The Myth of India's Independence
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
This is about the real reason why the British left India… which most Indians (except a few) are completely unaware of. Recently, with the decline in the political fortunes of India's Congress party and its gradual minimization in the Indian political landscape, voices that were earlier silenced, are resurging with the narrative which I shall present in this post.
Disclaimer: This post is not about disrespecting Gandhi or disparaging his contribution to India's freedom struggle. His greatness as a pioneer and champion of the non-violence movement remains unquestioned, globally. The Civil Rights movement in the US drew inspiration from Gandhi's doctrine of non-violence. However, thrusting upon Gandhi, the credit for creating a situation that left the British with no option but to relinquish a 200 year old wealth generating colony - that is the historical wrong that needs to be put in perspective. That credit is due where it has never been officially acknowledged by any government in independent India. That is the tragedy this post wants to highlight.
The largest democracy in the world was born when it won independence from the British in 1947. This is a picture of the man who is credited with that historic accomplishment. His revolution of non-violent resistance against the British became the ostentatious narrative for explaining to the world and to India's future generations as to why the British left India in such haste.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the man credited with driving the British from India
Nothing can be farther from the truth, and that truth needs to be told… if not now, then I know not when on the wheel of time would the opportune moment present itself.
As is now becoming clear through discourses by intellectuals and journalists who have freed themselves of the Nehruvian narratives imposed by successive pro-Nehru governments, the British did secretly admit to an individual other than Gandhi as being the prime cause for Britain's hasty withdrawal from the South Asian subcontinent. That man is known by the name of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, the real reason for the British leaving India in 1947
The False Narratives being taught to Generations of Indians
Netaji's life story is well known but with an ending that remains an unsolved mystery to date. I shall avoid repeating what is common knowledge.
However, the army (comprising of Japanese POWs) founded by Netaji which came to be known as the Azad Hind Fauj or the Indian National Army (INA) was the first organized and militarily trained and armed resistance movement that challenged British rule in India. It was this nascent military force that would bring about the downfall of the Queen's Empire.
After his meeting with Hitler and receiving Nazi Germany's assurances of whatever support they can provide for an armed resistance movement against the British, Netaji set up the Free India Centre in Berlin. At that center he founded Azad Hind Radio (as a part of Germany’s radio service), which first aired on 7 January, 1942.
"Standing at one of the crossroads of world history, I solemnly declare on behalf of all freedom-loving Indians in India and abroad, that we shall continue to fight British imperialism till India is once again the mistress of her own destiny," he said on 28 February 1942, declaring war against India’s long-time colonial rulers on air.
This is where Subhash Chandra Bose differed ideologically from Gandhi.
“Freedom” Netaji asserted, “is not given, it is taken”.
Subhash Chandra Bose with the German army
As World War 2 began to make its presence felt on the stage of global events in 1939, Gandhi pledged his unwavering loyalty and support to the then British Viceroy in India, Linlithgow. That bonhomie however soured soon thereafter and Gandhi launched his Quit India movement on 9 August, 1942. That movement was effectively crushed by the British within no more than 3 weeks of its launch.
The history that is taught to children in Indian schools glorifies Gandhi's 3 week long Quit India movement as the triggering event that caused the British to start packing up. That narrative, tenuous as it is, serves a lot of political purposes and so has been glorified beyond justifiable cause.
Why the (extremely short-lived) Quit India movement had negligible impact on the British establishment and was not the real cause for driving out the British will become clear, when we get to Clement Attlee’s statement, a little later.
There is also a popular narrative that the Quit India movement was the final straw that made the British realize how they can no longer sustain the cost of fighting Hitler and Gandhi's followers, both at the same time. History books in India argue that World War 2 had left the British economy so weak that they felt they could no longer administer India. This is another of those flimsy, theories that do not hold up to factual evidence. Factual evidence shows that the British Economy was considerably weakened even after World War 1. The British used that pretext to impose heavy taxation on India, not only to cover Britain's war-time losses but also to fill up King George's treasure chest. Details can be found in an elaborate paper written by Sumit Sarkar in the International Encyclopedia of the First World War.
To argue therefore, that a post World War 2 England wanted to give up on its Indian colony because it was financially bankrupt... is either being naïve or being driven by a desire to deflect the real reason for retreating from the Indian Subcontinent.
The real death blow for the British was to come from an entirely unexpected quarter.
The Red Fort Trials
Between November 1945 and May 1946, the British initiated the court martial proceedings of a number of officers from Netaji's Indian National Army (INA) or the Azad Hind Fauj. According to the prevailing British military law, court martials were always conducted behind doors in closed premises. To send out a clear message to Indian officers and soldiers serving in the British army, the British decided to hold the proceedings in the open, at the Red Fort in Delhi.
The Red Fort Trials, as they later came to be known became the public relations disaster that began the countdown for British departure from India.
Of all the officers captured from the INA, 3 officers were particularly accused of the gravest of crimes - of "waging war against the King-Emperor" (the Indian Army Act, 1911 did not provide for a separate charge for treason). These 3 officers were Colonel Prem Sehgal, Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, and Major General Shah Nawaz Khan. The three had been officers in the British Indian Army and were taken as prisoners of war in Malaya, Singapore and Burma. They had, like a large number of other troops and officers of the British Indian Army, joined Netaji's Indian National Army and later fought in Imphal and Burma alongside the Japanese forces in allegiance to the Azad Hind Fauj.
Widespread Mutiny within the British Indian Army, Navy and Air Force
The trio of officers known as Sehgal, Shah Nawaz and Dhillon had worked closely with Netaji and this fact endeared them to more and more Indians as the Red Fort Trials progressed.
During the trial, mutiny broke out in the Royal Indian Navy, incorporating ships and shore establishments of the RIN throughout India from Karachi to Bombay and from Vizag to Calcutta. 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 across India.
At some places, Non Commissioned Officers in the British Indian Army started ignoring orders from their British superiors. In Madras and Pune, the British garrisons had to face revolts within the ranks of the British Indian Army.
Another Army mutiny took place at Jabalpur during the last week of February 1946, soon after the Navy mutiny at Bombay. This was suppressed by force, including the use of the bayonet by British troops. It lasted about two weeks. After the mutiny, about 45 persons were tried by court martial. 41 were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment or dismissal. In addition, a large number were discharged on administrative grounds. While the participants of the Naval Mutiny were given the freedom fighters' pension, the Jabalpur mutineers got nothing. They even lost their service pension.
At that time there were only 40,000 British troops in India who were all weary and eager to go home. They were in no mood to fight 2.5 million battle hardened India soldiers who were getting increasingly disillusioned with their British commanders.
In an interview with the British journalist Fransis Watson of the BBC in February 1955, this is how the father of the Indian Constitution, B. R. Ambedkar summed up the mood of the remaining British leadership in colonial India once the mutinies had erupted - "I don't know how Mr. Attlee suddenly agreed to give India Independence. In reality it has everything to do with the national army that was raised by Subhash Chandra Bose. The British had been ruling the country in the firm belief that whatever may happen in the country or whatever the politicians do, they will never be able to change the loyalty of British Indian soldiers. That was one prop on which they were carrying on the administration. And that was completely dashed to pieces. They found that soldiers could be seduced to form a party - a battalion to blow off the British. I think the British had come to the conclusion that if they were to rule India, the only basis on which they would rule was the maintenance of the British Army. The Red Fort Trials demolished that belief."
Subhash Chandra Bose drove out the British… though not in a way he had planned
Netaji's Azad Hind Fauj, lost militarily to the British, but in so doing it released a spirit of fear that would haunt the British till the day they left Indian shores forever. It was the fear of their vulnerability which became a reality the day British Indian soldiers drew inspiration from the patriotism, the selflessness and the sacrifices of their comrades in the Indian National Army.
Clement Richard Attlee was the man, who as leader of the Labour Party and British Prime Minister between 1945 and 1951, signed off on the decision to grant Independence to India.
Clement Richard Attlee on the eve of his Labour Party’s victory at the polls in 1945
Clement Attlee, visited India in 1956. During that visit he was hosted at the stately Governor's palace in Kolkata for 2 days. PB Chakraborty was at that time the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court and was also serving as the acting Governor of West Bengal. In those 2 days he had a detailed discussion with Attlee on the real reason the British left India.
Chakraborty 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 Chakraborty says.
That's not all. Chakraborty 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!"
British revenge on Subhas Chandra Bose for his Patriotism… and the Mutinies
The one art colonial Britain had mastered was to exact revenge on a colony that would no longer bear the burden of serfdom. The partition of India is one such example. But, the mutinies triggered by Netaji's Indian National Army had created such a debilitating impact on the psyche of the British rulers that they wanted to forever exorcise the spirit of Subhas Chandra Bose.
British politicians persuaded Nehru to make arrangements to have Netaji treated as a war criminal, who would no longer have a public life nor the freedom that a citizen of an independent nation is entitled to.
On 18 August, 1945 a Japanese plane carrying Netaji was reported to have crashed in Taihoku, Taiwan. It was reported that Netaji had died from third degree burns.
The myth of the plane crash lived on for quite a while, till questions began to be raised about the entire incident. Concrete evidence began to emerge that Netaji was not on that plane, and even that such a crash had never taken place.
Then what happened to Subhas Chandra Bose?
The one theory that has gained some credibility in recent times is that Netaji went into self-exile to a world power that would be friendly to him. He saw very clearly, that upon his return to India, Nehru would brand him a war criminal and his fate would be sealed.
On a side note, under the Narendra Modi government, documents have surfaced that provide solid evidence as to how Nehru used India's counter intelligence agency, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to spy on Netaji's family and relatives in Kolkata for almost 20 years. Apart from intercepting and copying letters written by Bose's family members, the agency shadowed them on their domestic and foreign travels. IB seemed especially keen to know who all the Bose family members met and what they discussed. Some of this information, Nehru even shared with the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 as well.
Such was the collective fear psychosis or paranoia that Nehru and the British shared on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. In terms of the language used in today’s world… Netaji would be on Nehru and Britain’s “Most Wanted” list.
Even under the Narendra Modi government, there has been a stoic silence on disclosing the name of that nation. Indian diplomatic sources familiar with the now unclassified papers reveal that a disclosure would cause irreparable damage to India's friendly relations with that country.
India’s Hindutsan Times published a story 'Bose was in Russia' on March 4, 2001.
With the disintegration of the plane crash theory, it is now being believed that the Japanese had manufactured that fake news to allow for Netaji's escape to the Soviet Union, where he remained in exile for a considerable number of years.
A document retrieved from India's National Archives reveals that the British were orchestrating Netaji's arrest and his trial as a war criminal outside of India. This document is dated 11 August, 1945. Exactly 7 days later, the Japanese faked Netaji's death in the plane crash. It is not too hard to connect the dots.
After Nehru's death, when Indira Gandhi (Nehru's daughter) became India's Prime Minister, Netaji was allowed to return to India on the condition that he would live the rest of his life in India as a recluse, completely hidden from the public eye. He would also not be allowed to establish any contacts with his family in Kolkata.
Ignorance is Bliss…
Every year on 15 August, on the occasion of India's Independence Day, children in India listen to the familiar Hindi song as it blares on loudspeakers across towns and cities - "De di Hamein Azadi bina Kharag Bina Dhaal, Sabarmati ke Sant tune kar diya kamaal". It is an ode to Mahatma Gandhi which translates as "You gave us our freedom without a sword or a shield, O saint of the Sabarmati monastery, you created a miracle!".
It is a blissful song with a patriotic feel good factor that powerfully drives the brand of Gandhi into the Indian psyche, but it is not the truth.
The Indian nation worships the memory of Gandhi at a memorial named "Raj Ghat" built for him in New Delhi. Important foreign dignitaries pay their respects to Gandhi at Raj Ghat, when they visit India.
Compared to Gandhi’s Raj Ghat, there is no national memorial for Netaji in India.
Today, hardly any Indian knows for sure how long he had lived, when did he die, where and how?