Viceroy’s House: An untold story behind the partition of India and why Lord Mountbatten was wrongly vilified by Warren Manger
A new film, Viceroy’s House, by Gurinder Chadha claims Winston Churchill was secretly plotting to split up the country and Mountbatten was an unwitting pawn.
Narendra Singh Sarila (aide-de-camp to Lord Mountbatten and Indian Foreign Service official) found old government files in the British Library that recommended breaking off parts of India as separate countries to serve Britain’s interests. The plan from 1945 was marked “War Cabinet – Top Secret – Post-Hostilies Planning” and was approved by Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Viceroy’s House (2017)
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Writers: Paul Mayeda Berges (script), Moira Buffini and Gurinder Chadha.
Stars: Gillian Anderson (Lord Mountbatten), Michael Gambon (General Ismay), Simon Callow (Cyril Radcliffe) …
It should have been the dawn of a proud new nation, but the first days of India’s independence were among the darkest in its history.
The rush to split the country into secular India and Muslim Pakistan on August 15, 1947, left millions stranded on the wrong side of the new border and sparked the largest migration in history.
Nearly 14 million refugees fled their homes as entire villages were butchered. One million people died. And 70 years later, the two countries still struggle for control of disputed regions such as Kashmir, where more than 50,000 people had been killed by extremists on both sides in the last 20 years.
No wonder the last viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the king’s cousin sent to India to hand back power, had been “vilified” for the Mountbatten Plan which led to partition and the catastrophic consequences.
But a new film by Gurinder Chadha, the director of Bend it Like Beckham, claims Mountbatten was an unwitting pawn, manipulated by Winston Churchill as part of a secret plan drawn up years earlier.
Viceroy’s House, starring Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson and Michael Gambon, claims the Government wanted to carve up India to keep influence over the key port of Karachi in Pakistan and stop the Soviet Union expanding across Asia.
Fim director Gurinder Chadha, whose aunt died as her family fled Pakistan after partition, said: “I believe Mountbatten went to India not knowing that partition was Government policy.
“He was sent there as he king’s cousin because the Indian people would respect him, but also because he was not an astute politician”.
“He was a naval officer who was used to following orders and not really question what he was doing. He was out of his depth”.
“Growing up in London, I was taught at school that Mountbatten came to India to hand the country back, but we Indians started rioting and there was so much violence he had to divide the country”.
“That is the predominant history in India too, which is why Mountbatten is vilified as the man responsible for dividing India.”
Prince Charles played a small but vital role in shaping the film after Gurinder “couldn’t resist” telling him about the project during a reception for the British Asian Trust at St James Palace.
The Prince of Wales , it appears, spotted a chance to restore the reputation of his beloved great uncle Lord Mountbatten, who he described as “the grandfather I never had.”
He urged Gurinder to read a book called Shadow Of The Great Game by Narendra Singh Sarila, a maharajah who served Mountbatten in India after partition.
Two days later, by coincidence, Gurinder got a copy of the book from the author’s son Samar, a young actor she eventually cast in the film.
Sarila found old government files in the British Library that recommended breaking off parts of India as separate countries to serve Britain’s interests.
The plan from 1945 was marked “War Cabinet – Top Secret – Post-Hostilies Planning” and was approved by Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Gurinder says: “Churchill worried that if he handed India back as promised, it would like handing the whole of Asia to the Soviet Union”.
“Stalin had already said he was going to create the biggest country in the world. He had huge manpower and natural resources, but Russia’s two ports both froze over in winter.
He wanted a warm water port he could use 365 days a year and the British feared he had his eye on Karachi, which was strategically placed by the Suez Canal and the oil supplies in the Persian gulf.”
Sarila showed Gurinder letters Churchill sent to Pakistan’s first Governor-General Muhammad Jinnah before partition that supported that theory.
Churchill thanked Jinnah for his invitation to lunch at Claridges, but warned they should not meet in public any more and should write to each other under fake names.
Gurinder says: “It’s clear Churchill and Jinnah discussing things they didn’t want anybody else to know about. It seemed likely that was plans for a separate Pakistan.”
Sarila even claimed the riots and growing violence between different religious groups in India was orchestrated by the British to convince Mountbatten that the only option was to divide the country.
Mountbatten remained in India for 18 months after Indian independence, visiting many of the refugee camps with his wife Edwina, a devoted member of the Red Cross rumoured to be having an affair with Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Indian prime minister.
Gurinder decided to tell the story of partition through the eyes of both the Mountbatten family and the Indians who served them after returning to Pakistan in 2005 to film Who Do You Think You Are?
In 1947, her grandfather was working in Kenya, leaving her grandmother and five children at home.
Gurinder says: “My grandmother left home with five children in just the clothes they were wearing.” After partition her grandfather returned to find the family gone and spent 18 months searching for them.
Gurinder says: “Imagine trying to find one family in a country that size, but he never gave up.”
He recognised a little boy in one camp who led him to his family.
“The children were so pleased they climbed on to him and wouldn’t let him go.
“But their youngest child had starved to death on the three-day journey across India. My grandmother never really recovered”.
“That’s why I wanted to make this film as a British Asian. The fact my family were there and experienced so much horror gives the film a unique perspective, a beating heart”.
“I wanted to try to help people move on, show a sense of tolerance. This is what our family suffered for us, now it is up to us to move forwards.”