Memoirs of a British civil servant never seen in public until now show how much the partition ofIndiawas decided by just two men, the BBC’s Alastair Lawson reports.
In a quiet village in the northern EnglishcountyofYorkshire, Robert Beaumont rifles through his father’s archives.
The various and somewhat tatty pieces of paper he unearths are no ordinary collection of paternal memoirs.
They are the thoughts and reflections of his father, Christopher Beaumont, who played a central role in the partition ofIndiain 1947, which resulted in arguably the largest mass migration of peoples the world has ever seen.
After the death in 1989 of Mountbatten’s Private Secretary, Sir George Abell,Beaumontwas probably not exaggerating when he claimed to be the only person left who “knew the truth about partition”.
It is estimated that around 14.5 million people moved toPakistanfromIndiaor travelled in the opposite direction fromPakistantoIndia.
In 1947,Beaumontwas private secretary to the senior British judge, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who was chairman of the Indo-Pakistan Boundary Commission.
Radcliffe was responsible for dividing the vast territories of British India intoIndiaandPakistan, separating 400 million people along religious lines.
The family documents show thatBeaumonthad a stark assessment of the role played byBritainin the last days of the Raj.
“The viceroy, Mountbatten, must take the blame – though not the sole blame – for the massacres in thePunjabin which between 500,000 to a million men, women and children perished,” he writes.
“The handover of power was done too quickly.”
The central theme ever present inBeaumont’s historic paperwork is that Mountbatten not only bent the rules when it came to partition – he also bent the border inIndia’s favour.
On one occasion, he complains that he was “deftly excluded” from a lunch between the pair in which a substantial tract of Muslim-majority territory – which should have gone to Pakistan – was instead ceded to India.
Beaumont’s papers say that the incident brought “grave discredit on both men”.
But Beaumont – who later in life was a circuit judge in theUK- is most scathing about how partition affected the Punjab, which was split between India and Pakistan.
“ThePunjabpartition was a disaster,” he writes.
“Geography, canals, railways and roads all argued against dismemberment.
“The trouble was that Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were an integrated population so that it was impossible to make a frontier without widespread dislocation.
“Thousands of people died or were uprooted from their homes in what was in effect a civil war.
“By the end of 1947 there were virtually no Hindus or Sikhs living in west Punjab – now part ofPakistan- and no Muslims in the Indian east.
“The British government and Mountbatten must bear a large part of the blame for this tragedy.”
Beaumontgoes on to argue that it was “irresponsible” of Lord Mountbatten to insist that Beaumont complete the boundary within a six-week deadline – despite his protests.
On Kashmir,Beaumontargues that it would have been “far more sensible” to have made the flash-point territory a separate country.
According toBeaumont, the “formidably intelligent” Radcliffe “did not get on well” with Mountbatten.
“They could not have been more different,” he writes Mountbatten was very good-looking and had a well-deserved history of personal bravery but, to put it mildly, he had few literary tastes.
“Radcliffe… was very quietly civilised. It was a relationship so like chalk and cheese that Lady Mountbatten had to use all her adroitness to keep conversation between them on an even keel.”
Beaumontdied in 2002 – his son Robert remembers him with great affection.
“He was also a man of supreme honesty, who spoke out on numerous occasions against the official British version of events surrounding partition without in any way being disloyal to his country,” Robert Beaumont recalls.