Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The story behind India's Independence Series -1


 Jinxed at birth; Bundled with paradoxes -1

It is the king who makes the Satyuga; the Treata and the Dwapra; he is the cause of the Kalyuga too-- Bhishma's wisdom


By Neeraj Mahajan

Mahatma Gandhi
Midnight 8 August 1942: ''Leave India to God, to  chaos or even anarchy, if you wish but leave India, these words of Mahatma Gandhi calling the British imperialists to “Quit India" at a gathering of All India Congress Committee in Bombay Hall, did more then just that. In a way they sealed India’s destiny. Even though it was never Gandhi’s intention to invite chaos or anarchy and he simply wanted the Britishers to Quit India, he would have been most unhappy today, if he were to realize that his unintended comment about leaving India to God’s mercy and chaos would actually come true.

Lord Mountbatton
15 August 1947: The British left but not before officiating the bloodiest surgical operation in the history of mankind -- the partition of India. Even Lord Mountbatton-- the men who presided over India's division wrote; “partition is sheer madness and no one would ever induce me to agree to it were it not for this fantastic communal madness that has seized everybody and leaves no other course open. The responsibility for this mad decision must be placed squarely on Indian shoulders in the eyes of the world, for one day they will bitterly regret the decision they are about make.''

Was the birth of the nation itself jinxed?

20 March 1947: Even before Mountbatton landed on Indian soil as the last Viceroy, everyone knew that the mandate given to him by the House of Commons clearly spelt the requirement ''to take the necessary steps to affect the transfer of power into responsible Indian hands by a date, not later than June 1948''. But no one, not even Mountbatton knew exactly when this transfer of power would take effect.

“These Indians… they are a beastly people with a beastly religion, these were the very words that Winston Churchill had used to describe his feelings towards India. A firm believer in the theory that such “less breeds, without the law” were better off under the British Empire he expected the Indian masses to thankful to the British instead of opposing them. The man who contemptuously dismissed Gandhi as “half-naked-fakir” and his followers as “man of straw”, he regarded the whole breed of Indian freedom fighters as half-educated, ungrateful and ignorant people who could' t even realize that they were making a big mistake and acting against the larger interest of the common masses. “Gandhi and all he stands for must be crushed,” he thundered. But instead of intimidating Gandhi  it only added to his firm resolve as is evident from his saying, if we Indians spat in unison, we would from a puddle large enough to drown these hundred thousand Englishmen.''

For nearly 37 years, since 1910 Churchill tried his level best and succeeded in resisting every attempt to concede the right of self-government to the people of India. One thing he was sure of was that the strength of the Empire determined Britain’s position in the world. “I did not become his Majesty's first Prime minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire'', he would say.

“The loss of India, he once said, “would be final and fatal to us. It could not fail to be part of a process that would reduce us to the scale of a minor power”. Fortunately for India, his words however had no impact on the ongoing negotiations in Delhi, which produced the Gandhi-lrwin pact after eight meetings over 21 days. The text of this document read more like a treaty between two nations and was perceived as a major victory for Gandhi who managed to secure the release of thousands of his followers from jail besides an invitation to attend a round table conference with King George VI at Buckingham Palace in London to discuss India’s future. Gandhi walked into the tea meeting with the King dressed in his typical loincloth with sandals on his feet and a bamboo staff. Later when questioned by curious onlookers Gandhi simply smiled and said, “The king was wearing enough for both of us.” However the round table conference itself was a non-starter and the bitter reality that emerged out it was that London was not yet ready to accept a free and independent India.

Ironically, Churchill, who described his role in the 2nd world war as 'fight for freedom' was not at all in favor of granting freedom to India the second largest country in the world. And when world statesmen like president Roosevelt of United States exerted pressure on him, he preferred to play the role of a poor looser and sent back a note saying that he had no intension of allowing the Indian Muslim to be governed by the Congress caucus and the Hindu priesthood when 75% of the Indian soldier were Muslims.” Whereas the actual number of Muslims in Indian army then was less than 35, this was not to deter Churchill from distorting the figures as long as he achieved his aim- to stall if not, scuttle the Indian struggle for independence atleast till as long as possible. He was quite satisfied when the Cripps Mission failed, content with the self-assumption that everything that needed to be done had indeed been done. But thankfully there were not many who shared his presumption. One such person was President Roosevelt who sent a telegraph to somehow try again. Churchill was so furious that he spent the next two hours releasing ‘a string of cuss words in the middle of the night.’

Finally even after his conservative party was defeated in 1945 he still had the absolute majority in the House of Lords, which gave him authority to delay the Indian Independence for full two years. Luckily for India, Clement Attlee the man who succeeded him at No 10 Downing Street did not share most of his views.


The two-page note signed by Attlee was categorical about Raj’s intentions. No other Viceroy had ever received such a mandate. Infact it is said that Attlee himself had drafted a much lengthy document which for all practical purposes had been pruned and rewritten by the dynamic 47-year old admiral and cousin of King George VI who was being sent to India to negotiate Britain's departure. The fourth child of Queen Victoria's grand-daughter Princess Victoria of Hesse and Prince Louis of Battenberg, Mountbatton insisted that his terms of reference should comprise a special injunction to include independent India within the Commonwealth ‘if at all possible.’ Mountbatton’s own fascination with India dated back to November 1921 when he had visited the country for the first time as the youthful ADC to David, the Prince of Wales. This was also a part of the 'secret' understanding between him and his cousin King George who was crowned the emperor of India without having visited the country and now on the verge of losing his title. “I know I’ve got to take ''I'' out of GRI. I've got to give up being King Emperor but I would profoundly saddened if all the links with India were severed.... It would be a pity if an independent India, would turn its back against Commonwealth.'' the Monarch had pleaded with cousin to try and atleast maintain the facade in his moments of fading glory. George VI's last hope was to see commonwealth the framework in which India and other newly independent nations maintained their symbolic ties with Britain as this would allow her to retain the veneer of her erstwhile imperial touch in the new world affairs. He could see the writing on the wall that if India Refused to join, other Afro-Asian nations which might attain Freedom in the years to come, would follow suit and Great Britain and Commonwealth Would be reduced to a tottering non-entity with no say at all across the English Channel. King George VI's eternal desire was that if even by a slim chance, Mountbatton was able to persuade India to retain its shared heritage with Great Britain, London would still remain the spiritual capital of a large chunk of the globe.

Though initially Atlee and his Labour party were theoretically opposed to the idea borne out of the 'secret-pact’ between Mountbatton and his sovereign cousin, in the end the viceroy designate had his way and dictated most of the revised text on which Attlee affixed his seal and stamp of authority. After nearly six weeks of brain storming session the new document, thus produced spelt the new viceroy’s role to break the Indian impasse in clear and simple terms. This document signed by Attlee officially authorized Mountbatton to make every effort of transfer of power to India as an independent nation within the commonwealth by June 1948.

(To be continued)