Train from Delhi — ‘I think you would be better off opting for Pakistan’

14 Aug 2016


The trains brought thousands to Pakistan.
The trains brought thousands to Pakistan.

On June 3, 1947, All India Radio broadcast the live address of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah on the British government plan, or the Mountbatten Plan as it was also known, for the Partition of India.

We listened to the speech in Simla (now Shimla) where we were with our parents and where senior officials of the central government moved from Delhi every summer.

We had followed the comings and goings of political leaders in Simla for meetings with the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, at the Viceroy House in Simla.

Our favourite memory is of an immaculately dressed Jinnah, wearing a top hat, arriving on occasions for meetings in a rickshaw pushed by four men, which the steep ups-and-downs of Simla roads made necessary.

The speech left us euphoric.

However, while there was enormous passion and fervour for a Muslim homeland, mass migration of Muslims from India to the new state was not, until then, the focus, nor foreseen.

The Muslim demand for Pakistan was not founded on threat to their religion, Islam, in independent India with a decisive Hindu majority. It was founded on the veracity of biases and unfairness towards Muslims.

Also read: When Iqbal called for a Muslim India, within India

This foreboding was an outcome of the experience of 1937 when the Congress won the 1936/7 provincial elections held under the Government of India Act 1935 in 8 out of 11 provinces — the exceptions being Sind, Punjab and NWFP — and formed governments in these which it could retain for less than two years or until the start of WW2 in 1939.

The Muslim demand for Pakistan was not founded on threat to their religion, but on the veracity of biases and unfairness towards Muslims

During the short tenure of the Congress provincial governments, while there was no hindrance or interference with Muslims practicing their religion, or with azans and prayers in mosques and Muslims marking their festivals, nor with Muslim personal and family laws, there was a strong and distinct bias against Muslims in business, in services, in admissions to schools, in courts, in public affairs and other dealings.

When the time came, the All India Congress — to which many Muslims also belonged — showed itself to be in essence a Hindu Congress. Muslims resented being discriminated for their Muslimness rather than being assimilated as Indians. East Pakistan breaking away was for much the same reasons with East Pakistanis resenting being discriminated as Bengalis rather than being assimilated as Pakistanis.

Quaid-i-Azam delivers a speech on August 14, 1947, in Karachi as Lord Mountbatten looks on.
Quaid-i-Azam delivers a speech on August 14, 1947, in Karachi as Lord Mountbatten looks on.

Along with all this, riots broke out in Calcutta in August 1946 and, in the same year in October, the Hindus went on rampage in Bihar against the minority Muslims who suffered heavily.

Retaliatory riots against Hindus followed in Noakhali in East Bengal. Despite all this, there remained a feeling, specially among Muslims, that with India largely Hindu and Pakistan largely Muslim, a balance would keep both communities from being discriminated in either country.

With time, it was hoped, a manifest geniality would come to prevail with free movement of people and living and work options, much as in the European Union today.

The Partition was seen as means to enable two diverse communities to live as good neighbours if they could not live together.

Soon after the June 3, 1947 announcement of the Partition, we cut short the holiday and headed back to Delhi where our father was with the Department of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations.

An interim government made up mainly of Congress and some Muslim League ministers was in place since September 1946 under Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, and remained so till Aug 15, 1947. Nehru was the incumbent minister of our father’s department while Liaquat Ali Khan was the finance minister.

One day, soon after our return the secretary of the department, a highly regarded and apolitical Hindu officer, walked into our father’s office holding a paper and said,

‘I think you would be better off opting for Pakistan; it is not going to be as we thought.’

He said he had included my father’s name on the list of three officers for a meeting in London; the list came back with a line across my father’s name and a Hindu officer’s name, who was not connected with the agenda for the meeting, added in Nehru’s hand.

He said it had happened for the second time, he showed the paper with the tell-tale scratch. With a single stroke of the pen Nehru had vindicated Partition.

On foot or on bullock carts, the people migrated to the new land.
On foot or on bullock carts, the people migrated to the new land.

The next day, the arrangements for our move to Pakistan were completed, and we took one of the special trains from Delhi for Karachi August 8, 1947 with government personnel and their families who had opted for service in Pakistan.

Explore: Eyewitness accounts from 1947

It turned out that we left in good time because, soon, violent riots broke out in the Punjab and other areas. September 1947 was a particularly gruesome month for Muslims in Delhi, with many thousands taking refuge in the Purana Qila, or the old fort, to save themselves from the murderous and marauding Hindu and Sikh mobs attacking Muslim areas and homes.

The Muslim demand for Partition, or Pakistan, had to overcome strong opposition and testing hurdles, including from within Muslim ranks.

The Muslim religious leaders opposed Pakistan to the very end as, in their view, the demand was not for a theocratic state. The oppressive and exploitive landlords who also formed the political leadership of the biggest Muslim majority province in the west, Punjab, opposed Pakistan as they felt threatened it would change the status quo, to retain which they had formed the Unionist party.

In the exclusive Muslim province in the north west, NWFP, political power and the government belonged to the Khudai Khidmatgars — the party of strongly pro-Congress and Nehru supporters, the Khan Brothers.

The writer is a former corporate executive. He can be contacted at

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 14th, 2016