Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Indian Independence in 1947 - An Assessment

I was born, and grew up, in a free country. My education system made me believe that India achieved its independence in 1947 as a result of the non-violent freedom struggle that the people of India undertook under the able leadership and directions of Gandhiji, the father of our nation. 

I was also aware that the Indian National Congress (INC) had split into 'naram' and 'garam' dal. The prominent leaders of the 'naram' dal included Gandhiji, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sardar Patel, and many others. The 'garam' dal had a tall leader, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, a person who quit his job as an ICS officer of the British Raj and joined the INC. He quickly rose to the top of the organisation but had very radical ideas and did not feel that non-violent action could get India its independence. He postulated total 'swaraj' much before the INC, which at the time was toying with the idea of 'dominion' status. He eventually escaped out of India and traveled to Germany, where he met Hitler and started an army by recruiting Indian POWs who had been captured by Germans. This did not fructify as the aims of Hitler and Netaji were at variance. He thereafter traveled to Japan and formed the Indian National Army (INA), which waged war against the British and Americans along with the Japanese. The Japanese and INA were defeated and thus nothing substantial came out of the formation of the INA and its war against the British. We finally got our independence in 1947 due entirely to the efforts of the 'naram' dal under Gandhiji and Jawahar Lal Nehru. 

This has been my understanding of the freedom struggle up until now. I came across the following video that made me rethink my understanding of the event. 

My research after watching this video led me to an article which threw up some very interesting facts that had not been in my conscious mind thus far. The relevant parts of the article are reproduced below.

Quote. "In this letter, the Chief Justice wrote, "When I was acting Governor, Lord Attlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor's palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India."

Chakraborthy adds, "My direct question to Attlee was that since Gandhi's Quit India movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they had to leave?"

"In his reply Attlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British crown among the Indian army and Navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji," Justice Chakraborthy says. That's not all. Chakraborthy adds, "Toward the end of our discussion I asked Attlee what was the extent of Gandhi's influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Attlee's lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, m-i-n-i-m-a-l!"

This startling conversation was first published by the Institute of Historical Review by author Ranjan Borra in 1982, in his piece on Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian National Army and the war of India's liberation.

To understand the significance of Attlee's assertion, we have to go back in time to 1945. The Second World War had ended. The allied powers led by Britain and the United States had won. The axis powers led by Hitler's Germany had been vanquished. The victors wanted to impose justice on the defeated armies. In India, officers of Netaji Bose's Indian National Army were put on trial for treason, torture, murder. This series of court martials, came to be known as the Red Fort Trials.

Indians serving in the British armed forces were inflamed by the Red Fort Trials. In February 1946, almost 20,000 sailors of the Royal Indian Navy serving on 78 ships mutinied against the Empire. They went around Mumbai with portraits of Netaji and forced the British to shout Jai Hind and other INA slogans. The rebels brought down the Union Jack on their ships and refused to obey their British masters. This mutiny was followed by similar rebellions in the Royal Indian Air Force and also in the British Indian Army units in Jabalpur. The British were terrified. After the Second World War, 2.5 million Indian soldiers were being de-commissioned from the British Army.

Military intelligence reports in 1946 indicated that the Indian soldiers were inflamed and could not be relied upon to obey their British officers. There were only 40,000 British troops in India at the time. Most were eager to go home and in no mood to fight the 2.5 million battle hardened Indian soldiers who were being demobilised. It is under these circumstances that the British decided to grant independence to India.

The idea behind putting these documents in the public domain, is not to in any way undermine the significant contribution of Mahatma Gandhi or Pandit Nehru. But to spark a debate about the real significance of the role played by Netaji's Indian National Army. School textbooks are dominated by the role played by the non-violent movement. While the role of the INA is dismissed in a few cursory paragraphs. The time has come to revisit modern Indian history and acknowledge the immense contribution of Netaji in helping India win its freedom." Unquote.

On reading this and other relevant articles on the subject of the Indian Independence in 1947 I tend to agree with the last paragraph of the above article that "The time has come to revisit modern Indian history and acknowledge the immense contribution of Netaji in helping India win its freedom."

Also, on further exercising my grey cells, I have concluded that as far as India is concerned, both 'naram' and 'garam' dal were important. 

Gandhiji and the 'naram' dal had prepared every Indian mind for Swarajya, but the 'naram' dal approach would not have convinced the British to give us independence in 1947. My thinking convinces me that I would not have been born in a free India by just the 'non violent, non co-operation' approach, which I have been made to believe this far by my education and political systems. I feel the soil of Indian nationalism and the idea of independence had been sown in every Indian's mind by the efforts of the 'naram' dal. However, the independence would not have come about as long as the Indian forces and police remained loyal to the British.  

I believe the red fort trials of the personnel of the INA between November 1945 and May 1946 were the trigger that awakened the British Indian forces to Indian nationalism. The British joint trials of three stalwarts of the INA, Col. Prem Sahgal, Col. Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon and Gen. Shah Nawaz Khan on  charges of murder, abetment to murder, and “waging war against the King-Emperor” did not go down well with the people of India, as they considered these three individuals, practicing three different faiths, to be patriots. Nationalist emotion was awakened which led the then Secretary of the War Department, write that "in a matter of weeks ... in a wave of nationalist emotion, the INA were acclaimed heroes who fought for the freedom of India." 

The British Indian forces revolted as a consequence of these red fort trials and some unrelated minor incidents in Bombay, in February 1946. These spread to the other forces as well. The revolt which started in the Royal Indian Navy soon spread to the Air Force and Army units and the loyalty of the the Indian troops could not be taken for granted by the British. This coupled with the fact that there were only 40,000 Britishers, who were fed up after the world war, and were also not considered adequate to handle this volatile situation. This fact also coincided with the demobilisation of about 25 lakhs battle tested Indian troops. The British felt that the situation in India could only be controlled with the declaration of independence, which was announced by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr Clement Attlee on 20 February 1947.

I now firmly believe that the role of Netaji and the INA has not been suitably highlighted in our historical texts and school text books. I am also convinced that Indian independence in 1947 is a direct result of a number of factors, which prominently includes the activities of the 'naram' and 'garam' dal both. The 'Naram' dal had instilled the idea of Swarajya in every Indian's mind, but that by itself would not have been adequate grounds for the British to give us independence in 1947. The Red Fort trials were the needed trigger to awaken the nationalism in every Indian, and the nature of the trials were the spark that led to revolt of the British Indian forces, leading to insecurity in the minds of the British top brass in India, which finally accelerated the independence of India.

We need to suitably amend our historical records to bring out the fact that Netaji and the INA too - a defeated and forgotten Army too had a major role to play in our achieving independence in 1947.


Renu said...

Getting freedom was a huge effort and would have been never possible without everybody ..only non violence coulnt get it..but our history recognises nly gandhi nehru, because history is always written by some people who may also be biased..sometime I really wonder what would the future students read about our time..because today everybody has a different view of those who document their thoughts will be remembered and they may not be telling you. absolute truth

J P Joshi said...

You are so right Renu. The Congress has been the ruling party for a major part of our independent history. It seems that there were some ulterior motives to hide the truth about Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose from the people of India. Even now most of the documents pertaining to Netaji and the INA are not yet available in the public domain. His death remains a mystery even now. His family had been kept under surveillance. I am not sure what the truth is but the mere fact that the PM who signed India's independence in the UK Parliament says that it was because of the role of Netaji that they had to give independence is good enough reason to give Netaji and the INA their due. People belonging to the INA were not even given pension as freedom fighters, a pension which was given to every Congressmen who fought the freedom struggle.