Partition of India

Does Pakistan Claim Junagadh in the Indian State of Gujarat?

Kashmir MapIndia and Pakistan’s territorial conflict over Kashmir (“Jammu and Kashmir” officially) is well known, as are the complications that it creates for cartographers. Maps produced in India must portray all of the disputed area as Indian land, while Pakistani maps show it as part of Pakistan. Outside observers who try to remain impartial usually divide these two countries at the actual line of control, depicting the areas under Indian administration as part of India and those under Pakistani administration as part of Pakistan. Careful maps note that the boundary line is disputed. If one does not indicate the conflicted nature of the division, controversy can ensue. As we have discovered at GeoCurrents, maps that do not include Pakistani-controlled Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir as parts of India can arouse the ire of Indian readers.

Northern Pakistan MapThe new edition (2012) of the Atlas of Islamic Republic of Pakistan is an interesting source to examine the Pakistani position on this issue. The atlas has official status; its copyright is marked as “Government of Pakistan,” it was printed by the Survey of Pakistan, and it was published under the direction of Surveyor-General of Pakistan. Not surprisingly, its maps portray Kashmir as part of Pakistan, but they do mark most of this area as “Disputed Territory,” further specifying that its eastern border with China remains “undefined.” The Atlas does, however, oddly exclude Gilgit from the disputed zone. It also never marks the actual line of control that separates Indian-administered from Pakistani-administered territory.

Junagadh MapThe truly peculiar feature of the atlas, however, is not its portrayal of Kashmir, but rather that of the Indian state of Gujarat. All maps of Pakistan in the atlas depict a sizable section of western Gujarat as an integral, non-disputed part of Pakistan, whereas its world political map seemingly classifies this same region as if it were an independent country. The area in question is the former princely state of Junagadh. In the imagination of the cartographer, “Junagadh and Manavadar” retains its former complex territory, with numerous exclaves and enclaves, that in actuality vanished shortly after the end of British India. Such fractionated territoriality reflects its heritage as an autonomous statelet that had been under the suzerainty of the British Raj during colonial time. After partition, Junagadh became part of the Republic of India, but evidently that incorporation is still viewed as illegitimate in some World Political Map JunagadhPakistani governmental circles. The map in question also portrays the city of Diu as remaining under Portuguese control, whereas in actuality it was annexed by India in 1961.

The Junagadh controversy goes back to 1947-1948 and the emergence of India and Pakistan as independent states. At the time, the rulers of the “princely states” were given some leeway in regard to which country their territories would join. Problems emerged in several princely states, especially those in which the ruler followed a different religion from that followed by the minority of his subjects. Whereas Kashmir at the time was ruled by a Hindu but had a clear Muslim majority, the situation in Junagadh was reversed. During the partition process, the Nawab of Junagadh tied to join his state to Pakistan, much to the displeasure of both his subjects and the British viceroy, Lord Mountbatten. India was also infuriated, and responded with a blockade of the territory. As explained in the Wikipedia:

Eventually, [India’s Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai] Patel ordered the forcible annexation of Junagadh’s three principalities. Junagadh’s state government, facing financial collapse and lacking forces with which to resist Indian force, invited the Government of India to take control. A plebiscite was conducted in December, in which approximately 99% of the people chose India over Pakistan.


Nehru [subsequently] sent a telegram to Liaquat Ali Khan about the Indian take-over of Junagadh. Khan sent a return telegram to Nehru stating that Junagadh was Pakistani territory, and nobody except the Pakistan government was authorised to invite anybody to Junagadh. He also accused the Indian Government of naked aggression on Pakistan’s territory and of violating international law. The Government of Pakistan strongly opposed the Indian occupation.

As evidenced by the Atlas of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the government of Pakistan has never accepted India’s annexation of the territory, which did proceed in a highly irregular manner. (In fact, as reported to me by by Munis Faruqui, “the Pakistan government still issues a very limited number of car license plates emblazoned with the name “Junagadh,(presumably to members of the former royal family.”) But its also seems clear that a sizable majority of Junagadh’s people wanted union with India, although the 99-percent pro-India vote does make me rather suspicious of the plebiscite.

Gujarat Princely States MapAnother complicating factor was the extraordinarily complex and essentially feudal nature of the political geography of India’s princely states, especially those in Gujarat (see for a superb map, reproduced here at a reduced scale). Manavadar, for example, formed a separate territory under the vassalage Junagadh, which in turn was something of a vassal of the much more populous state of Baroda, which had been ruled by a Hindu Maharaja. According to some sources, such subordination meant that their rulers had no right to choose between India and Pakistan. As outlined in a different Wikipedia article:

On 14 September 1947, following the independence of the new Dominions of India and Pakistan, the Khan Sahib Ghulam Moinuddin Khanji acceded the state of Manavadar to the Dominion of Pakistan though the state had no such right to do so being a vassal of Junagarh. This act was done at the same time as his master, the Nawab of Junagadh who himself had no right, being a vassal of Baroda State. Indian police forces were subsequently sent into Manavadar on 22 October 1947, and the Khan Sahib was placed under house arrest at Songadh.

In a fascinating and informative article, Sandeep Bhardwaj refers to the accession of Junagadh to India as a “farce of history.” As he notes:

Junagadh itself contained dozens of petty estates and sheikhdoms within it. In fact the situation was so confusing that it took the Government of India several weeks just to figure out the correct borders before they could formulate a military plan. Moreover, the government lawyers couldn’t figure out whether these tiny sheikhdoms were legally independent or under the suzerainty of Junagadh even after the accession. But Junagadh was an important state, with a population of 700,000, 80% of them Hindus and, predictably, ruled by a Muslim prince.

The Nawab of Junagadh was an eccentric character, famously obsessed with dogs. He was said to have owned 800 of them, each with its individual human attendant. When two of his favourite dogs mated, he is said to have spent Rs. 20-30 lakhs in “wedding” celebrations, and proclaimed the day as State holiday. It is no surprise that the actual governing of the Junagadh was carried out by his dewan (Chief Minister). In the last months of British India his dewan was a Muslim League politician named Shah Nawaz Bhutto (father of future Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar and grandfather to Benazir Bhutto).

Farce or not, the accession of Junagadh to India apparently remains a highly contentious issue in Pakistan, at least from the evidence found in the Atlas of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. But as we shall see in a later post, this atlas is itself an extremely problematic work at a number of different levels.

(Note: I am indebted to Chris Kremer for bringing this atlas, and its depiction of Junagadh, to my attention)

Red Tripura and the Geopolitics of Greater Bengal

Map of Indian states by party of government, 2011

Map of Indian states by party of government, 2011India’s regional elections in early May 2011 saw the devastating defeat of the far left. After having ruled the 91-million-strong state of West Bengal for thirty-four years, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [abbreviated as CPI(M)] lost 146 seats in the Legislative Assembly, retaining only 42. In what could be an epochal loss, the larger Left Alliance coalition did not win a single West Bengal district. The communists were also defeated in Kerala in the southwest—a long-time stronghold sometimes called Red Kerala. Only one Indian state, tiny Tripura in the northeast, currently has a communist government. In Tripura’s most recent legislative election (2008), the CPI(M) took forty-six of sixty seats, giving it its fourth consecutive term in power.

Soon after the routing of their fellows in West Bengal, Tripura’s Marxist authorities found themselves in hot water. On May 24, leaders of the opposition Congress Party vowed to undergo a hunger strike to protest “the replacement of Mahatma Gandhi’s name with Communist icon Vladimir Lenin in a Class 5 textbook.” Communist leaders countered that the discussion of Gandhi was simply moved to a different chapter. Congress Party activists were not mollified, arguing that the state’s textbooks more generally suffer from a “huge distortion of facts,” and are aimed at “brainwashing school students in line with Marxism.”


Tripura is a distinctive state. We have already noted its near engulfment by Bangladesh, giving it an unusually long andtroubled international border. Like its neighboring Indian states to the north and east, Tripura has long been plagued by ethnic tension and insurgency, although at present rebel activity is minimal. Disruptive protests commonly occur, however, and are sometimes violent. In late May 2011, authorities aimed water cannons at representatives of the Tripura Pradesh Youth Congress gathered in front of a police station. The demonstrators, affiliated with the mainstream Congress Party, were protesting the recent assault on one of their leaders by members of a rival student organization, the communist-linked Student’s Federation of India. According to the Times of India, the resulting imbroglio brought “rain-soaked Tripura to a complete standstill.”

West Bengal and the Original GerrymanderUnrest in Tripura is linked to the partition of British South Asia in 1947 and the subsequent independence of Bangladesh. Partition broke up the Bengali-speaking region, one of the world’s largest cultural areas; with some 250 million speakers, Bengali is usually counted as the sixth mostly widely spoken language on earth, surpassing Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and German. In 1947, the Hindu-majority Bengali districts of the west and north went to India, forming West Bengal, while the eastern zone went to East Pakistan, later Bangladesh. (The oddly shaped West Bengal evokes the original “Gerrymander,” as illustrated by the image to the right.) Several million Hindus eventually fled East Pakistan, most settling in West Bengal. Hundreds of thousand, however, headed east into what had been the princely state of Tripura, a minor kingdom under British dominion. As a result, Tripura’s demographic balance underwent a tectonic shift; Bengalis, previously forming around twenty percent of the population, were catapulted to majority status with roughly seventy percent. If effect, Tripura became a third political unit of divided Bengal.

The flow of Hindu Bengali refugees into Tripura was not welcomed by the culturally distinctive indigenous inhabitants. Most local ethnic groups, including the once-dominant Tripuri, speak Tibeto-Burman languages and are historically linked to the peoples of what is now south-central China. Resentment against the newcomers led many indigenes to join one of the twenty-plus insurgent groups that made Tripura a bloody mess in the late twentieth century, as we shall see in a later post.

The “Bengalization” of Tripura also brought about a political transformation of the state, placing it firmly within the communist camp. In the early 20th century, educated Hindu Bengalis—who often styled themselves as the intellectual elite of India—generally embraced Marxism as a cerebral yet potent anti-colonial philosophy. Bengali Muslims, in contrast, generally espoused much more conservative beliefs. The migration of Hindu Bengalis into Tripura thus brought the local branch of the Communist party to power. West Bengal, as we have seen, witnessed the collapse of the communist vote in 2011; it remains to be seen whether Tripura will follow suit.

Map of Great Bengal and Greater SylhetAlthough conventional depictions of the Bengali region divide it east from west, Bangladesh from India, in actuality the Indian parts of greater “Bangla-land” almost surround Bangladesh. The eastern Bengali-speaking zone includes not only Tripura, but also Cachar district of southern Assam, site of the state’s second city, Silchar. In the north are the often over-looked districts of West Bengal’s “beak,” including Cooch Behar and its enclave-ridden border.

The internal coherence of this greater Bengali region, however, is itself suspect. The historical Sylhet region, including India’s Cachar and adjoining districts and Bangladesh’s Sylhet Division, is often excluded from the realm. The Sylheti tongue is not fully inter-intelligible with standard Bengali, and is thus often considered to be a separate language. Heavily influenced by Assamese, Sylheti was formerly written in its own script. Under the British, the entire Sylhet region was administered as part of Assam; it too was spit with partition, with the Muslim-majority west going to East Pakistan (hence Bangladesh), and the Hindi-majority east staying with Assam in India.

Also of interest is the fact that the substantial Bangladesh immigrant community in Britain is mostly Sylheti—ninety-five percent according to some sources. Relations between Sylhetis and other Bangladeshis in London are strained, as demonstrated in a fascinating 2008 internet discussion thread entitled “Why Do Dhakaiyas Hate Sylhetis So?” (“Dhakaiyas” are people from Dhaka, or more generally non-Sylheti Bangladeshis.) Muslim Sylhetis have a reputation for being much more devoted to fundamentalist interpretations of their faith than other Bangladeshis, a trait that has been linked to religious tensions in London’s Muslim-majority neighborhoods.