1947 was a ‘Transfer of Power’
by Gagandeep Bakshi on 26 Jan 2017 6 Comments

The present Indian Republic is the successor entity of the British Empire. The reputed German historians Herman Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund have cited the non-revolutionary and smooth transfer of power as enabling the Indian Republic to continue seamlessly, with the institutions fashioned by the British Empire like the armed forces, the civil bureaucracy and the police and intelligence services. The somewhat disconcerting historical fact however, is that the British did not grant independence to India in 1947. They carried out a “transfer of power” to an Anglophile coterie of lawyers in the Indian National Congress led by Nehru. To understand the current Indian politics therefore, we must understand our recent history.


The 1857 Uprising


Aurangzeb had destroyed the secular consensus on which Akbar had built and then taken the Mughal Empire to such great heights. He had monetised the economy on the silver standard and rationalised the taxation regime. He had established matrimonial alliances with the Rajput Princes and co-opted some of them as Generals in the Mughal Army.


Aurangzeb however; re-introduced the hated Jazia tax and intensified persecution of the Hindus and Sikhs. He completely unravelled the secular consensus put in place by Akbar (who had called India his Homeland). This led to the revolts of the Sikhs, the Marathas and the Ahoms in Assam. These revolts had torn apart the Mughal Empire, well before the British established their sway.


Into this vacuum, the British East India Company stepped in innocuously. It recruited Indian sepoys; drilled them on European lines and soon created a cost-effective Infantry based Army that helped it conquer virtually the whole of India, starting from the three coastal bridgeheads of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. They destroyed the local crafts and industry to push their mass manufactured products. They cut off the hands of the weavers who used to weave the very fine muslin cloth of Dhaka. Later they forced the locals to cultivate opium for sale to China.


Cumulatively, these actions spread great resentment and outrage which finally resulted in the great mutiny of 1857 amongst the sepoy ranks of East India Company’s Presidency Armies. This spark soon mutated into a major popular uprising all over North India. Over a period of time, about 80,000 Indian soldiers rebelled. Had they all rebelled together or had they had a competent leadership, the British Empire in India would have come to a swift and inglorious end.


The British however quelled this uprising with brutal force, but it shook them to their roots. The British subsequently declared the Poorbaiya (Eastern) troops of UP, Bihar and Bengal, with the help of which they had conquered the bulk of India, as non-martial and stopped their recruitment into the British Indian Army. The new Indian Army was raised on segmented ethnic lines to ensure that they would never subscribe to the idea of India.


Their primary attempt thereafter was to sanitise their British Indian Army and ensure that it remained loyal to the Raj. That is why its entire recruitment focus was diverted to the Punjab and the Hill tribes (Gurkhas, Gharwalis, and Kumaonis). The heavy emphasis on a Regimental System of motivation served the colonial design of accentuating local, ethnic and linguistic identities and preventing the crystallisation of a ‘Pan-Indian’ identity that the nationalists were so desperately trying to forge. The only flaw in this thesis was that in times of war and rapid expansion (as in the two wars) this narrow manpower base of the martial-classes completely broke down and had to be supplemented by recruiting thousands of soldiers from clans and castes declared non-martial by the British. Thus in these wars the British were forced to recruit the Mazhbi Sikhs, Mahars and Biharis etc.


British Divide and Rule Policies, Post 1857


This massive uprising eroded the carefully maintained façade that the Company ruled on behalf of the weak Mughal Emperor. The concept of Imperial Justice was specifically created to justify foreign rule in a deeply divided and fractured Indian society. Thus came into being the British imperial discourse of justice as equity. Only a foreign and extrinsic power could deal impartially with the many warring sections of a deeply divided Indian society. Hence foreign rule was needed simply because Indian polity was so deeply fractured and incapable of governing itself. Only an external power could have enforced justice between communities.


The Freedom Movement


The surprising fact about the freedom movement in India was that its leadership was predominantly composed of lawyers. They strongly supported the British colonial concept of imperial justice as equity. They did not consider freedom a right but a privilege that the British imperial monarch would gift to her subjects. Foreign rule was the only antidote to India’s innate divisions and fragmentations. The British success in completely splintering the Indian population was evident during the years of the First World War, when there was no rebellion in India even as the bulk of the British Indian Army was deployed overseas.


British Intelligence (the highly professional IB) had thoroughly penetrated the Ghadar Movement of revolutionaries based in Canada and USA and foiled all their ambitious plots to stir an uprising in India during the war. A branch of the Ghadarites had planned to march to India via the East (as the INA would do during the Second World War). India had contributed about 1.3 million Indian soldiers and 146 million pounds to the war effort. About 72,000 Indian soldiers laid down their lives and 11 received the Victoria Cross – the highest gallantry award in the empire. Service in such large Armies has a homogenising impact and it somehow revived the moribund idea of India.


These troops served overseas as part of the British Indian Army. They were organised in Indian divisions. They fought as equals and were lionised in Europe. They heard the slogans of liberty, fraternity and equality and saw their colonial masters in dire straits in the trenches of France and Flanders. They fought and prevailed against the European soldiers (Germans, Austrians and Turks). It was a transformative experience for about 1.3 million troops from the Punjab and Northern parts of India. The least, they expected from the British at the end of this war, was gratitude and perhaps some form of home rule. The response was one of callous racism. In 1919, what they got was the massacre of Jallianwalah Bagh.


Patterns of the Past


These then, are the patterns that seamlessly link our pre-colonial history with the post-colonial developments. Modern Indian History also clearly highlights the coincidence of oil price shocks with deep-seated dislocations of the Indian political economy. Three oil shocks have triggered three major political crises in India in 1973-75, 1990 and 2014. Dislocation of the political economy delegitimises the ruling elite and in the Indian case, dislocated the imperial justice discourse through the medium of Gandhian mass mobilisation in movements like the one triggered by JP in 1977 and Anna Hazare in 2013-14.


It is important for us to recognize that the Colonial empire did not grant India Independence. They “transferred power” to a coterie of anglophile lawyers who continued with the ideology of imperial justice as equity by enshrining Justice as the corner stone virtually of the Indian Constitution. The Indian Constitution was largely a codification of the British India Act of 1935. Its corner stone remained the fact that India was such a heterogeneous mixture of warring castes and creeds that some external agency was needed to ensure justice and equity between its feuding communities.


This role was performed by the British Queen Empress in the Colonial period. It was taken over by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in the post-colonial period. Whenever oil shocks de-stabilised the Indian political economy, the ruling Nehru Gandhi dynasty was overthrown with the help of Gandhian style mass movements like the ones led by JP in the 1970s and by Anna Hazare in 2013-14 as also the RSS inspired upsurge of Right Wing Nationalism that culminated in the Modi victory of 2014. Those are the patterns that emerge from an analysis of our recent pre- and post- colonial history.


Excerpted from Chapter 1

Bose: An Indian Samurai. Netaji and the INA: A Military Assessment

Maj Gen (Dr) G D Bakshi SM, VSM (Retd)

KW Publishers

ISBN: 9789386288394

Price: Rs 620/-

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