The Mountbatten -Nehru Nexus
Students of history often harbor certain perceptions regarding the division of the sub-continent that led to the creation of Pakistan. One of these insinuates that the British wanted to transfer power to an undivided India because it suited their interests. Compelled by the demand put forth by the Muslim League to divide the sub-continent into two parts, Hindu India and Muslim India, the British eventually gave in. However, Lord Mountbatten, under whose supervision the transfer of power was to take place and who was in an unholy liaison with Nehru, made all efforts to weaken Pakistan so that it could be wiped out in its early days by unfavorable factors. The book under review justifies this perception with proof.
In the Introduction, the author has presented a review of the books written on the partition of India. These include books written by those who had played a decisive role in the proceedings pertaining to partition as well as by later and recent scholars. In the former category, books such as Transfer of Power in India by V.P.Menon and The Emergence of Pakistan by Chaudhri Muhammad Ali, are included. In the latter category, a large number of books written by Indian and Western writers are explored.
The author extensively summarizes the developments that took place between the viceroyalty of Linlithgow and that of Mountbatten. During the Second World War, the Allies, particularly the US, pressurized the British government to declare its intention to grant independence to India. Sir Stafford Cripps visited India and later introduced the Cabinet Mission Plan. The Viceroyalty of Wavell held deliberations in Simla and taking a realistic view did not ignore the Muslim demand for a partition of India. However, that attitude displeased the Congress and he was unceremoniously dismissed before his term of office was due to terminate.
The book mentions and discusses a number of issues including Wavell’s dismissal, Mountbatten’s appointment and his ‘ties with Nehru’, and Mountbatten’s consultation with Nehru before sending his Plan to the British government for approval. The author believes that at that stage, Nehru seemed to be guiding the British policy in Delhi so much so that even dates of the Viceroy’s meeting with the Indian politicians were changed on his suggestion.
Mountbatten’s Plan included the division of Bengal and the Punjab although the British Governors of these provinces did not support the idea. The Muslim League was threatened that if that Plan was not accepted, power would be transferred to a United India. Prime Minister Attlee had set the date of independence ‘no later than June 1948.’ However, the final date was brought a year earlier. As a result, Pakistan was to get less time to set up its government’s structure from scratch.
After the acceptance of the Mountbatten Plan, which envisaged the partition of Punjab and Bengal, a Boundary Commission was set up to delineate the boundaries. Cyril Radcliffe, an eminent British lawyer, who had never been involved in Indian politics nor ever visited India, was chosen as its Chairman. However, controversies arose when it was discovered that some of his decisions were influenced by Mountbatten who was bent upon appeasing the Congress.
According to one observer, ‘ the only moment of fury’ in Mountbatten’s entire tenure of Viceroyalty occurred when the Quaid-e-Azam turned down
Mountbatten’s proposal as the common Governor General of the two independent dominions. The Viceroy, with royal blood flowing in his veins retorted and addressed the Quaid, “it may well cost you the whole of your assets and the future of Pakistan.” And so it did. Mountbatten made Pakistan suffer in every possible way, from the division of the Armed Forces to the receipt of its share in the cash balance of the Government of India. With his pride wounded and his policy of appeasing Nehru and the Congress intact, Mountbatten took a stand in Hyderabad, which contradicted the policy he followed in Kashmir. The Hyderabad issue was settled with India taking a military action. However, the Kashmir issue still lingers on and the two countries have gone to war on this account three times in 65 years. The Kashmir issue and Mountbatten’s obvious intervention in the Radcliffe Award have been discussed in consid- erable length.
In the last chapter, the author has drawn some conclusions that seem to be largely true. Assessing the role of Mountbatten, it has been said that though he was sent to India as an ‘impartial arbiter’ he disowned that role by leaning heavily towards Nehru whom the author considers to be the ‘most authoritative, influential and vocal Hindu leader.’ Consequently, Mountbatten failed to strike a balance in his dealings with other leaders, particularly with the Quaid. The author speculates that if Mountbatten had sought advice from other leaders instead of singularly listening to Nehru, a Bangladesh comprising of a united Bengal could have emerged in 1947. While other leaders supported the idea, Nehru aborted it with his rejection of any sovereign entity outside the Indian Union. The responsibility for the carnage in the Punjab that accompanied Independence rested, according to the author, squarely on the policy of asking the British Armed Forces stationed in India, not to involve themselves in matters of ‘internal peace and security.’ The author further maintains that the apathy these orders reflect, failed to create an ‘imperial image’ that Mountbatten had so desired.
The book describes and discusses the various aspects of the Partition scheme and its implementation. However, the major issue that emerges out of its deliberations is the policy of appeasement followed religiously by Mountbatten in relation to Nehru. That policy resulted in not only undesirable consequences during Independence but also some, like the Kashmir issue, continue to linger and threaten peace in the region.
Title: Empire in Retreat Author: Rabia Umar Ali Publisher: Oxford University Press (June 2012) Pages: 2042, Hardback Price: PKR 725 ISBN: 9780199066087