Why Did The British Leave In Such Great Hurry In August 1947

23 Feb

It is commonly believed that it was the Congress Party through its various movements like the Quit India Movement of 1942 that brought freedom to India. This fails to explain the fact that the British granted independence only in 1947 while the Quit India Movement had collapsed by the end of 1942. The question that naturally arises is- why did the British leave in such great hurry in August 1947? The answer was provided by Prime Minister Clement Attlee, the man who made the decision to grant independence to India.

When B.P. Chakravarti was acting as Governor of West Bengal, Lord Attlee visited India and stayed as his guest for three days at the Raj Bhavan. Chakravarti asked Attlee about the real grounds for granting independence to India. Specifically, his question was, when the Quit India movement lay in ruins years before 1947, where was the need for the British to leave in such a hurry. Attlee’s response is most illuminating and important for history.

Here is what Attlee told him:

In reply Attlee cited several reasons, the most important were the activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose which weakened the very foundation of the attachment of the Indian land and naval forces to the British Government. Towards the end, I asked Lord Attlee about the extent to which the British decision to quit India was influenced by Gandhi’s activities. On hearing this question Attlee’s lips widened in a smile of disdain and he uttered, slowly, putting emphasis on each single letter – “mi-ni-mal.” (Emphasis added.)

The crucial point to note is that thanks to Subhas Chandra Bose’s activities, the Indian Armed Forces began to see themselves as defenders of India rather than of the British Empire. This, more than anything else, was what led to India’s freedom. This is also the reason why the British Empire disappeared from the face of the earth within an astonishingly short space of twenty years. Indian soldiers, who were the main prop of the Empire, were no longer willing to fight for the British. What influenced the British decision was mutiny of the Indian Navy following the INA trials in 1946. While the British wanted to try Subhas Chandra Bose’s INA as traitors, Indian soldiers saw them as nationalists and patriots. This scared the British. They decided to get out in a hurry.

(Attlee repeated his argument on at least two other occasions, including once in the House of Commons. During a debate in the House of Commons, he told Churchill that he would agree to the latter’s suggestion of holding on to India if he could guarantee the loyalty of the Indian armed forces. Churchill had no reply. The Labour Prime Minister was as much an imperialist as Churchill, but more pragmatic, prepared to see the writing on the wall.)

This will come as a shock to most Indians brought up to believe that the Congress movement driven by the ‘spiritual force’ of Mahatma Gandhi forced the British to leave India. But both evidence and the logic of history are against this beautiful but childish fantasy. It was the fear of mutiny by the Indian armed forces – and not any ‘spiritual force’ – that forced the issue of freedom. The British saw that the sooner they left the better for themselves, for, at the end of the war, India had some three million men under arms. One would have to be extraordinarily dense – which the British were not – to fail to see the writing on the wall.

So, as the great historian R.C. Majumdar wrote, Subhas Bose with his INA campaigns probably contributed more to Indian independence than Gandhi, Nehru and their movements. The result of Subhas Chandra Bose’s activities was the rise of the nationalist spirit in the Indian Armed Forces. This is the reason why Nehru, after he became Prime Minister, did everything possible to turn Bose into a non-person. He wanted no rivals.

This brings us to Mahatma Gandhi and his ill-fated Nonviolent Non-Cooperation Movement. Most Indians have been made to believe that it was the first of Gandhi’s movements for India’s freedom. This is completely false. The Non-Cooperation Movement was for the restoration of the Sultan of Turkey as the Caliph. This was known as the Khilafat Movement, launched by Indian Muslims, led by Maulanas Mohamad Ali and Shaukat Ali. In fact, Gandhi postponed Tilak’s Swaraj Resolution by nearly ten years in order to join the Khilafat. (Lokamanya Tilak had died in 1920 and Gandhi and the Ali Brothers launched the Khilafat in 1921. Gandhi even diverted a substantial part of the Tilak Swaraj Fund to the Khilafat.) Indian history books omit the fact that the sole purpose of the Non-Cooperation Movement was the restoration of the Sultan of Turkey.

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