THE TRANSFER OF POWER: REAL OR FORMAL?
Suniti Kumar Ghosh*
(From Aspects of Indian Economy, No. 43, July 2007)
It is held as an axiomatic truth that India became an independent, sovereign state from 15 August 1947 when the British imperialists transferred power to Indian hands. Do facts bear out what is generally supposed to be true?
At the end of World War II India stood at the crossroads. One road led to genuine independence, the overthrow of colonial rule as well as its domestic props, transformation of Indian society, destruction of all the structural barriers – foreign and domestic – to her regeneration – all the barriers that inhibit her development. Genuine decolonization means that the old order of the colonial era must yield place to a new one – political, economic, social and military. The other road led to formal transfer of power to classes that were traditional Indian allies of imperialism, continued integration into the capitalist-imperialist system and revolving around metropolitan powers as a satellite, continued existence of the development-inhibiting structural barriers that colonial rule had created and consequent ‘development of underdevelopment’.
At the end of World War II, British imperialism was beset with several contradictions –with U.S imperialism (on which it depended for its post-war reconstruction), international communism, national liberation struggles in colonies, its own armed forces who mutinied in some places to realize their demand for speedy demobilization, etc. Of all the contradictions with which British imperialism was confronted, its contradiction with the Indian people was no doubt the principal one.
Two forces at work
In India there were two forces at work, besides the Raj , at the end of the war. When the war in Europe ended, Viceroy Wavell released the members of the working committee of the Congress from prison and convened a conference at Simla in June-July 1945. As V.P Menon wrote, the Congress came in for co-operation without any conditions.1 The Congress leaders were eager to join the Viceroy’s Executive Council (which Wavell intended to reconstitute with representatives of Indian political parties) “on the basis that they would whole-heartedly co-operate in supporting and carrying through the war against Japan to its victorious conclusion”. (The Congress leaders’, including Gandhi’s, faith in the creed of non-violence was remarkably flexible.) Nehru felt overjoyed and said: “We feel we must succeed at Simla …I am very hopeful.”2 But the Simla Conference foundered on the rock of the League’s claim to nominate all Muslim members of the reconstituted Council.
Wavell wanted the Congress leaders to “see to it that a peaceful atmosphere is preserved in the country”. Wavell was afraid of a post-war upheaval in the country. So was Gandhi.3 The Congress president Abul Kalam Azad wrote to the Viceroy: “… the contacts established between the Congress and the Government had largely allayed past bitterness and marked the beginning of a new chapter of confidence and goodwill.”4
As we shall see, it was that surge of “confidence and goodwill” for the British imperialists that continued to rise and yielded the transfer of power. Congress leaders had reasons to feel “confidence and goodwill” for the British imperialists. Close co-operation between the Raj on the one hand and the Indian big bourgeoisie and Congress leaders on the other had already started. The Raj regularly invited discussions with Congress leaders on constitutional issues, the future administrative set-up, “a scheme of army reorganization” and other matters like education, industry and planning. Nehru was being consulted on constitutional questions and army reorganization. In June 1944 Sir Ardeshir Dalal, a Tata director and an author of the Bombay Plan, so much lauded by Nehru, had been appointed a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council in charge of planning and development. During the war the British Raj and the Indian big bourgeoisie were bound with close ties of collaboration, for instance, in the Eastern Group Supply Council and on various official committees.
On the other hand, after the end of the war the people – workers, peasants, the youth, office employees, even sections of the Raj’s regular armed forces and the police did not share the Congress leaders’ “confidence and goodwill” for British imperialism and though not led and organized by any political party, rose throughout India to liberate themselves from imperialist fetters. Nehru appraised the revolutionary situation correctly and joined hands with the imperialists and tried by all means to dissipate the revolutionary situation. Nehru said that India was on the “Edge of a Volcano” and that “We are sitting on the top of a Volcano”.5 P.J.Griffiths, the leader of the European group in the Central Legislative Assembly, also said: “India, in the opinion of many, was on the verge of revolution.”6
India on the “verge of revolution”
In the winter and summer months of 1945-6 India, as all sorts of reactionaries feared, was on the “edge of a volcano” – ready to erupt at any time – as Nehru said. Almost immediately after the end of the war, on 21 to 23 November 1945, Calcutta saw the first outburst of the pent-up fury of the people who had suffered incredibly under the fascist British Raj during the war. The immediate cause of it was the police firing on a procession of students demanding the release of the Indian National Army (INA) officers who were then on trial. A student and another youth became martyrs and several were wounded. That set Calcutta and the suburbs ablaze. The city was completely paralyzed. Trains were stopped. Barricades were set up and street battles took place. All communal considerations were forgotten and the people fought with primitive weapons the heavily armed forces of the Raj. Police and military vehicles were burnt down – about 150 of them. According to official estimates, 33 persons including an American, were killed and 200 civilians, many policemen, 70 British and 37 American soldiers were wounded.7 The whole of Bengal was surcharged with bitter anti-imperialist feeling.
Describing the mood of the people, Bengal Governor Casey wrote: “Both in North and South Calcutta a feature of the disturbances … was that the crowds when fired on largely stood their ground or at most only receded a little, to return again to the attack…. Throughout the forenoon and early afternoon of the 23rd [November], Congress and some Communist propaganda cars toured the affected areas dissuading the students from further participation.”8
Viceroy Wavell rushed to Calcutta. On 27 November he informed the Secretary of State: “Casey was impressed by the very strong anti-British feeling, behind the whole demonstration, and considered the whole situation still very explosive and dangerous.” Significantly, Commander-in-Chief Auchinleck made an appreciation of the internal situation within India on 24 November, the very day after the uprising. The Viceroy agreed generally with the appreciation. Auchinleck wrote:
“If the Indian Forces as a whole cease to be reliable, the British Armed Forces now available are not likely to be able to control the internal situation or to protect essential communications, nor would any piecemeal reinforcement of these forces be of much avail. To regain control of the situation and to restore essential communications within the country nothing short of the organized campaign for the reconquest of India is likely to suffice.”9
The lesson of the November uprising went home to the British imperialists. On 24 November itself, Auchinleck met some representatives of provincial governments about I.N.A trials. In his letter to Wavell of the same day Auchinleck wrote that the provincial representatives agreed that “the trials should be limited to those involving brutality and murder of such a nature that it could not be defended as an act committed in good faith by a combatant”. He added: “The evidence reaching us now increasingly goes to show that the general opinion in the Army … is in favour of leniency.” On 30 November – within a week of the uprising – the Indian Government issued a press communiqué which stated: “Until all investigations are complete, it is not possible to state the number who will be brought to trial but the total is unlikely to be as many as fifty and may be as few as twenty, and, as explained above, trials will be limited to those against whom brutality is alleged.”10The charge of ‘waging war against the king’ was dropped and the sentences already passed were remitted.
It may be noted that in the meantime the British had brought home as captives tens of thousands of captured I.N.A officers and men and started court-martials of them. The original plan which had received the “gratified approval” of the Congress leaders11 had been to release some, sentence many others to imprisonment and execute 40 to 50 prisoners. As we have said, the plan was changed almost immediately after the November uprising.
As stories of Subhas Bose and the I.N.A, who had founded the provisional government of Free India in Southeast Asia and planted the flag of Indian freedom in Kohima, spread, they sent a thrill from one end of the subcontinent to another. As R.P. Dutt said, the example of the I.N.A and “the subsequent trials of the I.N.A leaders kindled to white heat the flame of militant patriotism and the conception of the armed conquest of power in place of the old non-violent struggle.”12 The most alarming thing to the British imperialists was the impact of the I.N.A on the British Indian armed forces.13 Nehru wrote to Commander-in-Chief Claude Auchinleck: “Within a few weeks the story of the I.N.A had percolated to the remotest villages in India and everywhere there was admiration for them and apprehension as to their possible fate … The widespread popular enthusiasm was surprising enough, but even more surprising was a similar reaction of a very large number of regular Indian army officers and men. Something had touched them deeply.”14
On 26 November 1946, Auchinleck wrote to Wavell that “there is a growing feeling of sympathy [among the men of the British Indian armed forces] for the I.N.A.”15 The loyalty of the British Indian armed forces was thoroughly shaken by the I.N.A; large numbers of them transferred their allegiance to their motherland.
Gandhi rushed to Calcutta immediately after the November uprising. He had a series of interviews with Governor Casey. He assured Casey that “our future long term relations would be good”, that he would do his utmost in bringing about a peaceful solution of India’s constitutional problem, and that he was lulling the people into the belief that “India was going to get her freedom out all right” and asking them to “work on that assumption and no other”.16 The Congress working committee met in Calcutta and reiterated its faith in non-violence “for the guidance of all concerned” and clarified that nonviolence “does not include burning of public property, …” and so on. Before and after the November upheaval, Nehru went on emphasizing “the necessity of maintaining a peaceful atmosphere…” He went on telling the people that the “British are packing up”, that “in the present day world the British empire has ceased to exist” and expatiated on “the folly of disorder and violence”. He advised students not “to take suddenly the reins of the nation in their own hands” and “to leave political leadership to those… qualified to lead”.17 On 3 December 1945 he assured Sir Stafford Cripps, an important member of the British cabinet (and through him the entire British cabinet), that he was doing his “utmost to avoid conflict and restrain the hotheads”.18Sardar Patel advised the youth not to waste their energies in “fruitless quarrels”.
Again, on 27 January 1946, Nehru wrote a long letter to Cripps, in which he stated: “Elections have somewhat held people in check but as soon as these are over, events of their own motion, will march swiftly…. What happened in Calcutta two months ago and what is happening in Bombay now are significant signs of the fires below the surface. A single spark lights them”. He said that any delay on the part of the British to take the initiative “might well lead to disastrous consequences”. He assured Cripps (and obviously the British cabinet) that the gulf between India and Britain, which “has never been so wide”, could perhaps “be bridged even now with a great effort” and that he worked “to that end”. 19
Ignoring the Congress leaders’ sermons upholding law and order and the creed of non-violence, Calcutta rose again from 11 to 13 February 1946. The occasion was a protest demonstration by students against the rigorous imprisonment for seven years passed on Abdul Rashid of the I.N.A. The city’s life stopped because of a general strike. For two days mills and factories in Calcutta’s suburbs remained closed; trains did not run; people fought bitter street battles with the armed police and army units riding armoured cars. A marked feature, like that in November, was strong solidarity among Hindus and Muslims who together directed their attacks against Europeans. The upheaval surpassed that in November. According to official estimates, 84 persons became martyrs and 300 injured. As in November, the anti-imperialist wave in Calcutta and the suburbs sent ripples throughout Bengal. Bands of Congress, Muslim League and Communist volunteers moved along the streets of Calcutta and neighbouring areas jointly and helped in restoring order. On 13 February Swadhinata, the Bengali organ of the CPI, condemned indiscipline and disorder as the Congress president was doing.
Waves of anti-imperialist struggle rose one after another in different parts of India – from North to South, from East to West _ and lashed at the regime of the imperialists. The most spectacular and most significant among them was the uprising in Bombay which began on 18 February 1946. The ratings of the Royal Indian Navy (R.I.N.) rose in revolt first in Bombay and then in Karachi, Calcutta and Madras. The rebel navymen, who had various grievances – bad food, racial discrimination, insults meted out by British officers and so on – were inspired by the deeds of Subhas and the example of the I.N.A.20
By 22 February 1946 the rebel sailors were in control of about 22 vessels in Bombay, including the flagship of the British Vice-Admiral. A total of 78 ships of the R.I.N., 20 shore establishments and 20,000 ratings were involved in the struggle. Over a thousand men in the Royal Indian Air Force camps in Bombay came out on a sympathy strike. When ordered, Indian soldiers refused to fire on the R.I.N. ratings in Bombay as well as in Karachi. On 21 February the strike by the navymen developed into a pitched battle between them and British troops who had been called in as Indian soldiers refused to fire.21 And Bombay’s workers and youth, irrespective of the community to which they belonged, stood by the heroic men of the navy, carried food to them, erected barricades and fought pitched battles with armed policemen and several British battalions equipped with armoured cars and tanks. On 22 February, Bombay observed a general strike in the teeth of the opposition from big Congress and Muslim League leaders.
Ignoring the Congress and League leaders, the entire working class of Bombay came out at the call of the Naval Central Strike Committee, which was supported by the CPI. For two days there were pitched battles on the city’s streets, in which, according to official estimates, there were about 1,500 casualties including more than 200 dead. “The British tanks could clear the streets”, wrote B. C. Dutt, one of the leaders of the revolt, “only after hundreds had been shot down. This was the first time in the turbulent history of India’s freedom movement that the rulers were forced to use tanks to battle with unarmed and leaderless people…. February 21 had been the ratings’ day. February 22 belonged to the workers of Bombay.”22
In his ‘Foreword’ to Dutt’s book, S. Natarajan wrote: “What was impressive among the ratings was their complete freedom from communal or sectarian prejudices and their staunch loyalty to each other.”23 To quote Dutt, “The R.I.N. mutiny was the one conspiracy against the crown in which there was no king’s witness. They tried their best. They drew blank”.24
Besides Bombay, Karachi was the scene of actual fighting between navymen and British soldiers. Gurkha soldiers refused to obey orders to fire on the Hindustan, an old sloop, which put up a brave fight. The Gurkha soldiers had to be replaced by British soldiers. Not only did the Indian army units refuse to obey orders to fight the navymen, they went on strike in several places in sympathy with the rebel navymen. We have noted that one thousand men of the Indian Air Force went on sympathy strike in Bombay. So did the men of the Air Force in Poona, Calcutta, Madras and Ambala. To quote Dutt, “An R.I.A.F. squadron, which had been ordered to proceed to Bombay, was grounded at Jodhpur; every aircraft had mysteriously developed engine trouble.”25 Hallett, then Governor of the U.P., informed Wavell on 19 November 1945 that soldiers of the Air Force stationed in Allahabad, Bamrauli and Cawnpore had sent their contributions to the I.N.A. Defence Fund.26 The Indian Air Force stationed in Calcutta opposed the court martial of the I.N.A. men. It sent its subscription to the I.N.A. Defence fund with the words: “for the defence of the brave and patriotic sons of India.”27 Penderel Moon noted: “There was also unrest at this time in the R.I.A.F. and in some of the technical units of the Indian Army.”28 Not only was there unrest in some technical units of the army but army units, as pointed out before, disobeyed orders in Bombay and Karachi. In the Jubbalpur cantonment soldiers staged a revolt in March 1946 and in Dehra Dun Gurkha soldiers went on strike. In some places the police also rose in revolt. In March 1946 the police in Allahabad and Delhi went on hunger-strike. In April 10,000 policemen struck work. In September the military police went on strike in Patna and Begusarai. There was a widespread strike by policemen in Bihar in March 1947. The wall sedulously erected by the British Raj to segregrate the armed forces from the people crumbled down. At no time since the First War of Indian Independence in 1857-8 did the regular armed forces come out to defend the cause of freedom as they did now.
The brave men of the navy refused to be cowed by any threat – not even the threat of Admiral Godfrey (who had flown in bombers) to sink the navy. They appealed to political parties to lead them, promised to hand over to them the navy which they had renamed the Indian National Navy. But no political party, not even the CPI, responded to their appeal though they could have access to the rebel men of the navy.
Jinnah’s appeal to them, especially the Muslims among them, to surrender came in the early hours of 23 February when their representatives were meeting to decide their future course of action. Dutt wrote: “… the overwhelming majority were for a fight to death and not for surrender.”29 The Naval Central Strike Committee ultimately took the decision to surrender, stating that they were surrendering not to the British Raj but to the Congress and the League. In their last message to the people, they said: “For the first time the blood of the men in the services and the people flowed together in a common cause. We in the services will never forget this. We also know that you, our brothers and sisters, will never forget. Long live our great people. Jai Hind.”30
After the surrender the man-hunt began. More than two thousands of the rebels were arrested and kept in detention camps; about five hundred were sentenced to prison terms to serve as common criminals. The top Congress leaders, who had given the pledge that “no disciplinary action” would be taken, did little to keep their pledge.31
What role did the Congress leaders play during the historic naval revolt? Sardar Patel, Abul Kalam Azad, S.K. Patil (secretary of the Bombay Provincial Congress Committee, and later, minister of the central government), Jinnah and Chundrigar of the Muslim League openly opposed the call for a strike on 22 February issued by the Naval Central Strike Committee and advised the navymen to surrender to the British. Patil had secret confabulations with the Bombay governor and the Congress and the League placed ‘volunteers’ at the service of the Raj to “assist the police” and British army units to fight the people.32Colville wrote to Wavell that on 22 February he “saw several of these volunteers… and they did useful though limited work”.33
Bombay observed a successful general strike in the teeth of the bitter opposition of the Congress and the League leaders. Workers and students of Bombay fought pitched battles in the streets with British army units and the armed police, who were assisted by Congress and League volunteers.
At a mass meeting held in Bombay with the permission of the Bombay government on 26 February, Nehru and Patel strongly condemned “the mass violence in Bombay”, that is, the resistance of the navymen and workers who had dared to raise the banner of anti-imperialist revolt. Addressing the press next day, Nehru thundered: ‘The R.I.N. Central Strike Committee had no business to issue such an appeal [to the city of Bombay to observe a sympathy strike]. I will not tolerate this kind of thing.”34 The Nehrus alone had the right to issue calls for strikes!
Gandhi, the prophet of non-violence, condemned the rebels for their thoughtless orgy of violence – not the real orgy of violence by the Raj, of which the people were victims. To him the “combination between Hindus and Muslims and others for the purpose of violent action is unholy…”35 He went on denouncing those who disbelieved in British professions that they would grant freedom to India.
It was a country-wide anti-imperialist revolt. Wavell noted in his diary on 7 March 1946 that the victory parade that was organized in Delhi was boycotted and crowds of men burnt down the Town Hall.36
Workers were on the march everywhere despite the opposition of Congress and League leaders. The number of workers who went on strike in 1946 was 1,961,984 and in 1947, 1,840,784. There was an unprecedented upsurge of anti-imperialist struggle throughout the country, in which workers, peasants, students, other youths, office employees, navymen and sections of the Indian army, air force and police and lower rungs of the bureaucracy took part, and armed confrontations were frequent.37
Peasant revolts took place in different parts of India. In the Thana district in Maharashtra the struggle of the Warlis broke out. In the Alleppey district of the native state of Travancore (now a part of Kerala) peasants and workers launched a united struggle. In several districts of Bengal, especially in North Bengal, the Tebhaga struggle broke out under the leadership of the Communist Party. It was a struggle of the peasantry, mainly sharecroppers (who bore the expenses of cultivation) for a two-thirds share of the produce. Peasants fought heroically. In the undivided district of Dinajpur, forty peasants became martyrs. In 1946 began the historic struggles of the peasants in Telangana districts of the native state of Hyderabad (Telangana, now a part of Andhra Pradesh) under the leadership of the Andhra State Committee of the CPI. It developed into a struggle for land and power. Large areas were liberated. The struggle continued even after the march of troops of the Indian government in 1948 to suppress it, until it was withdrawn unconditionally by the CPI leadership in 1951. In several other native states ruled by princes, puppets of the British Indian government, there were revolts of the people, especially in Travancore and Kashmir.
Imperialism unable to rule in the old way
We have noted Commander-in-Chief Claude Auchinleck’s appreciation, of 24 November 1945, of the Indian situation, with which Viceroy Wavell generally agreed. On 19 February 1946, Wavell recorded in his diary that he had seen Porter, Secretary, Home Department, who was all for capitulation to the I.N.A; that he had discussed with Bewoor, Secretary, Posts and Air Department, about a postal strike; that he had talks with Carr, A.O.C-in-C, about R.I.A.F mutiny; with Griffin, Chief Commissioner of Railways and Conran Smith, Secretary, War Transport Department, about a railway strike; and “finally the C-in-C, most gloomy of all, about R.I.N. mutiny in Bombay and the I.N.A trials; What a cheerful day – prospect or reality of three mutinies and two strikes”, commented Wavell.38
After referring to the “serious rioting in Bombay”, “a mutiny in the R.I.N., much indiscipline in the R.I.A.F., some unrest in the Indian Army” and “threatened strikes on the Railways, and in the Post and Telegraphs”, Wavell wrote to King George VI on 22 March 1946: “Perhaps the best way to look at it is that India is in the birth-pangs of a new order…”39
When in late March 1946, the Cabinet Mission with Secretary of State Pethick- Lawrence, Stafford Cripps and A.V. Alexander came to India to negotiate, mainly with Congress and League leaders, a settlement of the constitutional issues and met the Viceroy’s Executive Council, Edward Benthall said on behalf of it that “ the Council was unanimous that a change of Government at the Centre was imperative… It [ the Council’s lack of confidence] is due to the uncertainty of Indian troops and police to whom they must look for defence and support in the future.”40
The role of ‘the big boys of Congress and League’
Towards the end of March 1946, Turnbull, Secretary to the Cabinet Mission, wrote: “The only hope is that the big boys of Congress and League are said to be much alarmed lest their followers break loose and of Russia.”41
The “big boys of Congress and League”, particularly “of Congress”, did not fail the imperialists; they acted in more than one way to save the Raj from the wrath of the rebellious people. As negotiations with the Cabinet Mission started, a bitter “war of succession” began. The seemingly endless negotiations and the brave declarations with communal demands of the leaders for a larger share of the British legacy were having an insidious effect on the people, much to the satisfaction of the Raj and the Indian reactionaries. “Amidst these ‘summit talks’,” wrote Michael Brecher, “the poison of communalism penetrated deeper into the body politic of India.”42
It is a cruel irony that Calcutta, the city of many glorious anti-imperialist struggles which the people fought shoulder to shoulder, irrespective of faiths, and other democratic struggles, the latest being the very successful general strike in sympathy with the All India Postal strike, – the city of nightmares to the imperialists and their underlings in India – became the first scene of a communal blood-bath. The people elsewhere, too, became victims of the vicious ‘war of succession’ between the two rival sets of compradors in the absence of a revolutionary party which could lead and co-ordinate their struggles to win victory. The imperialists, instead of trying to extinguish the communal flames, welcomed them and their Indian henchmen spread them by their acts and rhetoric. Later, on 24 January 1947, the director of the Intelligence Bureau, Government of India, noted for the benefit of the policy-makers:
“The game so far has been well played, in that (a) both Congress and the League have been brought into the Central Government; (b) the Indian problem has been thrust into its appropriate plane of communalism; … Grave communal disorder must not disturb us into action which would reproduce anti-British agitation.”43 After the communal carnage in Calcutta, Gandhi told Wavell “that if a blood-bath was necessary, it would come about inspite of non-violence.”44 On 21 July 1946 he wrote to Vallabhbhai Patel: “A great many things seem to be slipping out of the hands of the Congress. The postmen do not listen to it, nor does Ahmedabad, nor do the Harijans, nor Muslims. This is a strange situation indeed.”45
Again, writing to Patel on 24 July, Gandhi lamented: “There are other strikes on top of the postal strike. All this looks significant…. The Congress position may seem strong on the surface but it appears to have lost its hold on the people. Or it may be that the Congress itself is involved in these troubles if only from a distance. This must be clarified; otherwise the battle which we are on the point of winning will be lost.”46
The Mahatma released a torrent of denunciation of strikes and strikers, especially political and ‘sympathetic strikes’, and asked Patel to do the same.47 Nehru condemned the all-India strike of one lakh extremely low-paid postal employees as “against the interests of the common people”. But the fact is, the common people went on ‘sympathetic strikes’ throughout India on 29 July to give the postal employees their support. Those who opposed these strikes were the imperialists and the Gandhis and Nehrus. These were not adversaries but allies and they were on the same side of the barricade and the people on the other. The waves of struggle continued to rise. The situation in India was growing alarming for the British Raj and the Congress leadership. At the end of July the India and Burma Committee of the British cabinet concluded that if “some positive action” was not taken “without delay”, “the initiative might pass from His Majesty’s Government. The postal strike and the threatened [all-India] railway strike were symptoms of a serious situation which might rapidly deteriorate.” Wavell agreed and wired to Pethick-Lawrence on 31 July: “Widespread labour trouble exists and general situation is most unsatisfactory. The most urgent need is for a Central Government with popular support. If Congress will take responsibility they will realise that firm control of unruly elements is necessary and they may put down the Communists and try to curb their own left wing.” Wavell added that he disliked “intensely the idea of having an interim Government dominated by one party [Congress] but I feel that I must try to get the Congress in as soon as possible.”48
From U.P. Governor Wylie reported: “This strike business, for instance, is most unsettling…. With all this strike fever about, it would be too much to expect that the police would remain totally unaffected …”49
The director of the Intelligence Bureau, Government of India, warned: “… the labour situation is becoming increasingly dangerous…. I am satisfied that a responsible government, if one can be achieved, will deal more decisively with Labour than is at present possible.”50 On 6 August Wavell again wired to the Secretary of State: “I think it is quite likely that Congress [if it joins the government at the centre] would decide to take steps fairly soon against the communists, or otherwise the labour situation will get even worse.’51
British imperialism found itself unable to rule in the old way. In an undated note Attlee wrote: “In the event of a breakdown of the administration or a general alignment of the political parties against us are we prepared to go back on our policy and seek to re-establish British rule as against the political parties and maintain it for 18 years? The answer must clearly be No.” Among the reasons he cited was the lack of the necessary military force.52 In a “top secret” message to the Viceroy on 25 November 1946, the Secretary of State informed him that “We could not contemplate anything in the nature of reconquest and retention of India by force against the nationally organised opposition, and quite apart from the desirability of such a decision we do not believe that it would be practicable from a political, military or economic point of view”.53 In a footnote it has been stated that “the terms of this reply [to Wavell’s letters] were agreed at a meeting” between Attlee, Pethick-Lawrence, Cripps and officials of the India Office.54
When the British Raj felt unable to stem the tide of revolutionary struggles, it wanted some political party or parties of India with popular support to do it for them. The Congress leaders were lending their support from the outside but that was not enough. As the Muslim League refused to join the Congress in an interim government on Congress terms, the British imperialists decided to entrust the Congress with the task of running the state machinery for them.
When British imperialists found it unwise to take extreme measures to suppress the people, Congress leaders were entrusted to do so. The Congress leaders felt no less worried at the situation as it was developing. They were only too eager to join hands with the British imperialists to fight back the revolutionary tide and suppress the rebellious people. In August the Congress Working Committee adopted a resolution condemning the growing lack of discipline and disregard of obligations on the part of workers.55
On 5 August Wavell reported to Pethick-Lawrence that, according to an unimpeachable source, “Patel… was convinced that the Congress must enter the Government to prevent chaos spreading in the country as the result of labour unrest.”56 The British cabinet had decided on 1 August that ‘if the Muslim League were unwilling to come in [on Congress terms], it would be necessary to proceed with the formation of an Interim Government with Congress only”.57
So Congress president Nehru was invited to form an ‘interim’ government with himself as vice-president under Wavell. The Congress leaders undertook to fight and suppress the rebellious, anti-imperialist people – not only from the outside but also from the inside of the imperialist state machinery – to serve as imperialism’s shield and protect it from the wrath of the people. There was a preliminary round of ‘transfer of power’ when the ‘interim’ government was installed in office on 2 September 1946 – the first round of ‘transfer of power’ through which imperialism tried to save itself. In his letter to Mountbatten, dated 18 March 1947, appointing Mountbatten Viceroy of India, Attlee wrote: “… while the Interim Government would not have the same powers as a Dominion Government, His Majesty’s Government would treat the Interim Government with the same consultation and consideration as a Dominion Government…”58
Imperialism’s hopes were more than fulfilled, its reliance on the Congress leaders to extricate it from an “increasingly dangerous” situation was more than justified. On 9 October 1946 Nehru informed Wavell that “A short while ago the [U.P. Congress] Government issued an ordinance of the kind we have been issuing here to tide over the period from 1st October…” The U.P. ordinance “provided for the maintenance of public order and essential services through preventive detention, imposition of collective fines, and the control of meetings and processions.”59
On 21 January 1947 Wavell informed Pethick-Lawrence that searches, still then incomplete, had been conducted, that “the Madras [Congress] Government appear to have taken action against communists and are contemplating a conspiracy case [conspiracy against the King–Emperor] against leading members of the party…. The Bombay [Congress] Government have also written strongly for Central action or a Central directive against the party and indicating that they propose, in the absence of either of these, themselves to take strong action for detention of Communist agitators who constitute a great threat to public tranquillity in that Province.”
In this holy war against the anti-imperialist people, the Congress leaders would brook no interference even from British Parliament. Wavell’s message added that Home Member Patel deprecated the idea of any discussion in British Parliament of the action taken against Communists “as it can only impede the efforts of Congress to deal with the revolutionary element in the country.”60
A discussion in Parliament would expose the fascist nature of the Congress leaders’ attack on “the revolutionary element in the country”. The country-wide search of the offices of the CPI, trade unions, Kisan Sabha, Students Federation, Friends of the Soviet Union, etc., was carried out “under the direction of the Government of India”, of which Patel was Home Member. But in reply to R.P. Dutt’s cable, Nehru unhesitatingly wired back: “The police raids on the Communists took place without the authority or knowledge of the Ministers.” A similar reply he sent to Harry Pollitt.61
Even Wavell was amused. Communicating to Pethick-Lawrence on 29 January 1947 that “the Congress Government in Bombay had decided that the only way to deal with the Communists was to resort to detention without trial”, Wavell had a dig at the Labour Party minister: “it may come as a shock to you if they should resort to such ‘imperialistic’ methods”.62
On 27 February the Bombay Governor reported to Wavell that Bombay’s Congress ministry “are determined to handle the communist and other extreme Left Wing elements firmly, and are bringing forward this session a new Public Safety Measures Bill which re-enacts all our Ordinances in full…”63
The Bombay Governor also wrote on 2 April to Viceroy Mountbatten that the Congress ministers of Bombay felt that “their real opponents are the Congress Socialists and the Communists”64 – not the British imperialists.
At its twenty–second session held in Calcutta from 13 to 19 February 1947, the All India Trade Union Congress expressed its concern at the “indiscriminate firing by the police on workers” and stated in a resolution: “Firing was resorted to in Coimbatore, Golden Rock, Kolar Gold Fields, Ratlam, Amalner and Kanpur, resulting in the death of more than 50 persons including women and children and injury to more than 400.”
After referring to “the suppression of civil liberties”, ban on workers’ meetings, arrests and internment of trade union workers, destruction of union properties and so on, the resolution added: “In Madras alone, hundreds of labour workers are in jail, and in some places, Section 107 of the Criminal Procedure Code has been applied demanding security of good behaviour from labour leaders.”
The AITUC also protested against “the recent amendments to the Bombay District Police Act and the enactment of ordinances in the provinces of Punjab, Madras, Bengal, United Provinces and the Central Provinces under which persons can be arrested, externed or detained without trial.”
It also condemned the governments of Madras, Bombay and the Central Provinces [all Congress-ruled provinces] for detaining trade unionists in jail without trial and for externing some of them.65
It was an all-out war against the people who were fighting against cruel exploitation and oppression and for freedom, that the Congress leaders waged before and after their assumption of office at the Centre. At the Meerut session of the Congress presided over by Kripalani and addressed by Nehru among others, held in November 1946, Sardar Mota Singh, a delegate, “thundered that the British were using Pandit Nehru and his colleagues as ‘political cows’ to prevent the masses from attacking the British power, standing behind the cows.”66 As we shall see, it is to these “political cows” that the British transferred power in what became the Indian Union.
The Congress leaders found that along with repression other means were necessary: they tried other means also. One of these was to try to break the workers’ unity, which had withstood all communal tension. On 12 August 1946 the CWC adopted a resolution drafted by Nehru to organize the Hindustan Mazdoor Sevak Sangh on an all-India basis.67 This organization had been functioning in Ahmedabad under another name on Gandhian lines as a stooge organization of Ahmedabad’s textile magnates. When militant working class struggles threatened the very foundations of British imperialism and the Indian big bourgeoisie, the Nehrus took upon themselves the mission of splitting the working class.
And at its meeting in Calcutta on 7 December 1945 the CWC took disciplinary action against the communist members of the AICC and asked all subordinate committees to purge the Congress of all communists. As part of their fierce onslaught against the people, they accused the communists of having cooperated with the government in order to isolate them from the people. The irony was that when they themselves were acting as willing agents of the Raj to war against the people they accused the communists of having cooperated with the Raj after Nazi Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union – which they did for ideological reasons. And what about Gandhi who pledged cooperation with British war efforts in 1944 and 1945 – and people like Rajagopalachari?
Gandhi’s disciple D.G. Tendulkar observed that Gandhi “was aware of the deep hatred of the British rulers that was in the people’s heart. To forestall and prevent the conflagration of the deep-seated hatred was his constant concern.”68
On 4 December 1946, Nehru said: “There was a great urge among the masses of India for political progress. The Congress leaders had tried with some success to restrain that urge and keep it behind the Government.” 69
Though essentially true, it is an understatement. Throughout the twenties and the thirties and the Second World War years and after, the Congress leaders acted as the enemy within (of all the top Congress leaders, Subhas Chandra Bose alone was a patriot and that is why he was hounded out of the Congress in 1939). The others did not hesitate to stoop to any falsehood and deception and occasional, atrocious attacks on the people (as when they held ministerial offices in eight provinces between 1937 and 1940 and again from 1946) to kill their “great urge” to become free.
Nor did the CPI emerge as a rallying point for nationalists. Its leadership strengthened the people’s illusions about the Congress leaders instead of shattering them. To cite only one instance here, P.C. Joshi, then general secretary of the CPI, wrote in Congress and Communists (1944): “To us the Congress is our parent organization, its leaders our political fathers…” He described his own party men as “Communist Congressmen”.70 Individual communists and groups of communists stood by the people bravely and selflessly and led many of their struggles.
But in the absence of an organized revolutionary party – the crucial subjective factor – the objectively revolutionary situation gave rise not to revolution but to counter-revolution: the most unnatural partition of India on communal lines costing enormous blood-baths and close integration of the two new states into the capitalist-imperialist system, which preserved all the structural barriers to her development. A telegram from London to Campbell-Johnson, Viceroy Mountbatten’s press attaché, dated 3 June 1947, said: “A packed House of Commons listened with intense interest to Prime Minister’s announcement [ of the agreement between the British Raj and the leaders of the Congress and the League to create two new states on the basis of partition of India and dominion status] this afternoon. Proposals and first reaction from India undoubtedly created profound gratification among all Parties. Sense of unity and recognition of tremendous issues and possibilities involved were comparable only with most historic moments during war…. This has been a great day for us all.”71
India was regarded by the British imperialists as “the essential linchpin in the structure of the Commonwealth”.72 They devoutly wished that India would remain within the British Commonwealth. As early as 16 April 1943, when World War II raged, the Secretary of State, L. Amery, wrote to Prime Minister Winston Churchill: “To keep India within the Commonwealth during the next ten years is much the biggest thing before us… [ and ] should be the supreme goal of the British policy.”73 He wrote to British Foreign Secretary Eden in a similar vein on 9 May 1943.74 The goal of the British imperialists was to have a self-governing India within the British Commonwealth and to enmesh her with Commonwealth ties – economic, political and military.
When “much the biggest thing before us” was achieved, with Nehru and Patel themselves seeking dominion status,75 it was, no doubt, a “great triumph” of the British imperialists. The reaction of the U.S.imperialists was quite enthusiastic, though there was “the most appalling bloodshed and confusion” in India.
The Nehrus assured the British Raj that “in their view Hindustan would not ultimately leave the Commonwealth, once Dominion Status had been accepted”. But they emphasized “the need for secrecy on this matter because if it became known that Congress leaders had privately encouraged the idea, the possibility of their being able to bring their party round to it would be serious[ly] jeopardized.”76
How independent and sovereign did India become after the transfer of power?
Did India become truly independent and sovereign with the transfer of power or in name only? Did she undergo a revolution – the overthrow of the rule of imperialism, big comprador capital and feudalism, the structural barriers to her development? Or, did imperialism make a formal withdrawal behind its flunkeys – the “political cows”, as Sardar Mota Singh said – in order to blunt the edge of the national liberation struggle? Was the old order of the colonial era – the order the colonizers built in order to help them best to exploit and oppress the Indian people, after destroying the pre-colonial society – economic, social, political and military, refashioned by an independent, sovereign India which would lead to her regeneration?
The Indian economy had no independence of its own and remained an appendage of the economy of Britain during the colonial rule. British capital dominated every sector of Indian economy and sucked the life-blood of our people. We shall cite a few facts to point out that Indian economy did not become free from imperialist fetters after the transfer of power: the stranglehold of metropolitan capital was more and more tightened instead of being relaxed. Nehru assured the British capitalists in December 1946 that they would have full freedom to flourish here.77
In different official resolutions, speeches and so on, the Indian government extended a warm welcome to imperialist capital. An official memorandum of the Indian government in September 1949 declared: “The policy of the Government of India was to allow foreign capital to come in to operate freely in the industrial field…. Every attempt must be made to secure the maximum possible influx of foreign capital in the shortest possible time.”78
The Birlas’ Eastern Economist wrote in a leading article: “India for many years to come will need foreign capital and technical skill which must come mainly from the United States and Great Britain… it is clear from the Eastern Economist’s recent calculations so far as India is concerned that without foreign investment, it is quite impossible now to maintain our standard of life [already quite abominable]… India’s hunger for food this year is great but her hunger for capital – if less evident – is nearly as deep.”79
Some Indian magnates such as Tata and Birla had been negotiating with British and U.S. monopolies for the establishment of joint enterprises in India even before the ‘transfer of power’ and some deals were already concluded. On 2 May 1945, Manu Subedar, a small industrialist and leader of an anti-collaborationist group in the Indian Merchants’ Chamber, Bombay, denounced in the Central Legislative Assembly the collaboration between foreign monopolies and Indian big capital as “illegitimate marriage”.80 The joint ventures between imperialist monopolies and Indian big capital soon became the norm in India, encouraged by the Indian government. And trade followed the old colonial pattern.
For some years after the transfer of power the Indian rupee was tied to British sterling. When in September 1949, Britain was forced to devalue the pound in relation to the dollar by 30.5 per cent, India had to devalue the rupee in the same proportion. Announcing the devaluation, John Matthai, India’s then Finance Minister, said that he “had to act, not on conviction born of logical necessity but, so to speak, by the compulsion of events; since sterling was devalued, there was no other course open to us.” As a result, India’s exports became cheaper and imports dearer and the people became poorer.
The sterling debts – between Rs 1,700 crore and Rs 1,800 crore in 1946 – tied the Indian economy to the metropolitan economy. These sterling balances, which Britain owed to India, represented the value of goods and services compulsorily taken away from India during World War II and in the months following it. Indian food, raw materials, textiles and other finished products were taken away not only for the army but for the civil population of England and other countries when the Indian people were victims of acute scarcity, steep inflation, sky-kissing prices, black markets and famine. The goods were taken by Britain at controlled or negotiated prices at which Indians could not get them. “The price paid by India”, to quote Subedar, “runs into millions of lives.”81 The British government refused to give any assurance that it would not scale down the debts: it even refused to enter into any negotiations about them. The Anglo-U.S. Financial Agreement of December 1945 made it mandatory on the U.K to scale down the debts. In his memorandum on Indian Sterling Balances, dated 5 August 1947, Hugh Dalton, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote like a super-imperialist: “The Indians have asked for releases of £48.5 millions [out of £1,160 millions estimated by him] from the blocked account for the remainder of 1947. On my instructions the request has been rejected… No commitment for further releases after the end of 1947 has been made in the present negotiations, nor are we committed to recognize the total, without further cancellation or adjustment …. More than three quarters of them earn only one-half per cent [as interest].”82 This was one of the swindling tricks of imperialism. The Indian ruling classes collaborated in it even after the transfer of power.
In a note on India’s sterling balances, Subedar wrote: “There is no reason why assets, at least those who [which] belong to Britishers non-resident in India, should not be mobilized by the British Government with a view to reducing the outstanding balance.”83 He wrote to Patel, “It is most extraordinary that three Cabinet ministers [ members of the British Cabinet Mission, who came to India in March 1946] should have come here and not a word was said to them by any Indian in regard to the sterling balances.”84 On 7 July 1950, Nehru said that, “our economy is obviously tied to England and other allied powers.”85
In November 1951, G.D.Birla proposed the formation of an Indo-American Development Corporation with business magnates and officials of the two countries – a kind of “supertrust directing the future of Indian economy.”86 And in January 1952, B.R.Sen, then India’s Ambassador to the U.S.A, “recommended an investment company in which both American and Indian private capital would participate initially on a 70:30 per cent basis”.87 Both the representative of the Indian government and an outstanding leader of the Indian big bourgeoisie were keen that the future of the Indian economy should be directed not by the Indians but chiefly by U.S. big capital. Were these the voices of an independent, sovereign India or of a client state?
As regards feudal or semi-feudal relations in the vast countryside, there was no fundamental change, except that some grosser manifestations of feudalism were curbed. There was no democratic, or agrarian, revolution in India. There was no basic change in the property structure in the rural areas.
We shall confine ourselves to a few words on the changes in the political and social system in India after the transfer of power. The long-cherished aim of the alien rulers to have India within the British Commonwealth was fulfilled. The British imperialists of all hues celebrated the transfer of power on the basis of partition and dominion status as a “great triumph”, as a gain not a loss.88 They were sure that those to whom they had entrusted the subcontinent would defend and preserve their long-term interests in India and in the Indian Ocean region. And this is how they resolved their bitter contradiction with the Indian people. Indian ‘independence’ was the new face of British imperialism in India – a manoeuvre very deceitful and very successful.
India’s ‘freedom’ was ushered in with the playing of ‘God Save the King’ followed by Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka.89 Nehru toasted the health of the British king and Mountbatten toasted the health of the Dominion government.90 It was symbolical that Union Jack was not lowered; it flew proudly when the Indian flag was unfurled.91
The last Viceroy and Governor-General of India became the head of the new Indian state and Nehru and Patel “wanted him to stay on as long as he would”.92 H.V. Hodson, a former Reforms Commissioner of India, observed: “By a strange paradox Lord Mountbatten as constitutional governor-general of independent [!] India exercised more direct executive authority in certain spheres than he had enjoyed as autocratic viceroy.”93 Nehru and his colleagues sought Mountbatten’s advice about the composition of the cabinet for post-colonial India, “tore up the list of cabinet” they had prepared and changed four members of the old list.94 The trust that the top Congress leaders, quite astute men, reposed in Mountbatten reflected their trust in – and their closeness to – British imperialism. Gandhi had said earlier: “The sole referee of what is or is not in the interest of India as a whole will be Mountbatten in his personal capacity.”95 Leonard Mosley wrote that “from that moment on” – Nehru’s first meeting with Mountbatten in India – Nehru became “Mountbatten’s man”.96 We shall not refer here to Patel’s effusive expressions of gratitude to Mountbatten. These were the persons who, with the complementary role played by the leaders of the CPI – P.C. Joshi and his associates – left a profound influence on the course of Indian history.
Invited by the Congress leaders, Sir John Colville and Sir Archibald Nye (who became next year U.K High Commissioner in New Delhi) remained as governors of the two largest provinces – Bombay and Madras. While in ‘free’ India, they flew Union Jack on the bonnets of their cars. Campbell-Johnson commented that the invitation to Colville and Nye to continue as governors “gets our relations with the new India off to a start good beyond all expectations”.97
As President of the Indian Constituent Assembly Rajendra Prasad requested Lord Mountbatten, the head of the new State, to convey “a message of loyal greetings from this House” to the British King. It said: “That message [ the King’s message to the new dominion] will serve as an inspiration to the great work on which we launch today, and I have no doubt that we anticipate with great pleasure association with Great Britain of a different kind. I hope and trust that the interest and sympathy and the kindness which have always inspired His Majesty, will continue in favour of India and we shall be worthy of them.”98
As the Congress leaders had assured the British imperialists, the Indian Union joined the British Commonwealth of Nations, which recognized the British sovereign as head of the Commonwealth, to whom all dominions had to swear allegiance. It may be noted that on 2 May 1949, almost immediately after the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in London, Attlee declared in the House of Commons “with reference to the London agreement that no distinction should be drawn between the use of the terms ‘Commonwealth’, ‘British Commonwealth’ or ‘British Empire’, all of which should be regarded as interchangeable”.99 Appreciating Nehru’s role in the 1949 London Conference, Attlee said: “Mr. Nehru for India showed high statesmanship in accepting a new relationship whereby in respect for India the [British] monarch was recognized as Head of the Commonwealth.”100
Both Nehru and Jinnah agreed that India and Pakistan would fly the Union Jack on twelve days in the year but wanted that this should not be publicized. “In fact,” Mountbatten wrote, “they are worried about their extremists agitating against over-stressing the British connection although they are quite willing to retain it [ the Union Jack in the upper canton of the Indian flag, as designed by Mountbatten] themselves.”101
Indian society underwent no radical change. The administrative structure built by the colonizers remained. The British-trained Indian Civil Service (I.C.S.), the steel-frame of the colonial administration, continued as before. Its successor, the Indian Administrative Service (I.A.S.), to quote Francine Frankel, “retained the structure and style of its elitist forerunner, perpetuating a national administrative system that in numbers and outlook was more suitable to carrying out the narrow colonial functions of law and order than the broad responsibilities for economic development of an independent government.”102 The police and the judiciary continued with little change. The same laws prevailed with few changes, only the repressive laws were given more teeth and the coercive apparatus of the State has been strengthened with the passing of years as para-military forces have proliferated. Formally, colonialism died but the colonial spirit and structure remained.
The Indian Constitution, under which we are governed, owes much to the British. The Constituent Assembly, that framed the Constitution, was constituted on the basis of the 16 May (1946) Statement of the British Cabinet Mission and the Viceroy. The members of the Constituent Assembly were not elected on the basis of adult suffrage, which Congress leaders like Nehru had promised several times. The then existing provincial legislative assemblies of ‘British India’, formed under the Government of India Act of 1935 (which Nehru called a “charter of slavery”), which restricted the franchise to about 11.5 per cent of the people and provided for separate electorates for different religious communities, were asked to elect their representatives by single, transferable votes of their members (except Europeans), Muslim and non-Muslim members voting separately. And, according to an agreement between Nehru and the Chamber of Princes, on the accession of the native states to the Indian Union, about fifty per cent of the seats allotted to them in the Constituent Assembly were filled by nominees of the princes (who had been stooges of the British government) and the rest were supposed to represent the people of those states.
The first session of the Constituent Assembly was convened by Viceroy Wavell and held on 9 December 1946. Speaking at the subjects committee meeting during the Meerut session of the Congress in November 1946, Nehru declared: “when we attain freedom, we shall have another Constituent Assembly.”103 Deception was the name of their game. The draft of the Constitution was prepared by members of the I.C.S., chief among whom was Sir Benegal N. Rau, the constitutional adviser to the Constituent Assembly. Campbell-Johnson pointed out that dominion status made possible the maximum administrative and constitutional continuity, on the basis of the great India Act of 1935.104 “Approximately 250 articles [out of 395 articles],” wrote Michael Brecher, “were taken either verbatim or with minor changes in phraseology from the 1935 Government of India Act, and the basic principles remained unchanged.”105 G.D. Birla proudly claimed that “we have embodied large portions of the  Act as finally passed, in the Constitution which we have framed ourselves and which shows that in it [the 1935 Act] was cast the pattern of our future plans”.106 “The new constitution accepted the basically British compromise of 1935”, observed Thomas Balogh, the Oxford economist who was for some years adviser to the British cabinet.107
As regards military arrangements, the old order continued in the main. Immediately after the transfer of power Claude Auchinleck, the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian army, became the Supreme Commander of the armed forces of India and Pakistan. The commanders of the three branches of the armed forces of India – the army, the navy and the air force – remained British. Until the late fifties the commander of the Indian navy was British. An appeal was made to British officers and other British personnel in India’s armed forces to continue and a 50 per cent increase in ‘India Allowance’ was granted to British ‘other ranks’. 49 per cent of the British officers and 94 per cent of ‘other ranks’ were retained in the armed forces of ‘free’ India.108 But there was no place in the Indian army for the officers and men of the I.N.A.(whom Nehru described in 1945 and 1946 as “the pick of the Indian Army”, “a splendid lot”, “a fine lot” – “brave, stout-hearted and capable and very politically minded” – whose “standard of… fighting is admittedly very high” and “It is possible they will be acceptable to the future army of free India”).109 The navy men who rose against the British in February 1946 and the Indian soldiers who joined the Indonesians in their struggle against the Dutch imperialists who were trying to reconquer their country at the end of the war, were not reinstated for their revolt against imperialism.
The Joint Defence Council of India and Pakistan was composed of Mountbatten, Auchinleck, Baldev Singh and Liaquat Ali – two Britishers and one representative each of India and Pakistan – with Mountbatten as Chairman. Both Nehru and Jinnah “wholeheartedly welcomed” the British government’s proposal to negotiate “overall Commonwealth defence arrangements”. The Joint Defence Council was empowered to conduct negotiations on behalf of India and Pakistan. To quote from Mountbatten’s message to London dated 8th August 1947:
“As I shall continue to be Chairman of the Joint Defence Council after 15th August, I shall hope to be able to regulate these discussions [with the British military delegation to decide on ‘overall Commonwealth defence arrangements’] and trust that the desired objects will be achieved.”110
India became a partner of the “overall Commonwealth” military arrangements. Besides, as L.Natarajan pointed out, “India signed its first military agreement with the United States under the Mutual Defence Assistance Programme in March 1951…”111 These military agreements were concluded not between equals but between giants and a pigmy, between powerful imperialist countries – one of them a superpower seeking to dominate the world – and India, an underdeveloped country teeming with “half-naked, half-starved” people. “Thus came to an end”, wrote Attlee later, “the direct rule of the British in India.”112 Do all these facts indicate that India became independent and sovereign with the transfer of power?
“…the fact is”, writes Robin D.G.Kelley, “while colonialism in its formal sense might have been dismantled, the colonial state was not.”113 Imperialism today, as Thomas Balogh said, does not require overt political domination to enforce its rule.114Instead of directly administering a dependent country, it dominates it through local agents and using the levers of capital (both direct investment and ‘aid’, a euphemism for loan-capital), technology, military hardware, etc. Besides, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions, set up on the initiative of U.S. imperialism, play the role of the colonial administration of enforcing the rules of the imperialist game. The essence of neo-colonialism or semi-colonialism lies in subordinating the dependent country’s economy, politics and military strategy, to the economy and global strategy of imperialism.
Though India did not become free, an important change occurred. From a colony India became a semi-colony: India’s dependence on Britain yielded to dependence on several imperialist powers, chief among which is the U.S.A. A semi-colony is formally independent, but in reality, it is dependent on several imperialist powers. In this ‘semi-dependent country’ the domestic ruling classes enjoy political power but within the framework of basic dependence on imperialist powers. As part of the world capitalist-imperialist system, they cannot shake off this dependence, for they can survive and expand by collaborating with and serving imperialist monopoly capital as they did before – at the cost of the abysmal misery and wretchedness of the people.
References and Notes:
*The following has been abridged from the first chapter of a forthcoming publication by S.K. Ghosh. Interested readers may also pursue related themes in the following works by the same author: The Indian Big Bourgeoisie: Its Genesis, Growth and Character (2nd edn., Calcutta, 2000), India and the Raj (2nd edn., Calcutta, forthcoming), and The Tragic Partition of Bengal (Allahabad, 2002). (back)
1. Mansergh, N. (Editor-in-Chief), Constitutional Relations between Britain and India: The Transfer of Power (TOP), XII , pp.790-1; S.Gopal (ed.), Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru (SWJN), XIV, p. 47. (back)
2. Ibid, p.27; also p.37. (back)
3. TOP, IV, pp.333-8; 340-4, 365-9; V,pp.1-2, 127, 424, 431; Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWGM), LXXX, pp. 444-5; H.M. Seervai, Partition of India, p.32 and fn 15.TOP, IV, pp.333-8; 340-4, 365-9; V,pp.1-2, 127, 424, 431; Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWGM), LXXX, pp. 444-5; H.M. Seervai, Partition of India, p.32 and fn 15. (back)
4. TOP, VI; p. 455; SWJN, XIV, p.497 – emphasis added. (back)
5. TOP, VI, p. 1117. (back)
6. Cited in R.P.Dutt, Freedom for India, London, 1946, front cover page. (back)
7. TOP, VI, p. 713. (back)
8. Ibid, p. 725. (back)
9. Ibid, pp. 543, 582. (back)
10. Ibid, pp. 531-3, 588. (back)
11. Philip Mason (Joint Secretary to the War Department of the Govt of India, who drew up the plan), “Foreword” to Hugh Toye, Subhas Chandra Bose, p. IX; Hugh Toye, ibid, p.188; John Connell, Auchinleck, London, 1959, p.799. (back)
12. R.P. Dutt, Freedom for India. (back)
13. TOP, VI, pp.382-3, 507-8, 530-3, 536, 542-3, 807. (back)
14. SWJN, XV, p.92 – emphasis added. (back)
15. TOP, VI, pp. 382-3. (back)
16. Ibid, pp. 589, 599, 633, 679; CWMG, LXXXII, p.452. (back)
17. See SWJN, XIV, pp. 195, 207, 229, 231, 241, 252, 254, 491, 493, passim. Emphasis added. (back)
18. Cited in R.J. Moore, Escape from Empire, p. 76. (back)
19. SWJN, XIV, pp. 141-2, 146, 147. (back)
20. B.C. Dutt, Mutiny of the Innocents, p.61, for the report of the R.I.N, Enquiry Commission; Hindusthan Standard (a daily now extinct), 21.1.1947. (back)
21. See SWJN, XV, p. 1, note 2. (back)
22. B.C. Dutt, op cit, pp.174, 175. (back)
23. S. Natarajan, “Foreword” to ibid, p.7. (back)
24. B.C. Dutt, ibid, p. 78. (back)
25. Ibid, pp. 174, 175. (back)
26. TOP VI, pp. 507-8. (back)
27. SWJN, XIV, p. 543, fn. 4. (back)
28. Penderel Moon (ed.), Wavell the Viceroy’s Journal, p. 216. (back)
29. B.C. Dutt, op cit, p.181. (back)
30. Ibid, p. 185. (back)
31. Ibid, pp. 185-6. (back)
32. See Bombay governor John Colville’s report to Viceroy Wavell, 27 Feb. 1946, TOP, VI, pp. 1079-84; see especially p. 1082. (back)
33. Ibid, p.1082. (back)
34. SWJN, XV, pp. 4, 13; TOP, VI, p. 1083 – emphasis added. (back)
35. CWMG, LXXXIII, pp.171, 183, 184, 241-2, 243, 304, 360, 403, 441. (back)
36. Moon (ed.), op cit, p. 220. (back)
37. See G.Adhikari, Resurgent India at the Crossroads. (back)
38. Moon (ed.), op cit, p. 215. (back)
39. TOP, VI, p. 1233. (back)
40. Ibid, VII, p. 7 – emphasis added. (back)
41. Ibid, p.72 – emphasis added. (back)
42. Brecher, Nehru: A Political Biography, pp. 318-9. (back)
43. TOP IX, p. 542. Copies of this note were sent to Prime Minister Attlee, Alexander and Stafford Cripps. (back)
44. Ibid, VII, p. 262; VIII, p.313; X, p. 69; CWMG, LXXXV, 17; Moon, (ed.), op cit, pp. 260, 341 and the editor’s note; Alan Campbell- Johnson, Mission with Mountbatten, p. 52. (back)
45. CWMG, LXXXV, p.35. (back)
46. Ibid, p. 49. (back)
47. Ibid, pp. 82, 116-7; LXXXIV, pp. 8, 102-3, 336. (back)
48. TOP, VIII, pp.150, 154, 155 – emphasis added. (back)
49. Ibid, p.161 – emphasis added. (back)
50. Home Poll (1) 12/7/1946, cited in Sumit Sarkar, Modern India, 431 – emphasis added. (back)
51. TOP, VIII, pp. 190-1, 194. (back)
52. Ibid, IX, p. 68. (back)
53. Ibid, IX, p.174. (back)
54. Ibid, IX, 171. (back)
55. Note on Labour by J. B. Kripalani, A.I.C.C. Papers, File No. G 26/1946, cited in Sumit Sarkar, op cit, p. 429. (back)
56. TOP, VIII, pp. 190-1. (back)
57. Ibid, p. 169. (back)
58. Ibid, IX, p. 973. (back)
59. SWJN, Second Series, I, p. 177 and fn. 5 – emphasis added. (back)
60. TOP, IX, pp. 524-5 – emphasis added. (back)
61. SWJN, Second Series, I, p. 616 and fn.2, p.617 fn. 2, p. 618. (back)
62. TOP, IX,p. 575. (back)
63. Ibid, p. 822. (back)
64. Ibid , X, p. 87 – emphasis added. (back)
65. AITUC, Report: Twenty-Second Session, pp. 77, 78 – emphasis added. (back)
66. Hindustan Times, 22 Nov. 1946, reprinted in TOP, IX, pp. 133-4. (back)
67. SWJN, XV, p. 636. (back)
68. Tendulkar, Mahatma, Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, VII, pp. 106-7 – emphasis added. (back)
69. SWJN, Second Series, I, p.128 – emphasis added. (back)
70. Joshi, Congress and Communists, pp. 2, 20. (back)
71. Alan Campbell-Johnson, Mission with Mountbatten, p. 110 – emphasis added. (back)
72. TOP, VIII, pp. 224, 348-50, 547; VII, pp. 122, 591; VI, pp. 561, 659-60, 666, IX, p. 307, passim. (back)
73. TOP, III, pp. 895-7 – emphasis added. (back)
74. Ibid, p. 955; see also ibid, IV, p. 388. (back)
75. Ibid, X, pp. 716, 732, 735. (back)
76. Ibid, pp. 974-5 – emphasis added; see also pp.897-8. (back)
77. SWJN, 2nd Series, I, pp. 426, 428. (back)
78. Cited in L. Natarajan, American Shadow Over India, p. 71. (back)
79. “India and the United States”, Eastern Economist, 14 Jan. 1949, 44 – emphasis added. (back)
80. Cited in L. Natarajan, op cit, pp. 52, 266 (note 1). (back)
81. Quoted from Subedar’s article in Tribune, reprinted in Modern Review (now extinct), July 1945, p.4; see also Subedar’s Note on Sterling Balances in Durga Das, (ed.), Sardar Patel’s Correspondence 1945-50, III, pp. 214-6. (back)
82. TOP, XII, p. 540. (back)
83. Quoted from Subedar’s Note in Durga Das (ed.), op cit, p.215; see also p. 225. (back)
84. See Durga Das (ed.), op cit, p. 230. (back)
85. Quoted in Natarajan, op cit, p.147. (back)
86. Hindustan Times, 5.11.1951; cited in ibid, p. 92. (back)
87. New York Times, 30.1.1952, cited in ibid. (back)
88. TOP, X, p. 945. (back)
89. TOP, XI, pp. 107, 127, 146, 156, 279; XII, p. 731. (back)
90. Campbell-Johnson, op cit, p. 158. (back)
91. Ibid., p. 161. (back)
92. Ibid, p. 36. (back)
93. Hodson, “The Role of Mountbatten”, in Philips and Wainwright (ed.), The Partition of India, p.123. (back)
94. TOP, XII, p. 601. (back)
95. Campbell-Johnson, op cit, p. 71. (back)
96. Leonard Mosley, The Last Days of the British Raj, Bombay, 1966, p.101. (back)
97. Draft Note by Campbell-Johnson (undated), TOP, XI, p.842; see also ibid., XII, p. 193. (back)
98. TOP, XII, p.777, fn. 55. (back)
99. R.P. Dutt, India Today, Bombay, 1949 edn.,p. 575. (back)
100. Attlee, op cit, pp. 186-7. (back)
101. TOP, XII, p. 231. (back)
102. Frankel, India’s Political Economy, 1947-1977, Delhi, 1978, p. 81. (back)
103. SWJN, 2nd Series, I, p.19. (back)
104. Campbell-Johnson, op cit, p.355 – emphasis added. (back)
105. Brecher, Nehru: A Political Biography, p.421 – emphasis added. (back)
106. Birla, In the Shadow of the Mahatma, p.131 – emphasis added. (back)
107. Balogh, The Economics of Poverty, 2nd edn, 1974, fn. p.260. (back)
108. TOP, XII, pp. 94, 765. (back)
109. Nehru to Krishna Menon, sometime in September 1945; 27.10.1945; and Nehru’s speech in Delhi, 23.1.1946; SWJN, XIV, pp. 98, 343, 374. (back)
110. TOP, XII, p. 599. (back)
111. Natarajan, op cit, pp. 102-3. (back)
112. Attlee, As It Happened, p.186, fn. 55 – emphasis added. (back)
113. Kelley, “A Poetics of Anti-Colonialism”, Monthly Review, (Indian reprint), Nov 1999, p.19. (back)
114. Balogh, op cit, (1st edn, 1966 ), p.29. (back)