The Partition of India

Livvi Hatfield, Hawker College, 2011

This essay was written as part of the Liberators and Revolutionaries unit at Hawker College, Semester 2, 2011. It is a response to the following task. “Now that Muslims and Hindus were actively making plans for a future in which the British were expected to disappear from the seat of power, all the antagonism between the two religious persuasions flared up.” (Mabbett 1968, p.185). What were some of the key factors that led to the creation of the separate independent states of India and Pakistan? Some very minor edits have been made.

The partition of India into the two independent states of India and Pakistan in 1947 was the result of many years of religious antagonism, political conflict and evolving societal pressures. The ratio of Hindus to Muslims in India had always been in favour of Hindus, which was often felt as a threat to the Muslim minority. The Indian National Congress foresaw the possible implications of this religious divide, but each action made by Congress in an attempt to alleviate the situation seemed only to exacerbate Muslim unrest. The Muslim population in India was not evenly spread throughout the nation; there were heavy Islamic concentrations in particular regions where Muslims were in fact the majority. These regions, after much unrest, political dissatisfaction and fear of oppression, were the areas which became known as West and East Pakistan following the partition.

Arguably the first step towards the formation of Pakistan was taken in the wake of Sayyid Ahmed Khan; a Muslim of a Mughal family, who rose to an unofficial position as the leader of Indian Islam in his lifetime (Spear 1965, p.225). The Sayyid, as he was known, championed ‘Muslim modernism’, teaching young Muslims the importance of positive relations with the western world. This movement steadily grew in momentum until the formation of the Indian National Congress, which the Sayyid opposed. The Congress was designed to unite all of India under independent rule, but the Sayyid refused to join the cause as he was concerned by the fact that Muslims, as a minority to Hindus in India, would be misrepresented, if at all, in an independent government.

A democratic regime, said the Sayyid, means majority rule, and majority rule in India would mean Hindu rule. Therefore the British cannot be dispensed with and Muslims should concentrate on fitting themselves to take that place in the state which their numbers justified. (Spear 1965, p224)

The Sayyid was aware, and increased popular awareness, of the implications of an independent India. The Muslim population, very much the minority in India, was faced with two main options; British rule or Hindu rule. The Sayyid could not solve this problem for his people, but his role was integral to the changing of Muslim values and objectives, and he influenced the design of the Muslim League.

The creation of the All Indian Muslim League would eventually lead to a third option for the Muslim population; the partition. However, the League originally sought mainly to promote peace between Muslims and the political leaders. The League was formed with three main objectives.

1. To inculcate among Muslims a feeling of loyalty to the government and to disabuse their minds of misunderstandings and misconceptions of its actions and intentions.
2. To protect and advance the political rights and interests of the Muslims of India and to represent their needs and aspirations to the government from time to time.
3. To prevent the growth of ill will between Muslims and other nationalities without compromising to its own purposes. (‘Establishment of All India Muslim League’, 1906)

These objectives demonstrated the Muslim League’s dedication to the well-being and adequate representation of Muslims, but also a desire for peaceful relations and positive political affairs. These goals seemed achievable through the Lucknow Pact of 1916, as the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress met together for the first time, and agreed upon new legislation. The pact detailed several clauses which called for a minimum of one third Muslim representation in the central government, among other issues regarding electorates and fair representation (The Lucknow Pact, 1916). This was an attempt to dispel unrest and dissatisfaction among the Muslim population and to unite India under self-government, which was the first clause of the pact. This political harmony between Hindus and Muslims broke down after eight years, but the very fact that the National Congress was willing to recognise the Muslim League and the need for some degree of separation allowed the possibility of partition to grow.

As India moved towards independence, the issue of who would possess this independent power arose. The British Secretary of State for India was gradually replaced by the Indian National Congress, which sought a diplomatic solution to the benefit of all Indians (Mabbett, 1968, 177-178). Old issues of religion sparked up immediately, however, and the divide between Hindus and Muslims was enhanced. Leaders such as Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru saw the necessity of peaceful unity between the two religions, and it was under their influence that Congress sought to soothe some of the religious unrest.

... it was made a rule that it [Congress] should make pronouncements only on matters about which most members agreed. This meant, for example, that nothing should be said about matters on which Hindus and Muslims disagreed (Mabbett 1968, p179).

Although in the creation of this rule Congress was attempting to avoid conflict and argument, this was not the outcome. As Congress was providing no clear statements on such an important issue, the Muslim community saw the need to form a system which could better represent them politically. The All India Muslim League, under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was re-organised and grew increasingly popular amongst Muslims. The revitalised League was Jinnah’s answer to Congress. They began making demands in the interest of the minority; Muslims who had felt until then that they had no voice in politics (Spear, 1965, 228-289). Jinnah and the Muslim League campaigned for the Pakistan solution; the separation of India into two separate, independently run states, allowing Hindu-dominated India to have Hindu rule and the Muslim-dominated areas in the north of India to become Pakistan, under Muslim rule.

Partition was a solution which neither the Indian Congress nor the British Cabinet were originally pleased with, as both sought a united India under single leadership. However, the British cabinet in particular anticipated the potentially violent and destructive result which may have occurred if the Muslim League’s proposal was answered with flat rejection.

This feeling has become so strong and widespread amongst the Muslims that it cannot be allayed by mere paper safeguards. If there is to be internal peace in India it must be secured by measures which will assure to the Muslims a control in all matters vital to their culture, religion, and economic or other interests. We therefore examined in the first instance the question of a separate and fully independent sovereign state of Pakistan as claimed by the Muslim League ('Statement by the Cabinet Mission and his Excellency the Viceroy', 1946).

It was clear that the Muslim community wanted action; that they, as the minority, were concerned over issues of political representation and that they were largely supportive of the Muslim League’s proposal. This is not to say that all Muslims were in favour of the plan, but as demonstrated under the Lucknow Pact and in later elections, there was great support for the League among the Muslim population, who were willing to vote for League representation (Mabbett, p.208). As leader of the Muslim League, Jinnah campaigned and negotiated until the British government saw no other solution, and India gained independence and partition in 1947 (Mabbett, p.212). Upon the creation of Pakistan, Jinnah was appointed Governor-General of the country, which although it was divided into East and West, existed as one country.

We should have a state in which we could live and breathe as free men and which we could develop according to our own lights and culture and where principles of Islamic social justice could find free play (Jinnah 1947 in Shamshad 2011).

This speech, made by Jinnah just months after the separation of Pakistan and India, reflects the general Muslim opinion of the time and reveals how seemingly inevitable the separation was between the two religions who shared such a controversial history.

The separate states of India and Pakistan were created after a long and complicated struggle between Hindus, Muslims and the British. The partition was not solely a religious matter, nor solely political. There was no one person who caused it, nor one single event. The Muslim population of India grew concerned as the idea of Indian independence grew realistic, as the Hindu majority would almost certainly gain control. Although steps were taken, particularly through the Lucknow Pact and the attempted cooperation of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, unity between the two religions and political parties was unrealistic at the time. The separation of Pakistan and India was not ideal from the British point-of-view, and was directly opposed by the Indian Congress, but while India was in upheaval, a decision had to be made. The Muslim League was heavily in favour of forming East and West Pakistan under Muslim rule and maintaining India under Hindu rule, and as this made sense geographically, socially, religiously and politically, the decision was made.


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Teacher Comment ChristopherKenna ChristopherKenna 0 286 Dec 16, 2011 by ChristopherKenna ChristopherKenna

Annotated Bibliography

'Establishment of All India Muslim League', 1906 in Enterprise Team (2003). Accessed on September 21, 2011 from
This source was brief and very specific, but I found it very helpful in that respect. As it only dealt with one specific topic, I was able to quickly assess how useful it would be and had easy access to the information. The source seems potentially biased in favour of the Muslim cause, or at least the separation of Pakistan. It does acknowledge theories of conspiracy against the Muslim League, but deliberately cites these as coming from Hindu or British sources. However, I only required a small point of information regarding the 3 main objectives of the League, so the rest of the source was only useful for context.

The Lucknow Pact 1916. Accessed on September 21, 2011 from
I found this source very helpful to my research, as it was very specific and well set-out. From the same website as the source above, it is to be expected that a similar bias is present, but also similarly to the previous source, the bulk of my information was that of a list, which shows much less bias. This source provided not only a list of the Lucknow Pact’s main clauses, but also a brief history of before and after the pact was made, which provided great context and a greater understanding of the pact’s strengths and weaknesses.

'Statement by the Cabinet Mission and his Excellency the Viceroy', 1946 in Halsall, Paul (ed.), Modern History Sourcebook. Accessed on September 21, 2011 at "
This source was very helpful, as a primary source from the British perspective. As it was a copy of a British government statement, the language used was at times quite formal and business-like, but the message was clear and well-explained. As a primary source there is an obvious bias, but in this case the bias is of particular importance and assistance in understanding the source. The bias provides great insight into the British perspective on the topic of Indian independence and allows for greater understanding of the situation which India was in.

Mabbet, Ian W. A Short History of India. North Melbourne: Cassell Australia Ltd., 1968.
The essay topic is formed around a quote, which can in fact be found in this book. This gave me the chance to read the context within which the quote was written and to understand more of the author’s opinion on the matter. Mabbett is clearly well-informed on the topic and expresses himself clearly. The book, which is potentially overwhelming as a history of India as a whole, is divided into sections and organised chronologically, which made it very easy to find related information.

Shamshad. 'Major Problems Facing Pakistan Today' (part 7). 2011. (accessed September 28, 2011).
I came across this source while searching for a specific quote of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, but the source was very helpful as it was essentially a list of many quotes from Jinnah, arranged in a linear, chronological fashion. Although I only quoted one of these in my essay, reading the other quotes helped me gain a slightly broader understanding of Jinnah’s personality and values, particularly as I read several quotes regarding women’s rights, which is an issue I had not previously known Jinnah was involved in. This information was not directly useful for my assignment, but was appreciated regardless. I was surprised by the lack of personal opinion expressed by the author of the website, as there was virtually nothing said that was not a direct quote from Jinnah. However, the organisation of the quotes made their meaning perfectly legible.

Spear, Percival. A History of India 2. Middlesex: Penguin Books Inc., 1965.
Spear’s work was highly useful to me, for quotes, specific understanding and also general context. The precursor to this source, A History of India 1, was my original point of research, although I found nothing of any relevance. In the second volume I found an entire chapter dedicated to the Pakistan Movement, which was the most useful of all my sources. Spear detailed political and religious leaders who had impact on the issue well before the actual division of India, and explained their involvement in a way that helped me see the flow-on effect throughout the period.