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A Nation United

A united independent India in 1947 was not a completely impossible event, the major players had the ability and the motivation to keep India united, but their efforts floundered upon misunderstanding and mutual suspicion. 

Basically, the Hindus wanted a united India, but were reluctant to give the guarantees that the soft-line Muslims needed to convince the hard-liners to remain in India.  The Muslims had been reasonably safe from Hindu persecution (after the collapse of the Mughal Empire), protected by the British, and feared that a Hindu Raj would attack Islam.  The Muslim hard-liners, who dominated the Muslim League, pressed for an independent nation of their own – Pakistan (Pure Country).  The Hindu Indian National Congress (INC) wanted a majority democracy, which would inevitably have been led by Hindus.  Complicating matters were the Sikhs, who distrusted both Hindus and Muslims, and the princely states, many of whom saw their chance for real power at last. 

The final problem in our comedy of errors concerned the personalities.  The British believed that they could hold India and were often insensitive to Indian concerns.  They had the loyalty of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) even in the darkest days and held most of the legitimated authority.  They alone had the power to grant independence and had the nationalists, both Hindu and Muslim, carefully penetrated by spies and informers.  The British also held considerable prestige, until Singapore, which made the nationalists unwilling to challenge them directly. 

The nationalists were dominated by the hard-liners.  The Hindus and Muslim factions were at daggers-drawn and distrusted each other.  The soft-liners were often unable to make their voices heard.  Gandhi, the only soft-liner who was heard, was starting to lose his rationality.  (I sometimes think that the British government should have taken him up on his offer to talk peace with Hitler in 1938.)

The nationalists saw the Raj as all-powerful, even Gandhi had quailed at the might of the empire.  They therefore played the game without feeling that they needed to face the consequences or that they would take responsibility for the crisis.

The crunch came in 1939.  The Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, committed India to war without consulting a single Indian.  This had the effect of forcing the nationalists into open opposition, which, when the British lost most of their prestige at Singapore, led to massive disturbances, famine, and polarisation of the Indian nationalists.  Pakistan became inevitable as the hard-liners dominated the parties. 

Changing that requires a POD in 1939 at the latest and the British to understand that the Raj’s days are numbered.  Let’s have the British, instead of dragging India into war, offer dominion status to a united India as soon as a parliament can be arranged, with some small reserves to British controls.  The British had a good idea of who thought what in the nationalist movements, so pulling the soft-liners and those willing to compromise into the government is doable. 

Once a parliament is elected with a cabinet, the British can turn over control of most of India to the new government.  The British keep control of the Indian army (essential to have neutral officers commanding the army) and keep the right to the naval bases, army recruitment, and most of the responsibility for the defence of India.  The Indian Government, however, has an ‘oversight committee’ and some input into the decisions taken for Indian defence.  Indian officers receive commissions (this happened anyway so the British might as well get political advantage out of it) that puts them on equal terms with British officers. 

Little changes in the outside world.  The Germans and Japanese have fewer grounds for propaganda, but that won’t affect the war, Indian forces will still serve in North Africa and the Middle East. 

Big changes come in 1942.  Singapore will still fall (unless something else changes, Singapore is untenable anyway) but the threat to India galvanises a population that’s just tasted independence.  The whole of India is mobilised and the commonwealth gets thousands more Indian troops.  The Indians also receive lend-lease and food supplies, averting the Bengal Famine, and war material from the US.  Bose and the INA pose a much smaller threat and are demobilised by the Japanese in 1944.  Indian troops flood into Burma and Burma, formally a British territory, is annexed to India.  The Indians also push the British into supporting the Vietnam nationalists. 

The end of the war sees a united India.  The rights of all religions are protected by the constitution, and enforced by an army that’s still British controlled.  The savings in defence costs allow massive development of India as a British dominion – independence in all but name – and India becomes an important voice in the commonwealth. 

The absence of intercommunity strife in 1944-49 probably means more Indians will survive those years.  The famine that hit Bengal in 1943-44 may be averted by the new government or blamed on the Japanese.  Better conditions in India probably mean that there will be fewer immigrants to the UK or America, which means that most of the Indian talent will remain in India.  The hardliners of all sides of the religious divide will be unable to develop real violence or control, probably forestalling the Taliban. 

Politically, the avoidance of indo-pak strife and open warfare means that India will remain aligned with the west, both Britain and the US.  The need to worry about a soviet threat from Afghanistan would keep India in whatever EATO analogue springs up in this timeline, while India would have to develop its naval power with the other British-origin nations in the Far East.  The downside is that India might well be drawn into Korea, Vietnam, and fight its own version of Vietnam in Burma.

India may still go nuclear, perhaps as part of a Commonwealth united program, which would finish sooner with the Indian talent, and develop its own armed forces.  Indian support may lead to Britain winning in Suez – India would be concerned about the threat to its communications with the west – and probably lead to the neutralisation of the Canal. 

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