From the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, we can learn that he was not as vehemently opposed to the Partition of India as one would expect. (See here)

Probably no one is more distressed than I am over the impending division of India. But I have no desire to launch a struggle against what promises to be an accomplished fact.

However, to what extent did he influence the resulting lines that were drawn or expedite the partitioning process? As an example, did he mitigate the intense riots and pressure from both sides? Or ease cultural and ethnic tension between Muslims and Hindu’s? Or what political leaders did he talk to to expedite the process?

  • 2
    I vote for this to be kept open, as an answer of "it's a false premise" is an answer; and people may very well be searching in the internet with this premise in mind. Oct 23 '13 at 1:49
  • 1
    Probably the best question is something like, "what exactly was Gandhi's stance on partition?" He said a number of things that can be interpreted by different people in different ways.
    – Tom Au
    Oct 26 '13 at 16:13

Gandhi was never in favor of Partition. Towards the time of independence Gandhi's influence in Congress decisions was reduced as he concentrated on other activities helping in the empowerment of population. He was kept in dark and was subsided from the important Partition-related discussions.

He also quoted - "If the Congress wishes to accept partition, it will be over my dead body. So long as I am alive, I will never agree to the partition of India. Nor will I, if I can help it, allow the Congress to accept it." Although sadly, he failed to prevent the partition. - Gandhi and Political History of Partition

Gandhi did not take part in celebrations of Independence day, he called it "Black day" and was in Calcutta trying to control communal riots there.

Reference: Freedom At Midnight, Partition and Gandhi(From answer of Arani)

  • Very informative; I would upvote if you included sources/citations for those of us who wanted to do further research.
    – MCW
    Nov 8 '13 at 11:37
  • @MarkC.Wallace: You can get more information about this by searching about Gandhi and Navakhali district. Nov 8 '13 at 17:50
  • I agree that this is the "official" history of modern India. And though I disagree with this answer, I feel that in the interest of fairness, I should add the reference that this response deserves. My own answer is in a different post.
    – Arani
    Nov 8 '13 at 22:36
  • Interestingly, if you go to the source of the new quote that you have added, India Wins Freedom by Maulan Abul Kalam Azad (p203), it seems Ghandi may actually have been involved in some of those discussions and modified his views about partition as a result. Sep 8 '18 at 14:02

Gandhi never called publicly for India's partition. Before the announcement of the partition plan (known as Mountbatten plan), he had said India could only be divided over his "dead body". But after the plan was announced, he urged all Indians to accept it (without explicitly supporting partition). But to say that Gandhi did not have enough influence in the Congress is, in my opinion, completely wrong. All Congress leaders, Nehru and Patel included, had sided with Gandhi for over 20 years in all internal and external conflicts. His hold over the Congress machinery was made even stronger by the fact that most state Congress leaders were "Gandhian" leaders -- leaders who had been mentored personally by Gandhi himself, and had always stood by his ideology (Example: Prafulla Ghosh in Bengal, Morarji Desai in Bombay, Rajagopalachari in Madras, etc). He had explicit veto powers over the decision of the Congress Working Committee (see Pant resolution). Had Gandhi publicly said that he opposed partition, it is hard to believe that the Congress could have gone against his public stance.

However, it is true that Gandhi tried to stop the communal riots that engulfed India. But this was not an exception, considering the fact that almost all Indian and Pakistani leaders at least claimed to have tried their best (and in many cases actually tried their best) to stop the destruction.

References: All books on India's freedom struggle deal with Gandhi's reaction to the Mountbatten plan, and his assassination due to his efforts to restore communal amity in India. References to the Pant resolution are found mainly in books dealing with the resignation of Subhas Bose (since it was used to force him to resign) from the Congress presidency, including his autobiography, The Indian Struggle. For leaders of provinces, check the first chief ministers (provinces) that were sworn in both 1937 and 1947, and their biographies (even a glance at Wikipedia shows this, but you have to look at their official biographies for more authoritative sources) -- majority of them had been inspired and led by Gandhi for over 20 years. For references on Gandhi's attempts to stop communal riots, see mkgandhi.org, and the book Freedom at Midnight.

  • @MonsterTruck You must understand that adding sources to this type of response is difficult, since it contains a lot of information, but I have tried my best.
    – Arani
    Nov 9 '13 at 12:31
  • @MonsterTruck Agreed with you, and have added sources accordingly.
    – Arani
    Nov 9 '13 at 15:24
  • Reasons behind the downvote, please? Is it because I disagree with the textbook version? I think as long as I give sources and give specific reasons, it should be okay.
    – Arani
    Dec 6 '13 at 16:36
  • Gandhi did have enormous veto powers at the time of the Pant resolution which was in 1939. But I am not sure that Gandhi really had much of a say in the processes that ensued after the Quit India Movement ended in 1945. Just the practicality of the situation was that even if the Congress wanted to blindly follow every word of Gandhi, they couldn't have done it without causing unpredictable chaos. And I think that the top leadership of Congress including Nehru and Patel had realized this--and thus, they did sideline Gandhi to be an advisory figure who didn't have the same vetos as before.
    – Dvij D.C.
    Mar 14 '19 at 23:24
  • @DvijMankad I cannot find a single public statement by Gandhi that he opposed the partition plan given by Mountbatten. I agree that Nehru and Patel feared chaos, but it seems Gandhi had the same fear too.
    – Arani
    Mar 23 '19 at 11:04

Gandhi had no effect on Partition at all. The British devolved power to the Provinces thus weakening the center- i.e. Delhi could not have waged a war to prevent any Province breaking away. Lord Wavell, as Viceroy, realized that the Army and the Central Bureaucracy could not stand against popular uprisings in the Districts. By bargaining with Gandhi and Jinnah, Britain hoped to be able to leave India honorably while protecting its investments there rather than having to scuttle and run and lose its investments in the ensuing anarchy. Gandhi knew the game was up once his tough minded lieutenant, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, realized that Liaqat Ali Khan, of the Muslim League, could not just paralyze the interim government but also create an anti-'Bania' (Hindu merchant) coalition which would tax Gandhi's supporters out of existence. Congress knew it couldn't allow ethnic cleansing of Muslims because they were a potential vote bank. However, it didn't have a great deal of power and local factors, not Cabinet ministers, decided things. Interestingly, some of the worst ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Pakistan wasn't carried out by Jinnah's Muslim League but rivals from other parties. There is a story about Gandhi (and Shurawardy) ending the Calcutta riots. As a matter of fact there were a lot of ex I.N.A soldiers and Leftists and wandering Sadhus and so forth attempting to combat communal tension. Gandhi certainly did not cause the blood letting of Partition and contributed a little to defusing tensions. However, his belief that sleeping naked with his great-niece would enhance his 'soul force' met a set back in Naokhali. The local Muslim 'pirzada'organizing the pogroms was far more successful. It was a bitter pill for Gandhi to swallow. Had he not been struck down by an assassin's bullets history might remember Gandhi very differently.

  • 1
    Sources would improve this answer.
    – MCW
    Sep 8 '18 at 11:20
  • I cannot find a single source saying the Center was less powerful than the states according to the Government of India Act. The entire negotiation process suggests the Congress High Command retained power over all the states.
    – Arani
    Mar 23 '19 at 11:18
  • The proposed Federal portion of the act forbade 'any discussion of, or the asking of questions about, a matter connected with an Indian State, other than a matter with respect to which the federal legislature has power to make laws for that state, unless the Governor-General in his discretion is satisfied that the matter affects federal interests or affects a British subject, and has given his consent to the matter being discussed or the question being asked'. So the Centre was weak w.r.t the States. The Brits hoped this would dissolve the power of the Indian National Congress.
    – Vivek Iyer
    Mar 5 '20 at 0:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.