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.