Book review: Indian Summer by Alex von Tunzelmann
Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire
Author: Alex von Tunzelmann Henry Holt & Company
Alex Von Tunzelmann, a British scholar in her path breaking book Indian summer, the secret history of the end of an empire is a compelling story of final days of end of empire. It has portrayed Gandhi as quixotic, conservative person possessing contradictory features in his persona. The participation of women in the nationalist struggle was salvation to him but imposed hard and fast rules on her wife not to venture out without permission. In similar vein treatment by doctor was anathema to him as it violates religious percepts as people deserve disease. Enjoying wife in expectancy period was responsible for the death of his father. Gandhi on one side fought British but proved its main prop by practicing British law. He had sympathy with Boers but sided with British. This he did in India again during war periods and won adorations and awards. The crumbling and rise of communism made him great. He was devoid of sympathy and affection for his family as her banished Harilal, his son for marrying the girl of his choice, refused to administer the penicillin to his wife while she was on her death bed which devidas had brought from Calcutta.
The book asserts that the reluctance of Gandhi to participate in second round table conference as a sole spokesperson of congress was a big mistake as he had to counter the demands of Sikhs, Muslims and untouchables. He was called back but rejected the cable. Gandhi, the author believes straight jacketed the march of India to self government. Jinnah had joined the congress as well as league to act as a bridge. But the emergence of Gandhi and his pseudo religious style of working elbowed out the Jinnah. The need of spotless moral perfection, spiritual style of leadership was his blind spots. It created dissention within the congress. Winning the freedom was secondary to him but his aim was to make Indian people worthy of freedom before god. The author believes that had Motilal and Jinnah been at helm of affairs India would have achieved dominion status by 1920s. How the author fails to explain. Gandhi started fast against providing outcasts a separate representation but eventually it would have signified the loss of power to congress. Why was he not against the representation given to Muslims and Sikhs? For Nehru Gandhi fast meant sidelining the main issue of freedom but to Ambedkar it was an attempt to coerce the hapless people to give up safeguards.
The author considers the election of 1937 as watershed event in Indian history as it polarized the society. The rejection of offer of Jinnah by Nehru after the election of 1937 was a fatal error as penderal Moon described it, a sign of Hindu arrogance. The emergence was a challenge to Nehru, Gandhi disliked Bose, With Nehru in Europe, Bose became leader in 1938 and favored setting timeframe within which British were to leave India else violence to begin. Japan knocked at door of India with fall of Singapore, Cripps mission landed in India with a mandate to offer dominion status to India after war, with dissenting provinces to leave the union indeed the inkling for futuristic Pakistan. The concession to princes would deprive the congress of authority, Gandhi went haywire and launched ill timed quit movement with most leaders in jail, and Muslim league rushed in and reaped the benefits as it won 75 percent Muslim seats. India lost the last chance to remain united. Mountbatten had a parachute entry as he was made supreme commander of south East Asia war theatre. The Bengal famine had been described as genocide of capitalism. Wavell sent Nehru in 1946 to Malaya which had become the epicenter of strikes among the Indian people on account ill treatment to INA prisoners. There he met Mountbatten first time. Allan canbell Johnson the press attaché to Mountbatten remarked the two made deep personal impression on each other. Cabinet mission plan proposed the federal union and rejected Pakistan, which Jinnah accepted happily what about Lahore resolution? Wavell announced the formation of interim government with six congress Hindus, five Muslims a Sikh, an Indian Christian and a Parsi. But Gandhi asked congress to reject it as there was no congress Muslim in India as Nehru accepted premiership Jinnah left. The book goes in the personal details of lives of each bigwig and remarks that Nirmal Kumar Bose had volunteered to act as secretary of Gandhi but gave up on account of habit of Gandhi to sleep with girls. Even if his intentions were clear questions can be raised on his habit of treating girls a tool. Meanwhile Mountbatten engineered a connection between his cousin phillipo and princess Elizabeth. He asked Clement Attlee to set the date on the end of rule given the logjam in India between the main contenders. But Wavell hinted that level of troops in India has gone down to lowest ebb even less than required to maintain order. Some believed setting the date for freedom would precipitate crisis but some favored it, as it would force parties to cooperate, Mountbatten supported later preposition. Conservative MP Brendan Bracken deplored Mountbatten’s closeness to Nehru, so was the view of associated news of America. British cared little about the means necessary, for them end was important. Gandhi asked Mountbatten to let Jinnah act as prime minister so that Muslims could get rid of domination syndrome of Hindus. As it was rejected by congress his washed his hands off from the process of transfer of power. His intention was that if Jinnah would reject the offer congress would be legitimate to join in.
Jinnah demanded whole of Bengal and Punjab as they identified themselves as Bengalis and Punjabis if that is made applicable to whole of India there would be no Pakistan. While Nehru suggested at an informal meeting with Mountbatten at simla summer capital of British, to stay back in India after independence and British ought to take no responsibility regarding drawing of borders. While they were busy, news trickled in about the transfer of power to India. Congress called it “Plan Balkan”. Mountbatten, Nehru, V.P. Menon, governor of Punjab Jenkins got down smoothing the plan into acceptable form. On 13th of May Atlee the prime minister of Britain drafted a stern telegram that “cabinet is under impression that Nehru would accept the plan, there would be no deviations in the plan”. Mountbatten threatened to resign; his nerves were smoothed by Lady Edwina and V.P Menon. The influence of Edwina over Nehru and the policy of congress was made clear as congress had repeatedly failed to accept the dominion status since the passing of complete independence resolution in 1929, but accepted soon and willingly. Mountbatten rejected the offer of Jinnah to provide a corridor to connect the proposed east and west wing of Pakistan running through Indian Territory. This made Jinnah to accuse him of supporting India.
The date for independence of India was set to be ten months earlier than the date the date already fixed. Meanwhile on 18th of June 1947 Mountbatten visited Kashmir after taking brief from Nehru asking Maharaja Hari Singh to join either dominion even after independence, while underscoring the need to ascertaining the will of people, for which he was lambasted by congress. What if NWFP province of India would join Pakistan, India would lose the natural border and it did exactly so in a referendum. If Kashmir also went into kitty of Pakistan there would be nothing between India and USSR, Afghanistan Pakistan and china. The danger loomed as Afghanistan demanded NWFP. Sir Radcliffe was brought in with consent of Jinnah to draw the boundary between India and Pakistan. If the riots which consumed thousands of lives slipped out of control, the British had to apportion the part of the blame as they kept only four thousand soldiers to maintain order. Jinnah flatly rejected the decision of Mountbatten to be the joint Governor General of both dominions. It does not reflect the authoritarian proclivities of Jinnah but the rejection offer had a person reason. Jinnah on 10th of May came to know of secret plan at Simla in which Nehru was allowed to rewrite the plan showing liking of Mountbatten for Nehru. Moreover finger were also pointing towards the roaring love affair in the conservative environ between Edwina and Nehru, with Mountbatten dancing on their tunes it was deemed to be attempt to scuttle the Pakistan at the outset.
Mountbatten set up the state department to absorb the princely states into India. Nehru the author says had told Mountbatten that he will incite rebellion in every state going against India. Forcing Mountbatten to write back to authorities in London that Gandhi and Nehru are pathological. But felt relieved when Sardar Patel was made the head of state department. With no Muslim league member in it, Patel used the status of Mountbatten and his rapport with princes to get a basket full of apples. Jinnah intern made attempt to ask states to stay away so that India can get as much moth eaten India as Pakistan. Definitely a big blunder of Jinnah. On 9th of July representatives of states met Mountbatten in Delhi in which he dangled the carrots of ambassadorship etc but simultaneously threatened them with disaster. While Patel growled otherwise opposition to joining India would be chaos and anarchy. Mountbatten was serving the interests of India and wanted an integrated India which would ensure relationship with Britain. Jinnah knew that Bengalis and Punjabis tended to consider themselves by local identity. Thanks to Britain which encouraged the identity politics. When it started to define communities’ in terms of religion, attached them political weight, many Indians stopped to accept the diversity of thought. For Indian politics religion became the capstone of their policies. The emergence of Gandhi provided space to religious chauvinists. The right forces moved centre stage. Gurdaspur district of Punjab became bone of contention between India and Pakistan. Its significance was that it provided only land link between India and Kashmir. While Ferozpur another district was narrowly a Muslim district. It included a major arsenal and water headwaters that irrigated the Baikner princely state in Rajasthan. Kunwar Sian the chief engineer of Baikner accompanied by the prime minister of his state met Mountbatten on 11th august 1947 telling him that if Ferozpur headwaters went to Pakistan, so too would be the state. During the night V P Menon called Mountbatten, Lord Ismay, and Radcliffe to a lunch sans Christopher Beaumont secretary to Radcliffe. What went on Radcliffe did not uttered to his secretary but one thing surely happened that was tempering with the map to award the Ferozpur to India. The line of honesty maintained by Mountbatten hollowed out when he wrote to lord Ismay about the episode on April 1948 with instruction to burn the letter but it survived. Then Mountbatten committed another Himalayan blunder proscribing to publish the boundary award which he saw and received on 10th of august but published them after independence hence Britain was absolved of all Communal charges. But what became earth shattering was the speech of Jinnah to constituent assembly of Pakistan on 11th august assuring to make the Pakistan a secular and tolerant country. These were the words of man who expended energy to reinforce the division between India and Pakistan. The author concludes that his thought process was to create a non Hindu majority state not an Islamic state.
While Mountbatten was working out the details of his plan Gandhi told him that there were two alternatives either British rule should continue or else there should be bloodbath. Mountbatten asked what should I do, the Gandhi replied accept bloodbath. All communities were responsible for communal bloodbath while police of both parties either stood by or joined the rioters. On 5thaugust, the viceroy had a secret meeting with Patel, Jinnah, liaquat which implicated Sikh leaders in number of plots. Sikhs were not in majority in any part of Punjab but were also demanding separate land. The only option was to live either in Pakistan or in India. But they were not ready to live in Pakistan without freedom of conscience and assurances to enjoy safety, which were not forthcoming. The author makes the case against the involvement of British soldiers in containing of violence by asserting that doing so could have increased the casualty which was eight up to January 1948. What about the people who were legally subjects up to that time, how could British let them to kill one another. Nehru announced on all India radio that government will deal with riots on war basis, he felt isolated within the congress as it would mean losing support of majority as he condemned the rape, murder. Unlike India, Pakistan had to deal with refugee problem on empty treasury; it had to run from pillar to post for loan to sustain the political economy. Had Patel been in the shoes of Nehru he would have adopted a jingoistic, militaristic chocked policy towards Pakistan. But simultaneously half of cabinet of Nehru was demanding that India be declared a Hindu rashtra.
Mountbatten suggested to Nehru and liaquat that plebiscite should be adopted to decide the fate of junagarh a princely state in Kutch area of state of Gujarat, a procedure he hoped would be followed everywhere. As the state of Jammu and Kashmir failed to join either of dominion till 15th august. Nehru wrote to Patel that a Pakistan would soon infiltrate in Kashmir, therefore it is possible to seek accession forthwith. He went on remark that ‘Kashmir affects me in a peculiar way’. His descent is described on the very first page of his autobiography. While Nehru was thinking in terms of ideas regarding a Kashmir, Patel was hell bent on enlarging the boundaries on his dominion. Maharaja Hari of Kashmir fired the moderate prime minister who pleaded to accede to Pakistan, forced all the English army personnel to move out, while recruited the new army from his dogra regime. Seeing the move the Muslims deserted the army. The dogra regime let his troops to carry out genocide of Muslims in poonch and south Jammu. Those who fled to Pakistan went into the hands of mashud tribe the deadliest forces in world. Khurshid Anwar, a former railway guard recruited the tribal’s who while reaching Kashmir started loot and plunder. When asked to stop they held a tribal council for two days to decide whether to have him killed or replaced. But it was already a spent force. According to British high commission V P Menon while in Kashmir alarmed the maharaja as if only way to salvation was accession with India. The demanding of help from India was legal so was the respond to it without condition, but India made signing of accession a precondition to help.
Both Nehru and Jinnah had not any communication with each other regarding the aggression, nor did India provide any information regarding the request for help. Sheikh Abdullah, a popular force of Kashmir had no impact on India’s legal case for Kashmir. Jinnah was outraged by the use of army in Kashmir, ordered his troops to move in the boiling cauldron but backtracked on the request of Auchinlech the head of Pakistani army. Most of the weapons and stocks owed to Pakistan army were still in India. Before Mountbatten were to visit London for a marriage of his cousin, Patel had ordered army to move to MIrpur and poonch, but backed up on reprimand of Mountbatten as the action lacked moral underpinnings as it would have meant imposing its will on Muslims. Richard Symonds friend of lady Edwina had described that inhabitants of poonch had revolted against Maharaja back in September and October before the raid began. This made Nehru furious as lack of prior revolt would strengthen Pakistan’s hand. On 12th December assets were divided. Pakistan was to get 750 million rupees of which Patel ordered freezing of 550 million on ground that Pakistan would divert this for purchasing of weapons. Meanwhile on advice of Mountbatten Kashmir issue landed in the United Nations which passed resolution asking Pakistan to remove the forces back while calling for plebiscite. The truth is that both countries backed down from promise by passing on the buck which is consuming essential human resources. Had Pakistan been declared as aggressor war would have occurred. Sardar Patel had described Muslims who remained in India as threat to India and asked them to prove their loyalty. A year ago when general elections were on cards in 2014, the debate started as how would have been India had Patel been the in the place of Nehru. The book provided inkling to the puzzle. Nehru and Patel had opposite views on approach with respect to RSS a fascist organization that Patel described as patriots, over the election of P D Tandon as the president of congress party, the henchman of Patel. The split in the congress was imminent. To shore up the support Nehru put his difficulties before Gandhi who started fast unto death resulting in his assassination by the Nathu ram Godse, a RSS lapdog who thought Gandhi was supporting the Muslims with his fast but his death brought the two together.
The book is indeed well researched one, back in India; most of the information has been held back or left in secret files accumulating the dust. The book would be a hard one to digest for the nationalists and rightist forces. It unfolds the secrets which would a challenge to fend off. The book had peeped deep into the lives of people which in fact are the weakness of the book. It is spellbinding tale of factual history, the romance which blinded the Nehru and the divided loyalties.