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Lord Louis Mountbatten biography

Lord Louis Mountbatten

(1900-1979)

biography

Lord Louis Mountbatten
Lord Louis Mountbatten
      Mountbatten was the last viceroy and the first governor general of free India. He was born on 25 June 1900, and was the youngest child of Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse (Germany). He was christened as Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas of Battenberg but the exceedingly complicated name remained only in official records. In the family and among friends he came to be known as Dickie. He had one brother, George and two sisters, Princess Louis (married to King Gustavus VI of Sweden) and Princess Alice (married to Prince Andrews of Greece, whose son Philips, now Duke of Windsor, is married to Queen Elizabeth II of Britain. Dickie was related to at least six royal houses of Europe including the Czars of Russia. And to top it he was great-grandson of Queen Victoria whose daughter Alice was married to Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse. Dickie was proud of his ancestry and tracing his lineage was his most absorbing hobby.
His father, Prince Louis, had come to Britain from Germany, and joined the British navy. In due course he became a naturalized citizen. Due to the anti-German mania of the British public during the First World War, he changed his name from Battenberg to Mountbatten in 1917, renouncing his German titles and became the first Marquess of Milford Haven. Henceforth, the family came to be known as Mountbatten. Following the example of his father, Dickie joined the British navy at an early age. He loved the navy more than anything else in the world. He came to India in 1921, as ADC to Prince of Wales, his cousin, who was on a tour of South Asia. They were guests of Lord Reading, the viceroy. Here Dickie proposed to Edwina Ashley, with whom he had fallen in love earlier and who had followed him to Delhi. The room where Dickie proposed to Edwina is now room number 13 of the registrar’s office, Delhi University. Both of them developed a sentimental attachment with India, which played some part in their coming to India later as viceroy and vicereine. They were married in 1922; he was twenty-two, and she twenty-one. Edwina inherited fabulous wealth in 1921 after the death of her maternal grandfather, Ernest Cassel, a German Jew, the richest man in the world at the time. On the other hand, Dickie had very a limited source of income, besides his salary in the navy. This disparity in income played a significant role in their discordant married life. Soon after marriage, the couple found that there was a serious lack of compatibility in their characters. Dickie was not a reflective type and had not studied much beyond technical manuals and P.G. Wodehouse. Thus, his intellectual resources were limited. The gadgets which he used to design and invent for the navy, the hours he spent on his genealogy, did not interest Edwina. There was nothing which could excite or interest her. Most of his friends agreed that Dickie was dull, naturally dull. There were strains and to overcome the ennui, the couple indulged in infidelities started by Edwina as early as 1924. Both of them opted for lovers: Edwina more than Dickie. Their physical intimacy had ended by 1929 and had arrived at a pact that their marriage would not come in the way of having lovers. They both adhered to it till Edwina’s death in 1960. Thus, their marriage was more of an alliance than a union. Even then, two daughters were born to Edwina; Patricia (1924) and Pamela (1928), who came to India along with her parents in March 1947. The relationship which the couple developed with Jawaharlal Nehru during their viceroyalty and after must be seen in the light of these early developments in their married life. That also explains why Dickie was such an extremely tolerant husband.
Mountbatten was a very handsome man, tall, athletic, full of energy and verve. He lived in style, made possible by his wife’s millions. It was but natural that women fell for him. Even years later, when he kissed the famous writer of romantic novels Barbara Cartland on the cheek, she wrote. A streak of fire ran through me as if I had been struck by lightning. From a woman’s point of view the power was devastating. Others less privileged than Cartland still found the impact of his personality almost overwhelming. He radiated ineffable self-confidence. The impact of his personality was not confined to women, as Indian leaders in 1947 found to their chagrin. It is rather strange that the personality which overwhelmed people did not enamor his wife. The treatment meted out to Dickie at the hands of his wife and the resultant sense of inferiority was perhaps partly responsible for his ambition to reach at the top of his career and he worked furiously to achieve that end. He wanted to show that though unsuccessful as a husband he was an exceptional and talented naval officer, respected and feared by men. This attitude helped Mountbatten to achieve great success as a distinguished leader of men for which he is remembered. Love for his career sustained Mountbatten through the rough patches of his married life. He meticulously planned to climb the professional ladder step by step, and put all his energies and used all his talents towards that end. The Second World War came as a blessing in disguise for Mountbatten. The harassed British were in search of a commander with dash and one who could take risks. Churchill surprised everyone when he appointed Mountbatten as chief of the Combined Operations in Europe. When the tide was turning in favour of the Allied and Japan was proving a greater menace, he was sent as supreme commander in South East Asia (1943) to tackle the Japanese. Japan was defeated with the help of Americans and Mountbatten emerged as a hero for the demoralized British public and establishment.
The British had won the war but were in no position to retain the Empire. Their economy was shattered; the best of their manpower had been killed. Their cities were in ruin. There was shortage of almost everything; food, petrol, clothes, coal. All of a sudden, Britain becomes a poor country. After two centuries, the British were worried about themselves. They had been ruling India with the help of the Indian army. The formation of INA and the navy mutiny in February 1946 had cast doubts about the reliability of the Indian army. The British were convinced that they could no longer hold on to India. They feared an uprising similar to the one in 1857, or Worse. They wanted to get out of India before it was too late. They found to their chagrin that their man on the spot, the Viceroy Lord Wavell, was incapable of doing what was needed. Therefore, Prime Minister Attlee selected Mountbatten for the job. To the British Parliament he explained the reasons for his choice: “Mountbatten is an extremely lively, exciting personality.” He has an extraordinary faculty for getting on with all kinds of people. He added after a pause, “He is also blessed with a very unusual wife.” The Parliament agreed. According to Mountbatten, when Attlee told him about his plan to send him to India as Viceroy, ‘he was staggered’. He was not telling the truth. His close friends and those who knew him in official circlesbelieve that his eyes were set on the viceroyalty while he was still in South-East Asia. “All this business about being surprised when he was Offered the job of going away to India as Viceroy _ and then first refusing it - is all my eye. It was part of the great plan. Feigning reluctance and by being difficult, he did manage to extract several concessions from the prime minister: taking with him some of his own trusted men, a private four-engine plane and a specific date for the withdrawal. He was given greater liberty in making his arrangements and writing his own instructions “than had traditionally been allowed to even the most magnificent of viceroys’. It is, however, doubtful if he enjoyed plenipotentiary powers, as he claimed later.
When everything was decided, he Went around and met several persons. First his mother. She was eighty-four but still active. She warned her son that he was going to fail; Linlithgow failed, Wavell completely failed. What made him think that he would succeed? Dickie replied, “You have so little faith in your own son as to think I am not slyer than them. I am going to tie them up in such knots that I shall succeed at their expense.” When he met Churchill, the latter told him: “I am not going to tell you how to do it, but I will tell you one thing - whatever arrangements you may make, you must see that you don’t harm a hair on the head of a single Muslim.” Dickie promised and some of his actions must be seen in this light as a Viceroy and governor general.
Mountbatten arrived in India on 22 March 1947 along with his Wife Edwina and daughter Pamela. They were received at the Delhi airport by Nehru, Liaqat Ali Khan and c-in-c, Auchinleck. He was officially sworn in on 24 March. His brief was precise: Hand over India to the Indians by June 1948. Mountbatten’s arrival had irked a great many civil servants who regarded Mountbatten as a jumped up ex-playboy and Edwina as a spoilt Jewish playgirl of doubtful morals, in spite of what they had done during the War. Mountbatten started interviewing Indian leaders one by one – Nehru, Patel, Jinnah, Liaqat Ali, Gandhi and lesser mortals, giving one hour to each. The Indian leaders were at a disadvantage during these meetings. While Mountbatten had been briefed by his predecessors Linlithgow and Wavell as well as by the I.C.S. clique about the Indian leaders and their standing in their party, they were completely in the dark about the seamy side of Mountbatten’s character. Most of the Indian leaders, including Gandhi, were dazzled by his personality; his royal connections, his informal affability. But those who had worked with Mountbatten knew that he delighted in intrigue. He would never give a straight answer to a straight question. Dickie was a born intriguer. If there was a choice between open dealing and a corkscrew approach he always chose the latter," a friend of his remarked. Field Marshal Temple once exploded across a dinner table, Dickie; you are so crooked that if you swallowed a nail you would shit a corkscrew." During his fifteen months of stay in India he indulged in intrigues of the worst kind. Mountbatten also indulged in double talk. According to Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, prime minister of Pakistan (1955-56): “Mountbatten won the confidence of both, the leaders of Congress and the Muslim League, by denouncing one to the other. At the very time when he was wooing Congress leaders day and night, he was portraying them to Jinnah as unreasonable men."
In spite of Dickie’s friendship with Nehru, he had a fondness and admiration for the Muslims and hardly any sympathy for the Hindus and much less for the Sikhs. According to his own admission, Muslims were mostly the people from the officer’s class of the Indian Army – much more than the Hindus. I wasn't pro-anybody, but I really did like the Muslims. I had so many friends. I think you’ll find this one of the things that’s not completely understood. The British out there were naturally more easily friends with Muslims because they played polo, they went out shooting, they mixed freely, and they didn't have any sort of inhibitions. The Hindus didn't get along so well with the British. Frankly, no Muslim ever took part in any plotting against the British. They wanted the British to remain; it secured their position. The last thing that Jinnah wanted was that we should go. But the Hindus wanted us to go." This affinity of Mountbatten towards Muslims was not only shared by Churchill but by almost all the British officials of any consequence in India. It did not come as a surprise to anyone when three Governors and scores of I.C.S. officials decided to serve Pakistan after Partition; and hardly any for India. Many of the actions of Mountbatten also must be seen in this background: his advice to Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir to opt for Pakistan; his exaggerated description of the sufferings of Muslim refugees in Delhi while ignoring those of Hindu and Sikh refugees who were in much greater number and in much worse condition; of his exploitation of naivety of Gandhi to go on fast to coerce the government to release fifty-five crore rupees to Pakistan, a country at war with India.
After consultations with Indian leaders, Mountbatten set to work to hand over India to the Indians. By this time he was convinced that the partition of the country could not be avoided. It was not difficult to convince the Congress leaders about the inevitability of Partition, harassed as they were by the tactics of the Muslim League members in the Interim Government. In the meeting of the Congress Working Committee of 8 March 1947 a resolution for the partition of Punjab was passed (later Bengal was added to it, thus accepting the partition of the country by implication. That made things easier for Mountbatten. He had started with the Cabinet Mission Plan but soon abandoned it. Next, he with the help of his aides prepared a plan what has come to be known as Plan Balkan. His ‘hunch’ deceived him when he showed this plan to Nehru who was with him in Simla. Nehru rejected the plan, as it presented a picture of fragmentation, conflict and disorder. A new plan was hurriedly drafted with the help of V.P. Menon, reforms commissioner. Mountbatten flew to London on 18 May with the new Plan, and was able to convince the authorities about its viability. He, along with Ismay, returned to Delhi on 31 May. Any apprehension about the rejection of the revised plan by Indian leaders was taken care of I will drive them forward at a pace which would make it impossible for anyone to have second thoughts or fuss over much about the details," he told his staff on his return. On June 3, he announced that the power would be handed over to Indians on 15 August 1947, instead of June 1948 as had been announced by Attlee earlier in the British Parliament. The reason given by Mountbatten was that 15 August was the first anniversary of the Japanese surrender. Within seventy-three days of his arrival in India, the partition plan had been announced. In a further seventy-two days, two independent countries would emerge on the corpse of the Empire.
Mountbatten was a hustler. He often took decisions without caring for the consequences. This was one such decision. Seventy-two days were such a short time to bifurcate a country of India’s size, especially when communal riots were becoming uncontrollable. The whole of north India was in the grip of communal frenzy, from Peshawar to Noakhali. The deadline of 15 August 1947 did not allow time for proper precautions and arrangements to be made. It took three years to separate Burma from India and two years to separate Sind from Bombay but only seventy-two days to divide India Maurice Zinkin, formerly of the Indian Civil Service, says, Wavell represented the Indian point of view in England. Mountbatten was not basically interested in India but represented British interests. He did the job with dash and deftness but without compassion." The British were in such a haste to leave the country that the Indian Independence Bill was hurried through the British Parliament in unprecedented haste and got the Royal assent on 18July 1947, clearing the deck for the transfer of power.
It did not take much time through voting in the legislatures or through referendum as to which states would form a part of Pakistan; the whole of North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan, Sind and the district of Sylhet in Assam were to go to Pakistan. The most serious problem was the bifurcation of Punjab and Bengal on the basis of Muslim and non-Muslim majority areas. Such areas were not distinctly clear. To decide the issue, a Boundary Commission was formed under the chairmanship of Sir Cyril Radcliffe. Radcliffe arrived in India on 8 July and submitted his report in a sealed envelope on 13 August to the viceroy In less than five weeks two lines were drawn, dividing the two provinces of Punjab and Bengal on the basis of contiguous majority areas. To control the communal riots in Punjab, where thousands of innocent people were being massacred, their houses burnt, their property looted, their Women molested and even the children killed before the eyes of their parents, a Boundary Force was raised on 1 August 1947 with 55,000 army personnel under Major-General Rees. A major segment of the force was stationed in East Punjab While the Worst carnage was being enacted in West Punjab. The riots and killings continued unabated. The Boundary Force carne under fire and was disbanded on 29 August.
Most of the Indian states in the Indian Territory were integrated with the Indian Dominion by 15 August due to the deft handling of the princes by Sardar Patel as head of the States Department. It must go to the credit of Mountbatten that not only did he reiterate on 25 July, while addressing the Chamber of Princes, what Patel had told them on 5 july, but as the Crown Representative, advised them to join either of the proposed two Dominions because Paramountcy would lapse on 15 August. After hearing Mountbatten, all the princes, who were still reluctant, signed the Instrument of Accession, except Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagarh.
As the time of the transfer of power approached, the intensity of the communal riots increased. Uncertainty about the Boundary Commission’s award made things worse. Though Radcliffe had sent the details of the Award on 13 August, Mountbatten did not make it public. On 14 August, Mountbatten and Edwina flew to Karachi to participate in the celebrations of the birth of Pakistan, leaving the envelope sent by Radcliffe unopened on the table. To dramatise the event, a canard went around that there was a plan to assassinate Mountbatten and Jinnah by the Sikhs and the RSS men. That was just like Mountbatten. There was hardly any presence of Sikhs in Karachi, or of the RSS men. There was no way for them to execute such a plan. But it did add to the drama. At times it was difficult for Mountbatten to distinguish between truth and untruth. “The truth in his hands was Swifty converted from what it was to what it should have been. He sought to rewrite history with cavalier indifference to the facts to magnify his own achievements”.
Back in India, Mountbatten participated in the Independence celebrations in Delhi. The fate of millions of Indians still lay sealed in that envelope sent by Radcliffe, millions still not knowing to which Dominion they would belong. Let the Indians have the joy of their Independence Day," he said nonchalantly, they can face the misery of the situation after." When the details of the Boundary Commissions report were made public on 17 August, hell was let loose. Almost the whole of West Pakistan was cleansed of Hindu and Sikhs by September. So was east Punjab of Muslims. In the eastern part of Pakistan, there were riots but of lesser intensity. Nobody is sure how many people were killed in this carnage, the worst in the history of the world. Nobody is sure. Estimates vary from two million to a quarter of a million. When Mountbatten relinquished the office of governor general, returned to England and met Churchill, the first thing Churchill said was, ‘So you got two million Indians killed."
Mountbatten emerged as the saviour of the British residents in India and at the same time a true friend of India. Indians were so obliged to him for handing over India to them that he was asked to be the first governor-general of free India. Jinnah had refused him this honour and appointed himself as governor-general of Pakistan, to the great disappointment of Mountbatten who wanted to be governor-general of both the Dominions. Mountbatten remained governor-general of India till 21 June 1948 after which C. Rajagopalachari took over. Indians trusted Mountbatten but true to his character he deceived India, creating the Kashmir problem. While accepting the accession of Kashmir to India, as proposed by Maharaja Hari Singh, Mountbatten as head of the Dominion added a sentence, It is my Governments wish that as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and her soil cleared of the raiders, the question of States accession should be settled by reference to the People. Not only that, Mountbatten advised Nehru to stop fighting and refer the matter to the UNO in November 1947. The Kashmir problem, thus created by Mountbatten, remains unsolved to this day and has cost India dearly in terms of men, money and material. Another act of treachery on the part of Mountbatten was talking Gandhi into a fast to give fifty five crore rupees to Pakistan. On 12 January 1948, Sardar Patel in a press statement had said categorically that, we would not agree to any payment until the Kashmir affair was settled. Gandhi started his fast the next day on 13 January Mountbatten later boasted that it was he who convinced Gandhi. Later he admitted, “I acted as a kind of forwarding agent for Pakistan because I felt, to some extent, they’d been pushed and I therefore had to remain to see it.” Mountbatten must share the blame for the assassination of Gandhi.
“Nehru’s motives in the Kashmir affair remain opaque. Why did he promise a plebiscite? Why was the issue taken to the United Nations and the offer repeated? It seems clear that the initiative both for the holding of a plebiscite and referring Kashmir to the United Nations came from Mountbatten”. Did Edwina influence Nehru to take these decisions? It cannot be accepted with certainty. However, it is true that Edwina had played an important role, which none of the earlier vicereines had done. Her relationship with Nehru added a new dimension to the policymaking process in India. When Edwina died in February 1960 and was buried at sea, as she had willed, Nehru ordered the Indian frigate Trishule to escort the British frigate Wakeful which carried her body to the south coast of England.
Mountbatten returned to the navy in October 1948 to command a cruiser squadron in Malta. His career in the navy was on expected lines. He became the First Sea Lord in 1955 and chief of the Defence Staff in 1958. He retired from active service in 1965. He was a lonely man and after Edwina’s death his share of her wealth came to a Shilling for every pound and he was worried about his financial position. On 27 August 1979, he died when his boat was blown to pieces by Irish revolutionaries. Along with him died two of his companions and a child. His assassination became world news. Though he did not serve India well during his stay of fifteen months as Viceroy and governor-general, he served his country well.

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