Posted in History, India

Brexit and country divisions


Brexit has been in the news lately and gave rise to some thoughts. All EU states have a right to withdraw from the European Union, and Article 50 lays down the procedure.Two years is provided for the withdrawal and the UK can control the starting date for this. It seems a fair procedure, much better than the way in which individual countries were divided in the past.

So many countries have been divided over the centuries. I am not sure how the details were worked out in each case, though it would be interesting to study them. What happened in Israel and Palestine in 1948? How was the break up of Yugoslavia handled?  We know how Sir Cyril Radcliffe and his assistants sat in an office and divided the Punjab on a map. No time was given to the countries to work out the details.  W. H. Auden even wrote a poem on this.

‘Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on this land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
‘Time,’ they had briefed him in London, ‘is short. It’s too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we’ve arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you.’

Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.

The next day he sailed for England, where he quickly forgot
The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot.’

We generally read about wars, riots and migration, but very little about the details of dividing assets.Below are some aspects of the administrative division of India and Pakistan, based on my book, The Puffin History of India, vol 2.

When the Partition of India and Pakistan took place in 1947, the entire administrative machinery and all assets had to be divided. A Partition Council with representatives from both sides were responsible for this. In general, it was agreed that 80 per cent of the assets would go to India and 20 per cent to Pakistan.There was gold in the Reserve Bank and cash in other banks.There was also a national debt. Pakistan was to get  17 per cent of cash and sterling assets, amounting to 75 crore rupees,  out of which 20 crore was paid before independence. Pakistan would take on 17 per cent of the national debt and pay this over 50 years. Money notes too were  divided, but the notes had the name of India on them and Pakistan stamped all the notes with a rubber stamp, with their new country’s name. Pakistan also had to print new postage stamps.

In all the government offices in the country, tables, chairs, paper,pens, pencils, were counted and divided. Then there were typewriters, hat-pegs, mirrors, sofas, ink-stands, clocks, fans, water jugs, pin cushions, official portraits and photographs, and even chamber pots.A lot of arguing and quarrelling went on, about whom should get what. There were cars and bicycles, lathis and guns, and official uniforms and clothes. Musical instruments from the official

bands were divided, and books from the libraries. When books were divided, there was no attempt to keep volumes of encyclopaedias or similar book series together–some went to Pakistan, some to India.

Out of approximately 65,000 km of railways 11,379 would go to Pakistan, and out of 5,50,000 km

of roads, about 1,50,000 would fall in Pakistan. Since Pakistan was getting 27 per cent of roads and 17 per cent railway tracks, should it still get 20 per cent of railway wagons, engines, bulldozers and other equipment? These were some of the major questions raised. There was the long gold and white train, which the viceroy used to travel in. There were luxury cars and there were twelve horsedrawn carriages, six decorated with gold and six with silver, used in the viceroy’s house.The royal train stayed with India, while some cars went to Pakistan. As for the coaches, their fate was decided by a toss of the coin—the gold ones stayed in India and the silver went to Pakistan.

Stocks of wheat, rice, and food grains were divided. Boundary lines sometimes divided fields of crops. In Bengal, the division left jute mills in one country and jute crops in the other.

It was not just money and material goods that had to be divided, but also the government officials, police and army. From Pakistan, most of the Hindu and Sikh officials moved to India, while in India, Muslim officials had a choice about whether to stay back or to go. As for the police, there were some 7000 Muslims in East Punjab, and in the process of their transfer, the region was left without law and order.

For the armed forces, a reconstitution committee was set up, under the Partition Council. Before partition, the army had 5,00,000 men. After partition,2,80,000 were left in India.The Navy and the Air Force, as well as stores and equipment, vehicles and guns, were also divided.



A writer with ten published books and several articles, book reviews etc. I primarily write on history and religion, but also philosophical fiction.

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