We always dedicate our independence to Mahatma Gandhi but fail to acknowledge the sacrifices of other stalwarts & events that played an equal if not a more important role in our quest for freedom. Although we aren’t to be blamed for this ignorance; right from school we were taught primarily about Mahatma Gandhi. Others were conveniently left out.
So who is it really that we owe our independence to? Who & what was it really that forced the British to leave India? Was it Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India Movement or Netaji’s Indian National Army? Or the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946?
British Prime Minister Reveals the Truth
It was under British Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s reign that India became free. He believed that it was Netaji’s INA & the RIN Mutiny that made the British leave India.
Following is an extract from a letter written on March 30 1976 by P.V. Chuckraborty, former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court –
“When I was acting as Governor of West Bengal in 1956, Lord Clement Attlee, who as the British Prime Minister in post war years was responsible for India’s freedom, visited India & stayed in Raj Bhavan in Calcutta for two days. I put it straight to him like this: ‘The Quit India Movement of Gandhi practically died out long before 1947 & there was nothing in the Indian situation at that time, which made it necessary for the British to leave India in a hurry. Why then did they do so?’”
In reply to this, Attlee pointed out that the primary reasons for their leaving India were Netaji’s INA activities & the RIN Mutiny. The mutiny made the British realize that they could no more trust Indian forces. Also when asked about how much of an effect the Quit India Movement had on the decision of the British to leave, Attlee smiled & said, “Minimal.”
The RIN Mutiny
- What started the RIN Mutiny was nothing significant; it was just 20 loaves of bread.
- On January 16, 1946, a contingent of 67 ratings of various branches arrived at Castle Barracks, Mint Road, in Fort Mumbai. The contingent had arrived from a basic training establishment at four in the evening.
- The officer on duty informed the kitchen staff of the arrival. But quite casually, the duty cook took out 20 loaves of bread from a cupboard & added three litres of tap water to the mutton curry as well as the gram dal that was lying already cooked as per the morning strength of the ratings.
- Only 17 ratings ate the tasteless meal while others went ashore & ate. The matter was reported to senior officers but no action was taken. Discontentment grew.
- This kept on going until February 18, 1946, when a naval central strike committee was formed. It was lead by naval rating M.S. Khan.
- Thousands of disgruntled ratings joined the committee. They used to communicate through wireless communication sets available in HMIS Talwar.
- This unrest soon spread to shore establishments from Bombay to Karachi & Calcutta. It involved 78 ships, 20 shore establishments, & 20,000 sailors.
- Next day the tricolour was hosted on most of the ships & establishments. But an unruly guncrew of a 25-pounder gun fitted in an old ship fired a salvo without orders towards the Castle barracks. By this time the British destroyers were fully armed to go to action & they positioned themselves off the Gateway of India in Mumbai.
- An alarmed Clement Attlee ordered the Royal Navy to put down the revolt. Admiral Godfrey, the Flag Officer commanding the RIN, went on air with his order ‘Submit or perish’.
- Muhammed Ali Jinnah & Sardar Patel successfully persuaded the ratings to surrender. Patel wrote, “Discipline in the army cannot be tampered with. We will want the army even in free India.” Such was the foresight of the great man!
- Mahatma Gandhi, as usual, criticized the strikers for mutinying without the call of a ‘prepared revolutionary party’ & without the ‘guidance & intervention’ of political leaders of their choice.
- The issue was unsolved till February 23, when the situation produced a vote of surrender. The black flags went up at six in the morning of February 23.
- Even though the negotiations moved fast & a lot of the demands of the strikers were met – like improved quality of food & living conditions – court martials & large-scale dismissals from the service took place.
- These sailors weren’t taken into either the Pakistani or the Indian navies after Independence, but they had shown that they could rise against foreign rulers in defence of their land.
A memorial dedicated to these brave sailors stands in Colaba, Mumbai, next to the MSLTA courts & opposite to the Taj Wellington Mews. This mutiny & INA’s activities showed the British that the armed forces weren’t ready to bow down to them anymore. And with lesser control over the forces, the British couldn’t rule. They didn’t fear a public revolt as much because they had policies of orchestrated famines, usury & slavery to beat down the rising voices, but a revolt in the army couldn’t be dealt with. This was the reason why the British suddenly left India.
Vinayak Jain **