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Mountbatten’s blunder of Himalayan proportions

The exit of the British from India was as disgraceful an act as any in recorded history; Churchill was against the hasty withdrawal, but Mountbatten selfishly went forward and executed it.

AKHILESH MITHAL  25th Sep 2011

Winston Churchill called the original time limit to leave India in 14 month’s time from the date of announcement ‘a kind of guillotine’ designed to cut all the long united services and to fragment, not merely partition, all of India

he British period 1757-1947 is called 'the Dark Age of Indian History'. Other Europeans call the British 'perfidious Albion'. The British themselves have tried to minimise the role of greed and such other vices by saying that their Indian Empire came into being 'almost unbeknownst to themselves' and it was created in 'a fit of absent mindedness'.

This, as is obvious, is palpable untruth. Their entry, establishment, as well as exit from India were as disgraceful acts as any in recorded history. Limitations of space allow us to only focus on the exit. Lest we be accused of prejudice, we quote from what Winston Churchill had to say when the British announced their intention to quit. The original proposal was to leave by June 1948, in 14 month's time from the date of announcement. The record of the debate in the British Parliament on 6 March, 1947 says, "Was this merely to be 'Operation Scuttle'? Churchill asked. 'The Government by their 14 month's time limit, have put an end to all prospects of Indian unity... How can one suppose that the thousand year gulf* which yawns between Muslim and Hindu will be bridged in 14 months?... It is astounding." *History is witness to the fact that in 1857 there was no 'gulf' between Hindus and Muslims.

Churchill called the time limit 'a kind of guillotine' designed to cut all the long united services and to fragment, not merely partition, all of India. "How can we walk out of India and leave behind a war between 90 million Muslims and 200 million caste Hindus....? Will it not be a terrible disgrace to our name if we allow one fifth of the population of the globe... to fall into chaos and carnage? Would it not be a world (class) crime...that would stain... our name for ever?

‘Dickie, stand there!’ which caused the taller man to halt in his tracks. ‘What you did in India was like whipping your riding crop against my face!’. Winston Churchill to Lord Mou

Churchill went on to warn, 'We must face the evils that are coming upon us', his voice almost breaking as he added, 'and that we are powerless to avert.' 'We must do our best in all circumstances—but, at least, let us not add, by shameful flight, by a premature hurried scuttle to the pangs of sorrow so many of us feel, the tint and smear of shame.'

Despite this eloquent and passionate plea, Attlee's 'quit India quick' proposal won by a majority of 337 votes to 185. The date of June 1948 was moved forward to August 1947 because of the personal agenda of the new Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten. He was impatient to return to the Royal Navy as he wanted to rise to be the First Lord of the Admiralty, a post his father had held until the anti-German feelings generated by the World War I caused him to resign.

n a typical British sleight of hand, the ruling family became 'the House of Windsor' from being 'Saxe Coburg and Gotha.' And the Battenbergs became 'Mountbatten'. Lord Louis was 14 years old when he witnessed the disgrace of his father and saw the family name change from 'Battenberg' to 'Mountbatten'. He joined the navy to right the wrong by rising to become the First Lord of the Admiralty. India and its problems were not his first call.

The last meeting of Churchill and Mountbatten is retold here to help readers understand the situation caused by the hasty exit of the British. Mountbatten had returned home after accomplishing his task of 'quitting' India in less than half the time allotted, August 1947 instead of June 1948. He was given a hero's welcome. Anthony Eden hosted a Tory party dinner and invited Churchill.

When Mountbatten spotted Churchill, he made a beeline for him and advanced with his arms open and a smile lighting up his face. Churchill halted him with an upheld arresting hand with a pointing, accusing finger. He used Lord Louis's pet name to shout, 'Dickie, stand there!' which caused the taller man to halt in his tracks. 'What you did in India was like whipping your riding crop against my face!' The room had fallen silent and everyone could hear each word clearly. Churchill next turned on his heel and walked out of the room. He never spoke to Mountbatten for the next seven years.

Mountbatten's preoccupations were banal and pedestrian. Before arriving in India he sought more advice on what he should wear, than who he should see and hear. Even later in life he spent a great deal of time and energy on which army/navy/ air force formation should represent India at his funeral. He died a violent death by being blown up in Ireland.

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