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When India nearly lost Assam to Pakistan

Assam became a part of the Indian Union only after a tug-of-war between the Congress and Muslim League.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah made strong claims for the state's inclusion in Pakistan but tenacious opposition from the Congress leadership in the state with Mahatma Gandhi's direct support saved Assam from joining Pakistan.

The Assam Congress's determined opposition ensured that the arrangement did not take off. The Cabinet Mission may have sought to preserve the unity of India, but it compromised with the Muslim League on the inclusion of Assam, a Hindu majority province, in Pakistan.

In February 1946, Pethic Lawrence, the then secretary of state for India, circulated a note on the viability of Pakistan. In the note, he mentioned that Assam, due to economic, defence and financial considerations, was to form part of East Pakistan.

The Assamese were aghast and felt this was a clever British ploy to keep their commercial interests intact. The Cabinet Mission sought to camouflage its real intention by keeping the grouping clause vague and created an impression that they were not serious about exerting pressure on Assam in consonance with the Muslim League's demand.

On May 16 1946, the Cabinet Mission recommended that Assam and Bengal be tagged together to frame the provisional constitutions for the provinces.

The Mission laid stress on provincial autonomy and viewed that every province be constituted on a linguistic and cultural basis. The recommendation came by despite the appearance of Assam Premier Gopinath Bardoloi before the Mission.

Assam, Bardoloi said, had always been a separate state with a distinctive identity and must be allowed to remain in India under a provincial status.

However, Saadullah, leader of the Muslim League in the Assam assembly, suggested that the province could be attached to Bengal. This helped Lawrence in forming a belief that Assam had such a close connection with Bengal that its separation from Bengal was impossible.

The Assam Pradesh Congress Committee was taken aback to find the Cabinet Mission toeing Saadullah's line by tagging Assam along with Bengal.

The APCC felt that small provinces like Assam would be forced to accept a dispensation which would largely be determined by the majority of another province.

But the Congress leadership seemed to treat Assam's case on a low key. It perhaps apprehended that taking up the issue at that stage might result in confusion and a stalemate of the larger priority of India's freedom.

It was thanks to Gandhi's support that the Congress Working Committee adopted a more responsible attitude to the Assam problem.

At one point, Gandhi even suggested to a Congress delegation from Assam that they leave the party if the CWC did not support its stand. "Satyagraha Karo Congress se," Gandhi told the Assam Congressmen.

Ultimately, it was to Bardoloi's credit that Assam saw the collapse of the arrangement. He successfully organised a movement on behalf of the province because he was convinced that once Assam committed itself to grouping, it would be impossible to extricate from it later.