Adil Najam, a Professor at Brown or Pakistani origin, writes in 'the Conversation'
As a South Asian whose life was affected directly by partition, and as a scholar, it is evident to me that the one man whose job it was, above all else, to avoid the mayhem, ended up inflaming the conditions that made partition the horror it became.
That man was Clement Atlee. He should not have sent a Viceroy with clear orders to transfer power to anybody who would take it and then get the fuck out of India. But Atlee gave this order for two reasons
1) Britain was broke.
2) The previous Viceroy, a distinguished soldier, thought that Law & Order had broken down irretrievably in India. There was no alternative but to evacuate the White population and leave the place to Civil War or Bolshevik insurrection.
That man was Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of British India.
He was a sailor with no political experience or knowledge of India whatsoever. He had strict orders and a timetable of no more than one year to fulfil those orders. Mountbatten outdid himself by completing all the arrangement in just 6 months. Nehru asked him to stay on as Governor General. This was quite a remarkable outcome. Mountbatten would remain very close to Nehru till he died in 1964.
Pakistanis are bitter against Mountbatten. Indians thought well of him though, as Governor General, he seemed to be siding with Pakistan on Kashmir. However, the truth was more complicated. Nehru believed a plebiscite would be won by his pal Abdullah. Pakistan- which Nehru thought of as a feudal place- would be snookered. Kashmir would spread the Socialist message into the tribal belt and into Punjab.
How did Mountbatten contribute to the legacy of hatred that, 72 years later, still informs the bitter relationship between India and Pakistan?
He didn't pamper Jinnah. He refused to hand over East Punjab and West Bengal and Assam to Pakistan. Boo hoo!
Let us begin by recognizing the scale of barbarity that was unleashed by the mishandling of partition.
It was unleashed by Muslim leaders like Suhrawardy though, no doubt, some Sikh and Hindu Maharajas contributed.
No one has captured this more poignantly than Urdu’s most prominent short story writer, Saadat Hasan Manto, who according to his grandniece and eminent historian Ayesha Jalal “marveled at the stern calmness with which the British had rent asunder the subcontinent’s unity at the moment of decolonization.”
British forced Muslims to vote for Muslim League and to demand partition. They should have forced Hindus to convert to Islam instead.
In “The Pity of Partition,” Jalal channels the content of Manto’s work in Urdu to write:
“Human beings had instituted rules against murder and mayhem in order to distinguish themselves from beasts of prey.
Tell that to Hamas or to the ISI come to that.
None was observed in the murderous orgy that shook India to the core at the dawn of independence.”
What about the Pakistani army's genocide in Bangladesh? Was that too the fault of Mountbatten?
As author Nisid Hajari reports in “Midnight’s Furies,” a chilling narrative of the butchery: “some British soldiers and journalists who had witnessed the Nazi death camps, claimed partition’s brutalities were worse: pregnant women had their breasts cut off and babies hacked out of their bellies, infants were found literally roasted on spits.”
Pakistan didn't stop the slaughter after 1947. They continued it.
Indeed, it does not matter which was worse. What is important to understand is that partition is to the psyche of Indians and Pakistanis what the Holocaust is to Jews.
Nope. Most Hindus lived in Hindu majority areas and were unaffected. Hindus and Sikhs in Muslim majority areas would have been massacred in any case.
Author William Dalrymple calls this terrible outbreak of sectarian violence – Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other – “a mutual genocide” that was “as unexpected as it was unprecedented.”
It was totally expected. Tagore shows Hindus being robbed and killed at the end of 'Ghare Bhaire'. Anyone familiar with the history of Islam in the sub-continent saw this coming. But neither the Indian nor the Pakistani politicians bothered to do anything about it. Nehru presided over the mass expulsion of Muslims in Delhi. Their population share went from one third to just five percent. He passed a law preventing Muslims who had fled in panic across the border from returning home.
Could the genocide have been avoided?
Sure. The Indians had had provincial autonomy since 1937. They could have gone if for 'preventive detention' and had mobile squads with 'shoot to kill' orders. The army- which still had plenty of White officers- could have helped.
The violence was not, in fact, entirely unexpected. On August 16, 1946, literally a year before actual partition, a glimpse of what was to come was on display: In what came to be called “the week of the long knives,” three days of rioting in Calcutta left more than 4,000 dead and 100,000 homeless.
Suhrawardy started it. Then, it turned out that Hindus and Sikhs were better at knifing people and so Calcutta remained with India.
The hellish proportion of the slaughter that was to come was, however, unnecessary.
But the natives were already in control. They just couldn't be arsed.
Well before the August of 1947, those following the tumultuous political boil in India – including U.S. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman – fully understood that it was time for Britain – now a flailing power made bankrupt by World War II – to leave India.
The Brits had understood it when they passed the 1935 Act which made provision for the formation of a Federal Government at the Centre. But the Indians didn't bother to cobble any such thing together.
As 1947 dawned, the task before the British was to find the least worst way to retreat from India: to manage the chaos, to minimize the violence and, if at all possible, to do so with some modicum of grace.
Which is what Mountbatten achieved. No Europeans were harmed. Indeed, they were given an affectionate send-off though a few chose to remain.
To perform this job, King George VI sent his cousin Lord Louis Francis Albert Victor (“Dickie”) Mountbatten to India as his last viceroy.
No. Atlee, the Labour PM, sent Mountbatten. The King had nothing to do with it.
This great-grandson of Queen Victoria – the first British monarch to be crowned Empress of India – was, ironically, given the task of closing the imperial shop, not just in India but around the world.
It became usual for some minor Royal to turn up to do the honours at an Independence day celebration in Africa or Asia.
In India, he proved to be monumentally unequal to the assignment.
He was so good at it, the Indians asked him to stay on. The fact is he got through two years of administrative work in just three months. Maulana Azad was amazed at his industry.
Mountbatten arrived in India in February 1947 and was given until June 1948 – not 1947 – to complete his mission.
Atlee was not to know that 1948 would be Britain's bleakest year for food rationing. Mountbatten exceeded his brief- luckily for the British Exchequer.
Impatient to get back to Britain and advance his own naval career, he decided to bring forward the date by 10 months, to August 1947 (he eventually did become first sea lord, a position he coveted because it had been denied to his father).
So, he was a reluctant appointee who managed to snatch a PR victory out of the jaws of national humiliation. Once the natives were in charge, it was up to them if they wanted to slaughter each other. Independence means being allowed to do stupid, evil, shit.
How crucial were those 10 months?
Not crucial at all. The die had already been cast before Mountbatten arrived. It was clear that the Cabinet Mission Plan was unworkable. The Army and the administration had become polarized. The big question was whether the Princes could reassert themselves after the lapse of paramountcy. The answer was- no. They were useless.
I would argue, they could have meant the difference between a simply violent partition and a horrifically genocidal partition.
This guy must be old enough to remember the Bangladesh genocide. Whose fault was that?
The context for a bloody partition was set with the decision to sever Bengal in the east and Punjab in the west in half
which is why Hindus and Sikhs remain the majority in both West Bengal and East Punjab. This silly man thinks that but for Mountbatten, the Muslims there could have taken their own sweet time slitting the throats of the kaffirs. He forgets that nobody has the monopoly on violence. There was tit-for-tat retaliation all over North India.
– giving Jinnah what he called a “moth-eaten Pakistan.” That killed any hopes of a federated India, which was Jinnah’s preference, if it allowed for power sharing and autonomy to Muslim majority provinces.
Pakistan too broke up. It doesn't seem to be a very nice place to live. It has slipped behind Bangladesh and is now expelling Afghans. What goes around comes around. The trouble with terrorism is that two can play at that game.
To decide the fate of 400 million Indians and draw lines of division on poorly made maps, Mountbatten brought in Cyril Radcliffe, a barrister who had never set foot in India before then, and would never return afterwards. Despite his protestations, Mountbatten gave him just five weeks to complete the job.
The Radcliffe line has held up though, no doubt, Mountbatten put his finger on the scale here and there.
All of India, and particularly those in Bengal and Punjab,
Nope. Only the Bengalis and the Punjabis were affected. But the vast majority of Hindus lived in Hindu majority areas. It was people like Jinnah and Liaquat who had to leave property behind on the wrong side of the border. In Jinnah's case, his descendants live in India. But they are not Muslim.
waited with bated breath to find out how they would be divided. Which village would go where? Which family would be left on which side of the new borders?
It would have been easy enough for political parties in affected districts to set up 'Peace Committees' and to arrange caravans for population transfer. Indeed, some Indian troops had already participated in such exercises on foreign shores.
Working feverishly, Radcliffe completed the partition maps days before the actual partition. Mountbatten, however, decided to keep them secret.
Because he was smart.
On Mountbatten’s orders, the partition maps were kept under lock and key in the viceregal palace in Delhi. They were not to be shared with Indian leaders and administrators until two days after partition.
Which suited those 'leaders and administrators' just fine. It was obvious that people who had spent their entire lives blaming the Brits for everything bad that happened in India would just point the finger at them for the post-Independence chaos. What was surprising was that Mountbatten turned out to be such a good organizer that Nehru asked him to stay on. This made Atlee look good.
Jaswant Singh, who later served as India’s minister of foreign affairs, defense and finance, writes that at their moment of birth neither India nor Pakistan “knew where their borders ran, where was that dividing line across which Hindus and Muslims must now separate?”
They could have worked it out easily enough. It suited them to plead ignorance.
He adds that as feared and predicted, this had “disastrous consequences.”
Because natives were now running things. The Governor General was just a figure head. Oddly, a Pakistani CJI would later declare that the Pakistani Governor General had full sovereign powers. The Constituent Assembly had no power whatsoever.
The uncertainty of exactly who would end up where fueled confusion, wild rumors, and terror as corpses kept piling up.
The piled up after the Brits had waved goodbye. Mountbatten was merely a ceremonial figure though his advise continued to be very useful. The big mistake Liaquat made was to supersede several Muslim officers so to replace Gracey with Ayub Khan as Army Chief. At a later point Ayub decided to kick out the civilians and rule the country himself.
As historian Stanley Wolpert writes in “Shameful Flight,” Mountbatten kept the partition maps a closely guarded secret, as he did not want the festivities of British transfer of power to be marred or distracted.
How strange! He should have been eager to see the blood of European ladies flowing in the streets.
“What a glorious charade of British Imperial largesse and power ‘peacefully’ transferred,” lamented Wolpert as he contemplated the possible implications of Mountbatten’s hubris.
Wolpert needed to please his Pakistani contacts. He was considered a joke in India because he hinted that Nehru was totes gay.
As the preeminent biographer of all the major political actors of British India’s last days, Wolpert acknowledges that many – and, most importantly, Indian political leaders themselves – contributed to the chaos that was 1947.
The Muslim League caused Partition and Muslims have gone on doing ethnic cleansing of kaffirs decade after decade. They created the chaos and then cried about it.
But there is no room for doubt in Wolpert’s mind that “none of them played as tragic or central a role as did Mountbatten.”
Because it was in Wolpert's interest to say so. The fact is, the Brits knew that Mountbatten was under strict orders. He had no leeway one way or another. Bringing forward Independence was a good thing because the Whites were spared the violence meted out to religious minorities. More importantly, Mountbatten retained great influence with Nehru till 1964.
By botching the administration of partition in 1947 and leaving critical elements unfinished – including, most disastrously, the still unfinished resolution to Jammu and Kashmir – Mountbatten’s partition plan left the fate of Kashmir undecided.
Jinnah should have controlled his people and given the Maharaja more time. The bigger problem for Pakistan was that Sheikh Abdullah was a great pal of Nehru's. Sending in murderous tribals to rape and loot the Valley was a mistake. Still, it is true that Mountbatten was greatly remis in not converting to Islam and launching a jihad against kaffirs.
Mountbatten, thus, bestowed a legacy of acrimony on India and Pakistan.
He also forced Pakistan army to do genocide in East Bengal.
It was not just rivers and gold and silver that needed to be divided between the two dominions; it was books in libraries, and even paper pins in offices. As Saadat Hasan Manto’s fictional account conveys, the madness was such that even patients in mental hospitals had to be divided.
Families were divided. Jinnah's daughter stayed on in India where her descendants are very rich.
Yet, Mountbatten, the man who would fret incessantly about what to wear at official ceremonies,
why didn't he just go naked?
made little effort to devise arrangements for how resources would be divided, or shared.
He was very good at that sort of thing. Even paper clips were divided.
Nowhere does the unfinished business of partition bleed more profusely than in the continuing conflict between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan kept getting beaten. So it sponsored terrorism but terrorists think it safer and more profitable to attack Pakistani targets rather than go across the border. Indians don't greatly care about the Valley. Let it simmer in its own juices of hatred and fanaticism.
Would a little more attention and a few more weeks of effort in 1947 have spared the world a nuclear-tipped time bomb that keeps ticking on both sides?
No. The Princes would have gotten themselves better armaments and soldiers of fortune, so there would have been more violence.
We can never know the answer to this question.
Yes we can. The answer has always been the same. The district authorities could have arrested known hotheads while making arrangements for the peaceful transfer of populations. But this required cooperation between native politicians and administrators.
Nor can, or should, I believe, India and Pakistan blame the British and Mountbatten for all their problems.
The guy took just six months to hand over power. He did such a good job, India asked him to stay on. Indians weren't blaming him for anything. In fact, Indian tourists made a point of visiting 'Broadlands' his country seat. Pakistanis had to content themselves with fawning over Auchinleck. Their big grievance is that Edwina fucked Nehru instead of Jinnah.
Seventy-two years on, they have only themselves to blame for missing opportunity after opportunity to fix the troubled relationship they inherited.
This nutter blames India for missing the opportunity to let Pakistani terrorists grab its territory.
However, maybe, today, on the anniversary of their birth, both India and Pakistan can take a break from simply bashing each other
India does not care about Pakistan. It is bashing itself up pretty well all on its own.
and recognize that at times history can deal you a bad hand in many different ways – in this case, due to the hasty and monumental errors of a British royalty.
Mountbatten wasn't a royal. His grandparent's marriage was morganatic. He was related to the British royal family but was not part of it.
He made no error in India. Rather he gained the trust and friendship of Nehru- a statesman of International stature. Pakistan simply does not matter very much though, no doubt, it can make a nuisance of itself by sponsoring terrorism.
But also recognize, it is on you to learn from history and fix it.
Pakistanis who learn from its political history know it can't be fixed. Still, hopefully, with Chinese help it will concentrate on raising productivity. It has an industrious and enterprising population. Let them rise up by their own efforts.
Mountbatten and his wife had befriended Nehru when he visited Singapore. However, it was his great administrative capacity and sincere desire to be of service to India which endeared him to Nehru. Some Indian defence experts feel that Nehru was over reliant on Mountbatten and Blackett- but that is a separate discussion. Mountbatten did a difficult job at a time when his country was in desperate financial straits. He made himself a larger than life character because
1) this shielded Atlee who needed to keep his focus on British reconstruction and recover
2) there is no point blaming a professional sailor for political mistakes. You may as well blame the Queen's corgi for some detail of fiscal policy in the Queen's speech.