When did Lord Mountbatten finally leave India?
■ With the hasty and haphazard withdrawal from British India, London became complicit in the violence that accompanied India and Pakistan's independence
Berlin (taz) - The creation of the independent states of India and Pakistan, which succeeded British India in 1947, was a crime. It is unique in recent world history in that no one, not even politically, has been held accountable for it.
In the 20s and 30s an increasingly self-confident independence movement grew in India, which was directed against the British colonial rulers, but based on their values of freedom. The stronger their leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi became, the more uncompromising they became. The British reacted in a purely defensive manner, especially after their plans to grant limited self-government were rejected in 1935. The break came in World War II. While two million Indians fought for the Allies abroad, the British put down rebellions in their Indian homeland. London killed over a million people in one of the worst famines in history as ships were used for war instead of importing food. Then it was clear: the time of the British was up. The Labor government elected in 1945 only had the goal of leaving India as quickly as possible. At the same time, religious differences in India had intensified, fed by British power, which operated according to the imperial model of “divide and rule”. Even before the First World War, a British governor had split the largest Indian province of Bengal into a Hindu and a Muslim section in order to weaken the fermenting Indian nationalism.
In the elections for a constituent assembly in the winter of 1945/46, the split became evident: In the areas of the 220 million Hindus, Nehru won the Indian National Congress; In the territories of the 95 million Muslims, the Muslim League under Jinnah was mostly victorious. From August 1946, not a day went by without fatal clashes between Hindus and Muslims.
The British intention to leave India to its own devices as soon as possible strengthened extremist tendencies among India's political leaders. On February 20, 1947, the British government announced that it would give India independence by the end of June 1948 without having a clear plan. Every Indian politician knew then that Great Britain wanted to divide India between Hindus and Muslims.
In order to enforce the British withdrawal, London appointed Queen Victoria's great-grandson, Louis Lord Mountbatten, as the new Viceroy of India in March 1947. As the commander of British troops in Southeast Asia towards the end of World War II, he had earned a reputation for being a connoisseur and boastful. On June 3, Mountbatten announced surprisingly: On August 14 at midnight, power will be transferred to two states - India and Pakistan. Mountbatten chose this date because it was the second anniversary of the Japanese surrender in 1945. After nearly 350 years of British presence, during which millions of Indians died at British hands, the Empire now gave itself just 73 days to go home.
A London lawyer, Cyril Radcliffe, who had never been to India, was given the task of drawing the Indian-Pakistani border in just 40 days. Even then it was clear that the division of Punjab in the west and Bengal in the east would be extremely difficult and every wrong decision would cost human lives. In any case, there was too little time for referendums. Proposals by Indian politicians to organize a peaceful division of the population in mixed areas were ineffective.
In his report, Radcliffe wrote that there was no acceptable dividing line, so he had to impose one. In order to avoid unrest, the British administration decided not to announce the final border until after independence. As late as August 12, major military bases in Punjab were being pushed back and forth between the planned states.
The pogroms against Muslims in Indian areas and against Hindus in Muslim regions became more and more intense. In July the British administration secretly decided not to use British troops after independence. The British Empire was no longer able to protect human lives in India. Mountbatten promised London and the Indian public that they would ruthlessly put down outbreaks of violence.
India and Pakistan became independent on the night of August 15th as phantom states, with no fixed borders, no armies and millions of frightened residents in the disputed areas who did not know under which new masters they would wake up. After the plans for partition were published, massive migrations and expulsions began. A state that could have dealt with it did not exist. The remaining British soldiers contented themselves with collecting corpses. 12 million people lost their homes, half a million to a million people died.
The matter was clear to the British public: no sooner were the Indians left to their own devices than they slaughtered one another. The British did not find out the background. Mountbatten returned to London satisfied.
When he died in an IRA bombing on August 27, 1979, Great Britain mourned him as a national hero. Dominic Johnson
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