FREEDOM FILES: How Mountbatten Neutralised Sikh Bogey
The Viceroy was aware that trouble from the Sikh community was threatening; this knowledge he shared with his Cabinet and his advisers and took frequent opportunity to remind them of it
As angry rhetoric flew across the border with both Karachi and New Delhi not mincing words, the punch up in Kashmir was getting uglier as Indian forces attempted to chase out Jinnah's raiders. A bellicose Pakistan tried its best to nail the Indian government repeatedly on a whole welter of issues. Opening a new front in the United Nations, Pakistan fulminated against what it called the Sikh Plan where the Viceroy, now Governor General Lord Mountbatten was involved. Arguing Pakistan's case with great vehemence was Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan KCS, an eminent jurist and diplomat who served as the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan and the first Asian and the only Pakistani to preside over the UN General Assembly and the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Khan became one of the most vocal proponents of Pakistan and led the case for the separate nation in the Radcliffe Commission, which drew the countries of modern-day South Asia. To counter Khan, it became incumbent on Mountbatten as the first Governor General of India to present the true facts. In a top secret and confidential aide memoir for the Indian delegation to the Security Council, he refuted the charges in connection with the Sikhs.
1.The charges that have been leveled at the present Governor-General of India by Sir Zafarullah Khan appear to fall into two compartments, i.e.:-
(a) That, as Viceroy, he knew the “Sikh plan”; and
(b) That, knowing it, he failed to take effective action, in the form of arresting the leaders and crushing the troublemakers, despite previous assurance that he would.
2.Concerning the first charge, the Viceroy, like any other reasoning and intelligent man, was aware from the very start that, following on the massacres of Sikhs by Muslims at Rawalpindi, trouble could be expected at one stage or another from the Sikh community. On many occasions this matter was discussed between the Viceroy and members of his coalition Cabinet and others – at Cabinet meetings, during private interviews, and at meetings of the Partition Council and, later, the Joint Defence Council. No one in the higher spheres of Government, including the Muslim representatives, was under any misapprehension about the Sikh problem.
3. As far back as 26th April, 1947, the Viceroy told Mr Jinnah, then President of the Muslim League and now Governor-General of Pakistan, in an interview that he had become convinced that any attempt to impose a mainly one-community Government on the Sikhs would produce immediate armed retaliation which might end in civil war. To this Mr Jinnah replied that he thought that the Viceroy’s talk with Sikh leaders must have had good effect, since he had had a private emissary from Giani Kartar Singh with the suggestion that they should hold discussions about a “Sikh State” joining Pakistan after partition: he had accepted Kartar Singh’s offer to come to Delhi to see him. Mr Jinnah went on to claim that the Sikhs liked him personally and had always trusted him, and that he had stated publicly that he would support the Sikhs against the Muslims any time that any Muslims took unfair action against the Sikhs.
4. About a week later, on 2nd May, 1947, the Viceroy again discussed the Punjab problem with Mr Jinnah and Mr Liaquat Ali Khan. Both asked why a Muslim League Government should not be formed in that Province. In the course of his reply, the Viceroy pointed out that, if the Punjab were to go out of Section 93 Government, it would be doing the Muslims a bad turn as the Sikhs might fight them. Mr Jinnah and Mr Liaquat Ali Khan accepted this view.
5.Among the last of these interviews was that of 5th August, 1947, (which Sir Zafarullah Khan erroneously stated to have taken place early in July), at which Sardar Patel, Mr Jinnah, Mr Liaquat Ali Khan and Captain Savage of the Punjab CID were present. The last-named had brought with him some evidence bearing on the plans the Sikhs were preparing. Indeed this was about the only detailed and factual evidence that was ever procured, since the intelligence departments on which the Government of India had relied in the past were working under great handicaps due to the rapid decrease in the number of experienced British officers, the temporary lack of experienced Indian officers to take their places, and the general disarrangement due to partition.
6. The particular plots which Captain Savage claimed to have unearthed were, first, that some young Sikhs were planning to blow up a special train carrying Pakistan Government personnel from Delhi to Karachi; and, secondly, that Mr Jinnah was going to be assassinated during the ceremonies at Karachi on 14th August, the day before the transfer of power. It was understood that a bomb was to be thrown at him during the State Drive through the streets.
7. So far as the first of these plots was concerned, a discussion followed as to whether the Pakistan Government specials should be allowed to proceed or not. Mr Liaquat Ali Khan stated that he had given directions for all the Pakistan trains to take every possible precaution; concerning this particular train, which was believed to be in particular danger of attack, he had insisted that it should go none the less, but had strengthened its military escort and arranged for the Inspector-General of Police to be informed. He now reiterated this insistence.
8. So far as the second plot was concerned, the Viceroy, whilst of course expressing great concern at the possibility of Mr Jinnah’s assassination, did not feel that, on the strength of the information that Captain Savage had produced, the danger of this was sufficient to cause the cancellation of the Karachi ceremonies. He had arranged to accompany Mr Jinnah, in an open car, in the State Drive through Karachi on 14th August. This he subsequently did.
9. To return, however, to the meeting on 5th August (of which the full record is in the ex-Viceroy’s files). Mr Liaquat Ali Khan went on to give his opinion that the Sikhs were likely to react on the announcement of the Boundary Commission’s award. After further consideration of the matter, the meeting accordingly decided unanimously to recommend that Master Tara Singh and other suspected Sikh ringleaders should be arrested at about the time of the award; and that a letter to this effect should be sent to the Governor of the Punjab, who was the person responsible for considering such a recommendation, and, if he agreed with it, putting it into effect.
10.This brings us to the second accusations of the Sir Zafarullah Khan and the first part of this concerns was the failure to arrest the Sikh leaders. As just stated, a letter, dated 5thAugust, 1947, was sent to the Governor of Punjab. An extract from this letter reads as follows :
“It was agreed that there would have to be a common policy in the matter and His Excellency said that he would ask you to discuss the matter with Sri Chandulal Trivedi and in due course with the Premier of East Punjab and the Premier (as soon as he is chosen) of West Punjab. It was recognized that you might wish for a little more time to consider the matter and possibly after your discussions to make other recommendations.”
11. The reply to this letter was written on 9th August, 1947, and the opening paragraph reads as follows:
“I have now discussed this matter both with Trivedi and with Mudie, and we are all agreed :
(a) that the arrest of Tara Singh and his friends now or simultaneously with the announcement of the Boundary Commission’s award cold not improve and might worsen the immediate situation; and
(b) that though it may be necessary for me to make the arrests after the announcement of the award and before 15th August, 1947, if the Sikhs give very serious trouble, it would be far better to leave them to be dealt with by the new Governments of West Punjab and East Punjab.”
12. The Viceroy judged that the views of the men on the spot, particularly as they included the future Governor of the Pakistan Province concerned, Sir Francis Mudie, should be accepted, and action was therefore left to their discretion.
13. Finally, there is the charge concerning the failure to use force to crush disturbances. The Viceroy at all times made it perfectly clear that so long as the responsibility was his, he would use all the means at his disposal, to achieve the immediate object. But it must be borne in mind that he was speaking in his capacity as Viceroy with direct and absolute authority: after 15th August, 1947, as Constitutional Governor General, this authority was no longer vested in him, and the personal responsibility for carrying out any such action was removed from him as from that date.
14. Sardar Baldev Singh, as Defence Minister of the Indian Interim Government, was fully aware of the Viceroy’s policy in this matter, as indeed were the other members of the Cabinet. In the middle of May, GHQ India was instructed to move an extra Infantry Division into the Punjab. Further troop movements were made after that date. By mid-August, the troops concentrated in the Punjab totaled 55,000 officers and men, composing a joint inter-dominion force. They had with them such tanks and armoured cars as could be provided from an Army that was in the throes of reconstitution: the employment of artillery and aircraft, however, in the suppression of internal disturbances is most reluctantly embarked upon by military authorities, due to the inevitable loss of a large proportion of innocent lives, and for this reason, with the full agreement of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, those weapons were not used.
15. In conclusion, therefore, the Viceroy was from the start of his term of office aware that trouble from the Sikh community was threatening; this knowledge he shared with his Cabinet and his advisers and he took frequent opportunity to remind them of it. But to say that he was aware of any plan is incorrect, since, for the reasons stated above almost no details were known to the intelligence departments. That no arrests were made was the result of the judgment of the authorities in the Punjab who included the Governor of the future Pakistan Province of West Punjab. Finally, a large force was provided for internal security duties, which were carried out, under conditions of great stress, with ability and firmness.
(This aide memoire is datedMarch 1, 1948)
1. It is possible that Sir Zafarullah Khan will try again to involve Lord Mountbatten’s name by pointing out to the Security Council that the Punjab Boundary Force operated under the Joint Defence Council, of which Lord Mountbatten is Chairman.
2. If this is done, it should, of course, be made clear that Lord Mountbatten is Chairman of the Joint Defence Council in a completely independent capacity. He is, in this appointment, equally the servant of Pakistan and Indian governments. It would be highly irregular, therefore, for the Government of Pakistan to attack a servant of their own before the Security Council.
3. Furthermore, the Joint Defence Council is constitutionally incapable of taking any decisions, which are not agreed to be by the Ministerial representatives of both Governments. Any decisions it may take are the joint responsibility of those two Governments, and in no way that of the independent Chairman.
Such was the ferocity of the angst on the Pakistan side at that point in time that they saw Indian shadows of influence everywhere. Viewed as big brother from then itself, Pakistan thought it was getting the short end of the proverbial stick. This mindset of nursing a grouse has never helped, though it must be said that it has mastered the art of optics by playing the diplomatic offensive smartly. And this game of subterfuge it has played steadfastly over the years. They hit the ground running and have not stopped yet. The animus against India based on a boilerplate of chicanery and deceit. Throw in a few lies and you have a nice broth of seamy soup, which Pakistan has been feeding the world. That it chose to target Mountbatten as well because it believed he sided with India in crucial decisions tells you how low it could stoop to. Of course many historians reckon that he did, but that is the subject matter of another treatise.
(Using hitherto unpublished documentation and confidential correspondence, the writer has tried to piece together unknown facts in order to connect dots.)
Sandeep Bamzai