Tag Archives: Indian independence

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)

‘The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere.’
(Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in a broadcast on the death of Gandhi, 70 years ago.)

The assassination of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known to many as Mahatma – “great soul” – on 30 January 1948, brought thousands to the streets of New Delhi in silent mourning. He had been shot at point blank range by a young Hindu, Nathuram Godse, who held Gandhi responsible for the partition of his country.  Gandhi had in fact been a passionate supporter of a united India, and believed it would be a serious error for the British to partition the country.  The mourners included Mountbatten, then Governor General, and his wife Edwina, both of whom subsequently attended Gandhi’s funeral.

Mountbatten’s “first meeting with Gandhi”, 31st March 1947 MB2/N14/8

Mountbatten’s “first meeting with Gandhi”, 31st March 1947 MB2/N14/8

This photo, from Mountbatten’s papers, dates from his first meeting with Gandhi, prior to Partition, on 31st March 1947.  As newly appointed Viceroy, Mountbatten embarked on a series of interviews with Indian leaders, details of which were recorded as soon as they were completed.  According to his biographer, Mountbatten was “fascinated and delighted” by Gandhi’s personality – and they met again on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd April at Viceroy’s House:

Gandhi’s first ever meal eaten at Viceroy’s House, 1 April 1947 MB2/N14/10

Gandhi’s first ever meal eaten at Viceroy’s House, 1 April 1947 MB2/N14/10

Mountbatten’s papers include conference papers, minutes of meetings and records of the interviews which took place over the following months, as well as his official correspondence as Viceroy.

On 2 June 1947, Lord Mountbatten’s plan for Partition was presented to the Indian leaders. Immediately afterwards, he had a meeting with Gandhi and, apprehensive of the disruption that his opposition might cause, was enormously relieved that he chose not to break his day of silence. To the Viceroy’s amazement, Gandhi wrote on the back of some envelopes:

“I am sorry I can’t speak. When I took the decision about the Monday silence I did reserve two exceptions, i.e. about speaking to high functionaries on urgent matters or attending upon sick people. But I know you don’t want me to break my silence.”

one of the envelopes on which Gandhi wrote notes at his meeting with Mountbatten, 2 June 1947 MB1/E193

One of the envelopes on which Gandhi wrote notes at his meeting with Mountbatten, 2 June 1947 MB1/E193

Independent India and Pakistan came into being on 14/15 August 1947.

The assassination of Gandhi in January 1948 tested the character of the new India. ‘The father of the Indian nation’, he had not invented the nationalist movement, but he had shaped it into a force that was wholly different from any other anti-colonial struggle faced by the British.  As his biographer notes, he remains “an international symbol and inspiration… a towering figure of the twentieth century.”

 

At the stroke of midnight: Independence for India and Pakistan, 14/15 August 1947

The UK High Commissioner Terence Shone noted in his despatch giving an account of the transfer of power in Delhi that ‘The climax came at the stroke of midnight, when the moment of the transfer of power was marked by the blowing of whistles, hooters and conch shells. In the Assembly itself a cry of “Mahatma Gandhi Ki-jai” was raised.’

Independent India and Pakistan came into being on 14/15 August 1947. The end of empire, what was termed the “transfer of power” from the British perspective, came in carefully managed ceremonies, in Karachi on 14 August at the Legislative Assembly; and at Delhi on 15 August. After attending the ceremony in Karachi, Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy, flew back to Delhi on 14 August. Late in the evening a resolution was passed proclaiming independence and inviting Mountbatten to be the first Governor General of India.

The seven leaders accept the plan for the transfer of power, 3 June 1947

The seven leaders accept the plan for the transfer of power, 3 June 1947

The University of Southampton is the home of the Broadlands Archives (MS 62) which include the papers of Lord and Lady Mountbatten. These Mountbatten papers contain material both of national and international significance, with approximately 250,000 papers and 50,000 photographs. A unique view of the transfer of power in India is provided by Mountbatten’s official papers as the last Viceroy of India. Further material can be found in the archive of Alan Campbell-Johnson (MS 350). In February 1947 Campbell-Johnson became the press attaché to a Viceroy of India, accompanying Lord Mountbatten to India and remaining with him throughout the transition of power and Mountbatten’s time as Governor General of India.