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Indian Independence: Partition Source 9

Minutes of a meeting held at Government House, New Delhi, 16 August 1947, to receive the awards of the Boundary Commissions which demarcated the boundaries between India and Pakistan in Bengal and the Punjab.

[IOR: L/P&J/10/117]

The Indian leaders present at this meeting to consider the awards of the Boundary Commissions were severely critical of the awards. The Chittagong Hill Tracts in particular were hotly disputed. These had a large Hindu majority and Nehru consequently argued for them to become part of India. However, the Tracts were regarded as having an intimate physical and economic association with East Bengal and no proper communication links with Assam, thus Sir Radcliffe awarded them to Pakistan (see Map 2). The Punjab was another area of dispute. Sikhs made up a large proportion of the population in this area and had important historical and religious associations with it. Tara Singh, a leader of the Sikhs, demanded a separate Sikh state if partition was to go ahead. This came to nothing and the Punjab was divided on the basis of majority areas of Muslims and non-Muslims as well as other factors like administrative viability, natural boundaries, and communication, water and irrigation systems (see Map 3). Sikhs migrated into the Indian Punjab where the claim for a separate Sikh state was to be renewed immediately after partition.

Confidential

The Awards of the Boundary Commissions

Minutes of a meeting held at Government House, New Delhi at 5 p.m. on Saturday, 16th August.

Present

Viscount Mountbatten of Burma - Governor-General, India. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru - Prime Minister, India. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan - Prime Minister, Pakistan. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel - Home Minister, India. Mr. Fazlur Rahman - Minister of the Interior, Pakistan. Sardar Baldev Singh - Defence Minister, India. Mr. Mohammed Ali - Cabinet Secretary, Pakistan. Rao Bahadur V.P. Menon - Secretary of the States Department, India. Lt. Col. V.F. Erakine-Crum - Conference Secretary to the Governor-General of India.

1. The meeting considered the awards of the Boundary Commissions, copies of which had been given to the Ministers after the Joint Defence Council meeting that morning.

Bengal

2. Pandit Nehru said that he had never considered that the allocation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts to East Bengal was possible under the terms of reference of the Boundary Commission. Eminent lawyers had confirmed this point of view. These Tracts were an excluded area, and were not represented in the Bengal Council. He and his colleagues had given assurances to petty chiefs from the Chittagong Hill Tracts who had come to see them, that there was no question of the territory being included in Pakistan. The population of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, though small (approximately ¼ million) was 97% Buddhist and Hindu. There was not the least doubt that the people themselves would prefer to form part of India. On religious and cultural grounds, the Chittagong Hill Tracts should form part of India. Sir Cyril Radcliffe had had no business to touch them.

3. The Governor-General explained the reasons why Sir Cyril Radcliffe had included the Chittagong Hill Tracts in East Bengal. He emphasised particularly the economic ties which bound Chittagong District and the Hill Tracts together. He stressed the importance to Chittagong Port of the proper supervision of the Kannaphuli Ariver, which ran through the Hill Tracts.

4. Mr. Fazlur Rahman gave his opinion that the Chittagong Hill Tracts could not exist if separated from Chittagong District. In his view, the allocation of these Tracts to East Bengal was unquestionably permissible under the terms of reference. In fact the "contiguity" clause of the terms of reference would not have permitted their allocation to West Bengal.

5. The Governor-General said that it had been Sir Frederick Burrow's view that the whole economy of the Chittagong Hill Tract would be upset if they were not left with East Bengal. However, he had confirmed that Sir Frederick had not expressed any view on this matter to Sir Cyril Radcliffe, so he could not be said to have influenced the decision.

6. The Governor-General suggested the possibility of a compromise whereby the upper waters of the Karnaphuli would be protected through the allocation of a strip of territory on either side of the river to East Bengal, while the administration of the rest of the Hill Tracts would be undertaken by India.

7. This was not considered a satisfactory solution by either party. Pandit Nehru's view was that India should undertake the administration of the whole territory; a strip on either side of the river allocated to Pakistan would cut the territory in two. If the Chittagong Hill Tracts were given to India, an agreement between the two Dominion Governments, whereby Pakistan would obtain all desired facilities, could well be made.

8. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan said that he could not consider any suggestion of an adjustment in this territory alone. The awards of both Commissions must be looked at as a whole. If this was done, it would be found that Sir Cyril Radcliffe had completely ignored the fundamental basis of his terms of reference. Moreover, the Chittagong Hill Tracts were the only source of hydro-electric power in East Bengal.

9. The Governor-General then suggested that the two Governments might agree on an exchange of territory, whereby the Chittagong Hill Tracts would go to India and some predominantly Muslim area which had been allotted by the Commission to India would go to Pakistan.

10. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan emphasised that the awards of the Commissions, taken as a whole, had been so unfavourable to Pakistan, that he could not consider any minor modification only, such as had been suggested.

11. Mr. Fazlur-Rahman protested strongly against the allocation of the Districts of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri to India. In his view, Sir Cyril Radcliffe had violated the basic principle of his terms of reference in making this decision.

Punjab

12. Pandit Nehru said that he considered that the award of the Boundary Commission in the Punjab was likely to have a bad effect among the Sikhs, who presented a particularly difficult problem.

13. Sardar Baldev Singh also considered that the reaction to the award would be very unfavourable on the Sikh mind.

14. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan said that it would have a similarly unfavourable reaction among the Muslims. He emphasized that he, as Prime Minister of Pakistan, considered it his duty to stand up for the rights of the Sikhs in West Punjab as much as the India leaders stood up for their rights in East Punjab. He empahsized that complete religious freedom would be allowed.

15. Sardar Patel's view was that the only solution to the Punjab award was a transfer of population on a large scale.

16. The Governor-General said that he had spoken to Mr. Jinnah about Nankana Sahib. Mr. Jinnah had stated that he had it in mind to give the Sikhs any religious assurances that were required in connection with their Gurdwara there. The Governor-General suggested that a specific statement on Nankana Sahib might be made by the Pakistan Government at the same time as the issue of the Boundary Commission award.

17. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan said that he understood that it was Sir Francis Mudie's view that the Punjab Boundary Force should be separated and be put under the control of the two Governments rather than under joint control. It was agreed that this suggestion should be considered at the meeting at Ambala the following day.

18. Pandit Nehru suggested that he and Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan should also visit Lahore and Amritsar the following day, and this was agreed.

19. Pandit Nehru said that he had received particularly alarming reports from Lahore, where many hundreds of Sikhs and Hindus were gathered together in relief camps without proper protection and without rations. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan undertook to get in touch with the Prime Minister of West Punjab and ask him to ensure that full measures were taken for the protection of refugees. He further suggested that the Punjab Boundary Force should be asked to assist in the evacuation of refugees.

The Publication of the Awards

20. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan said that he was opposed to any suggestion that adjustments between representative of the two Governments should be made at the present meeting. He considered that the awards of the Boundary Commission should be published as the stood.

21. The Governor-General suggested that in the communiqué stating that the awards had been considered by the Prime Ministers, it might be stated that they had come to the conclusion that there were certain unsatisfactory features which they proposed to take up forthwith on a governmental level. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan was opposed to this suggestion. He considered, and it was agreed, that the communiqué should only make mention of the fact of the meeting, and not draw attention to any dissatisfaction, nor to any proposals for the transfer of population.

22. Pandit Nehru finally emphasized that he and his colleagues felt themselves to be in a moral impasse about the Chittagong Hill Tracts, because, throughout the previous two or three months, they had given countless assurances to the representatives of that territory that it could not be included in Pakistan. Furthermore, this action had been taken after consultation with lawyers.

23. It was agreed that the Governor-General should issue the awards in the form of a Gazette Extraordinary the following day, and that copies of the awards should be sent immediately to the Governors of East and West Bengal and East and West Punjab.

24. It was further agreed that a draft communiqué handed round at the meeting should be issued that night, subject to certain amendments which were made. Visit of Minister of one dominion to the other dominion.