In October 1956, Clement Attlee was on a visit to India. He was the Prime Minister of Britain at the time India got independence. He had a secretive, private talk with Phani Bhusan Chakravartti at Governor’s mansion in Kolkata. Two decades later, Mr Bhusan Chakravartti ( who was also Cheif Justice of High Court of Kolkata and acting Governor of Bengal) revealed the details of that talk. During their conversation, Justice Chakravartti asked Attlee about the reasons of Britishers leaving India during 1947. After all, Britain had just won the war and Quit India movement was fizzled out long before. Attlee’s response was clear and emphatic. The INA activities of Subhas Chandra Bose, which weakened the very foundation of the British Empire in India, and the RIN mutiny which made the Britishers realize that Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to pop up the British and rule India. Justice Chakravartti also asked about the extent of Gandhi’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. In Chakravartti’s words: ‘Hearing this question, Attlee’s lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word. “minimal”!’
Gandhi wasn’t the reason India got independent. Nor his non-violent movements had any significant influence on Britishers to force them out of India. The biggest reasons why Britishers had such a stronghold in India (true for any colonial power and a colony) was money and army. Britishers were very cunning and employed a plethora of techniques from divide and rule, the doctrine of lapse, ring-fence policy, carrot and stick policy, destroying Indian textile and cottage industry, commercializing agriculture, destroying traditional education system and the worst of them all, completely misinterpreting and ruining the history of India (propaganda of Aryan migration), making Indians feel insecure and inferior, colonised, the consequences of which, we are still facing today. If not for the awakened, reignited, brilliant Indians such as Swami Vivekanand, Britishers would have destroyed the ancient identity of India (that was their aim).
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
If one really believes that such cunning, evil colonial rulers would be forced away by non-cooperation, civil-disobedient, non-violent movements, he/ she is either delusional or a fool. Let’s just apply a bit of common sense. Think for a moment. Which were the events of India’s struggle for freedom that really rattled Britishers? Which were the personalities of India’s struggle that really worried the Britishers? If you really want to know the answers to these questions, you have to look into the actions of the Britishers in response to the events and personalities under consideration. For example, if you think Jawahar Lal Nehru had Britishers worried with his fiery speeches, then just closely observe the treatment of Nehru at the hands of Britishers. He was put into jail multiple times and then released. He was a political prisoner and was given decent treatment and living conditions. Compared that to Bhagat Singh, Veer Savarkar, Subhas Chandra Bose. The conditions in which Bhagat Singh was kept are well-known (The legend of Bhagat Singh). Veer Savarkar was kept in the most torturous jail of British India, the cellular jail of Port Blair. Subhas Bose was sent to Mandalay Jail and was under house arrest for a long time. These men were on to something that actually worried Britishers.
Coming to the major events. Even before realizing the myth of supremacy of non-violent struggle, when I was reading history, I realised one very peculiar event which actually rattled the British empire to its core. That event was none other than the “Revolt of 1857”. It was a violent revolt where a large number of soldiers of East India Company revolted against the Raj. They were supported by a large number of rulers, peasants, and even zamindars of that time. The soldiers murdered a large number of their superior British officers. Eventually, Britishers managed to overcome the revolt through sheer force, a lot of money and losing a large number of soldiers and British generals of their own army. All though Indians paid a much heavier price in deaths, massacres and taxes. After the revolt, Company rule was abolished and India was placed under the crown by the British government. The part which rattled the Britishers was the mutiny of the soldiers of East India Company. If your own soldiers start killing your generals, you can never trust that army. So, Britishers did a complete restructuring of the British Indian army. Maintaining a strong, ordered army was the top priority of British India. And they succeeded in that. That’s why the “Indian” soldiers of the British Indian army followed the orders of General Dyre in Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
So, what changed between 1919 and 1946?
Indian National Army: The Indian National Army (INA; Azad Hind Fauj) was formed in 1942 under Rash Behari Bose, Mohan Singh, by Indian PoWs of the British-Indian Army captured by Japan in the Malayan campaign and at Singapore.
This first INA collapsed and was disbanded in December that year after differences between the INA leadership and the Japanese military over its role in Japan’s war in Asia. Rash Behari Bose handed over INA to Subhas Chandra Bose. It was revived under the leadership of Subhash Chandra Bose after his arrival in Southeast Asia in 1943.
On 4 July 1943, two days after reaching Singapore, Bose assumed the leadership of the INA in a ceremony at Cathay Building. Bose’s influence was notable. His appeal re-invigorated the INA, which had previously consisted mainly of prisoners of war: it also attracted Indian expatriates in South Asia. He famously proclaimed:
Give me blood! I will give you freedom …
“Local civilians joined the INA, doubling its strength. They included barristers, traders and plantation workers, as well as Khudabadi Sindhi Swarankars who were working as shop keepers; many had no military experience.” Carl Vadivella Belle estimates under Bose’s dynamic appeal, membership of the IIL peaked at 350,000, while almost 100,000 local Indians in South-east Asia volunteered to join the INA, with the army ultimately reaching a force of 50,000.
INA hardly had proper ammunition and weapons compared to the soldiers of the British Indian Army. However, they attempted to capture India from the eastern and north-eastern side. Ultimately, they suffered defeat and were captured and put to trial by the Britishers. One serious mistake Britishers did was they tried to make a statement out of these trials by making them public. Britishers had hoped that media attention to the torturous and violent acts of INA soldiers will turn Indians against them. The opposite happened. INA soldiers were hailed as heroes, fighting for a divine cause of independent India.
For the first time in the Indian Freedom Struggle, all the political parties and organizations became united for a cause: support of INA soldiers. These included INC, Hindu Mahasabha, Muslim League, RSS, Akalis, CPI, etc. The support for these soldiers among the people as well as the political parties was unprecedented. This kind of atmosphere in the country achieved what Mangal Pandey did in 1857. Mutiny of soldiers of the British Indian Army & Navy. There were three major upsurges: in Culcutta over the INA trials, in Culcutta against 7-year sentence to INA officer Rashid Ali, and in Bombay, the strike by the Royal Indian Navy ratings. Unlike non-violent movements, these upsurges by the masses were ignited by the revolt of INA and people were ready to take the matter in their own hands. The agitation for INA reached even the remotest parts of India. The RIN revolt took place in Feb 1946 wherein some 1100 naval ratings of HMIS Talwar went on a strike to protest against racial discrimination, abuse by senior officers, INA trials, use of Indian troops in Indonesia. They even hoisted tricolour in their ship and were supported by the locals. Other ratings soon joined and they went around Bombay in lorries holding Congress flags, threatening Europeans and policemen. This was the event Attlee talked about which made sure that Britishers would leave India. But why? This mutiny was heading in the direction of something like the revolt of 1857. Soldiers and naval officers were acting against the orders of the British command. Soldier’s loyalty to its army should be unbreakable, strong as a rock. However, it was certainly not the case at that time. Britishers were already tired after WWII, they were short on money due to an ailing economy at home, they didn’t had the liberty of time to restructure and reorganize army to ensure their loyalty to the crown. Britishers were in no mood to suffer again like they did in 1857. Also, the nationwide support for INA soldiers meant this time, the revolution would be far-reaching and would cover entire India. So, it was the best time in the assessment of Britishers to leave India.
So, to sum it up Britishers had to leave India because INA trails in India created an environment of sympathy and support for these soldiers all over India in the form of violent revolts. At the same time, the revolt by RIN meant soldiers were no longer loyal to the crown.
What about Gandhi?
“Gandhi was the best policeman the British had in India.” Ellen Wilkinson.
Gandhi’s remarked on RIN mutiny that it was badly advised: if they mutinied for India’s freedom, they were doubly wrong; if they had any grievances, they should have waited for the guidance of leaders.
Gandhi was without a doubt the greatest mass leader of 20th Century India. Bal Gangadhar Tilak pioneered the idea of freedom struggle involving masses through swadeshi movement. Gandhi carried forward that idea by adding his own philosophy of satya and ahimsa (truth and non-violence). Gandhi called his struggle “satyagraha” (call for the truth). His message resonated with the masses. In Gandhian movements, everyone could take part and contribute to the struggle for freedom. But, Gandhi was a pacifist. Even though he lead a good number of mass-movements against the Raj, he always had concerns about the well-being of Britishers too. He wanted Indians to support the British in world wars. He was even okay with independent India having a union jack in her flag.
One of the biggest problems with Gandhi was his unshakable belief in truth and non-violence and his inability to accept other ways as means to achieve independent India. Gandhi struggled with other competing ideas and people. He didn’t approve of the methods of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru. He was at odds with Subhas Chandra Bose. And because of his differences with Bose, he even left the Congress (and focused on Harijan campaign). Gandhi united Indians. He gave hope and power to even the weakest of the weakest for whom violence wasn’t feasible. However, his inability to cooperate with other revolutionaries and freedom fighters caused unnecessary rifts. Despite all the differences between them, Subhas Chandra Bose addressed Gandhi as “Father of the Nation” from the radio. However, in the book “Conundrum: Subhas Chandra Bose’s life after death by Anuj Dhar and Chandrachur Ghosh”, Gumnami Baba revealed that he called Gandhi “Father of the Nation” because he wanted support for his INA when they attack India, and also to avoid criticism of INA. According to Gumnami Baba, Gandhi was the figurehead of the freedom struggle.
Gandhian movements had massive success in uniting India and giving hopes to the masses. It also had few successes in getting Britishers pass some bills and makes some changes favourable to Indians. However, these movements had a little direct impact on the reasons that made Britishers leave India. Gandhian movements are very relevant today in democratic India as in a democracy, people’s votes matter. A good recent example is the Anna movement for the Lokpal bill. However, Gandhian movements and philosophy of truth and non-violence are useless to solve problems of security, terrorism, dictatorship, left-wing terrorism to name a few. Tiananmen Square massacre is a recent example which shows that even peaceful protests can go horribly wrong and counter-productive in a dictatorship.
The myth of non-violence
Lakhs of Indians lost their lives just in the revolt of 1857. Revolutionaries such as Laxmi Bai, Tatya Tope, Khudi Ram Bose, Bagha Jatin, Chandrashekhar Azad and countless others adopted a violent path to instil fear in the mind of racist, evil colonial Britishers. Britishers exploited India and Indians in every form possible. It was Indian soldiers who protected not only British India, but other colonies of Britain during the two world wars. And their racist, evil leaders such as Churchill made sure every bit of resources was diverted from India to Britain (Churchill’s policies are widely attributed to be the cause of death of millions in Bengal famine). The reason why Britishers prefer the narrative of leaving India because of non-violent Gandhian struggle is the fact that such a narrative show them in good light, morality and whitewashes their image. This narrative obviously favours Congress. So, the history of India has been taught in such a way that you would feel as if non-violent movements were the major cause for the independence of India. Communists/ Marxists (which dominate historians) hate Subhas Chandra Bose anyways. So, S. C. Bose (along with a whole lot other freedom fighters especially Savarkar) has been heavily undermined in our history books. But as Gandhiji himself said:
The truth is India won independence by violent means in circumstances created by a violent war and the aftermath sympathy wave in the country for INA soldiers wherein it became impossible for the violent, evil, racist, corrupt Britishers to rule the Indians as they lost money in the war and soldiers of the Indian army lost faith in the Raj.