The book says that had India followed Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent protests alone, India’s Independence would perhaps have been delayed by 30-40 years, like in the case of many African countries.
Book: Bose or Gandhi: Who Got India Her Freedom?
Author: Maj, Gen (Dr)G.D.Bakshi), SM, VSM (Retd)
Had it not been for the Indian National Army (INA) that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose formed with Japanese help, India, like many African nations, would probably have secured its independence some 30-40 years after it finally did in 1947 by the “actual and implied violence of Bose and his INA”, if India had followed Mahatma Gandhi’s form of mass mobilisation and non-violent protests which, arguably, lacked efficacy. This is the decisive message that emerges from the book Bose or Gandhi: Who Got India Her Freedom? by Maj Gen (Dr) G.D. Bakshi SM, VSM (retd). The book, published by KW Publishers Pvt Ltd, attempts to settle the long-standing debate over this question at a very crucial juncture—today (21 October, Sunday) is the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Hukumate Azad Hind government-in-exile by Netaji Subhas Bose in Singapore (1943), ahead of yet another significant milestone, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi that falls on 2 October next year.
The book says that “left to non-violence alone, freedom would have come to us in India somewhere in the 1980s or 1990s, just as it had come to South Africa only in April 1994 because it had relied on non-violence alone”. All African countries, the book points out, that adopted non-violent methods for their freedom struggle only got their liberation from 1960-1970 onwards and even later. The book also categorically rubbishes claims of “court historians” who have the “temerity to call the Indian freedom struggle an entirely peaceful and non-violent affair”. The author points to a popular lyric that is part of the hagiography that has been so assiduously built around the legacy of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. It says: De di hame azaadi bina kharag bina dhal, Sabarmati ke sant tune kar diya kamaal. This translates into: “O Saint of Sabarmati You wrought a miracle, You gave us our freedom sans sword and shield.”
This lyric, the author says, is an “unabashed insult to the 26,000 martyrs of the INA”. The INA had an overall strength of some 60,000. Of these, as per official INA history, some 26,000 laid down their lives. This amounts to 43% of the force that was martyred. The author maintains: “It is an awe-inspiring scale of casualties and sacrifice and is an unmitigated insult to all those martyrs to call the Indian freedom struggle as entirely peaceful and non-violent. It is a disgraceful lie and patent untruth and you cannot attribute it to a saint who made a fetish of always speaking the truth. A nation that has Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Triumphs) as its motto cannot subscribe to such a narrative that is at such sharp variance with ground realities and the truth. Why did the Nehru regime spend so much time and energy in crafting a pacific narrative for India?”
In fact, the author, Maj Gen (Dr) G.D. Bakshi SM, VSM (retd), goes into great details in trying to analyse why the Nehru regime would have done that. The author has painstakingly analysed the documents now available in the British Transfer of Power archives in London. He has methodically identified the key British decision makers in London (including Prime Minister Lord Clement Attlee and Lord Pethick-Lawrence, Secretary of State for India and Burma) and New Delhi (including Lord Wavell, the Viceroy, and Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck, the Commander-in-Chief in India) and in the critical period from 1945-47, and examined their letters and reports about the INA trials and their violent aftermath (November-December 1945) and then the mutiny in the Royal Indian Navy (February 1946). Relevant letters from the Viceroy and military appreciation of the situation by Field Marshal Auchinleck, alongwith reports from the Governors of various provinces, as also the report of the Director IB, have been reproduced in the original, along with letters from Prime Minister Attlee and Lord Pethick-Lawrence.
The British success in completely splintering the Indian population was evident during the years of the First World War, when there was no rebellion in India even as the bulk of the British Indian Army was deployed overseas. Service in such armies had a homogenising impact and it somehow revived the moribund idea of India. The least they expected from the British at the end of this war was gratitude and perhaps some form of home rule. The response was one of callous racism. In 1919, what they got was the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh. Post Jallianwala Bagh, Gandhi took charge of the Congress and turned it into a genuine instrument of mass-based, but passive resistance. He broke free from the lawyers’ discourse of pleading and petitioning the imperial monarch for home rule. He asked for genuine freedom or Poorna Swarajya. He turned the non-cooperation movement into a mass-based mobilisation that went out of the towns, reached out to and mobilised the Indian peasantry. “This really electrified the nation,” says the author.
Bose differed radically from Gandhi. Bose was convinced that non-violence was completely within the tolerance threshold of the Empire. He very correctly identified the loyalty of Indian sepoys as the key centre of gravity of the colonial empire. The only Indian in the Congress who could really challenge the overriding authority of the Mahatma was Subhash Chandra Bose. For him, World War II presented a golden opportunity to reach out to the enemies of Britain, to Germany and Japan, and seek their help to free India. Gandhi opposed this realist mode of thought. Bose was completely marginalised in the Congress. Gandhi ensured that he did not become president of the Congress for a second term. Single-handedly, however, Bose escaped to Germany and there raised the Indische Legion (Indian Legion)—a brigade size force formed from the Indian prisoners of war. He was dismayed, however, by Hitler›s racism. Meanwhile, the Japanese had gained spectacular success in the Asia-Pacific theatre. They had raised an Indian National Army from the prisoners of war they held. They were having problems managing it and they asked the Germans for Bose. The Germans took 13 long months to transfer him.
Eventually, Bose expanded the INA to a respectable size of 1,500 officers and 60,000 men, but some 26,000 of these perished in the battles of Imphal and Kohima and the subsequent retreat through Burma. The INA lost the battles, but won the War of Independence. After the war, in a misplaced gesture of triumphalism, the British put on trial nine INA officers at the iconic Red Fort in Delhi. It enraged the people of India and triggered widespread mutinies in the Royal Indian Navy, the Royal Indian Air Force and many units of the British Indian Army. The British were truly shaken to the core. Some 2.5 million men of the British Indian Army were then being demobilised post World War II, and they were angry and enraged. The British had no stomach for taking on some 2.5 million armed men of the Indian Army or large parts thereof, as their white troops were tired, war-weary and homesick. They decided to quit with grace and left within two years after the end of World War II.
While pointing out the differences between Gandhi and Bose, the author does admit that though it was Gandhi who had initially forced Bose out of the Congress and virtually forced him to leave India, towards the mid-point of World War II, both men had developed a sneaking admiration for one another. Bose had called Gandhi the “Father of the Nation” because of his undisputed role in graduating the freedom struggle in India from the “old-style effete debating clubs of the original Congress” to a mass-based grassroots movement that Gandhi had spread to the villages. After Bose had left India, Gandhi openly admired Bose›s courage in escaping to Germany. Gandhi felt the time had come to “do or die”. As time went on, he increasingly began to veer towards Bose’s view that the British would not leave unless they were really forced to go. Even Gandhi realised that World War II presented a rare and unique opportunity for India to make an all-out attempt to win her freedom. Despite reservations expressed by Nehru, Chandrashekhar Azad and others, he insisted on launching the Quit India Movement. The British were fighting a war and were in no mood to indulge the “naked Indian Fakir”. They mustered some five divisions’ worth of white troops and crushed the Quit India Movement with ridiculous ease. Wartime censorship helped them to banish Gandhi and his freedom struggle from the newspaper headlines. Deprived of the oxygen of publicity, “the Quit India Movement collapsed like a pack of cards”. The author says: “The British now began to rely far more on the highly manipulable Nehru than on Gandhi.”
Even as Gandhi veered around to Bose’s view of a now or never chance to win freedom, “Nehru was increasingly inclined to go along with the British. In fact, he went so far as to proclaim that if Bose was to come to India with the Japanese invading armies, he would personally go forward to fight him”. This was noted by the British and after the Quit India Movement, they began an all-out attempt to completely marginalise Gandhi and rely more and more on Nehru. By the time of independence, the marginalisation of the Mahatma was total and complete.
The author laments that “power did not go to Bose or the trenchantly anti-British INA, but to the people who had virtually collaborated with the British. While others fought and laid down their lives, these Congress leaders waited patiently on the sidelines to grab the fruits of power. This was a largely venal and self-serving elite who had not been baptised by fire or tested in an armed struggle. Forgotten in this pacific hoopla and self-congratulations were some 26,000 INA soldiers, of the 60,000 INA soldiers, who had laid down their lives to free the country—an enormous scale of suffering and sacrifice to lose 43% of the entire force”.
Even as Mahatma Gandhi veered around to Bose›s view, Bose had serious ideological differences with Nehru. The author says that while “Bose wanted to industrialise India and make it a major military power, a significant force on the global arena, Nehru actually wanted to disband the Indian army. There was no need for an Indian army for a pacific, non-violent country like India, he felt. The police would suffice to protect this state!”
The author makes it a point to emphasise that: “Nehru had been hand-picked by the Raj, which presumably impelled Gandhi to anoint him as the first Prime Minister of India over the administratively far more competent Sardar Patel, who was the choice of the Congress party per se. Only the Nehru-Gandhi family was thereafter decreed fit to rule this chaotic mass of disparate people because the Nehru-Gandhi clan was so very British and so ‘propah!’ They alone could dispense social justice instead of the imperial justice that the empire had ruthlessly enforced over the warring, squabbling castes and creeds of India. Thus, the very foundation of this Republic was kept confined within the imperial constructs of the Raj. This Weltanschauung sadly reflects in the very Preamble of our Constitution.”