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·  Introduction
·  The Grady Mission
·  After the Pageantry
·  Aftermath
·  ABOUT Robert Olson

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American Diplomacy

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A Historical Retrospective:


Ambassador Henry Grady and Indian Independence

by Robert K. Olson

The occasion brought back into focus Nehru in his “Nehru jacket” and “Gandhi hat,” half in love with Edwina, torn between the joy of the moment and the sheer horror of the massacres; Gandhi, who more than anyone had made it possible; the Congress leaders, Patel, V.P. Menon and Krishna Menon, Rajagopalachari, Jinnah, the father of Pakistan, and many others. We could see them seated in the Constituent Assembly waiting for the stroke of midnight. Out of the waiting silence,

Jawaharlal Nehru Jawaharlal Nehru

we could hear the tolling of the great bell whose final stroke was followed by the ancient bleat of the conch shell announcing the end of one era and the beginning of another. Then the cheers.

Ceremonies for Pakistani independence were held the day before, in Karachi where British troops who lowered the flag also cut down the pole; no other flag would fly from it, ever.

The ocasion also brought to mind images of the insane and bloody massacres that left by year’s end an estimated half million or more dead and fifteen million uprooted as Muslims fled to Pakistan and Hindus to India. The end of the Raj, therefore, and the birth of the independent states of India and Pakistan were at once a painful and glorious event which seared itself on the memory and imagination of the world.

There was even more to it than that. Celebrated in neither song nor story was a third pivotal event,

Dr. Henry Grady and George McGhee Henry Grady (r.) with State Department’s George McGhee

not the end of the tattered old Raj, not the birth of India, but the entry on stage of the first American ambassador to India, Dr. Henry F. Grady. Suddenly, in the game of diplomatic musical chairs, the Raj was out and the United States was in. India, to be sure, became a Dominion of the Commonwealth along with Pakistan. In addition, India was suddenly an independent member of the new world order in direct relations with the United States, the most powerful military and dynamic economic force of the post-war world, proconsul of the Atlantic and of the Pacific, a nation charged with a new global mission just announced by President Harry Truman in his March 12 address to Congress known as the Truman Doctrine. Indian leaders understandably were rather frightened of it all.

The Grady Mission: 1947-1948

When Ambassador Grady arrived in New Delhi in May, he came with a strong brief to carry the Truman Doctrine to India, to align India against the communist world, to help to develop the Indian economy, and, of course, to promote American business and political interests. Grady was an old trooper, a friendly and open man who saw his task as getting acquainted, making friends, and disabusing the Indians of their suspicions and uncertainties about American good intentions. It was a dicey job. As the new boy on the block, he had to be very careful neither to defer to the British nor to appear to pressure the Indians. And they were a sensitive lot, all of them—Mountbatten, Nehru, Gandhi, and especially, Jinnah. The American ambassador had to watch his step.

Personally, Grady was an idealist with profound humanitarian concerns. “From my earliest youth,” he wrote, “I had a fervent desire to have my life make some slight contribution to the betterment of human beings. . . . The shock of World War I turned my attention . . . to the problems of war and its prevention.”1 He was a man who was able to walk with kings but not lose the common touch, to draw from Kipling. These were indeed becoming qualities in an American envoy to post-independence India.

Something of a mystery attaches to Grady’s presence during the momentous events surrounding independence. The official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) includes no reports from Grady dated between July 11 and September 2, 1947. The author’s own research in the National Archives reveals a similar gap. We can only surmise that the records have been lost or stolen, or possibly are still classified, perhaps pending release of the British archives scheduled for 1999. Fortunately, Grady wrote an account in his unpublished memories, “Adventures in Diplomacy,” now invaluable as the only official American eyewitness account available.

Who was Henry Grady? Was he the right man for the job? All indications are that he was, personally and professionally. Professionally, he had a distinguished international background. He was an economist with a Ph.D. from Columbia University who became Roosevelt’s chief trade negotiator (Grady was largely responsible for the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act under Secretary of State Cordell Hull). As a wartime troubleshooter, he had been the first American to head the League of Nations Economic Commission, had traveled widely for the President, and was no stranger to India. The summer before Pearl Harbor he led a US mission throughout Southeast Asia and India to locate strategic minerals. In 1942, Roosevelt sent him back to India to head up an American mission to spur Indian wartime industrial production. Thanks to the resulting Grady Report, he was already favorably known in Indian circles. The report itself went on to become the blueprint for postwar Indian industrial development. In later years, when the Middle East was becoming a cauldron of Cold War rivalries, Grady went on to become ambassador to Greece (1948-1950) and to Iran (1950-1951).

In his memoirs Grady wrote:

In the late spring of 1947, President Truman asked me to become the first American Ambassador to India . . . I was delighted to accept . . . . I had acquired a genuine interest in the Indian people and the subcontinent . . . . I sailed for India from San Francisco on May 4, 1947, and arrived at New Delhi in the latter part of June with the thermometer registering 118 degrees. When I left San Francisco, there was no serious talk of a partition of India. But by the time I arrived, one of the first things I had to do was to ask the State Department to arrange for the appointment of an Ambassador to Pakistan.

Grady held that American foreign policy had changed with the Truman Doctrine.

In a word, reconstruction has become our foreign policy. We have learned . . . that if steps are not taken to insure economic stability the likelihood of war will be enhanced and that once war breaks out we will inevitably be drawn in as we were in World Wars I and II. The leadership of the non-communist world has thus been placed upon our shoulders and, consequently, we have assumed great responsibilities in all parts of the world.

Grady spoke well of Mountbatten.

Mountbatten is an extremely personable man and has unusual drive and capacity as an administrator. He has broad knowledge of world politics and economics. [However,] in talking matters over with him I never felt he was profound. He reminded me very much of Franklin Roosevelt, not only in his handsome face but in his manners and technique of dealing with people.

Of Edwina, he remarked, “Lady Mountbatten makes an ideal partner for him and devoted herself to the welfare of the Indian people and was loved and respected as much as he was.”

Describing the independence ceremonies, which Grady called “a deeply impressive occasion,” he noted that “Earl and Lady Mountbatten [he became Earl as well as Governor General on Independence Day] conducted themselves on the occasion in a manner which reflected the highest credit not only on them but on Great Britain herself . . . .” Later, when he left India, Mountbatten invested Rajagopalachari as governor general with “extreme dignity and grace.”

Although it could not have been easy for him, Mountbatten left the investiture hall with his head high and flags flying. Actually, Mountbatten achieved the well nigh miraculous feat of salvaging British prestige in India with the termination of the bitter struggle for independence.



1. I draw this and all other quotations, with the one noted exception, from Henry F. Grady, “Adventures in Diplomacy,” Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, Independence, MO.

2. U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. VII, 1947, Washington, DC, p. 178.

3. Richard Alexander Hough, Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, Weidenfeld and Nicolson (1983).


After the Pageantry

A measure of reality set in the morning after the 1947 independence ceremonies. British-American relations quickly cooled off. At a Washington meeting that December, Grady reported

The British have been friendly but have made no attempt to consult with us on common problems or to ask our advice. Neither Shone [Sir Terrence, British high commissioner] nor Mountbatten think of us in any way as partners. On more than one occasion, Mountbatten has warned Nehru against dollar imperialism. I have waited patiently for a hand of cooperation from the British but it has never come. . . . The British are not happy about the strong position which we have in India, or about the weak position which they have. They are trying to salvage everything they can from the separation.2

Mohandas GandhiMahatma Gandhi

Ambassador Grady had little to say about Gandhi except for his assassination. He does refer to a two-hour talk with Gandhi during his 1942 mission:

Gandhi sat on a mat on the floor with his legs crossed and, as a concession, I was allowed to sit in a chair. I have always had the greatest admiration for Gandhi. However, he talked to me in a manner which I felt was completely unrealistic. He urged that nothing should be done to prevent the invasion of India by the Japanese. The reason he gave was that the Japanese could do no real harm to India — at least no greater than what the British were doing.


Jinnah HazamJinnah Hazam

Grady had mixed feelings about Jinnah, “a man of outstanding ability although extremely vain and difficult to deal with.” He described how he had invited Jinnah numerous times to the Embassy for a talk but without success. Grady finally realized that Jinnah was too proud to go calling on a mere ambassador and that if they were to talk, Mohammed would have to go to the mountain, which he did.

As a result of an August 17 announcement of the Radcliffe awards for the India-Pakistan boundary, the Sikhs went berserk, killing every Muslim in sight and setting off a new wave of communal violence. Grady was appalled and fearful for his family, staff, and servants as the killings spread to Delhi. “The sight of butchered Muslim women and children as well as men on the streets of Delhi,” he writes, “was a ghastly one.” Bodies remained for several days where they fell, because the sweepers had all been killed and no one else would do the work.

Before the Embassy got troops for protection, Grady and two of his staff, all armed, patrolled the premises at night. The mob, he writes, seemed determined to get at the Muslim servants but, fortunately, their worst fears were not realized. Refering to his Muslim head boy, Shakoor, “who showed great bravery when passions were running high and killings frequent,” he added, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”

Grady wrote that Nehru was “fearless and brave to the point of foolhardiness.” He did not even take the simplest precautions to prevent his being attacked; he plunged into rioting crowds without protection of any kind.

When he learned of my solicitude for him, which was based not only on my realization of his inestimable importance to his country, but also on my personal love for him, he chided me.

The ambassador faced two basic challenges, both equally daunting. The first, political, was winning Nehru’s trust and, hopefully, his allegiance in the Cold War world. However, as early as March 1947, even before independence, Nehru had organized the first Asian Relations Conference at New Delhi, taking the leadership of the Asia for Asians movement. This led to the non-aligned movement and the Bandung Conference of 1955. Nehru and Indians generally saw capitalism and imperialism as two sides of the same coin of foreign domination.

They say that they have freed themselves of British political imperialism, and don’t want American economic imperialism as a substitute. American leadership in effecting post-war decolonization in Southeast Asia seem to have little effect on Nehru’s thinking.

Grady criticized Nehru for his attempt to maintain a “so-called neutral position between Russian imperialism and Western democracy.&quote;

I do not quarrel with Nehru’s desire not to become provocative toward Russia, but I do think he is naive if he thinks India could keep out of the present world struggle, particularly if Russia should attack the Western democracies . . . . The Soviets do not, anymore than did the Nazi, think in terms of neutral countries.

The ambassador’s second challenge was encouraging economic development. Grady urged the Indians to contract with Bechtel and Morrison-Knudson to start work on urgently needed dams for power and irrigation, even promising them Exim Bank financing of external costs. But it was no deal. “The leaders and people in general have an almost irrational fear of what they call ‘dollar-imperialism’.”

Further, Indian engineers wanted to learn by doing it themselves. Writing several years after the events, Grady commented that an experienced contractor could have finished a number of dams with the result that India would have greatly increased her industrial power and irrigated land to increase the food supply. Instead, India had to import shiploads of grain from the United States. What Grady failed to mention was that India actually did go into a massive dam building program mainly on its own, including the great Tailaiya Dam, the Damodar Valley Dam in Bengal, the 690-foot high Baakra Dam in the Punjab with 3,000 miles of irrigation canals, and the three-mile long Hirakud Dam in Orissa, plus several others in the 1951 Five-Year Plan.

Nehru and Indira Gandhi with Pres. Harry TrumanNehru and Indira Ghandi with Pres. Harry Truman, 1949

Grady promoted Nehru’s visit to the United States in 1949 in the hope that “seeing at first hand the working of the American industrial and agricultural systems,” he (Nehru) would become more sympathetic “toward what one might call the New Capitalism.” But, according to Grady, Nehru left America “without abandoning his critical views of us.” On the other hand, he added, Nehru “admires . . .the Soviet system and has no hesitancy in saying so.” Nehru seems to have driven home his point by recognizing Red China in January 1950, immediately after his return to India.

Continue reading Olson: Aftermath


1. I draw this and all other quotations, with the one noted exception, from Henry F. Grady, “Adventures in Diplomacy,” Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, Independence, MO.

2. U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. VII, 1947, Washington, DC, p. 178.

3. Richard Alexander Hough, Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, Weidenfeld and Nicolson (1983).


The Aftermath

When Grady left for Greece in 1948, he must have been a somewhat disappointed man. He had failed to enlist India into the ranks of the Western camp against the Soviets and world communism. India, although starved for investment and development, nevertheless refused America’s embrace.

But he wasn’t alone. Mountbatten’s Chief of Staff, Lord Ismay, for example, angered his monarch by refusing the KGCSI (Knight Grand Cross of the Star of India) for his role in the loss of India. Thousands of ordinary British citizens lost everything—livelihood and career, home, servants, and a way of life—to return to a shabby Britain, shabby housing, and shabby jobs. India got independence, but at the price of partition and the massacres.

Partition produced a fifty-year subcontinental arms race as bitter and dangerous as the Cold War. Nevertheless, Grady concluded in his memoirs, “I feel that the future of India is bright. . . . One must regret leaving India with all its deep cultural riches and the strong and unusual appeal of its people, so gentle and so generous. . . . I go with a heavy heart . . . . God bless India.”

They are all gone now. In January 1948, Gandhi was assassinated by a Sikh extremist for agreeing to partition. Grady observed,

When the news was brought to us . . . we all said, “Terrible as it is, let us hope that it was not a Muslim.” . . . Mrs. Grady had the honor of placing the first wreath on his body after he fell. Vincent Sheean [a noted journalist and lecturer]was at our residence when the assassination occurred. . . . [H]e had become deeply attached to Gandhi and with his sudden death Sheean almost went to pieces, throwing himself on the bed in our residence and weeping profusely.

The morning after independence, Lord Louis became governor general of India (at Nehru’s insistence).

Lord & Lady MountbattenLord & Lady Mountbatten

After ceremonies at the great Durbar Hall, they were driven in the governor general’s landau through the streets to the Council House through crowds cheering “Mountbatten Kai Jai” (Long live Mountbatten) and “Lady Mountbatten Kai Jai”. In June 1948, the Mountbattens went home, he to resume his naval career as admiral in command of the First Cruiser Squadron in Malta and then as First Sea Lord, she to naval life and a continuation of her good works. She died suddenly in 1960 during a trip to Southeast Asia and was taken home to be buried at sea. The Indian parliament observed a minute’s silence in her memory. Lord Louis was killed by an IRA bomb planted on his yacht in 1979.

Nehru, who, according to Edwina’s biographer Richard Hough,3 was Edwina’s first and only great love, joined her four years later following a stellar international career, seventeen years as India’s prime minister, father of a tragic dynasty, and father of the nonaligned movement.

Krishna Menon became India’s high commissioner to London and later a thorn in America’s side as Indian delegate the UN General Assembly. Patel died of a heart attack in December 1950, leaving Nehru free to rule the Congress without further interference. Liaquat Ali Khan became prime minister of Pakistan and was assassinated in 1955. Jinnah became Pakistan’s governor general and died of tuberculosis in August 1948.

Henry Grady went on to be ambassador to Greece and then to Iran, where his mission was demolished in the bitter British-Iranian dispute over nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

Mahatma Gandhi at his spinning wheelGandhi

He retired to his home in San Francisco in 1951, where he engaged in various good works until his death in 1957.

Gone but not forgotten. In my view, they all seem to have been immortalized by that “one brief shining moment” of another Camelot and an aura that somehow refuses to fade. The India they forged a half century ago developed beyond their wildest dreams. In spite of Grady’s disappointments, India today is a vibrant democracy, the political leader of South Asia, self sufficient in food, an industrial giant, and with a middle class said to be as large as the population of the United States.

Copyright 1997 by Robert K. Olson. All ritghts reserved.


Continue reading: ABOUT Robert Olson


1. I draw this and all other quotations, with the one noted exception, from Henry F. Grady, “Adventures in Diplomacy,” Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, Independence, MO.

2. U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. VII, 1947, Washington, DC, p. 178.

3. Richard Alexander Hough, Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, Weidenfeld and Nicolson (1983).



Robert Olson served in the U.S. Foreign Service beginning in 1956 and held assignments abroad in Libya, Lebanon, France, Italy, Canada, Vietnam, and Central America, as well as Washington. He earned degrees at Carleton College, the University of Denver, and Oxford University. Now retired to Wisconsin with his wife, Yvonne, he follows a second career in writing and lecturing on international issues.

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