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Clause 4—(The Punjab)

Volume 440: debated on Monday 14 July 1947

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Amendments made:

In page 3, line 27, leave out "awards of boundary commissions," and insert:

"the award of a boundary commission."

In line 36, at the end, add:

"(3) In this section, the expression 'award,' means, in relation to a boundary commission, the decisions of the chairman of that commission contained in his report to the Governor-General at the conclusion of the commission's proceedings."—[Mr. A. Henderson.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

When we come to the question of the division of the Punjab there is none of us who has known the Punjab intimately who can but express his deepest regret that this decision was necessary in order to make the general all-India settlement which is before us. As Punjabi-born, and knowing most of the districts intimately, with other members of my family and friends, I feel myself quite heartbroken at this decision. The Punjab has one of the greatest traditions of any country, or any part of the world I know. Its reputation in the major wars through which this country has passed has been quite unequalled by almost any other part of those areas which came into contact with the British. Its loyalty has been unquestioned, and we now come to the sad parting of the ways which I think has broken the hearts of many of those associated with its administration, not least its most able Governor to whom I should like to pay a tribute. We now come to the parting of the ways, when the expressions "East Punjab" and "West Punjab" are to be brought into the language of the law.

I have said that it appears that this decision was necessary in order to make a general settlement possible, but I would like the Committee to consider for a moment, when dealing with the terms of reference of the boundary commission, what this decision will mean. I would take this opportunity, the last opportunity that Parliament will have, to make a special appeal for the Sikh community. Almost exactly too years have passed since the most difficult of all our Indian wars, in which the British and the Sikhs were on opposite sides. Those 100 years have seen the advent of the happiest possible relations between the Sikh community and the British. Of all races in the world, the Sikhs have probably the greatest reputation. Now we find, as was partially the case in the communal award when Mr. Ramsey Macdonald was Prime Minister, that the Sikhs come under the hammer. We find in this decision that the Sikh nation are divided approximately into two parts, a slightly greater part going to the East, that is into India, and the slightly lesser part going to the west, that is into Pakistan.

I do not think that any words should be used here which will make this situation more difficult. I feel quite certain that those who have been responsible for this decision feel it as deeply as we do in this Committee. I can only make this appeal—and I would then be taking up some words used by the Under-Secretary of State—that in the demarcation of the boundary all proper regard should be had to the feelings of the Sikh community, in regard to their shrines, their property and their lands. I will say this: I have noticed that the community have asked that the boundary be pushed back to the River Chenab. It that were possible, it would make it possible to include the Sikh community in one part of India and not in Pakistan, but then the division of the Punjab would be made to look ridiculous, from the point of view of the Muslims. It has been to them a very great source of difficulty to divide this Province, as between East and West. It means that the whole of the Ambala and the Julandar divisions of the Punjab are to be transferred to India, and that a large proportion of Muslims are to be passed into India. I know that certain matters are rather beyond the power of Parliament already. That is why some of us feel that we have not very much power in our hands when we talk here this evening. I would therefore like to make an appeal that the Sikh problem be met by the provision of separate electorates.

5.45 P.m.

I know that if that appeal were conceded by the authorities-to-be—it has now no longer anything to do with me—it would have to be conceded to the Muslims as well. I see the difficulties of that position, but I must come back to the only solution which, in my view, can mitigate the plight of the Sikhs. It is that the boundary commission should, in its wisdom, so define the boundary that the maximum portion of the Sikhs should be included in one area, without doing damage to the balance which has been struck in the suggestion contained in the Bill for the division of the Muslim and the non-Muslim areas. Later, it will be possible to look back, in regard to some of these decisions, and say, "What a pity that such and such a community did not make an agreement." Such a looking back could take place in regard to the Sikhs. It was not done. We are now facing the division. I hope the Committee and the country will realise the consequences of that division when they are assessing the position that is likely to exist in India now. I hope that the Sikh community and other similarly placed communities do realise that, wherever we sit in this Committee or whatever our point of view, we understand the difficulties that they have to face. I hope that they will also realise that a general settlement which will give India peace could not have been achieved unless some difficulties had beer faced in particular areas.

Speaking for my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the Committee, I cannot express satisfaction that this community should have been so divided, and I should like to express our regret that such should be the case. I will conclude my reference to the problem of the Punjab by wishing the boundary commission the wisdom which I hope it may have, and by wishing this area of Pakistan, which will amount to some 25 million inhabitants in the North-Western area, the happiest possible future. I trust that in this new period these portions of the Punjab will find in their future something of the glory and of the stability which the old Punjab found in the past. I hope that we may look to the name "Punjab," whether it be West or East, for something of the tradition which has been so intimately connected with this area and which we so bitterly regret in the passing of the Bill.

I wish to associate myself with what my right hon. Friend has just said, about the splitting up of the Punjab. The matters which we are discussing on this Clause make even more clear the immense difficulties which will lie before those who are concerned with this division, whether military or civil. The division of the Punjab, which has had a long and glorious history in war and in peace, requires that the British Government should assure to the Sikh community that that division is brought about with the greatest possible regret and at the request of the Indian people as a whole. Secondly, the Government should ask the Boundary Commission to make the best possible arrangements for the Sikhs that they possibly can. It is clear that no actual division of the ground will ever solve the Sikh problem unless there is a united Punjab. As we are not to have a united Punjab, the Sikh really finds himself sold in every direction. The Sikhs are a martial race with a very great record. They are not likely to take things too calmly when things do not go the way they have had reason to think they would go. I hope that the Government will make it clear that they wish the very best possible to be done for the Sikhs and that they regret that the division should be necessary.

In two or three sentences wish to endorse the point of view which has been expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler). I cannot speak as he did, as an old Punjabi and son of a distinguished member of the Civil Service, but I can look back to the history of the Punjab for the last 50 years When first I knew the Punjab, it was a backward province with a poor and congested agricultural population. Then the engineers got to work and by the mercy of Providence those who were digging the Chenab Canal were forgotten for eight or 10 years and so they could carry on the work without obstruction. They laid out the irrigation system with such skill and so transformed that Province, that today the cultivator who secures a holding in one of the canal colonies has relatively made a fortune. All this progress has been built up under a unified administration. The irrigation starts on the Upper Jhelum in the North and the waters go down to the Lower Bari Doab in the South. The Punjab has an electrical grid as large as the grid for the whole of Great Britain, which is supplied by the works on the Uhl River on the outskirts of the Kangra Valley. Moreover, under the Act of 1919 under the leadership of Sir Fasli Hussain and under the Act of 1935 and the United Party that province has made these very rapid strides.

It would be true to say that relatively more progress has been made in the Punjab than in any other part of India, and the Punjabis—Sikhs, Muslims Jats and others—have penetrated to every part of India by virtue of their strength of character, their virility and their energy. The majority of the early recruits in the Royal Indian Navy were Punjabi Mussulmans coming from families who had never seen the sea. It is with bitter regret that we have to accept partition now. We accept it with feelings of intense sympathy towards those who have to carry on the work. Although our task is ended, and influence has passed to other hands, all will hope that if humanly possible the progress and the peace of this great province and these very remarkable people, will not be impaired by the imperative necessity of partition.

I hesitate to disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler). My experience of the Sikh community is confined to Mesopotamia in the last war and to several clever mechanical engineers of the Sikh community the right hon. Gentleman hoped that separate electorates for the Sikh community would be considered. From my small knowledge of Indian political affairs, separate electorates have been a curse on the efforts towards a united India. I found it was always the most bigoted and most vociferous Muslim who became elected, and it was the same with the Hindus. If they gave way to a second's tolerance for the people who were not voting for them, they would not be elected. I can only say that I hope that these two Dominions will have a complete electorate and not separate electorates in the future

If I thought the division of Bengal was fantastical, I think that the division of the Punjab is nothing less than tragic. It is possible to mourn at great length at this disruption of a noble Province with a noble history. We should remember that the forces of unity and of reunion may be even stronger than the forces of partition which are today in the ascendant. It is a remarkable fact, whether in this country or in other parts of India, a Muslim and a Hindu from the Punjab will cling together and proclaim themselves brother Punjabis much more than they will adhere to their co-religionists from other parts of India. I believe this cannot work. I believe it is, relatively speaking, a short-term problem. I believe that the Punjab—the country of the five rivers, as its name means—will be reunited within a few years. As for our friend the Sikhs, I rather suspect that they can look after themselves and I rather suspect that they will take steps to do so. It is really a waste of time to talk very much on this Bill. I content myself with registering my great sense of tragedy and my hope and belief that a sense of unity and common fortune and common history will once again triumph.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.