It would have been nice if, to mark the 75th anniversary of “Freedom at Midnight”, one of our TV channels had shown a programme focusing on everything that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have achieved since independence. But no. Instead, we have to rake over whether or not Nehru was having it off with Edwina Mountbatten, and slag off Mountbatten, Nehru and Jinnah for not making a better job of an impossible situation. Don’t get me wrong: the violence and the refugee crisis that followed partition was horrific. But something focusing on the more positive aspects of independence, and the 75 years since then, would have been a lot more welcome. The colourised pictures were interesting to see, but only really formed a backdrop for the negative narrative.
No-one got a good press in this, but, as I’ve said, it was an impossible situation by 1947. I’m not sure that anyone could have done much better, and I’m not sure how helpful it was just to go on about the alleged faults of the three main leaders. Gandhi, incidentally, was completely ignored.
Mountbatten was slagged off over the partition plan, but the programme claimed that he had nothing to do with it anyway, and it was all the work of the civil service. Both Mountbatten and Nehru were slagged off for having a close personal relationship and leaving Jinnah out in the cold. Or, rather, out in the heat, when the others took off to the Hills. And of fiddling the border decisions to suit India.
Jinnah didn’t get a very good press either. It was pointed out that Islamic fundamentalists tried to assassinate him because they were so angry about partition. But other Muslims didn’t want to be a minority in a mainly Hindu India. Jinnah was in a no-win situation: they all were. The programme also talked about complaints regarding the borders, but, wherever the borders had been, a lot of people would still have felt that they had to move.
Even the British Army came in for criticism. Excuse me, but how were 50,000 troops supposed to deal with violence on such a scale? And the head of the Boundary Commission was criticised for having dysentery. Oh, and for not being “an Alpha Male”.
The one person who got a tiny amount of praise was Edwina Mountbatten, but they were far more interested in her relationship with Nehru than in her work with refugees.
The narrators did concede that, by mid-1947, the fear and violence were out of control, and there wasn’t much that anyone could have done to improve things. But they just seemed determined to be negative about everything. The programme didn’t even point out that Freedom at Midnight created the world’s largest democracy.
And it said nothing that we haven’t heard a hundred times before. I’d far rather have seen a programme about how India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have progressed since 1947, and I’d really have liked to have heard just one word of positivity. This was almost 100% negativity. Two hours of negativity.