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Indian Independence: Transfer of Power Source 6

Extracts from Rear-Admiral Viscount Mountbatten of Burma's personal report No. 17 which was his last report as Viceroy of India, 16 August 1947, the last week of British rule in India.

[IOR: L/PO/6/123]

Lord Mountbatten, Viceroy of India, describes the 15th August as 'the most remarkable and inspiring day of my life' (see para 62). He was asked to become the Governor-General of India after independence, which he accepted for a limited transitional period.

Top Secret and Personal

Viceroy's personal report no. 17. dated 16th August, 1947.

This last week of British rule in India has been the most hectic of any. We have been working longer hours and under more trying conditions, and with crises of differing magnitudes arising every day, and sometimes two or three times a day. The problem of the States continued to occupy most of my time, particularly of those Rulers who have kept changing their mind up to the last moment, whether to accede to India, to Pakistan, or to neither. I paid my farewell visit to Karachi, and took part in unbelievable scenes on the day of the transfer of power in Delhi. The issue which has created the greatest and most serious crisis to date has been the awards of the Boundary Commissions, a summary of which is given in appendix I.

2. I had always anticipated that the awards could not possibly be popular with either party, and that both would probably accuse the Chairman of the Boundary Commissions of being biased against them. I have therefore taken the greatest pains not to get mixed up in the deliberations of the Commissions in any way. In fact, though I have repeatedly been asked both to interpret the Boundary Commissions' terms of reference and to put forward to them certain points of view (for example on behalf of the Sikh Princes) I have resolutely refused to do this. I have firmly kept out of the whole business but I am afraid that there is still a large section of public opinion in this country which is firmly convinced that I will settle the matter finally. For this reason I made my position as regards the Boundary awards absolutely clear in my address to the India Constituent Assembly (Appendix II).

3. I feel it necessary to put on record a brief review of the history of the Boundary Commissions, for the crisis that has been caused is in my opinion the most serious we have ever had to meet, and might have undone all the work of the past four months - so bitter have been the feelings.

4. On 10th June, Nehru wrote agreeing to the proposal that each Commission should consist of an independent chairman and four other persons of whom two would be nominated by the Congress and two by the Muslim League. This proposal was agreed to by Jinnah.

60. The whole Karachi programme was extremely well run, thanks largely to my own staff who found the British Military Secretary and Comptroller for him. I gave him my best Indian A.D.C. and the Adjutant of my Bodyguard (both Muslims). The Muslim members of the Vice regal clerical staff have also been transferred to Karachi, and so it is fairly certain that this Government House will run along the correct traditional lines.

61. We got back from Karachi on the afternoon of the 14th. At twenty minutes past midnight on that night the President of the Constituent Assembly, Rajendra Prasad, and the new Prime Minister , Nehru, arrived to tell me that all the midnight session of the Constituent Assembly they had taken over power, and had endorsed the request of the leaders that I should become their first Governor General. The press had been allowed into my study to witness this historic event and after "Rajen Babu" as Rajendra Prasad is called by his friends, had delivered his message, Nehru said in ceremonious tones "May I submit to you the portfolios of the new Cabinet". He then handed me a carefully addressed envelope, (on opening it after his departure I found it to e empty).

62. The 15th August has certainly turned out to be the most remarkable and inspiring day of my life. We started at 8.30 with the Swearing-In ceremony in the Durbar Hall in front of an official audience of some 500, including a number of ruling Princes. The official guests, including Ambassadors, Princes and the Cabinet, then drove in procession from Government House (ex-Viceroy's House) to the Council Chamber.

63. Never have such crowds been seen within the memory of anyone I have spoken to. Not only did they line every rooftop and vantage point, but they pressed round so thick as to become finally quite unmanageable. At the Council Chamber it had fortunately been arranged that there should be two Guards of Honour (R.I.N. and R.I.A.F.) of 100 men each. These 200 men joined with the police were just able to keep the crowd back sufficiently to let us get out of the State coach without being physically lifted out of it by the crowd.

64. The ceremony in the Council Chamber was extremely dignified and my speech was well received. It is attached as Appendix II. Fortunately two more Guards of Honour of the Indian Army were due for the departure ceremony, and I gave orders that the four Guards of Honour were to pile arms inside the Council Chamber, and then endeavour to keep the crowd back. As we were about to depart they said that it was doubtful whether the 400 men of the Guards of Honour could keep the way clear to the coach, so Nehru went on to the roof and waved to the crowd to go back; the door was then opened and surrounded by our staff we fought out way through to the coach.

65. It took us half an hour to go the short distance back, for we had to go slowly through the crowds. Once we were held up for some five minutes by the pressure of the crowds. Apart from the usual cries of "Jai Hind" and "Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai" and "Pandit Nehru ki Jai", a surprising number shouted out "Mountbatten ki jai".

66. After lunch we decided to pay an important visit to the great children's fete being held in the Roshnara Park. This was an unqualified success. Thousands of children gathering all round us cheering and yelling and trying to shake hands. I felt that it would be a good idea to get out of uniform and into informal surroundings for at least one of the Independence Day celebrations.

67. At 6 p.m. the great event of the day was to take place - the salutation of the new Dominion flag. This programme had originally included a ceremonial lowering of the Union Jack: but when I discussed this with Nehru he entirely agreed that this was a day they wanted everybody to be happy, and if the lowering of the Union Jack in any way offended British susceptibilities, he would certainly see that it did not take place, the more so as the Union Jack would still be flown on a dozen days a year in the Dominion.

68. A parade had been arranged of the units of the three Services, pages of orders had been issued, rehearsals had been going on for days, and seats on raised platforms had been provided. The crowds however were far beyond the control of the police. Some Indian officials estimate that there were 600,000 people there. But personally I doubt if there were more than a quarter of a million. At all events they thronged the processional route and if possible gave my wife and myself a greater reception than in the morning.

69. But for the admirable Bodyguard with their wonderfully trained and patient horses, we should never have been able to get on to the ground. But at a slow walk they managed to breast a way through the crowd up to the appointed position opposite the Grand Stand and the Parade. There was, however, nothing to be seen of the Grand Stand, and although a row of bright coloured pugrees in the crowd indicated where the troops had been engulfed there was no other indication of a military parade.

70. Nehru fought his way to the coach and climbed in to tell us that our daughter Pamela was safe. George Abell (my late Private Secretary) described how Nehru came to their rescue when they were overwhelmed by the crowd, fighting like a maniac, striking people right and left and eventually taking the topee off a man who annoyed him particularly and smashing it over his head.

71. Major General Rajendra Singh, the Delhi Area Commander; Nehru and I had a hurried consultation and we decided that the only thing to do was to hoist the flag and fire the salute and give up all other idea of the programme. This was done amid scenes of the most fantastic rejoicing, and as the flag broke a brilliant rainbow appeared in the sky which was taken by the whole crowd as a good omen. (I had never noticed how closely a rainbow could resemble the new Dominion flag of saffron, white and green).

72. Meanwhile danger of a large scale accident was becoming so great that we decided that the only thing to do was to try and move the coach on through the crowd and draw the crowd with us. For this reason I invited Nehru to stay in the coach which he did, sitting like a schoolboy on the front hood above the seats. Meanwhile refugees who had fainted or had been almost crushed under the wheels were pulled on board and we ended with four Indian ladies with their children, the Polish wife of a British officer and an Indian press man who crawled up behind. The Bodyguard gradually opened a way through the crowd and then the whole throng began to follow us. Hundreds of thousands of people all running together is an impressive sight; several thousands ran the whole three miles back alongside the coach and behind it, being stopped finally by the police only at the gates of Government House.

73. No British or Indian whom I have since met has ever remembered crowd scenes even approaching those that were witnessed yesterday; Indian observers all agreed that the reception which was accorded to us was no whit less enthusiastic than that accorded to their own leaders. This sounds rather incredible but it appears to be a fact and was generously referred to by Nehru in his speech last night as the best omen for the future good relations between our two countries.

74. There are two other significant facts which I feel I should report. The first is that the President of the Constituent Assembly, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, invited me on behalf of the Assembly to send back a "loyal" message of thanks to His Majesty saying that India and Britain even if their precise future relations wee different would always be the greatest friends. The other is that at a State banquet of a hundred that night Nehru made a speech in the most friendly terms possible prior to proposing the toast of the King. I replied and proposed the Dominion of India.

75. Close on 3,000 people came to our evening party at Government House and stayed till after two o'clock in the morning. At this dinner and subsequent party the Ambassadors, the new Cabinet, the senior British and Indian officers of the Services, and Ruling Princes were freely mixed. I have never experienced such a day in my life.

76. My meeting with the two Prime Ministers, Patel, Baldev, Abdur Rahman, Mohamed Ali, and V.P. Menon referred to in paragraphs 19 to 23 of this report, continued at 5 p.m. after they had had three hours to read the Boundary Commissions awards. If it had not been so serious and rather tragic their mutual indignation would have been amusing. Neither the Congress, the League, nor the Sikhs were in any way satisfied or grateful for any advantages they may have got out of the awards; they could only think of the disadvantages and complain bitterly. It was only after they had been complaining loudly for some time that they appeared to realise that there must be some advantages to them if the other parties were equally dissatisfied; and so after some two hours very delicate handling, we arrived at the conclusion that the awards must be announced and implemented loyally forthwith.

77. The only sad part is that Nehru and Patel have apparently committed themselves up to the hilt in promising the people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts that they would never agree to their being put into Pakistan. I have suggest that there should be inter-governmental negotiations on this point, and on the transfer of populations in the Punjab at a later date. But I am afraid Nehru and Patel feel very sore. Liaquat is spending the night with me, and after dinner I urged him to be reasonable and say to Nehru tomorrow "I appreciate your difficulty about your promises to the people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Leave me the River Karnaphuli and a reasonable area on each side and you can have the rest in return for Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling or some other material offer". He promised he would speak on these lines.

78. It is quite clear to me that if we had not brought the leaders together to hear each others indignation and thus regain their sense of proportion, we might have had as serious a blow up as V.P. Menon feared.

79. One further interesting point is that the respective Governments are so anxious to assume complete responsibility for their own areas that they are contemplating to-morrow working out a scheme to take over military responsibility for their own areas once the Boundary awards have been implemented. The two Prime Ministers have also invited each other to visit Lahore and Amritsar respectively together. Altogether the situation, bad as it is, is being grappled with in a realistic manner by the new Governments.

80. We are leaving at 5 a.m. to-morrow to fly to Bombay with Auchinleck for twenty-four hours to say good-bye to the first contingent of British troops to leave India. Nehru has voluntarily sent them a message which to men of goodwill should prove a real encouragement. A copy of this is attached as Appendix VI.

81. This is the last of my weekly reports to the King, the Prime Minister and the Indian-Burma Cabinet Committee. I shall however continue to send periodical reports direct to His Majesty. For my last "tail piece" I have selected an extract from a letter which my wife has received from Lady Colville, referring to the programme of our visit to Bombay to-morrow.

"We are also getting in touch with the people whom you would like to meet, and are asking them to Government House (excepting Mrs. Sukthankar, who it is said may be in prison, but we are finding out about her)"!

(Signed) M of B

Postscript telephoned from Bombay on the evening of 17 August

The departure of British troops went off extremely well amidst scenes of great enthusiasm.

Our reception in Bombay was far more remarkable than in Delhi. The local police estimated the crowd as the greatest in the history of the city. Several hundreds of thousands lined the many miles of route, often breaking through the cordon and stopping our open car through sheer weight of numbers.

The demonstration was all the more remarkable since the drives from Government House to the Docks, and later to the Prime Minister's party were not intended as events in themselves.

The crowd definitely shouted out, "England Zindabad" and "Jai England".

February 2, 1942