Republic Day Special Series




Chapter X: Defence Forces Remain Colonial (Part 2)

The Soft Leadership:
The freedom movement had its brief but brilliant episodes e.g. Revolt of 1857, acts of bravery of the heroes like Vasudeo Balavant Phadke, Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad who had armed clashes with the British Rule.

The main stream of the freedom movement, nevertheless, consisted of the non-violent civil disobedience programmes, constructive activities and, most importantly, speechifying. This mode of agitation required the leaders to go to jails every time an agitation was announced and whenever the police so required; and, when released from prison, attend felicitatary receptions by an adoring public, give increasingly jingoistic slogans full of bravado. This was all the training the leadership received for facing a situation of armed conflict. During the Second World War, the Japanese forces started advancing rapidly in South Asia; bombs fell on Calcutta. Gandhi, in 1942, had little option but to give a slogan of “Do or die.” The slogan represented lack of preparedness and abdication of responsibilities in an extremely grave situation. There was no planning, either of action or of abstention. That the Independence came in 1947 was due more to the compulsions of the British Rule, the pressure of the international opinion and new doubts raised about the loyalty of the armed forces after the Indian National Army and the Naval mutiny in Bombay than to the strength of the 1942 agitation. 

Indian National Army Condemned:
In the early wake of India’s independence the leadership was faced with a very tricky question regarding the structure of the army.

Subhashchandra Bose escaped the British jail and reached Germany via Afghanistan. He established a government of Independent India (Azad Hind) in Berlin and then proceeded to Japan. The Japanese had triumphed over the British army on the Burmese front and taken as prisoners of war thousands of Indian ranks. 

“A slave nation has no foreign policy. Enemy’s enemy is our friend. If the Japanese try to rule India after driving out the British we can start the next phase of freedom movement against them. Our priority is to throwing out the deep-rooted British Rule in India.” Subhashbabu’s exhortations moved thousands of Indian soldiers to join the Indian National Army founded by him. The Indian National Army (INA) had few arms, small transport fleet and hardly any system of supplies. It marched, nevertheless, towards the Indian border and came very close to entering India. The Japanese surrendered after the nuclear bombs devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Indian National Army had, naturally, to surrender. Subhashbabu reportedly died in a plane-accident and his soldiers were brought to India as prisoners of war. Bose had asked them to plant the Tri-colour on the Red Fort in Delhi; now they were to face the trial in the precincts of the same historic monument.

The government of India was faced with the problem - which is the real Indian army?
"The Indian National Army may have lost on the borders with Burma but the flag that they carried is flying over Delhi. This, in effect, means that the Indian National Army has been victorious. By this logic, the Indian National Army should have been recognised as the official army of the newly independent nation. The old British army which enforced the British imperial rule in India should be disbanded. The possibility of merging it after an appropriate scrutiny in the Indian National Army could be examined." This was the nature of the proposal that came before the provisional government. 

The British Rulers and the army officers took a very rigid position on the question. “The soldiers of the Indian National Army had joined enemy forces by breaking the oath of loyalty. There can be no question of their heading the army; they cannot even be readmitted in the army. Such re-admission would tantamount to honouring the traitors which would demoralise other soldiers and spread general dissatisfaction in the army and provoke a general revolt.” That was their line of proposal.

"The soldiers of the Indian National Army must face trial on charge of abandoning forces, they must be given appropriate punishments. Eventually, the Governor General, in his magnanimity, may suspend the sentence. These traitors have no rights to except a more generous treatment." Thus ran the proposal.

The Bogie of International Politics:
The leaders of independent India acquiesced in the argument of the Army brass. Indian National Army was disbanded. The British army in India became the official army of the independent India. This decision has to be looked at from various angles.

All the leaders of the Congress Party did not universally like Subhashchandra Bose; many were jealous of his charismatic standing amongst Indian people. Mahatma Gandhi himself had used subterfuges to make Bose resign from the Presidentship of the Congress. Bose held Gandhi, nevertheless, in high respect and venerated him as the ‘Father of the Nation’.

The anti-Bose group lead by Nehru questioned the very merit of the INA. “The Fascist dictatorship was a crime against humanity; the alliance of the democratic nations against the Fascist axis was morally superior. It behoved a country of India’s Culture and History to give support to the allied nations. There can be no question of India siding with the Axis powers against the British. There would be little point in India gaining independence if the rest of the world is trounced by Nazi and Fascist dictators.”

This argument had quite some influence. The independence was preceded by communal riots all over the country. The partition brought in even more horrendous communal conflicts. Lakhs of people became destitute refugees. Nobody appeared to be capable of re-establishing peace and order. If the army is disbanded at such a juncture, it was feared, India will be overtaken by anarchy. It was, therefore, considered necessary to retain the British army as it stood. The first Independence Day saw curious sites. The Tricolour of Independent India was hoisted at many places by civil servants who had whipped and tortured freedom fighters. When the army was saluting in Independence Day parades, the soldiers of the erstwhile Indian National Army were standing in crowds with tears in their eyes. The decision to adopt the British army was not taken too willingly. The British had imposed a condition that the government of independent India will do nothing to affect the position of the Indian Civil Service, army and British Legislation. The British structure remained in place, the British left India. That is about all. Jawaharlal triumphed the Mahatma was humiliated.


(... continued in Part 3)

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