Enthused by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to declassify the files on Subhas Chandra Bose, historians and defence experts want him to make public files about the series of mutinies that took place in the British-Indian military in the 1940s. They say these mutinies were one of the main reasons why the British left India, and believe that the files will make India see its Independence Movement with a new eye.
Historians say that there were as many as 19 uprisings in the Royal Indian Navy alone. The Royal Indian Naval Mutiny started in February 1946 in Bombay and, just after a week, an Army mutiny took place in Jabalpur. The Bombay revolt had reverberations in faraway places like Karachi and Vishakhapatnam as well.
“The 1946 revolt in the Royal Navy by Indians was a major reason why India got Independence, apart from the desertions to Netaji’s Azad Hind Fauj or the Indian National Army (INA). The British got unnerved as they could no longer depend on their armed forces in India. This was the main reason why they decided to quit. Popular (non-violent) movements also played a part,” said Prof Kapil Kumar, Director, Indira Gandhi Centre for Freedom Struggle Studies, and Chairperson, Faculty of History, School of Social Sciences, IGNOU.
According to Wing Commander (Retired) Praful Bakshi, the military’s role in securing Independence for India has not been recognised: “There is little information about the mutiny in the Army’s Signals Training Centre in Jabalpur, in February 1946. A series of mutinies took place and the British thought it’s time to leave. They, in fact, brought Independence forward and left the country in a hurry.”
The Jabalpur mutiny, taking place soon after the Naval mutiny, became a matter of grave concern for the British. It is believed that around 40-50 soldiers were court-martialled and dismissed without pay and pension. Many others were sent to prison. The British hushed up the incident and destroyed most records.
Bakshi said that the mutinies were a direct consequence of the poor treatment meted out to the Indian soldiers by the British. He said the mutinies had a major link with Netaji as it was his INA “which fired the zeal of the soldiers”. The soldiers were also getting the entire nation’s support.
Asking the government to make public the files on the Jabalpur mutiny, Bakshi said these would open the Pandora’s Box and will correct the “wrong” and “partial” history that India has been taught.
Kapil Kumar, while welcoming the PM’s announcement, said that “all files related to all freedom fighters and freedom struggle” should be declassified. He said scholars find it difficult, when in the National Archives, files asked for are replied with a note “Not Transferred”. He cited the example of a file related to the 1921 arrest of Baba Ramchandra, a great peasant leader of Awadh, which is yet to be transferred to the National Archives. “The Uttar Pradesh CID record room too does not allow anyone to see his personal file, which the CID has. All files related to Bhagat Singh are yet to be declassified. Same is the case with the files on the military operations in the Northeast during the Second World War. State governments too need to declassify these files. The UP government’s CID record room has many classified personal files on leaders. It is still a mystery who informed the British on Chandrasheker Azad, which led to his killing. The CID files may shed some light on that,” said Kumar.
Kumar said that the government should form a committee to decide on the declassification and destruction of files and historians must find a place in that committee.