Home India The Partition of India: a disaster made in London?

The Partition of India: a disaster made in London?


Submitted by George Callaghan…

The vivisection of India was one of the most consequential cataclysms since 1945. Perhaps the supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils. Yet in this case certain statesmen, including Britishers, wrought a contrived calamity. The repercussions of this debacle are felt to this day.

In 1947 India stood close to the termination of Britannic paramountcy. It has been conceded by almost all Britons – including Churchill – that the Subcontinent should be granted independency in short order. The only person of note in the United Kingdom to set his face like flint against conceding independence to India was an Urdu speaking ivory tower imbecile named John Enoch Powell. The policy wonk was aghast at learning that the India Act had been based. He was so shocked that he spent a sleepless night walking the streets of London in a fugue. But anyone who had read a newspaper for the past five years could have told you that Indian independence was on the cards. J Enoch Powell then drafted a plan. Like everything this classical scholar did it was notable for its punctiliousness, spang and correctitude. Mr Powell had drawn up a plan about how many battalions needed to be landed where and how the commissariat would equip the taskforce. It was a plan for the invasion of India. The plan landed on W L S Churchill’s desk. The quondam prime minister sent it back with a note, ‘Is this young man all right?’ Powell was howling at the moon mad if he thought that even the Conservative Party wanted to use military force to forfend the independence of India.

The Old Lion barely grumbled when the Labour Government asked him to instruct the Tory peers in the House of Lords not to delay the India Bill by two years as the peers had the legal power to do. Churchill was known not just for carnosity and cigar smoking. He was also renowned or notorious – take your pick – for full throated advocacy of imperialism. As he has said in the darkest day of 1942, ‘’I did not become the king’s first minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.’’ Spencer-Churchill had been adamant that Britain must get into a totally avoidable war against Germany and this war was to so wreck Britain that the dissolution of the empire became almost ineluctable. The blatherskite had assured Britons on VJ Day, ‘’The British Empire today stands stronger and more effectually united than at any time in her long romantic history.’’ These words were splendid as they were hollow.

Winston Churchill said the Conservative and Unionist Party would abide by the Salisbury Convention. Since Labour had had the self-governance of Hindustan in its manifesto the Conservatives in the House of Peers would not thwart the settled will of the British electorate. All but the most reactionary backwoodsman accepted the inescapability of British self-abnegation towards India. Much as Churchill verbigerated about the longevity of imperialism the empire’s days were numbered. India was the keystone of the empire. Once India was granted independence the independence of the rest was only a matter of time.

But was self-government to be granted to one state in India or two? Sir Stafford Cripps had been sent to India in the midst of the Second World to convey two messages to India’s elected representatives. The first was that London would accede to India’s absolute independence as soon as practicable after the war. The second was that the United Kingdom would strongly prefer India to remain united after independence. Cripps suggested to Congress and the Muslim League that India be divided into three mega provinces at independence. One would be the north-west (i.e. modern day Pakistan), another would be the north-east (i.e. modern day Bangladesh) and the third would be the rest (i.e. modern day India). These mega provinces would be a wide degree of autonomy within the Indian Union and the government at the centre would have limited power. In this wise the aspirations for Muslim self-government and for Indian unity could both be satisfied. But it was not to be. Mohammed Ali Jinnah was adamant. He must have his Pakistan as a completely independent country; totally separate from India. Nothing would shake him. Further, Congress politicians were unwilling to make such sweeping concessions which they felt would be almost Partition anyway. If they allowed the Muslim League a large amount of devolution in the north-west and the north-east then the Muslim League could easily go that step further and completely break away from India.

Lord Wavell was the Viceroy of India as 1947 dawned. The former commander of the Indian Army was holding the fort almost literally. Lord Wavell he was not sanguine about the chances of an orderly transfer of sovereignty. The Wykehamist was jaded after decades in the country and commanded little affection in any Indian political party. He was tainted in Congress’ eyes with the attempt to prosecute former members of the Indian National Army (INA) for high treason in time of war. Wavell had had to issue a nolle prosequi (do not prosecute) order in relation to the INA trials because the trials were inflaming public opinion. These quislings were let off scot free. Some hailed them as would be liberators of their native loam. Others saw them for the hirelings of Hirohito that they really were.

The British Prime Minister Clement Attlee decided upon the appointment of Lord Louis Mountbatten. The 47 year old scion of the British Royal House knew Asia well. He had been Supreme Allied Commander in South Asia in the Second World War. He had toured India since his teens. His first visit to the Subcontinent had been in the company of his second cousin the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII). Lord Mountbatten and the traitor king had more in common than meets the eye. Egomaniacal, adulterous, effete, avaricious and politically unreliable – they proved that blood is thicker than water. On their 1920 tour of the Subcontinent Lord Mountbatten expressed conventional upper class British views in his diaries. He scorned nationalist protesters as ‘filthy non-co-operators.’ In time his opinions with regard to India were to mollify and modernise. Gradually he came to accept the inevitability and even desirability of granting India independence. In this regard he was ahead of the curve for a member of the British establishment.

Mountbatten was the younger son of a German-British admiral – the Marquess of Milford Haven. The surname was Battenberg. In the anti-German atmosphere of the First World War they had changed it to Mountbatten since ‘berg’ means ‘mount.’ Louis Mountbatten went to the Royal Naval Academy  at Dartmouth  and served in the Royal Navy near the close of the Great War and avoided combat. He then spent two terms at Cambridge. He married a Jewish woman who was rumoured to be the wealthiest heiress in the world. Edwina’s father was banker to Edward VII. Indeed, Edwina was name in honour of the king. This made him a very wealthy man indeed. The union was blessed with a brace of daughters. After that he and his wife Edwina both carried on numerous extramarital affairs. Biographer Andrew Lownie counted at least 16 of her paramours. Mountbatten was a willing cuckold. His wife was indifferent to her husband’s countless conquests.

Dickie was Mountbatten’s cognomen within the royal family. His name was actually Nicholas. He had initially been known as Nicky. It was decided that he could not go by Nicky since that would cause confusion with Tsar Nicholas II who was a relative.

In recent decades files have come to light concerning allegations of paedophilia against Lord Mountbatten. A dead man cannot stand trial. These allegations can never be tested in court. Some of his alleged victims have died too. What can be made of the several independent complainants? This was not an era when the powerless were wont to accuse the powerful and particularly not to false accuse them. The argument from authority held water back then. ‘You cannot accuse me – I am a pillar of the community.’ He was Admiral of the Fleet, Supreme Allied Commander in South Asia, a member of the royal family, Governor-General of Canada – they do not get more powerful than that. His accusers never sought publicity nor were they ever going to get a groat in compensation. If the allegations are true these men – and they were all male – did not receive a scintilla of justice. Indeed, they ran great risks by accusing someone so wealthy, so powerful and so well connected. He could be a very formidable enemy. Why on earth would they accuse him if it were not true? It stretches credulity to claim that these allegations were without foundation.

The Dieppe Raid was the brainchild of Mountbatten. It was also an unmitigated calamity for the Allies. In 1942 British and Canadian troops attacked the port in German-occupied France. The attack did not weaken the Wehrmacht. It did garner intelligence – for the Germans. The German Army simply learnt how the Allies would execute an amphibious attack. Lord Mountbatten was a moral coward in refusing to accept any responsibility for the fiasco.

Being a royal Mountbatten’s disastrous leadership was punished with promotion! Others would have been court martialled for what he did.

Despite his numerous and severe shortcomings there was something to be said in favour of selecting Lord Mountbatten. In an intensely status conscious society his pedigree accorded him kudos. This great grandson of Queen Victoria showed the seriousness which the UK attached to facilitating Indian independence. He knew the region well and had voiced sympathy for Indian nationalism long before that was en vogue in British establishment circles. His military experience would also come in handy when the need to use force was a daily occurrence. He had the self-assurance to take the job. The mission was intimidating in the extreme. It could all go horribly wrong and indeed it did. Someone plagued by self-doubts would not be equal to the gargantuan task ahead. It fell to Lord Louis Mountbatten to the last understudy of King George VI who happened to be his second cousin.

One of Mountbatten’s goals was to persuade India’s 585 princes to opt for India or (if were to be created) an entirely novel nation called Pakistan. Lord Mountbatten claimed the credit that all bar a handful of princely states elected to join one country or other. However, the credit is the due of Vallabhai Patel of Congress for India and some Muslim League leaders for Pakistan.

Promiscuous bisexuality was not fashionable in India. Fortunately for Lord Mountbatten the public did not find out that he batted for both sides.

Lord Mountbatten did not put up much of a fight when offered the chance to be Britain’s last proconsul in India. He made his characteristically impetuous demands. He must have such and such a plane to fly him thither. If he did not get the kite he would not accept the post. The tantrum worked. Therefore, the royal set out to be midwife to the independent India.

Some hardcore Hindus had not time for Britishers for the Britishers dined on kine. Lord Mountbatten did not appreciate the depth of religious animus. Presumably their bosom companion Nehru assured them that it would work out beautifully. Nehru was dedicated to the fallacy that Hindus could live in peace with Muslims.

The Mountbattens hit India like no viceregal couple before. Though the insisted on a full instalment with all the bells and whistles they were also down to earth. Their idea was that they needed all the glamour and glitter because this would give them authority. As they were about to spell finis to the British Raj they felt it vital that they Raj go out in style. They were approachable. It is said that power means not having to listen. As British power was on the wane the British in India had to listen like never before.

Lady Mountbatten was known for her voracious sexual appetite from which no man was safe! Her pantherine predatory sexuality was the terror of India.

Lord Mountbatten tried to get to know India’s doyens. His lengthy and friendly chats with different politicos met with varying degrees of success. Saradar Vallabhai Patel was having none of it. He was far too canny to be buttered up by the Mountbattens.

The Mountbattens met Jinnah. The Siddiqui swilling skeletal Sindhi was not in sympathy with Lord Mountbatten or his goodwife. M A Jinnah’s calculating, cold and stiff style was a world away from the touchy feely yet regal style of the philandering couple.

What of Jawaharlal Nehru? At the stroke of the midnight hour, as the world slept, he made a tryst with…. Lady Mountbatten. Lady Pamela Hicks (the Mountbattens’ daughter) denied for years that her mother was in a sexual relationship with Nehru. After decades she finally confirmed that her mother had had an affair with Nehru and was a man eater – in her own words. Lady Mountbatten remained devoted to Nehru for the rest of her life. When she died in 1960 her bed was surrounded with letters from J L Nehru.

The Mountbattens were played by Nehru. People think they charmed him. It was the other way around. Nehru asked Mountbatten to be Governor-General of India after independence. This appealed greatly to Mountbatten’s incomparable vanity.

Pakistanis complain that the British were prejudiced in favour of India. This accusation is true. Lord Louis fancied himself as Governor-General of Pakistan as well as of India. He was self-sacrificing enough to offer his services to Jinnah in this capacity. Mountbatten was given short shrift!  M A Jinnah was having the top job for himself thank you very much!

Lord Mountbatten tried to talk Jinnah out of partition.  Mohammed Ali Jinnah was never one to tergiversate. His bloody mindedness wins him some unwilling respect. Try as Mountbatten might, Jinnah was immovable. Jinnah wanted to go down in history as the founder of a nation state. Jinnah was a totally nonpractising Muslim. Nevertheless, he got his way. Mountbatten’s sleuths did not do their work well. M A Jinnah was terminally ill with tuberculosis. That was why he was so cadaverous. Louis Mountbatten said that had he know that the supremo of the Muslim League was on death’s door then he would have stalled. The Muslim League was very much based around the personality of Jinnah. If he died the Muslim League would devolve in squabbling and whichever leader emerged it would not have been a man of the singlemindedness of cool charisma of Jinnah. But far from delaying independence Louis Mountbatten did the opposite.

The Viceroy decided that the planned independence date was 30 June 1948. Within weeks of arriving Lord Mountbatten had decided that this simply would not do. In that Indian word he ‘preponed’ independence by 10 months. He announced that independence would take place on 15 August 1947. Festinating only heightened a sense of panic.

It was decided that independence for Pakistan would come a day before India’s. This was partly to do with the alignment of the stars and planets. Many Hindus were frightfully superstitious at the time. It would have been inauspicious for India’s independence to be declared on 14 August.

There came the question of a national flag for India. It was evident that it would be an Indian Tricolour of some kind which had been the flag of Congress for almost 30 years. Mountbatten proposed that it also bear the Union Flag on it. Congress said a very clear and unanimous ‘No’ to this suggestion.

After independence for the two nations was declared the borders between them were announced. Sir Cyril Radcliffe was a British judge who was brought out to India for the first time in his life for the purpose of drawing the borders between the two nascent states. Mercifully, the Radcliffe Award by both sides despite it being deeply resented by both.

Tens of millions of people found themselves on the ‘wrong’ side of the border. There were Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. There were Muslims in India. Many people hastened to cross to the ‘right’ side of the border.

Communal asperities were enormously exacerbated by Partition. Therefore at least hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered for their faith.

Besides those who were butchered many refugees died for want of alimentation. The government’s failure to provide for the indigent was criminous.

Mountbatten failed to provide adequate security for refugees. The Indian Army and even better the British Army could have kept people safe. The British Army had no Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs in it. Your average Tommy would not know a Hindu from a Mohammedan. Tommy Atkins had no axe to grind. By gross negligence and indolence the viceroy did precious little to save people from murder.

In fairness, his noble lordship is by no means the only person who is blameworthy for the Indian Genocide of 1947. Congress politicians must bear some of the culpability for not striving might and main to save more lives. The same must be said of the Muslim League.

Lord Mountbatten’s partisans – and there still are some – seek to throw all the blame onto Indian statesmen. However, it must be borne in the forefront of one’s mind that he was Governor-General of India until the middle of 1948. Therefore he, not Nehru, was commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Ultimately, Mountbatten gave the orders. Indeed in his 15 August  1947speech Lord Mountbatten emphasised that the Government of India was ‘my’ government. In the last analysis most of the responsibility lies with Mountbatten.

Within two months of India’s independence the Pakistanis invaded Jammu and Kashmir. Lord Mountbatten did not foresee this nor act swiftly enough when the invasion occurred. It is true the situation was somewhat salvaged. Had he tarried more then Pakistan might have overrun the whole of Kashmir.

In later years Lord Mountbatten did what he could to bring about the failure of the Suez Operation in 1956. In a TV interview he said he was ‘violently against’ the military attack.

He later became Governor-General of Canada. He was a strange choice given that he threw away the lives of hundreds of Canadian soldiers for nothing at Dieppe.

Towards the end of his life Louis Mountbatten frequented his holiday house in the Republic of Ireland. Classiebawn House is at Mullaghmore, County Sligo. Up to 20 Garda officers were assigned to protect the former viceroy.

The IRA had plotted his murder since 1962. Mountbatten was warned in the early 1970s not to go to Ireland – north or south. The Irish Republican Army wanted his head on a plate. Both MI5 and the Garda Siochana (Southern Irish Police) informed the lord that they could not guarantee his safety. He was contemptuous of expert advice. Violence was very high in Northern Ireland at that time. Mountbatten’s house was only 12 miles from the border.

In the summer of 1979 the warnings became flashing red. His lordship was warned by Graham Ewell that the yacht was easy to place a bomb on. Ewell said that several cars of Belfast IRA men had been seen in Mullaghmore.

Lord Mountbatten said of the IRA, ‘what would they want with an old man like me?’ This terrorist organisation deliberately targeted civilians as a matter of course just like their loyalist analogues. Irish Republicans had conspired to slay members of the royal house since the 19th century.

In August 1979 Lord Mountbatten’s yacht Shadow V was blown up in Mullaghmore Harbour. Mountbatten and a few other people accompanying him were killed. As usual he was grossly irresponsible. His arrogant, cavalier and stupid misconduct had led to the death of civilians including members of his family.

The Indians sent some troops to march in his funeral cortege. The Pakistanis did not. It is not hard to see why the Pakistanis declined to honour this man.


By no means everything that gang awry in India in 1947 is attributable to Lord Mountbatten or other Britons. Even with an ideal viceroy there was going to be some violence. However, Mountbatten’s injudicious decision making, conspicuous partiality, self-conceit, heedlessness of expertise and overconfidence hugely exacerbated the already febrile situation.

There were numerous injudicious decisions wrought in the 347 years of Britannic involvement in India. Some of these were made by Britishers. But with regard to Partition it is patent that Lord Mountbatten is more culpable than anyone else.

The Partition of India was calamitous. It was worse for Pakistan than India. Pakistan ought not have been created. By 1947 the Pakistan Movement had taken on a momentum of its own and was probably unstoppable. Until 1947 it was far from obvious that Pakistan would be created at all. Congress was polling well even in the North-West Frontier Province until months before the Partition of India. More strenuous efforts ought to have been made to avert the inestimable calamity of partition.

I am not in the least bit anti-Pakistani. I have visited the Islamic Republic. There are Pakistanis whom I count as dear friends. However, everything good about Pakistan can be found in India and is usually better there. A nation based on a faith leads almost unavoidably to a theocracy. That is what transpired in Pakistan. This was a most regrettable retrogradation. Pakistan has all the woes that India has only far worse.

Pakistan and India are in an on again off again conflict down to this very day. Much of this can be traced back to Mountbatten.

A United India would be the most populous nation on earth. There might be no nuclear arms there. Even if it had nukes there would be one set not two. India with its united strength would be far more puissant. A United India would be greater than the sum of its parts.  A Greater India would be a democracy and a peerless force for humanitarianism.

By what mischance was India divided? It was partly down to the iron will and vaulting personal ambition of Jinnah who created a country for a religion he did not practise. There were also missteps by Congress. By resigning from provincial governments in 1939 they created a power vacuum. This was often filled by the Muslim League. However, much of the blame must be laid at the door of Lord Mountbatten.

Lord Mountbatten openly favoured Nehru and India. It is hard to castigate Lord Louis for this. Nehru was a decidedly admirable chap. But by conspicuous bias, Mountbatten damaged the UK’s reputation with Pakistan forever. Britain’s image there is forever tarnished.

Upon retirement from India the king decided to upgrade Mountbatten’s title from baron to earl. What had he done to earn this gong?

As a million stiff corpses putrified in the tropical sun Mountbatten was pleased to be honoured for meritorious service. It takes real chutzpah for him to consider his viceroyalty job well done.

The former viceroy was so stuck up that he was outraged that he did not have a prominent enough role to play at the coronation of Elizabeth II. His prima donna antics really were nauseating.

For the rest of his life Lord Mountbatten expressed the uttermost admiration and affection for the people of India and his empathy for the penurious there. Despite his vast unearned fortune; the lord never deigned to donate a brass farthing to the starving.

In 1960 Lady Mountbatten died in her sleep on a trip to Borneo. Her Y shaped coffin was flown to Britain. As she was married to a sailor, she was given a burial at sea. She had requested this sort of funeral because she wanted to be touched by seamen one last time. In token of his affection Nehru send ships of the India Navy to participate in the maritime funeral of the vicereine.

Decades later Lord Mountbatten was asked in a TV interview if upon mature reflection he could think of any misstep he had made in handling the independence of India. The Partition of India had resulted in the deaths of well over a million people. Most of them were civilians, unarmed people butchered for their faith. This was insufficient to appal the viceregal conscience. With Olympian arrogance his noble lordship said he did not consider himself to have made even a single tiny mistake.

Should this man have had a statute erected in his honour in London only a few years ago?

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