Seventy-five years since the Partition:
British imperialist strategy behind the partition of India

The Indian people will never ever forget the horrors of communal partition of the subcontinent in 1947. However, the history books hide the real aim of the partition and why it took place. Politicians of the Indian ruling class blame the politicians of Pakistan for the division of the subcontinent. They hide the truth that it was the British imperialists who masterminded it. They organised the partition of India to serve their own interest and the interests of world imperialism as a whole.

As the Second World War was coming to an end, the peoples of colonial and semi colonial countries of Asia were rising up in powerful struggle for their liberation from imperialist and colonial yoke. These included the peoples of China, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, Philippines, Iran, Iraq and Syria in addition to the Indian people. Many of these struggles were led by communist parties.

The British imperialists realized that they cannot continue with their direct rule over India for too long. They started working out their exit strategy even before the world war came to an end. In May 1945, a report was submitted to the War Cabinet on “The long term policy required to safeguard the strategic interests of the British Empire in India and the Indian Ocean”. Considering the socialist Soviet Union as the main threat to imperialist interests in Asia, the report cited four reasons for the strategic importance of India to Britain.

Its value as a base from which forces located there could be suitably placed for deployment both within the Indian Ocean area and in the Middle East and the Far East; a transit point for air and sea communications; a large reserve of manpower of good fighting quality; and from the North west of which British airpower could threaten Soviet military installations.”

(The untold story of India’s Partition – Narendra Singh Sarila, Page 22).

During 1945-47, the chiefs of the British Armed Forces repeatedly emphasized the necessity to retain the British military connection with the subcontinent. They stressed the importance of North West India in particular. They kept emphasizing that partitioning India would serve the strategic interests of Britain with respect to the oil rich West Asia, and East and South East Asia.

In February 1946, the sailors of the Royal Indian Navy revolted. The workers of Mumbai, Karachi, and Kolkata, led by communists, went on indefinite strike and came onto the streets in support of the sailors. The soldiers of the Royal Indian Army refused to fire on their brothers in the Navy. Revolt began to spread from the navy to the army and air force. The British imperialists speeded up their preparations to partition India before departing from the subcontinent.

In September 1946, British Chief of staffs submitted a report entitled “The strategic Value of India to the British Commonwealth”. It reiterated that the manpower and territory of India was indispensable for British imperialist interests. Some of the main points of the report were:

  • No potentially hostile power should be permitted to establish bases in the Indian Ocean area
  • The oil from the Persian Gulf is essential to the British Commonwealth and its safe passage must be ensured
  • If India became dominated by Russia with powerful air forces … Britain would lose its control over the Persian gulf and northern Indian Ocean sea routes
  • India is an essential link in our Imperial strategic plan.
  • India is also important because with coming of atomic warfare there is increased necessity for space and India has this space
  • For the Commonwealth to undertake military operations on a large scale in the Far East, India is the only suitable base
  • From a military standpoint of view, one of India’s most important assets is an almost inexhaustible supply of manpower

(The untold story of India’s Partition – Narendra Singh Sarila, Pages 239-240).

The British imperialists decided on organizing a communal bloodbath accompanying the partition of India, as their best option to retain their military foothold in this region. After they organised communal massacres in Calcutta in August 1946, NPA Smith, the Director of the Intelligence Bureau, wrote to the viceroy:

 “Grave communal disorder must not disturb us into action which would re-introduce anti-British agitation. The latter may produce an inordinately dangerous situation and lead us nowhere. The former is a natural, if ghastly process, tending in its own way to the solution of the Indian problem.”

The dangerous situation which the British intelligence chief referred to was the prospect of revolution by India’s workers and peasants. The “solution” was the partition of India along communal lines.

The big capitalists and big landlords of India were more opposed to a workers’ and peasants’ revolution than to British imperialism. They condemned the uprising of the naval ratings. They were eager to work out a deal with the British for transferring power into their hands.

To create the conditions for the communal partition, the British rulers carried out separate negotiations with the leaders of the Congress Party and Muslim League. They accentuated mutual suspicion between them, to ensure that they did not unitedly oppose the imperialist partition plan. Playing one party against the other, the British imperialists cunningly presented the communal partition as the only option. In their eagerness to prevent revolution and gain power in their hands, the rival factions of the Indian big capitalists and big landlords agreed to the British imperialist partition plan.

The partition of India served the strategy of British imperialism, by providing it a reliable base in the form of Pakistan in the North West region of India.

During the Cold War period, the Anglo-American imperialists worked to ensure that India and Pakistan were perpetually at loggerheads, in order to advance their interests.

During the Cold War period, the Indian ruling class built close relations with the Soviet Union, which included the signing of a military treaty in 1971. It exploited the conflict between the US and Soviet Union, to advance its own interests. The ruling class of Pakistan provided the British and American imperialists with military bases in their country. Pakistan joined the American led military alliances of CENTO and SEATO. The US imperialists used Pakistan as a staging post against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US imperialists used Pakistan as a breeding ground for terrorist groups to be deployed throughout the world. They blamed Pakistan for being the source of terrorism, hiding the truth that it was the US which had created these terrorist groups in the first place. The course followed by Pakistan over the decades has led to growing US imperialist interference in its affairs, with disastrous consequences for the people of Pakistan.

In the post-Cold War period, the United States of America has been systematically building and strengthening a strategic-cum-military alliance with India. The US wants to use the territory and people of India against peoples of other Asian countries including China, so as to achieve its aim of bringing the whole of Asia under its domination.

Conclusion

The British imperialists planned and executed the partition of India to defend their strategic interests in Asia after India became independent. The Indian bourgeoisie agreed to the partition driven by the fear of workers, peasants, and soldiers rising up in revolution.

The Indian ruling class has not learnt any lesson from the Partition engineered by British imperialism in 1947. In pursuit of its narrow imperialist aims, the ruling class of our country is continuing to endanger the sovereignty of India and peace in the region. It is pursuing a dangerous strategic-cum-military partnership with US imperialism. It is a course which can embroil our people in a devastating war.

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