Labour Monthly

The Mountbatten Plan For India

R Palme Dutt

Source : Labour Monthly July 1947, pages 210-219
Publisher : The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., London.
Transcription/HTML markup: Ted Crawford/D. Walters
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2013). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source. Published here under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license 2013.

The Mountbatten Plan proposes the partition of India and the speedy transfer of responsibility, initially in the form of Dominion Status, to Indian Governments for the sections of a divided India.

Formally, the Plan does not lay down the partition of India, but provides machinery for the areas affected by the Pakistan demand to choose, either through their Legislative Assembly representatives or through referendum, between a single Constituent Assembly in accordance with the Cabinet Mission Plan, or a separate Constituent Assembly for a separate State. This involves division of the Punjab and Bengal so that the Moslem-majority areas and non-Moslem majority areas can decide separately. In practice, on the basis of existing representation, this means partition, including almost certainly the partition of the Punjab and Bengal.

The position of the Princes’ States is left unchanged: that is, with the ending of paramountcy they can join either grouping or proclaim their independence and establish their separate relations with Britain.

Legislation is to be hurried through Parliament to establish the new Dominion Government or Governments.

If the Plan goes through, the result will establish the following States or State areas in India:

(1) North West Pakistan, covering Western Punjab, Sind, and possibly the North West Frontier and Baluchistan, with a population of 25 millions (18 million Moslems);

(2) Note East Pakistan, covering Eastern Bengal and the Sylhet district of Assam, with a population of 44 millions (31 million Moslems). These two areas, divided by a thousand miles, would constitute the Pakistan State or Federation, with a population of 70 millions

(3) The Indian Union or Hindustan, covering the rest of British India, with a population of 225 millions.

(4) The Princes’ States, covering two-fifths of the area of India with a population of 93 millions or one quarter, would join one or other federation, or possibly, in the case of one or two larger States, such as Hyderabad and Travancore, according to their present declared intentions, proclaim their separate independence.

Assuming that the Princes’ States all finally decide to link up with one or other grouping, then on a very rough estimate Pakistan would represent about one quarter of India, covering mainly agricultural, feudal and industrially -undeveloped, but strategically important territory; and the Indian Union would represent about three-quarters of India, including the main industrial and commercial regions and urban centres, and the most politically advanced and democratically developed sections of the population and the main forces of the working class.

Relations of Britain with the States to be formed would finally be determined by special treaties. Military, administrative and economic questions are left for future settlement.


This Plan, the third within twelve months (Cabinet Mission Plan. of June, 1946; Attlee Declaration of February, 1947; Mountbatten Plan of June, 1947), has received the assent of the leadership of the major political organisations in India and in Britain.

In India the main political leaders have declared their acceptance of the proposals, though with heavy misgivings.

Nehru on behalf of the Congress declared:

“It is with no joy in my heart that I commend these proposals.”

Jinnah on behalf of the Moslem League declared:

“We cannot say or feel that we are satisfied or that we agree with some of the matters dealt with by the plan.”

Baldev Singh on behalf of the Sikhs declared:

“It would be untrue if I were to say that we are altogether happy. The British Plan does not please everybody, not the Sikh community anyway.”

On the other hand, J.P. Narain on behalf of the Indian Socialists, and P.C. Joshi on behalf of the Indian Communists, have sharply criticised the Plan as involving the dismemberment of India, and as not representing a real transfer of power, and have opposed acceptance. P.C. Joshi has declared:

“The new British Plan for the dismennberment of India is a desperate move against the freedom Movernent which stands for the complete independence of the whole of the country ....

“Mountbatten’s Plan is not a genuine ‘Quit India’ plan, but rather one which seeks to keep in British hands as many economic and military controls as possible.”

In Britain Tory-Labour unity has been proclaimed in support of the Plan. Churchill, in contrast to his opposition to previous proposals, has declared his approval of the general lines of the Mountbatten Plan, and congratulated Attlee on his selection of Mountbatten as Viceroy — praise which, according to The Times, “brought a flush of pleasure to the Prirne Minister’s cheek.” “The two men,” observed the Manchester Guardian of Churchill and Attlee, “have not found so much common ground since this Parliament began.” On the occasion of the Parliamentary announcement only Gallacher pressed criticism. In the City Indian share prices immediately rose, following the announcement, and as the Daily Herald noted, “the City gave its blessing to the Plan.” International1y the Plan has received high praise in the American official Press, and in the Right Wing Press of most countries. On the other hand, Reuters has noted that “Left-wing newspapers have been unfavourable in all countries.” Soviet comment was provided by the statement of Zhukov:

“Britain is being forced to take a page from America’s book and copy her policy in the Philippines — to give a nominal false freedom. In other words, to clear out so as to remain.”

A commentary by Lenin on the Moscow Radio drew the conclusion:

“From declarations proclaiming the transfer of power to the Indians it is a far cry to true independence for India. The achievement of the latter will depend first and foremost on the strength of the national liberation movement. British ruling circles mean to maintain their economic, political and military positions in India, whatever her future constitutional structure may be. Among other things they bank on the economic ties established between the British and the Indian bourgeoisie …

Irrespective of the constitutional changes in India, what really matters is the actual economic, political and military positions that British capital succeeds in maintaining in that country. This will decide whether the long standing question of independence for India will be settled as it was in the Philippines or whether India will become a really independent democratic country.”


The rapid and accelerating succession of new Plans for India (and the Mountbatten Plan is by no means likely to prove the final solution, when it comes to the practical problems of operating it) are a demonstration of the deepening crisis in India. Imperialism can no longer govern India in the old way. The Indian people are determined to win their independence. The old administrative machine has collapsed. British power, in its present weakened world position, can no longer hope by military coercion to hold India in submission. As Cripps said in the House of Commons debate, on March 5:

“There were fundamentally two alternatives facing the Government. First, they could endeavour to strengthen British control in India on the basis of a considerable reinforcement of British troops …. The second alternative was to accept the fact that the first alternative was not possible .... One thing that was quite obviously impossible was to decide to continue our responsibility indefinitely and indeed against our own wishes into a period when we had not the power to carry it out.”

This bankruptcy of the old imperialist order and irresistible upsurge of the Indian people is the central dominating fact of the Indian situation since the war. All the elaborate constitutional manoeuvres, on the one hand, and the hideous provoked disorder and internal division rending the Indian people, on the other, are only the symptoms of the deep social and political change which is preparing — the blood-soaked birth-pangs of Indian freedom. This crisis has mounted over the past two years. Even the desperate attempts to divert the popular upsurge into fratricidal channels of communal strife have only deepened the crisis, weakened and demoralised the administrative apparatus, undermined the stability of the armed forces, spread contempt for law and order, and hastened the menace of a general conflagration. Gigantic problems are looming before the Indian people, including the deepening food crisis, which are beyond the capacity of the existing administrative apparatus to solve.

Hence the accelerating urgency of British policy to reach a settlement before the situation has passed entirely out of control. The Cabinet Mission Plan, itself the product of the naval revolt, fixed no date for the transfer of power. The Attlee Declaration fixed the date of June, 1948. The Mountbatten Plan seeks to anticipate the Attlee date and complete the process of handing over to Dominion Governments by August or September of this year.

But this enforced retreat of imperialism is accompanied by complex manoeuvres to play on every element of reaction and division (Princes, Hindu-Moslem antagonism, Congress-League disagreement, etc.) in such a way as to qualify in practice the formal transfer of power and protect the essential political, economic and strategic interests of British capital in India.

In place of a straightforward recognition of independence and transfer of power to the majority political leadership of Indian Nationalism, leaving the internal problems of India to be settled by Indian leaders, each successive complicated Plan has revealed this essential character of building an elaborate structure to play on Indian divisions and antagonisms.

Before the Cabinet Mission arrived, the mighty national upsurge in India was unsullied by communal conflict. The great mass demonstrations bore united Congress and League flags and the slogans “Hindus and Moslems, Unite!” “Down with British imperialism!” But the Cabinet Mission Plan erected it entire structure on separating Hindus and Moslems in statutory fixed compartments of its so-called “constituent assembly” and counterposing Congress and League in an uneasy balance of mutual impotence and antagonism. The resultant accentuated conflict spread the hell of communal violence through many areas of India. The Attlee Declaration of February 20 prepared the way for partition by declaring that, in the event of the Moslem League continuing its obstruction, such obstruction would be rewarded by granting its demand for partition. The Mountbatten Award has completed the process and laid down the lines of partition.

As in Ireland, so in India, when the national revolt can no longer be contained, an evil legacy of partition is left by the departing imperialist Power to poison the life of the revolting nation and leave behind two weak and mutually conflicting administrations in place of a strong united and progressive nation.

The conditions, however, are not the same in India as in Ireland for the success of this manoeuvre.


The central new feature of the Mountbatten Plan is the partition of India. The main boast of British rule in India was its unification of India. At the end of two centuries of British rule the India which was united under Asoka and Chandragupta over two thousand years ago and under Akbar three and a half centuries ago is handed back, split into discordant fragments, and needing to tread a toilsome and painful path to overcome this vicious legacy of imperialist “divide and rule” and forge living unity anew.

Partition is so universally recognised in all responsible quarters as disastrous for Indian progressive development that the attempt is made on either side to throw the responsibility on other shoulders. British Government spokesmen claim that they would have preferred the semi-unity of the Cabinet Mission Plan; but that, in the absence of united acceptance by both Congress and the League, partition has become unfortunately inevitable. Congress claims that the refusal of Britain to hand over in democratic fashion to the elected majority leadership of the Indian people, and its insistence on placing a power of absolute veto in the hands of the obstructive minority, made inevitable the British-imposed award of partition which Congress accepts only under protest.

In any case partition is a great evil for India. It represents no lasting solution, but contains seeds of future conflicts. The delimitation of frontiers holds the possibilities of endless discords. The Moslem League has only accepted a “truncated” Pakistan in order in continue the fight for the extension of its frontiers. Congress stands by the aim of a united sovereign democratic Republic.

Partition hinders progressive development, encourages particularism, reaction and communal antagonism, places a barrier in the way of urgently needed all-India economic and social planning, and provides a fertile ground for the disruptive intrigues of rival imperialist powers to gain a foothold in India.

Marxist students of the Indian problem have recognised that within the sub-continent of India there are various national groups with their own languages and cultural traditions; and they have urged that only through self-determination of these nationalities in democratic fashion a real and lasting utility of the Indian people will be achieved. Such a solution of the multinational problem has already been powerfully demonstrated, not only in the case of the U.S.S.R., but more recently in the experience of the Jugoslavian People’s Federal Republic. Such a union will undoubtedly prove the final solution also in India as the necessary economic and political development of Indian history.

But the present proposed partition of the Mountbatten Plan, based upon Hindu and Moslem States, not to speak of the equally arbitrary boundaries of the Princes’ States, has nothing in common with national self-determination. It creates economic monstrosities; it divorces agricultural hinterland from industrial areas; it cuts indiscriminately across railway and irrigation systems; it must necessarily produce chaos in the economic life of India, and give rise to endless complications in the settlement of common services, communications and financial relations; it ruthlessly divides brother from brother on different sides of artificially drawn barriers; and with the proposal to sub-divide Bengal and the Punjab it opens up a way for the limitless fragmentation India.

If this partition is carried through, every effort will need to be made to overcome its disastrous consequences, to build up the closest relations and co-operation of the two Governments, and to prepare the way for the speediest future unification.


Congress has only accepted the present partition plan as a makeshift in order to win effective control over the maximum possible area of India, with the unchanged objective to lead forward to the united democratic Republic of India. This was made clear by Nehru in his speech to the States Peoples’ Conference at Gwalior on April 18:

“Our aim at present is to liberate as much of India as we can — one half or three-fourths and then to deal with the question of independence for the rest.”

The establishment of a Dominion Government or Governments, even though restricted in effectiveness by the evil consequences of partition, will represent a signal advance on the present status of the Interim Government. Already through the Interim Government a valuable achievement has been possible in the sphere of foreign policy; and Indian spokesmen in the United Nations have played an independent and progressive role, in marked contrast to the former puppets who provided British reaction with an extra vote in the supposed name of India. But in internal affairs the Interim Government has been in practice impotent, both through its lack of recognised constitutional authority (the formal position of its members still being that of nominated advisors of the Viceroy), the lack of recognition of the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility, and the mutual feud of the counterpoised Congress and League members, leaving the Viceroy and the bureaucracy in effective control.

The replacement of this situation by responsible Cabinets based on elected popular majorities (even though for the moment on restricted franchise and communal electorates) open the way to far-reaching democratic advance and planned economic and social development for the urgent tasks of national reconstruction.

The fulfilment of these tasks will require the closest co-operation of all progressive sections of the national movement and the working-class movement on a common democratic platform.

The working-class movement, which alone throughout maintained its ranks untouched by communal divisions and has led the fight against communal disruption and disorders, has special problems and responsibility in face of the prospect of the temporary partition of India. The magnificent unity achieved through the All-India Trade Union Congress and the All-India Peasant Federation must not be broken. Here it may be suggested to the national leadership that the attempt to form rival unions, whether through Congress-controlled “National Trade Union Congress”, or through Moslem unions, is not only contrary to the interests of the working class and will break on the rock of working class solidarity, but is also contrary to the interests of national unity for the victory of independence. Now more than ever the situation reveals the urgent need, increasingly recognised on both sides, to endeavour to overcome the past phase of sharp divisions between the Congress and the Communist Party in order to march forward together upon a common programme of democratic advance, for the achievement of full independence and eventual all-India democratic union, and for the fulfilment of the economic and social demands, land-reform, measures of nationalisation and planned industrial development, for which the workers and peasants and masses of the Indian people are looking.

In order to ensure that the transfer of power shall be made effective, it is essential to ensure that the accompanying concrete conditions, especially in the military sphere, in relation to the Princes’ States, and in the economic sphere, shall not invalidate this transfer or permit of indirect forms of continued imperialist control.

In the military sphere the full withdrawal of British forces and military missions and the handing over of all bases and installations to Indian control are an essential condition of real independence. No clear statement of the Government’s policy has yet been made in this respect; and many long-term military preparations, especially in the States, have been widely reported. Bevin in his speech at the Labour Party Conference, referring to British troops in India, stated that: “independence will affect the number of our troops there” — would appear to imply that it would not necessarily mean their withdrawal. Alexander’s reply to Piratin in the House of Commons debate on March 6 would also appear to imply continued military occupation in India:

PIRATIN; I would like to have an unequivocal statement from the Government that there will be no troops stationed in India whether invited or uninvited.

ALEXANDER: It is a most extraordinary proposition I know the Hon. Member is keenly interested in the Russian ideology and so on — if it is to be suggested that the British authority is never to respond in any circumstances sympathetically to the request of another power, while Russia may be quite free to respond to any other countries that desire Russian troops there.

Alexander’s explosion indicates that a vulnerable point had has been touched; and the attempted analogy reveals that the Government considers it as legitimate to maintain British troops in India after the formal recognition of independence or dominion status as for the Soviet Union to maintain troops in ex-enemy occupied countries in accordance with the peace settlement. It may be noted that not only have various Princes of major States offered their territories, but also some Moslem League leaders have offered Pakistan as a suitable British military base in India.

In relation to the Princes’ States the position is still unsettled, Constitutionally, with the lapsing of paramountcy, the States resume their independence and need only enter into such voluntary relations as they choose with the Indian Union or Pakistan. Hyderabad and Travancore have asserted their intention to stand on their own and make their separate relations with Britain. Mountbatten has declared that “the British Government has no intention of recognising any Indian State as a separate Dominion,” but that he would transmit any request from a State for a separate treaty to the British Government. There are indications that British policy would urge the States to align themselves with one or other of the two Dominions to be formed, no doubt as performing a more useful function as a conservative factor within the new Dominions rather than as standing outside; but that this would not necessarily affect their autonomy or exclude the presence of special British missions, officers and “advisors.” The Indian people will finally deal with the Princes and States, whose autocracies have only maintained a puppet existence as pawns of British power, and will not be able ultimately to resist the advance of Indian democracy and freedom. But in the critical transition period we must defeat the attempts to make the Princes’ States or certain major States continue bases of imperialist control and influence. Resolute opposition will be necessary to the contracting of special treaties or establishing of special direct relations with the Indian Princes against the interests of the unity and independence of India as a whole.

In the economic sphere special attention will need to be paid to defeat any attempts to impose unequal economic agreements upon India or to interfere in the free development of her economy. It is known that the big British monopolies calculate to maintain and extend their grip on India even within the new forms through association with the Indian monopolies as junior partners in the Indo-British corporations which are being organised in the present period. The I.C.I. Information Bulletin in a special confidential report on the “Political Outlook” in India, concludes:

There is every reason now to believe that the discrimination against foreign businesses which was once feared will not materialise. …

Unless a Communist uprising on the Russian model could be organised, nationalisation of industries will not go much further than the Government setting up factories at State expense in all those cases where the ordinary chances of supply and demand do not forecast a probable profit on an adequate scale …

On the whole, business interests with substantial resources are justified in not taking too short a view and in being cautiously optimistic.

Any serious programme of national reconstruction in India will inevitably require large-scale nationalisation of the main industries and larger enterprises and elimination of foreign monopolies. In the coming critical negotiations on the sterling balances it is essential to repudiate the harsh Dalton attitude, which not only ignores the heavy burdens placed on the Indian masses by the war, but also in practice plays straight into the hands of the American financial interests to clear the road for dollar penetration of India. (Dalton’s speech was immediately applauded by Churchill and the U.S. Treasury), while alienating Indian feeling and losing the opportunity of a mutually beneficial economic settlement with India.


The international aspects of the new situation developing in India are of far-reaching importance.

Already, even within the limitations of the conditions of the Interim Government, Indian representatives in the United Nations, under the guidance of Nehru as Foreign Minister, have been able to take a courageous and progressive stand, independently of British reaction, over the issues of South Africa and Palestine. The combined leadership of the Soviet Union, India and the progressive democratic countries has even been able on occasion to rally a majority against the bloc of reaction represented by the United States, Britain, South Africa, etc. Indian initiative in convening the Delhi Conference of Asiatic nations, including representatives of the Soviet Asian Republics, constituted a landmark in the closer relations of the peoples of Asia marching forward along the path of liberation. The world is looking to Indian representatives, abroad to carry forward this progressive role, so that India will fulfil the great part which it can play in the partnership of democratic nations.

American imperialism has its eye on India and is actively striving to press forward its penetration. This has been shown in the appointment of O’Grady, former head of the wartime Technical Mission which prepared the confidential report on Indian resources, as Ambassador, with the special message from Truman on American readiness to participate in Indian economic development; the extension of American consulates; the U.S.-Nepal Agreement of May; and the visit of the U.S. warship Toledo to Bombay on May 19. In the past many sections of the Indian national movement tended to look to America as a progressive anti-imperialist country whose assistance might be a positive factor in opposition to British imperialism. That situation has changed. The Indian national movement has not fought to throw off the yoke of British imperialism only in order to fall a victim to the now more powerful and dangerous American imperialism. The examples of Greece, Turkey and China have awakened Indian opinion to the menace of American expansion and dollar penetration; and the hostile reception to the Toledo at Bombay has revealed this awakening.

In this situation the close co-operation of the British and Indian peoples on a democratic and equal basis is more than ever important, both politically and economically. Once the last traces of the relations of imperialist domination are removed, we can look forward to the closest friendly relations and co-operation, both economic and political, of mutual benefit for both peoples within the world partnership of democratic nations.