K. Natwar Singh starts a column on history for The Sunday Guardian from this week.


Lord Louis Mountbatten arrived in New Delhi on 22 March 1947 to replace Lord Archibald Wavell as Viceroy. Wavell was unceremoniously turfed out.

The glamorous and handsome new Viceroy was sworn in the Durbar Hall of Government House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan) on 24 March. He made a short speech in which he declared, “this not a normal Viceroyalty on which I am embarking… His Majesty’s Government are resolved to transfer power by June 1948.” In other words, the Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee, would in that month end the British India Empire.

All efforts by Wavell to find a solution for the India problem had failed. Mountbatten, unlike any previous Viceroy, had come with plenipotentiary powers. He did not have to take decisions without getting London’s approval, but kept Attlee and the Secretary of State for India informed. Lord Louis was a man in a hurry. Within a few weeks of taking over, he met 134 political and other leaders to acquaint himself with the current situation.

His vitally significant meetings were with Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Rajaji. From the Muslim League he saw M.A. Jinnah and Nawabzade Liaqat Ali Khan.

Soon, it became evident to him that an unbridgeable gulf existed between the Congress and the Muslim League. Jinnah wanted a parting of the ways. He wanted Pakistan. Mountbatten flew to London, telling the Labour and Conservative leadership that the prospect of transferring power to a united India was no longer feasible. He came back with a new plan. Partition India into two Dominions and do so by 14-15 August 1947.

He finally presented the Partition Plan to the Congress and the League. On 3 June he called a meeting, which was attended by Nehru, Patel and Kripalani, Jinnah, Liaqat Ali, Abdur Nishtar and the Sikh leader Baldev Singh. Mountbatten later wrote of the momentous meeting, “The Indian leaders agreed unanimously, without any sort of reservation, to the choice of 15th August.”

On 14 June the Congress Working Committee in New Delhi passed a resolution accepting the 3 June plan for partition. The Resolution was moved by Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, who said, “that the acceptance of the June 3rd plan was the only way to achieve freedom and liberty for the country.”

A few dissenting voice (most vocal was Purushottamdas Tandon) were there. Finally Gandhiji intervened and supported the Resolution. He said, “The consequences of rejection would be the finding of new set of leaders… They should not forget that peace in the country was very essential at this juncture. The Congress was opposed to Pakistan and he was one of those who had steadfastly opposed the division of India. Yet he had come before the A.I.C.C to urge the acceptance of the resolution on India’s division. Sometimes certain decisions, however unpalatable they might be, had to be taken.”

The AICC voted for the resolution—157 in favour, 29 against. 32 abstained. Apparently, these were the only AICC members present in Delhi.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s first Cabinet was sworn in on 15 August 1947. The members beside him were, Sardar Patel, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Jagjivan Ram, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, N.V. Gadgil, Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherji, R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, Dr John Mathai, C.H. Bhaba, Sardar Baldev Singh and Dr B.R. Ambedkar.

The last six were non Congressmen.

There was a time when a Prime Minister of India could be out of the country for several weeks. Jawaharlal Nehru, in late 1949, spent six weeks in the US and Canada. His meetings with President Harry Truman and his Secretary of State Dean Acheson did not go well. The differences were on China, Pakistan, non-aligned.

After Nehru left Washington, Acheson wrote, “He was so important to India and India’s survival, so important to all of us, that if he did not exist—as Voltaire said of God—he would have to be invented. Nevertheless, he was one of the most difficult men with whom I have ever to deal with.”

With American people and media he achieved immediate rapport. The Christian Science Monitor called him “A World Titan”. Adlai Stevenson, Governor of Illinois said, “Only a tiny handful of men have influenced the impeccable forces of our times. To this small company of the truly great, our guest belongs… Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru belongs to the even smaller company of historical figures who wear a halo in their own lifetimes.”

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