THE ALIEN ‘VISHKANYA’ of History of Indian Independence
In ancient India, beautiful girls were planted to entice the enemy kings with the purpose of destroying them. These beauties were known as ‘Vishkanya’. Will it not be apt to describe Edwina Mountbatten, who lured Jawaharlal Nehru into the web of her charm as the poison girl of the history of Indian independence?
The British Government had decided to quit India. But their worry was to ensure that their massive assets, worth billions in this country, were retrieved before they left. If freedom was given to India and the country's independent Government nationalised their assets, it would be a 'double blow' to them; on the one hand, the British domination over India would come to an end and, on the other, their massive investments would be lost. The British were desperate to protect their investments in India by any means. Therefore, they planned that India may first be granted 'Dominion Status' under the British Crown, and thereafter, the transfer of real power could take place. In the interregnum, India would not have the right to nationalise the British investments and they would repatriate that 'money' to their country.
The British Government also knew that it was very difficult to get the Indian leaders’ nod for a Dominion Status. The Congress session held at Lahore in December 1929 under the presidentship of Jawaharlal Nehru had declared that the party's objective was complete independence. It appeared impossible to make the Congressmen change their resolve and agree to the Dominion Status. Besides, before leaving India the British intended to partition the country and give a portion of Indian land to Mohammed Ali Jinnah in the form of Pakistan. Jinnah and his Muslim League had weakened the Indian nationalist forces by creating a wedge and fomenting hostility between Hindus and Muslims. Jinnah had rendered immense service to the British during the Second World War and a grateful British Government wanted to reward him with a Pakistan before quitting the sub-continent. Gandhiji had publicly declared, not once but a number of times, that the country could be divided only over his dead body. The British had realised that in the background of such a threat it was well nigh impossible to get the Congress accept partitioning of the country.
In this perspective, the new viceroy that he ensured division of the country and granting of Dominion Status to the two countries on partition before the Union Jack was finally lowered. Throwing light on his choice of Mountbatten for this post, Atlee noted in his diary: "He had an extraordinary facility for getting on with nil kinds of people. He was also blessed with a very unusual wife." (Janet Morgan: Edwina Mountbatten, P-378)
These were the reasons for selecting Mountbatten to wind up the British Empire in India. This also leads to the conclusion that if his wife was not 'unusual,' he would not have been chosen for this task.
In what way was Mountbatten’s wife 'unusual'? What did Prime Minister Atlee see in her which led to appointing her husband as the Viceroy of India?
Edwina Mountbatten was born in one of the richest families of Great Britain. Her grandfather, Sir Earnest Castle, was a close friend of the British emperor, Edward VII. When she was married to Mountbatten in 1922, she had inherited two million pounds from her grandfather, while Mountbatten, at that time serving in the British Navy, was getting about 610 pounds per year (52 pounds a week). The financial status of the two was poles apart. But Mountbatten was related to the royal family of Great Britain. He was the great grandson of Queen Victoria and a cousin of the British monarch. This couple was made in heaven! One had the wealth, the other had the social status and royal connection. Both were complimentary to each other. Besides this, there was nothing else common between them.
The main cause of their discord was sexual incompatibility. "... Edwina Mountbatten was a spoilt play-girl, a woman so self-absorbed that she could forget where she had sent her two daughters and their Governess on holiday ... Lady Mountbatten was consistently unfaithful, to the extent that, at their Park Lane home, the butler at Brook House would be hard put to it to keep "Hugh," "Laddie" and "Bunny" unaware of each other's presence when the three happened to call simultaneously. He also had Mike, Larry and Ted to consider. She sawno great causes to engage her considerable intelligence in the 1920s and 1930s, and took refuge in nymphomania and bisexuality." (Andrew Roberts : Eminent Churchinllians, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, P. 58). Almost all biographers have referred to the extramarital relationships and exuberant life style of Edwina. Any husband would ordinarily divorce a woman of such character. But Mountbatten was made of a different stuff. The immense wealth of Edwina did not let their marriage break.
Mountbatten was a weak man, both physically and morally, and had a subdued libido, incompatible with Edwina's drive. "He (Mountbatten) in shod was a man who enjoyed sexual net more in theory and anecdote than in fact and practice, and the voyeur strain was stronger in him than in most men. When he became reconciled to Edwina's infidelities, he liked to hear about them from her." (Richard Hough, Mountbatten, Page 96). No woman can tolerate such a person. Yet, Edwina did not separate. The royal connection of Mounbatten had provided herewith a distinguished social status in her country, which she did not want to lose. This was the factor that sustained their marriage outwardly and legally.
Both Edwina and Mountbatten had their vested interests in maintaining their marital status. They had, in the course of time, developed an understanding between themselves. Indeed, they helped each other. If Edwina was to meet her lover, Mountbatten would quietly leave. Edwina would similarly lend necessary support to Mountbatten to meet his mistress.
Such couples are rare. Both Edwina and Mountbatten were unusual in this sense. The British Prime Minister Atlee had sent this couple to India for the last mission of the British Government. The responsibility of this couple was to persuade the Congress leaders in India to accept the division of the country and to agree for a Dominion Status, irrespective of the means that might have to be employed. This was the interest of the Great Britain. The Mountbatten carried out this responsibility well!
On 18 February 1946, the Indian ratings of the British Navy broke into a mutiny in Bombay on board the ship 'Talwar.' This spark reached the Air Force also and the airmen's revolt spread to a number of cities. The British Government got panicky. They felt that a mutiny like that of 1857 was not too far and that it would be wise to free India and leave it before that happened. Therefore, the very next day, following the naval mutiny, that is, on 19 February, 1846, British Prime Minister Atlee announced that a Cabinet Mission would soon be sent to India to negotiate with the Indian leaders the modalities for the transfer of power to Indians.
On 18 March 1946, just a month after the revolt in the Navy, the British Government arranged a meeting of Jawaharlal Nehru with the Mountbattens in Singapore. In the context of the naval revolt, both the Cabinet Mission and the Mountbattens' meeting with Nehru had the common objective of deciding modalities for a safe departure of the British from India at the earliest.
At that time, Mountbatten was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Southeast Asia, with his headquarters in Singapore. Upon his release from jail, Jawaharlal Nehru had founded the Asian Relations Conference in November-December, 1945, and had become its President.
Mountbatten arranged Nehru's visit to Singapore in his capacity as the President of the Asian Relations Conference. An aircraft of the British Air Force was placed, at his disposal, to take him to Singapore. Although Nehru did not enjoy any formal status, Mountbatten received him at the Singapore airport with all formalities, as though he was the future Prime Minister of India (Sarvapalli Gopal: Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol-I, page 310). Mountbatten sent his limousine to fetch him from the airport. Arches were put up in the city to welcome him and Indians in Singapore were lined up on both sides of the road to cheer him. Why did Mountbatten extend such a lavish welcome to Nehru, which normally is given to Prime Ministers or Presidents of other countries? The reason was that the British Government had reached the conclusion that, of all the Congress leaders, Jawaharlal Nehru, alone, was a person of the most vulnerable personality, through whom the Congress could be made to agree to the country's partition and the Dominion Status. Thus, the task of enticing Jawaharlal Nehru started from Singapore.
When Jawaharlal Nehru and Mountbatten reached the YMCA building in Singapore to address a general meeting of Indians, Edwina was already present there. Before she could be introduced to Nehru, a crowd of Indians surged forward to cheer for him. Edwina fell on the ground in the melee. Narrating Edwin's first meeting with Nehru, Indira Gandhi observed: Lady Mountbatten was flat on the floor when my father and she met in Singapore." (Stanley Wolpert: Nehru, OUP, New York, P. 361).
Nehru lifted up Edwina in his arms and, in the words of Stanley Wolpert, "fell in love with her."
Jawaharlal Nehru must have fallen in love with Edwina at first sight, but, for Edwina, it was an act, a drama that was being played by the British Government on the world stage to serve its own interests. Mountbatten and Edwina played their roles admirably. Nehru became spellbound by both of them. He started dancing to the tune of the Mountbattens. Nehru's Singapore programme included the laying of wreathes on the Azad Hind Memorial, but he cancelled it off on the Mountbattens' advice.
On 18 March 1946, Edwina, Mountbatten and Nehru talked together till late in the night. "They dined together that evening, those who were to rule India 'and we made lifelong friends'-recalled Dickie (Mountbatten)."-(Stanley Wolpert; Nehru, p. 361).
In December 1946, the British Prime Minister Atlee invited Jinnah and JawaharIal for talks. There, "Mountbatten offered to be Nehru's host in London, but Nehru decided it was best for him to stay at the Dorchester (hotel) where Edwina kept a suite for herself, overlooking Hyde Park." (Stanely Wolpert; Nehru, page 377).
This fact gives enough indication that after his Singapore visit of 18 March 1946, Jawaharlal was in constant correspondence with the Mountbattens, and particularly with Edwina. That is why Jawaharlal decided to spend his night in London in the Hotel Dorchester, where a suite was reserved for Edwina permanently. Was Edwina present in her hotel suite at that time? If not, would Jawaharlal have declined the Mountbatten's hospitality and stayed in that hotel?
The British intelligence department has always been well-known for its efficiency. It was because of their intelligence department that the British perpetrated their rule in India for two hundred years. It would be a safe conclusion to draw in this context that the British Prime Minister received the information about the goings on-between Nehru and Edwina in the first week of December, 1946. Atlee must have felt reassured by such 'news' because within 10 days, that is, on 18 December 1946, Atlee called Mountbatten in his office and offered him the appointment of the Viceroy of India.
Mountbatten took up the position of Viceroy of India on 23 March, 1947 in New Delhi. Soon Edwina and Jawaharlal Nehru started meeting frequently. On account of usual security, it was not possible for any Vicereine to meet anybody whenever she liked. But the way that their meetings was made easy was by Mountbatten himself. Before leaving for India, Mountbatten had told Atlee that he and his wife would like to meet the Indian leaders at their homes without staff and without the formalities of protocol, and Atlee had given his assent to it. Atlee was prepared to accept all their conditions for an early escape from the empire. Thus, at every opportunity, in the evenings or at night, Edwina went to Nehru's residence all by herself.
In the first week of May 1947, Lord Mountbatten and Lady Mountbatten went to Simla for holidaying. On the advice of Edwina, Mountbatten also invited Nehru to join them. Nehru accepted the invitation and soon reached Simla with
Krishna Menon. Here, in the vast campus of the Viceregal lodge, spread over several acres and dotted with bushes, shrubs, groves, creepers, plants, trees and flower-beds, Nehru and Edwina strolled in splendid isolation and vowed for each other's love. When they were walking hand-in-hand on flower-decked footpaths, in the midst of colour-sprinkled greenery of the Viceregal lodge, down below in plains, India was smoldering.
Love between two persons is their personal affair; no third person has anything to do with it. Nobody has the right to comment on it or to make it an issue for public debate. But when the mutual love of two public figures bodes ill for the society and affects the course of history, one has the right to examine such a relationship. The question arises whether Nehru-Edwina relations affected the process of transfer of power in India? If so, in what way? To what extent? For or against the interests of India?
The Indian intelligentsia has by and large kept mum over these questions during the last 50 years. The reason is clear. The Congress Party has been in power at the Centre during this period, one way or the other. The government obliged-intelligentsia had no gults to expose the truth relating to the Congress Party's leading lights. The foreign scholars who were close to Mountbatten and have written on the transfer of power to India are of the view that Edwina had no hand in the decision-making on transfer of power. But impartial and independent scholars have opined in clear words that Edwina had definitely affected the process of transfer of power.
The researches of Richard Hough have established that "the fact that she (Edwina) had an affair with Nehru ... had the most profound effect on the transfer of power." (Mountbatten, P-224).
Referring to the influence of Edwina on Nehru, Janet Morgan writes: "Discussions went on all day. Edwina was not present at the meetings but, at meals and during walks in the garden between sessions, she heard how the negotiations WCIC getting on. V.P. Menon told his daughter afterwards that Lady Louis' conversations with Nehru played a significant part in helping him to make up his mind to go for Commonwealth membership (Janet Morgen: Edwina Mountbatten, P. 394)".
Referring 10 influence of Edwina on Nehru, Richard I If High writes, "In a country, not at that time noted for political influence of its women, the views of C1IOSl' involved in tolal transfer negotiations played a strong part; and the leading role was, of course played by Edwina herself, her leading man Jawaharlal Nehru, now widower and lonely and needing a woman in his life." (Richard Hough: Mountbatten, P. 223).
Nehru needed a woman in his life, and that need was met by Edwina. Mountbatten encouraged Edwina to meet Nehru's need. Nehru felt boundless gratitude for Mountbatten and Edwina and was prepared to make any sacrifice for them. He sacrificed the unity of the country for Edwina and accepted Pakistan. The oath taken on 26 January 1930 was also sacrificed and a 'Dominion Status' in place of complete freedom (Poorna Swaraj) was accepted.
On 18 May 1947, Mountbatten departed for London with his scheme. Prime Minister Atlee thought it necessary to obtain the consent of Churchill before making this scheme public. Arlee knew that without the cooperation of Churchill's Tory party, 'India Independence Act' could not be passed in the British Parliament. Therefore, Mountbatten explained his scheme to Churchill. Churchill could not believe that the Congress had given up its goa1 of complete freedom (Poorna Swaraj) and accepted the 'Dominion Status'. Mountbatten showed him Nehru's written acceptance which he had brought from India. A smile ran on Churchill's stern face on looking at Nehru's letter. He gave his blessings to the Mountbatten plan. (Collins and Lappierre; Freedom and Midnight; p. 150)
Nehru had consulted neither the Congress Working Committee, nor the All India Congress Committee before giving his letter of acceptance of Dominion Status to Mountbatten. Even an informal consent of the Congress President Maulana Azad was not obtained. He had given this approval for Dominion Status absolutely at his own level. No leader takes the risk of making such a far-reaching decision by himself But Nehru was under the spell of Edwina. Overtaken by infatuation for her, he was prepared to do anything.
Nobody knows the correct figure or the number of people killed in the wake of partition of the country-whether it was a million, two millions or three millions. When the entire villages were wiped out, nobody was left to tell about the massacre. The dead cannot come to get their names registered in the list of gones. The responsibility of the Partition lay on the Congress, the Muslim League and the British Government. The country was divided as a result of the decision of these three parties. Therefore, the responsibility for the horror that followed must also be shared by them. This is why the British as well as the Governments of India and Pakistan have concealed the figures. In India, the Congress Governments have tried to forget the massacre of 1947. Whosoever tried to recollect it was branded communal.
The most active role in the division of the country was that of Jawaharlal Nehru and whenever the murders, arsons, rapes and suicides will be accounted for, the names of Nehru and Edwina will be clubbed together. Britain could repatriate immense investments from India due to the efforts of Edwina. For rendering this service, the grateful British Government bestowed the honour of G.B.E. on Edwina Mountbatten and decorated her with the 'Chinese Order of Brilliant Star.' Lord Mountbatten (Louis Francis Victor Nicholas Mountbatten) was honoured with the title of 'Earl' for serving the British nterests through the services rendered by his wife to Jawaharlal Nehru.