The Partition: The British game of ‘divide and rule’ (2023)

On August 15, 1947, India won independence: a moment of birth that was also an abortion, since freedom came with the horrors of the partition, when East and West Pakistan were hacked off the stooped shoulders of India by the departing British.

Seventy years later, it is hard to look back without horror at the savagery of the country’s vivisection, when rioting, rape and murder scarred the land, millions were uprooted from their homes, and billions of rupees worth of property were damaged and destroyed.

The Partition: The British game of ‘divide and rule’ (1)

Within months, India and Pakistan were embroiled in a war over Kashmir, the consequences of which still affect us today.

There was an intangible partition, too. Friendships were destroyed, families ruined, geography hacked, history misread, tradition denied, minds and hearts torn apart.

(Video) How Britain Divided India | Indian Partition Documentary

The creation and perpetuation of Hindu-Muslim antagonism was the most significant accomplishment of British imperial policy: the colonial project of “divide et impera” (divide and rule) fomented religious antagonisms to facilitate continued imperial rule and reached its tragic culmination in 1947.

READ MORE: Memories of Partition – One man’s return to Pakistan

The British liked drawing lines on maps of other countries; they had done it in the Middle East after World War I, and they did it again in India. Partition was the coda to the collapse of British authority in India in 1947.

The killing and mass displacement worsened as people sought frantically to be on the “right” side of the lines the British were to draw across their homeland. More than a million people died in the savagery that accompanied the freedom of India and Pakistan; some 17 million were displaced, and countless properties destroyed and looted. Lines meant lives.

The Partition: The British game of ‘divide and rule’ (2)
(Video) How the British failed India and Pakistan

In that last, mad, headlong rush to freedom and partition, the British emerge with little credit. Before World War II, they had no intention of devolving power so rapidly, or at all. The experience of the elected governments in the last years of the British Raj confirmed that the British had never been serious about their proclaimed project of promoting the responsible governance of India by Indians.

When the elected ministries of the Indian National Congress quit office in protest against the British declaring war against Germany on India’s behalf without consulting them, the British thought little of appointing unelected Muslim Leaguers in their place and, in many cases, assuming direct control of functions that had supposedly been devolved to Indians. They openly helped the Muslim League take advantage of this unexpected opportunity to exercise influence and patronage that their electoral support had not earned them and to build up support while their principal opponents languished in jail.

This was all part of the policy of divide and rule, systematically promoting political divisions between Hindus and Muslims, defined as the monolithic communities they had never been before the British.

The British had been horrified, during the Revolt of 1857, to see Hindus and Muslims fighting side by side and under each other’s command against the foreign oppressor. They vowed this would not happen again. “Divide et impera was an old Roman maxim, and it shall be ours”, wrote Lord Elphinstone. A systematic policy of fomenting separate consciousness among the two communities was launched, with overt British sponsorship. When restricted franchise was grudgingly granted to Indians, the British created separate communal electorates, so that Muslim voters could vote for Muslim candidates for Muslim seats. The seeds of division were sown, to prevent a unified nationalist movement that could overthrow the British.

(Video) 1947 India Pakistan Partition | Game Plan of Dividing India

No one in any responsible position in Britain as late as 1940 had any serious intention whatsoever of relinquishing the Empire or surrendering the jewel in His Majesty’s Crown to a rabble of nationalist Indians clad in homespun. But the devastation of World War II meant that only one-half of the phrase could survive: bled, bombed and battered for six years, Britain could divide, but it could no longer rule.

The British – terrorised by German bombing, demoralised by various defeats and large numbers of their soldiers taken prisoner, shaken by the desertion of Indian soldiers and the mutiny of Indian sailors, shivering in the record cold of the winter of 1945-46, crippled by power cuts and factory closures resulting from a post-war coal shortage – were exhausted and in no mood to focus on a distant Empire when their own needs at home were so pressing.

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They were also more or less broke: American loans had kept the economy afloat and needed to be repaid, and even India was owed a sizable debt. Overseas commitments were no longer sustainable or particularly popular. Exit was the only viable option: the question was what they would leave behind – one India, two or several fragments?

Britain’s own tactics before and during the war ensured that by the time departure came, the Muslim League had been strengthened enough to sustain its demand for a separate homeland for Muslims, and the prospects of a united India surviving a British exit had essentially faded. Divide et impera had worked too well: a device meant to perpetuate British rule in India ensured a united India could not survive without the British. Two countries was what it would be.

(Video) The British game of divide and rule by shaunak tripathi

The Partition: The British game of ‘divide and rule’ (3)

The task of dividing the two nations was assigned to Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a lawyer who had never been to India before and knew nothing of its history, society or traditions. Radcliffe, perspiring profusely in the unfamiliar heat, drew up his maps in less than five weeks, dividing provinces, districts, villages, homes and hearts – and promptly scuttled to Britain, never to return to India. The British Empire simply crumbled in disorder. The British were heedless of the lives that would be lost in their headlong rush to the exits.

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The scars of the partition have lasted 70 years, even though India has emerged as a thriving pluralist democracy while Pakistan – splitting into two with the secession of the East as Bangladesh in 1971 – and Bangladesh have encountered difficulties in maintaining democracy. But India’s flourishing democracy of seven decades is no tribute to British rule. It is a bit rich for the British to suppress, exploit, imprison, torture and maim people for 200 years and then celebrate the fact that they are a democracy at the end of it.

If Britain’s greatest accomplishment was the creation of a single political unit called India, fulfilling the aspirations of visionary Indian emperors from Ashoka to Akbar, then its greatest failure must be the shambles of that original Brexit – cutting and running from the land they had claimed to rule for its betterment, leaving behind a million dead, 17 million displaced, billions of rupees of property destroyed, and the flames of communal hatred blazing hotly across the ravaged land. There is no greater indictment of the failures of British rule in India than the tragic manner of its ending.

(Video) Channel 4 Documentary - India 1947: Partition in Colour (Part 1/2)

Shashi Tharoor is an elected member of India’s parliament and chairs its Foreign Affairs Committee. He is the prize-winning author of 16 books, including, most recently, Inglorious Empire: What the British Did To India.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


What was the Divide and Rule policy by the British? ›

Thus they imposed the Divide and Rule policy where they divided the Indian population into groups based on their religion and turned them against each other. With this, the British decided to bring Muslim Zamindars and newly educated Muslims on their side.

What was partition and why was India divided the way that it was? ›

The partition created the independent nations of Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India, separating the provinces of Bengal and Punjab along religious lines, despite the fact that Muslims and Hindus lived in mixed communities throughout the area, Satia said.

What is Divide and Rule policy short note? ›

You use divide and rule to refer to a policy which is intended to keep someone in a position of power by causing disagreements between people who might otherwise unite against them. Ministers will offer inducements to some, in an attempt to divide and rule.

Why did British divide India and Pakistan? ›

Crudely, this was a division based upon religious affiliation, with the creation of a Muslim majority in West and East Pakistan and a Hindu majority in India.

Who was the key person behind divide and rule? ›

Lord Minto adopted the strategy of DIvide and Rule. The fearful British Government decided to apply the policy of ' Divide and Rule' to break the unity of the people. Lord Minto decided to make the Indian Muslims against the Hindus and against the Congress.

Why did the British decide to use the policy of divide and rule the British decided to use the policy of divide and rule to create a rift between the *? ›

The British followed the policy of 'Divide and Rule' in India to pursue their interests against the Indian masses. In order to exploit India through imperial policies, the British ensured various conflicts between Indians remained concrete.

What is the rules of divide? ›

As the name suggests, divisibility tests or division rules in Maths help one to check whether a number is divisible by another number without the actual method of division. If a number is completely divisible by another number then the quotient will be a whole number and the remainder will be zero.

Why was the divide and rule policy adopted? ›

The strategy of DIvide and Rule was adopted by Lord Minto. The British Government anticipating danger from the side of Indians in near future because of the growth of unity under the spell of nationalism decided to apply the policy of ' Divide and Rule' to break the unity of the people.

What is the basic rule of division? ›

In a division problem, there are several elements: The dividend is the larger number you're breaking apart. The divisor is the smaller number you're dividing into the dividend. The quotient results when dividing the dividend by the divisor.

Why did the British agree to partition India? ›

Why was British India partitioned? In 1946, Britain announced it would grant India independence. No longer able to afford to administer the country, it wanted to leave as quickly as possible. The last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, set the date as 15 August 1947.

What are the main causes of partition? ›

The three causes that lead to the partition of India are:
  • Activities of the Muslim League: In the formation of the Muslim League, the English Govt played a significant role. ...
  • Communal Reaction: Hindu communalism also came into existence as a result of Muslim communalism.
Feb 26, 2023

Who was responsible for partition of India? ›

The ideology that religion is the determining factor in defining the nationality of Indian Muslims was undertaken by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who termed it as the awakening of Muslims for the creation of Pakistan.

How did partition affect the lives of ordinary people? ›

Thousands of lives were snuffed out, many others changed dramatically, cities changed, India changed, a new country was born, and there was unprecedented genocidal violence and migration. Fig. 14.1 Partition uprooted millions, transforming them into refugees, forcing them to begin life from scratch in new lands.

What are the three main factors that led to the partition of India? ›

What caused the partition of India? The British policy of divide and rule, the Muslim league and Jinnah's separate politics, the Pakistan Resolution, and the Communal violence of 1946 are some causes of the partition of India.

How did the British rule India? ›

The British government took possession of the company's assets and imposed direct rule. The raj was intended to increase Indian participation in governance, but the powerlessness of Indians to determine their own future without the consent of the British led to an increasingly adamant national independence movement.

What is divide and rule management style? ›

It is a strategy of gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power in a team/office into parts so that individuals in that team have less power than the one implementing the strategy.

What was the most important outcome of British policy of divide and rule? ›

The creation and perpetuation of Hindu-Muslim antagonism was the most significant accomplishment of British imperial policy: the colonial project of “divide et impera” (divide and rule) fomented religious antagonisms to facilitate continued imperial rule and reached its tragic culmination in 1947.

Why did the British want to rule? ›

England, in what is now Britain, wanted more land overseas where it could build new communities, known as colonies. These colonies would provide England with valuable materials, like metals, sugar and tobacco, which they could also sell to other countries.

What was the purpose of British rule? ›

The main purpose of the British Raj was of course to gain economic profit and political control, but it also managed to unify the subcontinent, introduce western education, a centralized administrative system, a network of railways, etc.

What happened in divide and rule policy? ›

The Divide And Rule policy, also known as the “divide and conquer” strategy, was a British colonialist policy used in India to keep the different Indian religions and ethnicities divided. This allowed the British to maintain their power and control over India for centuries.

What is the 7 division rule? ›

The divisibility rule of 7 states that, if a number is divisible by 7, then “the difference between twice the unit digit of the given number and the remaining part of the given number should be a multiple of 7 or it should be equal to 0”. For example, 798 is divisible by 7. Explanation: The unit digit of 798 is 8.

Who introduced divide and rule policy in 1905? ›

Announced on 20 July 1905 by Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India, and implemented on 16 October 1905, it was undone a mere six years later.

Why did the states divide? ›

The division began long before the onset of the war in 1861. It had many causes, but there were two main issues that split the nation: first was the issue of slavery, and second was the balance of power in the federal government.

Why was it decided to divide the country into smaller units called states? ›

It is not possible to manage the entire country and its entire population from just one location. Hence, India is divided into states and union territories.

What is an example of divide? ›

Explained. Division in maths is the process of breaking a number up into equal parts, and finding out how many equal parts can be made. For example, dividing 15 by 3 means splitting 15 into 3 equal groups of 5. Division is represented by the symbol '÷' or sometimes '/'.

What are the 4 steps of division? ›

Long division steps
  • Divide.
  • Multiply.
  • Subtract.
  • Bring the next number down.
  • Repeat.

What was the divide and rule policy of the British Brainly? ›

The divide and rule policy was a strategy used by the British to weaken the Indian powers by creating a gulf between the different communities in India. When the different groups of populace fought each other and weakened themselves they could easily be taken over by the British.

What was dual power policy of the British rule? ›

In 1765, Robert Clive brought in the 'Dual-government' concept. As per this concept, the British had the right to collect land taxes, whereas the Nawab had power over administrative issues like justice and others. Like this, the British gained political control over India to protect their business interest.


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