During my childhood, I had an extraordinary impression of Nehru. Reason might be due to the well framed chapters we had in School text books. But as I started reading real books related to Indian history after college, I was startled by several facts related to the politics of Indian independence struggle, including that of Gandhi & Nehru. One such startling fact was about the extra marital affair which Nehru had with Mrs. Edwina Mountbatten.
I am of the opinion that affairs are purely personal and I never intend to show even the slightest interest towards such sensational facts. Having said that, if it is related to a public figure who has a major role in shaping up the nation, it becomes an important issue because I feel I have the right to find out if an affair with a British officer’s wife affected the future prospects of our country.
Thus began my quest to find out more about the affair and its impact on the nation. I knew for sure that books written by Indian authors will not describe it for obvious reasons. Books like Freedom at Midnight, although thoroughly researched and written (700+ pages) by neutral authors, makes no mention of the affair at all.
Review of “Freedom at Midnight”:
During a recent visit to a bookstore, this book caught my attention (especially due to its coverpage) and a quick glance at the contents affirmed that it indeed has some information related to what I am looking for. Spanning over just 300 pages, it is a very well researched book which describes the freedom movement in the form of a narration with the main characters being Nehru, Mountbatten, Edwina & Gandhi. Each character is introduced into the scene after giving a thorough insight into their backgrounds right from their birth & childhood to marriage & job.
I would like to make it very clear here that the book is not actually about Nehru’s affairs (Although it talks about some inconclusive incidents which would make one’s eyebrows raise).
However, it does provides a neat backdrop and facts related to it which helps one understand the intricacies of the prevailing politics during the transfer of power from Britain to India in 1947 and events related to the partition and its aftermath. The political shrewdness of Jinnah, Philosophical views of Gandhi, Idealistic visions of Nehru & Practical approaches of Patel are very well captured along with some interesting anecdotes (backed with references).
Coming back to the topic of how Nehru-Edwina affair affected the nation. Although it can be termed as an affair at a personal level, it can actually be debated that the affair might have affected our nation. One of the main reasons being that Nehru, despite being the torchbearer during the phase of transfer of power, was highly sensitive & emotional. The British might have used Lady Mountbatten to exploit this weakness of Nehru ,and through Edwina, persuaded him into certain decisions which might have been against national interests in the long run. For example, Sardar Patel, being the practical thinker, tried to convince Nehru to settle the Kashmir conflict as a domestic issue, but it was unfortunate that Nehru, upon the advice of Mountbatten, referred it to the UN and turned it into an international issue.
Apart from Nehru’s follies, rest of the book is based on political events and is impersonal, with plenty of references in the appendix section. Overall, this is very well organized and concisely written factual book, and true to its punchline, it dramatically narrates “The secret history of the end of an empire”.
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