By Tariq Majeed : —
All along the series of important events which led to the emergence of Pakistan, there were signs of divine help at critical junctures. However, there was one occasion when the Hidden Hand of divine power left such a clear imprint of its presence that no one could deny it. This was the matter of appearance of the New State on the map of the world at a pre-determined date.
The time chosen by Allah was most blessed in nature. It was the month of Ramazan, the day was the Last Friday, Jumuatul Widaa, the night was 27th of Ramazan, widely acknowledged as Lailatul Qadr, the time was the moment of Midnight.
Exactly at that moment when the hour clock sounded its last toll on the radio, signalling a new day and date, the birth of the State of Pakistan was announced. The date in the lunar calendar was 27 Ramazan 1366 corresponding to 15 August 1947.
It ought to be made clear that Pakistan’s Independence Day is actually 15 August. This was divine power’s decision; making it 14 August was human decision. It should be realized that August 14 was Thursday, 26th of Ramazan, and had no special merit.
British Parliament’s Indian Independence Act of 18 July 1947 also mentions 15th of August as “the appointed day” for the birth of India and Pakistan. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah took the oath of office as Governor General on the 15th. He was aware of the significance of this date and also of the mission entrusted to this country—of becoming a model Islamic state based on Islamic economic, social and moral values. Speaking at a public reception in Chittagong, on 26 March 1948, he said:
This biggest Muslim State came into being on 15th August 1947. It was a great day in our history. But, on this great day, it was not merely a Government which came into existence, it meant the birth of a great State and a great Nation—one supplementing the other and both existing for each other. I can understand the limitations of those amongst us whose minds have not moved fast enough to realize that 15th of August ushered in such a State and such a Nation.
It is natural for some to think only in terms of Government but the sooner we adjust ourselves to new forces, the sooner our mind’s eye is capable of piercing through the horizon to see the limitless possibilities of our State and of our Nation, the better for Pakistan. Then and then alone it would be possible for each one of us to realize the great ideals of human progress, of social justice, of equality and fraternity which, on the one hand, constitute the basic causes of the birth of Pakistan and also the limitless possibilities of evolving an ideal social structure in our State.1
It was on 29 June 1948 that the Cabinet under Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan “decided that henceforth Independence Day of Pakistan would be celebrated on 14th August.”2
As the Hidden Hand implementing the divine scheme of things uses earthly means, who was used as the instrument for proclaiming the pre-determined date of Partition? It was not the British government or the Hindu Congress or the Muslim League. The instrument was Mountbatten, who had been chosen for the role two years in advance.
Mountbatten leaned toward the Hindu Congress and was quite friendly with its top leaders, while toward the Muslim League and its Pakistan Plan he nourished hostility. However, divine schemes have their own ways of bringing about the desired events; a villainous character may well do something beneficial, while a benign character may turn out to be harmful.
Till the end of 1946, there was no sign that Britain would quit India any time soon. But the year 1947 came literally with whirlwind changes. On 20 February 1947, British Prime Minister Attlee made a surprising policy statement in the Commons, announcing this historic decision:“…His Majesty’s Government wish to make it clear that it is their definite intention to take the necessary steps to effect the transference of power into responsible Indian hands by a date not later than June 1948…” 3
This was a momentous turning point in the political situation in India. The events that followed rapidly converged on creating Pakistan. Earlier, on 18 December 1946, Attlee called Mountbatten to 10 Downing Street and invited him to succeed Wavell as viceroy in India.4 He gave parting instructions to Mountbatten:“…If by October 1 you consider that there is no prospect of reaching a settlement on the basis of a unitary government…you should report… on the steps which you consider should be taken for the handing over of power on the due date..” 5
Mountbatten reached Delhi on 22 March and was sworn in on the 24th. From 24 March to 10 April, he held intensive meetings with Nehru, Gandhi, Liaquat and Jinnah. His mind was focused on the 1 June 1948 date, by which transference of power had to be completed. Then, abruptly his mind changed; a compelling urgency seized him. A new transfer of power plan took shape.
In early May 1947, Mountbatten sent his Chief of Staff Hastings Lionel Ismay to London with the new draft Partition plan. The British Cabinet approved it with some changes. Mountbatten revised the plan and on 18 May flew to London with it. He met Attlee, Winston Churchill and other top men. His plan was approved, and he returned with it to Delhi on 31 May. It was officially called British Government’s ‘Statement of 3 June 1947.’
What caused this staggering change? Stanley Wolpert, a diligent researcher in the India of that period, does not even attempt to give a reason for this abrupt change, in his political biographies of Mr Jinnah and Pundit Nehru.
Britain’s top politicians and policy planners were competent and experienced men. They did not take national decisions on key issues, and then changed them within weeks. But in this case they did so, and committed a blatant deviation from their normal conduct. What else could be the reason, except that a power beyond their control forced them to change their decision?
The same power had set the course for Mountbatten’s posting first as supreme allied commander for Southeast Asia in Singapore and then as viceroy in India. Mountbatten was serving as commanding officer of an aircraft carrier in 1941 in the rank of a Captain. From a post as a comparatively junior naval officer he was appointed supreme allied commander for Southeast Asia in 1943, prompting complaints of nepotism against his cousin the king.” 6 His posting was a flagrant violation of the rules and respected traditions of the British Navy. But, it couldn’t be stopped; he had to be in that post when the Great War stopped.
World War II had ended in Europe on 8 May 1945, with the surrender of the German forces four days earlier. Japan was close to defeat but still resisting. It gave up finally on 10 August 1945. The Japanese Government accepted the terms of surrender and the Great War officially ended at midnight 14/15 August 1945. That date left its mark on Mountbatten’s mind.
On 2 June 1947, India’s top leaders, Mr Jinnah, Pandit Nehru and their seconds-in-command, and Sardar Baldev Singh, assembled in Viceroy’s house, where they heard Mountbatten breaking to them the stunning news that Britain was ready to transfer power and India was going to be partitioned—and quite soon. It was natural, indeed necessary, that they should have wanted to know what date had been fixed or was planned for this fateful event. No one asked Mountbatten this crucial question.
They met him again on the morning of 3 June. By then each leader had had the opportunity to mull over the Plan with his close associates, but none of them raised any question about the date!
The 3 June Statement was a carefully drawn up plan. It laid out precise instructions on the procedures and actions to be undertaken. Its program leading to Partition demanded that a date be given for the impending Partition. But it made no mention of a date or of any authority designated to fix a date!
The mystery deepens when we take note of the Viceroy’s speech on 3 June that was broadcast before the ‘Statement of 3 June’ was read out. In his speech Mountbatten explained the salient features of the Plan of transfer of power. He did say, “This I hope will be within the next few months…power can be transferred many months earlier than the most optimistic of us thought possible…”7 But he said nothing about the date of transfer of power. And yet this was an occasion on which he should have felt obliged to indicate the date.
No one raised the issue of the date! Why had they ignored such a crucial matter? I referred this question to some scholars on the subject. No one could explain it. There really was no worldly explanation. The matter was beyond the normal human grasp.
It was obvious that during the critical days of June 1, 2 and 3 the question of date of the imminent Partition of India was missing from the minds of the authorities who were directly concerned with the Transfer of Power Plan. It seemed as if this question had been prevented from entering their minds! That’s exactly what happened—however unbelievable may it seem to the unbelievers!
This question remained left out, till the scheduled moment for bringing up the question and its answer arrived. That moment was at the end of Mountbatten’s press conference in the legislative assembly chamber in Delhi on the morning of 4 June 1947. Here is the dramatic narrative of that press conference, as described by the authors of Freedom at Midnight:
It was the second time in the history of Britain’s Indian Empire that a Viceroy gave a press conference. It was also the last. Three hundred journalists, correspondents of the USSR, China and Europe, mixed with the representatives of India’s press, regional, religious and linguistic mosaic of journals, all following with extraordinary intentness the monologue of the Viceroy.
Mountbatten concluded his talk to a burst of applause and opened the floor to questions. For the first time the press were meeting the one and only man who had the whole thing at his fingertips.
Suddenly, when the long barrage of questions began to trickle out, the anonymous voice of an Indian newsman cut across the chamber. His was the last question awaiting an answer. It was the last square left for Mountbatten to fill in the puzzle he’d been assigned six months before.
‘Sir,’ the voice said, ‘if all agree that there is most urgent need for speed between today and the Transfer of Power, surely you should have a date in mind?’
‘Yes, indeed,’ replied Mountbatten.
‘And if you have chosen a date, Sir, what then is that date?’ pressed the questioner.
A number of rapid calculations went whirring through the Viceroy’s mind as he listened to those questions. He had not, in fact, picked a date. But he was convinced it had to be very soon.
‘I had to force the pace,’ he recalled later. ‘I knew I had to force parliament to get the bill through before their summer recess.’
He stared at the packed assembly hall. Every face in the room was turned to his. A hushed, expectant silence broken only by the whir of the wooden blades of the fans revolving overhead stilled the room. ‘I was determined to show I was the master of the whole event,’ he would remember.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I have selected a date for the Transfer of Power.’
As he was uttering these words, the possible dates were still whizzing through his mind like the numbers on a spinning roulette wheel. Early September? Mid-September? Mid-August? Suddenly the wheel stopped with a jar and the little ball popped into a slot so overwhelmingly appropriate that Mountbatten’s decision was instantaneous.
It was a date linked in his memory to the most triumphant hours of his own existence, the day in which his long crusade through the jungles of Burma had ended with the unconditional surrender of the Japanese Empire. What more appropriate date for the birth of the new democratic Asia than the second anniversary of Japan’s surrender?
is voice constricted with sudden emotion, the victor of the jungles of Burma about to become the liberator of India announced: ‘The final Transfer of Power to Indian hands will take place on 15 August 1947.’ 8
Marvellous spectacle! Conceived and directed with absolute precision by the unseen forces of divine power.
“And none can comprehend thy Sustainer’s Forces save
Him alone, and all this is but a reminder to mortal man.” 9
1. Jinnah, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali: Speeches as Governor General of
Pakistan 1947-1948. Rawalpindi, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, p. 99.
2. Letter, dated 27 August 2005, by Director National Documentation Centre,
Cabinet Division, in reply to my questions on the subject.
3. Nicholas Mansergh and Penderel Moon, eds. Constitutional Relations between
Britain and India: The Transfer of Power 1942-47, Vol. XI, London, Her
Majesty’s Stationery Office, first published 1983, Section 45, P. 89.
4. Stanley Wolpert. Jinnah of Pakistan, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1984, P.304.
5. Ibid, p. 314.
6. Britannica, 1977, Micropedia, Vol. VII, p. 90.
7. The Transfer of Power 1942-47, Vol XI, Item 44, p. 88,
8. Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. Freedom At Midnight, Delhi, Vikas
Publishing House, 1976. pp. 164,165.
9. Qur’an Majeed, Surah 74, Ayah 31.