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New Insights on Partition

B.G. Verghese

By Narendra Singh Sarila
Harper Collins, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 436, Rs. 500.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 12 December 2005

The Partition of India was such a dramatic and traumatic event that it continues to excite the imagination of all those affected by it. Much has been written on the subject and the story has been constantly revised and updated with the perspective of time and the publication of hitherto classified material that sheds new light on established verities.        The monumental 12 volume Transfer of Power (TP) series and the Mountbatten papers that came out in the 1970s and 1980s certainly added greatly to what was earlier known. They evoked reappraisal and new commentaries. But, it now appears, all was not revealed. Some more top secret British and American papers then held back or obscurely located have more recently been brought to public notice through diligent research. Narendra Singh Sarila, a retired Indian diplomat,  has rendered yeoman service by incorporating a lot of this new material in his seminal work. He has the added advantage of having been Mountbatten’s ADC in India and later spending time with him in his home at Broadlands where the former Viceroy was possibly not loath to unburden himself on a convivial evening.       Read with C. Dasgupta’s War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, 1947-48, (Sage, 2002), Sarila’s The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India’s Partition will compel historians and contemporary scholars alike to review earlier premises and conclusions with a new understanding of the hidden motives and agendas that have come tumbling out of the cupboard.       H.M Seervai’s otherwise penetrating analysis in Partition of India: Legend and Reality, just reprinted in a third edition, is among the histories that will need reinterpretation with regard to certain critical issues. Seervai’s view is that Jinnah was more sinned against than sinning in bringing about Partition, because Gandhi and Nehru, unlike Azad, refused to take HMG and the Muslim League at their word. The texts now available would suggest that the Congress leaders’ interpretations or intuitive responses were not wholly unjustified in the light of  the duplicity practised against them. The British proclaimed faith in the unity of India but worked behind the scenes with Jinnah for its partition.      Even before the formal call for Partition and Pakistan on March 24,1940, the Viceroy, Linlithgow, informed London that Jinnah had told him that “there was much to be said for our (British and Muslims) getting together”, certainly before and even after Partition. ...

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