'A Treaty of Peace Without a War'
Mountbatten's announcement of 15 August as the date for the handing over of power was greeted with delight by most of the people of India, but with consternation by officials in both London and Delhi. To them, the idea that the Raj could be wound up in a mere 72 days was unthinkable. Listowel prepared a draft cable to Mountbatten, querying the date. Before sending it, however, he submitted it to Attlee, whose principal private secretary, Leslie Rowan, noted his own comment on it: 'If we had trouble in Parliament it might not be feasible to fix appointed day as 15 August.' Attlee, as terse as ever, simply wrote across it: 'Accept Viceroy's proposal.' 1
Throughout the rest of his life, Mountbatten gave a variety of explanations for choosing 15 August. In later years, he liked to romanticize his decision as yet another flash of inspiration, another Mountbatten hunch. He told Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre in a recorded interview: 'The date I chose came out of the blue ... I was determined to show that I was master of the whole event. When they asked: had we set a date, I knew it had to be soon. I hadn't worked it out exactly then — I thought it had to be about August or September and I then went to the I5th of August. Why? Because it was the second anniversary of Japan's surrender.' 2 It was also, as he told others, the anniversary of his own appointment as supreme commander, so his choice seems perfectly in character.
In fact there is evidence that the date had been carefully thought out in advance. Mountbatten had written to Listowel the day before the press conference, saying that he wanted to wind up the Raj on 15 August. And he said elsewhere that he had agreed the date with the Indian leaders at the beginning of June. There is no written record of this, but it is interesting that it happens to coincide almost exactly with Patel's demand for independence in two months — that, after all, had been the deal. 'The August transfer of power,' Mountbatten