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Britain's precipitous and ill-planned disengagement from India in 1947--condemned as a "shameful flight" by Winston Churchill--had a truly catastrophic effect on South Asia, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead in its wake and creating a legacy of chaos, hatred, and war that has lasted over half a century.
Ranging from the fall of Singapore in 1942 to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, Shameful Flight provides a vivid behind-the-scenes look at Britain's decision to divest itself from the crown jewel of its empire. Stanley Wolpert, a leading authority on Indian history, paints memorable portraits of all the key participants, including Gandhi, Churchill, Attlee, Nehru, and Jinnah, with special focus on British viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Wolpert places the blame for the catastrophe largely on Mountbatten, the flamboyant cousin of the king, who rushed the process of nationhood along at an absurd pace. The viceroy's worst blunder was the impetuous drawing of new border lines through the middle of Punjab and Bengal. Virtually everyone involved advised Mountbatten that to partition those provinces was a calamitous mistake that would unleash uncontrollable violence. Indeed, as Wolpert shows, civil unrest among Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs escalated as Independence Day approached, and when the new boundary lines were announced, arson, murder, and mayhem erupted. Partition uprooted over ten million people, 500,000 to a million of whom died in the ensuing inferno.
Here then is the dramatic story of a truly pivotal moment in the history of India, Pakistan, and Britain, an event that ignited fires of continuing political unrest that still burn in South Asia.
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Stanley Wolpert is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Gandhi's Passion, Nehru: A Tryst With Destiny, Jinnah of Pakistan, and A New History of India.
"The independence of India and Pakistan in 1947 was a historical watershed that marked the end of the colonial era and the beginning of the liberation of the rest of Asia and of Africa. In his admirable account of this seminal event, Wolpert makes the compelling case that whereas independence and partition were inevitable, the horrible cost in the destruction of lives was not. He attributes the latter to a failure of political leadership, especially the British through its representative Viceroy Mountbatten, whose compulsive and egotistical conduct constituted a major contribution to the massive human disaster. This is a clinically powerful study of triumph and tragedy by a distinguished historian who is also a great humanitarian." --Jamsheed Marker, Former Ambassador of Pakistan and former Special Adviser to the Secretary General, United Nations
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