Mountbatten showered praise on Nehru for his restraint on Kashmir : 'Being the Other'

Editor's note: In this excerpt from the book 'Being the Other: The Muslim in India' veteran journalist Saeed Naqvi follows Ian Stephens, editor of The Statesman, as he records events while trying to report on the Kashmir issue in its making, days after the nation had gained independence.

By October, reports started coming in of trouble around Jammu. The Muslims there were said ‘to be in flight, having been terrorized and in places cut up by Sikhs and Hindus, at the instigation of the Maharajah’s officials.’ The news could no longer be concealed. So Stephens moved to the Delhi office to get a better sense of what was going on.

Once in the capital, he met General Roy Bucher, Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, who told him that the ‘Kashmir climax was upon us indeed—and for a startling new reason: Pathan tribesmen had burst into the western part of the State. The message had just come, and [the General] said everyone was in a flap.’ That same evening, 26 October, Stephens was asked to dinner with the Mountbattens who had invited a select few. He was shocked by what he saw. Here is what he recorded in a memorandum after the dinner:

I was startled by their one-sided verdicts on affairs. They seemed to have become wholly pro-Hindu. The atmosphere at Government House that night was almost one of war. Pakistan, the Muslim League, and Mr Jinnah were the enemy. This tribal movement into Kashmir was criminal folly. And it must have been well organized. Mr Jinnah, Lord Mountbatten assured me, was waiting at Abbottabad, ready to drive in triumph to Srinagar if it succeeded. It was a thoroughly evil affair. By contrast, India’s policy towards Kashmir, and the Princely States generally, had throughout been ‘impeccable’.

The contrast was glaring when Mountbatten showered praise on Nehru for his restraint on Kashmir. He felt that it was ‘high-minded’ of Nehru to have promised a plebiscite after the Maharaja’s accession.

 Mountbatten showered praise on Nehru for his restraint on Kashmir : Being the Other

Cover of Being The Other

The next day Stephens met Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel with whom he disagreed on various issues but whom he respected for being cordial and frank. ‘Five minutes with him [Patel] was in my experience worth fifteen with Pandit Nehru.’ The Statesman editor wrote in his notes after the meeting that ‘undercurrents in his remarks seemed only to confirm my surmise that India’s policies towards the princely states had not been wholly “impeccable”, in aim or method.’

Stephens, as the editor of an important paper, was briefed by Mountbatten on the ‘facts’. He was told that, because of the Pathan attack, Maharaja Hari Singh’s formal accession to India was being finalized. ‘Subject to a plebiscite, this great State, its inhabitants mainly Muslim, would now be legally lost to Jinnah. Indian troops were to be flown into Kashmir at once; arrangements had been made. This was the only way to save Srinagar from sack by ruffianly tribesmen.’ Mountbatten told him that Kashmir had many Europeans and attacks on them had already been reported. Stephens recorded in his notes that the Governor General was ‘persuasive, confident, charming, a successful commander on the eve of an important operation, who manifestly banked on hustling The Statesman into complete support.’

Stephens was ‘flabbergasted’ by what he was told. He felt Kashmir was too sensitive and important a state to be handled so arbitrarily. He put these thoughts on record:

The whole concept of dividing the subcontinent into Hindumajority and Muslim-majority areas, the basis of the June 3 Plan, seemed outraged. At a Hindu Maharajah’s choice, but with a British Governor General’s backing, three million Muslims, in a region always considered to be vital to Pakistan if she were created, were legally to be made Indian citizens.

When Mountbatten took Stephens aside it became an exercise in the former influencing the latter to see value in the way India was proceeding. An ailing Jinnah had been outfoxed by a formidable team—Mountbatten, Nehru, Patel, Gopalaswamy Ayyangar and so on.

The interplay between Mountbatten and Jinnah is the stuff of high drama. The great-grandson of Queen Victoria, cousin of the King, last Viceroy of the Raj—Lord Louis Mountbatten—had upon India’s independence, agreed to stay on as Governor General of India. This begged the question: who would be the Governor General of the other dominion, Pakistan? Well, who else but Muhammad Ali Jinnah? That, Jinnah thought, was the proper thing to do. Why should the representative of a departing power stay on in a supervisory position in both India and Pakistan? This, as I’ve pointed out earlier, peeved Mountbatten.

The Governor General was known for his vanity, his almost childish love of pomp and ceremony. Stephens was present when Mountbatten revealed to journalists in July 1947 that Jinnah had decided to be Governor General of Pakistan. Stephens and others at that meeting noted that ‘his [Mountbatten’s] pride had seemed hurt, though we thought needlessly: how could anyone, however able, function effectively as Governor General of both the new Dominions?’ Stephens was convinced that Mountbatten’s dislike for Jinnah dated from then.

Later historians may have characterized it as obsequiousness, but one cannot but admire the show Nehru put on to win over Mountbatten. He knew he was dealing with a man who was susceptible to pomp and grandeur. What better ploy to get him on his side than to invite him to stay on as the first Governor General of independent India? Mountbatten, Edwina and Nehru were by now a famous trio and the corridors of power were filled with stories of their great friendship. Jinnah was quite aloof from Mountbatten and their relationship grew even more strained when Jinnah decided to take on the office of Governor General of Pakistan. Mountbatten did not hide his displeasure. Among other things, he advised Stephens to abandon plans of publishing The Statesman from Pakistan.

Stephens felt that a British-owned newspaper like The Statesman should ‘try to maintain an inter-dominion policy, in fairness’. Mountbatten came down sharply on the idea. ‘He thought we would find things much simpler as they were.’ He said ‘we could drop our Pakistani or Muslim circulation and concern ourselves primarily with Indian affairs.’ How much of it was impulse, how much strategy?

Excerpted from ‘Being the Other: The Muslim in India’ with permission of Aleph Book Company.

Updated Date: Jul 12, 2016 17:15:44 IST