/**SNAP Code begin **/ /**SNAP Code end **/

Thursday, August 16, 2007

More To Independence Story Than Satyagraha

I always wondered about the schizophrenia about Indian attitude towards what finally brought freedom from British imperialism. While we rightly claim we did it non-violently, using hartals, non-cooperation, namak marches, and, of course, satyagraha, we also want to celebrate the 150 years of first war of independence - as though there were other wars. We can always call it the only war of independence. It's another matter that we can't get our act straight to celebrate the events in a dignified manner.

So which is it? Did we fight militarily or protest non-violently for independence? Subbas Chandra Boseji is revered by many as the lone fighter leading the Indian National Army, although he was allied with the new imperialists, and surely vastly more tyrannical, the Nazis and the imperial Japan. And surely the current Indian military doesn't consider itself a successor of INA. Because his allies were defeated, it's hard to see how Boseji could have continued his fight after WWII ended, even if he were alive when the war ended. He could have always taken fight underground within the nation itself.

And then there was a massive road block for any armed conflict with the British, let alone a war of independence - Gandhiji, at least since 1918 when he emerged as leading figure of the ongoing independence struggle.

Apparently there is more to the story of independence, especially why it came in mid-1947, than satyagraha. Amaresh Misra writes in column in Indian Express that Bharatiya sepoys who made up the front line in British Army were increasing not acting as the front line. Beyond the massive 1857 revolt, one doesn't hear much about these smaller revolts, but the British knew what these events, these individual revolts, meant. By 1947, the British realized that they had no British army in the empire's crown Jewel, especially when the loyal Gurkas started turning on them.

Bayly and Harper* also profile how Indian army personnel fighting for the British in the 1940s were “nationalists” and “made clear to their British officers early on in the war that the writing was on the wall for Imperial rule”.

During the 1942 Quit India Movement, T.B. Dadachanji, a Parsi VCO, “disobeyed an order to take a mobile column into a riotous city on the grounds that he might be forced to shoot his own people”. Yet Dadachanji was not court-martialled. Drawing a parallel between 1857 and 1942, Bayly and Harper note wryly that “if a new Indian Mutiny were to break out, would it not be in Lucknow where the Union flag still waved over the ruins of the old British residency?”

Apparently, the ignominious British defeat at Japanese hands in 1942 played a major part in denting the myth of imperial invincibility. Subhas Chandra Bose’s INA tapped into the widespread discontent of Indian army personnel, especially over the way British officers had abandoned them during the Allied flight from Singapore. That ‘INA sympathies’ crossed over to influence Congress leaders, moderates, and those soldiers who remained ‘loyal’ during the Second World War, was demonstrated in November 1945 during the Red Fort INA trials. The trial of Shah Nawaz Khan, P.K. Sehgal and G.S. Dhillon, three INA officers, saw Nehru don the barrister’s robe after decades. Sardar Patel called the INA men “patriots” and observed that a trial should instead be initiated against Viceroy Linlithgow, the man in charge during the 1943 Bengal famine. V.D. Savarkar, the author of the first book on 1857, had sent a telegram to British Prime Minister Attlee demanding general amnesty for all INA prisoners: “it was signed, not with Savarkar’s name, but with a date, ‘1857’”. In one epochal incident, the Gurkha escort accompanying Sehgal to the trial premises did not intervene when a scuffle broke out between Sehgal and some British officers. The British read this as a danger sign, as Gurkhas were considered the most ‘loyal’ amongst ‘loyalists’. The British were ultimately unable to prosecute thousands of INA men.

In 1946, an actual army ‘mutiny’ broke out at the Jabalpur cantonment. News of it was suppressed, but ‘leaks’ prompted other ‘mutinies’ in Hyderabad, Madras, Pune, Lucknow and Calcutta. The 1946 naval ‘mutiny’ spread from Bombay to Karachi and Calcutta. Prime Minister Attlee, when asked why the British were leaving India, specifically mentioned the army’s role. Indian soldiers, he observed, could not be ‘trusted’ to hold India.[Ties that bind 1857 and 1947 - IE]

May be there are other, smaller, wars (or at least revolts) of independence that we don't hear of much.

* Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, British historians chronicled the events that Misra talks about in Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan and Forgotten Wars: The end of Britain’s Asian Empire. Misra also refer to a book by Alex Von Tunzelmann’s The Indian Summer, which, apparently, includes plenty of unpublished accounts until now.


Apun Ka Desh said...

Good Analysis...