Indian National Congress
(This is a reprint from NewsBred)
While India celebrates its Navy Day (December 4), let’s do a remembrance to The Royal Indian Navy (RIN) Mutiny of 1946 which left colonial masters Britain with no choice but to leave India.
That there is little mention of this momentous event in Indian historiography is a striking indictment of establishment run by Congress who had betrayed this spectacular mass uprising in that heady week of February (18-23).
British Prime Minister Clement Attlee accepted three weeks later that “the tide of nationalism is running very fast in India.” Britain had always feared united mass movements in India and RIN Mutiny was one such where Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Parsees had come under one banner. Indian masses came out on streets in support and hundreds spilled their blood on the street.
Salman Rushdie’s 1995 novel The Moor’s Last Sigh describes these momentous events on the streets of Bombay, through one of its character, thus:
“In February 1946, when Bombay, that super epic motion picture of a city, was transformed overnight into a motionless tableau by the great naval and landlubber strikes, when ships did not sail, steel was not milled, textile mills neither warped nor woofed, and in the movie studios there was neither turnover nor cut—the 21-year-old Aurora began to zoom around the paralyzed towns in his curtained Buick, directing her driver Hanuman to the heart of the act, or rather of all that great inaction, being set down outside factory gates and dockyards, venturing alone into the slum city of Dharavi, the rum-dens of Dhobi Talao, and the neon flesh pots of Falkland Road, armed only with a folding wooden stool and a sketchbook.
“Opening them both up, she set about capturing history in charcoal.”
Remember your history books and historians, your glorified political leaders and their progenies, all your Independence and Republic Day celebrations and after you’ve read of this great betrayal, don’t muffle but air-rend your full-throated cry which sends shockwave through this land of ours and warn these enemies “Not now and never again.”
And tell your children: “you would read history as it happened and not as it was doctored to us.”
The World War II had caused RIN to expand massively. It was 10 times larger than in 1939. Young men were enlisted in tens of thousands. Moving around the world, they could see the fire of nationalism against colonialism sweeping around the world. As these young men were hailed as liberators in Greece, Burma, Indo-China, Indonesia, Italy. It was logical they asked themselves: Why not India be free now?
The myth of British supremacy was receding. These young men could see how European forces were wilting across Asia under the Japanese aggression. The Indian National Army (INA) of Subhas Chandra Bose had captured their imagination. The trials of those arrested brethrens and their humiliation had filled the natives in armed forces and on streets with revulsion and anger.
In January 1946, the airmen of Royal Air Force mutinied as a harbinger to the eventually bigger revolt. They seized the signaling equipment and spread their message to other servicemen. From Karachi, the agitation spread to places as far as Kanpur to Singapore. The navymen were demanding delisting from the services. They were unwilling for fresh battles in Indonesia on behalf of the Dutch government as well as war in Vietnam, then under the rule of the French colonial government. The hands of British government were forced.
Meanwhile, trials of INA officers were on at the Red Fort. A young naval Rating (enlisted officer), Balai Chandra Dutt, posted on HMIS Talwar in Bombay, began painting the ships and dockyard walls with messages in its support. HMIS Talwar had 1500 officers and ratings and was the second largest training center in the whole British Empire. In the recollections, titled “Mutiny of the Innocent”, the mutineers detailed the squalor on board, the poor quality of food and the racism of British officers.
The mutineers first took out peaceful processions in Bombay, holding an image of Subhas Bose aloft. Chief Commanding Officer (CO) King called the rebellious “you son of bitches” and “sons of bloody junglees.” Rebels responded by deflating his car. The events of dockyards in Mumbai spread like a wildfire across the country. Ratings set up a INA Relief Fund and posted letters against CO King. On February 17, when the ratings again pressed their demand for good food, British officers called them “beggars.” This was the last straw.
On February 18th morning, 1500 ratings staged a protest in the mess. They also declared: “This is not a mere food riot. We are about the create history…a heritage of pride for free India.” A Naval Central Strike Committee (NCSC) was formed which decided to take over the RIN and place it in the command of national leaders. (That’s right!, they wanted India’s political class to be their guide and guardians).
The formal list of demands called for release of INA’s POWs and naval detainees, withdrawal of troops from Indonesia and Egypt, equal status of pay and allowances and quality Indian food. It also formally asked the British to quit India.
The strike soon spread to other naval establishments around the country. At its peak, 78 ships, 20 shore establishments an 20,000 ratings were involved in the uprising. HMS Talwar was coordinating the mutiny through signal communication equipment on its board.
Indian Naval personnel now began offering left-handed salutes to British officers. The orders of British superiors were ignored or defied. In Madras and Poona, the British garrisons faced unrest by the Indian Army. Widespread rioting began from Karachi to Calcutta. The joint banners of INA, Indian National Congress, Muslim League and Communist Party of India were hoisted on board HMIS Talwar.
Sadly, instead of support, the Indian National Congress condemned their actions. Mahatma Gandhi criticized the mutineers for revolting without any guidance from a political party. The Muslim League too denounced the mutineers, arguing that protests should be through constitutional methods alone.
Sensing that the political leaders were not supporting the uprising, the British government moved in for the kill. Admiral Godfrey tricked NCSC into returning to their respective ships and barracks. Within an hour, Godfrey had the army surround these barracks. Realizing they had been betrayed, NCSC got ready for open battle The NCSC appealed: “You, our people and our respected political leaders come to our aid…you must support us.”
But the political leaders could sense the dilution of their political authority in this mutiny. Never one consisting of mass leaders and made up mostly of elites, these political leaders had always been uncomfortable in face of a mass uprising. The Congress asked the people “to go about their work as usual.”
But the masses were now ready to defy their political leaders. Thousands of civilians brought milk, fruits, bread, vegetables and cooked food for the starving ratings to the Gateway of India. The ratings came by motorboats to collect the offerings. Hindu, Muslim and Iranian shops opened their eateries and asked the masses to take whatever they could for the suffering ratings. The Indian soldiers on duty didn’t stop them.
The city of Bombay went on strike on February 22. The public transport system was shut down; trains were burnt; roads were blocked; shops were closed. Eleven military trucks were torced. The city came to a grinding halt.
With no assistance from either the Congress or the Muslim League, the mutineers were doomed. British army and air bombers began closing in. At this stage, Congress assured the mutineers their grievances would be looked into. That they won’t be victimized. Jinnah asked the Muslim ratings to surrender. That sealed the fate of the mutiny.
Meanwhile, Bombay continued to burn the next day, February 23. The army responded with indiscriminate firing. In just two days, 229 civilians and 3 policemen had died. Over 1000 people and 91 policemen/soldiers had been injured.
The ratings were court-martialled. More than 500 ratings were kept in Mulund (Bombay) and in Maliar (Karachi) in abominable conditions. They were dismissed and later sent home. Only in 1973 did the Indian government recognized a few as freedom fighters. Most claims for pensions were not responded to. Only in the 1990s, two of the navy’s tugboats were named after BC Dutt and Madan Singh.
In 2001, the uprising was commemorated with a statue in Colaba—a recognition which came more than half a century late!!!
Such is the story of great betrayal of Royal Naval Mutiny of 1946 by India’s political leaders. When 100s of ratings suffered in Mulund camp, nobody spoke up for them.
It’s time we pay our respect and homage to those braves who concluded their mutiny with the words: “Our strike has been a historic event in the life of our nation. For the first time the blood of men in the Services and in the streets flowed together in a common cause. We in the Services will never forget this. We know also that you, our brothers and sisters, will not forget. Long live our great people. Jai Hind.”
We would never forget it: And repeat this great event of bravery to our children.
Time to take a vow.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
The popular history has Indian National Congress-Mahatma Gandhi-Ahimsa-Independence as a sequential thread embedded in the mind of free Indians. The disruptive truth of 1905-1920 is hardly in circulation; the parallel flow of revolutionaries beginning with Lal-Bal-Pal and extending till Subhas Chandra Bose are like distant relatives we haven’t been keeping in touch with.
Between 1905-1920, India buzzed with the cry of Purna Swaraj, Swadeshi, boycott and the educational reforms. The triumvirate of Lala Lajpati Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal shook the conscience of the masses with oratory, vision and action. The Moderates, who had controlled the levers of Congress from its inception since 1885, became a side story in people’s mind for this decade and a half.
The years 1905-1920 are not just about Congress in modern India; these are years where you could trace back the roots of Muslim appeasement and the horrors of the Partition.
The birth anniversary of Bipin Chandra Pal (November 7, 1858) affords us an occasion to view these times through the prism of this man who for his magnificent oratory was called the “Burke of India” and whom Sri Aurobindo was apt to refer as one of the “Mightiest Prophets of Nationalism.” His wealthy background in his birthplace Sylhet (now in Bangladesh); the remarkable pen he wielded as an editor and author; and his commitment for improving the lot of women—Pal married widows twice—pale in significance to his role in India’s freedom struggle, beginning 1905.
This catalyst of a year was when Bengal was partitioned between commercially rich but largely Hindu West Bengal and economically weak and largely Muslim East Bengal. British clearly had Hindu-Muslim divide in mind as Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, wrote in a letter to the then Secretary of State for India, St. John Brodrick on February 2, 1905:
“Calcutta is the centre from which the Congress party is manipulated throughout the whole of Bengal; and indeed the whole of India. Its best wire-pullers and its most frothy orators all reside here. The perfection of their machinery…are truly remarkable.” Curzon further wrote in the letter that if Bengal was divided, it would dethrone Calcutta “from its place as the center of successful intrigue.” Curzon assured the secretary that Indians “always howl until a thing is settled; then they accept it.” (1)
Pal, along with Lalaji and Tilak, was instrumental in ensuring ruling British didn’t meet with their objective and were forced to reunite Bengal only six years later in 1911. He travelled around the country and unleashed a wave of resistance from the masses with his subliminal oratory. Boycott wasn’t limited to British goods alone; it extended to even British public institutions. Groups and committees, gatherings and demonstrations, mass pamphleteering and rousing speeches had the country inflamed. The more British tried to repress the wave; the more it gained in intensity. Its froth extended to expressions in culture, literature and science. Rabindranath Tagore wrote Banglar Mati Banglar Jolas, a rallying cry to advocates of annulment of Bengal Partition. (2)
The fervour of this national response evoked anxiety and not a little envy from the Moderates who still controlled the Congress and who had believed all along in the philosophy of “prayers, petitions and protests.” Most of the Moderates were on good terms with the high-ranking British officials in 1905 and had also held cushioned jobs.
Six months after the Bengal Partition, The Congress session was held in Banares in December 1905. The division between Moderates and Extremists was out in the open. The Extremists wanted the visit of Prince of Wales to be boycotted in protest to the Partition; the Moderates opposed this move. Moderates invited one of staunchest in its ranks, Dadabhai Naoroji, a founder of Congress, a former MP in British Parliament and then living in England, to come and preside over the session in 1906. However, Extremists prevailed in the session and “Swaraj” was declared the aim of the Congress (against the wishes of Moderates who still preferred Constitutional reforms).
The Surat Session in 1907 was a monumental moment for Congress and India’s future. Moderates stood in opposition to Purna Swaraj and Swadeshi; Bal Gangadhar Tilak was not even allowed to speak by none other than Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya. The Extremists thereafter were debarred and ruling British moved in for the kill. (3)
British unleashed a brutal crackdown on the Extremists. Their newspaper was closed; Tilak was banished to Mandalay Jail for six years; Pal was arrested for not giving evidence against Sri Aurobindo and compelled to opt out to England between 1908-1911. British followed up this measure by snuggling up to Muslims and the Moderates and took the wind out of India’s resistance.
Pal returned to Congress in 1916 but by then the stage was set for the advent of Mahatma Gandhi on another moderate Gopalkrishna Gokhale’s invitation. Gandhi’s subsequent movement of non-cooperation, as an allied action to Khilafat Movement, was seen as fanning the Pan-Islamism, and introducing the religious element in India’s politics by the likes of Pal. Khilafat Movement, to the uninitiated, was launched by Muslims in support of restoration of Ottoman Sultan in faraway Turkey, fully backed by Gandhi and Congress in a bid to promote Hindu-Muslim Unity.
The envisioned unity was a pipe-dream and start of Muslim appeasements by Gandhi-led Congress. It fanned the ambition of Mohammad Ali Jinnah for a separate Muslim state. The resultant Partition and rivers of blood which flowed in its wake still carries scars and repercussions for India’s future. As for the British, they were all too happy to introduce “separate electorates” and fan the communal divide between Hindu and Muslims.
Pal turned his back on Congress but not before he made a scathing attack on Gandhi in the 1921 session. “You wanted magic. I tried to give you logic. But logic is in bad odor when the popular mind is excited. You wanted mantaram, I am not a Rishi and cannot give mantaram…I have never spoken a half-truth when I know the truth…I have never tried to lead people in faith blind-folded.” He was critical of Gandhi for his “priestly, pontificating tendencies.” Comparing Gandhi with Leo Tolstoy, Pal noted that Tolstoy “was an honest philosophical anarchist,” while Gandhi to him was a “papal autocrat.” (4)
Pal, who kept out of public life between 1921-1932, died in a state of penury.
Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s death which falls on Friday (June 23, 1953), and which Atal Bihari Vajpayee termed as “Nehru Conspiracy” , was as turbulent as his heroic life.
The founder of Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), the precursor to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Dr. Mookerjee had been arrested and kept without medical care in degrading conditions for over a month in Srinagar in May-June 1953 by the Sheikh Abdullah’s J & K government,
Despite his known heart condition which the rarified air of Kashmir didn’t help, Dr. Mookerjee was finally offered the care of a hospital just a couple of days before his death—shifted in a small jeep instead of an ambulance and kept in a gynaecology ward, according to present BJP president Amit Shah–and administered penicillin injection despite his protestations that he was allergic to it, as BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra asserted in a TV show, citing evidence of an eyewitness.
Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru refused to entertain a written appeal of Dr. Mookerjee’s mother for an impartial inquiry as she believed her son’s death was a murder as the family members hadn’t been allowed to meet him during his long confinement—nor his two companions allowed to visit him—apparently illegal for it was done without a formal, legal trial.
Dr. Mookerjee had decided to take on the prevailing political situation in Kashmir where the state not only had its own constitution, it’s own flag but even it’s own Prime Minister (Sheikh Abdullah) whose permission was necessary for other citizens of the country to enter the state! Dr. Mookerjee’s war-cry that “Ek Desh Mein Do Vidhan, Do Pradhan aur Do Nishan Nahin Chalenge” (One nation can’t have two constitutions, two Prime Ministers and two Flags) would resonate for decades to come.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the future Prime Minister, who had partly accompanied Dr. Mookerjee in that fatal march to Srinagar as a journalist, insisted it was a conspiracy to let Dr. Mookerjee enter Srinagar so as he could then be incarcerated and dealt with severely. As Vajpayee was to recall: “later, we came to know that J & K government and Nehru government had entered into a conspiracy, as per which it was decided that Dr. Mookerjee would be allowed to enter J & K but not be allowed to leave.”
Dr. M.S. Gowalkar, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Nagpur, in a premonitory caution, had warned Dr. Mookerjee he was putting his life to risk.
The academicians and historians over the years have provided several clues to Nehru’s antipathy towards Dr. Mookerjee who was his colleague in independent India’s first cabinet as industry minister not long ago.
However, three years into his job as a Union minister, Dr. Mookherjee had resigned on April 8, 1950 against the Nehru-Liaqat Pact. In Indologist Dr. Koenraad Elst’s words, the Pact was an “unequal treaty in which Nehru promised Pakistani Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan not to interfere in the treatment of the minority Hindus across the border, even while the latter were suffering large-scale atrocities in East Bengal.” The Indian part of the Pact didn’t hold water as a stable communal cease-fire had descended on India after the day of Gandhi’s murder.
Dr. Mookerjee was often at crossroads with Indian National Congress (INC) during the Freedom Struggle, including Quit India Movement (1942), which he didn’t support along with the Hindu Mahasabha of which he was a part.
Critics cite it as proof of Dr. Mookerjee and Hindu Mahasabha’s corrosive role in India’s freedom struggle. However a contrary view is that Hindu Mahasabha suspected Congress to have a “Muslim-appeasement policy” with no regard to the concern and well-being of the Hindus. They believed Quit India Movement was no better than a vent to let out the frustrations of Indians and was as phoney as the “non-cooperation” and “civil disobedience” movement. None of these achieved their objectives and were fake movements.
Dr. Mookerjee’s role in the partition of Bengal into West Bengal and East Pakistan is glorious beyond words. When the Muslim League government of Bengal in 1946 had butchered and raped minority Hindus by several thousands during the “Great Calcutta Killings” and “Noakhali Riots” of a genocidal nature, Mookherjee had championed the cause of Bengal partition so as Hindus could be safe in West Bengal rather than be subjected to genocide in East Pakistan. The Bengal Muslim League and its leader Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy had earlier sought to create an un-partitioned, an independent Bengal state—which won’t be part of either Indiia or Pakistan!!!. Suhrawardy was conscious that with its coal mines and jute mills, as well as Calcutta and its mighty port, would all go to Hindu-majority West Bengal.
The calamity of great Bengal famine of 1943 which cost 38 lakh lives also saw Dr. Mookerjee at his best. He led the Relief Coordination Committee which set up 5000 relief kitchens for famine-stricken people. He had then hit out at Food Minister of Bengal, Suharawardy, and his business friend Ispahani, with these words: “Bengal has not seen greater acts of official crime in its long history.”
Dr. Mookerjee, born on July 6, 1901, was also an illustrious scholar and became vice-chancellor of Calcutta University at the age of 33, like his father Ashutosh Mookerjee once was. Dr. Mookerjee was part of Congress and a member of the Bengal legislative assembly in 20s and 30s. Disillusioned by Congress and its policies against Hindus, he had joined the Hindu Mahasabha in 1939.
Dr. Mookerjee’s speech at Banaras Hindu University in 1940 is still relevant today:
“If I have understood the history of my country alright, a pacifism that refuses to take up arms against injustice and makes one a passive spectator of oppression and aggression, does not represent the real teaching of India…
“Disruptive forces are at work within the country itself…A divided India was always a prey to the foreign invader from the days of Alexander and Mahmud of Ghazni to those of Vasco de Gama, Dupleix and Clive.
“There is much disharmony and disunity in India today. Communal differences have taken such an acute turn that fanatic claims for the vivisection of our Motherland are widely asserted.”
These words ring a bell even today.