The year was 1956, former British Prime Minister Clement Attlee had come on a pan India tour. Former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, P. V. Chakraborty had managed to elicit a fruitful conversation with him. When he asked, “…….There was nothing in the Indian situation at that time, which made it necessary for the British to leave India in a hurry. Why then did they do so?”
Clement Attlee gave out several reasons, among which the most prominent ones were the rise of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, which weakened their British army, and the the Royal Indian Navy mutiny. When Chakraborty asked him about the impact of Gandhiji’s 1942 Quit India movement, Atlee wryly remarked with a smile “Minimal”.
This is the tale of the revolution, which commenced with the INA trials at Red Fort, and ended with the liberation of Bharatvarsha from the yoke of British imperialism. What couldn’t be achieved by the non-violent Satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi or the Congress Party under his tutelage, was ultimately achieved by the Indian soldiers and members of the Indian National Army, inspired by the charismatic speeches of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
The revolution actually began on 27 August 1945, when the British government issued a press release that the ‘traitor’ soldiers from Indian National Army would be court-martialled soon. Deviating from their standard procedure of military trial, the British government decided to keep an open trial and chose Red Fort as the venue for the same.
According to the British military officers, the main objective of holding such trials was to create the perception that the soldiers of the Indian National Army were traitors, cowards, stubborn and stooges of the Japanese, who deserved to be punished. The then British Indian Army chief, General Claude Auchinleck had assured the then Viceroy of India, Lord Wavell that the traitor army (he used to address Indian National Army as such) was accused of heinous crimes. Lord Wavell himself was of the opinion that the Indians would get a strong jolt from the court martial of the officers of Azad Hind Fauj. General Auchinleck was assured of the fact that Indians would stop rooting for the INA officers once their ‘cruelty’ and ‘barbarism’ was exposed to the masses.
General Auchinleck reassured Lord Wavell that their loyal subjects in India wouldn’t like to associate themselves with murderers from the Indian National Army. To this effect, he even had fake news of INA soldiers injuring their Indian counterparts in the British Indian Army and brutally murdering their British superiors from the premises of All India Radio. However, the one terrible mistake that General Auchinleck had made was to think that the masses of India and England were both one and the same.
To achieve their objective, the trials on INA officers began soon in the premises of Red Fort. The first batch of officers on trial comprised the iconic trio – Captain Shah Nawaz Khan from Punjab Regiment [who was Major General in Indian National Army], Lieutenant Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon from Punjab Regiment as well (who was Lieutenant Colonel in Indian National Army) and Captain Prem Kumar Sahgal from the Baloch Regiment (who was Colonel in Indian National Army).
However, the decision turned out to be the ultimate nail in the coffin of the British Empire. Contrary to the expectations of the British, the masses gave immense support to the INA officers, both on trial and under British custody. During the INA trials, slogan echoed outside the Red Fort – “Lal Qile se Aayi Aawaz, Sahgal Dhillon Shah Nawaz – Inki Ho Umar Daraz” This means that the public used to pray for the well being of the INA officers on trial.
In the Red Fort trials, the prosecution advocate and the then Advocate General of India, Naushirwan P Engineer, was unable to prove the allegations of torture on the accused INA officers. When defence lawyer Bhulabhai Desai sought proof on the accusations, the prosecution brought forward their first witness and former magistrate D C Nag, whose confession proved to be costlier for the British side in the end.
A member of the Adjutant General department of the British Indian Army, DC Nag was taken prisoner along with members of the Punjab Regiment of the British Indian Army. His confession revealed the commitment of Indian National Army towards the cause of Indian independence. Azad Hind Fauj turned out to be an organized, disciplined military force, thanks to these trials.
As the INA trials came to a close, even General Auchinleck had known that the situation was not as great as it was before. In a letter written to the senior British officials, he wrote that punishing any of the three officers on trial or any soldier of INA would invite an uprising of a scale that cannot be imagined, and would lead to mutiny within the ranks of the British Indian forces. The very armed forces that had maintained their supremacy over India was now a double edged sword, which could take the lives of their own masters.
The words of General Auchinleck soon turned out to be true. On 18 February 1946, the ratings (non commissioned officers of Royal Indian Navy) raised the flag of rebellion on board HMS Talwar and HMIS Hindustan. Leaving their posts, the ratings came out with the posters of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Netaji’s call for freedom was now showing its effect.
The rebellion soon spread like wildfire in Cochin, Bombay, Vishakhapatnam, Karachi, and Calcutta as the list went on. Any officer who protested was thrown off board by the rebels. The skies echoed with the calls of freedom and the slogan of Jai Hind, and the English ensign was brought down, only to be replaced by the Tiranga.
The effect of this uprising came to light, when the Gurkha soldiers of the British Indian Army refused to fire against the rebel sailors. The call to free INA soldiers and Jai Hind now echoed throughout India. By 20 February, the British Indian destroyers had now surrounded the Gateway of India, completely in control of the rebel sailors. Every Indian was now ready for the war.
However, the most tragic part of the event was that neither Congress nor Muslim League supported the rebellion. Mahatma Gandhi issued a statement condemning the same, while Muslim League refused to acknowledge the existence of any rebellion like this. This also proved that the two parties hardly cared for the masses, and exploited their sentiments to serve their British interests.
The rebellion soon spread from the Royal Indian Navy to the Royal Indian Air Force. Though it was suppressed soon, the British officers had now realized that they couldn’t control India now, and it would be better to leave the nation as soon as possible.
The heroes whose names should’ve been memorized by each and every child today, the heroes whose names should’ve been remembered for ages, do not even find a mention in the modern Indian history apart from a mere footnote. We have no idea as to how many such warriors existed, whose names have been deliberately written off from the pages of Indian history.