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Towards Independence

After many years of struggle and resolutions, Indian National Congress finally passed a resolution which asks for complete independence for India. On August 8, 1942 the Quit India Resolution was passed at the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee which demands complete independence from Britain. It proposed that if the British did not accede to the demands, massive civil disobedience would be launched. At Gowalia Tank, Bombay, Gandhi urged Indians to follow non-violent civil disobedience. He told the masses to act as an independent nation and not to follow the orders of the British. His call found support among a large number of Indians. It also found support among Indian revolutionaries who were not necessarily agree to Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence.

Within the Indian independence movement there was a concept of an armed force fighting its way into India to overthrow the British Raj. During the Second World War, this plan found revival, with a number of different leaders, units and movements formed over the duration of the war. These included Indian National Army under Subhash Chandra Bose formed with the help of Italy, Japan and Germany. The INA was in action against the allies, including the British Indian Army, in the forests of in Arakan, Burma and Assam, laying siege on Imphal and Kohima with the Japanese 15th Army. During the war, the Andaman and Nicobar islands were captured by the Japanese and handed over by them to the INA; Bose renamed them Shahid (Martyr) and Swaraj (Independence). The INA would ultimately fail, owing to disrupted logistic, poor arms and supplies from the Japanese, and lack of support and training.

During the war, the Indian press was prohibited from reporting the existence of the Indian National Army. Little was known at the time among the common people within India of the existence and activities of the INA It was only after the war that the existence of the INA, its objectives, activities, strength etc could be reported and burst into popular imagination after the war. Majority of Indians view the INA as patriots and revolutionaries.

The Royal Indian Navy mutiny encompasses a total strike and subsequent mutiny by Indian sailors of the Royal Indian Navy on board ship and shore establishments at Bombay harbor on 18 February 1946. From the initial flashpoint in Bombay, the mutiny spread and found support throughout British India, from Karachi to Calcutta and ultimately came to involve 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 sailors. The RIN Mutiny started as a strike by ratings of the Royal Indian Navy on 18 February in protest against general conditions. The immediate issue of the mutiny was conditions and food, but there were more fundamental matters such as racist behavior by Royal Navy personnel towards Indian sailors, and disciplinary measures being taken against anyone demonstrating pro-nationalist sympathies. The strike found immense support among the Indian population, already gripped by the stories of the Indian National Army. The actions of the mutineers were supported by demonstrations which included a one-day general strike in Bombay. The strike spread to other cities, and was joined by the Royal Indian Air Force and local police forces. Naval officers and men began calling themselves the "Indian National Navy" and offered left-handed salutes to British officers. At some places, NCOs in the British Indian Army ignored and defied orders from British superiors. In Madras and Pune, the British garrisons had to face revolts within the ranks of the Indian Army. Widespread rioting took place from Karachi to Calcutta. Notably, the mutinying ships hoisted three flags tied together — those of the Congress, Muslim League, and the Red Flag of the Communist Party of India, signifying the unity and demarginalisation of communal issues among the mutineers.

Finally the British decided to leave India. On the 15th March 1946, Mr. Attlee the British Prime Minister said in a statement, “My colleagues are going to India with the intention of using their utmost endeavors to help her to attain her freedom as speedily and fully as possible. What form of Government is to replace the present regime is for India to decide; but our desire is to help her to set up forthwith the machinery for making that decision . . .”.

Which phase of our freedom struggle won for us Independence? Mahatma Gandhi’s 1942 Quit India movement or The INA army launched by Netaji Bose to free India or the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946? According to the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, during whose regime India became free, it was the INA and the RIN Mutiny of February 18-23 1946 that made the British realize that their time was up in India. An extract from a letter written by P.V. Chuckraborty, Former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court P.V. Chuckraborty wrote on March 30 1976, "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 and stayed in Raj Bhavan Calcutta for two days and I put it straight to him like this: ‘The Quit India Movement of Gandhi practically died out long before 1947 and 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 Attlee cited several reasons, the most important of which were the INA activities of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, which weakened the very foundation of the British Empire in India, and the RIN Mutiny which made the British realize that the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to prop up the British. When asked about the extent to which the British decision to quit India was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s 1942 movement, Attlee’s lips widened in smile of disdain and he uttered, slowly, ‘Minimal’."

May be the Gandhian movement and the Civil Disobedience Movement may not directly led to independence. But the movement united the people of India together and give people hope. Subhash Chandra Bose and INA with the help of Japan and Germany tried to free the country by armed revolt. In spite of brilliant planning and initial success, the violent campaign failed. The Battles for India's freedom were also being fought against Britain, though indirectly, by Hitler in Europe and Japan in Asia. None of these scored direct success, but few would deny that it was the cumulative effect of all the three that brought freedom to India. In particular, the revelations made by the INA trial, and the reaction it produced in India, made it quite plain to the British, already exhausted by the war, that they could no longer depend upon the loyalty of the sepoys for maintaining their authority in India. This had probably the greatest influence upon their final decision to quit India.

The long struggle for freedom was based on non-violent resistance but the end was plagued with communal violence and division. On 3 June 1947, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British Governor-General of India, announced the partitioning of the British Indian Empire into a secular India and a Muslim Pakistan. On 14 August 1947, Pakistan was declared a separate nation. At midnight, on 15 August 1947, India became an independent nation. On the first Independence day Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said in his speech, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance..... We end today a period of ill fortune, and India discovers herself again.”