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When a Crowd out to See Nehru in Singapore Knocked over Edwina, Recent Book on Mountbatten Explores

As a leading member of the Congress, Nehru was invited to Singapore mid-March to meet Indian troops and study the conditions of the large Indian community in Malaya.


Updated:October 6, 2019, 2:20 PM IST
When a Crowd out to See Nehru in Singapore Knocked over Edwina, Recent Book on Mountbatten Explores
File image of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

New Delhi: During Jawaharlal Nehru's visit to Singapore in 1946, several people had gathered outside a community centre to welcome him and in a melee that broke out when they tried to have a glimpse of him, Edwina Mountbatten, who was also waiting there, was knocked over.

As a leading member of the Congress, Nehru was invited to Singapore mid-March to meet Indian troops and study the conditions of the large Indian community in Malaya.

The British authorities were not keen on allowing Nehru meet the Indian troops, fearing trouble. But Louis Mountbatten, who was associated with the South East Asia Command (SEAC) there, insisted that Nehru be obliged.

This anecdote is from a new book The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves by Andrew Lownie.

Mountbatten recognised that he (Nehru) might well be India's first Prime Minister and if he was not treated well that British actions would only further ferment anti-British feelings, the book, published by HarperCollins India, says.

Mountbatten insisted that he would meet Nehru at the airport and accompany him to the town in his open-topped limo to the St John Ambulance Indian welfare centre, where Edwina would be waiting.

All went well until Nehru's arrival at the centre. The delighted crowd rushed him, knocking Edwina over in the process, Lownie writes.

Mountbatten and Nehru linked arms and charged the crowd to rescue Edwina, who had crawled between people's legs and had come out at the far end of the room, got on a table and shouted that she was all right, he says.

A door was kicked in and eventually the party escaped the mob. It had been an unusual introduction to what would become a crucial relationship, he writes.

This was the first time that Nehru and the Mountbattens met. That night, they also dined together.

We talked about everything under the sun, Mountbatten later remembered, and that is where our friendship started, the book says.

A major figure behind his nephew Philip's marriage to Queen Elizabeth II and instrumental in the royal family taking the Mountbatten name, the career of Louis or Dickie, as his family called him, included being Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia during World War II and the last Viceroy of India.

Once the richest woman in Britain, Edwina emerged from World War II as a magnetic and talented charity worker loved around the world.

The book provides details ranging from British high society and the South of France to the battlefields of Burma and the Viceroy's House.

It says that one of Mountbatten's priorities was to get to know and win the trust of key players - Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi representing the Hindu community, Sardar Patel of the Congress Party, and Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan for the Muslims.

After coming to India from Singapore, Mountbatten's first visitor was Nehru.

Indeed, it was not only Dickie, but also Edwina who instantly warmed to the lonely and charismatic widower, Lownie writes.

He mentions about the Mountbattens' first garden party, in which, he says, Nehru sat cross-legged at Edwina's feet during a dance recital with too few chairs for guests, and after the party she returned to his house, unaccompanied by her husband but with her daughter, for a nightcap.

Nehru also made an immediate impression on the Mountbattens' daughter Pamela.

Not only by his beautiful speaking voice and impeccable dress, a white buttoned-down tunic with the famous Nehru collar, jodhpurs and a rosebud in his buttonhole, but also by his warmth and charm, which enveloped me from our first handshake, she is quoted as saying.

Watching him interact with others, I could see that he reacted to things instantly, was quick to laugh or make you laugh, and always interested in what you had to say. I realised that both Gandhi and Nehru were the most extraordinary people I had ever met, she adds.

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