Apart from the harrowing tales of violence and bloodshed that marked the partition of India, on India’s 71st Independence Day celebrations, Bollywood is all set to re-visit the circumstances that led to the partition.
In her upcoming movie, Partition: 1947, Gurinder Chadha draws on historical data to underline how “The Mountbatten Plan” was not devised by Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British to the colonial India, and how “The Radcliffe Line”, drawn to divide India into East and West Pakistan, was not drawn by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, chairman of the Border Commissions appointed by the colonial masters. As interesting as the narration sounds, Chadha’s choice of historical facts has not gone unnoticed by historians. At a panel discussion that followed the pre-screening of the movie earlier this week, Chadha explained, “We tried to portray the Viceroy’s House as a minuscule reflection of everything that was going on outside, across the country. The tensions between Hindus and Muslims were high and the news of riots kept pouring in. Jinnah was demanding the creation of a separate state for Muslims, Gandhi was defiantly opposed to it and Nehru was citing circumstances.” The movie focuses on a map that General Hastings Lionel Ismay, Winston Churchill’s chief military assistant during the Second World War, gave to Sir Cyril Radcliffe. In the movie, Chadha has portrayed how Radcliffe wanted more time to survey the vast number of villages to properly demarcate the boundary and suggested that the United Nations should be asked to help, but his idea was rubbished by Ismay who reveals how a map demarcating the new border had already been drawn in 1946 and, therefore, there was no need for a survey. However, Lord Mountbatten only comes to know about the whole English plot only after partition has been announced. According to Chadha’s film, colonial rulers wanted to take advantage of the oil reserves and other resources to counter the rising Russian power. The demarcation was done in such a way that the resource-rich provinces like modern day Sindh, Khyber Pashtunkhwa and other far-north provinces of undivided India went to Pakistan with whom the British had an understanding. In the movie, Mohammad Ali Jinnah knew about the real English interest all along and still continued with the demand for a separate nation. Ismay’s character is seen to be acting as a watchdog who ensured that partition was carried out smoothly much against the intention of Lord and Lady Mountbatten, who only wanted to help India in transition from a colony to a democratic state and were against dividing it along communal lines. Historian Aditya Mukherjee said, “The communal colour inherent to the partition was not the reason behind the riots. There exists enough evidence to prove that the riots were orchestrated. Known survivors have stated that they could not recognise the attackers. So, the whole theory that neighbour turned on neighbour is false. In fact, there are innumerable anecdotes of people where they have emphasised how their neighbours from a different community saved them from the rioters.”
Slated to be released on 18 August, Partition: 1947, in a brief but powerful scene, the movie shows Gandhi sleeping on a cot on the terrace, on the eve of 15 August 1947 amid firecrackers and Independence celebrations. Countering the symbolism, Aditya Mukherjee explained, “The scene can be interpreted in terms of the isolation that Gandhi had to face towards Independence. He was totally sidelined by Nehru. They were not even on talking terms. At the time of partition, Gandhi was touring Bengal trying to stop the brutal riots. He was fasting during that time which is why his character can look obscure, but not ignorant of Independence.”