Unraveling History: Did the Congress Truly Hold the Key to India’s Independence?
Today, we are celebrating the 76th Independence Day. As expected, many handles belonging to the Congress and its supporters are highlighting how the Congress fought for India’s independence and ‘reminiscing’ about the progress made by India during the Congress years.
As a young kid, I remember sitting in history class, hearing great stories of the non-violent freedom struggle. I remember sitting and admiring how Gandhi and the Indian National Congress pushed the mighty British Empire out of India. Did the British leave India because of the non-violent struggle, which they could have easily suppressed? The answer is an emphatic NO!
Alongside India’s independence, the British also granted independence to various other countries in the region, such as Sri Lanka, Burma, Malaysia, and Singapore. Notably, there were no significant freedom movements in any of these countries. So, why did the British leave all these countries so hastily? Listed below are three main reasons.
Reason Number One: British Economic Woes after World War 2
Let’s remember that the British East India Company came to India with a simple objective: to loot India. This looting was highly successful in the early years, especially from the mid-1800s until the early 1900s. The high point of this exploitation was when the British East India Company’s remittances back to the UK reached about 24% of its annual revenue of 56 million Pounds. However, this scenario changed drastically after World War 2, and by 1945, it became clear that Britain would have to spend over 1,400 million pounds annually to maintain the empire. This was unsustainable, and the UK was expected to go bankrupt if they decided to stay in India. To put it simply, the UK just did not have the resources to continue holding onto power in India after the Second World War.
Reason Number Two: Subhash Chandra Bose, INA and the British Indian Army
While we’ve learned about Subhash Chandra Bose’s greatness, we haven’t really been taught how this one man and his determination shook the empire so profoundly. As we know, Bose and the INA were allied with Japan. These forces successfully defeated the British Indian forces and captured Singapore in 1942. However, what happened next changed the overall perception of the British about retaining power in the subcontinent. So, what happened? Thousands of captured Indian soldiers switched sides and joined the INA. This was an eyeopener for the British, as they realized that they could no longer run the empire by trusting the Indians in the army to suppress the rest of the nation. The only way they could hold on to power was by reinforcing British troops in India, which was unviable.
Reason Number Three: Mutinies of 1946
How many of us have heard of the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946 or the Jabalpur Army Mutiny of 1946? The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny began on February 18th, 1946, and involved 20,000 sailors, 78 ships, and several ship and shore establishments. These sailors were greatly inspired by the INA and Subhash Chandra Bose. The British establishment lost control of the navy within just 48 hours. This mutiny received overwhelming support from the public. On February 22nd, Bombay came to a standstill in a show of support for the sailors involved in the mutiny. The British establishment was terrified. However, the leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League denounced this mutiny. The revolt ended after negotiations between Sardar Patel and M. S. Khan, President of the Naval Central Strike Committee (NCSC). It was assured that no one would be punished. The mutiny made the British realize that they could no longer rely on Indians to obey their commands. The revolt could very well be called the final nail in the coffin of the British Empire.
Do you still believe it was Congress that got us our freedom?
In a letter sent by Chief Justice P.B. Chakraborthy to the publisher of Dr. RC Majumdar’s book ‘A History of Bengal,’ the CJ narrates an interesting conversation he had with Lord Clement Atlee, the British PM who granted India her freedom. During the conversation, Atlee listed various reasons for their decision to leave India, such as the erosion of loyalty among the armed forces and the impact of Bose and the INA.
The Chief Justice straightforwardly asked Atlee about the impact of the 1942 Quit India movement on the British decision to depart from India in 1947, five years later. In response, Atlee offered a sarcastic smile and indicated that the influence was ‘minimal.’
Sources: ‘Nehru’s 97 Major Blunders’ by Rajnikant Pauranik, ‘Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946’ by John M. Meyer