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British left us 75 years ago. However, it was not a triumph of people’s liberation-I

By Harsh Thakor 

The British left us 75 years ago, with India now self-governed and politically independent.
However it was not a triumph of people’s liberation, with transfer of power not accomplished as a result of an anti-feudal and anti-imperialist revolution. The Congress then made all the oppressed classes subservient to their dictates proscribing “Non-Violence.’ Even after independence there was inadequate space to democratically organise and imperialist capital continued to penetrate India.
We can rekindle memories before 1947 of peasants creating a sea of turbulent strikes all over the nation challenging landlordism, Industrial workers threatening the social base of capitalism in many an industrial area and revolts in the ranks of the army.
In the garb of non-violence the Congress literally shut the lid on such resistance capitalising at many junctures. No doubt we must give Gandhi credit for reaching out to the most backward Indian masses to integrate them within the fold of the national Congress movement. He was similar to a Social reformer like Leo Tolstoy., embarrassing the British in junctures. However he always turned his back when a movement took mass revolutionary character The Naval ratings Strike of 1946 , the Garwhali revolt of 1938 , the suppression of Shaheed Bhagat Singh in launching protest against a bill outside the parliament house, the Warli revolt, The noncooperation movement of 1922.The Civil Disobedience Movement of 1932-33 ,Quit India Movement. of 1942,Calcutta Congress in 1928 when 20000 peasants sporadically rose up ,Tribal-peasant war led by Alluri Seetarmaju ,anti-feudal struggles in non cooperation movement in 1922 in Rajasthan, Alwar, UP, uprisings in Chiitagong, Sholapur and Peshawar are ample illustrations of this.
Gandhi at one stage blessed the Hindu Mahasabha and promoted Ram Mohan Malviya. He never pleaded for commutation of death sentence passed on Bhagat Sigh. In spite of an armed revolutionary secular organised resistance the Congress paved the path for the British policy of rule and divide. Clement Atlee when asked about role of M.K. Gandhi in Independence movement he replied "MINIMAL." It was imperative for the British to leave with their economy crumbling after the War, and not a victory of ‘non-violence.’
The Gandhi-Irwin pact put a halt to the boycott of British goods, seizure of civil disobedience, on the condition of releasing political prisoners. Gandhi issued a charter of suppression of the existing movement. which gave the ryots a blow, making it imperative for them to pay revenue to the collector.
The Government of India Act was long delayed conclusion of the Simon Commission and subsequent deliberations, which for all practical purposes, excluded Indians. It gave no effective powers to the elected ministers to transform the existing set up. It also did not live up to Irwin’s promise for India receiving dominion status. Voting rights were limited to 30 million adults, around 1/6th of the population. While the provinces under a new scheme of provincial autonomy were to be controlled by elected ministers who would control all the departments, the ministers themselves could be overruled by the Governor of the province, who possessed the power to take over and indefinitely run the administration of he province.
In Garhwali in 1938 Gandhi opposed Soldiers laying down their guns in disobeying an order to fire on their brethren, claiming they were betraying their duty.
During the ‘Dandi’ March in March 1930 in protest of Salt tax where the British were embarrassed in their very den, Gandhi relented from permitting the movement to take the path of non payment of revenue. In Gandhi influenced areas peasants turned turbulent confronting confiscation of their land like in Kheda, Rae Bareli, Hissar district in Punjab or Rohtak in Bihar, where militant struggles sparked, confronting money lenders and grain dealers., seizing their property and burning their account books.
Peasants struggles had sharpened considerably in Andhra Pradesh,Bihar and Orissa shaping into an anti-feudal form. Significant that the membership of the All India Kisan Sabha sprouted to half a million. The Congress were shaken with the peasantry ready to deliver a knockout punch to the rulers. Nehru himself addressed a 500000 strong peasant agitation in Lucknow to call of the struggle.
On August 8th 1942, the AICC passed the Quit India Resolution. By the 1940’s the peasant movement shaped like a Tsunami with outright rebellion in Bihar, Eastern U.P., Orissa, Karnataka, Midnapore in Bengal and Western Bihar. Parallel popular govt’s were set up in Satara, Midnapore and Talcher in Orissa, with none being organised by the Congress. The Congress also patronised the subsiding of the organised labour struggle, with strikes erupting in Kanpur, Ahmedabad, Amritsar, and Madras. It endorsed acts like the Trade Disputes Act that break the backbone of the labour movement.
In Madras presidency several police stations were destroyed and number of govt.buildings attacked. In Gujarat guerrilla type guerrilla activities took place. Almost all of Northern and Central Bihar was encompassed by peasant insurrection.57 army battalions and air attacks were deployed o restrain its growth. In Bengal, War councils were established in Kanthi and Tamluk.,with national govt formed in Tamluq on December 17th,1942.
In Maharashtra and adjoining areas guerrilla forces waged a heroic war in Satara,East Khandesh, Pune Kolaba, Broach, Belgaum, Surat and many parts of Vidharba. In Satara, a parallel govt. From disrupting Communication lines, burning govt buildings, confiscating rifles from the armed police and mass marches to capture centres of British power the movement crystallised into a full fledged guerrilla warfare. Parallel administration was created, with establishment of peoples courts, till Gandhi again gave a call to surrender to the British. Within jail walls Gandhi was busy writing letters disowning responsibility for he mass upsurge and condemning all violence. In formal letter on February 13th, 1945 it disclaimed responsibility for all rebellions. Gandhi relentlessly condemned secret conspiracy of all rebels, pleading their surrender.
Ironically the Communist Party of India adhered to Gandhi’s approach, opposing mass movement and mass strikes, and called on workers to speed up production for war effort, adulating Gandhi, Jinnah and Nehru. The Hindu Mahasabha acted as a virtual agent of the British in patronising rule and divide, and took no active participation in the struggles.
In 1946 the Congress condemned the Naval Ratings Strike where intensity of resistance sent shivers down the spine of the colonial rulers. Protests sprouted at textile mills, Railway workshops and city transport. In working classes of Parel and Deslisle Road the working class rose in flames. Crowds attacked 10 police outposts .9 banks, 10 post offices and 64 government grain shops. Regrettably on February 23rd the Naval Striking Committee surrendered. Gandhi was so enraged stating “A bad and unbecoming example for India. A Combination between Hindus and Muslims for the purpose of violent action is unholy. It will deliver India into the rabble. I would no live up to 125 o witness that combination and rather perish in the flames.”
At the time of surrender The Naval Ratings Committee issued a statement “We wish to inform the people of India and particularly the people of Mumbai that it has decided to call off the Strike. It has come to this decision after discussion with Sardar Vallabhai Patel, who has assured them that there was absolutely no victimisation of any o the strikers and that their just demands would be taken up by the authorities. A last word to our people: Our strike has been landmark event in the history of our nation. For the first time the blood of the men and the services and the people flowed together in a common cause.”
Still overall I do not classify Gandhi as pro-British and credit him with giving the Congress national character in creative manner, mobilising the most backward sections and instilling political consciousness within them.Gandhi’s actions permeated anti-imperialist feelings in 1919, 1920-21 and 1930-31, innovating new methods to create mass actions, even if it dissipated a revolutionary uprising.

Role of Business Groups

There was a polarisation amongst business groups, although both were friends of the Imperialist forces. The first led by Tatas remained openly loyal to the British. The second headed by Birla and containing the various chambers of Commerce gave support to the right wing of the Congress leadership.
A few days after the Lucknow Congress 21 leading Bombay businessman,issued what was proclaimed as the Bombay manifesto. It stated “We have no hesitation in declaring that we are unequivocally opposed to ideas of this kind being propagated, as in the present condition, of widespread economic misery in the country they are likely to find a ready though unthinking reception. We are convinced that it is a grave risk of the masses being misled by such doctrines into believing that all that is required for improvement of well being is total destruction of the present economic and social structure. The inculcation of such ideas into the minds o the unthinking millions of the country would lead to the situation into which institution of property and peaceful observation of religion would be jeopardised.”
Birla stood for amity between the British Rulers and the Congress. The capitalists made clear that they merely demanded self government and not complete independence. Before the declaration of the 1936 manifesto, for two years Birla embarked on establishing amity between the British officials and the Congress leadership. The manifesto itself united the Indian capitalists with the Congress leadership to plot against the people’s aspirations.
Birla was firmly in support of separation. In July 1942 he stated “You know my views about Pakistani am in favour of separation, and I do not think it is impracticable or against the Interests of Hindus or India.
On flashing Quit India Movement Indian businessman like Mafatlal,Sarabhai,Kasturbai Lalbai etc. in the view of Edgar Snow “Simply told the workers to go home and promised to see that they obtained their wages. However when the owners witness that the revolt had failed they reopened their factories.”
The Communist Party of India spent the middle and ate 1930’s tailing the leadership of the Congress .It did not arrive at a concrete analysis of Indian Society and barely foresaw the revolutionary potential of peasant struggles. Even when they had their best chance to expose Congress Collaboration with the Raj, that is when the Congress accepted the ministries in 1937,the CPI leadership decided not to adopt a negative attitude towards the ministries. When the Congress govt did the very opposite, with is repressive labour legislations, and its police firings, the CPI failed to undertake a vigorous campaign of all round political exposure. There was no contradiction at all between PC Joshi in 1939 calling the Congress the ‘main organ' of national struggle and proceeding in 1942 to be full support to British war efforts. Both action comprised an integral part of forfeiting the autonomy of the Communist Party or of tailing one or the other section of the exploiting classes.
The CPI failed to create the breeding ground to launch a people’s war against fascist aggression, but alternatively garnered people in support of British war effort.
Between its formation in 1925 and the exit of the British in 1947, the RSS role in the Indian freedom struggle was nil. It virtually kept aloof from the August rebellion in the Quit India Movement. Savarkar encouraged legislatures and services to stick to their posts and continue performing their irregular duties. When Midnapur was turned into shackles, Shyam Prasad Mukherjee was the Bengal minister. The RSS sprouted rapidly during 137-40, as Hindu-Muslim relations aggravated. The military training it imparted never influenced the course of any anti-British upheaval such as protests against INA trials or Naval Ratings Strike. Its army only intervened during partition, where it shed blood in communal riots. Nation Hood virtually meant eliminating the Muslims.

Partition

When there was a clash of interests between the exploited who in particular region were Muslim, and the exploiters happened to be Hindu ,the Congress firmly stood by the exploiters to crush the down trodden. The Punjabi peasantry in majority comprised Muslims, with Hindu money lenders being their direct exploiters. Congress thus won no support from the Muslim peasantry. Even the anti-landlord money lender revolt of Malabar was considered a communal riot by the Congress.
Both the League and the Congress represented landlord and other exploiting sections of Hindu and Muslim Communities. The sheer reluctance of the Congress in crystallising an anti-landlord or anti-imperialist Struggle uniting both Hindus and Muslims nurtured communal divisiveness. Gandhi often termed joint unity in struggle of Hindus and Muslims rabble or ‘unholy combination’. Businessman like Birla backed the Congress, as they could gain complete hegemony of got governmental favour.
Historically It was the Congress that insisted on partition. It was wrong to lay the blame solely on Jinnah. Nehru, even in his jail diary, expressed his willingness to accept partition, only to get rid of Jinnah. In the very first meeting of the Cabinet Mission Jinnah demanded partition, but 3 weeks later offered 2 alternatives-One to create Pakistan and the other for Muslim provinces to function under an Indian Union .Jinnah said he would agree with the latter if the Congress also endorsed it. Thus on May 12th he offered plans projecting a confederation of states and not an Independent Pakistan. Gandhi staunchly opposed this. as well as Nehru. Thus the Congress pursued partition, with goal of discarding Muslim sections and division of the 2 provinces. Although Gandhi firmly opposed participation, he was forced to yield to communal people like Birla and Sardar Patel, and finally failed to challenge the decision of Nehru and Patel.
The British were shaken to the ground by the upsurge all over the Country with the masses traversing the boundaries of the Gandhi-Nehru leadership. The British now adopted a strategy of putting the country at the mercy of communal fratricide and transferring power to servile agents’. On July 4th, 1947; they introduced the Indian Independence Bill, after having given Congress 9 months of training in the interim govt.and having tested their loyalty to the crown. By securing approval of both houses of parliament, India was awarded it’s formal independence, leaving India partitioned. The aftermath of the independence of August 15th 1957, was tragic with thousands perishing in riots, reminiscent of funeral pyre of Hindus and Muslims. Ironically on August 15th the British National Anthem was played first. Nehru even sought Mountbatten’s advice of the formation of ‘Free India.” The Congress leaned on the British with both Nehru and Patel pleading for Mountbatten to return to India, who proposed an emergency commitee. We must record that it was the Congress that insisted on partition, as well as he Muslim League. Nehru even sought Mountbatten’s advice on formation of “free India’s” first cabinet.
Nevertheless I admire Gandhi’s condemnation of the Mountbatten Settlement and his death defying courage in intervening in the communal carnage in 1947.
---
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who has undertaken extensive research on Indian Independence Movement and post 1947 India

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