The fate of the University of the Punjab was one of the first topics discussed at the Punjab Partition Committee, the mixed committee of Muslim League Congress and Panthic leaders set up by the Governor of the Punjab under his chairmanship to divide the province.
In a note submitted to the Committee by G.C. Chatterji, he argued that the fate of the University was not easily settled. Chatterji contended that it will not be automatic that the governor of the province in which Lahore would fall would automatically become its chancellor. He argued that “the governor of any one of the partitioned provinces is not the proper successor of the present governor of the Punjab.” And since the governorship of united Punjab was being split in two, “…it follows that the University of which he is the head should also be split into two.” Otherwise, Chatterji maintained that with the partition of the province, “the constitution of the University will be completely abrogated.” Hence, all offices, that of the Vice Chancellor, Senate, Syndicate, and any other body will stand dissolved.
Chatterji further argued that in the new circumstances it would not be simply sufficient for the university to function on both sides of the prospective Radcliffe line, as in such a case it would ‘belong to one zone and merely “undertake activities” in the other zone.’ Since the university ‘belongs’ to all of the Punjab, this would be an untenable situation from the perspective of East Punjab.
Interestingly, unlike other topics where a joint mechanism was at least contemplated, Chatterji outrightly dismissed any proposal for a ‘joint university’. This, he argued, would only be possible with mutual consent which he did not see forthcoming and even if it were he saw it ‘to be a failure at first test.’
The only solution Chatterji advocated was a split of the university’s assets between East and West Punjab and statutory cover to be given to the action by either the Governor as Chancellor or the Governor General in Council. Otherwise, the university, according to him, would stand ‘dissolved on August 15, 1947.’ Perhaps, by August 1, 1947 the communal tensions had risen so high that a joint approach to even education, a common concern for both provinces, could not even be contemplated.
M.G. Singh, the Registrar Examinations, agreed with the submission of Chatterji in his note. Singh contended that since the Indian Independence Act stated that the province of the Punjab as hitherto constituted under the Government of India Act 1935, shall cease to exist on August 15, 1947, the chancellorship of the University of the Punjab shall also become vacant from that day since there would no longer be a ‘Governor of the Punjab.’ Therefore, it would not be possible for the governor of the province in which the seat of the university, Lahore, resides to automatically become its chancellor.
Similarly, he argued that the Patron of the University, presently the Governor General of India, would no longer exist, as there would then be two competing governors general. Therefore, he concluded that “the constitution of the university cannot remain unimpaired,” on August 15, 1947. Singh further contended that since there would be a need for either fresh legislation or an adoption of the Punjab University Act of 1882 in either of the new provinces, this mere fact would be an acknowledgment that the old university had ceased to exist.
He wrote: “The fresh assignation, termination and restatement will all be an acknowledgment of the fact that the old University and its legal entity is no longer there.” Thus, only a partition of the university was a possibility in his opinion. Singh also emphasised why a partition was the best possible solution. He argued that since the Punjab University was established to serve all of the Punjab and its inhabitants, it could not be restricted to one zone.
Underscoring the contribution of Hindus and Sikhs, as well as Muslims, to the establishment and running of the university, he wrote that “The assets of the Punjab University as they stand at present have been created by the joint efforts of the people of the entire province who now, because of political development, stand divided in two. Each one of these has a legal and moral right to the property now vested in the University of the Punjab. Thus, the university was common property, and like everything else should be divided.”
In order to further supplant their case, the East Punjab members got legal opinion from a lawyer, R.C. Soni, who completely agreed with their demand that the Punjab University should be divided between the two new provinces. He noted that the fact that the University is located in Lahore, which will be in West Punjab, was a mere ‘accident,’ and that on August 15, “the seat which was chosen for reasons of expediency loses its significance.” Hence, he held that the governor should create two new universities, one each for West and East Punjab before August 15, 1947.
The Punjab Partition Committee considered all these submission, but could not agree on the fate of the university. Since there was no agreement forthcoming on the issue, the Governor referred the matter to the Central Partition Council for a decision.
In the memorandum submitted to the Central Partition Council it was noted that the representatives of East and West Punjab disagreed over the future of the university. Where the West Punjab representatives did not want any change of the status, composition or assets of the university, the East Punjab representatives wanted a division. The senate of the university had voted for a division, but “those in favour of this scheme were broadly persons whose present or future interests lie in East Punjab, and those against it belong to West Punjab.”
There was also the question of legality: if the university were to continue as before in West Punjab (since its seat would remain in Lahore), legislation would be required to transfer some of its assets for East Punjab. However, it was unclear who would be the competent authority to issue such legislation?
While education was a provincial subject under the Government of India Act 1935, the jurisdiction of the Punjab University was across provincial boundaries, and so would the central government be the competent authority in this regard? Alternatively, if the opinion were that the university did cease to exist on August 15, 1947 then the Senate would be the appropriate body to order such a division, with the approval of the Chancellor. However, here the representatives of the West Punjab objected that since the Senate had a non-Muslim majority the Governor should not prima facie accept its decision.
The representatives of East Punjab were so keen for a division of the Punjab University that Swaran Singh, a leading member of the Panthic Party, wrote a separate note to go with the memorandum. In his note, Swaran Singh argued that “the University of the Punjab was founded for the advancement of education and the benefit of all inhabitants of the province.” But now with the partition of the province, the “university at Lahore cannot fulfil this object as adequately as it as intended to do.”
Secondly, he pointed out that endowments made to the university—nearly one million rupees—were not for ‘the benefit of any particular section or sections of the inhabitants of the province,’ but with the partition of the province it will certainly be largely limited to one community in West Punjab.
Thirdly, he argued that there was no analogy with Bengal, since in that province there were two universities and with the partition each new province will get one each, and therefore, “there will be no deprivation at all of the facilities for higher education for either of the two provinces.” In the Punjab, however, there was only one university and hence there was a strong case for division.
In his covering letter which went with the details of the dispute over Punjab University, the Governor observed that he did not think that the university would cease to exist with the partition of the province, and thought that if its assets were to be divided there must be legislation, and that too by the central government. While the memorandum did reach the Central Partition Council before the Transfer of Power, there was no time to look into this matter, as other more pressing issues were at hand.
Also read: The Punjab University and Partition-I
Therefore, the Viceroy wrote to Sir Evan Jenkins that “I have asked the steering committee here to obtain legal advice and then, if possible put up a recommendation. It seems fairly clear that the Partition Council will not be able to consider the matter until after the 15th August.” After that, it seems, the matter never came up for discussion again.
Therefore in the end, the University of the Punjab with all its buildings, libraries, and assets, remained at Lahore in West Punjab and East Punjab had to establish a new university. While the leaders, and especially the academic elite of East Punjab, wanted to continue fighting for the split of the university, the lives of students were at stake as academic activities had to be resumed in the various colleges in East Punjab, and so a new university had to be established.
Therefore the Governor of East Punjab promulgated the University of East Punjab Ordinance in September 1947, to provide for a continuation of educational activities in the province. A few years later when the province of East Punjab was renamed ‘Punjab’ the university also changed its name of the ‘University of the Panjab’, the title it retains today in Chandigarh, and with the claim that it was originally established at Lahore in 1882.