The seat of division of India & Pakistan

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, once, said, “Delhi is the graveyard of many Empires but nursery of a great Republic.” How true! Going back into history one finds that out of the Imperial India were carved out two independent nations of India and Pakistan. The official entrusted with the responsibility of drawing the line dividing the two new emerging nations was Sir Cyril Radcliffe. It is not known where Radcliffe lived while in New Delhi.

It is pertinent to point out that the capital of the British India was Calcutta (now Kolkata; 1858-1911) and Delhi from 1911 onwards till independence. There is, however, speculation as to the seat where the division of India and Pakistan took place. Since the seat of power during the British days was lodged in the Viceregal Lodge, it is logical to look for buildings and bungalows within the premises of the present Rashtrapati Bhawan (then known as Viceregal Lodge). It is also relevant to mention that there is another Viceregal Lodge, the present office of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Delhi. The villages of Dhaka (the Coronation Ground, also known as Radio Colony), Jagat Pur and Wazirabad were low-lying. These rural human inhabitations were inundated by the overflowing Yamuna during the rainy season, leaving behind a vast sheet of water once the flood receded. This became the ideal breeding ground for the mosquitoes. Consequently, repeated outbreaks of malaria forced the British authorities to look for an alternative site for the capital in the metropolis of Delhi. Thus the seat of the British Empire in India shifted from Old Delhi (Old Secretariat) to the Viceregal Lodge (the present Rashtrapati Bhavan) on the Raisina Hills. Lord Willingdon (Willingdon pavilion of Ferozeshah Kotla Cricket Ground and Willingdon – present RML hospital also enjoyed the Viceroys patronage), the then Viceroy inaugurated the new capital in 1931. It will, therefore be natural to look to a place in and around Rashtrapati Bhavan, as the seat for division of British India.

Since initial enquiries within the Rashtrapati Bhavan from the old officials did not reveal much, the author assisted by Col. Akash Bhanot, Commandant, President’s Body Guard and journalist Vivek Shukla (who specializes on Delhi buildings) set about the task in right earnest. It is well known that Sir Cyril John Radcliffe,a British barrister was vested with the responsibility of partitioning the Imperial India. Investigations also reveal that the present Press Club of India located on Raisina Road was the place where he used to live. Since it was his residence cum office, it obviously became the seat of division of the Indian Subcontinent into two new nations – India and Pakistan.

In fact, Radcliffe’s abode was a small bungalow, built as a hutment during the Second World War, like many other adjoining buildings. Barring the present Press Club, most of the buildings of that time have been demolished and new ones have come up on the nearby sites. Later, another important occupant of Radcliffe’s bungalow was Feroz Gandhi, a member of Lok Sabha. Journalist cum historian R.V. Smith has written that despite demanding schedule Radcliffe used to attend Sunday mass at the Church either at the Church Road (adjacent to present Rashtrapati Bhawan) or at Gole Dakkhana Church of the present St. Columbus School.   

Born in 1899, Radcliffe was a leading lawyer in England whose only visit outside The Big Isles was vacation in Italy. He was appointed Chairman of the Boundary Commission set up with the passing of the Indian Independence Act 1947 by the British parliament in February 1947. It had four more members, all legal luminaries of their time, two representing India – Mehar Chand Mahajan (who later became Chief Justice of India) and Teja Singh and two from Pakistan – Din Mohammad and Mohammad Munir. Importantly, the authorities in England had zeroed in on Radcliffe because he had no prior connections in India. His only asset was his private secretary, Christopher Beaumont who had the administrative experience and familiarity with the life in this part of the world. It is appropriate to add that Sir Cyril Radcliffe, being a stranger to India, was influenced by the advice of Fredrick Burrows, the Governor of Bengal. However, to keep up his neutral posture, Radcliffe kept a safe distance even from the Viceroy Lord Louis Mountbatten and the whole task was carried out in utmost secrecy.

It has come to light that a crude border had already been drawn up by Lord Wavell – the Viceroy of India (1943-47) before Mountbatten – prior to laying down his office in Delhi. This initial exercise provided Radcliffe with a launching pad to determine exactly which territories to assign to each country.

After arriving in India on July 8, 1947, Radcliffe was given just five weeks to demarcate the border. He soon met his college alumnus (Haileybury College, Oxford University) Mountbatten and travelled to Lahore and Calcutta to meet with commission members, chiefly Nehru from the Congress and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, President of the Muslim League. Radcliffe objected to the short time frame, but all parties were insistent that the demarcation be finished by the 15 August, the date decided for the withdrawal of the British from India. Mountbatten had accepted the post of Viceroy only on the condition of an early deadline. The task was completed just a couple of days before the withdrawal, but due to political maneuvering, not published until August 17, two days after the grant of independence to India and Pakistan.

The Commission was instructed to “demarcate the boundaries of the two parts of the Punjab on the basis of ascertaining the contiguous majority areas of Muslims and non-Muslims”. In doing so, it also took into account undefined factors. giving Radcliffe some leeway, but included decisions regarding “natural boundaries, communications, watercourses and irrigation systems”, as well as socio-political consideration. Given the deadlock between the interests of the two sides and their rancorous relationship, the final decision was essentially Radcliffe’s

Radcliffe’s report (the partition map) was submitted in August 1947 and Imperial India was partitioned into independent nations of India and Pakistan with ‘Radcliffe Line’ as the boundary between the two new countries. The line was decided by the Border Commissions chaired by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who was to divide equitably 175,000 square miles (450,000 km) of territory inhabiting a population of 88 million people. The immediate consequences of partition were horrendous, to say the least, for both countries. Radcliffe in turn was harassed and harried by Mountbatten. The partition came as a bombshell for Viceroy. He was ill prepared to face the evil consequences of the partition. It was a traumatising experience for one time-victorious Commander of the Allied Forces in the Far East who made the Japanese army surrender to him at Singapore in 1945. The killings and the aftermath of the partition terrified Radcliffe to such an extent that he requested Mountbatten to send him back to England immediately lest a disgruntled Hindu or a Muslim killed him. It is no surprise that Radcliffe practically jumped into an aircraft parked on the tarmac of the Safdarjung Airport, New Delhi (the only airport then in the capital city) to bid a tearful adieu to many sobbing souls orphaned by his award. 

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