By Tuhin A Sinha
That India’s first PM and the wife of the last British Viceroy had something going between them is no secret.
According to Pamela, the affair was not physical. Catherine Clement, author of Edwina and Nehru: A Novel, on the other hand, in an interview to TOI, had maintained, “Edwina in her letters to Lord Mountbatten has written that her relationship with Nehru was mostly platonic. Mostly, but not always.'' While it has always been debated whether the relationship was platonic or otherwise, its sheer intensity should render the query inconsequential.
A love triangle, as illustrious, as this, involving the PM of newly independent nation, the wife of the Viceroy of the departing colonial power and with the Viceroy himself sandwiched in between, cannot be entirely devoid of political implications. What is unusual though is Lord Luois Mountbatten’s co-operation in facilitating the romance.
In a letter that Edwina’s daughter, Pamela quotes in her book, her father once wrote to her sister Patricia "She( meaning Edwina) and Jawahar Lal are so sweet together. They really dote on each other. Pammy and I are doing everything we can to be tactful and helpful." In the book, Pamela writes, “there existed a happy threesome based on some firm understanding on all sides."
This ‘understanding’ it seemed transcended emotions of hurt, envy and possible betrayal. Or perhaps Lord Mountbatten loved his wife so much that he could do anything to see her happy.
Nehru, it is believed, wrote to Edwina almost every night from 1948-60. What is surprising though is his indiscretion. Nehru, apparently, at times, did not refrain from giving vent to his frustrations in handling some of his recalcitrant colleagues. In her will, Edwina had left behind a suitcase full of Nehru’s letters - to her husband.
For Nehru to confide to this extent in someone whom he’d meet only twice in a year, as Pamela recalls, only vouches for the eternity of their bond.
It will be interesting here to note that Nehru perhaps always had an unfulfilled personal life. The differences in lifestyle between him and his wife Kamala in the early years of their marriage and Kamala’s frequent illnesses later on, till she died prematurely in 1936, had left a void in him.
It can be inferred that in Edwina, Nehru found a confidant/bosom pal/soul-mate- whom he could trust implicitly or maybe Edwina carried that semblance of a truly progressive, liberated, yet sensitive female companion that Nehru had always craved for. The other notable common factors that perhaps acted as catalysts between them were shared forlornness and that both were die-hard romantics. It needs to be noted here, that by Pamela’s own admission, this was not the first time that Edwina had found love outside marriage.
However, what continues to intrigue people even today are the political implications that this romance may have had.
Nehru’s acquiescence to Mountbatten’s unreasonable proposal of referring the Kashmir issue to the United Nations Security Council on 1 January 1948, when the Indian forces were capable of flushing out the Pakistani invaders from the whole of Kashmir, goes down as one of his ‘historical blunders’ (read errors of judgment).
The following excerpt taken from an interview that Pamela Mountbatten gave Karan Thapar, on his show, Devil’s Advocate, only adds to the speculation on this score.
Karan Thapar: Many people in India believe that the decision Jawaharlal Nehru took to refer Kashmir to the United Nations was taken under your father's advice. Could that have been an area where your mother's influence would have been particularly useful?
Lady Pamela: I think it could have been well. Because Pandit ji being a Kashmiri, of course, inevitably the emotional side comes in from one’s own country doesn't it? And my father just in dry conversation mightn't have been able to get his view point over, but with my mother translating it for Pandit ji and making, you know, appealing to his heart, more than his mind, that he should really behave like this. I think probably that did happen.
However, if one looks at the other side of the coin, Lord Mountbatten did exercise his influence to ensure that Kashmir became a part of India in the first place. In the same book, Pamela writes of a trip that the Viceroy made to Kashmir in 1947, “to convince the Maharaja (Hari Singh) to accept the plan (of accession to India) and save Nehru the humiliation.”
Lord Mountbatten’s proximity to Nehru notwithstanding, his duality over Kashmir could well have been part of a larger British ploy to keep the new born nations at loggerheads.
Whether or not any of Nehru’s personal affectations had in some way influenced his error of judgment on Kashmir, to which he belonged, will remain a matter of intense conjecture for generations to come.
The article was first published in The Times of India