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“We have seen that no non-violent struggle conducted in the course of the freedom struggle had achieved its objective. In 1921, the non-cooperation movement was withdrawn before it was started by Mohandas Gandhi. In 1930 the Civil Disobedience Movement was withdrawn without achieving its limited objective. In 1932, the Civil Disobedience Movement was suspended at Gandhi’s instance and was never revived. In 1941 individual satyagraha for the right of freedom of speech ended in six months without achieving its aim. The 1942 countrywide struggle for freedom was never started by Gandhi.
How is it then that the British Government transferred power to the Congress and Muslim League leaders in 1947?
For an answer to this question, one must look into the countrywide upsurge in which military personnel also participated en masse, as anticipated by the communists at the end of the war.
First, there was the trial of the Indian National Army. Consequent to the surrender of Japan, the Government arrested the sepoys of the Indian National Army and started a trial on charges of attempting to overthrow the Government established by Law in the Red Fort at New Delhi.
The Communist Party of India gave a call for countrywide hartals and strikes. The call was responded to in cities, towns and in big villages. In Calcutta the hartals and strikes lasted a week and the people took to the streets demanding the unconditional release of the I.N.A. prisoners. The Government was forced to release them unconditionally.
When Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru set foot in Jammu and Kashmir, he was arrested by the Princely Raj. Immediately the Communist Party called for countrywide protest demonstrations. The Kashmir Government was forced to release him.
Next came the strikes of police personnel in many provinces, supported by the Communist Party. This was followed by strikes in military cantonments all over the country. The Indian soldiers and air force personnel left the barracks, and held massive rallies in nearby towns shouting slogans like `Down with British Government” `Down with Imperialism’ and `Inquilab Zindabad’.
From Kashmir to Travancore, the people of the princely states were fighting to end princely rule. The crowning event of these struggles was the strike by the navymen of the naval ship `Talwar’ stationed near Bombay on 19th February 1946. The British Union Jack was removed and in its place the Congress-League and Communist Party’s flags fluttered proudly.
The naval ship `Hindustan’ was ordered to proceed to Bombay to quell the revolt. On reaching Bombay, the navymen of `Hindustan’ refused to fire on their brothers. Then Admiral Godfrey through a radio broadcast ordered the navymen of `Talwar’ and `Hindustan’ to surrender within 24 hours, failing which, he said, `The entire might of the British Royal Navy would be used to crush the revolt; it does not matter if the entire Indian navy is destroyed in the proces.’
Sardar Patel, on behalf of the Congress, supported Admiral Godfrey and said, `Discipline in the Navy is of utmost importance and the men should obey the orders of the officers without questioning.’
The fighting navymen had formed a struggle committee which appealed to the Congress, Muslim League and the Communist Party to lend their support. The Communist Party appealed to the people all over the country to demonstrate in support of the struggle; demonstrations and strikes took place all over the country. In Karachi, Cochin, Madras, Calcutta and Chittagong, there was complete strike in all naval establishments.
Sardar Patel, on behalf of the Congress, issued an order to the working class of Bombay not to respond to the call of the Communist Party. The people ignored Sardar Patel’s call, struck work, observed hartal, demonstrated with the tri-colour flags of the Congress, the green flag of the Muslim League and the red flag of the Communist Party shouting slogans like `Hindus and Muslims Unite; down, down the British Government’, `Down with imperialism’, `Inquilab Zindabad’, etc.
Sardar Patel lamented in a statement that the Congress prestige was sinking. Troops manned by British soldiers were sent to Bombay to quell the demonstrators. They started shooting at unarmed demonstrators indiscriminately. Yet the demonstrations lasted for many days. The official statement of the Central Legislature was that 130 people were killed, which was a conservative estimate. No one knows how many died and how
many were wounded since most of the people were not taken to hospitals.
Gandhiji, who was quiet during the struggle, later issued a statement:
‘I can understand if there was unity from top to bottom in this struggle. Only the people at the lower levels were united. This will only lead the country into the hands of the rabble; I would prefer to die in the fire than to live for hundred and twenty five years.’
Four days after the naval revolt started, on the night of the 23rd February 1946, the British Cabinet held an emergency meeting and decided to transfer political power to the Congress and League leaders.
The British Prime Minister Attlee announced the decision the next day in the House of Commons. The former Prime Minister Churchill and his conservative colleagues bitterly opposed the decision. While replying to the debate, Prime Minister Attlee said:
“In the conditions prevailing in India today, old remedies are of no use. It is meaningless to talk about them now. The heat in 1946 is not the same as that of 1920 (non-cooperation movement), 1930 (first civil disobedience movement) or 1942 (when the Quit India resolution was passed). (Emphasis mine.)
“Nothing intensifies the national feelings and aspirations of a colonial people like a great war. Those who have had anything to do with the two wars, know what effect the 1914-18 a world war had on the feelings and aspirations of the Indian people. National waves which rise slowly or are accelerated during wartime. and rise very high after the war. During the war, they are controlled to some extent; but after the war, they break all shackles and rise very high. Today, in India, no, in the whole Asian continent, they are dashing against the stones and, rocks, breaking them to pieces. I have no doubt about it.
“India alone has to decide what its future will be and what its status will be in the world. I hope that India will decide to stay in the Commonwealth. Instead, if it decides to be an independent country, it is our duty to work for peaceful transfer of power in the interim period and make it easy. India has a right to he a sovereign independent country.”
Sir Stafford Cripps, intervening in the debate made the position crystal clear. He said:
“…The Indian Army in India is not obeying the British officers. We have recruited our workers for the war; they have been demobilised after the war. They are required to repair the factories damaged by Hitler’s bombers. Moreover, they want to join their kith and kin after five and a half years of separation. Their kith and kin also want to join them. In these conditions if we have to rule India for a long time, we have to keep a permanent British army for a long time in a vast country of four hundred millions. We have no such army….”
The countrywide opposition to British rule in which the Indian personnel of the three armies participated, crowned by the naval mutiny, was the direct cause of the decision to transfer power.
The Congress had nothing to do with the entire upsurge. These facts are obscured by Congressmen today. Subsequently, a cabinet mission arrived in India and held talks with both Congress and League leaders. It used the differences between the Congress and the Muslims; Lord Wavel was replaced as Viceroy by Lord Mountbatten, and an interim Government dominated by the Congress and the League was formed.
Riots were engineered between Hindus and Sikhs on the one hand, and Hindus and Muslims on the other. On August 15th, United India was divided into India and Pakistan, and power was tranferred to the Congress in India, and the League in Pakistan. India and Pakistan attained independence in the midst of the worst instance in history of mutual killing by two communities.”
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