Risks of partition

Secretary of State’s comments on India policy for British Ambassador in Washington, 19th February 1947 (FO 371/63529)

Transcript

(7) We, therefore, think that Statement provides best prospect of being able to hand over functions of existing Central Government to a single Government having support of both major parties. But if, when date for withdrawal is reached, this is not possible we shall to hand over to whatever constituted authorities seem most representative of different of the country when the time comes. Paragraph 10 of the Statement is designed to avoid, on the one hand, commitment to create Pakistan (which will encourage League to be obstructive), and on the other, any indication that we should, whatever happens, hand over to one authority only (which would encourage Congress Party to be uncompromising).

(8) We realize, of course, that we are running risk that no settlement will be arrived at and that no settlement will be arrived at and that as date for our withdrawal draws near communal situation will deteriorate seriously. But this is just as likely to happen if we make no Statement because both sides will hope that we shall assist them against the other. We believe, therefore, that the right course is for us to be definite as to our intentions.

(9) It may be felt that a definite partition of India before our departure would, if there is no agreement, be preferable, in the last resort, to withdrawal in any way we propose. Cogent reasons were given in opening paragraphs of Cabinet’s Mission Statement of 16th May against any form of Pakistan because the area claimed by the Muslim League would contain far too great a minority of non-Muslim population while a smaller area having a substantial Muslim majority could not be capable economically of survival as an independent state. Partition would be violently resented by a large part of the Indian population including substantial elements in the area affected. The equitable demarcation of the areas to be separated would be a matter of extreme difficulty but it is not totally excluded by paragraph 10 of the statement if it is found inevitable at a later stage.

Return to The Road to Partition 1939-1947