You know how some people never seem to know what date it is on any given day? And when quizzed about it, they put up an annoying facade of intense intellectual superiority that leaves no room for remembering petty, quotidian nonsense like dates? Well, I’m one of those people. (The difference is that I make no claim at any kind of intellectual superiority. It’s just that in the years I’ve spent in grad school, I’ve learned to arrange my life in terms of class days, no-class days, and paper submission days. Dates? I don’t need them.)
Some dates, however, even I can’t escape, because The World announces them to me. And by The World, I mostly mean my friends on Facebook, who post enthusiastic status messages about Labor Day, Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day, Women’s Day, International Cat Day, Regional Dog-Ate-My-Homework Day, Neighborhood Raccoon Situation Day, you name it.
This morning, I woke up to find many of my Indian Facebook friends post about Indian Independence Day, complete with pictures of tricolored flags, tricolored trees, tricolored garden fountains, and even tricolored people.
“Ah, it’s August 15th” I mumbled mostly to myself, because I could have sworn Boyfriend was still asleep.
I was wrong. Boyfriend opened his eyes, looked straight at me, and said:
“Did you know that Lord Mountbatten decided to declare August 15th as Indian Independence Day because it coincided with Korean Independence Day, which was his only accomplishment as a British Naval Officer?”
And then he closed his eyes and slipped right back into a deep, lightly-snoring sleep.
As it turns out, India shares its Independence Day of August 15th with South Korea (1945), The Republic of Congo (1960), and Bahrain (1971). I’ve often wondered why this date was chosen as Independence Day. The British had originally planned on granting independence to India in 1948, and the Indian National Congress – which had declared Poorna Swaraj (Complete Self-Rule) on January 26th, 1930 – wanted the event to officially take place on that date in 1948. In light of these facts, August 15th just seems a little… arbitrary.
It probably wasn’t.
Towards the end of World War II, Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas, Lord Mountbatten, British statesman and naval officer, was appointed the Supreme Allied Commander of the South East Asia Command. Korea was colonized by the Japanese, and the Japanese were fighting the Allied forces. Now, Lord Mountbatten wasn’t really known for his military acumen or his strategic planning – his career as a naval officer and as the Crown’s representative in British India is littered with instances of bungling inefficiency. But towards the end of the war, he had his moment of glory. Oh yes, he did.
In 1945, along with British Military Commander William Slim, Lord Mountbatten orchestrated the surrender of Japan to the Allied Forces. This surrender – which ended in the gruesome suicides of several top-ranking Japanese officers – happened on August 15th, 1945. And one of its outcomes was that Korea gained independence that day.
Two years later Lord Mountbatten found himself serving as the last Viceroy of a very volatile British India. Everyone was waiting with bated breath for January 26th, 1948, the expected official date of complete British withdrawal from the region. But along came Lord Mountbatten, and decided that India would be independent in 1947 instead, and on August 15th specifically – the second anniversary of his glorious achievement in World War II. (Winston Churchill was so displeased with his handling of Indian independence, he reportedly never spoke to Lord Mountbatten again.)
There is little documented evidence of his reasons for doing this. It’s possible that the British just wanted to get out as swiftly as possible. In the second half of 1947 things had started to get really bad between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League – the two political factions that had fought together for independence but were severely divided on religious lines. The gruesome, messy, and altogether unfortunate partition of the region into India and Pakistan seemed inevitable. And the British, having stuck their finger in this honeycomb, now wanted out with the urgency of a schoolboy on a six-pack of Koolaid and nowhere to relieve himself. That’s probably why the year of independence was advanced from 1948 to 1947. But as far as the specific date is concerned, it’s pretty clear he chose it to commemorate his own moment of glory.
Not altogether surprising, though. Mountbatten was kinda like that.