At the end of the Second World War (1939-45), the British politicians realised that the colonial rule in India could no longer be sustained. The Indian nationalists were dead against its continuation, and international opinion was also in favour of decolonisation. The perspective in which the Indian question had so far been articulated had thus radically changed. True to its pledge, the newly elected Labour Government also responded to the situation in a very different way. Illustrative of their commitment is the announcement on 20 February 1947, where Attlee, the British Premier, declared that ‘His Majesty’s Government wish to make it clear that it is their definite intention to take necessary steps to effect the transference of power to responsible Indian hands by a date not later than June, 1948’.1 Accordingly, Mountabatten, the last Viceroy, was vested with all powers to devise an appropriate scheme to settle the Indian question. It was a difficult task. Nonetheless, the Viceroy convinced both the Muslim League and the Congress leadership to agree to the partition of Bengal and Punjab, and also assured completion of the process by August 1947 instead of June 1948, as decided earlier.2 It was against this background that Mountbatten prepared a plan which ‘was evolved at every stage by a process of open diplomacy with leaders’.3 Harping on the commitment of the Attlee Government to withdraw from the subcontinent, the June plan, as it came to be known, elaborated the process as follows:

[F]or the immediate purpose of deciding on the issue of Partition, the members of the Legislative Assemblies of Bengal and Punjab will sit in two parts according to Muslim majority districts and non-Muslim majority districts. This is the only preliminary step of a purely temporary nature as it is evident that for the purposes of or final partition of these provinces a detailed investigation of boundary questions will be needed; and as soon as a decision involving partition has been taken for either province, a boundary commission will be set up by the Governor-General. The members and terms of reference of which will be settled in consultation

with those concerned. It will be instructed to demarcate the boundaries of the two parts of the Punjab on the basis of ascertaining the contiguous majority areas of Muslims and nonMuslims. It will also be instructed to take into account other factors. Similar instructions will be given to the Bengal Boundary Commission. Until the report of the Boundary Commission has been put into effect, the provisional boundaries indicated in the Appendix will be used.4