Our Beacon Forum

Deposition about Radcliffe Commission
By:Muhammad Rafi,Karachi
Date: Friday, 1 April 2011, 7:34 am

DEPOSITION BY CHRISTOPHER BEAUMONT

With the death of Sir George Abell earlier this year (1989) I remain the only one who knows the truth about the 1947 partition of India and the consequent creation of Pakistan. For the sake of historical truth the facts should be recorded, but certainly not yet published. My request is, and it can be no more than a request, that the contents of this document are not divulged to any person until:

a. After my death, and to selected persons.

b. Only by agreement between the Warden of All Souls and a Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office.

On 6th July 1947, Sir Cyril Radcliffe (later Lord Radcliffe) was appointed Joint Chairman of the Boundary Commission.

The next day I was appointed his Private Secretary and on 8th July Rao Sahib V. D. Iyer was appointed Assistant Secretary, a post involving purely clerical duties. The notification of these duties appeared in the Gazette of India dated 28th July and is attached to this document. Also attached to this document are three letters written to me in 1988 by Sir Ian Scott, (Deputy Secretary to the Viceroy). He suspected the truth. I did not enlighten him.

It was agreed between Mountbatten, Nehru and Jinnah that Radcliffe should be told that his report, both for the Punjab and Bengal, should be ready by 15th August. Radcliffe objected since it was clearly impossible properly to complete the task in one month and nine days. His objection was overruled. Mountbatten, Nehru and Jinnah must share the blame for this irresponsible decision.

It was a serious mistake to appoint a Hindu (the same would have been true for a Moslem) to the confidential post of Assistant Secretary to the Boundary Commission. Enmity between the two communities was rising fast. There had already been too much bloodshed in the Punjab and Bengal. Iyer had doubtless been a loyal servant of the Raj, but the Raj was disappearing. An Assistant Secretary to the Commission should have been brought from the U.K.

Once the Hindu and Moslem High Court judges, who were supposed to help Radcliffe to draw his lines, had been discarded as useless, the only three persons who knew of the progress of the lines were Radcliffe, myself and Iyer. I have not the slightest doubt that Iyer kept Nehru and V. P. Menon informed of the progress. Evidence of this is to be found at the Viceregal meeting on 12th August when Nehru voiced alarm at the prospect of Chittagong Hill Tracts going to Pakistan ---- which they were. This was the day before I handed in the Reports at Viceregal Lodge. The only way in which Nehru could have known of the projected allotment of the Chittagong Hill Tracts to Pakistan was that Iyer had told him. Also in his diary for 11th August, John Christie, one of the Assistant Secretaries to the Viceroy, wrote as follows: ‘H. E. is having to be strenuously dissuaded from trying to persuade Radcliffe to alter his Punjab line’. This was on a date when H. E ought not to have known where the line was drawn. Unfortunately, I kept no diary, so I cannot be entirely sure of the dates.

The true facts are these: Radcliffe had completed the Punjab line. Ferozepur was allotted to Pakistan. Sir Evan Jenkins, the Governor of the Punjab, had asked Sir George Abell to let him know the course of the partition line so that troops could be deployed to those areas which were most under threat of violence from the inevitable dislocation which partition involved. Sir George asked me where the line would be. I told him, and a map showing the line was sent to Sir Evan by Sir George. Sir Evan unfortunately never destroyed this map which, on his departure in mid-August, came into the hands of the new Pakistan Government. Hence the suspicion by Pakistan (justified) that the line had been altered by Radcliffe under pressure from Mountbatten, in turn under pressure from Nehru and, almost certainly from Bekaner, whose state could have been very adversely affected if the canal headworks at Ferozepore had been wholly in the hands of Pakistan.

Radcliffe and I were living alone on the Viceregal Estate. After the map with the line had been sent to Sir Evan, probably the night of 11th August, towards midnight, while Radcliffe was working, V. P. Menon ---- the key figure after Nehru in Indian politics at the time ---- appeared at the outside door, was let in by the chaprassie, or police guard on duty, and asked me if he could see Radcliffe. I told him politely that he could not. He said that Mountbatten had sent him. I told him, less politely, that it made no difference. He departed, with good grace. I think he anticipated the rebuff. He was a very able and perceptive person.

The next morning, at breakfast, I told Radcliffe what had happened. He made no comment. Later that morning, Radcliffe told me that he had been invited to lunch by Lord Ismay (Mountbatten’s Private Secretary, imported from England for the purpose of Mountbatten’s Vice-Royalty) but he had been asked by Ismay not to bring me with him ---- the pretext being that there would not be enough room at the table for the extra guest. Having lived for six months in the house occupied by Ismay, I knew this to be untrue. But my suspicions were not aroused, as they should have been. I was leaving India the next week, had many preoccupations and welcomed the chance to get on with my own affairs. This was the first time, however, that Radcliffe and I had been separated at any sort of function. That evening, the Punjab line was changed ---- Ferozepore going to India. No change, as has been subsequently rumoured, was made in the northern (Gurdaspur) part of the line; nor in the Bengal line.

So Mountbatten cheated and Radcliffe allowed himself to be overborne. Grave discredit to both. But there are, in both cases, mitigating circumstances, if not excuses.

Mountbatten was overworked and overtired and was doubtless told by Nehru and V. P. Menon that to give Ferozepur to Pakistan would result in war between India and Pakistan. Bekaner, I think, but do not know, played a part. He had been a personal friend of Mountbatten’s and the canal headworks at Ferozepore were of great importance to his state, and Mountbatten liked Nehru and (for good reason) disliked Jinnah.

As to Radcliffe he was without doubt persuaded by Ismay and Mountbatten at the lunch from which I was so deftly excluded, that Ferozepore was so important that to give it to Pakistan (although there was a Moslem majority in the city) would lead to civil war, or at least something like it.

Radcliffe had only been in India six weeks. He had never previously been east of Gibraltar. He probably did not know that Nehru and Menon were putting pressure on Mountbatten. He yielded, I think to what he thought was overwhelming political expediency. If Sir Evan had destroyed the map, the alteration of the award would probably never have been suspected by the new Pakistan Government.

The episode reflects discredit on Mountbatten and Nehru and less on Radcliffe.