Union of India
|15 August 1947|
|26 January 1950|
|1950||3,287,263 km2 (1,269,219 sq mi)|
|Today part of|
The Dominion of India, officially the Union of India, was an independent dominion in the British Commonwealth of Nations existing between 15 August 1947 and 26 January 1950. It came into existence after the passage of the Indian Independence Act 1947 and lasted until 1950, whereupon India became a republic within the Commonwealth with a president as head of state.
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In early 1946 new elections were called in India. The Congress won electoral victories in eight of the eleven provinces. The negotiations between the Congress and the Muslim League, however, stumbled over the issue of the partition. The League leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah proclaimed August 16, 1946 "Direct Action Day" with the stated goal of peacefully highlighting the demand for a Muslim homeland in British India. The following day Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in Calcutta and quickly spread throughout India. Although the Government of India and the Congress were both shaken by the course of events, in September a Congress-led interim government was installed, with Jawaharlal Nehru as united India's prime minister.
Late in 1946, the Labour government in Britain, its exchequer exhausted by the recently concluded World War II, decided to end British rule in India, and in early 1947 Britain announced its intention of transferring power no later than June 1948.
As independence approached, the violence between Hindus and Muslims in the provinces of Punjab and Bengal continued unabated. With the British army unprepared for the potential for increased violence, the new viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, advanced the date for the transfer of power, allowing less than six months for a mutually agreed plan for independence. In June 1947 the nationalist leaders, including Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad on behalf of the Congress, Jinnah representing the Muslim League, B. R. Ambedkar representing the Untouchable community, and Master Tara Singh representing the Sikhs, agreed to a partition of the country along religious lines in opposition to Gandhi's views. The predominantly Hindu and Sikh areas were assigned to the new India and predominantly Muslim areas to the new nation of Pakistan; the plan included a partition of the Muslim-majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal.
Many million Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu refugees trekked across the newly drawn borders. In Punjab, where the new border lines divided the Sikh regions in half, ghastly bloodshed followed; in Bengal and Bihar, where Gandhi's presence assuaged communal tempers, the violence was more limited. In all, anywhere between 250,000 and 500,000 people on both sides of the new borders died in the violence. On August 14, 1947, the new Dominion of Pakistan came into being, with Muhammad Ali Jinnah sworn in as its first Governor-General in Karachi. The following day, August 15, 1947, India, now a smaller Union of India, became an independent country with official ceremonies taking place in New Delhi, and with Jawaharlal Nehru assuming the office of the prime minister, and the viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, staying on as its first Governor General; Gandhi, however, remained in Calcutta, preferring to work with the new refugees of the partitioned subcontinent.
The majority of Sikhs and Hindu Punjabis refugees from West Punjab, were settled in Delhi and East Punjab (incl. Haryana and Himachal Pradesh). Delhi received the largest number of refugees for a single city, its population growing from 917,939 to 1,744,072 during the period 1941-1951. The refugees were housed in various historical and military locations such as the Purana Qila, Red Fort, and military barracks in Kingsway Camp (around the present Delhi University). The latter became the site of one of the largest refugee camps in northern India, with more than 35,000 refugees at any given time besides Kurukshetra camp near Panipat. The campsites were later converted into permanent housing through building projects undertaken by the Government of India from 1948 onwards. Many housing colonies in Delhi founded around this period, including Lajpat Nagar, Rajinder Nagar, Nizamuddin East, Punjabi Bagh, Rehgar Pura, Jangpura, and Kingsway Camp. Plans for education, employment opportunities, and loans to start businesses for the refugees were introduced at the all-India level.
Hindus leaving East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) were settled across Eastern, Central and Northeastern India in Indian states such as West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura. A substantial number were also settled in Madhya Pradesh (incl. Chhattisgarh) Bihar (incl. Jharkhand), Odisha and Andaman islands (where Bengalis today form the largest linguistic group)
Sindhi Hindus settled predominantly in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. A new township was established for Sindhi Hindu refugees in Maharashtra. The Governor-General of India, C. Rajagopalachari, laid the foundation for this township, formally naming it Ulhasnagar ('city of joy').
The princely state of Kashmir was created in 1846, after the defeat of the Sikh empire by the British in the First Anglo-Sikh War. Upon the purchase of the region from the British under the Treaty of Amritsar, the Raja of Jammu, Gulab Singh, became the new ruler of Kashmir. The rule of his descendants, under the paramountcy (or tutelage) of the British Crown, lasted until the Partition of India in 1947. Kashmir was connected to India through the Gurdaspur district in the Punjab region. However, its population was 77% Muslim and it shared a border with what would later become Pakistan. A significant portion of its economic activity had taken place down the Jhelum river with the Punjab region of Pakistan. Gulab Singh's grandson, Hari Singh, who was the reigning Maharaja of Kashmir in August 1947, had signed a "standstill agreement" with Pakistan to facilitate trade and communication. According to historian Burton Stein,
It was anticipated that he would accede to Pakistan when the British paramountcy ended. When he hesitated to do this, Pakistan launched a guerrilla onslaught meant to frighten its ruler into submission. Instead the Maharaja appealed to Mountbatten for assistance, and the governor-general agreed on the condition that the ruler accede to India. Indian soldiers entered Kashmir and drove the Pakistani-sponsored irregulars from all but a small section of the state. The United Nations was then invited to mediate the quarrel. The UN mission insisted that the opinion of Kashmiris must be ascertained, while India insisted that no referendum could occur until all of the state had been cleared of irregulars.
In the last days of 1948, a ceasefire was agreed under UN auspices. However, since the plebiscite demanded by the UN was never conducted, relations between India and Pakistan soured, and eventually led to two more wars over Kashmir in 1965 and 1999.
In the months following India's partition, Gandhi had undertaken several hunger strikes to stop religious violence. The last of these, which began on 12 January 1948 when he was 78, also had the indirect goal of pressuring India to pay out some cash assets owed to Pakistan. Some Indians thought Gandhi was too accommodating. Among them was Nathuram Godse who assassinated Gandhi on 30 January 1948 in the compound of Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti), a large mansion in central New Delhi. Godse was a Hindu nationalist, a member of the political party Hindu Mahasabha as well as a former member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu paramilitary volunteer organization.
The British prime minister Clement Attlee said in a radio address to the nation on the night of January 30, 1948:
Everyone will have learnt with profound horror of the brutal murder of Mr Gandhi and I know that I am expressing the views of the British people in offering to his fellow-countrymen our deep sympathy in the loss of their greatest citizen. ... For a quarter of a century this one man has been the major factor in every consideration of the Indian problem.
Gandhi's assassination dramatically changed the political landscape. Nehru used the assassination to consolidate the authority of the new Indian state. Gandhi's death helped marshal support for the new government and legitimize the Congress Party's control, leveraged by the massive outpouring of Hindu expressions of grief for a man who had inspired them for decades. The government suppressed the RSS, the Muslim National Guards, and the Khaksars, with some 200,000 arrests.
The princely states varied greatly in status, area, population, and wealth. The premier 21-gun salute state of Hyderabad had an area of 200,000 km2 (77,000 sq mi). In the 1941 census of the British Indian Empire, it had registered a population of over 16 million. The non-salute principality of Lawa covered an area of 49 km2 (19 sq mi), and registered a population of just under 3,000. Some two hundred of the lesser states had an area of less than 25 km2 (10 sq mi).
The era of the princely states effectively ended with Indian independence in 1947; by 1950, almost all of the principalities had acceded to India. The accession process was largely peaceful, except in the cases of Jammu and Kashmir, Hyderabad State and Junagarh. The war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir led to an international dispute which remains unresolved until today, the oldest before the United Nations. The Nizam of Hyderabad, a Muslim ruler in a Hindu-majority state, opted for independence in 1947, but his state was annexed by India after a military action. The Nawab of Junagadh, also a Muslim in a Hindu-majority state, acceded to Pakistan, but was invaded by India and his state annexed
Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, left, prime minister of Bengal (1946-1947) and later prime minister of Pakistan, and Mahatma Gandhi during their 73-hour fast in Calcutta to stop religious violence in the days after India's independence day
Shown here on a commemorative postage stamp is Maj. Somnath Sharma posthumous recipient of the first Param Vir Chakra, independent India's highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy, Srinagar, Kashmir, November 1947]]
Jawaharlal Nehru delivering his 'Tryst with Destiny' speech at Parliament House in New Delhi during the midnight session of the Constituent Assembly on 14-15 August 1947
The 3 1/2 annas stamp showing the tricolour Flag of India (for foreign surface mail) issued 15 August 1947
Prime ministers of the Commonwealth with King George VI (5th fr left), London 13 October 1948; Don Stephen Senanayake, Ceylon (2nd fr left); Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan (3rd fr left); C. R. Attlee (UK, 5th fr right) and Jawaharlal Nehru of India (far right).
Nehru being received at the Washington National Airport by the President Harry S. Truman, 11 October 1949