'Possible New Horror Job'
In his diary for 17 December 1946, King George VI recorded: 'Attlee told me that Lord Wavell's plan for our leaving India savours too much of military retreat and that he does not realise it is a political problem and not a military one. Wavell has done very good work up to now, but Attlee doubts whether he has the finesse to negotiate the next steps when we must keep the two Indian parties friendly to us all the time.' Attlee had come to the conclusion that the situation could only be saved by drastic action. 'Two things were necessary,' he recalled in his draft autobiography. 'One was to make the Indians feel their responsibility by announcing that we were definitely clearing out within a definite period, the other was to find the man to put this through.' 1 He now believed he had found that man: the king's second cousin, Lord Mountbatten. The king agreed — but would Mountbatten?
Attlee chose Mountbatten for purely pragmatic reasons. One of these was his undoubted 'star' quality — his rank, his royal connections, his perceived military record — which Attlee believed would impress the Indian princes: some of them had looked down on Wavell because he was a mere soldier. Ever since his time on the Simon Commission, Attlee had seen the princes as an obstacle to political progress in India; Mountbatten's role was to dazzle them. But of course there were other reasons, too: in Burma, which Mountbatten had ruled for a while as supreme commander, he had shown himself to be sympathetic to, and able to work with, native leaders, whereas old Burma hands returning from wartime exile in India were still trapped in the colonial past and unable to adapt to new conditions. Mountbatten, Attlee wrote, 'had an extraordinary facility for getting on with all kinds of people'.
In the weeks before the arrival of Wavell and the Indian leaders, Attlee had been in close touch with Mountbatten over Burma, which was demanding immediate independence even more vociferously than India. He had been