Tuesday, 6 June 2023

Meticulous Lord Mountbatten

In the past few weeks, Lord Mountbatten’s name has been in the media in connection with the sengol that was installed in the new building of the Indian Parliament.

I want to share some archival documents to show how meticulous Lord Mountbatten was and how particular he was about maintaining official records and following procedures to a T.

The records that I refer to are two letters that Lord Mountbatten wrote to Cooverji H Bhabha, independent India’s first commerce minister who had earlier served as a minister in the Interim Government of India headed by Lard Wavell and later Lord Mountbatten. The original letters are available in the personal archives of the Bhabha family. I referred to these while doing the research and writing for Cooverji Bhabha’s biography by his daughter Rati Forbes. 

These are just two letters, a drop in the ocean of the voluminous archival materials available – of Lord Mountbatten as well as of the period. But I would like to share them for people to draw their own conclusions about the fact, or otherwise, of the sengol being presented to him by the priests of the Thiruvavaduthurai Mutt in Tamil Nadu and then to Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first Prime Minister.

Both the letters are written on the 9th of September 1947. The first one places on record the fact of Lord Mountbatten having “spoken with the Prime Minister on the telephone” about the appointment of Cooverji Bhabha as a member of the Emergency Committee of the Cabinet set up to deal with the post-Partition violence and riots. He asks Mr Bhabha to speak to the Prime Minister “before 8.0AM” and attend the Cabinet meeting at 10am.

The full text of the letter is as follows:
"Dear Mr Bhabha,
I have spoken to the Prime Minister on the telephone to-night &obtained his very willing concurrence to your appointment as the Chairman of the Delhi Emergency Committee.
I told him I would ask you to get in touch with him before 8.0AM tomorrow as he was proposing personally to inquire in the morning why the Emergency Committee of the the Cabinet's orders about forming the Delhi Emergency Committee had not been carried out. 
He agreed to consult you before taking further action if you got in touch with him.
Please come to the meeting at Government House at 10.0AM
Yours sincerely
Mountbatten of Burma"

Notice in the documents, that the address Viceroy’s House has been crossed out by pen and Government House has been typed above. This reflects not only the shortage of paper in the country at that time, but also how mindful Lord Mountbatten was about not wasting resources. Notice also that he has written on both sides of the paper. Perhaps he was following Gandhiji who used to pen letters and notes on pieces of scrap paper! Also, notice that Mountbatten records the conversation (and the decision taken) with Nehru in his own handwriting without waiting for it to be dictated and typed.

The second letter is also dated 9th September 1947 and is written after the Cabinet meeting held at 10am. Lord Mountbatten conveys to Mr Bhabha the decision to set up the “Delhi Emergency Committee” at which the Home Minister – Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – had agreed that Mr Bhabha should be nominated the chairman. He asks Mr Bhabha to “please arrange to preside at the first meeting… which is being held this afternoon."

The full text of the letter is:
Dear Mr Bhabha,
At the meeting of the Emergency Committee of the Cabinet this morning we decided to set up a "Delhi Emergency Committee" to grip the situation in Delhi.
After the meeting, I consulted the Home Minister who agreed that a Cabinet Minister should take the chair and grip the situation and he has agreed that you should be nominated. Will you therefore please arrange to preside at the first meeting with the Chief Commissioner, Sub Area Commander and I.G. of Police, etc., which is being held this afternoon.
Thereafter will you please attend the Emergency Committee Meetings every morning at 10.0AM here -- as the Delhi Committee Representative & arrange future Delhi Committee meetings for each afternoon.
Yours sincerely
Mountbatten of Burma"

Could a person, who recorded the decisions and events so meticulously, have not recorded receiving the sengol from the priests of a well-known Mutt and returned it forthwith for onward transmission to the Prime Minister?

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