This book is the first full-length study of the 1947 drawing of the Indo-Pakistani boundary in Punjab. It uses the Radcliffe commission, headed by Sir Cyril Radcliffe , as a window onto the decolonisation and independence of India and Pakistan. Examining the competing interests that influenced the actions of the various major players, the book highlights British efforts to maintain a grip on India even as the decolonisation process spun out of control. It examines the nature of power relationships within the colonial state, with a focus on the often-veiled exertion of British colonial power. With conflict between Hindus , Muslims and Sikhs reaching unprecedented levels in the mid-1940s , British leaders felt compelled to move towards decolonization. The partition was to be perceived as a South Asian undertaking, with British officials acting only as steady and impartial guides. Radcliffe's use of administrative boundaries reinforced the impact of imperial rule. The boundaries that Radcliffe defined turned out to be restless divisions, and in both the 1965 and 1971 wars India and Pakistan battled over their Punjabi border. After the final boundary, known as the 'Radcliffe award', was announced, all sides complained that Radcliffe had not taken the right 'other factors' into account. Radcliffe's loyalty to British interests is key to understanding his work in 1947. Drawing on extensive archival research in India, Pakistan and Britain, combined with innovative use of cartographic sources, the book paints a vivid picture of both the partition process and the Radcliffe line's impact on Punjab.
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book argues that the boundary commission headed by Cyril Radcliffe offers a window into the complexity of nationalist dealings with colonial power structures and of colonial strategies of control, even during decolonization. It examines the nature of power relationships within the colonial state, with a focus on the often-veiled exertion of British colonial power. The book traces the reluctant cooperation of South Asian elites with British leaders in setting up the Radcliffe commission. It focuses on partition's impact on Punjab, in the north-west wing of the South Asian subcontinent. The book also focuses on the high politics of the British withdrawal and of Indian and Pakistani independence. It deals with the ground-level impact of the partition process.
Sir Cyril Radcliffe's loyalty to British interests is key to understanding his work in 1947. The party leaders, both Congress and Muslim League, fundamentally misunderstood this aspect of Radcliffe's position. Radcliffe endeavoured to divide territory fairly, according to religious demographics, but other factors played a role as well. In attempting to buffer Amritsar and in allowing Mountbatten to persuade him that the Ferozepur salient would cause more trouble than it was worth, he demonstrated a concern for geopolitical matters. In an address to the Pakistani nation at the end of August 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah lamented the fact that the Radcliffe decision 'may not be a judicial but political award'. Jawaharlal Nehru apparently remained convinced of the value of legal experience, although he came to regret the structure of the boundary commission. Nehru recognized that the boundary commission's format had, worked against real South Asian influence, at least in Punjab.
Sir Cyril Radcliffe's reputation as a great legal mind may have been a compelling factor for the nationalist leaders, many of them lawyers themselves, who endorsed his selection for the crucial boundary commission post. Mountbatten made clear to Radcliffe in their early meetings that it was absolutely necessary to have a boundary line drawn before the transfer of power took place. Both Congress and Muslim League leaders perceived Radcliffe as impartial, in large part because he had never been a member of the Indian Civil Service. Radcliffe's Indian experience reinforced, rather than shook, his sympathy for imperialist values and actions. Radcliffe's writings also demonstrate that his time in India strengthened his imperialist leanings. The British Government's later use of Radcliffe showed it to be satisfied with his work in India. Radcliffe played a central role in a violent historical episode of India and Pakistan.
Sir Cyril Radcliffe's use of administrative boundaries reinforced the impact of imperial rule. Radcliffe's award retained for the postcolonial states of India and Pakistan a central element of the legacy of imperial rule; the raj's political boundaries marked the stability of its rule. In both the Punjab and Bengal awards, Radcliffe discussed canals, canal headworks, roads, railways and ports before turning to population factors. The irrigation systems and other infrastructure of Punjab and Bengal had been built to function under a single administration. The 'sketch map' sent by Mountbatten's office is one of the most controversial elements of this story. The base map Radcliffe used to delineate his boundary in Kasur tehsil focuses on one particular means of British administrative control: the collection of taxes. The most detailed of Radcliffe's maps, the 'Map of Kasur Tehsil' was very large scale, at one inch to two miles.
British leaders were astonishingly slow in grappling with the problem of determining a new international boundary line. The partition was to be perceived as a South Asian undertaking, with British officials acting only as steady and impartial guides. The Radcliffe commission was clearly concerned with delimitation, not demarcation; demarcation was left to India and Pakistan, after independence. Despite Cyril Radcliffe's central role in the boundary-making process, few historians have offered more than a cursory appraisal of Radcliffe the individual. As Radcliffe prepared for his voyage to India, the British Government began to speed up its withdrawal. On 4 July 1947, the government introduced an Indian Independence Bill in the British House of Commons. This bill included a clause that ultimately rendered Radcliffe's decision binding on both India and Pakistan.
This chapter builds on recent work in other borderlands, particularly scholarship on Bengal, to describe and analyse the development of the Punjabi boundary and the territory surrounding it. Beginning with the violence and mass migration of partition, the chapter examines the division's impact on areas near the border, both immediately after partition and in the years that followed. After tracing the evolution of the boundary disputes that arose from the Radcliffe award, the chapter deals with a brief discussion of the state of the borderlands at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The chapter also examines life on the India-West Pakistan border in the months following partition, attempting to reconstruct perspectives of people on both sides of Radcliffe's line. In February 1959, Pakistani and Indian delegates met again in Karachi to revisit the Sulemanke and Hussainiwala headworks disputes. In January 1960, India and Pakistan finally resolved their Punjabi boundary disputes.
Sir Cyril Radcliffe's line allotted 64 per cent of the area of undivided Punjab to Pakistan, with slightly less than 60 per cent of the populace. After Radcliffe's award was published and it became clear that both India and Pakistan were unhappy with it, the language used to describe the decision changed significantly. In early 1948, members of the British Parliament questioned Mountbatten's influence on Radcliffe's award. Mountbatten was a prime mover in the portrayal of Radcliffe as a completely independent figure. Beaumont thought that the irrigation system, particularly as it related to Bikaner, played a central role in Mountbatten's attempts to persuade Radcliffe to change his line in Ferozepur. On 19 March 1948, Mountbatten wrote to Evan Jenkins to say that he had no knowledge of any changes made to the boundary line 'between 8th and 13th August'. The geographical reality of the Radcliffe line remained as murky.
Arriving in South Asia on 8 July 1947, less than six weeks before the 15 August deadline for Britain's withdrawal, Cyril Radcliffe set to work clarifying the outlines of his task. Soon after his arrival, he met with the Congress and League nominees who would serve with him as boundary commissioners. Mountbatten leapt into damage-control mode, emphasizing that the boundary commission was independent and would interpret the mandate to consider 'other factors' on its own. Like most of the maps presented to the commission, Congress's maps emphasized the distribution of population. Based on census figures, creatively interpreted, as well as certain elements of infrastructure, they argued that all of central Punjab and even areas of western Punjab should go to India. Sikh map uses blocks of colour to differentiate Muslim from Hindu/Sikh majority areas. The Muslim League submission concentrated on showing Muslim majority areas.
With conflict between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs reaching unprecedented levels in the mid-1940s, British leaders felt compelled to move towards decolonization. Punjab had played an outsized role in Indian affairs since the nineteenth century, even though it was one of the British raj's last acquisitions. The Muslim League exerted relatively little influence in the province until the 1940s. The history of the demand for a separate Muslim state is too complex to address fully here, but it is important to note that Muslim League statements never specified where Pakistan's boundaries would fall. British efforts to map South Asia were limited by British perceptions of the land under their control. The Survey's maps did not capture the diversity of relationships, within and across these boundaries that would be disrupted by partition. As a result, Survey maps were useful only up to a point.