Book Review: Shadow Of The Great Game - The Untold Story Of India's Partition

"Bucher admitted to Gracey, the Pakistan C-in-C, that he had no control over Cariappa but hit upon an intriguing scheme to now stop the advance of his own army. Graffety Smith, British high commissioner in Karachi, reported to London the arrangements reached privately between the commander-in-chiefs of the 2 dominions. General Bucher indicated to General Gracey that he had no wish to pursue an offensive into what is effectively Azad-Kashmir controlled territory i.e. to Mirpur and Poonch sector... the object of these arrangements is to reach a situation in which each side will remain in undisputed military occupation of what are roughly their present positions... An essential part of the process... is that 3 battalions of the Pakistan Army should be deployed opposite the Indian forces at Jhangar, in or around Poonch and at Uri..."

This was a tell-tale interlude between the Pakistani Army chief and Indian Army chief in 1947-48. A paragraph that strips naked the United Kingdom, exposes fully and finally how it was playing a dangerous double game... and shatters all pre-conceived notions about parition!

In choosing an opening for this review, I had to choose a powerful, hard hitting opening - one that would grasp the Indian reader, and pull him into wanting to read the book. I could find no better paragraph than the above - a paragraph that exposes the double game that was being played by the British. India and Pakistan are fighting a war... and the head of the Indian army is actually advising the head of the Pakistan army on what to do.... 


Written by Narendra Singh Sarila

The author was an ADC to Mr Mountbatten in 1947-48. That is itself lends considerable authority to the tome. Further, the book has been extensively researched in the Oriental and Indian Collection of the British Library, Hartley Library Southampton, Public Records Office Kew, Archives Of The State Department of the USA, National Archives Washington, Library Of The US Congress... 

At the end of the book, you are not left with a feeling of hopelessness, or anger at the UK; you have, in its place, a tremendous pride in the achievement of a modern India, as you realise that India was achieved despite all odds, in an environment where every single hand, every single gun was drawn against us... our India is an achievement that stands all by its lonesome as a success of human spirit, decency and indomitable courage against all odds by the greatest set of leaders that any nation has ever had. The book also serves as a warning at our naivete in world affairs, and how we were taken for a royal ride.

The book systematically destroys all notions anyone may have had about partition. It begins with a thunderclap: "Muslim Areas should be seperated from Hindu India, and run by Muslims in collaboration with Great Britain- Jinnah to Linlithgow, 4 Sept 1939"! "He [Jinnah] represents a minority, and a minority can only hold its own with our assistance Linthgow to the Secretary of State" The issue was the congress insistence on self rule immediately after the war as a pre-condition for supporting the British war effort - something the Brits were in no mood of doing. And this time, the congress were not in a mood to relent.

{It has been said that it was a mistake; I beg to differ. Pankaj Mishra - From The Ruins Of Empire (my next book review) covers this phase well: apparently, the Brits had offered some similar assurances to all its colonies in the First World War, and later reneged. So, congress was absolutey right in doing what it did...}

The book traces a full-scale Anglo-Muslim league alliance with the single objective of ensuring a British and Allied presence in the event of a Russian advance. All the players in the Allies were insistent on retaining some form of control over some part of North-Western India to combat the Communist threat. This was the backdrop against which Jinnah's offer of cooperation on 4th September 1939 began to make tremendous sense; thereafter every British move was solidly in favour of Jinnah and Partition...

The book then goes on to dwell on the increasing pressure by the United States on The UK to grant  India Independence. On this, the Brits were in a bad spot: until they happened upon Jinnah. They assiduously built up Jinnah, and created the impression in the eyes of the World that Hindus and Muslims were not capable of staying together, that it was the British that were keeping India from chaos. The deft way the Brits handled this and successfully turned over the Americans to their point of view reads like a lesson in ugly diplomacy and espionage

The book proves in no uncertain terms that the Brits were aware of the August 1946  riots and deliberately chose to do nothing. The Brits were informed by their own people of the massacre that would undoubtedly take place in Punjab in 1947 if they continued on their plans. This information and warnings were studiously ignored. It proves how each and every attempt by the Congress to hold onto an United India were stymied by the Brits, of how genuine but naive Congress attempts were checkmated effectively by the Brits. Playing both sides of the coin: the Brits achieved what they had set out to from the start: maintain control of North-West India. There was even a plan to hold onto Baluchistan in case India remained undivided. It showcases how Jinnah and company used the communist card and the availability of Pakistan as a base for Allied military operations in future as carrot to keep British and US interests. This is told in the backdrop of an idealist but correct Congress which was clear that India would become a republic, and would never allow foreign forces on its soil ever again...

It showcases the May 1945 plan which envisaged Pakistan's role alongwith Iran, Iraq and Turkey, as a foil for operations in the Middle East and against Communism. This became a reality in the early 50s - but was visualised by the Brits in May 1945 in a secret strategy paper. Please remember that publicly, the Brits were trying to maintain Indian unity in 1945! The only conclusion I found myself at odds with was the role of Mountbatten... 

Mountbatten has been credited, alongwith Patel, for the unification of India. Yes, Mr Mountbatten did support Patel (despite playing a reprehensible double cross on Kashmir); but this was only as part of a larger strategy planned out in England. The plan was the only way: the Brits offered to drop their insistence of the princes having the option of independence if congress accepted partition... This is superbly proven in the book; and leaves no doubt. 

The book does all this and much, much more... it looks at the entire Kashmir dispute, and brutally exposes how the Indians were outmanoeuvred by the Allies. NWFP and how a totally Indian area went to Pakistan is also looked at.  Nehru did not call in the UN, this was not what had happened. Read the book to find exactly what happened, and just how US and UK pressurised the newly free Indian Government. The "fair" allies were even planning to let in Pakistani troops into Kashmir as impartial observers (!!!!!) - plan which was thankfully shot down by Nehru. The plan of the Indians was to continue Military ops; but that did not happen...  It also raises the very pertinent observation of Sardar Patel that Kashmir is vital simply because each successful invasion of India was happened through Kashmir..  

A book that strips the Brits naked- proving that they went from this land as they came - naked. They came as a destitute and naked beggar, and went as a rich but equally naked brute... It also serves a warning to India - that we need to be more conscious and more worldly wise. Read it to find how the Brits actually caused partition, as well as created the Kashmir dispute... all for the Great Game against Communist Russia

In closing, I can only reiterate my earlier view: India has always been alone; a lone wolf in the world. Yes, this has been due to our principled stance, and unique heritage; but it has also been due to our naivete. But that does not take away the fact that we got India against all odds, and in a world where every hand is drawn against us. Basis current developments, you can see that this state of affairs continues in the blind support to Pakistan despite Indian proofs of how Pakistan is using them. Dont expect this to stop anytime soon; our market size apart - we have nothing to offer the allies. Pakistan does... leaving us, as always, alone.. all alone... a matter of some pride!


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