Radcliffe Cloud Unveiled
by Jeff Provine
says: we're very pleased to present a new story from Jeff Provine's
excellent blog This
Day in Alternate History Please note that the opinions expressed in this
post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
On August 17th 1947,
the subcontinent of India, ruled for nearly a century by the British
Crown, was broken into its many states following its independence just two
days before. The Punjab, a term denoting the area rich in diversity with
Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs, was to be broken into West Pakistan for the
Muslim population and India for the Hindu population.
As the British Raj was preparing to leave (Parliament had declared on July
15 that its government would end in a months' time), Sir Cyril Radcliffe
was appointed as chair of committees to draw this line as well as another
for the separation of Bengal to become East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
It was hoped that Radcliffe, who had never been to India, could serve as a
fair and impartial decider. The Muslim League and the India National
Congress had many of their own ideas to submit, but voting was so balanced
that the final decision belonged to Radcliffe. Behind secrecy to avoid
political pressures, speculation, and reprisals before the publication of
the decision, Radcliffe worked with haste to determine an objective border
that would grant proper transport, communication, and waterways to both
sides while keeping both sides toward their majority population. At the
same time, he worked to develop another line to demarcate India, East
Pakistan, and Burma.
"IMO a collection of ministates and future
elections would have seen even more war and death" - reader's commentUpon
hearing of the Buddhist majority in the Chittagong Hills, yet another
people-group to recognize, Radcliffe suffered something of a breakdown. No
matter what he did to draw boundaries, no one would be completely
satisfied. The pressure of coming up with at least something workable in
five weeks had pushed him, and Radcliffe made the decision to have the
people vote for themselves.
On August 15, Independence Day, Radcliffe gave his plan with the new
government and left the country. With political turmoil slowing down
publication, it was not until the 17th that Radcliffe's plan became
published. He had drawn intense and complicated borders through states,
creating mini-states within populated sectors. He recommended that special
elections held by the people would establish whether these countries would
go toward Pakistan, India, Burma, or even strike out on their own. The "Radcliffe
Cloud" was born.
"Best bet would have been to find some way to talk
Jinnah into backing a unified India, but after WWII it was probably too
late for that" - reader's commentA cry went out that Radcliffe had
overstepped his powers to create new countries, but, via telegraph from
his ship, he assured governments and peoples alike that he had simply
drawn the borders. Without the peoples' agreement in the first place,
there would be no government. A commission through the winter would
investigate Radcliffe, but in the end he would exonerated and, in many
Elections, well guarded by the Punjab Boundary Force, carried through the
rest of August. The hills above Chittagong, now in East Pakistan, voted to
stay with India, despite the inaccessibility (which would be later solved
by a massive bridge and highway project). Several new small states that
had been split by Radcliffe's many lines divided into India and Pakistan.
A few states tried for independence, but most were absorbed within the end
of the decade after facing budgetary constraints. Only the nations of
Kashmir, Sikkim, and South Pakistan (now Hyderabad) stand as independent
to this day.
Not everyone was content, however, and fighting broke out sporadically
after the separation. Businessmen and farmers complained about water
rights in certain areas, and legal issues have caused minor conflicts.
There have been several border altercations since, such as 1971 when India
became involved in the Pakistani Dissolution that gave independence to
Hyderabad and Bangladesh, but no wars of international importance have
come out of the balkanized Indian Subcontinent to this day.
says in reality, Radcliffe drew his borders as quickly and fairly as he
could to complete his task and give foundation to the new countries. The
line of separation divided villages, heavily populated areas, private land,
and even homes. This rapid demarcation caused the largest migration in human
history: 14 million people displaced as Muslims moved to Pakistan and Hindus
to India. Thousands would be killed in the chaos as the mere 50,000 men of
the Punjab Boundary Army could not begin to police the area. Radcliffe
himself left on the Independence Day of August 15, burning all of his papers
as he went, and the new nations had to govern themselves. Since then,
several wars and in-country police actions have come over the nations as
they worked bloodily to sort themselves out.
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Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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