Published online by Cambridge University Press: 19 August 2002
During the spring, summer and autumn of 1947 India's richest province, the Punjab, played host to a massive human catastrophe. The trigger for the catastrophe was Britain's parting gift to its Indian subjects of partition. Confronted by a seemingly intractable demand by the All-India Muslim League for a separate Muslim homeland—Pakistan—a campaign which since 1946 had turned increasingly violent, the British government early in 1947 accepted viceroy Lord Mountbatten's advice that partition was necessary to arrest the country's descent into civil war. ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi notably excepted, the leadership of the Congress party came gradually and reluctantly to the same conclusion. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru's deputy, likened it to the cutting off of a diseased limb. But in accepting the ‘logic’ of the League's ‘two-nation’ theory, the British applied it remorselessly. They insisted that partition would have to follow the lines of religious affiliation, not the boundaries of provinces. In 1947 League president Muhammad Ali Jinnah was forced to accept what he had contemptuously dismissed in 1944 as a ‘moth-eaten’ Pakistan, a Pakistan bereft of something like half of Bengal and the Punjab and most of Assam.
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