Recently two of our freedom fighters have been much in the news. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Babasaheb Ambedkar. This is a refreshing change from the usual Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru which we keep hearing non-stop. Even have most of the government schemes named after these two leaders.
One interesting article appeared titled “Bose, Not Gandhi, Ended British Rule In India: Ambedkar”. While this is spot on, we don’t need Ambedkar to tell us this and we can check in the history books for ourselves.
Gandhi launched his Satyagraha and then we had the Purna Swaraj declaration in 1930 and the Quit India movement in 1942. What was the effect? It hardly created a ripple for the British Empire and Winston Churchill (British Prime Minister from 1940-45) has gone on record many times saying that he would never ever give Independence to India.
India was the crown jewel and many officials had made it clear that they would never leave India. They were happy with Gandhi’s non-violence and happy to make him an icon without giving him any concrete assurances of Independence.
However the Bose affair did leave them quite rattled. The Indian National Army was no small unit and boasted of more than 40,000 soldiers. They were adept in guerrilla warfare and any empire is always wary of such a threat.
They took part in battles in India and Burma and when they were defeated, the British heaved a huge sigh of relief. However they decided to totally crush the INA and that backfired bigtime. In the 1945 Red Fort trials, INA officers like Major General Shah Nawaz Khan, Colonel Prem Sahgal and Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon were court-martialled.
Despite Gandhi being in charge of India’s freedom struggle and Bose going missing, there was a great wave of sympathy in India for the INA officers. This culminated in the infamous Bombay Mutiny.
Sailors from the Royal Indian Navy in Bombay went on strike in February 1946 protesting the INA trials. To make matters worse, the mutiny spread to Calcutta and Karachi. In all more than 20,000 sailors from close to 80 ships participated in the mutiny.
The British panicked and used the British Royal Navy to counter-attack leaving 7 dead. However this scarred the psyche of the British Empire and they knew that there was no way in which they could take on the combined might of the Indian defence forces if all of them decided to revolt.
The popular ground report was that the British could no longer hold on to India and Clement Attlee (who had succeeded Churchill as PM) concurred.
While the INA trials finally concluded in May 1946, the British decided to make a run for it. In fact they were just out of India in 14 months. This sudden capitulation took everyone by surprise but followers of Bose always maintained that it was because of him.
In fact recently one of Netaji’s relatives said on TV that Lord Mountbatten admitted in a personal interview that the abrupt departure of the British was because of Netaji. It is also to be noted that there was no leader of Bombay Mutiny and in fact it was condemned soundly by Gandhi!
But in a way it was poetic justice. What was begun by the sepoys in the Rebellion of 1857 was ended by the naval sailors of 1946! How this parallel is not discussed in history books more often is a mystery to me!
In this light it makes sense that Nehru kept Bose’s family on surveillance. Nehru was quite street smart and realized that the man who kicked out the British Empire from India could well defeat Nehru in an election—such was his charisma and popularity.
While Egypt got its Independence as early as 1922, Apartheid lasted in South Africa as late as 1994. Without Netaji it is arguable but conceivable that we may have been fighting for our Independence well into our 1950s and 1960s.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak kept the flame of Indian Independence alive till 1920. Gandhi dominated in the 1930s and 1940s. However the 1940s clearly belonged to Netaji and it was he (his INA and the Indian sailors) who gave the knockout punch to the British Empire.
No amount of whitewashing by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and their cronies can change that fact!
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here