Often, when one points out the blunders of Nehru, the same are sought to be white-washed by highlighting that “after all, Nehru (along with Gandhi and other Gandhians) won for us our freedom”! So, was it Gandhi-Nehru- Congress that made the British ‘Quit India’?

The last (and only!) Gandhian movement for full independence was the Quit India Movement of 1942. Mind you the previous movements like the Rowlatt Satyagraha, etc., or the two major once-in-a-decade Gandhian movements—the ‘Khilafat & Non-cooperation Movement’ (KNCM) of 1920-22, and the ‘Salt Satyagraha’ of 1930 plus the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1931-32 that followed it—did NOT have complete independence in their agenda at all! Yes, the Congress and the Congress leaders did talk of swaraj or dominion status or independence in their meeting, resolutions, speeches, and writings, and did officially promulgate the ‘Purna Swaraj Declaration’, or the ‘Declaration of the Independence of India’ at Lahore (as late as) on 29 December 1929, followed by its pledge on 26 January 1930; BUT in none of their major movements until the Quit India 1942 did the Congress include ‘Purna Swaraj’ or full independence as an item of agenda or as a demand on the British!

And even for the Quit India 1942, recorded the noted historian Dr RC Majumdar: “Far from claiming any credit for achievements of 1942 [Quit India], both Gandhi and the Congress offered apology and explanation for the ‘madness’ which seized the people participating in it.”—quoted by the author Anuj Dhar in his tweet of 1 July 2018. Anuj Dhar also tweeted: “The claim that Quit India led to freedom is a state sanctioned hoax.”

Quit India fizzled out in about two months. After Quit India, Gandhi did not launch any movement. Is one to infer that the call to Quit India given in 1942 was acted upon by the British after a lapse of five years in 1947? That there was some kind of an ultra-delayed tubelight response? Quit India call heard after a delay of five years!

Britain hinted at independence in 1946, and announced it formally in 1947, even though there was hardly any pressure from the Congress on Britain to do so. Many of the rulers of the Princely States in fact wondered and questioned the Raj as to why they wanted to leave (they didn’t want them to—it was a question of their power and perks, which were safe under the British) when there was no movement against them, and no demand or pressure on them to leave.

The British initially announced the timeline as June 1948 to leave India. Later, they themselves preponed it to August 1947. If the British didn’t wish to leave, and it was the Congress which was making them leave, why would the British voluntarily announce preponement of their departure? The long and short of it is that Gandhi and Gandhism and the Gandhian Congress were NOT really the reasons the British left. Gandhi himself admitted as much .

What Gandhi had himself said:
“I see it as clearly as I see my finger: British are leaving not because of any strength on our part but because of historical conditions and for many other reasons.” —Mahatma Gandhi

The “historical conditions and other reasons” were not of Gandhi’s making, or that of the Congress—they were despite them. In the context of the choice of the national flag in 1947 Gandhi had said:
“But what is wrong with having the Union Jack in a corner of our flag? If harm has been done to us by the British it has not been done by their flag and we must also take note of the virtues of the British. They are voluntarily withdrawing from India, leaving power in our hands. A drastic bill which virtually liquidates the Empire did not take even a week to pass in Parliament. Time was when even very unimportant bills took a year and more to be passed…”

Admitted Gandhi, on different occasions during 1946-47: “Have I led the country astray?… Is there something wrong with me, or are things really going wrong… Truth and ahimsa, by which I swear and which have to my knowledge sustained me for sixty years seem to fail… My own doctrine was failing. I don’t want to be a failure but a successful man. But it may be I die a failure…”

He realised that his decades of work had come to an “inglorious end”. An airy creed based on unreal, unscientific and irrational foundations that ignored historical, economic, religious and imperialist forces, and either did not recognise or grossly underestimated the forces it was up against, and the nature of British interests, had to fail.

Gandhi had envisaged the British troops remaining in India after independence for some time to train Indians. That is, Gandhi never considered driving out the British as an option, in which case the British would certainly not have obliged by remaining in India to train their adversaries. Gandhi had remarked: “Having clipped our wings it is their [British] duty to give us wings wherewith we can fly.”

What the above implies is that Gandhi’s independence movement was a friendly match where the adversary [the British], after withdrawing, was expected to be sporting, and be generous to the other side.

S.S. Gill:
“It seems presumptuous to pick holes in Gandhi’s campaigns and strategies, and appear to belittle a man of epic dimensions, especially when the nationalist mythologies render it sacrilegious to re-evaluate his achievements. Great men of action, who perform great deeds, do commit great mistakes. And there is no harm in pointing these out. In one sense it is a Gandhian duty, as he equated truth with God.”
“It is generally believed that Gandhi’s greatest achievement was the liberation of India from colonial rule. But historical evidence does not support this view.”

Dr BR Ambedkar:
“…The Quit India Campaign turned out to be a complete failure… It was a mad venture and took the most diabolical form. It was a scorch-earth campaign in which the victims of looting, arson and murder were Indians and the perpetrators were Congressmen… Beaten, he [Gandhi] started a fast for twenty-one days in March 1943 while he was in gaol with the object of getting out of it. He failed. Thereafter he fell ill. As he was reported to be sinking the British Government released him for fear that he might die on their hand and bring them ignominy… On coming out of gaol, he [Gandhi] found that he and the Congress had not only missed the bus but had also lost the road. To retrieve the position and win for the Congress the respect of the British Government as a premier party in the country which it had lost by reason of the failure of the campaign that followed up the Quit India Resolution, and the violence which accompanied it, he started negotiating with the Viceroy… Thwarted in that attempt, Mr. Gandhi turned to Mr. Jinnah…”

Nirad Chaudhuri:                                                                                                                                                  “…After being proved to be dangerous ideologues by that [world] war, the pacifists have now fallen back on Gandhi as their last prop, and are arguing that by liberating India from the foreign rule by his non-violent methods he has proved that non-violent methods and ideas are sound. Unfortunately, the British abandonment of India before Gandhi’s death has given a spurious and specious plausibility to what is in reality only a coincidence without causal relationship… And finally, he [Gandhi] had no practical achievement, as I shall show when I deal with his death. What is attributed to him politically is pure myth…”

Patrick French:
“From late 1930s onwards, Gandhi was a liability to the freedom movement, pursuing an eccentric agenda that created as many problems as it solved. V.S. Naipaul has put it more bluntly, ‘Gandhi lived too long.’”

VS Naipaul:
“Not everyone approved of Gandhi’s methods. Many were dismayed by the apparently arbitrary dictates of his ‘inner voice’. And in the political stalemate of the 1930s—for which some Indians still blame him: Gandhi’s unpredictable politics, they say, his inability to manage the forces he had released, needlessly lengthened out the Independence struggle, delayed self- government by twenty-five years, and wasted the lives and talents of many good men…”

Sita Ram Goel:
“The way of Subhas Bose was the way of a straight patriot. And he stuck to that way to the bitter end. He did not change his way when he was thrown out of the Congress by a curious combination of Rightists and Leftists. He did not change his way when he was completely isolated in the country. It was while walking on that way that he went out of the country, organizedthe Azad Hind Fauj, forged national unity on a bloody battlefield, and, wrecked the morale of the British Indian Army which (and not the resolutions and jail journeys of the Khaddar-clad crowd, as we are now officially asked to believe) forced the British to quit India.”

“The main plank of Congress propaganda after independence has been that it drove out the British by means of non-violent non- cooperation and brought freedom to the country. The Congress refers with particular pride to the policies it pursued during the Second World War period, particularly after the Quit India Resolution was passed in Bombay in August 1942. To put it simply, we are asked to believe that British imperialism in India got frightened because some Congressmen in some parts of the country pulled down some telephone poles and broke a number of letter-boxes before they were herded into British jails.”

“But this is one of the big lies known to human history. And deep down in his own mind every Congressman knows that he is telling a lie. For, whatever might have been the merit or demerit of Congress policies before the Second World War broke out, the policies which the Congress pursued during the War period were singularly barren and bankrupt. If these policies succeeded in achieving anything, it was the partition of the country and the planting of the communist Trojan horse squarely in our midst.”

“As regards independence, it came because the War reduced Britain to a bankrupt power, because the morale of the British Indian Army was broken by Subhas Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj, and because the British Labour Party, in spite of Pandit Nehru’s malicious insinuations against it in all his books, really believed in the slogans it had raised. It is quite another matter that the Congress inherited the power which the British were in a hurry to part with. That does not prove that power came to the Congress as a result of its own efforts, or that the Congress was qualified to use that power in
terms of its inner cohesion or intrinsic character. The only thing it proves is that the departing British had retained a sufficient measure of confidence in the Congress organisation. The British believed that the Congress would be able to prolong the life of that political system which they had imposed on India…”

Till the early 1940s the British were well-ensconced in power, and looked
forward to comfortably sailing through for several more decades— notwithstanding the Gandhian agitations of over two decades since 1918. If they played politics between the Congress and the Muslim League it was only to prolong their rule, and not to give independence or create Pakistan. They never perceived the Gandhian non-violent methods as threats to their rule. Then what changed that they left? Those major factors are detailed below.

1) WW-II and its Consequence
UK’s Precarious Economy, and WW-II Exhaustion.

1.1) The UK was in a precarious economic condition as a consequence of the Second World War. It was hugely debt-ridden, and the maintenance of its colonies had become a tremendous drag on the UK exchequer. The Britain had colonised India to loot, and not to invest in it or to maintain it. The money flow had to be from India to Britain to justify continuance of the colony; and not the other way round, which had begun to happen.

“The Empire was no longer turning a profit, or even paying its way…

The result was what the historian Correlli Barnett has called ‘one of the most outstanding examples of strategic over-extension in history’.”

The famous UK economist John Maynard Keynes, who also happened to be an economic advisor to the UK, presented the war cabinet in 1945 with a financial analysis that showed that running the British Empire had cost 1,000 million pounds for each of the past two years, rising post-war to 1,400 million pounds per year; and that without the US financial assistance, the UK would go bankrupt!

The British exchequer was forced to freeze debt repayment. Britain owed the largest amount to India in war debt: 1250 million pounds!

Contrast the above reverse money-drain to the following Indian loot that was the reason for the establishment and prolongation of the Raj:
“…’twice in less than a century, India was conquered by the British with Indian money’. First, India paid for the [East India] Company armies, which campaign by campaign reached Delhi; and then the country was burdened with the cost of suppressing the Mutiny—the latter was estimated at Rs 40 crores [value then]. [That is, financing both to conquer India, and then to re-establish and perpetuate the British rule upon Mutiny, was by taxing, looting, and extracting money from India and Indians.] There was also the constant drain of India’s wealth towards London; the Company was earning £30,000,000 per year by the 1850s and remitting 11 back to England. Under the rule of the Crown [after Mutiny, from 1958] it was worse. By 1876-7 £13,500,000 was going to London out of annual revenues of £56,000,000, or 24%. The impoverishment of villages took on an extraordinary magnitude by the turn of the century…”

1.2) By the end of the WW-II territorial colonisation had ceased to be a viable enterprise, and decolonisation began. In fact, around the time India got its independence, many other colonies (like Sri Lanka, Burma– Myanmar, etc.) also got their independence, although there was not much of an independence movement in those colonies that would have forced the colonisers to leave. During 1947 Britain also pushed plans through the UN that would enable it to leave Palestine; and finally Israel was created on 14 May 1948.

1.3) Viceroy Wavell had stated to King-Emperor George VI as early as on 8 July 1946: “We are bound to fulfil our pledges to give India her freedom as soon as possible—and we have neither the power nor, I think, the will to remain in control of India for more than an extremely limited period…We are in fact conducting a retreat, and in very difficult circumstances…”

1.4) Militarily, administratively, financially, and above all, mentally the British were too exhausted after the Second World War to continue with their colonies.

2) Netaji Bose, INA and Army Mutinies

2.1) The military onslaught of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his INA hugely shook the British, and the Indian army.

2.2) The Viceroy was shocked to learn of thousands of soldiers of the British-Indian army switching over to INA (to support the enemy nation Japan) after the fall of Singapore in 1942. It meant the Indian soldiers in the British-Indian army could no longer be relied upon. What was more—there was a huge support for Netaji Bose and the INA among the common public in India.
Wrote Maulana Azad in his autobiography: “After the surrender of Japan, the British reoccupied Burma and many officers of the Indian National Army (INA) were taken prisoner. They did not repent their action in having joined the Indian National Army and some of them were now facing trial for treason. All these developments convinced the British that they could no longer rely on the armed forces…”

2.3) The INA Red Fort trials of 1945-46 mobilised public opinion against the British on an unprecedented scale, so much so that the Congress leaders like Nehru (who had till then, and later too, opposed Netaji and INA) had to demonstratively pretend their support to the INA under-trials to get votes in the 1946 general elections.

2.4) The Indian Naval Mutiny of 1946 and the Jabalpur Army Mutiny of 1946, both provoked partially by the INA trials, convinced the British that they could no longer trust the Indian Army to suppress Indians, and continue to rule over them.

2.5) In the context of the Indian colony, Sir Stafford Cripps stated in the British Parliament on 5 March 1947 that Britain had only two alternatives: either to (1)transfer power to Indians, or (2)considerably reinforce British troops in India to retain hold. The latter (option-2), he judged as impossible!

2.6) Comments Narendra Singh Sarila: “In South-east Asia, Bose blossomed, and,… played an important role in demoralizing the British military establishment in India. Indeed, it is a toss-up whether Gandhiji’s or Bose’s influence during the period 1945-46—even after Bose’s death— played a more important role in destabilizing British rule in India.”

2.7) Wrote MKK Nayar: “The reason why Britain unilaterally granted freedom even before Congress had intensified its agitation was on account of Netaji’s greatness. Army jawans who had never dared to utter a word against the British had united as one to declare that INA’s soldiers were patriots. Men of the Navy fearlessly pointed guns at British ships and establishments and opened fire. It was the same soldiers who had for a hundred years obeyed orders like slaves, even to massacre unhesitatingly at the notorious Jallianwala Bagh. They had now united to express their opinion and Naval men had shown their readiness to raise the flag of revolt. Attlee and others probably realized that Indian soldiers may no longer be available to hunt Indians. This may have prompted them to leave with dignity and self-respect.”

2.8) Stated Dr BR Ambedkar: “…The national army [INA] that was raised by Subhas Chandra Bose. The British had been ruling the country in the firm belief that whatever may happen in the country or whatever the politicians do, they will never be able to change the loyalty of soldiers. That was one prop on which they were carrying on the administration. And that was completely dashed to pieces [by Bose and INA]. They found that soldiers could be seduced to form a party—a battalion to blow off the British. I think the British had come to the conclusion that if they were to rule India, the only basis on which they would rule was the maintenance of the British Army.”

2.9) The British historian Michael Edwardes wrote: “It slowly dawned upon the government of India that the backbone of the British rule, the Indian Army, might now no longer be trustworthy. The ghost of Subhas Bose, like Hamlet’s father, walked the battlements of the Red Fort (where the INA soldiers were being tried), and his suddenly amplified figure overawed the conference that was to lead to Independence.”

2.10) Chief Justice PB Chakrabarty of Calcutta High Court, who had also served as the acting Governor of West Bengal in India after independence, wrote in his letter addressed to the publisher of Dr RC Majumdar’s book ‘A History of Bengal’ :
“You have fulfilled a noble task by persuading Dr. Majumdar to write this history of Bengal and publishing it …In the preface of the book Dr Majumdar has written that he could not accept the thesis that Indian independence was brought about solely, or predominantly by the non- violent civil disobedience movement of Gandhi. When I was the acting Governor, Lord Atlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing the British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor’s palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave?

“In his reply Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji [Subhas Bose]. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee’s lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, ‘m-i-n-i-m-a-l !’”

The Chief Justice also wrote: “Apart from revisionist historians, it was none other than Lord Clement Atlee himself, the British Prime Minster responsible for conceding independence to India, who gave a shattering blow to the myth sought to be perpetuated by court historians, that Gandhi and his movement had led the country to freedom.”

2.11) Basically, the British decided to leave because they were fast losing control on account of the various factors detailed above; and lacked the financial resources, the military clout (thanks to Bose, the INA, the Mutinies, and the anti-British atmosphere they created), and, above all, the will to regain that control.

3) Pressure from the US
The Cripps Mission of March-April 1942, the first one in the direction of
freedom for India, was under the pressure from the US. The US felt that the best way to secure India from Japan was to grant it freedom, and obtain its support in the war.
US President Roosevelt had constantly pressurised Britain on India, and had specially deputed Colonel Louis Johnson to India as his personal representative to lobby for the Indian freedom.

Infuriated at President Roosevelt’s sympathy for the nationalists [Indians], Churchill dismissed Congress as merely “the intelligentsia of non-fighting Hindu elements, who can neither defend India nor raise a revolt.”

The US kept up the pressure. The US wanted Britain to settle the Indian issue so that India could provide whole-hearted support in WW-II. Although the war in Europe was almost over by April 1945 (Hitler committed suicide on April 30), not so the war in Asia—a large area was still occupied by Japan. Japan unconditionally surrendered only on 14 August 1945, after the dropping of atomic bombs on 6 and 9 August on Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. Shimla Conference was called on 25 June 1945 by Viceroy Wavell for Indian self-government again under pressure from Americans to get full Indian support to dislodge Japan from its occupied territories of Burma, Singapore and Indonesia.

The Japanese surrender following the dropping of atom-bombs dramatically enhanced the US military clout. The US thereafter insisted that the Atlantic Charter be also made applicable to the European colonies in Asia (it was, after all, a question of grabbing markets for the US capitalists), and they all be freed. Thanks to the war, Britain had almost gone bankrupt, and was dependent on massive American aid. It could not therefore ignore or withstand the US pressure. Clement Attlee himself acknowledged in his autobiography that it was difficult for Britain to keep sticking on to the Indian colony given the constant American pressure against the British Empire.

Writes Maria Misra: “…the crisis ridden British economy and, especially perhaps, American pressure to decolonize, simply could not be ignored. As [Viceroy] Wavell himself confided to his diary, while Churchill, Bevin and Co. ‘hate the idea of our leaving India but… [they have] no alternative to suggest.”

Writes Patrick French: “[By 1946] Demobilization [of armed forces] was almost complete, and there was no political will on either side of the House of Commons for stopping this process and reinforcing India with the necessary five divisions. Indeed, it would not have been possible without US funding, which would never have been forthcoming.”

Wrote Maulana Azad: “I have already referred to the pressure which President Roosevelt was putting on the British Government for a settlement of the Indian question. After Pearl Harbour, American public opinion became more and more insistent and demanded that India’s voluntary cooperation in the war effort must be secured [by giving it freedom].”

The fact of American help and pressure in getting independence for India is not adequately acknowledged by India.

Apart from the US, the Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, part of the Allies in WW-II, had also throughout pressed the British Government to recognise India’s independence to enable it to render all help it was capable of.

The Chicago Tribune in its valedictory tribute to Churchill had mentioned that “we [the US] have no interest in maintaining [or allowing the UK to maintain] her oppressive empire.”

4) Gandhi & the Congress?
Gandhi and the Congress were among the minor reasons and non-
decisive factors the British left. Strangely, and quite unjustifiably, the focus is on Gandhi, Nehru and the Congress on each anniversary of the Independence Day of India.

5) The British Sought Freedom from India!?
It may sound ironic but by 1946–47 it was actually Britain which sought
freedom from India!
As Patrick French puts it: “The role given to him [Mountbatten] by Attlee’s government was to be the lubricant of imperial withdrawal; nothing more. His task was to give Britain—a harassed, war-torn, penniless little island—freedom from its Indian Empire, which had turned from a valuable asset into a frightening burden.”


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