looked at Delhi from above and then at the sky. He confessed to his ADC Sayyed Ehsan Ali that this may be his last time he was looking at Delhi. Inside the aircraft Jinnah was silent and kept flipping the pages of newspapers. Jinnah didn’t speak a word in the whole flight. While Jinnah left for Karachi, Gandhi left for Kolkata to fulfil his promise to Mountbatten.

When Jinnah reached Karachi as Governor General and was climbing the stairs in his house, Government House, he once again spoke to his ADC Sayyed Ehsan Ali with a smile. He said that he had never thought he would be able to see Pakistan while he was alive. Meanwhile, away from the glamour of authority, Gandhi had reached the Ashram made in Sodepur in Kolkata.

Mountbatten was not the only person to appeal to Gandhi from saving Kolakta from disaster. Surprisingly, the other person was Bengal’s Prime Minister Sohraverdi. People thought that Sohraverdi was the person responsible for all the problems. Gandhi had to leave for Noakhali the next day. However, Gandhi put forward two conditions before Sohravardi. First, he should take a commitment from Noakhali Muslims that no Hindu should be harassed there. Second, that Sohraverdi should stay with him in the slums in Kolkata. Sohravardi agreed to both the conditions. Later, Patel wrote a letter to Gandhi on his decision. In the letter he asked Gandhi why he had to live in such a place which was inhuman and that too with such a companion.

Meanwhile, in a bungalow in Delhi, Redcliff was busy preparing the foundation of partition. Only 72 hours were left for the deadline given to him. Mountbatten did not want the sadness of partition to spill before the Independence ceremony of both the countries.

Radcliffe finally completed his report. On the morning of August his colleague ICS officer delivered it to the Viceroy’s House in two brown coloured envelopes. The destiny and future of the two nations were enclosed within these envelopes. The Viceroy knew that the day when this envelope was opened there would be unrest. That same evening the Viceroy left for Karachi to take part in Pakistan’s Independence ceremony.

Mountbatten finalised the date of Indian Independence as 15 August but the astrologers said it was an inauspicious date. It was finally decided that the official ceremony of Independence would start on the night of 14 August. Meanwhile, the bad luck of Jinnah had also begun.

Jinnah had to go on an official tour to the different lanes of Karachi on a chariot but the horse’s leg got injured. Not only this, Jinnah had invited everyone for lunch at his residence on the 13th of August but at the last moment it was found that the date coincided with the last week of the month of Ramzan in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Only 36 hours were left for the country’s Independence. Gandhi departed from his Ashram at Sodepur with a hope that he would be able to save Kolkata from burning. Mountbatten along with all the whole country expected this miracle from him. His destination was Haidri House, 10 miles away from Sodepur Ashram. This 10 miles seemed unending for Gandhi today. Haidri House belonged to a rich Muslim businessman, but no one lived there anymore.

Gandhi’s companion in this dungeon type bungalow was none other than Sohravardi. Seeing Sohravardi, the Hindus living nearby started hurling stones at the house. Gandhiji sat there inside the house without being bothered. Gandhi had to face such a situation for the first time in his life.

On 14th August, 1800 miles away from Haidri House, Gandhi’s opposition Jinnah was going to be a witness in front of history of that victory in which Gandhi was a loser. Jinnah had succeeded in his attempt to divide the country. History was ready to be a witness to this moment at the Parade field in Karachi.

On the night of 14th August Mountbatten was trying to do a miracle just like Gandhi. Mountbatten wanted to give the title of ‘Highness’ to his friend, Palanpur’s Nawab wife. Mountbatten had recommended this to the previous Viceroy but nothing was done. Now he was in the driver’s seat but time was running out. He took his final decision as a Viceroy. When he put his signature on the paper the clock on the front wall showed11:58 pm.

It was raining on the night of 14th August but it could not dampen the spirits of the people. Hoards of people had gathered outside the Constituent Assembly. Even inside the assembly it was crowded. Jawaharlal Nehru was given the oath at exactly 12 o’ clock. Nehru was waking the nation with the historical speech, while far away from the glamour of celebration, the person who had awaken the whole nation to fight for Independence was sleeping silently in Haider House that night.

Nehru enclosed the name of his 13 ministers in an envelope and gave it to Mountbatten after the oath taking ceremony. When Mountbatten opened the envelope there was a blank paper inside, the envelope had got exchanged in the commotion.

Finally the morning of Independence arrived. Gandhi decided to celebrate Independence by fasting. When an English newspaper asked him to give a message on the occasion, he said, “My inner strength has gone weak.” Many meanings can be derived from what Gandhi said.

Independence was being celebrated in the whole country. Mountbatten and his wife were also looking happy. The success of a big mission could be seen on their face. But, there were few people who did not know whether to be happy or sad. This was the problem of the owner of a house in Mumbai’s posh area. The flags of both the countries were flying high on the house. The house belonged to Jinnah’s daughter Dina

Winston Churchill was opposed to India’s Independence till the last moment. He had predicted that the country would be torn if British withdrew from India. In the last 60 years, after every Prime Minister’s death it is thought that military rule would begin. On the delay of monsoon, the fear of famine would spread across the nation. Whenever a separatist movement starts in any corner of the nation, the rumour spreads that this country cannot stay united. But India’s Republic is blossoming even after 60 years- neglecting Churchill’s predictions.

Adaptation by Roshan Kumar
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