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Lord Louis Mountbatten's Carnage
by Proloy Bagchi Bookmark and Share

Writing the other day in Times of India Pankaj Mishra, essayist and novelist, stated that Britain is again up against a problem of partition. Mishra refers to, inter alia, the parttion of India while elucidating the division that the country is facing because of “Brexit”. Holding the British public school boys responsible for the country’s current predicament, Mishra says, it is they who are the “masters of disaster”; that is, it is they who constitute the Tories and have thought up severance from EU splitting the British society down the middle. He goes on to say that it was they who were behind break-up of the Empire handing down untold miseries to millions of people.

In this connection he mentions, among others, Lord Louis Mountbatten who was derided as “master of disaster” in British naval circles. Mountbatten, according to Mishra, was a member of the small group of British upper and middle classes who enjoyed power much beyond their capabilities. The “eternal schoolboys”, as many have called them, have blundered through running the Empire to managing the United Kingdom in recent years and have ended up with “Brexit” without realizing its economic and administrative consequences, at the same time, creating sharp divisions in the United Kingdom.

They forgot two vital questions in deciding over “Brexit” – the Irish and Scottish questions. The two regions have a lot of unease about “Brexit”and could send the Britons into a tailspin were “Brexit” to materialize. An improbable and unrealistic time-schedule was drawn up for it much in the same manner as Dickie Mountbatten rushed the Indian independence. While the British Government had announced pull out from India in June 1948. The Lord Louis came and took over as Viceroy and Governor General and advanced it by several months leaving very little time for the administrative work to be completed before India’s independence.

Though the Indian National Congress had been fighting for independence for several decades but after the announcement of the British Government no one ever pressed him for an early British departure or independence. And yet in June 1947 he advanced in a cavalier manner the Indian independence to take effect on 15th August 1947 for reasons known to him alone. He was seemingly in a rush – one does not know for what. He did not seem to have any idea that after the partition of the country was decided dividing it was a serious matter and a formidable problem. But thisappred to no big deal at all for Mountbatten who sprang Cyril Radcliff, an English lawyer, to do the honours for partition. Having never been to India, for Radcliff it was a stupendous problem especially when he was givenonly five weeks to draw two lines in the West and in the East of the country – the lines that spelt disaster for the millions involved in both parts of the country.

No wonder, it was such a ham-handed job that was done by him that his lines split up villages and homes. Some villagers happened to live in one country and their farms fell in another. Likewise, some villagers had their houses split in an unlikely manner with the houses in one country and their kitchens or toilets in another.

Another major source for embarrassment for Radcliff Boundary Commission was allotment of Karimgunj In the East to Pakistan despite a majority of Hindu population. A referendum was eventually held on the basis of the results of which Karimgunj was transferred back to India. Likewise, Gurdspur in Punjab was wrongly allotted to Pakistan and was returned to India after remaining for 24 hours in the control of Pakistan. These were major embarrassments for the British Government in finalizing the division of the country simultaneously with the creation of two independent nations. All these embarrassments were caused due to unconscionable hurry, puerile in nature, displayed by Mountbatten in dividing a county that had a long history of few hundred years of composit culture.

Mountbatten was rightly called the “master of disaster” in the British Naval circles and his one advice to Nehru exemplifies that as no other. His advice to take the Kashmir issue to the UN condemned India to suffer from a festering cancer for the last 70 years. Nehru, not realizing that the Indian forces were on the cusp of victory, lapped it up with his idealistic world view and referred the matter to the UN where it became a victim of Cold War politics and remained unresolved for around 50 years solely because of a mistake in the reference. The reference did not accuse Pakistan of aggression and hence the UN mechanism for vacation of aggression could not be activated.

The result has been a Kashmir problem that has been festering with no cure in sight. Pakistan’s intransigence was not punished which emboldened it to launch a policy of a “thousand cuts” on India. India is still dealing with Pakistan’s cross border terrorism on a daily basis.

Pankaj Mishra is, therefore, largely correct in saying what he said in his piece. These “masters of disasters” did masquerade as administrators and policy makers blundered through the Empire spreading mayhem and doom on millions in the former colonies from which many are yet to be rescued.

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Comments on this Article

Comment I have half a mind to agree with what Mr. P Rao has said about the reason for the rush in partition that Mountbatten displayed. It could well be that the Lord was alarmed by the relationship that was flowering between two people including his wife behind his back.

04/22/2019 04:58 AM

Comment The passions were running so high that howsoever much one wished for a peaceful solution it wouldn't have worked. Hindus and Muslims would have squabbled till eternity for a mutually agreed line. That didn't mean that a man like Radcliff with hardly any knowledge of the sub-continent should have got the job. Perhaps a boundary commission could have been constituted. But, no Muntbatten was in a mighty hurry to get rid of the charge which probably he found far too onerous for him

03/09/2019 04:29 AM

Comment Would it add to the understanding of Partition, if a little factoid is mentioned that Radcliff in his first trip to the sub-continent that lasted for 5 weeks or so suffered tropical dysentery most of the time while he was busy drawing the dreaded Radcliff line on the cartographs?

P. Rao
03/06/2019 03:42 AM

Comment Brexit is far too different from the Indian partition. In Brexit UK is only going to exit from a trading block - retaining its political independence whereas partition of India was involved in creation of two independent countries. Fot millions it was a life and death matter and hence the violence. No such violence can be expected even if Brexit comes off as nobody from UK will have to move from his home hearth.

03/06/2019 01:46 AM

Comment Joking aside, Mountbatten's decision to bring forward the date of independence was to remove the thorn of British Rule from the Indian body politic sooner rather than later. The anticipated euphoria of relief and rejoicing would enable easy resolution of the partition line anomalies by the erstwhile 'composite' countrymen, even as humouring the British in the very examples you cite. instead, look what occurred.

R D Ashby
02/20/2019 15:38 PM

Comment All niceties put aside, dickie was afraid that Edwina was going to go with certain nationalist leader if he stayed any longer in India. So a ham-handed job of partition was executed an year in advance. What if there was carnage? A million here and a million there die and the saga was to continue for several decades into 21st century?

P. Rao
02/17/2019 18:46 PM

Comment While conceding your related facts concerning the independence of India and the partition with Pakistan, and the comparison with the Brexit partition in the British nation, the glaring difference is the violent reaction of the populace in the former totally lacking in the latter. Surely Mountbatten couldn't be blamed for this outcome in a civilised people. The line of partition could never be perfect; all the more reason for a mutually agreed peaceful solution. .

R D Ashby
02/17/2019 12:34 PM

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