Partition, Aurobindo, and the truth

Last Updated: Fri, Aug 28, 2009 20:47 hrs

"To find out where the truth lies, you should not depend on certain things: the first is tradition. Also do not depend on hearsay, on the scriptures, on rumours. Do not decide on the good and bad only on the good reputation of a teacher, or on the appearances of things. Remember also that you do not have the means to know all the facts of truth; therefore, you should not come to the conclusion, 'My conclusion is the only true one, everything else is false'. You would become dogmatic."



Thus spoke Gautama Buddha more than 2,500 years ago.

 "As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it (on a piece of touchstone), so are you to accept my words only after examining them and not merely out of regard for me," he added.

Who remembers this today?

For some, history has only to fit around tradition or ideology. Unfortunately for these new proponents of 'historical' orthodoxy, life or individuals are not just black or white. Some actors may have larger dark spots, others more white ones, but all have shades of grey.

It is not my purpose here to go into the rights or wrongs of Jaswant Singh's book on Mohammed Ali Jinnah (which I have not yet read), but the Enlightened One's words, "we have no means to know the entire truth" are probably true for the history of the Partition.

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Though we can get several glimpses, it is practically impossible to pass a final judgement on who were the "guilty men of the Partition". The truth of one sympathiser of Mountbatten will be different than one of Jinnah, Nehru or Patel.

But to ban a book because it does not paint the baddies black and the good guys white and therefore does not fit the Party line may be acceptable in a totalitarian China, but certainly not in the largest democracy of the world.

In the Partition tragedy, all actors have played their role. The cast was probably not good, but who could change it? The 'entire' truth which led to the final disaster is probably an addition of several smaller truths. One of the truths which is often forgotten is the strategic importance of Pakistan for the British.

London needed airbases in Pakistan (and would have been delighted to have some in Kashmir) to control the Soviet advances in Afghanistan and Central Asia; further an Islamic State as ally of London was useful for the British dealings in the Middle East.

Another interesting fact was expressed by Jawaharlal Nehru himself in 1956.

Speaking about the acceptance of the Partition by the Congress, he told his biographer Michael Brecher: "Well, I suppose it was the compulsion of events and the feeling that we wouldn't get out of that deadlock or morass by pursuing the way we had done; it became worse and worse. Further a feeling that even if we got freedom for India with that background, it would be very weak India, that is a federal India with far too much power in the federating units."

"The truth is that we were tired men and we were getting on in years too," he told Leonard Mosley in 1960. "Few of us could stand the prospect of going to prison again and if we had stood out for a united India as we wished it, prison obviously awaited us. We saw the fires burning in the Punjab and heard every day of the killings. The plan for partition offered a way out and we took it."

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Yet another important angle of the Partition saga which is omitted from history books but is vital to understand this puzzle, is the intervention of Sri Aurobindo, the great Indian rishi living in Pondicherry.
As he stated himself, he "always stood for India's complete independence
. [I] was the first to advocate [it] publicly and without compromise as the only ideal worthy of a self-respecting nation” in the early years of the 20th century.

In 1910, he had predicted that "after a long period of wars, world-wide upheavals and revolutions beginning after four years [1914], India would achieve her freedom". In the forties, he saw that "freedom was coming soon and nothing could prevent it ... [and he had] always foreseen that eventually Britain would approach India for an amicable agreement conceding her freedom."

Though Sri Aurobindo had retired from active political life after April 1910, in 1920 he was asked to rejoin the national movement and play a role in Indian politics. He refused, preferring to concentrate his energies on his integral sadhana.

But in 1940, when the entire humanity was faced with the grave danger of subjugation by the Nazi regime, he took a strong political stand by sending 10,000 francs to the French Caisse de Defense Nationale and Rs. 1000 to the Viceroy's War Fund. He explained: "[his] entire support for the British people and the Empire in their struggle against the aggressions of the Nazi Reich and our complete sympathy with the cause for which they are fighting. We feel that not only is this a battle waged in just self-defence and in defence of the nations threatened with the world-domination of Germany and the Nazi system of life, but that it is a defence of civilisation and its highest attained social, cultural and spiritual values and of the whole future of humanity."

Two years later, the war took another turn with the Japanese entry into the war on the side of Nazis. Singapore fell in February 1942; Malaya was overrun and the Japanese troops soon entered Burma,  closing in on India's borders. "For it was quite clear that the Japanese intended to invade India from the east through Burma and Manipur," wrote historian RC Majumdar. "No doubt was left on this point by the propaganda through radio that the Japanese were coming to deliver India from the yoke of the British."

The Indian leaders were in a dilemma: they knew how Japan had treated China and its Army was not welcome, but India wanted also to see the British out of the subcontinent.

It was in these circumstances that on March 23, 1942, Sir Stafford Cripps, a member of the War Cabinet, arrived in India with a proposal from the British government which was made public on March 30. As he put it, to achieve “the earliest possible realisation of self-Government in India, the British Government propose that steps should be taken to create a new Indian Union which will have the full status of a Dominion."

Key excerpts from Jaswant Singh's book

Many believed that the despatch of the Cripps Mission was mainly due to the pressure of the US President, Roosevelt. A US Senate had stated: "The American people would expect this Government to do everything within its power to obtain military participation by India... even though we had to go to the extent of dictating to England what she should do with regard to India ..."

Sri Aurobindo immediately saw that it was the opportunity for India to remain united and that if the proposals were not accepted, grave consequences would follow. On March 31, he sent a telegram to Cripps offering his 'public adhesion' to the proposal: "I welcome it as an opportunity given to India to determine for herself and organise in all liberty of choice her freedom and unity and take an effective place among the world's free nations. I hope that it will be accepted and the right use made of it putting aside all discords and divisions." Discords and divisions would only get worse with the years.

The next day, Sri Aurobindo sent his disciple, S. Duraiswami, a prominent Chennai  lawyer,  as his personal representative to Delhi to speak to members of the Congress Working Committee. Duraiswami was also to meet Dr. BS Moonje, Sri Aurobindo's former colleague and a leader of the Hindu Mahasabha.

The next day, Cripps cabled back Sri Aurobindo that he was "most touched and gratified by your kind message allowing me to inform India that you, who occupy unique position in imagination of Indian youth, are convinced that declaration of his Majesty's Government substantially confers that freedom for which Indian nationalism has so long struggled."

Despite Cripps' best efforts (as well as those of Colonel Johnson, the Special Envoy of Roosevelt), the proposal was rejected by the Congress. Duraiswami was received with disparaging remarks. Probably the only chance to keep the subcontinent united was lost by human intransigence. Fate had to follow its course.

Nirodbaran, one of Sri Aurobindo's attendants later wrote; "His seer-vision saw that the Proposals had come on a wave of divine inspiration. The scene is still fresh in our memory. It was the evening hour. Sri Aurobindo was sitting on the edge of his bed just before his daily walking exercise."

Nirodbaran added: "Duraiswamy went with India's soul in his 'frail' hands and brought it back, downhearted, rewarded with ungracious remarks for the gratuitous advice."

Another disciple, Indra Sen, accompanying Duraiswami wrote: "We met the members individually and the sense of the reactions were more or less to this effect: Sri Aurobindo has created difficulties for us by his message to Cripps. He doesn't know the actual situation, we are in it, we know better... and so on."

This episode is perhaps not the entire truth about the Partition, but the Cripps' Mission and its refusal has certainly been a critical turning point.

When the rejection was officially announced, Sri Aurobindo quietly said: "I knew it would fail."

Nirodbaran wrote: "We [the close disciples] at once pounced on it and asked him, 'Why did you then send Duraiswami at all?'  'For a bit of niskama karma,' was his calm reply, without any bitterness or resentment."

Yogis are not attached to the fruit of their actions, even if they have to perform them.

It is clear that India missed the boat in 1942. Later, bitterness increased and positions hardened, but unfortunately when Sri Aurobindo had pointed out the golden opportunity, Gandhi, Nehru and other great Congress (as well as the Hindu Mahasabha) leaders were not ready to listen.

India is still paying for the short-sightedness of its leaders.

And of course, Jinnah was the most intransigent of all of them.


Born in Angouleme, France, Claude Arpi's real quest began 36 years ago with a journey to the Himalayas. Since then he has been an enthusiastic student of the history of Tibet, China and the subcontinent. He is the author of numerous English and French books including. His book, Tibet: the lost Frontier (Lancers Publishers) was released recently.

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