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
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
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
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.