Nehru-Edwinas love not physical but intellectual: Alex Von Tunzelmann (Interview)

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS
Monday, January 24, 2011

JAIPUR - India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Lady Edwina Mountbatten were in love but their relationship was not physical, says London-based writer Alex Von Tunzelmann, author of the acclaimed book “Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire”.

Edwina was the wife of Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British India.

“It was definitely intellectual and spiritual love that the two shared but I don’t know if it was physical. I don’t think there was any suggestion of physical love, but it was a very significant romantic relationship for both of them,” Tunzelmann told IANS in an interview.

The writer was at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival Jan 21-25 to address a session on her book moderated by Karan Thapar.

“Lord Mountbatten was remarkably generous about his wife Edwina’s romantic dalliances. She had a string of lovers. There was speculation that the relationship between the two did not work on a romantic level. They had two daughters in the early 1920s and then the relationship between the husband and the wife was no longer romantic,” the writer said.

Mountbatten “supported the relationship between his wife and Nehru more than any of her other affairs”, Tunzelmann said.

“It was a relationship that was completely unthreatening to the Mountbatten marriage. In all her earlier relationships, Edwina threatened to divorce him very often. But Lord Mountbatten desperately wanted to keep his family together. Nehru and Edwina’s relationship allowed the Mountbattens to remain happily married.

“It was a fascinating relationship and made all the three happy. It was an unconventional relationship. You have all sorts of people in this world,” the writer said.

“Indian Summer”, published by London-based Pocket Books, describes the epic sweep of events that tore the powerful British empire apart in the first half of the 20th century, conspiracies, deals and the intense love between Nehru, a widower, and Edwina.

“I decided to write the book in early 2003-2004 while working as a researcher for journalist Jeremy Paxman, who was writing a book on the royal family. I got a hint of the relationship from the archives because Mountbatten was related to the Queen,” Tunzelmann said.

She relied on the archives for her material and visited India thrice to work at the Teen Murti Bhavan Library.

“Neither the two daughters of Mountbatten nor anyone from the Nehru-Gandhi family agreed to be interviewed for the book. I spoke to Nayantara Sahgal who has a sharp mind and memory. Her mother Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Nehru’s sister, who was close to the former Prime Minister, knew of the affair. But the Indian government was too protective,” Tunzelmann said.

The writer acquired “only a few of the hundreds of letters that changed hands between Nehru and Edwina”. “The government has not released the core body of letters. If they ever release it, I would like to write another book on India about the early years of the Indian republic. Nehru confided in Edwina and the letters would help readers learn a lot about his personal feelings which they did not know,” the writer said.

Tunzelmann said “Edwina was one of Nehru’s close confidantes who commanded significant political clout in the last days of the Raj”.

She reportedly persuaded “Nehru to accept the dominion status and was a driving force behind India joining the Commonwealth League of Nations”, the writer said.

Despite the ripple created by the book worldwide, “no one of from the Nehru-Gandhi family commented on it”. “But I had lunch with the Mountbatten daughters. They had read the book, but refrained from speaking about it. I respected their wishes.”

Tunzelmann said her “research showed that Jinnah was a secular man and was not in favour of partition like Nehru and Gandhi”. “The partition could have been avoided had the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 not been rejected. There were some flaws in policy making. All the choices that India had in 1947 were bad and partition was inevitable,” she said.

“The Mountbattens did not want to leave a battered India. They were pretty determined to help India. Nehru and Edwina even went to the riot-affected areas post partition to quell the mob. There was great sympathy between them for the situation,” she said.

Tunzelmann has completed her second novel “Red Heat”, a non-fictional account of

the Cuban missile crisis.

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