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EDITORIALS

Courting disaster
Death lurks everywhere in mines
A
NOTHER horrendous chapter has been added to the long history of coalmine disasters in India with the suspected death of 50 workers after the roof of a state-owned coalmine collapsed following an explosion in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand on Thursday. There has hardly been a year when such accidents did not take place.

Vande Mataram
A needless controversy
S
EPTEMBER 7 has passed with some people singing Vande Mataram and a vast majority without singing it. In the build-up to the “centenary” of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s famous composition whose first stanza became a battle cry during the freedom struggle, a lot of time and energy of the nation were expended.



 

 

EARLIER STORIES
Tale of Telgi
September 8, 2006
PM’s anguish
September 7, 2006
Wheat imports
September 6, 2006
Slow and steady
September 5, 2006
Coalition dharma
September 4, 2006
What ails India
September 3, 2006
Iranian rejection
September 2, 2006
Comrade’s fusillade 
September 1, 2006
The killer drain
August 31, 2006
Rot in the roti
August 30, 2006


Hike in DA
Time for administrative reforms
T
HE Centre’s decision to raise the dearness allowance by 5 per cent has not enthused its employees. Rather they feel “let down”. There are mainly two reasons for their disappointment. One, the price rise has been too steep to be offset by this paltry hike. The prices of foodgrains and pulses apart from those of petroleum products have risen alarmingly high resulting in general dissatisfaction. 
ARTICLE

China’s foreign policy
“Benign” giant spreads tentacles
by S.P. Seth
I
T would appear that China’s former president and party general secretary, Jiang Zemin, is not quite ready yet to retire into political oblivion. He wanted a role like Deng Xiaoping as the ultimate arbiter of Chinese politics and policies even after retirement. And for this he sought to continue as head of the military commission with control of the country’s armed forces.

 
MIDDLE

Innovations galore
by Saroop Krishen

S
cientists have recently come up with a device which appears to beat magic at its own game. If you and your girlfriend happen to be at two different places miles and miles away from each other, you can still have drink almost in your friend’s company instead of being alone. When either person picks up a glass, red-emitting diodes glow in the partner’s glass.

 
OPED

STATE OF HOSPITALS-4
Where doctors and patients are missing

Roopinder Singh
visits Guru Gobind Singh Medical College and Hospital at Faridkot and discovers that its huge walls and vast corridors have no place for the healing touch.
T
HE first thing that strikes you about Guru Gobind Singh Medical College and Hospital, Faridkot, is how huge the building is. A big edifice, and along with it, another half-finished OPD block. As you walk in, you notice that even early in the morning, the place is clean, and floors are being mopped. You look around for patients… and keep looking.

In China, living with Maoist horror
by John Pomfret

F
ORTY years ago this past August, the first killings were carried out to launch the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. Two educators in Nanjing and a high school principal in Beijing were the first victims of the Red Guards, the shock troops of Mao Zedong’s war against rivals in the Communist Party.

From the pages of

 

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Courting disaster
Death lurks everywhere in mines

ANOTHER horrendous chapter has been added to the long history of coalmine disasters in India with the suspected death of 50 workers after the roof of a state-owned coalmine collapsed following an explosion in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand on Thursday. There has hardly been a year when such accidents did not take place. Luckily, those in the recent past were not as bad as that of Chasnala in 1975 which claimed 375 lives and perhaps that gave a false sense of complacency to officials, which has now been rudely broken. As usual, an inquiry has been ordered but stories emanating from the colliery are shocking. The local people allege that officials sent workers into the mine though they were aware of the high methane pressure inside the mine. When the accident took place, safety equipment was not available. Not only that, no map of the mine was available making it nearly impossible to conduct rescue work. And to make matters worse, the influx of politicians also hampered the rescue operation. No wonder the irate people raised slogans against the leaders and demanded action against the colliery officials.

Mining is a high-risk job. Yet, safety measures are not commensurate with the threat level. It was hoped that the situation would improve after the nationalisation of mines but the improvement has been marginal at best. The miners are too poor and ignorant to get safety regulations enforced. In fact, they themselves also ignore them at times. Politicians and coal mafia join hands to play with their lives.

Ironically, the mining safety record of China and Russia is none the better. Running mines in an unsafe manner thus seems to be a pan-Asian phenomenon. Thousands of lives have been lost because of this gross neglect. The toll will keep on increasing unless the administrators are made accountable for their lapses. Inquiries are supposed to get to the bottom of things, and not become a device to buy time and to divert public attention from the brutality of it all.

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Vande Mataram
A needless controversy

SEPTEMBER 7 has passed with some people singing Vande Mataram and a vast majority without singing it. In the build-up to the “centenary” of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s famous composition whose first stanza became a battle cry during the freedom struggle, a lot of time and energy of the nation were expended. As it turned out, September 7 had no significance in the history of the song, except that it fancifully occurred to some babu in the Human Resource Development Ministry that the day marked the “centenary” of the song. When every historian worth his name pointed out the goof-up, it provided an opportunity for the HRD Ministry to make a clean breast of its mistake and end the controversy. But HRD Minister Arjun Singh, who has a knack for creating controversies where none exists, persisted with his folly so much so that in many states students had to sing it perforce on Thursday at 11 a.m.

By first making the singing compulsory in schools and then making it optional when some organisations protested against it, Arjun Singh gave the BJP the kind of issue it laps up, almost on a platter. The party has since then been milking every ounce of political advantage out of the controversy by unleashing a propaganda blitz against all those who refuse to sing the song under compulsion. Its governments ordered compulsory singing in all their educational institutions on September 7 forcing some parents not to send their wards to schools that day. All this was avoidable if political parties had shown a greater sense of responsibility and desisted from espousing divisive issues. When people face problems of “roti, kapada and makaan”, a controversy like this is the least expected.

Nobody questions the historicity, beauty and appeal of Vande Mataram. It was after a great debate that it was chosen as the national song. But the founding fathers of the very Constitution which accords this status to the song would not have imagined even in their wildest dreams that a day would come when efforts would be made to make the singing of it compulsory. In any case, nobody can sing a song under compulsion. The singing has to come from within. Political parties like the BJP, which wants Vande Mataram to be sung compulsorily, will do well to remember this.

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Hike in DA
Time for administrative reforms

THE Centre’s decision to raise the dearness allowance by 5 per cent has not enthused its employees. Rather they feel “let down”. There are mainly two reasons for their disappointment. One, the price rise has been too steep to be offset by this paltry hike. The prices of foodgrains and pulses apart from those of petroleum products have risen alarmingly high resulting in general dissatisfaction. Two, the expectations of the government employees have also gone up. They find their pay packets too small compared to what private sector employees get.

Nevertheless the drain on the exchequer is not insignificant. The 5 per cent increase in the DA, which is revised twice a year and paid with the salaries for March and September, will set the government back by Rs 1,888 crore annually. In the current year alone the outgo is a staggering Rs 1,259 crore. Particularly hard hit are the pensioners whose medical expenses rise with age. The DA hike, even if not big enough to meet the rising cost of living, should come as a relief to them. They should remember that a large section of the population does not get any pension. Those surviving on old age pension are only a shade better.

The government has ignored the fifth Pay Commission’s recommendation for a massive cut in the number of employees. The government is over-staffed and does not know how to deal with the surplus staff. It patiently waits for their retirement. The government has also cleared a Rs 124 crore package to clear the salary arrears of employees of 15 sick public sector undertakings. Thanks to the Leftist opposition, the UPA government has not been able to either dispose them of or dilute its stake in them. The ailing PSUs continue to be a drag on the exchequer. Unless the Central government becomes lean and fit and efficient, state governments would not take up any administrative reforms.

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Thought for the day

The best way to predict the future is to create it! 
— Jason Kaufmann

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China’s foreign policy
“Benign” giant spreads tentacles
by S.P. Seth

IT would appear that China’s former president and party general secretary, Jiang Zemin, is not quite ready yet to retire into political oblivion. He wanted a role like Deng Xiaoping as the ultimate arbiter of Chinese politics and policies even after retirement. And for this he sought to continue as head of the military commission with control of the country’s armed forces. But the political arithmetic was against him and he had no choice but to relinquish his military commission position.

He is, however, still trumpeting his achievements as the architect of China’s foreign policy in his book, “For a Better World: Jiang Zemin’s Oversees Visits”. The publication of his book around his 80th birthday would suggest that he still has enough authority to command the resources of his country’s foreign ministry to research and put together what appears to be an exercise in self-promotion.

Even if his increased public visibility lately is not much of a threat to President Hu Jintao and his political establishment (to put the most charitable interpretation), he would be a thorn of sorts for his successor by simply popping up, especially close to the next five-yearly party congress in about a year’s time.

In his book about his overseas trips, Jiang Zemin is said to have radically changed China’s status in the comity of nations. This is, therefore, as good a time to examine China’s foreign policy when its achievements are being greatly lauded at home and abroad.

The seventies saw a major change in China’s foreign policy. During the sixties, the Sino-Soviet political schism grew into a chasm, even leading to armed border clashes over the disputed Damansky island — Chanpao to the Chinese. Beijing finally came to the conclusion that the Soviet Union was not only an ideological foe, but also a threat to its national security. And this led it to develop countervailing strategies.

At the same time the US, under President Nixon, was keen to further weaken the communist bloc (it was already petering out) and to hopefully ease the situation in Vietnam where it was not doing too well in the armed conflict. Having China as a “strategic partner” was considered an important gain in the ongoing Cold War with the Soviet Union.

The price of recognising communist China (and de-recognising the Kuomintang regime in Taiwan as the legitimate government of China) wasn’t considered too high in this game of high political stakes. The Shanghai communiqué of 1972 set the broad framework for normalisation of relations, with formal diplomatic relations established some years later.

With the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the subsequent smashing of the Gang of Four, Deng Xiaoping was able to establish his ascendancy. The hapless Hua Guofeng, Mao’s anointed heir, vanished into thin air, as if.

The eighties started the process of China’s economic liberalisation, with Deng sanctifying greed as China’s new philosophy.

China’s economic opening created an important common space with the free world’s capitalist economies excited and enticed by China’s seemingly endless opportunities. For the most part, the political climate in the eighties was also benign with China now a virtual strategic partner in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.

Taiwan remained a problematic area because Beijing failed to dent US support for it if it were attacked by China. This US commitment was enshrined in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.

On the whole, things moved pretty well in China’s relations with the United States, Western Europe and even Japan, apart from the perennial problem of Japan’s war guilt and its attempts to sanitise it.

The late eighties experienced tremendous political eruptions in China. In May and June of 1989, a popular movement for democratic change, spearheaded by students, erupted on the political scene, challenging the existing system and highlighting its rampant corruption.

Deng Xiaoping, China’s paramount leader, decided to take charge of the situation, even though he supposedly had retired from running the country. The army was called in which led to the Tiananmen massacre, killing 3000 or more people.

These developments disrupted the Western world’s romance with China for some years. But by continuing, by and large, on its course of economic liberalisation, China’s economic attraction remained intact. And it even managed to get into the World Trade Organisation, overcoming considerable political opposition in the United States.

The Clinton Administration, which had started as a strong opponent of China’s human rights record, toned down its harsh criticism to do business with Beijing.

Taiwan seemed to be becoming even more marginal until mid-nineties when temperatures were raised in the course of the 1996 presidential election with China exercising its military muscle to scuttle the country’s election. Even President Clinton couldn’t remain indifferent and sent two naval carriers to deter the Chinese threat, which had the desired effect.

China’s economic juggernaut was proving irresistible all around, with the political leadership in Europe keen to put the Tiananmen Square massacre behind them to sell arms to China. But under US pressure and China’s over-playing its hand by passing the so-called anti-secession law directed at Taiwan, the projected arms sales were held back.

The beginning of the new millennium started with a dive in US-China relations after George Bush became US President. A crisis developed over the US spy plane incident. But it was diplomatically managed on both sides. At times, though, it looked like getting out of control.

China was also not impressed with Bush’s unequivocal commitment to defend Taiwan saying that he would do “whatever it takes” to do the job.

China’s break came after the terrorist attack on World Trade Centre in New York, with the Bush Administration now focused on its fight against terrorism. It needed China’s political support, more so because it was a permanent member of the Security Council.

Having crushed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the US went after Iraq where it is mired now. The Israeli-Lebanon-Palestine conflict is going to further involve the US in West Asia, at least in the diplomatic arena.

With the United States over-extended in West Asia and unable to put its energies elsewhere, China is managing to create an image of a benign power keen on its economic development. At the same time it is spreading its “benign” tentacles to corner energy and raw material supplies when the United States is looking elsewhere.

And it has created strategic partnership with Russia. With his country’s immense oil and gas wealth, and Europe’s dependence on it, President Putin is not shy of flexing Russia’s new political importance.

China, therefore, looks like on a roll. But the big question still remains. Will its Leninist party dictatorship, superimposed on a vast, diverse and rapidly changing society, be able to guide and sustain it through the 21st century?

It would seem unlikely because a closed political system, in the midst of rapid economic and social change, will inevitably create pressure points with the potential to explode. 

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Innovations galore
by Saroop Krishen

Scientists have recently come up with a device which appears to beat magic at its own game.

If you and your girlfriend happen to be at two different places miles and miles away from each other, you can still have drink almost in your friend’s company instead of being alone. When either person picks up a glass, red-emitting diodes glow in the partner’s glass. When one puts a glass to the lips, the other glass glows brightly.

The trick is to build liquid sensors and wireless links into the glasses: that conquers the distance effectively and the “horror” of drinking by yourself is avoided. (The process sounds rather complicated but apparently works).

Room charges for a hotel in Germany are calculated according to the weight of the guest. The current rate is the equivalent of 34p per kilogram. So a man weighing 60 kilos pays a little over £ 20 a night, while one tipping the scales at 100 kilos pays £35. The reason given for the difference is that the thin man is likely to live longer and come to the hotel more often.

The new restaurant in Shanghai has broken fresh ground by providing menus for dogs who eat at the same tables as their owners. Business was slow to begin with but has picked up since as the pet owners are bringing with them not only dogs but also cats, rabbits and other animals. At times the restaurant looks more like a mini zoo than an eating place but is making good money — and that is what matters.

If you feel inclined to look for something startlingly original and unconventional, here is your chance. But you would be well-advised to increase your insurance quite steeply before you try to savour that experience.

A hairdresser in Hungary has decided to discard completely the normal tools of his trade namely scissors and combs, and to use instead axes, swords and vacuum cleaners! He cuts the hair by placing it on a chopping block and striking it with an axe. The hair is then styled using a vacuum cleaner or straightened using an iron.

Customers whose health can stand it have the option of hanging upside down as the hairstylist hacks away with a samurai sword so fast that the entire hair job often gets finished in seconds. “People never fall asleep when I am working at their hair” claims the man, “and the styles I offer allow for more creativity and inventiveness”.

Tailpiece: A woman looked questioningly at her doctor-husband when she saw him exchange broad smiles with a blonde on the road. ‘Oh’, he said. ‘I have met her only professionally’. “You, but whose profession?” retorted the wife. 

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STATE OF HOSPITALS-4
Where doctors and patients are missing

Roopinder Singh
visits Guru Gobind Singh Medical College and Hospital at Faridkot and discovers that its huge walls and vast corridors have no place for the healing touch

Corridors are easy to keep clean when there are hardly any patients
Corridors are easy to keep clean when there are hardly any patients. Photo by the writer

THE first thing that strikes you about Guru Gobind Singh Medical College and Hospital, Faridkot, is how huge the building is. A big edifice, and along with it, another half-finished OPD block. As you walk in, you notice that even early in the morning, the place is clean, and floors are being mopped. You look around for patients… and keep looking.

In a nation where you are used to queues forming outside other government institutions even before these open in the morning, here there is no rush. Talking to some patients, their problems become clear. Resham Singh has brought his wife here for an ultrasound test. He says that X-rays and tests take a lot of time and when the test results come out, by 1.30 pm, doctors are not available for consultation. There is not even a single lady doctor for the OB patients; there are doctors, but too few of them.

Deliberately visiting the hospital at 9 am showed that some doctors were indeed missing from their rooms, although we were told that they were taking rounds. The Principal, Dr H. L. Kazal, was attending to OPD patients, and there was a familiar, “sarkari” hospital crowd around him, even as he efficiently disposed of his cases, showing familiarity with some patients, who were obviously old cases.

Most of the patients have a “Doctor is God” attitude, and they who come to this hospital are among the poorest in the area. To them, paying Rs 2 for fee for parking a bicycle or Rs 3 for parking a scooter is irksome, but wait, they have to pay a rupee more, the contractor charges Rs 3 rather for keeping a bicycle and Rs 5 for parking a scooter.

Sukhminder Singh was hurt in an accident. His friends from the village are here to look after him. “Both his legs have been broken; we are poor people. We are going to the Doctor Sahib to get him to sign a slip so that we can get medicines from the Red Cross people. There are only women in his family, so we are helping them here,” said his friend.

Since a vast majority of the patients are from nearby villages, they do not allow women to be examined by male doctors, especially OB doctors. The department is headed by a well-regarded gynaecologist, Dr A. S. Saini, but the only lady doctor in the department left a few months ago and a replacement is awaited. In contrast, the local civil hospital has three lady doctors in this department, and Balbir Hospital, popularly known as “Raje da Haspataal”, also has lady doctors.

Balbir Hospital is run by a trust set up by Raja Harinder Singh, last king of Faridkot, in the name of his father. The registration fee in this hospital is the same as paid in the government hospital for parking a bicycle. “There is no consultation fee and we have a budget of Rs 2.5 lakh for distributing free medicines in the hospital,” says Col Balbir Singh (retd), an official of the trust.

Most of the doctors in the government hospital did not go on record, but when assured of anonymity, pointed out that 40 per cent of the posts in the hospital were vacant, the radiology department was overworked, and they had been without a professor ever since the last retired. There is no post-graduate teacher for dermatology (skin), one of the six specialities in which the college offers post-graduation.

Officials rue the procedural delays in recruitment. The hospital has also not been getting its due share of the PPS funds for professional services. They have four seats for NRI students, who have to pay $75,000 each as fee. The government gets the money, the college takes the students, and a fraction of the fee.

Another doctor said the most common diseases in the area were diabetes and liver aliments, the latter as a result of alcoholism. The local Red Cross had done much to help the patients who have this problem.

The first priority of doctors posted in Faridkot is to get out of there. The students have the same goal; while we were in the office, a student came in to get her papers signed. She was leaving the college to join Dayanand Medical College at Ludhiana.

Dr Kazal is an exception—he has been here since 1990, when he shifted from Patiala. “Here, life is peaceful, the cost of living is low and there are good education facilities. My children studied here and have done well. Housing is affordable, land is cheap and the salaried people can still construct their own house without too much trouble,” says the doctor.

He concedes that the lack of a lady OB doctor has had a negative impact on some patients. As for the tests, he says: “The doctors are available in wards till 2.30 pm and they tell the patients to meet them once the results comes out. The Radiology Department is under stress because of understaffing, and we hope to get more staff soon.”

Now that some money has been allocated, the doctor is positive that soon the hospital would have the necessary equipment for CT scan and a treadmill for TMT. It comes as a shock that the hospital lacks even such basic equipment, but one look at the building and you know that the focus has been on raising walls and not on getting the basic staff and infrastructure.

The medical college still runs out of the old FCI storage. Why have some of the offices not been shifted to the unused portions of the hospital building? No convincing answer is received.

As one leaves, heart-rending cries are heard. A man and his daughter are crying. They have just found that the girl’s mother has died. They are overwrought in their grief. Hospitals are not about buildings or doctors, facilities or equipment. They are about healing. When they fail to provide us with that, they fail themselves.

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In China, living with Maoist horror
by John Pomfret

FORTY years ago this past August, the first killings were carried out to launch the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. Two educators in Nanjing and a high school principal in Beijing were the first victims of the Red Guards, the shock troops of Mao Zedong’s war against rivals in the Communist Party.

Over the following 10 years, 18 million city kids were dispatched to the countryside to hack out meager existences amid the peasantry. Millions of officials were purged and hundreds of thousands were executed. My college classmate at Nanjing University, Wu Xiaoqing, was the son of the two educators who were murdered in Nanjing; he was 11 when his parents died. When we studied together he had the nickname “Old Wu” because he seemed old before his time.

Today China’s juggernaut economy, freewheeling night life and sophisticated diplomacy make it seem a world away from the Communist Party-imposed madness of the 1960s. Wu’s life is an example. He’s a university professor, a published author and the father of a young woman who is preparing for college in Australia. No other country seems to have been so adept at avoiding the pitfalls – and erasing the memory – of its past.

Wu’s parents were beaten to death by a gang of Red Guards on Aug. 3, 1966. At the time, his father was the top educator in Jiangsu province and his mother was the party secretary at a leading university in Nanjing. The gang descended on their home, dragged the parents out onto the streets in their pajamas and set upon them savagely. The autopsy report on Wu’s father listed six broken bones, a brain hemorrhage and massive trauma to his internal organs.

A few years later, Wu had the opportunity to join the Communist Party – a road to a good future in China – but there was a condition. Party officials told him he had to have a “correct” understanding of why his parents died. Wu wrote in his application that his father died of chronic hepatitis and his mother of high blood pressure, and he added the requisite denunciation. “My parents made mistakes and you must criticise mistakes,” he wrote. “The Cultural Revolution is great!”

His application for party membership was accepted. He felt no remorse for joining an organisation responsible for the murder of his parents. “I know I wrote lies. They made me write lies,” he rationalised to me later. “But a party membership helped improve my life.”

When the Cultural Revolution ended, Wu passed college entrance exams and found a job at the university where his parents were killed. His reasoning was simple. His family had been victimised there so he would be protected there. His parents’ murderers were never prosecuted, despite the fact that two Chinese journalists (a writer and a photographer) documented the whole affair and the evidence was quickly placed in the hands of the police.

Old Wu kept his head down. He did not march during the 1989 student protests that ended in the Tiananmen Square crackdown. And after the crackdown he was put at the head of a committee investigating professors in the history department of his university. In recent years, Wu was assigned to write a chapter in a high school history textbook about the Cultural Revolution. He tried to slip in some details about the horrors of the time, including a subtle critique of the systemic nature of the problem. But it was excised by a censor’s knife.

Wu is aware of the Faustian bargain he’s made to live – and live well – in the People’s Republic of China. It’s a bargain that millions of people like him in China’s growing middle class have made. They inhabit a system that many despise, but it’s also a system they believe they can’t live without. The cost of moving forward is forgetting the past, Old Wu would say, including the dream of bringing to justice the people who killed your parents.

China wants the 21st century to become the Chinese century, yet history has a way of sneaking up on countries, just as it does on people. The late Chinese writer Ba Jin lobbied hard in the last years of his life for a museum to commemorate the victims of the Cultural Revolution; it was never built. I asked Wu what he thought about such a museum. Forty years after the Cultural Revolution, he said, “China isn’t ready for it.”

The writer is former Beijing bureau chief for The Washington Post. He is the author of “Chinese Lessons.”

By arrangement with LA Times — Washington Post

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From the pages of

August 29, 1979

Murder of a hero

LORD MOUNTBATTEN was not only the last surviving hero of World War II on the Allied side; he was also one of India’s 20th century heroes. This was an extraordinary phenomenon in a country which struggled against Britain for half a century to get freedom and then chose to hail a British aristocrat and Viceroy as a national saviour. The credit for this amazing transformation from hostility to admiration and near-gratitude belonged to both India and the man who was admired and honoured. The Indian incapacity to nurse a grievance indefinitely had something to do with this, as also the Indian emotional response to a real friend. With this recognition of friendship was combined a very generous measure of acknowledgement of Lord Mountbatten’s other merits; his record as a leader in war, his capacity for decision and his open manner in dealing with mutually hostile politicians before the partition of Indian became a fact.

Having presided over the liquidation of the British Empire in India, Lord Mountbatten did not cease, on retirement, to be genuinely and deeply interested in the country and its people. In fact he remained a friendly counsellor even after Nehru’s death, often feeling personally involved in Indian political and social developments. Indian independence, which he came to regard as the most memorable act of his distinguished career continued to concern him as it went through its various phases of triumph and disappointment.

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