Kuldip Nayar demystifies Cyril Radcliffe award

The Radcliffe Award

‘I NEARLY GAVE YOU LAHORE,’ JUSTICE LORD CYRIL RADCLIFFE, chairman of the Boundary Commission, told me. ‘But, then I realized that Pakistan would not have any large city. I had already marked Calcutta to India.’ Lahore had Hindus and Sikhs in a majority and was way up in assets. He sounded convincing, but really he had no other option because Pakistan had a paucity of large towns.

Radcliffe was formally dressed in a jacket and a necktie. He had been a judge for a long time and it was probably his habit to wear a jacket when he met a visitor. But there was no formality in his manner. I found him a simple, straightforward person during my conversation with him. He opened the door himself when I rang the bell of his flat. The room was cluttered with old furniture, with things he must have collected over the years. The living appeared austere. He had no servant or maid because he went himself to a kitchenette,which I could see from the sofa in the sitting room, to place a kettle on the burner to prepare tea.

This conversation took place in Radcliffe’s flat in London towards the latter half of 1971, when I had gone there to meet Lord Mountbatten, the last British governor-general. I wanted to know how the boundary lines of India and Pakistan had been drawn. Although the Boundary Commission had four more members – two from India, Mehar Chand Mahajan and Teja Singh, and two from Pakistan, Din Mohammed and Mohammed Munir – they were all serving judges. Radcliffe was the one who had actually made the decision, because the Commission had been divided; India’s members on one side and those from Pakistan on the other.

What yardstick did Radcliffe apply? I was keen to know. I found to my horror that Radcliffe had had no fixed rules to go by when he drew the boundaries between India and Pakistan. He had gathered sufficient data by the time he came to demarcate the borders. The two sides were exhaustive in their presentation. He had read tonnes of material as well. The ticklish part of his assignment, he said, was to partition the last track of Punjab and Bengal on the basis of religion.

Therefore, his decision to give Lahore to India and then to reverse it in favour of Pakistan was understandable. He had some kind of balance in mind. That Mohammed Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, had recommended Radcliffe’s name, had nothing to do with it.

‘Are you satisfied with the way you drew the border lines between India and Pakistan?’ I asked.

‘I had no alternative; the time at my disposal was so short that I could not do a better job. Given the same amount of time, I would do the same thing again. However, if I had two to three years, I might have improved on what I did,’ admitted Radcliffe. He had just flown once over parts of northern India in a Dakota before demarcating the borders. ‘If the aspirations of some people were not fulfilled,’ he said, ‘the fault lies in the political arrangements, with which I am not concerned.’

Indeed, Radcliffe was given very little time to finish his work. He was delayed because the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Bengal had to vote for the division of the two provinces, a legal obligation. Radcliffe was in Shimla when Mountbatten nominated him the chairman of the Boundary Commission. He told me that he would have preferred to work in Punjab in July. ‘It was impossible to undertake the field survey in June because of the heat,’ he said. But Mountbatten, according to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad told Radcliffe that he could not delay the work even by a day. Mountbatten would telephone him at least twice a day!

Radcliffe was not happy with the members on the Boundary Commission. All that they did, he said, was to put across the point of view of the country they represented. Both sides wanted maximum territory and argued at cross-purposes. One Muslim member came to him in private and pleaded for Darjeeling’s inclusion in Pakistan: ‘My family goes to Darjeeling every summer and it would be hard on us if the place went to India.’ Radcliffe had a good word for Mehar Chand Mahajan, the Indian Boundary Commission member who subsequently became India’s chief justice. He impressed Radcliffe with his erudition and legal knowledge.

‘The Muslims in Pakistan nurture the grievance that you favoured India,’ I told Radcliffe. He replied that they should be grateful to him because he had gone out of his way to give them Lahore ‘which deserved to go to India. Even otherwise, I favoured the Muslims more than the Hindus’.

It seemed that criticism of the boundaries he had delineated had reached his ears by the time I met him. He was irritated when I mentioned ‘the unhappiness’ of the Pakistanis. What hurt him most was the allegation that he had changed his report at Mountbatten’s instance. The allegation of the Pakistanis was that Mountbatten had put pressure on Radcliffe to give India the Firozepur and Zira tehsils to provide a link with Jammu and Kashmir.

‘I was not even aware of Kashmir,’ Radcliffe said. ‘I heard about it long after I returned to London.’

During the conversation, which lasted for more than one hour, I told him about the sharp differences between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. He was aware of them. He also knew about the wars the two countries had fought against each other. He felt sorry about what had happened. But he remained firm in his assertion that he gave Firozepur and Zira to India because that was what he believed was correct. He repeatedly told me that there was no pressure on him to do so. The only pressure exerted on him was to submit an early report, he said.

On 22 July, 1947, writing to Radcliffe, Mountbatten said that he had a discussion in Lahore with the Punjab Partition Committee.

Referring to the assurance he had given the Committee, promising that he would write to Radcliffe and emphasize the urgency of the earliest possible date for the Punjab Boundary Award, Mountbatten said: ‘It was emphasized (in the Punjab Paritition Committee) that the risk of disorder would be greatly increased if the Award was to be announced at the very last moment before the 15th of August. I know that you fully appreciate this, but I promised that I would mention it again to you, and say that we would all be grateful for every extra day earlier that you could manage to get the Award announced. I wonder if there is any chance of getting it out by the 10th?’

Replying the next day, Radcliffe said: ‘I will certainly bear in mind the importance of the earliest possible date for the Award … I do not think that I could manage the 10th. But I think that I can promise the 12th, and I will do the earlier day, if I possibly can.’

I did not ask Radcliffe about the letter Mountbatten’s naval attaché George Abell had written to Abott, secretary to the Punjab governor, since I was not aware of its existence at that time. The letter, dated 8 August 1947, said: ‘I enclose a map showing roughly the boundary which Sir Cyril Radcliffe promised to demarcate in the Award and a note describing it. There will not be any great changes from this boundary, but it will have to be accurately defined with reference to the village and zilla boundaries of Lahore district.’

The Punjab governor, Roy Jenkins, wrote to Mountbatten: ‘The enclosures were a schedule, I think, typed, and a section of a printed map with a line drawn thereon, together showing a boundary which included in Pakistan a sharp salient in the Firozepur district. This salient enclosed the whole of Firozepur and Zira tehsils.’ Jenkins also stated that: ‘About the 10th or 11th August when we were still expecting the Award on 13 August, at latest, I received a message from the Viceroy’s house containing the words “eliminate salient”…The change caused some surprise, not because the Firozepur salient had been regarded as inevitable or even probable, but because it seemed odd that any advance information had been given by the Commission when the Award was not substantially complete.’

It was ironical that Radcliffe, who divided India into two independent countries, advised ‘some joint control’ when it came to splitting the irrigation network of the Punjab between India and Pakistan. His Award gave the irrigation canals to Pakistan and the rivers feeding them to India, while the controlling headworks were evenly divided. But he continued to hint at ‘some joint control’. India’s then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, rejected it and characterized it as ‘a political recommendation’.

Since there was no ‘joint control’, the two countries, after the division, argued endlessly over their respective rights. Pakistan said that the rivers were common to the subcontinent and maintained that it was the sole owner of the waters and the headwork in its territory. It became such a divisive issue that Rawalpindi suggested that the matter be referred to the International Court of Justice at the Hague. But Nehru opposed the idea on the grounds that it would be ‘a confession of our continued dependence on others’.

Before saying goodbye to Radcliffe I posed the same question which I had asked Mountbatten. Did Mohammed Ali Jinnah hesitate when Pakistan was conceded? Mountbatten had said that he hadn’t. Radcliffe’s reply was: ‘It is very unlikely.’

I also checked with him the truth of Mountbatten’s claim that he had warned Jinnah that ‘his moth-eaten Pakistan will not last more than twenty-five years’. Radcliffe said, ‘You are the first person to have told me this. I never heard it before.’

As I left his flat, I wondered how India and Pakistan came to sign the Indus Basin Treaty.

In 1951, when Pakistan had been on the point of referring the dispute to the Security Council, an article by David E. Lilienthal, former chairman of the US Tennessee Valley Authority, appearing in an American magazine, saved the situation. He suggested a comprehensive engineering plan under which India and Pakistan could develop the entire Indus Basin jointly, ‘perhaps with the help of the World Bank’. Apparently, Lilienthal had consulted Eugene E. Block, the then World Bank chief, before writing the article. Both India and Pakistan saw to it that America too would give its blessings to the proposal. The development of the Indus Basin was found acceptable by India and Pakistan when the funds were promised. Since it suggested a way out, and was also laced with money, the Indus Basin Treaty was signed in 1960 between Nehru and General Ayub Khan, the martial law administrator.

In response to the formal proposal by the World Bank chief (November, 1951), a ‘working team’ of engineers had been appointed to tackle problems outside the political arena. India gave a guarantee not to disturb supplies until the end of the negotiations – and it kept its word though Pakistan continued to make allegations to the contrary. For nine years, the negotiations between India and Pakistan covered a long, tortuous route, and even in the last stages, both Nehru and Ayub Khan had to intervene to put the talks back on the track when the prejudice and cussedness of officials looked like derailing them. Pakistan had no problem because it was under military rule.

Nehru had to face criticism in parliament for accepting 19 per cent of the Indus Basin waters and agreeing to continue deliveries till Pakistan built alternative channels. Indian engineers had prepared a formidable case to prove that both Punjab and Rajasthan would be practically ruined if India were to stay its hands for the ten-year transitional period. Morarji Desai, then a member of Nehru’s Cabinet, organized opposition from political quarters. Even Gobind Ballabh Pant, the union home minister, who was loyal to Nehru, expressed his unhappiness over India’s ‘heavy contribution’ to the Indus Basin Development Fund. He wanted to get it adjusted against the value of the property that Hindu refugees had left in Pakistan.

Nehru brushed aside all objections. He was anxious to build good relations with Rawalpindi and thought a settlement of the water dispute would serve as the foundation upon which he could raise a durable structure of Indo–Pakistan amity.

Why didn’t it happen?

The successive rulers at New Delhi should give the answer.

Reproduced in arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers India Private Limited from the book Scoop authored by Kuldip Nayar and first published by them © Kuldip Nayar, 2006. All rights reserved. Unauthorized copying is strictly prohibited.

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Kuldip Nayar demystifies Cyril Radcliffe award

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