Transfer of Power from British to Pakistan on August 14, 1947: The Quaid’s Significant Contribution

Although the partition of the Indo-Pak subcontinent into two new states – Pakistan and Hindustan – was generally considered to be a settled matter after the announcement of Mountbatten’s Partition Plan on June 3, 1947, yet in the high command of the All India Muslim League (AIML) quarters there were fears that this plan may be sabotaged. This was not without any foundation because they knew the secret machinations of the Indian National Congress high command comprising M.K. Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and others. The publication of the Transfer of Power documents in 1980s confirmed this view that the high command of makers of Pakistan led by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was thinking along the right lines.1 For sabotaging their plan to undo Pakistan’s creation, the idea of Lord Mountbatten as the joint Governor-General of both Pakistan and Hindustan was floated. As a rebuttal to this, the Muslim League high command put forth the idea of making Quaid-i-Azam as the first Governor-General of Pakistan.  Apart from this, the Congress high command used Gandhi for some other matters to sabotage the Partition Plan. First of all, Gandhi arranged Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan’s meeting with Mountbatten on June 4, to sabotage Referendum in NWFP (now KP), then wrote a letter to Mountbatten on June 7, to sabotage the Partition Plan. When he felt that Mountbatten was not going to budge from the Partition Plan, Gandhi wrote another letter to Mountbatten on June 27, which Mountbatten placed before his 48th Staff Meeting held on June 28. But Mountbatten was not going to change his commitment of Partition with Jinnah because of the fear that “Jinnah would point out to the world at large that Congress’ acceptance of the Statement of 3rd June” by Mountbatten had not been honest and that Mountbatten was aligned with the Congress high command.2 The Congress Working Committee in its meeting on June 12 also termed the demand of Pakistan as based on false grounds.3 Towards the end of June, Gandhi finally told Mountbatten in the Hindustani dialect the words “fair play” did not exist.   The Quaid, through his personal means, kept himself fully informed of these machinations by the Congress. He brought these matters before AIML Council on June 29-30 which decided to nominate Jinnah as first Governor-General of Pakistan, a decision which was conveyed to Mountbatten by Liaquat Ali Khan through his letter of July 2, 1947. Though this decision was taken as bombshell by the Congress high command as well as the British high command, yet it settled the matter and paved the way for settling the partition issues.  As a result of this decision, Mountbatten could not take any decision regarding Pakistan without consulting Jinnah. The proceedings of some of the important issues especially during the last days August 10-14, 1947 are presented here.


Formation of Pakistan’s Flag
The issue of the flag of Pakistan was very important, one about which Quaid was very concerned. In this connection detailed discussions were held between Jinnah and Mountbatten on July 12.5  Jinnah insisted that the Muslim League flag would be the flag of Pakistan, but Mountbatten wanted an amendment in the shape that small union jack should be shown in the upper canton of the proposed flag. The Quaid, in his interview with Mountbatten on July 12, explained that this “would be repugnant to the religious feelings of the Muslims to have a flag with Christian cross alongside the crescent.” This was an issue on which the Quaid was not going to surrender and duly projected the sentiments of the people of Pakistan. Again on July 15 there was another meeting in the Viceroy House, Delhi for settling the issue of the flag. The Quaid’s forceful arguments for the cause of Muslim State of Pakistan were ultimately accepted by Lord Mountbatten.6 However, Mountbatten felt concerned about the way Jinnah was making decisions regarding matters relating to Pakistan. It seemed that before Jinnah, he was helpless.  In his secret and personal report to the Secretary of State for India on July 18, 1947 Mountbatten even complained to the British Government that “Jinnah now issues his own court circular” every day.

Karachi to be the Capital of Pakistan
For India, the capital of Delhi and the secretariat was an established fact. The Congress was jubilant that future of Pakistan was left lurking.  This suited them because they would dispense with Pakistan within months of the declaration of independence. On this ticklish issue Jinnah took a bold decision. As a result of his secret discussion with Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, Governor of Sindh, Jinnah had declared that Karachi would be the capital of Pakistan where the secretariat for the Government of Pakistan would be built. As the time was short, a number of arrangements in this regard were made. On June 19, K.J. Thouless, Chief Engineer of the Posts and Telegraphs Department and Mahomed Hussain, Director of Telegraph in New Delhi, came to Karachi and held discussions with the Sindh Ministers and local officials.7 The Muslim League High Command also constituted a Housing Committee headed by N.A. Faruqui, District Magistrate of Karachi, as its Chairman, and Ali Mohamed Baloch, Rent Controller of Sindh, as its Secretary.  The other two members of this committee were Executive Engineer and the Military Administrative Officer.  This Karachi Committee was authorized to make all office and lodging arrangements for the staff of the Pakistan Central Secretariat before August 15, 1947.8

Liaquat Ali Khan, Honorary Secretary of All India Muslim League, in following the guidelines from Jinnah stated in a press statement from Delhi on June 26, 1947 through which he requested Dr. I.H. Qureshi, Professor of History, University of Delhi to collect officers, scientists, technicians, specialists and other men of distinction who would like to serve in Pakistan so that they could be approached for service to build Pakistan on constructive lines.9 

On July 8 it was decided that Sindh Government would move into the Napier Barracks, while the Pakistan Secretariat would be accommodated in the Sindh Secretariat and Assembly Building, Karachi.  Karachi would thus be the capital of both Sindh and Pakistan.10 I.P.M. Cargill, Finance Secretary to the Sindh Government, revealed to the pressmen in Karachi that about 12,000 personnel, including families of members of the Pakistan Government, would move into Karachi from the beginning of August. He also stated that necessary lodging and office arrangements for the staff and their families were being made.11 

Thus the Muslim League High Command was engaged in New Delhi in assembling the Pakistan Central Secretariat in Karachi.12 According to communication from the Auditor-General of India to the local Comptroller, some 270 gazette officers and 4,000 non-gazette officers were to be transferred from the Government of India, Delhi to the proposed Pakistan Central Government with headquarters at Karachi.  They would draw their salaries at Karachi from September 1, 1947.13 Ceremonial arrangements for Mountbatten’s visit to Karachi on August 13-14 were prepared by the Viceroy’s staff on July 15 and 18 in consultation with the Quaid.

Preparation by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly

On August 10, 1947, meeting of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly was held in Karachi in which the members were to append their signatures on the roll of the Assembly. On August 11, 1947 the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan elected the Quaid, the Governor-General designate of Pakistan, as President of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. In his welcome address, following his election, Jinnah made it clear that “justice and fair play would be the guiding principles of the new State”.14 He also declared that “we are starting with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of Pakistan with no distinction of caste or community”.15  The Quaid also made it clear that the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan would be discharging two functions: i) first, to frame constitution of the new state, and ii) to act as a legislative body. On a motion by Liaquat Ali Khan the national flag of the federation of Pakistan, with three-fourth green with crescent and the star inset and the quarter near the mast of white colour, was adopted.  In another resolution moved by Liaquat it was also adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 12 that from thenceforward M.A. Jinnah would be addressed in all official acts, documents and correspondence as Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.17 

Transfer of Power to Pakistan
According to the Act of Independence the process of transfer of power to Pakistan and Hindustan was to be completed by August 15, 1947.  As Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Founder of Pakistan, was insisting on the British Government to transfer power to Pakistan before August 15, the meeting of Pakistan Constituent Assembly was held on August 10, 1947.  Next day the Quaid was elected President of the Constituent Assembly and he delivered his first presidential address in which he explained the aims and purposes of the creation of Pakistan.  The most important aspect of his speech was that the Quaid declared that Pakistan belongs not only to the Muslims who form majority of its population but to all the minorities who will enjoy equal rights of citizenship along with the Muslims. That was how the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan started functioning in Karachi before August 15.  This was done on the basis of the Quaid’s urgings upon Lord Mountbatten through various letters.

The other important step was the ceremony of the transfer of power to Pakistan’s first Constituent Assembly which had already started functioning.  This ceremony was held on August 14. On the Quaid’s insistence, Lord and Lady Mountbatten reached Karachi a day earlier to preside over this ceremony. In the evening of August 13 Mountbatten presided over the last meeting of the Provisional Pakistan Cabinet at the Government House, Karachi, in which all the Ministers were present.18 On August 14 the ceremony was held which was duly attended by Lord and Lady Mountbatten, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Fatima Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, and other members of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. Amidst unprecedented scenes of splendor and color in this festive capital city of the new dominion, the Viceroy Lord Louis Mountbatten addressed this morning the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. With numerous jeweled war decorations and orders glittering under the flashlights, Lord Mountbatten, who was in his Admiral uniform, delivered a historic speech which lasted for 15 minutes in a dignified and measured tone to the full House with galleries packed with high personages, diplomats, world pressmen and prominent citizens.

Quaid-i-Azam, President of the Constituent Assembly led the Viceroy on his arrival to the throne placed alongside his Presidential Chair.  His Excellency Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of British India, Hon. Pamela Mountbatten and Begum Liaquat Ali Khan occupied the back row in the distinguished gallery while Lady Mountbatten and Miss Fatima Jinnah sat together in the front row near the Viceregal throne. When the Viceroy and Quaid-i-Azam entered the hall all rose to their feet. Speaking on this occasion Mountbatten said: “The birth of Pakistan is an event in history.” Mountbatten also paid tribute to the leaders of the Pakistan Movement in these words: “I wish to pay tribute to the great men, your leaders, who helped to arrive at a peaceful solution for the transfer of power.” Paying tribute to the Quaid, he said: “Here I would like to express my tribute to Mr. Jinnah.  Our close personal contact, and the mutual trust and understanding that have grown out of it, are, I feel, the best of omens for future good relations.  He has my sincere good wishes as your new Governor-General.” The Viceroy in his address also quoted the example of Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Akbar, particularly his tolerance and goodwill shown to the non-Muslims in India. The Viceroy was loudly cheered when he resumed his seat at the conclusion of his address.19 

Standing erect and dignified, the Quaid dressed in a long silk coat replied in a measured voice with some notes in his hand. He said: “Your Excellency, I thank His Majesty the King on behalf of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly and myself for his gracious message. I know great responsibility lies ahead and I naturally reciprocate his sentiments and we greatly appreciate his assurance of sympathy and support and I hope that you will please communicate to His Majesty our assurance of goodwill and friendship for the British nation and him as the Crown of the British Government.”  Replying to Mountbatten as to his reference to the tolerance of Akbar, the Quaid emphasized that tolerance and goodwill shown to the non-Muslims was not of recent origin, but it dates back thirteen centuries ago when our Holy Prophet (PBUH) not only by words but by deeds treated the Jews and Christians with utmost tolerance and regard and respect for their faith and beliefs even after they were conquered.

Since dawn of the day on August 14 Karachi was in high spirits. Perennial streams of people lined the streets leading to the Constituent Assembly buildings to watch the historic drive-in-state of Their Excellencies Lord and Lady Mountbatten and Quaid-i-Azam and Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah.  Police pickets regulated the traffic and the crowds which stood gazing in spite of unusually warm weather.  The premises of the Assembly were a veritable sea of humanity.  The Viceroy and Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah arrived from the Government House at 9.00 a.m. at the Assembly premises and were presented a guard of honour provided by the pick of the Pakistan Army, in which the men of the Second Airborne Division were prominent.20 

Thus Pakistan emerged on the world map as one of the largest Muslim States in the world. Another feature of this independence function was that for the Muslims living in Pakistan the freedom was not a new phenomenon, but return of their age-old freedom similar to the Muslim rule in the subcontinent.  The Quaid at another place had said that for Muslims this freedom was not new because they had been ruling the subcontinent for centuries. In the shape of Pakistan the old historic rule has come back, though in a smaller area than before.

The writer is Ex-Director, National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, and Professor at Quaid-i-Azam Chair (NIPS), Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.
E-mail: [email protected]

1 Nicholas Mansergh and Penderal Moon, Constitutional Relations between Britain and India: The Transfer of Power, 1942-47, vols. X-XII, London, Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1981-1984.
2 Times of India, June 28, 1947.
3  Indian Annual Register, 1947, vol. I.
4  Mr. Gandhi’s suggestions to HE the Viceroy, in MSS. Eur. Mountbatten Papers, F. 200/84, British Library (OIOC), London.
5  Ibid.
6  Fortnightly Report for the Second Half of June 1947, Ziarat, 6 July 1947 in the British Library (OIOC), L/P&J/5/280.
7  Star of India, 26 June 1947.
8  Star of India, 30 June 1947.
9  Mountbatten Papers, F.200/194, Library (OIOC), London.
10  Ibid.
11  Ibid.
12  Ibid.
13 Times of India, July 12, 1947.
14  Times of India, July 12, 1947.    
15  Mountbatten Papers, F.200/161, British Library (OIOC), London.
16  Ibid
17  Times of India, June 20, 1947.
18  Times of India, June 14,1947.
19  Times of India (Bombay) and Star of India (Calcutta), August 15, 1947.
20  Ibid.


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