Lord Louis Mountbatten
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Lord Louis Mountbatten
Memories of an empire
By Saima Shakil Hussain
The name Mountbatten is synonymous with the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. Louis Mountbatten arrived in New Delhi in March 1947, with his wife Edwina and 17-year-old daughter Pamela, “to divest England of the last jewel in the crown” and preside over the transfer of power to the two newly sovereign states. The last Viceroy of India, Mountbatten in fact spent only a year and a half in the region — including 10 months as the first governor-general of India.
Now, as the two nations celebrate the 60th anniversary of their independence, Lady Pamela Mountbatten has written a book in which she reminisces about the last days of the empire and the role her parents played in the making of history. India Remembered: A personal account of the Mountbattens during the transfer of power is a compilation of Lady Pamela’s diary entries (supplemented by additional text) and photographs from her father’s extensive personal collection, including some inscribed by him.
The author has made intriguing revelations about the political machinations during that crucial period. But her frank account raises far more questions than it answers. Her mother’s ‘special relationship’ with Pandit Nehru, the issue of Mountbatten’s partisanship and his insistence that the transfer of power — which was originally slated for June 1948 — be speeded up in an effort to stymie the bloodshed, are all discussed in varying degrees.
For the Mountbattens, the move ‘from post-war Britain under rationing to the outsized splendour of Viceroy’s House in New Delhi’ was monumental. At the Viceroy House, according to Lady Pamela, it took 10 minutes to walk from one’s bedroom to the dining room. The attached Moghul Gardens, swimming pool, stables, school, clinic and at least 2000 servants were overwhelming, even for a family closely connected to the British aristocracy.
Lady Edwina was the daughter of Baron Mount Temple and the principal heir of her maternal grandfather, international magnate Sir Ernest Cassel who was the friend and financier of King Edward VII. Lord Mountbatten was a great-grandson of Queen Victoria and referred to his cousin, the reigning monarch King George VI, as Bertie, who in turn called him Dickie. ________________________________________ He beseeched his cousin the king, ‘think how badly it will reflect on the family if I fail’. ________________________________________
Lord Mountbatten is reported to be ‘fascinated by his family connections’. The family had suffered humiliation when his father, German-born Prince Louis of Battenburg, was forced to resign the office of First Sea Lord in 1914 amidst anti-German hysteria in Britain. Now the son, on receiving news of his appointment as viceroy, was terrified of being sent out ‘to do an almost impossible job’. He beseeched his cousin the king, ‘think how badly it will reflect on the family if I fail’.
It was perhaps the fear of failure that led him to promote ‘the immediate attraction between my mother [Edwina] and Panditji’ which ‘blossomed into love’. In June 1948 Mountbatten wrote to his elder daughter Patricia: ‘She and Jawaharlal are so sweet together, they really dote on each other in the nicest way and Pammy and I are doing everything we can to be tactful and help. Mummy has been incredibly sweet lately and we have been such a happy family.’ His wife’s relationship with Pandit Nehru was very useful; whenever ‘things were particularly tricky my father would say to my mother, ‘Do try to get Jawaharlal to see that this is terribly important.’
The sphere of influence, of course, worked both ways. In her diary entry for May 7, 1947 — in the critical months before partition — the author reveals that the family decided to take time off for a vacation at the Viceregal Lodge in Simla. They took with them a skeleton staff of 180, and also invited Nehru and Krishna Menon to join them.
While there, ‘after a couple of days my father began soul-searching and decided to show Nehru the Mountbatten Plan [later known as the June 3 Plan] to get his feedback. Nehru was incandescent.’ The next morning Nehru ‘rejected many points of the plan which he saw as the Balkanisation of his country. My father rethought and with the incredible and brilliant V.P. Menon [the only Indian in the Viceroy’s staff], re-drafted the whole plan and resubmitted it to London — much to the India Office and [Prime Minister] Attlee’s confusion and perturbation’.
This should put paid to any claims of retaining a balanced position towards both sides. Among the salient features of the amended plan were the early transfer of power (to allow the British to escape responsibility for the rapidly deteriorating communal situation) and division of Punjab and Bengal despite their Muslim-majority status (to make Pakistan as small as possible). The plan also ruled out independence for princely states, unity of Bengal and Hyderabad’s accession to Pakistan.
The mutual understanding between Nehru and Mountbatten naturally led to the latter’s appointment as India’s first governor-general. Mountbatten had expected to receive the same honour from Pakistan, but Jinnah quashed his hopes: ‘My father could talk of nothing else because he could not crack Jinnah and this had never happened to him before. He later admitted that he didn’t realise how impossible his task was going to be until he met Jinnah. He has since often been accused of being anti-Muslim League but that was not the right way of looking at the problem — Congres made themselves open to my father and courted his help. Jinnah was the opposite and rejected my father’s involvement whenever he could.’
Having made an indelible mark on the history of the subcontinent, the Mountbattens left with the same pomp and ceremony with which they had arrived only 15 months earlier. They left feeling triumphant, but with the knowledge that not everyone at home was eager to welcome them back. Winston Churchill and many others in the Conservative party blamed Mountbatten for the loss of lives and ‘doing everything too quickly’. Churchill, Lady Pamela admits, never forgave Mountbatten ‘for giving away the Empire’.
Mountbatten’s diaries, papers at Southampton University: declassifying them
London: A British author who spent £370,000 (Rs 3. 5 crore) on legal fees to get the personal diaries of Lord and Lady Mountbatten and the letters between them released has lost his court battle after the tribunal ruled in favour of the Cabinet Office and Southampton University that the majority of the redacted passages should remain so to protect the UK royal family and not jeopardise UK’s ties with Pakistan and India, reports Naomi Canton. Andrew Lownie also wanted access to the letters that Edwina Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru sent each other between 1947 and 1960, which are also at Southampton university.
London:“I don’t think anything left is explosive. This was agreat fight over nothing,” said British author Andrew Lownie after first-tier tribunal (information rights) judge Sophie Buckley turned down his plea for release of personal diaries of Lord and Lady Mountbatten and personal letters of Edwina Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru. Southampton University doesn’t “hold the correspondence” between Nehru and Edwina, the tribunal found. The judge found that while the university was “physically safeguarding the papers” on its premises, it was doing so on behalf of Lord Brabourne. The university had the option to buy them for £100 (Rs 9,600), which it had not done. Lownie, who spent £3,00,000 of his own money on the case and crowdfunded the rest, said much of what they were trying to withhold was, in his view, in the public domain in other books. He suspects that the passages withheld relating to Pakistan and India relate to Edwina Mountbatten’s heavy dislike of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. “Edwina’s published diary is replete with references to Jinnah being a psychopath. I don’t think ties with Pakistan are going to be affected,” he said. “It’s a victory for other people that I got 35,000 pages released. I needed it for my book, which came out three years ago — I’ve done it for other scholars, and out of principle, and I have had to pay for it. It’s of no use to me,” he added. In the lead-up to the tribunal hearing held in November 2021, Southampton University had started releasing the Mountbatten diaries and letters so that by the time of the hearing under 150 extracts were left redacted and 35,000 pages had been released.
The tribunal, in its judgment, only ordered for two redacted passages to be un-redacted and two to be partially un-redacted, and for the rest to remain redacted either because they contain direct communications with the Queen or personal information about the Queen or another member of the Royal Family or Royal Household, or the Mountbatten family, or because they contain prejudicial information about the UK’s ties with India and Pakistan.
Three entries — from Lady Mountbatten’s diary for July 25, 1947 and Lord Mountbatten’s diary for July 13 and August 6, 1947 — remain withheld because disclosure with the perceived approval of the British government would cause prejudice to the UK’s relations with Pakistan and India, the judgment states.
A spokesperson for the university said they had “always aimed to make public as much of the Broadlands Archive as possible” and that they were “very happy” with the ruling which substantially found that “the university made right decisions in balancing its legal obligations”.
Lord Louis Mountbatten