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The Formation of a Provisional Indian Government

The Formation of a Provisional Indian Government, September 1946

  • Nehru was sworn in in September 1946 as the Prime Minister of a provisional government until a more permanent settlement could be achieved, due to the background of violence and mayhem with Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were all engaged in
  • Jinnah reluctantly joined the government to ensure that the Muslims interests were protected
  • Patrick French has argued that this was a more significant transfer of power than the granting of formal independence in August 1947
  • The new government was Congress dominated with Patel, the 2nd most powerful Congress politician after Nehru, taking control of home affairs (including intelligence and law and order). This meant that the intelligence service which the British had so carefully built up and had worked so well during Gandhi's "Quit India" campaign in 1942 was now under he control of Patel, not the Viceroy
  • As a result of this, Mountbatten was less well informed about what was going on during the last few chaotic months of British rule than any of the previous Viceroy's - which made it impossible for the British to keep control of the situation
  • Patel was more of a Hindu nationalist than Nehru or Gandhi - used his power to advance Hindu interests (rejected British requests to arrest the Sikh leader, Tara Singh for indicting anti-Muslim violence in the Punjab, because he wanted Sikh support against the Muslims
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Change of Viceroy, February 1947: Mountbatten

Febuary 1947: British PM Clement Attlee decided to replace Wavell as Viceroy with Lord Louis Mountbatten - arrived to take over in March

Wavell had been the first Viceroy to accept that India would become independent, and that his job was to prepare for this. 

Mountbatten was sent over specifically to get the British out of India as quickly and painlessly as possible: he therefore new that he would be in power for the shortest about of time (only 5 months) and that he was the last Viceroy of India

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Why did Attlee make this decision?

  • Irritated by Wavell's realism. He and Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin wanted to keep India united with a strong united army to strengthen the British Commonwealth and to resist Soviet threat in Central Asia - convinced Pakistan would be too weak to do so
  • Attlee lost faith in Wavell's judgement and decided a new approach was needed: shown by the fact that he immediately agreed to all Mountbatten asked for (virtually the same as what he had refused to Wavell)
  • Mountbatten was chosen partly because he was a war hero
  • He and his wide Edwina had a charm and charisma - Wavell lacked. Mountbatten was also seen as a man of action who would get things done wuickly and decisively
  • As a member of the royal family he would appeal to the Princes - but he and his wife werw also known for their left wing sympathies - which would appeal to Congress (especially Nehru)
  • Mountbatten spent his first month in India consulting with Indian ministers, politicians and his own staff. His charm enabled him to win over Gandhi, Nehru and the other Congress leaders. Mountbatten developed a very close relationship with Nehru - even Edwina did (they had an affair!)
  • Mountbatten was the first Viceroy to appoint a press attache (like a spin doctor) - Alan Campbell-Johnson's job was to ensure the Raj ended in a blaze of favourable publicity
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