Mountbatten, Lord

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MOUNTBATTEN, LORD (1900–1979), last British viceroy of India. Lord Louis (Dickie) Mountbatten was Britain's last viceroy of India (1947) and independent India's first governor-general (1947–1948). Queen Victoria's dashing great-grandson, Dickie, the son of First Sea Lord Prince Louis of Battenberg (obliged to Anglicize his German name at the start of World War I), initially followed his father's career at sea, becoming a naval officer. He first visited India with his cousin, the Prince of Wales, in 1922, hunting tigers and becoming engaged to wealthy Edwina Ashley, who was the house guest of Viceroy Lord Reading in Simla.

The Mountbattens first met and befriended India's National Congress leader, soon to become India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in Singapore in 1946. A year later, Britain's newly elected Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee invited Mountbatten to replace wartime Field Marshal Lord Wavell as Britain's viceroy. The Labour Party was weary of wastefully exorbitant British imperial costs and martial commitments in South Asia, resolving to leave India no later than June 1948. Mountbatten flew to India in April 1947 with the blessings of cousin King George as well as Attlee's Cabinet.

Two months after he reached Delhi and met with Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, M. A. Jinnah, and other leaders of British India's political parties, as well as his own officials and generals, Mountbatten decided that Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs were too volatile and enraged to risk waiting as long as a year to withdraw British troops. He insisted instead that Attlee's government transfer all British power to two new dominions of India and Pakistan by mid-August 1947. He ignored the advice of much wiser men, including both Gandhi and Jinnah, who warned him that dividing Punjab and Bengal down the middle of those multicultural provinces would unleash disastrous forces of murder and mayhem. But Mountbatten raced ahead, so eager to protect his own troops and Britain's royal reputation and his own image that he left India naked to the slaughter of a million innocents during the desperate migration of more than 10 million Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs across newly drawn "international borders" that a day earlier had been rural byways.

Mountbatten's royal birth helped him persuade all but three of India's 562 princes to accept pensions, agreeing to allow their states to be integrated into India's Union by signing instruments of accession. He failed, however, to persuade either the nizam of Hyderabad or the maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, India's two largest states, to transfer their quasi-sovereign powers before the independent dominions of India and Pakistan were created. Mountbatten remained in Delhi as governor-general of the Dominion of India until June 1948, after which he returned to the Royal Navy, over which he presided seven years later as First Sea Lord. In 1979 he was assassinated by Irish revolutionaries, who blew up his yacht in Irish waters.

Stanley Wolpert

See alsoGandhi, Mahatma M. K. ; Jinnah, Mohammad Ali ; Nehru, Jawaharlal


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Philips, C. H., and Mary Doreen Wainwright, eds. ThePartition of India. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1970.

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