When I first visited India in 1996, I read Freedom at Midnight by Lapierre and Collins. I have subsequently visited in Pakistan and Bangladesh on business, and continue to be intrigued by these countries, both in terms of what is happening there today and their history.
Much of the events and drama surrounding and leading to the creation of the independent states of India and Pakistan on August 15, 1947 revolve around the personalities involved, and consequently this book is very much a series of character studies. The author does an excellent job of allowing the reader to get to know these characters.
With the wheels of independence already well in motion, Louis and Edwina Mountbatten arrived in India and were sworn in as the Viceroy and Vicereine on March 24, 1947. Perceived as “political light-weights” in England, their aristocratic backgrounds and personable natures served them well in India. Their mix of pomp, diplomacy and charm fostered rapport with the other key players, and while not all was smooth, they managed to deal with some strong personalities and difficult circumstances amazingly well.
Some other key characters in this drama were:
- Ghandi – who opposed independence if it meant the splitting the country,
- Jinnah – the Muslim leader who seemed a dour and difficult man, but succeeded in getting Pakistan established as a separate country for his Muslim compatriots,
- Nehru – the Hindu leader who was a nationalist and a socialist, and seemed to get along with the Mountbattens better than the others.
These were all strong personalities with different visions for independence and different personal aspirations, and little love for or trust of each other. The author strongly suggests that the Mountbattens caught in the middle, were compromised by a romantic relationship between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten.
While independence was achieved on schedule, the haste in which it was achieved resulted in a very bloody start to independence for both countries. Mountbatten stayed on as Governor-General of India for a year following independence, but was not able to stem the violence and blood-bath that erupted in the immediate aftermath of independence. Following India, the Mountbattens were never to relive the same glory and grandeur. Edwina carried on with international charitable work, and died in the midst of it. Louis died tragically at the hands of the IRA.