India@70

Memories of August 15, 1947, the tug of war of accession, and intrigue in Pakistan

Poet and writer Keki N Daruwalla was 10 years old when India gained freedom (and 11 when Gandhi was assassinated).

I was 10 years old then – going on to 11, and am a bit surprised I don’t remember enough. But I clearly remember what I was up to on January 30, 1948. I was playing a cricket match and our domestic came on a bicycle and said I was summoned home. I protested angrily, but Ghulam Husain, the domestic, prevailed, made me sit on his cycle and took me home where the entire family was seated around our Murphy radio. An hour or so later it was announced that it was not a Muslim who had killed Gandhiji, but a crazed Maharashtrian Hindu. The country was spared another sectarian carnage.

We were in Junagadh and August 1947 was the worst month to be there. The Nawab Mahabat Ali Khanji, the last of the Babi dynasty, (Parvin Babi came later on the scene!), had been persuaded and coerced by Shah Nawaz Bhutto, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s father, to join Pakistan. The previous Dewan, Abdul Kadir was a fence sitter and had never made his views known. Dewans used to access mail through the Dressing Boy of the Nawab, the man who dressed the Nawab up.

Sir Shah Nawaz was the Dewan now through a Liaqat Ali Khan intrigue and ran the state like his fief. The Lord of Larkana had also imported a handful of Sindhi or most probably Baluchi security men. (There is a detailed account of the political shenanigans in Junagadh in my novel Ancestral Affairs, by the way). What I can remember is that there was hardly any jubilation in the city. There was a clear communal divide in the population. The Muslims, who were barely 20%, did not feel like celebrating. The Gujaratis, who now display their muscle, biceps and all, and give out leonine roars that startle the denizens of the Gir forest, were meek as lambs in August 1947.

Junagadh was the biggest state in Kathiawar, by which name the region was known then. It changed to Saurashtra later. Jamnagar was ostensibly a friend of Junagadh, but did not bother to advise the Nawab. All the Maharajas of Kathiawar had attended the wedding of Dilawar Khanji, the Heir Apparent of Junagadh – Porbandar, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar, Gondal – two years ago. Later, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto made Dilawar the Governor of Sindh. Dilawar was a perfect gentleman, courteous and jovial, with no princely tantrums in his social repertoire. And he was a good fast bowler who didn’t have any clue when the Nawab fled to Karachi, cleaning up the state treasury.

Bhutto betrayed the Nawab, just as his son betrayed Pakistan. By this, I mean that had he accepted Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, the birth of Bangladesh may have been delayed and the world would have been spared the horrors of the massacre of Bangladeshis by Tikka Khan’s soldiers. So when VP Menon came with a letter from the Government of India to the Nawab – he had come from Rajkot, piloted by the Inspector General – Bhutto did not let Menon meet the Nawab.

I don’t think he ever passed on the letter to him. And when Menon asked to meet the Heir Apparent, he was told with a straight face that Dilawar was too busy – he was playing a cricket match. The Nawab had been fed with the false news that he could accede to any country he liked. Princes were toys in the hands of these Dewans.

My elder brothers had returned from Lahore after a traumatic time. They had been caught there in the rioting and they had a harrowing time coming to Junagadh. In Pakistan, they had to say they were not Hindus and in Rajputana (later Rajasthan) they said they were not Muslims. I remember my parents, especially mother, were very tense.

I had gone to sleep by the time the famous Tryst with Destiny speech was made by the greatest Prime Minister we have ever had, or I dare say, are likely to have. But I am proud to say that I have heard it often since then. Sucheta Kripalani (what a great lady) sang Vande Mataram at the ceremony, Khushwant Singh would always say.

But in Junagadh, there was tension in the air, the schools were closed, and I don’t think any work was getting done in government offices. Samaldas Gandhi, the nephew of Gandhiji, had formed a “government” of his own, called the Arzi Hukumat and was threatening to march into Junagadh. Still, Kathiawar was not Punjab, there was no slaughter, not a single man was killed. Muslims started fleeing soon.

Sardar Patel came to Junagadh and father took us brothers to hear his speech in the Bahudin College grounds (now all the Muslim names – including of the Bahadur Khanji High School have been changed to Swami this and Swami that. Pakistan retains Hindu names, I am told). The Sardar spoke in Gujarati, of course. I still remember Patel saying, “Hyderabad is in our belly. We can swallow it whenever we want.” He spoke in such an unruffled manner, calm as if nothing had happened, when he and Menon were merging over 500 native states into the Indian Union.

Keki N Daruwalla
Keki N Daruwalla
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