The Mount­bat­ten -Nehru Nexus

Southasia - - Book - Sabih Mohsin is a se­nior jour­nal­ist and ra­dio pro­fes­sional with a spe­cial in­ter­est in book pub­lish­ing.

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.

Re­viewed by Sabih Mohsin

Ti­tle: Em­pire in Re­treat Au­thor: Rabia Umar Ali Pub­lisher: Ox­ford Univer­sity Press (June 2012) Pages: 2042, Hard­back Price: PKR 725 ISBN: 9780199066087

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