“Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.” Imagine those famous words spoken “at the stroke of the midnight hour”, not by Jawaharlal Nehru as leader of a partitioned Indian republic, but by Mohammed Ali Jinnah as premier of a confederation of the whole subcontinent. The new state is an independent dominion, like Canada and Australia, with the British monarch as king-emperor. It has a weak central government and strong, autonomous provinces like undivided Punjab and Bengal. Its constitution is based on the British government’s Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 and accepted by both the predominantly Hindu Congress and the separatist Muslim League.
To persuade Jinnah, already dying of tuberculosis, to abandon his largely tactical demand for Pakistan, an independent state carved out of India’s Muslim-majority provinces, Mahatma Gandhi has given him the premiership of a coalition government at the centre. Nehru, whose arrogance and insistence on the top job had alienated Jinnah, has been slapped down in a realignment of the Congress leadership: Gandhi joining forces with anti-Nehru conservatives like Sardar Patel and Chakravarty Rajagopalachari (Rajaji). Nehru had been collaborating closely with Lord ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten, sent as viceroy by the new Labour government to “cut and run” as quickly as possible. But the Nehru-Mountbatten axis is seriously discredited by a scandal about Nehru’s affair with Lady Mountbatten, including insinuations that the bisexual ‘Dickie’ was a willing participant in a menage a trois.