Cyril Radcliffe: The man who 'divided' India and Pakistan

One evening in June, 1976: Cyril John Radcliffe, 1st Viscount Radcliffe, sat in his garden under the yellow magnolia reminiscing.

He’d had a good life. Except for that spot of bother in 1947. It was July when he set foot in a strange land — this Jewel in the Crown.

The heat had been unbearable. So far removed from England’s summer sun. When he saw the ‘natives’ scurrying about, he realised his choice of clothing was a mistake. But, to his defence, this was the first time he was setting foot in this country and by God, he disliked it.

A few hours after disembarking, he counted the days when he could go back home. He reminded himself he had work to do. But, getting down to work in this sweltering heat was impossible. The climate, the people, the food…everything was strange and confusing.

“Why? Oh, why was I chosen for this job?” he wondered for the nth time. This job had been thrust on him by no less than the Viceroy himself and ordered to ‘Go and get it done’. He had five weeks to complete his task.

“Oh well, best get on with it,” he said to himself.

At Shimla where he worked, the temperature hovered between 20 and 22 degrees. It was warm, yet nippy in the shade. The rains were expected anytime. From the window of his office room, he had a clear view of the apple orchard. He had to tear himself away from that soothing sight and get back to studying ordinance maps and census reports. He was chairing two boundary commissions — Punjab and Bengal. He had no clue where these regions lay.

Arguments and delays

Time was of the essence. His assistants tried to help him out, but they were also in a constant argument.

There was a further delay because the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Bengal had to vote for the division of the two provinces — a legal obligation. Other problems he faced was the unyielding demands, communal tensions, doubtful census numbers, tough economic administrative and defence consideration…and the interference of the Viceroy.

Cyril Radcliffe: The man who 'divided' India and Pakistan

In his briefing, he had been told to take care of the ‘other factors’. He had no clue what it was. The one thing that was not ambiguous was the deadline — August 15. He knew he had no time to see the lands whose future lay in his hands and that was going to cost everyone dearly. He managed to make time to fly over parts of north India in a Dakota to get an idea of how the land lay.

He submitted his final plan on August 9, 1947. Punjab and Bengal were to be split in two. The new boundaries were announced on August 17, 1947.

In just five weeks, he had decided the nationality and fate of millions of people. The violence that followed saddened him. He burnt his papers, refused his 40,000 fee and left…never to return.

He sighed as he watched the sun set. Some wrongs could never be set right.

(Radcliffe was responsible for drawing the borders for Pakistan and India. Punjab was split into two: West Punjab became part of Pakistan and the East Punjab belonged to India. Similarly, West Bengal became a state of India, and East Bengal (now Bangladesh) became a province of Pakistan.)

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2021 10:17:35 AM |

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