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'Had Patel and Liaquat Ali Khan lived for five more years, the history of the subcontinent would have taken a different route'

The players and the game

Alan Campbell-Johnson No doubt Kashmir remains a painful dispute, a source of tension and mistrust, and a memory of those difficult days when great men like Nehru, Patel, Jinnah, and Mountbatten fought over territory, Campbell-Johnson says, "One reason why there have been such bitter wars is that deep down no one liked Partition, but they all accepted it."

Campbell-Johnson narrates an incident when Mountbatten asked Jinnah if he agreed to the solution to which Jinnah replied: `I do not agree, but I accept.' "Mountbatten was annoyed with this reply, but he didn't say anything," he recalls. "No one agreed, they accepted; it wasn't the best solution, it was the only solution. Everyone had overplayed their hand, and thus accepted what they got."

Nehru with Mountbatten So according to Mountbatten, which way should Kashmir have gone? "Mountbatten clearly believed that the Act of Accession was to be signed by the king concerned. He should consider the religion of the majority of his people, but if he didn't, his decision was final."

Leaving Edwina aside, some historians have claimed that the fact that Mountbatten and Nehru got along very well hurt Jinnah and his cause. "Actually, it is probably the other way round," said Campbell-Johnson. "The fact that Mountbatten did not get along with Jinnah made the viceroy go out of his way to ensure that he played fair with Jinnah, and protect his interest, perhaps more so than if he had been friendly with him."

But that could also mean that since Nehru and Mountbatten did get along very well, India's interest might have been hurt. Campbell-Johnson corrects me. "They didn't get along very well, they got along. And Mounbatten wasn't bothered about his relations with Jinnah, it just made it a bit more difficult."

But was not India's interest compromised by the Nehru-Mounbatten friendship? "No, they were not, because the key person we had to deal with was Patel, not Nehru. Without Patel, you could not get anything done. So Jinnah had to ensure that any deal he tried to implement would have Patel's consent, otherwise there would have been no agreement, and Jinnah would have been the final loser."

Gandhiji with Lord Mountbatten Campbell-Johnson says Nehru was a charming person who had international stature, but was very weak at administration. Speaking about the role of Patel, whom Campbell-Johnson termed as an administrator par excellence, in the days preceding the transfer of power, he said, "Patel was certainly the key person. He, and his eminently capable secretary V P Menon, brought into India more people than they lost to Pakistan. He ensured that about 560 Indian princes joined India without any attachments, whereas earlier, they were all prepared to negotiate for semi-independent power. He was a person who had little time for ideologies, he just wanted to get on with the job at hand."

He also places Patel in the centre as far as accepting Partition was concerned. "Mahatma Gandhi was against Partition all along, but he finally accepted. But we were more worried about Patel's acceptance; without his nod, it would never have happened."

I tell him that many Indians firmly believe that had Patel lived, the Kashmir issue would have been resolved, one way or the other, and that Nehru was too emotional on the subject to handle it with clarity. Campbell-Johnson agrees. "It was a great tragedy for both India and Pakistan that Patel died so early (December 1950). Had Patel, and Liaquat Ali Khan in Pakistan, lived for five more years, the history of the subcontinent would have taken a different route."

Jinnah What about Jinnah, who is loved and hated in the subcontinent as no other. "Jinnah was a rather lonely, remote man, he didn't much like people or have much charm. Not that it mattered," said Campbell-Johnson. "The person I compare him to was Charles de Gaulle. Jinnah, like de Gaulle, symbolised a nation. He didn't go about being friendly, and you had to be like that if you had as big a task as he had."

Jinnah seemed paranoid about Indian intentions, firmly believing that India was waiting for a chance to gobble up Pakistan despite the assurances of Indian leaders. He remained extremely distrustful of Congress leaders. Campbell-Johnson, however, takes a more sympathetic view. "Jinnah died in September 1948, and he must have known that he was dying, though no one else knew it. His relations with Liaquat Ali Khan were deteriorating. And he must have been worried that if he died Pakistan would never be a reality; he doubted the guts of his followers. We didn't know this in 1947. His condition was very tense, and maybe this is why he often forced an issue rather than wait. I am talking now, but today I would sympathise with a man who had only a limited time on earth."

What was the single quality of Mahatma Gandhi that Campbell-Johnson liked the most? He replies without hesitation."His sense of humour. Mountbatten said that Gandhi was a laughing man."

Reflecting further on the Mahatma, he adds, "In my personal view, I think Gandhi was enormously important at the highest level of human affairs. He was part of the conscious of mankind and he placed value on individual human behaviour. You had to conquer violence, especially within yourself. It may not have been practical, but it gave moral value to the Independence movement. And this still remains the aim and aspiration of the world in the most violent century in recorded history."

Sardar Patel Most certainly, Campbell-Johnson holds Lord Mountbatten in very high opinion, with whom he worked during World War II. He describes him as a person with boundless energy and extremely decisive in implementing policies.

"After Mounbatten was summoned to become the viceroy, he called me and told me about it, and asked me to be ready to accompany him. It may appear strange today, but Mountbatten was not too keen to accept the assignment which has immortalised him because it took him away from the Royal navy. He felt his naval career was being sacrificed for a task which was not considered to have much chance of success. I feel proud and honoured to have served under him."