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The Real Story of Partition

Boy sitting on rock ledge above refugee camp.

Mystery and misinformation still cloud the most pivotal decision in the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent: to rush forward the date of the British withdrawal by ten months, from June 1948 to August 15, 1947. The United Kingdom’s last viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, is typically accused of accelerating the transfer of power so that the British would not be held responsible for the bloodbath that many expected to ensue once the new states of India and Pakistan were born.

Overcrowded train transferring refugees during the partition of India, 1947.
Overcrowded train transferring refugees during the partition of India, 1947.  Wikimedia
And it is true that Mountbatten was legendarily heedless: “I’ve never met anyone more in need of front-wheel brakes,” his chief of staff, Hastings Lionel “Pug” Ismay, once wrote. The viceroy did himself no favors by boasting in later years that he’d plucked the date out of thin air at a press conference, choosing the anniversary of the Japanese surrender simply because it sprang to mind. If that were

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