On 20th February 1947 Prime Minister Clement Attlee declared that Britain would leave India by 30th June 1948, marking the end to two centuries of colonial rule. The date of departure was revealed to encourage the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League to agree a workable plan for newly independent India. The final Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, arrived in India in March 1947 to oversee the transfer of power.

In June, Mountbatten announced that Britain’s departure date was to be brought forward to 15th August 1947. This announcement also formalised the plan to partition the Indian sub-continent into a majority Hindu India and majority Muslim East and West Pakistan.

Map of the partition of India (1947). Note: Small princely states not acceding to either country upon independence are shown as integral parts of India and Pakistan. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.



There was little more than two months from this announcement and the actual partitioning of India to organise the division.

India's first Independence day celebration - author Saktishree DM
LICENSED Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Indian army needed to be quickly divided and resources reallocated in anticipation of Partition. Of the 23 infantry regiments in pre-Partition India, only seven consisted exclusively of Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs. These regiments were to be reformed along religious lines, with soldiers now identifying as Indian or Pakistani. When Mountbatten asked Commander-in-Chief Auchinleck how long it would take to split the army, he replied it might take two, three or possibly five years. His staff were given just four weeks. The military force to manage partition and prevent violence was therefore compromised. For example, in the first week of August, only 7,500 men were sent to the border area of the East-West division of the Punjab, where 14 million people lived

The drawing of the border between India and Pakistan was very hurried - the provinces of Bengal and Punjab were to be divided. The division was created by the Bengal Boundary Commission and the Punjab Boundary Commission, under the chairmanship of British lawyer Sir Cyril Radcliffe. With such little time, the Commission was unable to visit the affected areas. The precise boundaries between the two new countries were not officially announced by the Boundary Commission until 17th August 1947, two days after formal independence. This was as an attempt to not disrupt the Independence Day festivities which were stage-managed as favourable publicity for the British to mark the end of the Raj.

 In the areas affected by Partition, new cultural, language and economic changes followed. Shop names were removed and freshly painted signs installed. Marketplaces and old walled parts of cities were transformed. Street names and parks changed overnight.