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Who divided India?

November 29, 2006
Historian Stanley Wolpert's new book -- Shameful Flight -- revisits Partition, and lays the blame for one of the most horrific episodes of the 20th century squarely on the shoulders of a Briton, finds Arthur J Pais.

Admiral Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas 'Dickie' Mountbatten, the favourite cousin of British King George VI, was famous for his charm. His sycophants in England called it irresistible.

His admirers in the British government even thought of him as a statesman who could charm discontented nationalist leaders of the British Empire, and tease out of them agreements that seemed impossible for other British diplomats to obtain.

So Mountbatten was sent to a deeply restive, increasingly riotous and ceaselessly rebellious India in March 1947 as Britain's viceroy, to hammer agreements that could allow the British to withdraw from the subcontinent with dignity -- leaving the country unified.

'Mountbatten viewed the prospect of ruling India during the Raj's sunset year as challenging as a hard-fought polo game, as he put it the King -- 'The last Chukka in India -- 12 goals down,' writes historian Stanley Wolpert in his riveting, disturbing and provocative book, Shameful Flight: The Last Years of the British Empire in India.

"It was a task for only a person of deep insights into India," says Wolpert -- considered by many to be one of the best historians writing on the subcontinent -- in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "The mission needed a person of great diplomatic skills and [one] who absolutely lacked arrogance."


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