TODAY THAT DAY : 09 August 1947

HISTORIC MOMENT IN INDIA



Overshadowed in the world at large by the gloom of the British economic drama, India in the coming week will stage exhibition of her own when Britain hands over supreme power and the Dominions of India and Pakistan assume responsibility for their own destiny.

The actual day of the formal transfer will be next Friday. It will be a momentous one in many ways. Not only will the future of India be committed to the hands of Indians themselves, but the peoples of this sub-continent will aspire to evolve their own system of parliamentary democracy. This in itself is of more than ordinary significance in a world which produce so many examples of totalitarian tendencies. But what is more surprising, perhaps in the sweep of this immense drama is that the turning-point has been reached in such an atmosphere of relative calm.

It is true that complex problems have yet to be resolved and that the magnitude of the task of evolving the machinery of two separate Governments may have been underrated; but it is a curious fact that nowhere is there any acute pessimism about the prospect.

In the debates on the Independence Bill in the British Parliament last month, there were some who expressed misgiving that such an early date had been set for the transfer of power. The critics implied that the decision was reckless and panicky. But they were quickly answered with the argument that the fixing of a date had been the most salutary single influence in  bringing the Indian leaders to their senses and developing a degree of responsibility. This may well be the historian's verdict. But it is equally true that now that Britain has fulfilled her word, and can no longer be the scapegoat for the ranting Indian Politician, there has been some tendency for what has been called fragmentation to appear.

Reports suggest that this may be the inevitable splitting of a people on sociological as distinct from racial and religious lines. Having achieve except for the Hindu-Moslem duality the larger goal of national independence, group now feel free to indulge heir political predilections.

Until now, fragmentation has been discussed in a different context. Fears have been expressed of the balkanisation of India deriving, first from the Hindu-Pakistan division, and secondly from the resolved status of the Indian princely States. It would be surprising if this problem were not to overshadow for the time being at least any sundering that may occur on ideological programmes.

There are 562 princely States, and so far only 22 of them have elected to join either the Dominion of India or the Dominion of Pakistan. The British Government having made up its mind to quit India, made it equally clear that in going it wished to leave no legacies of possible discontent. It therefore legislated for the renunciation of all claims to paramount power in the case of the Indian States, which were and still in effect are sovereign principalities within or closely associated with British India. But the Government at the same time stipulated that there would be no automatic transfer of its paramountcy in the States to either of the new Dominions; the States would have the right to opt to join either India or Pakistan. Lord Mountbatten is also on record as having said that the British Government will not recognise any Indian State as a separate Dominion. The Princes are therefore obliged to come to a decision.

It would be idle to deny that this is the most urgent of the immediate difficulties facing the two new Dominions. The problem is complicated in many cases by the simple fact that a Hindu prince rules a State which is predominantly Moslem, or vice versa. Therefore while one party may wish to join the Dominion of India the other leans to Pakistan.

Sardar Patel one of Nehru's Minister has setup a state Department designed to ease the process of amalgamation and has said that the Congress party has no desire to dominate the States or interfere in their domestic affairs. But there also exists the All India states people's conference sponsored by Congress, which with support in most states contests the right of any ruler to proclaim his independence. The New Delhi correspondent of The Times "said recently that because it has behind it a powerful "fifth column" among state subject, it is a force to be reckoned with. The same writer also says that many Congress leaders contend that the Princes have no survival value in the new India that they are anachronisms and mediaeval despots", who must vanish from the scene as soon as British power is withdrawn. He adds that these politicians are confident that, with public opinion and economic sanctions behind them. They can eliminate the Princes and absorb their territories into Hindustan. He asserts that the great majority of the Princes are eager to come to terms. The similar states known they are so vulnerable that they cannot survive except on sufferance.

This problem is therefore likely to be one which will take a foremost place after next Friday.

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