From all accounts, Mountbatten reached the peak of his viceregal career in selling Partition combined with Dominion status to the assembled Indian leaders on June 2, 1947. It was a masterly blend of persuasion and authority. Gandhi was not there. He arrived at the viceroy's house after the conference, shielding his agony behind his day of silence, trying to put together whatever he could from the debris of his dreams.
Having secured assent to his plan for transfer of power within 10 weeks of taking over as viceroy, Mountbatten felt free to function as a victorious commander setting his own time-table. The next phase, he decided, should not take much longer. Speed and acceleration was the strategy that had enabled him to confuse and dictate terms to the Indian leaders. The pace had to be maintained lest the British-run administration collapse before the responsibility of governance was transferred to Indian and Pakistani hands.
So, without consulting the bemused Indian leaders or London, he informed the world press, gathered in the viceroy's house on June 4, that the date for transfer of power to the two successor Dominions would be about August 15, 10 weeks away. Nobody knew why he picked on a date so climactically inconvenient, though the probable reason was that August 15, 1947, would be the second anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, in which his South East Asia Command had played a part. But the date had no relevance for India.
Gandhi kept up his opposition to Partition until the last moment. On May 30, he again insisted that only the Cabinet Mission statement of May 16 the previous year could be the basis for settlement and that "even if we have to die or the whole country is reduced to ashes, Pakistan will not be conceded under duress".
Though agonised by the pace of events and the concurrence of the Congress leadership,...