August 15, 2018

Understanding Partition of India: Some of the Best Books to read

So a few years back, I really got fascinated about the partition saga. I got really curious to know more about the factors leading upto partition. I had always read conflicting theories about partition through online articles and social media debates. Some used to blame Britishers for deliberately partitioning India for their own benefits, some blamed Jawahar Lal Nehru for partition, and some even used to blame Gandhi ji for the partition!! All these talks and online readings made in bits and pieces, gradually made me curious about the partition issue, and I thought to read some books on the matter. So below are some of the books I have read, and some quick review about those books:-

1) Pakistan or the Partition of India :
Written by Dr. B.R. Amdekar, I read this book first, fascinated by it's title probably. This book has looked at the partition issue from a sociological perspective. Dr. Ambedkar seems to have had an immense knowledge and awareness of historical and political struggles going on around the world, and he has put forth his arguments on that basis. Dr. Ambedkar has discussed in detail about both pro-Gandhi and anti-Gandhi factions, and interestingly he has criticized both. On one hand he has discussed V.D. Savarkar's orthodox, Hinduism related policies, and on another, he has discussed Mahatma Gandhi's policies of  trying to bridge Hindu-Muslim gap by taking steps favourable to them. He has been a fierce critic of Gandhi ji. He has pointed out that despite Mahatma Gandhi's desperate efforts towards communal harmony, there was no let down in Hindu-Muslim riots. He has discussed the concept of  "Country" and "Nation", and he has thrown light on the concept of the famous "Two Nation theory", i.e. there lived two nations in the country named India. A major part of his book is focussed on discussing the huge sociological divide between Hindus and Muslims in India. He has tried to make his point that since centuries of time, there has been a deep divide between Hindus and Muslims in India, due to several factors. All in all, he has implicitly suggested that partition was a good thing to happen, and it was bound to happen sooner or later, due to the deep, unending differences between Hindus and Muslims.

2) Freedom at Midnight:  
Probably the most famous book on partition, written by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, this book is sometimes criticized to be biased towards the Britishers. But I found this book interesting to read. The book is based on extensive interviews conducted of the last Viceroy Mountbatten, his family members, and several other people. So it does seem to be telling the story from foreign eyes, but still it has thrown great deal of light on the partition issue. It has explained how the Indian politicians (including Jinnah) could never come to an agreement, which led to prolonged discussions. The book also tells the interesting fact about why partition was declared exactly at midnight. It also explains, with how much difficulty the exact partition lines were decided between India and Pakistan by "Cyril Radcliffe". And also, interestingly, the division demarcation was never disclosed till partition day. So on 15th August 1947, no one actually knew whether they were geographically in India or in Pakistan. The book also details about the lavish lives of princes of the princely states. It explains how the individual princely states were convinced to merge into India or Pakistan, leaving their hold on power. All in all a great book to learn about partition. A more detailed review of this book can be read here.

3) India Wins Freedom
Probably the best book, and should be must read for anyone trying to learn more about partition, and pre-independence politics. Written by Abul Kalam Azad, this book is special because the author remained Congress President for almost 6 years post 1939, and was involved as a representative of Congress in most talks/negotiations with Britishers- Cripp's Mission, Simla Conference, the British Cabinet Mission resolution etc. So he has given a kind of inside view of the negotiations going on in those times. He has also been pretty impartial about discussing the policies of Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel and Gandhi ji. He has criticized several decisions of Gandhiji and has clearly written that majority of Congress politicians were with Gandhiji NOT because they believed in non-violence, but because they believed that non-violent ways of protest was the best and fastest way to get Independence. In fact there was a moment when many Congress politicians were in favour of going against Britishers taking violent path. Regarding Gandhiji's murder, he has written in very detail how the conspiracy was hatched and multiple assassination attempt were taken. He has criticized Sardar Patel (being Home Minister) for willful negligence about Gandhiji's security. A large part of the book focussed on several political negotiations with Britishers about getting Independence, and that really throws a great deal of light on what all transpired, why those negotiations failed, and why ultimately the Partition had to be conceded. The most painful part he has discussed in the book, is the betrayal done by Congress towards Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, for not supporting their plea of demanding to keep the NWFP region in India. He wrote that Khan brothers had always been loyal supporters of Congress, but Congress and Gandhiji ditched them in such an important moment. After their region went into Pakistan, both the Khan brothers were jailed and tortured in Pakistan. In short, a really great book to read. The Font and Font size/spacing in the hardcover book available, makes the book slightly painful to read, but for it's content, one must not miss it.
4) The Shadow of the Great Game : The Untold Story of India's Partition :  Again a very exhaustive book, writing about things in very detailed manner. The author "Narendra Singh Sarila" had been ADC to the last viceroy Luis Mountbatten. Being ADC to the viceroy he must have seen things from close, hence his account seem very reliable. The Bollywood movie "Partition :1947" is based on this book. In this book, the author has argued that the partition was done by Britishers as part of much larger conspiracy to maintain hold over this part of Asia. The author has discussed things from the ongoing world politics at that time, and has thrown light on the Russian Vs Britishers fight for geographical supremacy. He has also brought in the viewpoint of maintaining control over rich Oilfield regions. The author's main viewpoint has been that Britishers were willing to leave, but wanted to take back a guarantee that the new, independent country will always support Britain in it's pursuit of increasing or maintaining hold over geographical locations through violent means (if it comes to that). Indian politicians were clearly in no mood to support Britain in any of their motives post independence. But the Britishers gauged the fact the Muslim politicians led by Jinnah were willing to give them this kind of logistic support for their military pursuits. The author was also of the view that the northern parts of India (NWFP, and Gilgit regions) were really important to Britishers for strategic reasons of halting Russians advances. This book is also very important to read the Jammu and Kashmir part of the story. The author has written in detail about J&K aspect, how the state was attacked by first Pakistani military led by British army men, and how they had captured some regions of J&K initially. And how the tribal led invasion was later undertaken by Pakistanis, which forced Raja Hari Singh to write a letter giving consent to merging of the state with India, in exchange for protection from Indian Army. The author also details how India made some mistakes of going to UN at wrong time, when they could have actually taken back the area of J&K captured by Pakistanis. United Nations headed by Britishers and Americans, were clearly biased against India's interests, was what the conclusion of author.                                     

5) Guilty Men of India's Partition: This book by Mr Rammanohar Lohia is primarily a critique of the Book “India Wins Freedom” (a kind of critical review of that book). This entirely revolves around countering the facts and statements written in that book. As a result this book is very short and should be read only after reading "India Wins Freedom". After reading the book, I  couldn't stop at marvelling what a visionary Rammanohar Lohia was! Many of his views still stands true and will stand true in times to come too. In criticizing the view of Maulana Azad he wrote quite many of his own independent views/assessments too. Primarily in this book, he keeps the focus on Pandit Nehru, tries to prove that Nehru was the main person from Congress side who should take the blame for India’s partition. He also illustrates one incident where Nehru conspires through Jayaprakash Narayan to put the blame of Mahatma Gandhi’s murder on the carelessness of Sardar Patel (Lohia’s own assumption here).  Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in his book, had written the opposite. He had put the major blame of partition on Sardar Patel and towards the end he also blamed Sardar Patel's for Gandhi’s murder! So this book of Rammanohar Lohia is a must read for anyone who has read “India Wins Freedom”. It throws its own perspective on the happenings in pre-partition times, and some very interesting and enlightening ones! A few of his conclusions and presumptions seemed over the top and untrue. He hardly wrote anything about Sardar Patel, and he also skipped how/why Gandhi agreed to partition proposal, despite raising the point countering Maulana Azad’s view in his book. Comparatively, Maulana Azad in his book, had written about both Nehru and Patel, how they both had agreed to partition. His assessment had seemed more logical. Lohia’s assessments seem driven by prejudice (one sidedness) against Nehru or against the inaction of Maulana Azad for being inactive in stopping partition. All in all, I think since this book was written as a review of “India Wins Freedom”, it should be taken with a pinch of salt, with a limited purview of  a supplementary book to “India Wins Freedom”.

6) Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire:-
As the cover photo itself suggests, this book heavily focuses on Mountbatten-Edwina-Nehru’s relationships. The author goes to a great extent to prove that Edwina and Nehru were in love. A few instances have also been cited where Edwina was able to influence Nehru’s political decisions. So on that part, it did well. There is a good dedicated chapter on Kashmir issue too. All in all, a very good book with some very interesting facts. What I didn’t like about this book though, is that more than half of the book (370 pages), was dedicated to exploring personal lives and family trees of Mountbatten, Edwina and Nehru. It does it so much, that sometime I felt as if I was reading a fiction novel!! I also felt that the author’s views came a bit biased at times. Being a britisher, she seems to have looked at events and decisions from a British perspective. But that’s not a big issue I feel, every author will be supposed to have some bias which we need to filter out as a reader. But all in all, a very good book to enhance the knowledge of partition. Every new book throws a new perspective on partition, and I am sure this book too does a great job at that! 

7) Midnight's Furies:- The prologue of this book reads-
"This book aims to answer a different question- not why the subcontinent was split, or who was to blame for the massacres, but how the experience of partition carved out such a wide gulf between India and Pakistan. How did two nation with so much in common end up such inveterate enemies so quickly"
And I think the book does that task pretty well. This books stands out in the way it throws light on the India-Pakistan conflict post partition, which laid ground for such a long persisting acrimonious relationship between the two nations. Almost the whole of last 4 chapters of the Book, is focused on detailing issues and conflicts revolving around the three contentious regions- Junagadh, Hyderabad and Jammu & Kashmir. And this was the first book I read, in which their strategic inter-relation is emphasized so well. Essentially, after partition, these three were the states which were undecided ones, and it was a matter of prestige and ego, for Pakistan to have these, and a matter of security concerns for India, to have it made part of India. A lot has been written on this, as to how both countries tried to make all the three their own. Ultimately, India was able to take Junagadh and Hyderabad, and Jammu & Kashmir ended up in stalemate. The matter of Jammu and Kashmir too has been written about in great detail. So this book did this part really well. Apart from that, the Book has also written in detail how Muslim League initiated trouble with call of Direct Action Day, and also about the role played by Hindu extremist organizations like RSSS in the aftermath. The gory detail of rioting and genocide in Punjab region too has been written about in great detail. And lastly, the book has pointed out in great detail the difference between the ideology and working style of Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel. At several points it has contrasted their ideology and working style, basically showing Nehru as more liberal, idealistic person, and Patel as a bit of orthodox, religion centric person. There has been several instances mentioned where Patel had worked sneakily (as Home Minister), keeping Nehru in dark, because he understood Nehru would have never agreed with his actions. So in this aspect too, the author has written so well.    All in all, a great book to read.

remembering partition
8) This Book is not for beginner readers of India's partition. This book focuses almost entirely on the violence surrounding partition times - starting a few months prior to partition, and onwards. The title of the Book is a bit misleading, in the sense that, it doesn't give any information about the cause of partition, or the political events and decisions surrounding partition. It could have been better titled- "Remembering the Violence around Partition". Basically, the author assumes that the reader has already enough knowledge of India's partition, why it happened, how it happened and all the political events surrounding it. And starting from that assumption, this author focuses only the violence around partition and how they have been covered in various historical Books. The author picks up several examples of violence, and mentions several interviews of people who have lived those times, and tries to analyze the sociology and mindset of people during those times. The author also tries to analyse how those violence and the statistics about them have been reported by various Books, committees. As per him, most stats were exaggerated, biased or based on hearsay, rather than based on first person accounts. He also tries to analyse how people who have lived those times, and are alive now, talk about those events. As per him, most people claim that those incidences of violences never happened in their region, and in stead in some other adjacent area! The author also analyses various claims and counter-claims by both sides, and try to analyse who tried to say what, for which reason. More detailed review of this book written by me, can be read on the Book's Goodreads page here. I found it a great Book on India's partition, giving a different and unique perspective into the violence of those times. A great book to read, but not a must read.

In Fiction
1) Train to Pakistan:- Khushwant Singh has written such a realistic fiction that one gets completely drawn into the story. It seems also quite close to reality, going by the narratives of other non-Fiction books read. Must read to realize the horror of partition through a gripping story.
2) Toba Tek Singh:- Saadat Hasan Manto writes stories so real-life and gripping, that you can relate well to it. He was much ahead of his times. This is a story book containing several short stories based on society and people of pre-partition times. Again a very nice book which gives a quick glimpse into the lives of people in pre-partition times...

Have you read any of these books? Let me know your thoughts. Which else books you have read related to partition, and found to be good? Please let me know in comment section


  1. Very well articulated post.
    Very nice.

  2. Heyy Bhavna, Thanks for dropping by and appreciating my blog-post.

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