Students Conclude Reenactment of the Transfer of Power in India (and it wasn’t pretty)

As discussed in an earlier post, Professor Mann’s British Empire and the Islamic World class spent the last few weeks of the semester doing a simulation of the British transfer of power in the Indian subcontinent. Initially, the conference attendees were optimistic that a united India was attainable. For a few class sessions, the delegates were able to work together on a number of issues. However, once the conference turned to more divisive topics,  the conference quickly devolved into chaos and even resulted in political violence.

In our simulation, like in real life, British India was partitioned into separate nation states. However, we had many noticeable differences occur. Below is a table that highlights the differences between what happened in 1947 and what happened in the class simulation:

History Simulation
Partition Two states: India and Pakistan Four states: Hindustan, Pakistan, Sikhistan, and Hyderabad
Hyderabad Incorporated into India Emerged as an independent state under the Nizam of Hyderabad
Jawaharlal Nehru First prime minister of India Assassinated by a supporter of the Hindu Mahasaba
Mohandas Gandhi Assassinated in early 1948 Died from a hunger strike
I.N.C. Remained united Disintegrated. Brahmans joined Hindu Mahahsaba, Azad joined Pakistan, Nehru killed.
Sikhs Did not obtain an independent state Obtained their own state
Untouchables Stayed in India and remained Hindu Most converted to Sikhism and gained political power in Sikhistan
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Minister of Law and Justice in India. Converted to Buddhism. Converted to Sikhism. Became major political player in Sikhistan.
Hindu Mahasaba Party marginalized after Gandhi’s assassination in 1948 Emerged as the largest and most popular political party in India. Led first Indian government.
Maulana Azad Remained in India and served as Minister of Education Left India for Pakistan and became its first prime minister

The students in the class all expressed how partaking in the simulation allowed them to gain a deeper understanding of India’s partition, the British presence in India, and the difficulties all parties faced in coming to an amicable solution. Here is what some students had to say (along with photos of the victorious groups and individuals):

“What I took away most about our conference was how difficult it was to create a united India in which everyone would be represented and be happy. Our real life historical counterparts, like us, were given an impossible task. Partition seems to have been the only option in the end.”

“I went into this assignment believing Gandhi was a wonderful and brilliant man that everyone loved. I now know I was wrong! Gandhi did have great ideas, but his ideas were not always practical and were often contradictory.”

From left-right: Dr. Ambedkar (Taylor Yangas), the Governor General (Alex Gillespie), and Tara Singh (Jessica Schluter) celebrating their victory in obtaining an independent Sikhistan and showing off their constitution.

From left-right: Dr. Ambedkar (Taylor Yangas), the British Governor General (Alex Gillespie), and Tara Singh (Jessica Schluter) celebrating the establishment of an independent Sikhistan by showing off the Constitution of Sikhistan.

“The overwhelming lesson I learned from this simulation was the absolute impossibility of the task at hand, if one considered that task the creation of a singular unified state.  Simply put, if a room full of well-fed college students from peaceful lives couldn’t come to an agreement, how could such a conference ever succeed in the real world, filled as it was with the daemonic specter of real consequences? Such widely disparate goals, such antagonistic attitudes, such radicalization…how could any group ever accomplish anything?  I now believe, honestly, if the Simla Conference was tasked with the simple division of seating for a football match the end result would be a pile of dead spectators, a burning stadium, and a motley collection of radicals all claiming victory.”

“One of the difficulties we faced that the real life attendees faced was dealing with the wishes of so many different representatives of such a diverse group of people. Another difficulty was that there were people at the conference who could not get along or even speak to each other, such as the Brahman leader and the leader of the Untouchables. The results of our conference were different than in real life, but both conferences were full of similar conflicts and arguments, and both eventually ended up in partition.”

From l-r: Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Isaac Mier), Gov-Gen, and Maulana Azad (Mike Ludwinski) celebrating by showing off Pakistan's adopted constitution.

From l-r: Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Isaac Mier), Gov-Gen, and “a not here by choice” Maulana Azad (Mike Ludwinski) showing off Pakistan’s adopted constitution.

“Our simulation showed how frustrating it was to be a part of the historical conference and how many cultural, religious, political, and social difference the attendees had to overcome.  Gandhi could and did hunger strike, just like he did in real life, when he disagreed with something we decided. Until this simulation I never understood how anyone could not like Gandhi as a political figure.  He wanted non-violence and for everyone to treat others fairly! But now I totally get it, he’s hard to work with!”

From l-r: The Leader of the Hindu Mahasaba (Caleb Gurujal), the GG, and the Brahman faction leader (Emily McInerney) celebrating the Mahasaba's victory in the first elections in independent Hindustan.

From l-r: The Leader of the Hindu Mahasaba (Caleb Gurujal), the GG, and the Brahman faction leader (Emily McInerney) celebrating the Mahasaba’s victory in the first elections in independent Hindustan.

“Everything was going surprisingly smoothly until we voted on whether to have a strong central military or not in India. After that, things began to get heated. It was possible to all work together on some issues, even though some of us had to give up some things, but once we began discussing touchy subjects it all went south fast. Everyone was arguing with someone else. People were even arguing with their allies! The views and opinions of our roles dictated how we acted. Even though we did things the real life people did not do, we did them based on their ideas and beliefs. Things might have been different in class, but it was based on reality and the differences made it more fun, interesting, and informative.”

The Nizam of Hyderabad (Ben Jordan) celebrates his (temporary?) independence after a shocking victory against the armed forces of Hindustan.

The Nizam of Hyderabad (Ben Jordan) celebrates his (temporary?) independence after a shocking victory against the armed forces of Hindustan.

“I learned that the partition of India was in all likelihood an inevitability. With the people who were involved there was no way of making everyone happy and I am sure, even if Indian remained united somehow, the country would not have lasted long due to all the internal differences. We all wanted different things, and when we didn’t, they were usually issues we could not budge on or even negotiate. Even allies were strongly divided on many issues.”

“I feel that the simulation was informative and gave us insight into the difficulties with the formation of an independent India and Pakistan during the transfer of power. There were so many groups with conflicting ideologies which led to conflicting demands. We, like those in the 1940’s, just could not come together when we needed to do so.”

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