Netaji, not Gandhiji drove British away. Ambedkar would have agreed

Anuj Dhar
Anuj DharApr 14, 2016 | 19:06

Netaji, not Gandhiji drove British away. Ambedkar would have agreed

Even as it kicks off nation-wide celebrations to mark the 125th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the Indian establishment would find his views on how India attained freedom an anathema to their worldview.

The official narrative on how the colonial rule came to an end in 1947 was summed up succinctly in a 1954 Bollywood ditty that continues to be a megahit till date.

De di humein azadi bina khadag bina dhal. Sabarmati ke sant tune kar diya kamaal.

That Independence came about solely or largely because of the non-violence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi is a point of view which is in direct confrontation with the considered opinion of Ambedkar.

If you think a spin is being put on some statement made by Ambedkar in a different context altogether, you can yourself hear his unambiguous words - crisp and clear.

There is no room for any misinterpretation or spin. No need to bother an eminent historian to break it down in plain language for us. Ambedkar did the plain-speaking himself. The BBC was good enough to record it for posterity.

The trial of Bose's men at Red Fort boosted the nationalist fervour, setting aside the Hindu-Muslim divide.  

To the countless brainwashed by a fantasy interpretation of history to suit political realities, Ambedkar's words would come as a jolt. Pay attention to each of them.

"I don't know how Mr Attlee suddenly agreed to give India Independence," wonders Ambedkar during an interview with British journalist Francis Watson in February 1955.

The man Ambedkar was referring to had, as the British prime minister of the day, decided to set India free. Sir Clement Attlee knew better than anyone else, unless one considers some historian to be an oracle.

"That is a secret that he will disclose in his autobiography. None expected that he would do that," Ambedkar continues with a tinge of astonishment.

And barely two months after Ambedkar passed away in August 1956, Attlee let that secret out in a private chat with the acting governor of West Bengal, the chief justice of Calcutta High Court at that time. That revelation is now an open secret, which the Indian government is loath to accept for political and diplomatic reasons, having put all its resources over the decades in building up Brand Gandhi and propagating about the miracle of ahimsa.

Two decades after Attlee had got it off his chest, Justice PB Chakravarty mustered courage to go public with the details of that eventful dinner talk in the sprawling governor's mansion in Kolkata.

"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 have to leave?

"In his reply Attlee cited several reasons, the main 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 Subhas Chandra Bose.

"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'!"

You might shrug this off as a rhetorical exaggeration by a Bengali, but Ambedkar would not have been surprised by Attlee's admission. He had told Watson in February 1955 that from his "own analysis" he had concluded what prompted Attlee to take this momentous decision to set India free after Great Britain had emerged victorious in the Second World War.

In the words of Ambedkar:

"The national army that was raised by Subhas 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 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."

Listen to it yourself. 

Ever since Ambedkar said this in 1956, a number of records and testimonials - some of which are linked to the Raj era's top officials - have become available in support of his contention.

The fact of the matter is that it was the "failed" Indian National Army (INA) military onslaught and the Red Fort trials of 1945-'46, and not the "peaceful" Quit India movement which majorly impacted the British decision to quit India. The colonial rulers were wise enough to read the writing on the wall after putting the INA men on trial at the Red Fort.

Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, the then Viceroy of India, received a letter from the United Province chief in November 1945. It read that "handwritten leaflets are said to have been found in a hotel that if any INA soldier were killed, Britishers would be murdered. These may be rather petty matters, but they do show which way the wind is blowing".

To appreciate the importance of these words in those days, read them in the context of the prevalent Gandhian tactics of offering the cheek after one had been boxed in the ears.

Intelligence Bureau director Sir Norman Smith noted in a secret report of November 1945, which was declassified in the 1970s: "The situation in respect of the Indian National Army is one which warrants disquiet. There has seldom been a matter which has attracted so much Indian public interest and, it is safe to say, sympathy... the threat to the security of the Indian Army is one which it would be unwise to ignore."

The trial of Bose's men boosted the nationalist fervour to such a level that, for once, the communal divide between the Hindus and the Muslims was set aside.

The New York Times reported on 17 February 1946:

"In spite of the uncompromising struggle between the two factions last week, for the first time since 1921, Moslems and Hindus together staged street protests and riot against the British in Calcutta, Bombay and New Delhi. The catalytic agent in this case was the Indian National Army, organised by a Japanese collaborator named Subhas Chandra Bose..."

In fact, on 12 February 1946, commander-in-chief of the Indian Army, Sir Claude Auchinleck, was forced to explain to his top military commanders through a "Strictly Personal and Secret" letter the reasons the military had to let the INA "war criminals" and "traitors" go off the hook:

"Having considered all the evidence and appreciated to the best of my ability the general trend of Indian public opinion, and of the feeling in the Indian Army, I have no doubt at all that to have confirmed the sentence of imprisonment solely on the charge of 'waging war against the king' would have had disastrous results, in that it would have probably precipitated a violent outbreak throughout the country, and have created active and widespread disaffection in the Army, especially amongst the Indian officers and the more highly educated rank and file."

Explaining all this lucidly in 1964 was British historian Michael Edwardes. He wrote in his book The Last Years of British India: "It slowly dawned upon the government of India that the backbone of the British rule, the Indian Army, might now no longer be trustworthy. The ghost of Subhas Bose, like Hamlet's father, walked the battlements of the Red Fort (where the INA soldiers were being tried), and his suddenly amplified figure overawed the conference that was to lead to Independence."

Some 30 years after Independence, Lt Gen SK Sinha came out with another inside story in an op-ed article in a newspaper. I understand he still stands by his views. As a young captain along with Lt Colonel Sam Manekshaw and Major Yahya Khan, the would-be Assam and Jammu and Kashmir governor was the only other native posted in the hitherto exclusive British Directorate of Military Operations in 1946.

"The real impact of the INA was felt more after the war than during the war," Sinha agreed, adding: "There was considerable sympathy for the INA within the Army... I am convinced that well over 90 per cent of officers at that time felt along those lines.

"In 1946, I accidentally came across a very interesting document... prepared by the director of military intelligence. It was classified document marked 'Top Secret. Not for Indian Eyes'... The paper referred to the INA, the mutinies at Bombay and Jabalpur and also to the 'adverse' effect on the Indian officers and men of the humiliating defeats inflicted by the Japanese on the white nations in the early days of the war. The conclusion reached was that the Indian Army could no longer be relied upon to remain a loyal instrument for maintaining British rule over India."

That's that, but doesn't all of this leave out a vital aspect? Isn't it equally true that the Congress leaders were the ones to build up the nationalist fervour in the favour of the INA?

As he defended Congress government's arbitrary (I consider it sinful) rejection of the Mukherjee Commission report about Bose's fate in 2006, then Union home minister Shivraj Patil proclaimed in Parliament that former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had "donned the black coat and gown and went to the Red Fort to defend" the INA men.

Unfortunately for Patil, his ministry had failed to update him on facts.

Thanks to records declassified by the UK government in the 1970s, we now have an inside view of why Congress leaders came around to backing Netaji's INA, even though violence had no place in their world.

Take for example a damning secret report Brigadier TW Boyace of Military Intelligence sent to the secretary of state for India in London on October 23, 1945. To understand the Congress gameplan, the Military Intelligence had used one of their moles.

Capt Hari Badhwar had first joined the INA, then switched sides and finally gave evidence against the INA men during the Red Fort trials. Sourcing his information to Asaf Ali, a leading Congress Working Committee member, Capt Badhwar reported that before taking a stand on the INA issue, the Congress high command had sent Ali out on a recce mission to gauge the public feeling.

Ali travelled across India and discovered that people were overwhelmingly in support of the INA. "This inflamed feeling forced Congress to take the line it did," Badhwar told his handler. In his free-wheeling talks with Badhwar, Ali offered the information that "Congress leaders had realised that those who joined the INA were far from innocent," and that's why Nehru always made it a point to refer to them as "misguided men", even in his public speeches. Ali was positive that as and when Congress came to power, they "would have no hesitation in removing all INA (men) from the Services".

Badhwar, who would have led a comfortable life in free India as a General, then asked Ali why couldn't the Congress "repudiate their championship of the INA" when they knew "the true facts". Ali replied that "they dare not take this line as they would lose much ground in the country".

Boyace's comment for the secretary of state was: "In other words, the present (Congress) policy (to back the INA) is one of political expediency."

Last updated: April 14, 2016 | 21:10
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