The Indian Navy’s tableau in the 2022 Republic Day parade will be special. It will contain many peculiar features- a woman officer will lead the marching contingent and a model of the indigenous aircraft carrier, Vikrant, with light combat aircraft will be on display. But above everything else, the tableau will also display the 1946 naval uprising.
Lieutenant Mayank Bhagour, an Aviation Officer posted at INS Rajali, said, “The forward part of the tableau depicts the Naval uprising of 1946, an event which contributed in India’s struggle for Independence.” It doesn’t form a central part of the school textbooks either. But it is something that you must know about.
1946 naval mutiny explained
Almost seventy-five years ago, the foundation of British rule in India was shaken by an extraordinary event- the naval mutiny.
It all started on February 18, 1946, when around 1,100 Indian sailors or “ratings” of the HMIS Talwar and the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) Signal School in Bombay went on a hunger strike. The sailors were disillusioned by the maltreatment of Indians in the Navy and the arrest of one BC Dutt who had scrawled “Quit India” on the HMIS Talwar. The mutiny soon expanded into a struggle to overthrow the British Raj.
Commander of HMIS Talwar, F M King, had reportedly addressed the naval ratings as “sons of coolies and bitches”. This was in line with the racist ideology of the British Raj and had further provoked a major episode of mutiny in the Royal Indian Navy (RIN).
On the morning after February 18, somewhere around 10,000-20,000 sailors joined the strike. Shore establishments in different places like Karachi, Madras, Calcutta, Mandapam, Visakhapatnam, and the Andaman Islands too witnessed a similar turn of events.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose soon turned into an icon for the protesting sailors. They demanded the release of all political prisoners including the Netaji-led Indian National Army (INA) members. They were also demanding action against the commander of HMIS Talwar and humane treatment of Indian sailors at par with their British counterparts.
The mutiny did not get political support
The naval mutiny was one such event that made it clear that Indians were done with British rule and would do anything to kick the British out of the country.
The British Raj got spooked by the mutiny. However, the political leadership at the time was divided.
While the Communists supported the mutiny, Congress had some disagreement over the issue. Nehru initially supported the mutiny and arrived in Bombay (present-day Mumbai) to meet the ratings against Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s wishes. Gandhi was opposed to the mutiny and had put Patel in charge of resolving the issue.
British were spooked by the mutiny
However, the British were scared out of their wits. At its peak, the naval mutiny had spread to 78 ships and 20 shore establishments, involving some 20,000 ratings in the uprising. At various locations, the revolt was coordinated by signal equipment on board HMIS Talwar. So, the British were simply losing their military control in the naval establishment.
The Royal Indian Naval mutiny was one of the single most important events which made it clear to the British that they won’t be able to hold on to their prized colony for too long.
During the famous interaction between Britain’s former Prime Minister Clement Atlee and former Calcutta High Court Chief Justice, Justice PV Chakraborty, Atlee had said that unrest in the Indian defence forces and the mutiny by naval ratings, in particular, had forced the British into leaving India earlier than planned.