It was 70 years ago this week that Britain granted independence to the Indian subcontinent which was partitioned into two countries – Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.
Despite interesting but mixed reviews, I am going to see this new movie, “The Viceroy’s House” about the partition under the final Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten. Released in the UK in March, it was dubbed in Hindi titled Partition: 1947.
Released to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Independence of India and the founding of Pakistan, Viceroy’s House casts Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson as Lord and Lady Mountbatten, the former installed as the last British ruler of the country, tasked with handing Indai back to its own people.
But conflict soon erupted over the arrangement, with a decision taken to divide the country of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs by forming a new Muslim homeland: Pakistan. More here
The Economist characterised is as an antidote to colonial triumphalism ‘Gurinder Chadha has filled a gap in Britain’s collective memory’. Directed by Chadha, it seeks to document Britain’s role in partition and the cleaving of the Punjab region’.
THE fetishisation of British Imperialism is inescapable. Last December, Theresa May cited the East India Company as an example of Britain’s historical trading prowess. Contestants on a recent season of “The Apprentice”, an entrepreneurial reality show, created batches of “Colony Gin”; Marks & Spencer, a retailer, included an “Empire Pie” as part of its Gastropub collection. This nostalgia is borne out by a YouGov poll from 2016, which found that 44% of respondents are proud of Britain’s colonial history.
Those colonised, though, see the empire rather differently . . . . .
There are various reviews on social media but check out Rotten Tomatoes and The Guardian’s Gripping political drama with a populist edge. Check out The Mirror. In one review, The Sydney Morning Herald characterised it as entertaining but misleading, an Indian Gone with the Wind and in another an Upstairs Downstairs in Delhi.
Thus, and as ever, audiences need to be careful about taking the film as history. A great deal of what we see here happened, but not all. Chadha’s film gives us a feeling for how terrible these events were – and that is worth praising. Just keep a little salt to hand.
Reading about “The Viceroy’s House” I am reminded of perhaps the most well known and revered player in the partition of India: Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
‘Mr. Jinnah was trained as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn in London. Upon his return to India, he enrolled at the Bombay High Court, and took an interest in national politics which eventually replaced his legal practice.’ He became the founder of Pakistan and its first Governor General. As a lawyer he appeared at all levels in all Courts in India in civil and criminal cases which meant appearing in the Privy Council.
Mr. Jinnah taking the oath of office of Governor General from Chief Justice Sir Abdur Rashid.
While there’s much more about this great man and his distinguished career here I share this short excerpt:
Sensational cases apart, Mr. Jinnah had built up a solid, substantial and lucrative practice within a few years after his return to Bombay. He was the most versatile of advocates, practicing with equal success before civil and criminal courts, original and appellate sides of the High Courts, and last but not the least, before the highest tribunal of the Commonwealth, the Privy Council. Mr. Jinnah was a triple combination, Carson’s ‘cross-examination’, Marshall Hall’s ‘Marshalling of facts’ and Simon’s ‘subtlety of law’.
Been prosecuted for sedition? Mr. Jinnah, in defending his client prosecuted for his strong views about Home Rule and independence for India, looked at ‘disaffection’ versus ‘disapprobation’.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Case
When Bal Gangadhar Tilak, prominent Indian National leader, was convicted for sedition, Mr. Jinnah appeared in the Appeal before the Division Bench of Bombay High Court and drew a distinction between disaffection and disapprobation. The sentence was set aside. Mr. Jinnah’s legal acumen was acknowledged all over India. An attractive and illustrated book THE BOMBAY HIGH COURT 1878-2003 was published by the august Court through its heritage Committee consisting of eminent judges and leading lawyers in its introduction — Hall of Justice — it is stated: “In 1914, Tilak was prosecuted again on charges of sedition. This time, his legal counsel was Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a renowned lawyer of the Bombay Bar and a leader in the Indian National Congress. Jinnah was convinced that Tilak had been prosecuted for his strong views about Home Rule and independence for India and defended him so adroitly that Tilak was acquitted by the High Court.”
Let me conclude by referring the tribute paid by Mr. Justice Muhammad Munir, former Chief Justice of Pakistan on 23 March, 1976 in the Seminar at the University of Punjab, Lahore: “I have appeared with or against or heard as a judge some of the greatest lawyers of England and India-Lawyers like Mr. Pritt Q.C., Mr. Diplock Q.C. (now the Tr. Hon’ble Lord Diplock P.C.), soft-spoken Bhulabhai Desai, aggressive K.M. Munshi, another top lawyer of Bombay. Sir Tej Bahadur Supru pronouncing Arabic Sighas in a Wakf case, Mr. Hasan Imam, many bald and grey headed veterans of the Lahore Bar. But in my long experience I have never noticed that masterly analysis, classification and presentation of facts and the lucidity and subtlety of argument which I heard in a few Bombay cases argued by Mr. Jinnah.”
And this from: Aziz Beg, Jinnah and his Times
“Having qualified as a barrister in England and having made his mark in India, Jinnah’s name could be justly added to the ‘list of great lawyers’ academically linked to Lincoln’s Inn. Jinnah practiced both law and politics for half a century; he made a fortune as an advocate and earned glory and gratitude of prosperity as leader of the Indian Muslims. When Jinnah left the shores of free England and voyaged to subject India in 1896, he had perhaps no idea that, one day, he would be obliged by the erstwhile Hindu leaders to make history and his biggest brief would be to win the case of the Indian Muslims for a separate homeland.”
Jinnah was a lawyer by profession who won many cases due to his brilliance in law. He is by far the most successful lawyer to have become a head of state. According to those who saw him in action, few lawyers commanded a more attractive audience than he. In fact, an angry Justice Martin once addressed him during a case as ‘Mr Jinnah, you are not addressing a third-class magistrate!’
‘There isn’t a third counsel before your Lordship,’ came the astute reply.