Click here to skip to content

Indian Independence: Partition Source 5

Extracts from a note by Jawaharlal Nehru, dated 11 May 1947, sent to Rear-Admiral Viscount Mountbatten of Burma, concerning a draft of a plan for the partition of India.

[IOR: L/P&J/10/79 ff.234-40]

Mountbatten, once in India, became aware of how quickly the situation was deteriorating and was willing to be flexible in order to reach an agreement as soon as possible. Nehru was staying with Mountbatten at Simla in May 1947. Upon the basis of a personal 'hunch', Mountbatten showed Nehru a plan for partition which had been prepared by the Viceroy's staff and approved by the British Government. Nehru reacted strongly against the plan. This note indicates that he feared it would lead to the 'Balkanisation' of India (see paragraph 9). The plan was hurriedly revised to meet Nehru's objections.


Note by Pandit Nehru dated 11th May 1947

I have very carefully considered, in the short time at my disposal, the papers shown to me. They are of such far-reaching implication that it is difficult for me to deal with the subject adequately, and in any event a full consultation with my colleagues would be necessary. But as time is limited and any delay in a clear expression of opinion might lead to further steps being taken which may have grave consequences, I am giving below my immediate reactions.

2. Although I have had no opportunity of consulting my colleagues, I am quite clear that my reactions will be shared by them probably in a stronger measure. The first consideration of the papers produced a devastating effect upon me. The picture presented by the proposals was an ominous one and the whole approach to them appeared to me to be dangerous. Not only do they menace India but also they endanger the future relation between Britain and India. Instead of producing any sense of certainty, security and stability, they would encourage disruptive tendencies everywhere and chaos and weakness. They would particularly endanger important strategic areas.

3. It is stated in the proposals that they have taken shape after full consultation with political leaders in India. That might lead people to think that they have the consent of those leaders. This would be completely wrong in so far as all leaders are concerned except possibly the Muslim League leaders. In our consultations we had proceeded on the present basis of the Cabinet Mission's plan and the Statement of February 20th. Owing to stress of circumstances we had agreed to vary this basis to a certain extent, but the general approach continued to be the same. This variation consisted in the acceptance of the fact that certain Muslim majority areas might go out of the Union if they so willed. The Union was still the basic factor. In the new proposals the whole approach has been changed completely and is at total variance with our own approach in the course of recent talks. The proposals start with the rejection of an Indian Union as the successor to power and invite the claims of large numbers of succession States who are permitted to unite if they so wish in two or more States.

4. I have no doubt whatever that the announcement of this new policy and proposals by His Majesty's Government would provoke wide and deep resentment all over the country and no responsible leader of Indian opinion outside the Muslim League would be able to persuade the country to accept or even to acquiesce in them. It seems to me therefore, essential that His Majesty's Government should be left in no doubt as to the total unacceptability of an opposition to both these proposals and the approach made in them, and also to the consequences which are bound to follow if His Majesty's Government were to persist in them.

5. Hitherto all British proposals and indeed all discussions have been baiscally on a United India, the in roads into such unity being confined either (a) to weakening the Centre and giving some sort of Group autonomy or (b) to giving the freedom to certain areas, which are demonstrably against joining the Union, to create themselves into separate States. The Cabinet Mission considered every aspect of a totally divided India and rejected it. Those considerations remain unchanged and indeed the disorder and violence of recent months add further weight to those considerations.

6. It must be remembered that the British Cabinet plan was accepted by all in India with the sole exception of the Muslim League and even the League had not at all times rejected it. Even today the League is prepared and continues to reap such advantages as it obtained for itself by joining the Interim Government on the basis of acceptance of the plan. The throwing overboard not only of the plan but all its basic conceptions namely the all-India Union and provincial independence to the utmost within that Union appears to be totally at the instance of one party alone in India. The Muslim League vetoes the plan and His Majesty's Government, therefore, throw it overboard. This step can only confirm the conviction widely held that no plan of His Majesty's Government will hold to it.

7. The present proposals virtually scrap the Constituent Assembly which includes all elements excepting the Muslim League, and deprive the Constituent Assembly of its essential character and reduces it to a body for preparing a scheme for the Union which these proposals negative.

8. This involves a complete going back by His Majesty's Government on its previous decisions in that (a) it throws overboard the Cabinet plan or at any rate its basic conception, (b) it violates its repeated pledge that it will not permit one party to exercise a veto, (c) it scraps all that has been done under its own scheme and by arrangements made by the Governor-General himself to implement it.

9. It appears to me that the inevitable and obvious consequences of the proposals and the approach in them are (a) to invite the Balkanisation of India, (b) to provoke certain civil conflict and to add to violence and disorder, (c) to a further breakdown of the central authority which alone can prevent the chaos that is growing, (d) to demoralise the army, the police and the Central Services.

10. The proposal that each of the successor States is to conclude independent treaties, presumably with His Majesty's Government also, which follow if the all-India Union is rejected as a basis and sovereignty reverts to the Provinces, is likely to create many "Ulsters" in India.