Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins

(First published 1975; expanded edition 1997)

The saga of Subcontinent’s independence from Britain and the creation of the states of India and Pakistan told through a collection of interrelated stories about major events and important personalities that influenced the history of the independence episode.

This is a case of interesting history writing that doesn’t present events in the dry, matter-of-fact chronological order (although the semblance of chronology have to be and is maintained in the narrative) as we find in usual history books. This particular quality of the book makes it a very engrossing and thrilling read.

All qualities of the book counted, however, this book almost comes off as portraying the successful and functioning British Raj which sadly had to go due to extenuating circumstances. It also happens to be quite a biased account in so far as it deals with major figures involved in the freedom struggle.

The consensus among historians of British Raj and Partition put much blame on the short-sightedness of the last British Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, and fake urgency he created (for his personal reasons) to  “get over with it” by dividing the country. This urgency to finish the job as quickly as possible led to decisions that ripped apart the social fabric of the country, echoes of which can still be heard in contemporary Indo-Pak political discourse.

This book in the most part is written by using Mountbatten’s archives and his direct interviews. Not unsurprisingly, he comes across as some sort of helpless and powerless spectator of consummate madness, rioting, killing, rape, pillaging and plundering that swept India at the time of Partition and continued into many months after independence. Mountbatten is almost absolved of failing to make right decisions even though he himself later admitted to historian Stanley Wolpert, confessing, “I fucked it up”.

Gandhi gets good coverage as he deserves. He was the only major politician to see through the horrors of Partition and the bloodshed it would unleash. No one listened to his warnings, neither Jinnah nor Nehru-Patel duo and they like everybody else were flabbergasted when large scale killings began as Partition and Independence were formally announced.

For the first time, by using the then recently declassified British archive this book also reveals that Nehru as a close friend of Mountbatten’s from the time they had spent together in Burma influenced the latter’s appointment to the Viceroy’s office in the hope that he would be able to influence him to Congress’ ends. Later, Nehru took favours from Mountbatten in the demarcation of borders and distribution of state assets. On both counts Pakistan got an unfair deal.

Most importantly, Nehru enrolled Mountbatten on a program to give in to Jinnah’s demand of dividing India which the previous British viceroys tried to avoid. Nehru egged on by Sardar Patel believed that Jinnah’s seemingly unviable state with no geographical contiguity and no resources will fall back into Congress’ arms in a year or two. It didn’t happen, though. This thinking of Congress, rather than trying to talk to Jinnah and reach on a settlement, is attested by Indian ex-foreign minister Jaswant Singh in his new book when he claimed that Nehru and Patel were as much responsible for the partitioning of India as Jinnah and as a consequence got stripped of his party post.

For what it’s worth I will give 3 out of 5. Find it on AMAZON.

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