Sunday, July 13, 2008

INDIAN NAVAL // AIRFORCE//ARMY -MUTINY OF 1946 AGAINST BRITAIN










INDIAN NAVY REVOLTED AGAINST BRITAIN IN 1946 AND FORCED IT TO GIVE FREEDOM TO INDIA IN 1947
The RIN Mutiny: a brief history:-Royal Indian Navy Mutiny

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Indian_Navy_Mutiny

THE AIR FORCE MUTINY – 1946 :- The Forgotten Mutiny that ...

heritagetimes.in › the-air-force-mutiny-1946
Dec 4, 2018 — While the disturbances in the Army and the RIN were confined to Indian soldiers and sailors, the unrest in the RIAF was induced by 'strikes' by ...

 Mutiny in the British Indian Army Jabalpur-1946

The Great Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946 and beyond – A ...

www.europe-solidaire.org › spip › article46751
Nov 7, 2016 — Mutiny in the British Indian Army Jabalpur. On the 26 th February 1946 120 army men of the 'J' company of the Signals Training Centre (STC), ..

Mutiny in the British Indian Army Jabalpur

On the 26th February 1946 120 army men of the ‘J’ company of the Signals Training Centre (STC), Jabalpur rebelled against their British superiors and broke free from their barracks directly due to the naval revolt. Part of a radio signalling unit, they were sick and...........................



HMIS Talwar at Bombay Harbour.

HMIS Talwar at Bombay Harbour.

The RIN Mutiny started as a strike by ratings of the Royal Indian Navy on 18 February in protest against general conditions. The immediate issue of the mutiny was conditions and food, but there were more fundamental matters such as racist behaviour by Royal Navy personnel towards Indian sailors, and disciplinary measures being taken against anyone demonstrating pro-nationalist sympathies. By dusk on 19 February, a Naval Central Strike committee was elected. Leading Signalman M.S Khan and Petty Officer Telegraphist Madan Singh were unanimously elected President and Vice-President respectively. The strike found immense support among the Indian population, already gripped by the stories of the Indian National Army. { read about I.N.A.:-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_National_Army}   The actions of the mutineers was supported by demonstrations which included a one-day general strike in Bombay. The strike spread to other cities, and was joined by the Royal Indian Air Force and local police forces. Naval officers and men began calling themselves the "Indian National Navy" and offered left-handed salutes to British officers. At some places, NCOs in the British Indian Army ignored and defied orders from British superiors. In Madras and Pune, the British garrisons had to face revolts within the ranks of the Indian Army. Widespread rioting took place from Karachi to Calcutta. Notably, the mutinying ships hoisted three flags tied together — those of the Congress, Muslim League, and the Red Flag of the Communist Party of India (CPI), signifying the unity and demarginalisation of communal issues among the mutineers.
The mutiny was called off following a meeting between the President of the Naval Central Strike Committee (NCSC), M. S. Khan, and Vallab Bhai Patel

of the Congress, who had been sent to Bombay to settle the crisis. Patel issued a statement calling on the strikers to end their action, which was later echoed by a statement issued in Calcutta by Mohammed Ali Jinnah

on behalf of the Muslim League. Under these considerable pressures, the strikers gave way. However, despite assurances of the good services of the Congress and the Muslim League widespread arrests were made. These were followed up by courts martial and large scale dismissals from the service. None of those dismissed were reinstated into either of the Indian or Pakistani navies after independence.

Events of the Mutiny:-
After the Second World War, three officers of the Indian National Army (I.N.A.), General Shah Nawaz Khan, http://indianindependancemovementphotos.blogspot.com/2009/07/shah-nawaz-khan-general-indian-freedom.html

Colonel Prem Sehgal

and Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon

Freedom fighter, Indian National Army colonel and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's close associate G S Dhillon, in Delhi on December 22, 1950.

1945 INA trials: a rare glimpse from the lens of photojournalist Kulwant Roy

Rare images of the November 1945 Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj) trials from photojournalist Kulwant Roy’s work, as documented by Aditya Arya in the visual archive History in the Making.

Written by Nandini Rathi | New Delhi | Updated: August 29, 2017 7:57:30 pm

In his book Azaadi!, English author Reginald Massey, who was born and raised in pre-Partition Lahore, recalls the reception of three INA generals shortly after they were acquitted, which he witnessed as a teenager:

There were thousands who greeted them at the historic Minto Park. In unison they chanted loudly:

Chaalis crore-on ki awaaz! (Forty crore people shout in unison!) (Editor’s note: India’s population was 40 crores – 400 million – at that time.)

Sehgal – Dhillon – Shah Nawaz!!

When the Japanese routed the Allies in south east Asia, they took some 60,000 soldiers of the British Indian army prisoners. 20,000 of them agreed to switch sides and go to war against their former masters — the British, in the Indian National Army under the command of Subhas Chandra Bose.

After the Allies won the war, the INA soldiers once again became prisoners — this time of the British. The military logic of the British India government was clear — they considered the INA joinees to be traitors, deserving of severe punishment. The furious, self-righteous government decided to make an example of the the INA leaders by performing their court martial and treason trial — the first one was to take place in Delhi’s iconic Red Fort, the same place from where Bose promised that INA would declare India’s independence.

Of the three INA generals arraigned for the first trial were a Hindu (Prem Kumar Sehgal), a Muslim (Shah Nawaz Khan) and a Sikh (Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon). The cause of their defence was taken up by the Congress, whose leaders toured the country, mobilizing support for the soldiers awaiting the trial. Jawaharlal Nehru was among the defence lawyers. While the defense lost the case and the defendants were declared guilty, the British sensed the popular mood, including within the British India Army, which was far from unsympathetic toward the INA. This was a time when the Muslim League was on the threshold of winning Pakistan, by dividing the territory of British India along communal lines. Yet, Indians, irrespective of religion were united in feeling that the ruling power was out for vengeance and in heaping curses upon it. The government was forced to commute the sentences of the convicted trio and release them.

Images

Photojournalist Kulwant Roy (1914-1984) had been among the handful of Indians who lived and worked through the exciting times before and after India’s Independence. His archive of mostly unpublished prints and negatives lay forgotten in boxes for more than 20 years after his death in 1984 until they were discovered by Aditya Arya, to whom he had left his work. Here are a few snapshots from the time around the INA trials of 1945 that Roy captured through his lens:

Indian national army, kulwant roy, jawaharlal nehru Jawaharlal Nehru with the members of the INA Defence Committee, 1945. Photo by Kulwant Roy (1914-1984) and photo credit : Aditya Arya Archives, Chairman & Trustee, India Photo Archive Foundation. Indian national army, kulwant roy, jawaharlal nehru Members of the Defence Committee, R.B. Badri Dass, Justice Acchru Ram and Asaf Ali discussing the charge sheet of the INA cadre at Delhi Red Fort, 1945. Photo by Kulwant Roy (1914-1984) and photo credit : Aditya Arya Archives, Chairman & Trustee, India Photo Archive Foundation. INA defence committee, azad hind fauj, INA trials, jawaharlal nehru Jawaharlal Nehru emerging from the Defence Committee office. Photo by Kulwant Roy (1914-1984) and photo credit : Aditya Arya Archives, Chairman & Trustee, India Photo Archive Foundation. INA trial, red fort trials, Indian national army, kulwant roy General Mohan Singh who formed the First I.N.A in Far East is seen here while chatting with Mrs. Ehsan Qadir, wife of Capt. Ehsan Qadir of the INA. Photo by Kulwant Roy (1914-1984) and photo credit : Aditya Arya Archives, Chairman & Trustee, India Photo Archive Foundation. INA, mahatma gandhi, red fort trials, azad hind fauj Mahatma Gandhi with soldiers of the INA, 1945. Photo by Kulwant Roy (1914-1984) and photo credit : Aditya Arya Archives, Chairman & Trustee, India Photo Archive Foundation. kadam kadam badhaye ja, mahatma gandhi, INA, azad hind fauj Captain Ram Singh, who had composed the patriotic song ‘Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja’ plays the violin for Gandhiji at the Harijan Colony, 1945. Photo by Kulwant Roy (1914-1984) and photo credit : Aditya Arya Archives, Chairman & Trustee, India Photo Archive Foundation. indian national army, mahatma gandhi, jawaharlal nehru Jawaharlal Nehru attends a meeting of Gandhiji and INA soldiers, 1945. Photo by Kulwant Roy (1914-1984) and photo credit : Aditya Arya Archives, Chairman & Trustee, India Photo Archive Foundation. indian national army, mahatma gandhi, jawaharlal nehru An engrossed audience listening to Gandhiji in this rare documentation of the meeting, 1945. Photo by Kulwant Roy (1914-1984) and photo credit : Aditya Arya Archives, Chairman & Trustee, India Photo Archive Foundation. indian national army, mahatma gandhi, jawaharlal nehru, sardar patel Also seen attending the meeting is Sardar Patel, 1945. Photo by Kulwant Roy (1914-1984) and photo credit : Aditya Arya Archives, Chairman & Trustee, India Photo Archive Foundation. INA defence committee, jawaharlal nehru, indian national army Jawaharlal Nehru with members of the INA enquiry committee at the Constitution Club, New Delhi (1945). Photo by Kulwant Roy (1914-1984) and photo credit : Aditya Arya Archives, Chairman & Trustee, India Photo Archive Foundation. indian national army, jawaharlal nehru Jawaharlal Nehru with INA cadre, 1945. Photo by Kulwant Roy (1914-1984) and photo credit : Aditya Arya Archives, Chairman & Trustee, India Photo Archive Foundation.

Kulwant Roy gifted his work to Aditya Arya, who has since archived them under the aegis of the India Photo Archive Foundation. Arya can be reached at adityaarya@adityaarya.com


for "waging war against the King Emperor", i.e. the British sovereign personifying British rule. The three defendants were defended at the trial by Jawaharlal Nehru,

Bhulabhai Desai

and others. Outside the court, the trials inspired protests and discontent among the Indian population, who came to view the defendants as revolutionaries who had fought for their country.READ ABOUT THE TRIALS:-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INA_trials

HMIS Hindustan at Bombay Harbour after the war
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HMIS Hindustan at Bombay Harbour after the war.

The mutiny was initiated by the ratings of Indian Navy on 18 February 1946. It was a reaction to the treatment meted out to ratings in general and the lack of service facilities in particular. On 16 January 1946, a contingent of 67 ratings of various branches arrived at Castle Barracks, Mint Road, in Fort BOMBAY(Mumbai). This contingent had arrived from the basic training establishment, HMIS Akbar, located at Thane, a suburb of Bombay, at 1600 in the evening. One of them Syed Maqsood Bokhari went to the officer on duty informed him about the galley (kitchen) staff of this arrival. The sailors were that evening alleged to have been served sub-standard food. Only 17 ratings took the meal, the rest of the contingent went ashore to eat in an open act of defiance. It has since been said that such acts of neglect were fairly regular, and when reported to senior officers present practically evoked no response, which certainly was a factor in the buildup of discontent. The ratings of the communication branch in the shore establishment, HMIS Talwar, drawn from a relatively higher strata, harboured a high level of revulsion towards the authorities, having complained of neglect of their facilities fruitlessly.
The INA trials, the stories of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose


, as well as the stories of INA's fight during the Siege of Imphal and in Burma were seeping into the glaring public-eye at the time. These, received through the wireless sets and the media, fed discontent and ultimately inspired the sailors to strike. In Karachi, mutiny broke out on board the Royal Indian Navy ship, HMIS Hindustan off Manora Island. The ship, as well as shore establishments were taken over by mutineers. Later, it spread to the HMIS Bahadur
The Tribune - Spectrum
ART & LITERATURE



















Sunday
, February 24, 2002
Article

The lesser-known Mutiny
Trilochan Singh Trewn

Line-up of Indian Naval ships on Mumbai dockyard breakwater during the crucial three days of the Rin Mutiny.
Line-up of Indian Naval ships on Mumbai dockyard breakwater during the crucial three days of the Rin Mutiny.

THE trauma experienced during those four days of the Rin Mutiny in February, 1946 was a source of tension. In fact the situation was more sensitive than the one that arose from the actual combat condition prevailing in the north Arabian sea during the India-Pakistan conflict in 1971.

The mutiny was initiated by the ratings of Indian Navy during early 1946. It was a reaction against the treatment meted to ratings in general and the lack of service facilities in particular. On January 16, 1946, a contingent of 67 ratings of various branches arrived at Castle Barracks, Mint Road, in Fort Mumbai. This contingent had arrived from the basic training establishment, HMIS Akbar, located at Thane a suburb of Mumbai at 1600 in the evening. The officer on duty informed the galley (kitchen) staff of this arrival. Quite casually, the duty cook, without winking an eyelid, took out 20 loaves of bread from the large cupboard and added three litres of tap water to the mutton curry as well as the gram dal which was lying already cooked before as per the morning strength of the ratings. Every one associated with each wing of administration in those days had such a mindset that no one bothered. Nothing more was required to be done in such cases. On that day, only 17 ratings ate the watery, tasteless meals while the rest went ashore and ate. Such daily cases of neglect, when reported to senior officers present, practically evoked no response and the discontentment continued to build up. The better educated ratings of communication branch in the shore establishment, HMIS Talwar, located in Mumbai had been complaining of neglect of their facilities and harboured a high level of revulsion towards the authorities.

 


The adventures of Indian National Army and the stories of glory of Netaji Subhas Chander Bose received through the wireless sets and the media inspired them. A naval central strike committee was formed. It was led by a naval rating M.S Khan. Soon, thousands of disgruntled ratings from Mumbai, Karachi, Cochin and Vishakhapatnam joined them. They communicated with each other through the wireless communication sets available in HMIS Talwar. Thus, the entire revolt was coordinated. The unrest spread to ships too. Admiral Godfrey in Mumbai took a stubborn stand towards the demands of the strikers. Demands by now had come to include the release of INA prisoners too. This was early February, 1946.

Inspired by the patriotic fervour sweeping the country, the movement started taking a political turn. During the second week of February, 1946, my ship was alongside the outer breakwater. One fine early morning, I noticed about 20 junior ratings surrounding the main duty- free canteen located close to the smithy shop inside the naval dockyard in Mumbai. This large canteen was a part of an international chain of canteens run by the royal navy and was well-stocked with choicest brands of foreign liquor, cheeses, caviar, cigarettes etc mostly imported. About four ratings forced themselves into the store and came out with cartons of cigarettes, cameras and electric irons etc. It was followed by another rush of ratings who now were holding boxes of scotch whisky in both hands and sported imported umbrellas slinging on their shoulders. Soon the canteen staff also arrived but was helpless and terrified as some of the ratings carried arms.

As if this was not enough, another batch of ratings brought some steel bars from the closeby smithy shop and dismantled the steel safe from its seat. Efforts were being made to drag the locked safe to nowhere when I left the scene. I then came across some cooks holding fully-loaded automatic weapons in their hands and pointing those towards the direction of Gateway of India where the British destroyers from Trincomalee were expected to arrive. Just then Captain (E) T.N. Kochhar, then an engineer officer of HMIS Narmada, sped past me and told me that the strike committee had broadcast a message that Indian officers would not be harmed if they did not interfere, while Admiral Godfrey required all officers to be in their place of duty and ensure that no violent action or damage to equipment and property took place and that the agitation remained peaceful. In the evening, a news item was received stating that a Gurkha regiment in Karachi had refused to fire at an agitated group of naval ratings. This was day one.

The next day morning, the tricolour was hoisted by the ratings on mastheads of most of the ships and establishments. There was a general feeling of anxiety and tension everywhere. The ships deck and lavatories had not been cleaned for past two days. Officers and ratings’ kitchens were out of use. The canteens in every ship were forced open and eatables consumed in lieu of cooked food. The morning news on the radio indicated that fully-armed destroyers of British Navy had already steamed out of Trincomalee harbour and were heading towards Mumbai to quell the Mutiny. The naval ratings’ strike committee decided, in a confused manner, the HMIS Kumaon had to leave Mumbai harbour while HMIS Kathiawar was already in the Arabian Sea under the command of a striking rating. At about 10.30 HIMS Kumaon suddenly let go the shore ropes, without even removing the ships’ gangway while officers were discussing the law and order situation on the outer breakwater jetty.

So the wooden gangway, six-metre-long was protruding out of the ship’s starboard waist when the ship moved away from the jetty under command of a revolver bearing senior rating. However, within two hours fresh instructions were received from the strikers’ control room and the ship returned to the same berth.

The situation was changing fast and rumours spread that Australian and Canadian armed battalions had been stationed outside the Lion gate and the Gungate to encircle the dockyard where most ships were berthed. Unfortunately, by now all the armouries of the ships and establishments had been seized by the striking ratings. The real danger was that the sophisticated arms with the ammunition were being handled casually by unscrupulous ships clerks, cleaning hands, cooks and wireless operators who had never handled these before.

The third day dawned charged with fresh emotions. Sardar Patel’s statement of assurance did improve matters considerably. However, an unruly guncrew of a 25 pounder gun fitted in an old ship, without orders from the strikers, fired a salvo towards the Castle barracks and blew off a large branch of an old banyan tree. It was clear that those bearing arms had started acting on their own without taking orders from their central striking command. The negotiations moved fast, keeping in view the extreme sensitivity of the situation and on the fourth day most of the demands of the strikers were conceded in principle.

Immediate steps were taken to improve the quality of food served in the ratings’ kitchen and their living conditions. The national leaders also assured that favourable consideration will be accorded to release of all the prisoners of the Indian National Army. By this time the British destroyers fully armed to go into action arrived and had positioned themselves off the Gateway of Indian Mumbai.

Luckily a very grave situation was tackled in a very timely manner and a real disaster was averted by the prudent action both by the strikers and the country’s leadership.


Top


Line-up of ships of the RIN on the Bombay dockyard breakwater during the mutiny.

. A naval central strike committee was formed on 19 February 1946, led by M. S. Khan and Madan Singh. The next day, ratings from Castle and Fort Barracks in Bombay, joined in the mutiny when rumours (which were untrue) spread that HMIS Talwar's ratings had been fired upon. Ratings left their posts and went around Bombay in lorries, holding aloft flags containing the picture of Subhash Chandra Bose. Several Indian naval officers who opposed the strike and sided with the British were thrown off the ship by ratings. Soon, the mutineers were joined by thousands of disgruntled ratings from Bombay, Karachi, Cochin and Vizag. Communication between the various mutinies was maintained through the wireless communication sets available in HMIS Talwar. Thus, the entire revolt was coordinated.

Freedom on the Waves: The Indian Naval Mutiny, 70 Years Later

‘For the first time the blood of men in the Services and in the streets flowed together in a common cause’ – in remembrance of the Royal Indian Navy’s mutiny, 70 years on


It is perhaps the natural course of history that some events and individuals are remembered more than others. The Indian struggle for independence is no exception. While the great leaders, and the movements they led command respect, there remain unsung heroes whose contribution has remained unknown except in the scholarly books of historians. The mutiny of the Royal Indian Navy (RIN), which broke out on February 18, 1946 – and, in only five days, delivered a mortal blow to the entire structure of the British Raj – is one oft-forgotten saga. It is worthy of remembrance on its 70th anniversary.

The tide of nationalism after WW2

The Second World War changed geopolitics. It also altered the way societies view the world and themselves. The Indian soldier was no exception. The war had caused rapid expansion of the RIN. In 1945, it was 10 times larger than its size in 1939. Recruitment was no longer confined to martial races; men from different social strata, including many college-educated, enlisted. As the campaigns carried the soldiers across the seas, they saw the world, read the newspapers and learnt that the war was for ‘restoring democracy and freedom’. The Indians themselves were hailed as liberators as they freed Greece, Italy, Burma, Indo-China and Indonesia from Axis rule. This forced many of them to wonder ‘Will not my own country be free? How am I a liberator when my own land is a colony?’ Moreover, the inclusion of Indians in technical posts had proven that they were no less than the whites in professional expertise. And, they had seen first-hand how the Europeans had fled in face of the initial Japanese onslaught – ‘white supremacy’ was an obsolete myth.

But, the end of war also meant demobilization and the anxiety of unemployment. Worse, crude British racism knew no end. British salary was 5-10 times more than that of the Indian. They had better food, better quarters, better quality uniforms and travelled comfortably in individual berths. The Indian barracks were ‘pigsties’, the food was often inedible and Indians were herded into train compartments. The British and Australian troops could use the canteens and messes designated for Indians, but not vice versa. Even medals and recommendations were denied at times. The Indian soldiers loathed the foul language the British used and were not going to tolerate the arrogance anymore. The smoldering resulted in at least 9 minor mutinies between Mar 1942 – April 1945. With the war over, several factories were shut down leading to widespread unemployment. The increasingly strong labor movement protested through more than 1200 strikes during 1945-46.

At the nationalist front, the memories of the heroic ‘Quit India’ movement were fresh. And then, the news of the struggle of Netaji’s INA burst onto the scene. Indians rejoiced that a formal Indian army, led by the charismatic leader, had actually fought the British in battle. As the trial of the INA officers proceeded in the Red Fort, the press printed tales of the non-sectarian character of their struggle. As Nehru described it, ‘[the trials] gave form to the old contest: England vs India…a trial of strength between the will of the Indian people and the will of those who hold power in India’.

The anti-colonial attitude went beyond India. Indians deeply resented the fact that their army was now being sent to crush the new peoples’ governments in Burma, Indonesia and Indo-China, and reestablish French and Dutch colonies. In the last months of 1945, police firing killed 63 protestors at Bombay and Calcutta. These were turbulent times and the young Indian soldier was deeply affected. As BC Dutt, one of the leaders of the RIN mutiny wrote in his memoir, ‘The barrack walls were no longer high enough to contain the tide of nationalism’.

RINmutiny

The sparks – the Azad Hindi boys on HMIS Talwar

Based at Bombay, HMIS Talwar was the signal-training establishment of the RIN. With 1500 officers and ratings (enlisted members) on board, it was the second-largest training center in the whole empire. In the informative recollections titled Mutiny of the Innocents and The RIN Strike By a Group of Victimized Ratings, the former mutineers detailed the squalor on board the Talwar and the indifference or racism of the British officers. It was at this time that a colleague returned from Burma secretly carrying letters from INA men addressed to Nehru and Sarat Bose – an incident that ignited their latent patriotism.

Years later, Dutt recalled, ‘…we came from widely different regions… belonged to Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh families. The years spent in the navy had made them – the ratings of the RIN – Indians’. A few of them formed a clandestine group called ‘Azadi Hindi’ and planned to create general disorder and unrest on Talwar.  On Navy Day, 1st Dec, 1945, they painted ‘Quit India’, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘Revolt Now’ all over the establishment and repeated it when Commander-in-Chief General Auchinlek came on a visit. Dutt was eventually arrested but his defiant reply to Commanding Officer King – ‘…Save your breath, I am ready to face your firing squad’ – made him an instant hero. Another rating, BR Singh, flung his cap down and kicked it in front of the officers.

The unprecedented incidents received press coverage and surprised everyone. However, CO King responded by calling the ratings ‘you sons of bitches’ and ‘sons of bloody junglees’. The emboldened ratings replied with slogans painted all over the Talwar, and even deflated the tyres of King’s car. Though the events were confined to one center, word spread to all the ships and shore establishments in Bombay. Ratings openly began to discuss politics, read nationalist newspapers, set up a INA Relief Fund and submitted individual letters protesting against CO King.

The strike at Talwar ripples outwards

On February 17, when the ratings reiterated their demand for decent food, British officers sneered that ‘beggars cannot be choosers’. This was the last straw. On the 18th morning, 1500 ratings walked out of the mess hall in protest, a clear act of mutiny. Yet they also declared that ‘this is not a mere food riot. [We] are about to create history…a heritage of pride for free India.’ By 4.30pm, the ratings had rejected the appeals of their officers and even Rear Admiral Rattray. The ‘strike committee’ decided their task was to take over the RIN and place it in the command of national leaders. A formal list of demands called for release of all Indian political prisoners including INA POWs and naval detainees, withdrawal of Indian troops from Indonesia and Egypt, equal status of pay and allowances and best class of Indian food. It also formally asked the British to quit India.

The Bombay press was puzzled by the turn of events. Only the Free Press Journal understood the significance of what was underway, and editor S. Natarajan even offered his columns to the ratings. By that night, AIR and BBC had to broadcast the news of the RIN strike and it spread like wildfire across the country.

The next morning, sixty RIN ships harboured at Bombay – including the flagship HMIS Narbada, HMIS Madras, Sind, Mahratta, Teer, Dhanush, Khyber, Clive, Punjab, Gondawana, Berar, Moti, Jamna, Kumaon, Oudh – and eleven shore establishments, including the large Castle Barracks and Fort Barracks, pulled down the Union Jack and hoisted the three flags of the Congress, the Muslim League and the Communist Party. Under the ‘joint banner’ of Charka-Crescent-Hammer and Sickle, the ratings marched in thousands towards the epicenter, the Talwar.  They chased foreigners, stoned British-owned shops and pulled down the flag from the USIS library. By the morning of February 20, the strike had spread to Calcutta, Karachi, Madras, Jamnagar, Vishakapatnam, Cochin and other navy stations.

In all, around eighty ships, four flotillas, twenty shore establishments and more than 20,000 ratings joined the mutiny. Most Indian officers, barring a few like Lieutenant Sobani and Lieutenant Mani, stayed away. Yet in 48 hours, British India had lost control of its navy.

HMIS Kumaon

The HMIS Kumaon. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

The Indian National Navy


A newly-formed Naval Central Strike Committee (NCSC) included 12-36 representatives from all the ships and barracks of Bombay. Leading signalman MS Khan and petty officer telegraphist Madan Singh were elected president and vice-president. Years later, their comrades recalled how both were ‘free of the communal virus’. They declared the RIN renamed as the ‘Indian National Navy’. They also decided that their struggle would be a non-violent one and henceforth they would take orders ‘only from the national leaders’.

As the NCSC asked for guidance, however, what they heard was an uneasy silence. Finally, the Left-leaning Congress leader Aruna Asaf Ali advised them to accept the counsel of Sardar Patel. She also informed Nehru, explaining the tense situation that was ‘climaxing to a grim close’. Meanwhile, the ratings marched in discipline at Colaba and Flora Fountain, with slogans of ‘Hindu Muslim ek ho’ and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’. The people of Bombay cheered them. Journalists who visited the Talwar were surprised to find that the primary demand of the ratings was now not better amenities, but freedom from British rule. They even rebuked the journalist of the Times of India for having tried to malign them in the previous day’s reporting. The ratings told the reporters, ‘We shall use the little knowledge they have given us against them. Remember the INA. We too shall teach them a lesson’.

The government had been stunned, but now, deducing that nationalist leaders were not keen to support the uprising, Admiral Godfrey reached Bombay to negotiate with the NCSC. The political inexperience of the young NCSC made them hesitate, and they accepted Godfrey’s demand that they return to their respective ships and barracks. Within an hour, Godfrey had sent the army to surround the barracks. Realizing they had been tricked, the ratings discontinued their hunger-strike, broke open the magazine and prepared for battle.

Battle at Castle Barracks; India’s ‘Battleship Potemkin’ moment

The next morning, the British officers discovered that the Maratha soldiers ordered to attack the barracks, were sympathetic to the ratings. They were replaced with British troops and rating Krishnan became the first martyr of the counter-offensive. In face of spirited resistance, the attacks against both Castle Barracks and the ships were indecisive. That night, a press release from NCSC read, ‘ten ratings and around fifteen British soldiers have been killed’. Prime Minister Attlee, however, had announced that seven ships were heading for Bombay and Admiral Godfrey had demanded unconditional surrender. Realizing the danger, the NCSC earnestly appealed ‘You, our people and our respected political leaders come to our aid…you must support us.’

The leaders were still absent, but the people had come in overwhelming numbers. A rumour that the British were going to starve the ratings into surrender, brought thousands of civilians to the Gateway of India with fruits, milk, bread and vegetables. The ratings came by motorboats and collected all that was offered. Hindu, Muslim and even Iranian shops and eateries asked them to take whatever they needed for free – similar to the famous fraternizing scenes of the classic Battleship Potemkin – and the Indian soldiers on duty did not stop them.

HMIS Hindustan

The HMIS Hindustan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The ‘hartal’ – bloodbath at Bombay and the battle at Karachi

The Bombay Students’ Union and the CPI had called for a general strike and the NCSC had asked people to make it a success. In contrast, Gandhi was clearly unsupportive of the unplanned uprising and Sardar Patel even asked people to ‘go about their work as usual’. For once, the people rejected the great leaders. The strike was ‘total’ and processions rolled across the city. At the seaside, British troops now prevented any food from reaching the ships. In the Fort area, a military truck recklessly ran over couple of protestors. This triggered a general mayhem and, within few hours, at least eleven military trucks were torched. The army responded with indiscriminate firing, especially in working class areas of Parel. By night, the city was under curfew.

At Karachi harbor, HMIS Hindustan had resisted British small-arms throughout the February 21. They had been helped by the once-loyal Gurkha and Baluch regiments, who had refused to fire at them. By the next morning, however, the British had positioned artillery around the ship, and as the tide ebbed, the Hindustan’s levels dropped and made it difficult for the ratings to aim their guns. The artillery opened fire. After thirty minutes, with six ratings dead, the ship surrendered. HMIS Kathiawad, which was in high seas, had responded to the distress calls from Hindustan. However, learning that they would be too late for Karachi, they turned towards Bombay.

Surrender

With no assistance from either the Congress or the League, the NCSC were disheartened. A show of strength by RIAF bombers had only been delayed because an entire squadron from Jodhpur, piloted by Indians, had mysteriously developed engine trouble. Instead a British squadron flew over the ships. Clearly, Admiral Godfrey had firepower at his disposal and he would use it.

Khan, Singh and their colleagues met under the shadow of the slaughter in the city. They agreed that ‘the debt of this blood has to be repaid a hundred-fold’ and made order against any unconditional surrender. Hectic negotiations with Sardar Patel followed. He assured them that the national leadership would look into their grievances and prevent any victimization. A clear divide formed among the ratings – many wanted to fight along with the people, but others cautioned that their military resources were very limited. Besides, having declared that their objective was to do as instructed by the national leaders, how could they go against the same leadership?

At that moment, Jinnah’s message reached the NCSC; he also asked them, especially the Muslim ratings, to surrender. This sealed the fate of the mutiny – thirty out of 36 members of NCSC now voted to stop the struggle.

From private correspondence, it seems Patel’s decision had been influenced by the idea that ‘discipline in the army cannot be tampered with’. A few months later, Patel would refer to the ratings as ‘a bunch of young hotheads messing with things they had no business in.’

Nehru would accept that ‘the gulf that separated the people from the armed forces had once for all been bridged. The janata and soldier have come very close to each other.’ But both leaders had failed to provide the ratings with the political support they needed; and, when hundreds of ratings were imprisoned for months in abominable conditions at the Mulund camp, there would be no one to speak for them. The CPI fared better. Its call for nation-wide strikes clearly demonstrated the solidarity of the people with the ratings. But, their overall alignment with the national movement finally let the RIN mutiny down.

On February 23, at 6am, all ships surrendered. At the Thane-based HMIS Akbar, 3500 ratings and 300 sepoys refused to surrender, but had to capitulate in face of bayonets. When HMIS Kathiawad reached the Bombay coast, it found the royal cruiser Glasgow blocking its way. In a last act of valiant defiance, the little corvette threateningly aimed its puny 12-pounder gun at the giant adversary. ‘Goliath’ Glasgow, perhaps in respect for bravery, allowed them to sail into Bombay harbour – the first Indian-administered ship to ever reach an Indian port to assist Indians. They arrived to the news that it was all over.

The battles rage on

The general public was, however, in no mood to give up. Seething with anger, over the next day, the city raised barricades and fought bullets with stones. In just two days, the official tally recorded 228 civilians and three policemen dead, and 1,046 people and 91 policemen and soldiers injured. By the evening of February 23, Congress, League and CPI volunteers were asking people to disperse. In Calcutta, the strike led by the Union of Tramway Workers extended into the next day and, for the first time, railway workers joined in, paralysing large parts of the country. Notably, at Majerhat in Calcutta, jawans and NCOs of the 1386 Indian Pioneer Company joined the strike. When their angry commanding officer slapped Naik Budhan Sahab, he was slapped back. At his court-martial, a defiant Budhan thundered, ‘What? I should beg of mercy from my enemy?’  – sending shockwaves throughout the military establishment.

In its last statement released on the night of 22nd February, the NCSC concluded, ‘Our strike has been a historic event in the life of our nation. For the first time the blood of men in the Services and in the streets flowed together in a common cause. We in the Services will never forget this. We know also that you, our brothers and sisters, will not forget. Long live our great people. Jai Hind’.

Naval uprising statue in Mumbai. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Naval uprising statue in Mumbai. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In conjunction with the INA trials and the peasant movements of Telengana and Tebhaga, the peoples’ unity during the mutiny had loosened the last pillars of the Raj. Indian leaders may have fumbled, but the British knew that their days were over. On March 15, Prime Minister Attlee accepted that, ‘The tide of nationalism is running very fast in India and indeed all over Asia…the national ideas have spread … among some of the soldiers.’ Historians agree that the one thing the British had consistently feared was united mass movements. They would not risk facing another ‘Quit India’, this time with veterans of the INA and RIN in the country. A year later, they fled before the Empire collapsed on their own heads.

Anirban Mitra is a molecular biologist and a teacher residing in Kolkata.
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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2016 > Role of Karachi in the 1946 Naval Rebellion

Mainstream, VOL LIV No 11 New Delhi March 5, 2016

Role of Karachi in the 1946 Naval Rebellion

Wednesday 9 March 2016

by Aslam Khwaja

The following is a paper presented by the author at an international conference on Karachi at Karachi in November 2015. February 2016 marked the seventieth anniversary of the Royal India Navy’s Mutiny.

The Royal Indian Navy’s Mutiny was a total strike and subsequent revolt by the Indian sailors of the Royal Indian Navy on board ship and shore establishments at Mumbai harbour on February 18, 1946. Though the initial flashpoint was in Bombay, the revolt spread in a matter of hours throughout British India, from Karachi to Kolkata. It involved 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 sailors. The strike found support amongst the Indian population, though it was condemned by the Congress and Muslim League. Only the Communist Party of India supported it.

The Royal Indian Navy’s Mutiny, often wrongly called the Bombay Mutiny, was repressed with force by the British Royal Navy leaving seven dead and thirtythree wounded. The strikers gave way on getting no support from the Congress and Muslim League. Despite assurances by the Congress and Muslim League of no victimisation, widespread arrests were made followed by court martials and large-scale dismissals from the service. None of those dismissed was reinstated into either the Indian or Pakistani navies after independence.

The Bengali community residing in Karachi used to celebrate Durga Puja on the lawns of Mama Parsi Girls School. During the Puja celebrations of 1945-46, the Indian Naval ratings (a number of them had been members of the All India Students Federation during their student life) posted in Karachi contacted the puja committee to allot them some time for a variety programme. A slot and time was readily allotted to them. This programme was held on Saptami, the second day of the puja.

At that time, there were five shore establish-ments in Karachi, namely, H.M.I.S. Monze-Local Naval Defence Base, H.M.I.S. Himalaya-Gunnery School, H.M.I.S. Bahadur-Boys’ Training School, H.M.I.S. Dilawar-Boys’ Training School, and H.M.I.S. Chamak-Radar Training School. All these establishments were situated in an island called Manora. At the far south of Karachi city was the Keamari Jetty. Manora was separated from the city by a small inlet of the Arabian Sea.

The first resentment among the Indian ratings surfaced during August 1945, when their application to hold a cultural programme on August 7 to commemorate the death anniversary of Tagore was rejected by the Commanding Officer. They were however allowed to pay their respects to him in their class room.

On the first Sunday after the Durga Puja, the Indian ratings assembled at the beach and formed the Sailors Association, Manora. Their first task was to raise funds for the INA Relief Fund, but they never intended any sort of mutiny, as the island was separated from the mainland and sufficient arms were not available to sustain such a mutiny.

The news of the Bombay Mutiny reached the Naval establishments and Karachi city on the morning of February 19 through newspapers and was received with tremendous excitement and suppressed jubilation at both places. Group discussions in whispers started among ratings about the course they should take. At lunch-break the Sailors Association members of Chamak gathered and decided to hold a meeting of all establishments at the sea beach in the late evening.

At the meeting all participants agreed to join the mutiny but there was no unanimity at the beginning. After long discussions consensus developed for February 21, following which a six-point programme was chalked out; it read:

1. To assemble at Keamari Jetty at 10.00 am.

2. To take out a procession through the streets of Karachi in support of the Bombay ratings.

3. To invite the Dock workers of the Keamari Jetty to join in the procession.

4. Raise slogans denouncing the British Imperia-lists and urge the Congress and Muslim League to unite.

5. Complete abstention from work.

6. The ratings of Bahadur to march over at Chamak and ratings of these two establishments to proceed jointly to Keamari.

Ten ratings were selected to represent their respective establishments. It was decided that work should be carried out as silently as possible. After deciding to assemble on the same spot again on February 20 at 8.00 pm, the participants dispersed.

The day of February 20 broke without a pipe call to wake up the ratings. The morning papers, particularly the Sind Observer, carried the news of the dramatic turn the Bombay Mutiny was taking. At this moment the Commanding Officer broke the news of the Bombay uprising officially to the ratings and warned of the consequences for following suit. Meanwhile, the ratings of Hindustan were ordered to leave Karachi on the morning of February 21 and by lunch-time they drove away all the officers, both British and Indian, from their ship and took full control of the ship themselves. Thus Hindustan got the distinction of heralding the mutiny in Karachi. In their evening meeting, members of the Indian Association finalised next day’s programme and decided to write eight slogans in Hindi and Urdu on the city walls and placards they would carry. These slogans were:

1. Ratings of Himalaya—Unite

2. Ratings of Chamak—Unite

3. Ratings of Bahadur—Unite

4. Hindustan Zindabad

5. Down with British Imperialism

6. Give blood to get freedom

7. We shall live as a free nation

8. Tyrants, your days are over.

It was decided that the ratings of Himalaya would proceed from their own jetty while the ratings of Chamak and Bahadur would proceed from the Manora Jetty. The ratings of Himalaya should have with them the ratings of Hindustan and Travancore and all would assemble just outside the Jetty at about 10.30 am. It was also decided that a complete hunger strike will be observed in solidarity with the rebels of Bombay.

As the night was over, the morning sky was filled with the slogans of hundreds of vigorous youthful voices. The R.I.N. ratings in Manora had rebelled. The Commanding Officer started frighte-ning the ratings by saying that the military had been deployed at Keamari Jetty with shoot to kill orders. The marching ratings were greeted with clapping by the residents of inhabitants of Manora island, most of them fisherfolk or boat vendors. To show their solidarity with the rebels, the local boatmen refused to charge the fare from the ratings to ferry them to the Jetty.

During this commuting process, some British troops riding on a motor boat opened fire on the ratings of Hindustan, killing two of them on the spot and wounding a few others. Other ratings of Hindustan, still at their establishment, fired back to the British troops with twelve pounders and forced the enemy to retreat.

As the Dock Labour Union members heard the sound of firing, they rushed to the Communist Party of India and All India Trade Union Congress offices situated at the Light House area of Bundar Road, where Comrades Sobho Gianchandani, A.K. Hangal (later IPTA Chairman and veteran actor), Ainshi Vidyarthi and other comrades were busy with their routine work.

Comrade Sobho immediately left the office and walked to the Native Jetty Bridge. On the way he met people who curiously asked him about the details of the firing and the number of casualties from either side.

As the CPI’s Sindh Secretary Comrade Jamaludin Bukhari was in Bombay, so Comrade Sobho was the virtual leader of the party in Sindh; after consultation with progressive Sindhi fiction writer Gobind Malhi and I.K. Gujral (later Prime Minister of India), Sobho called for a public meeting in the evening at the Eidgah Maidan ground, and for the mobilisation of workers from different factories and localities. In the late afternoon, Asif Karvani informed the Karachi comrades that CPI leader Comrade S. A. Dange had given a general strike call for next day.

At 6 in the evening the public meeting started with five chairs on the stage, with about four hundred participants and more than half of them were students. The meeting started with Comrade Relaram Lilaram reciting an Urdu poem, ‘Chhute aseer to badla hua zamana tha’ [when the imprisoned were relased, the times had changed], followed by Sheikh Ayaz’s Sindhi poem, ‘Ghai inqilab...Ghai inqilab’.

As the meeting, chaired by Professor Karvani, progressed, workers from different factories also joined in solidarity and the number of participants soared to eight thousand. Comrades Sobho, A.K. Hangal and Professor Karvani in their speeches paid rich tributes to the Naval rebels and appealed for next day’s general strike. During the meeting Qazi Mohammed Mujtaba, the provincial President of the All India Trade Union Congress, who was seriously ill, reached the venue and gave the concluding speech.

Although the active workers decided to spend the following night at different places to avoid expected arrests, the local police with the help of the C.I.D. conducted late night raids at different places and arrested Sobho, Hangal and Karvani and kept them at the Saddar Police Station lock-up.

Next morning Karachi responded with a complete shut-down, while Comrade Ainshi and Gobind Malhi established the protest headquarter at Eid Gah Maidan by hoisting the flags of the CPI, INC and ML. At about ten, workers of the West Wharf, under the leadership of Gulab Bhagwani, and the workers of dockyard, trams, buses and different factories under their respective union leaders began reaching at Eid Gah Maidan, where the police and military failed to stop the people pouring from Saeed Manzil to Dow Medical College and D.J. College to Ranchore Lane.

As the people refused to disperse despite the warnings by the police and military, the administration brought in the Sindh Assembly member, Swami Kirshna, and Congress leader Doctor Tarachand in a police vehicle but people instead of dispersing on their appeal, asked them to join the protest. Thereafter the Muslim League leader, Mahmood Haroon, was also brought there in a police vehicle but he too got the same response.

As the situation came to a boil, on the request of Sindh Chief Minister Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, the founder of modern Karachi Jamshed Mehta arrived to appeal for dispersal but for the first time citizens of Karachi refused to listen to Mehta and the police was forced to take him away from the hostile mob.

Meanwhile the police attacked the protest camp and arrested Malhi, Ainshi and Gulab and tried to remove the flags which antagonised the people who started throwing stones at the police. Initially the police fired teargas shells but later opened firing on the people. Women threw wet clothes from the windows and galleries of their houses to the people to lessen the impact of the teargas. At some places they threw chilies and boiling water on the police.

Over a dozen citizens were martyred and dozens injured in the police firing that continued for over one hour. The first civilian martyr of that day was the young son of a local trader, Hassan Ali Soda Waterwala. The arrested comrades, kept in the police lock-up, got to know about the police action of the day through police wireless relays, according to which clashes between the masses and police continued till 6.00 in the evening.

On the other hand, the British troops took the dead bodies of the fallen comrades and injured to Hindustan, and they were followed by three to four hundred ratings of Himalaya in a procession. The rest of the ratings, after reaching Himalaya, started consultations about their future course. Meanwhile, as the ratings started raising slogans, the dock workers also shouted slogans with equal vehemence. For over two hours, the ratings and dock workers raised slogans in front of the pointed guns of the British troops. During that time many city journalists reached the spot and a reporter of daily Sind Observer informed the ratings that the access to Hindustan had been blocked and so the exact figure of the dead and injured could not be known.

At 6.30 the ratings started their open meeting, which decided that they will initiate indefinite hunger strike if the British troops were not called back. They also decided to reassemble between 9.30 to 10.00 the following morning at the Jetty. The meeting decided for relay slogans at nine at the night, which was implemented. Late at night, the British command issued an ultimatum to the Indian ratings that if they did not end their mutiny by 10 in the morning, their ships would be directly bombed.

In the morning of February 22 all the ratings of Chamak assembled at the Parade Ground at 8.30 ready to march towards Manora Jetty when they saw the ratings of Himalaya running towards them. The British soldiers had scared away all the boatmen threatening to kill anybody who would come within a mile of Hindustan.

In the morning all the officers of Chamak, visited the striking ratings and the Commanding Officer in his brief address announced that if the protesters follow the discipline, the British troops would be removed.

Later he allowed representatives of the ratings to join in the last rituals of the martyred ratings, for which the bodies of seven Hindu, four Muslim and three Sikh ratings were brought to the other end of the city. The faces of the martyrs were not shown to their comrades.

Consequently, active leaders of the Sailors Association were arrested and three of them, namely, Anil Roy, Harilal from Ajmer and Akbar Ali from Punjab, were ordered to be tried by Court Martial. Not one of them was sentenced and in the second week of June, the orders for Court Martial were withdrawn.

The Karachi-based arrested Communist workers Sobho Gianchandani, A. K. Hangal and Professor Karvani were also released after a couple of weeks.



Victims of police firing on a crowd that had demonstrated in support of the mutiny.
Here are some facts about our national flag that every Indian should know |  Trending & Viral News

On 19 February, the Tricolour

was hoisted by the ratings on most of the ships and establishments. By 20 February, the third day, armed British destroyers had positioned themselves off the Gateway of India. The RIN Mutiny had become a serious crisis for the British government. An alarmed Clement Attlee,
 the British Prime Minister, ordered the Royal Navy to put down the revolt. Admiral J.H. Godfrey, the Flag Officer commanding the RIN, went on air with his order to "Submit or perish". The movement had, by this time, inspired by the patriotic fervour sweeping the country, started taking a political turn.
The naval ratings’ strike committee decided, in a confused manner, that the HMIS Kumaon
HMIS Kumaon  


had to leave Bombay harbour while HMIS Kathiawar was already in the Arabian Sea under the control of mutineering ratings. At about 1030 Kumaon suddenly let go the shore ropes, without even removing the ships’ gangway while officers were discussing the law and order situation on the outer breakwater jetty. However, within two hours fresh instructions were received from the strikers’ control room and the ship returned to the same berth.
The situation was changing fast and rumours spread that Australian and Canadian armed battalions had been stationed outside the Lion gate and the Gungate to encircle the dockyard where most ships were berthed. However, by this time, all the armouries of the ships and establishments had been seized by the striking ratings. The clerks, cleaning hands, cooks and wireless operators of the striking ship armed themselves with whatever weapon was available to resist the British Destroyers that had sailed from Trincomalee in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
The third day dawned charged with fresh emotions. The Royal Air Force flew a squadron of bombers low over Bombay harbour in a show of force, as Admiral Rattray, Flag Officer, Bombay, RIN,{Admiral Sir Arthur Rullion Rattray (1891–10 August 1966)} issued an ultimatum asking the ratings to raise black flags and surrender unconditionally.
In Karachi, by this time, realising that little hope or trust could be put on the Indian troops, the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch had been called from their barracks. The first priority was to deal with the mutiny on Manora Island.


Ratings holding the Hindustan opened fire when attempts were made to board the ship. At midnight, the 2nd Battalion was ordered to proceed to Manora, expecting resistance from the Indian naval ratings who had taken over the shore establishments HMIS Bahadur, Chamak and Himalaya and from the Royal Naval Anti-Aircraft School on the island. The Battalion was ferried silently across in launches and landing craft. D company was the first across, and they immediately proceeded to the southern end of the island to Chamak. The remainder of the Battalion stayed at the southern end of the Island. By the morning, the British soldiers had secured the island.
The decision was made to confront the Indian naval ratings on board the destroyer Hindustan, armed with 4-in. guns. During the morning three guns (caliber unknown) from the Royal Artillery C. Troop arrived on the island. The Royal Artillery positioned the battery within point blank range of the Hindustan on the dockside. An ultimatum was delivered to the mutineers aboard Hindustan, stating that if they did not the leave the ship and put down their weapons by 10:30 they would have to face the consequences. The deadline came and went and there was no message from the ship or any movement. Orders were given to open fire at 10:33. The gunners' first round was on target. On board the Hindustan the Indian naval ratings began to return gunfire and several shells whistled over the Royal Artillery guns. Most of the shells fired by the Indian ratings went harmlessly overhead and fell on Karachi itself. They had not been primed so there were no casualties. However, the mutineers could not hold on. At 10:51 the white flag was raised. British naval personnel boarded the ship to remove casualties and the remainder of the mutinous crew. Extensive damage had been done to Hindustan's superstructure and there were many casualties among the Indian sailors.
HMIS Bahadur was still under the control of mutineers. Several Indian naval officers who had attempted or argued in favour of putting down the mutiny were thrown off the ship by ratings. The 2nd Battalion was ordered to storm the Bahadur and then proceed to storm the shore establishments on Manora island. By the evening D company was in possession of the A A school and Chamak, B company had taken the Himalaya, while the rest of the Battalion had secured Bahadur. The mutiny in Karachi had been put down.
In Bombay, the guncrew of a 25-pounder gun fitted in an old ship had by the end of the day fired salvos towards the Castle barracks. Patel had been negotiating ferevently, and his assurances did improve matters considerably However, it was clear that the mutiny was fast developing into a spontaneous movement with its own momentum. By this time the British destroyers from Trincomalee had positioned themselves off the Gateway of India. The negotiations moved fast, keeping in view the extreme sensitivity of the situation and on the fourth day most of the demands of the strikers were conceded in principle.
Immediate steps were taken to improve the quality of food served in the ratings’ kitchen and their living conditions. The national leaders also assured that favourable consideration would be accorded to the release of all the prisoners of the Indian National Army. A very grave situation was tackled in a very timely manner and a real disaster was averted by the prudent action both by the strikers and the country’s leadership.
The mutiny caused a great deal of panic in the British Government. The connections of this mutiny with the popular perceptions and changing attitudes with the activities of the INA and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was taken note of and its resemblance of the revolt of 1857 also caused alarm among the British administration of the time. The fact that the mutiny of 1857 sparked off from a seemingly trivial and unexpected issue of greased cartridges, and that later historical analysis had revealed deep seated resentment among the then subjects of the East India Company led to fears that an identical situation was developing in India.
The Controversy: Political abandonment of the Mutineers

18 February 1946 – The Unknown Indian Naval Mutiny

That the Naval Mutiny was short-lived and has become virtually an unknown episode in the post-Independence era is a crying shame. It is, nonetheless, a remarkable story; one that deserves a more prominent place in British-India history, writes Pramod Kapoor, as he walks us through the brief but fierce event

A few years after India’s independence, Britain’s former Prime Minister Clement Atlee was in Calcutta on a semi-official visit. During a ban­quet at the Governor’s House, Justice PV Chakraborty, former chief justice of the Calcut­ta High Court, leaned across and asked Atlee how much impact Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India move­ment had on hastening Britain’s exit from India. Atlee’s answer was “minimal”, adding that it was the unrest in the Indian defence forces, particularly the mutiny by naval ratings, that forced them into leaving India earlier than planned.

For most Indians, that reference would be confusing. The mutiny they know about and recorded in the history books happened in 1857, and was called the Sepoy Mu­tiny. The one Atlee referred to took place in February, 1946, in Bombay, and is a largely ignored and un­known event, despite it being so serious in terms of the security threat it posed. It involved 2,000 In­dian naval personnel, the loss of some 300 civilians lives, and seiz­ing of armories on British ships with their guns trained on iconic structures such as the Gateway of India, the Taj Hotel and the Yacht Club. Now, at the end of its 70th anniversary, it needs to be resur­rected and remembered for the in­credible bravery and defiance shown by the ratings, all young men between 17-24 years old, who dared to face the might of the Brit­ish Empire and played a major role in the British advancing the date for the transfer of power.

Few will believe that for an in­credible five days, these ratings (en­listed members of a country’s navy), took over the naval ships moored in Bombay harbor, took down the British flags and replaced them with Indian flags, and had the British Empire in a panic, with flurries of telegrams to Whitehall, furious debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords, pan­icky requests for reinforcements and battle ships ordered to sail to Bombay from nearby ports. Inspired by the heroism of the rat­ings, Bombay’s citizens poured out onto the streets in support, burning and looting British-owned shops.

The saga began on Navy Day, De­cember 1, 1945, when a group of ratings belonging to HMIS Talwar a shore establishment (now Badhwar Park) in the naval dockyard area in Bombay, decided to test their resolve and commitment to challenge the British naval forces in India. They were inspired by the charged political atmosphere and, in particular, disturbing reports from the INA trials taking place at Delhi’s Red Fort. The initial group, calling themselves Azad Hindi’, consisted of around 20 ratings and the first phase of their plan was to strike work. They were enough rea­sons to do so, starting with the hu­miliating mass demobilisation of Indian naval personnel after World War II, despite the heroism and sac­rifice they had displayed while fighting alongside British and Al­lied forces. There was also the su­percilious treatment by British of­ficers, discrimination against Indi­ans in living conditions, and the poor quality of food they were served on a regular basis.

December 1, 1945, was the ideal day to literally test the waters. It was to be the first time in the histo­ry of the Royal Indian Navy that ci­vilians had been invited to board the naval ships and shore establish­ments to witness the pomp and cer­emony. The minute preparation for the ceremony was over and the British officers left, the Azad Hin­dis got busy. The next morning, HMIS Talwar the shore establish­ment in Colaba Bombay, was lit­tered with torn flags and slogans like ‘Quit India,’ ‘Down with the Imperialists’ and even ‘Kill the British’, were painted in large type on the walls of the barracks. The British were enraged but made no arrests due to lack of evidence.

But who were these brave men? One was Telegraphist RK Singh, who was inspired by Subhash Chandra Bose but believed in the Gandhian principle of open defi­ance and was the first to submit his resignation as a mark of protest. In the defence forces, a soldier can be dismissed, relieved or given prema­ture retirement. Singh insisted on resigning. He was summoned to the office of the Flag Officer Bom­bay (FOB). There, he argued with his seniors, threw his Royal Indian Navy (RIN) cap on the floor and kicked it as a mark of disrespect to the crown and the British Raj. It was the ultimate crime. He was im­mediately arrested and sent to Ar­thur Road jail in Bombay. His name was promptly removed from navy rosters. Neither does he find men­tion in the history of the freedom movement in India, even though his act of defi­ance was no less than any freedom fighter.

His action in­spired Lead Telegra­phist Balai Chandra Dutt, 22, who had left the comfort of a Bhadralok family in Bengal to join the navy. Dutt would play a leading role in the events of February 1946, which was when the ratings staged their muti­ny. On February 2, the visit of Flag Officer Command­ing, Royal Indian Navy, or FOCRIN, was announced. He was scheduled to visit HMIS Tal­war, the second biggest signal school for the navy across the Brit­ish Empire. Despite the extra secu­rity, BC Dutt who was on duty from 2-5 am, managed to write seditious slogans like ‘Quit India’ and ‘Jai Hind’ and paste pam­phlets below the dais erected for the occasion. He was caught with a bottle of gum and chalk, and sedi­tious literature was found in his locker. He also was arrested, but his action made him a hero to the 20,000 ratings who joined in the up­rising that would rattle the British Empire.

On the night of February 6/7, Azad Hindis deflated the tires of the car belonging to their com­manding officer FW King, and scrawled the same slogans on the paintwork. Commander King flew into a rage on seeing his car and stormed into the barracks. Defy­ing naval custom, none of the ratings stood up or sa­luted. Seeing this, he shouted, ‘Get up you sons of coolies, you sons of Indian b***hes, Sons of bloody junglees’. It was the last straw. From now, the mi­ni-revolt would gather steam and become a full scale uprising or a mutiny in military terms. On the morning of February 18, Azad Hindis joined by a large group of ratings on HMIS Talwar, refused food and declared a hunger strike. Being telegraphists, they relayed the news immediately. Within no time, the news of their defiance reached all ship and shore estab­lishments around the major ports of Bombay, Karachi, Vishakhapatnam, Madras, Calcutta, Thane, and as distant as Bahrain, Singapore and Indonesia.

Eventually, the uprising would involve 20,000 ratings, 78 ships and 20 shore establishments. The Brit­ish were taken by surprise and be­fore they realised the extent of the mutiny, the brave young sailors had taken control of the armoury on most ships and establishments, forced the officers to beat a hasty retreat, pulled down the British flags from all the ships and re­placed them with flags of the Indi­an National Congress, Muslim League and Communist Party of India. Having gained control of the ships, they pointed the ship’s guns at the Yacht Club, Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal hotel, buildings that signified the pride of Britain in India. They used this as collater­al against any possible use of retal­iatory force by the British.

In the course of a few days, they had the British authorities on the run. For an entire week, Bombay resembled a city at war. Hundreds of civilians joined in, leading to widespread loot, arson and even deaths. Mill workers united with railway workers to bring the city to a grinding halt. The British rushed in troops and additional forces with mixed results. Asked to open fire on the mutineers, soldiers of the Maratha brigade refused. The Brit­ish used other forces to fire on the ratings, and it led to close to 300 deaths. This was now a full-fledged mutiny, and inevitably, political in­tervention would be required.

The politicians were divided on the issue. The Communists sup­ported the mutiny. Independence activist Aruna Asaf Ali addressed the ratings and pledged support. The Congress saw some disagree­ment on the issue between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel. Nehru initially supported the mu­tiny and arrived in Bombay against Patel’s wishes and met the ratings. On the other hand, the Muslim League, under MA Jinnah, appealed to Muslim ratings to abandon their strike. Gandhi was totally opposed to the mutiny and put Patel in charge of sorting out the issue.

It was hotly debated in the coun­cil house (Parliament) in Delhi and the tremors reached Westminster in London. There were angry ex­change of telegrams between offic­es of Prime Minister Attlee and the Viceroy of India Lord Wavell. The British government ordered seven ships including HMS Glasgow, its most powerful warship in the Indi­an Ocean to sail full steam from Trincomalee in Ceylon to Bombay to crush the mutiny. Admiral God­frey, head of naval forces in India, threatened to destroy the Royal In­dian Navy. The Royal Air Force made threatening sorties over the Bombay harbour.

On Gandhi’s advice, Patel invit­ed the newly formed Naval Strike committee lead by senior Telegra­phists, MS Khan and Madan Singh, for discussion. Talks went on for several hours and Patel assured them that there would be no vic­timisation. The Strike committee met with the ratings to discuss the terms. All night they argued, disa­greed and shouted at each other and eventually wept like children.

At 6am on February 23, the sen­ior ratings carried white flags to their respective ships as a signal of surrender. Many had tears in their eyes, yet they held their heads up high. They had composed a surren­der document the last few lines of which read: “Our strike has been a historic event in the life of the nation. For the first time, the blood of the men in services and the people flowed together in a common cause. We have not surrendered to the British. We have surrendered to our own people. We in services will never forget this…” The surrender document was said to be drafted by Mohan Kumarmangalam, the Com­munist leader.

The denouement was tragic and a blatant betrayal of the promises made by the politicians. Almost 1,000 ratings were arrested and sent to various camps, a few were given jail terms, majority were escorted to rail­way stations, handed a one-way tick­et home for good. About the mutiny, Gandhi said: “…they (ratings) were thoughtless if they believed that by their might they would deliver India from foreign domination.” BC Dutt, the hero of the uprising, later wrote a book on the subject. In the last chapter, he wrote: “The aftermath of a revolution is determined by the enormity of the change affected by it. The Indian revolution is itself an example, for despite the presence and influence of Mahatma Gandhi, blood did spill.”

4 years ago



Surprisingly for events of the magnitude and reach that the mutinies came to be, the mutineers in the armed forces got no support from the national leaders and was largely leaderless. Mahatma Gandhi, in fact, condemned the riots and the ratings’ mutiny, his statement on 3 March 1946 criticised the strikers for mutinying without the call of a "prepared revolutionary party" and without the "guidance and intervention" of "political leaders of their choice". He further criticised the local Indian National Congress leader Aruna Asaf Ali, who was one of the few prominent political leaders of the time to offer her support for the mutineers, stating she would rather unite Hindus and Muslims on the barricades than on the constitutional front. Gandhi's criticism also belies the submissions to the looming reality of Partition of India, having stated "If the union at the barricade is honest then there must be union also at the constitutional front" The Muslim League issued similar statements which essentially argued that the unrest of the sailors was not best expressed on the streets, however serious the grievance may be. Legitimacy could only, probably, be conferred by a recognised political leadership as the head of any kind of movement. Spontaneous and unregulated upsurges, as the RIN strikers were viewed, could only disrupt and, at worst, destroy consensus at the political level. This may be Gandhi's (and the Congress's) conclusions from the Quit India Movement in 1942 when central control quickly dissolved under the impact of British repression, and localised actions, including widespread acts of sabotage, continued well into 1943. It may have been the conclusion that the rapid emergence of militant mass demonstrations in support of the sailors would erode central political authority if and when transfer of power occurred. The Muslim League had observed passive support for the "Quit India" campaign among its supporters and, devoid of communal clashes despite the fact that it was opposed by the then collaborationist Muslim League. It is possible that the League also realised the likelihood of a destabilised authority as and when power was transferred. This certainly is reflected on the opinion of the sailors who participated in the strike It has been concluded by later historians that the discomfiture of the Mainstream political parties was because the public outpourings indicated their weakening hold over the masses at a time when they could show no success in reaching agreement with the British Indian government.

Naval Uprising Statue, Colaba
The only political party to give unconditional support to the revolt was the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, Ceylon and Burma (BLPI). As soon as it got news of the revolt it came out with a call for a Hartal in support of the mutineers. BLPI members Prabhakar More and Lakshman Jadhav led the textile workers out on strike. Barricades were set up and held for three days. However, attempts to contact the mutineers were foiled by British troops.
Possibly the only major political segment that still mentions the mutiny it is the Communist Party of India. The literature of the communist party, certainly see the RIN Mutiny as a spontaneous nationalist uprising that was one of the few episodes at the time that had the potential to prevent the partition of India, and one that was essentially betrayed by the leaders of the nationalist movement However, at the time, the CPI attempted to diffuse the situation, co-operating with the Congress and the Muslim League in trying to keep the peace.
More recently, the RIN Mutiny has been renamed the Naval Uprising and the mutineers honoured for the part they played in India's Freedom. In addition to the statue which stands in Mumbai opposite the sprawling Taj Wellingdon Mews, two prominent mutineers, Madan Singh and B.C Dutt, have each had ships named after them by the Indian Navy.

Legacy and assessments of the effects of the Mutiny
The most significant factor of this mutiny, with hind-sight, came to be that Hindus and Muslims united to resist the British, even at a time that saw the peak of the movement for Pakistan. This critical assessment starts from events at the time of the mutiny. The mutiny came to receive widespread militant support, even for the short period that it lasted, not only in Bombay, but also in Karachi and Calcutta on 23 February, in Ahmedabad, Madras and Trichinopoly on the 25th, at Kanpur on the 26th, and at Madurai and several places in Assam on the 26th. The agitations, mass strikes, demonstrations and consequently support for the mutineers, therefore continued several days even after the mutiny had been called off. Along with this,


the assessment may be made that it described in crystal clear terms to the government that the British Indian Armed forces could no longer be universally relied upon for support in crisis, and even more it was more likely itself to be the source of the sparks that would ignite trouble in a country fast slipping out of the scenario of political settlement. It is therefore arguable that the mutiny, had it continued and confronted the threat of the RIN commander Admiral Godfrey to destroy the fleet, would have put the British Raj on the path of a maelstrom of popular movement which would have seen British exit from south-east Asia under very different circumstances than eventually happened. Certainly, the forces at Godfrey's disposal was sufficient for him to carry out his threat of destroying the RIN. However, to control the result of those actions, compounded by the outpourings of the INA trials was beyond the capabilities of the British Indian forces on whom any British General or politician (including Indian leaders) could reliably trust. The navy itself was marginal in terms of state power; Indian service personnel were at this time being swept by a wave of nationalist sentiments, as would be proved by the mutinies that occurred in the Royal Indian Air Force. In the after-effect of the mutiny, a Weekly intelligence summary issued on 25 March 1946 admitted that the Indian army, navy and air force units were no longer trust worthy, and, for the army, "only day to day estimates of steadiness could be made". It came to the situation where, if wide-scale public unrest took shape, the armed forces could not be relied upon to support counter-insurgency operations as they had been during the "Quit India" movement of 1942. The mutiny has been thus been deemed "Point of No Return"
Also, the USA's historic hostility towards Imperialism certainly made it unlikely that Atlee's government would have sought solution by force. The involvement of the Communist Party also cast a very red tinge to this ultimately mass movement that, if confronted, had the potential to have been the flashpoint for the post-war powers, as was seen in Vietnam.
However, probably just as important remains the question as to what the implications would have been for India's internal politics had the mutiny continued. This had become a movement characterised by a significant amount of inter-communal co-operation. The Indian nationalist leaders, most notably Gandhi and the Congress leadership apparently had been concerned that the mutiny would compromise the strategy of a negotiated and constitutional settlement, but they sought to negotiate with the British and not within the two prominent symbols of respective nationalism—-the Congress and the Muslim League.. By March 1947, the Congress had limited partition to only Punjab and Bengal (thus Jinnah’s famous moth-eaten Pakistan remark).
In the after-effect of the mutiny, Weekly intelligence summary issued on the 25th of March, 1946 admitted that the Indian army, navy and air force units were no longer trust worthy, and, for the army, "only day to day estimates of steadiness could be made". . It was decided that; if wide-scale public unrest took shape, the armed forces (including the airforce- for Quit India had shown how it could turn violent) could not be relied upon to support counter-insurgency operations as they had been during the Quit India movement of 1942, and drawing from experiences of the Tiger Legion and the INA, their actions could not be predicted from their oath to the King emperor .
Reflecting on the factors that guided the British decision to relinquish the Raj in India, Clement Attlee, the then British prime minister, cited several reasons, the most important of which were: which were the INA activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, which weakened the Indian Army - the foundation of the British Empire in India- and the RIN Mutiny that made the British realize that the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to prop up the Raj.
Although Britain had made, at the time of the Cripps' mission in 1942, a commitment to grant dominion status to India after the war; these events and views held in 1946 by the administrations of the Raj would suggest to the reader that, contrary to the usual narrative of India's independence struggle, (which generally focuses on Congress and Mahatma Gandhi), the INA and the revolts, mutinies, and public resentment it germinated were an important factor in the complete withdrawal of the Raj from India.
In the same breath, whether awarded any credit for India's independence or not, the events at the time show that the strategy of Azad Hind (derived from the embryo of the Free India Legion) of achieving independence from Britain by fermenting revolts and public unrests - although a militarily a failure


History revisited

Remembering the naval mutiny 70 years ago when the British nearly blew up Bombay

An uprising that started on a ship at Bombay dockyard sent out tremors of revolts to port cities across India, particularly to Karachi.

Bombay and Karachi, separated by a distance of just 800 kilometres, have always been twin cities. The two have their shared communities and their shared histories. But the moment in time when they appeared most bonded, almost conjoined, was the mid-1940s.

On February 18, 1946, when ratings of the Royal Indian Navy mutinied on the signal training ship HMIS Talwar at Bombay’s dockyards, to protest against racism and bad food, the uprising spread alarmingly fast. There was a euphoric violence in Bombay and other port cities. The tremors were felt especially in Karachi, where ratings took over the ship Hindustan and the navy’s offshore installations on Manora Island, south of Karachi.


The naval mutiny lasted just four days, but its brevity did not prevent its attendant events from becoming a part of a larger narrative. With passage of time, it was recognised as one of a series of events – Quit India, the Indian National Army’s heroism, workers’ strikes and peasant upsurges – that occurred in the 1940s, and left the British with no option but to concede independence.

The forgotten wars

Early in 1946, months after the end of the Second World War, a tide of impatience and anger took over. Everywhere citizens were facing continued privations of wartime shortages and rationing, and in places soldiers who longed to go home found themselves snared in new conflicts. Besides the forgotten war in Burma, there were fresh battles in Indonesia, where the Dutch government expected the South East Asian Command (comprising British, Indian and, in some cases, surrendered Japanese soldiers) to restore order. Then there was a war on the hands of the French colonial government in Vietnam.

In January 1946, the airmen of the Royal Air Force mutinied first – albeit largely peacefully – to vent their ire at their slow demobilisation and over the continuing wars in Southeast Asia. Like the navy mutineers would do a month later, the airmen seized the signalling equipment to inform other servicemen of their act. From Karachi the disaffection spread to bases like Kanpur (the largest Royal Air Force base in South Asia) and even Singapore.


A later inquiry would seek to prove that the strike was part of a “larger communist conspiracy raging from the Middle East to the Far East”, but in the immediate term the British government did meet the airmen’s demands. Alarmed at the mutiny, the then Viceroy, Lord Archibald Wavell, sounded an ominous warning about disaffected soldiers and their future utility.

Meanwhile, riots had broken out in India in denunciation of the trial of officers of Indian National Army at the Red Fort. INA literature and accounts were being passed within units around this time, an act that constituted treason. A young naval rating BC Dutt on the signal training ship HMIS Talwar received documents on the Indian National Army from a friend who had served in Southeast Asia. It was around this time too that Dutt began his secret work of painting on ships and dockyard walls slogans that were in common usage by this time – Quit India and Jai Hind.

The Bombay dockyard itself was recovering from the explosion of the Fort Stikine in April 1945. As for the Royal Indian Navy, it had grown in size but somewhat haphazardly during the war years of 1939-’45. Besides the addition of numerous trawlers and frigates, thousands of men were recruited, as ratings (most of whom were in their early 20s) and officers.

Many protests

BC Dutt’s suspension and his being placed in custody, after the finding of incriminating material, coincided with a protest by some ratings at the poor quality of food served at Castle Barracks in Bombay. On February 18, in a first sign of mutiny, the naval ensign was lowered on HMIS Talwar, and flags of the Congress, Muslim League and the communists raised in its place. Ratings, meanwhile, used the signalling equipment on board the ship to communicate to other vessels and comrades in other ports. Their grievances were not just limited to bad food or the rudeness of superiors but included larger issues relating to equity of service pay and withdrawal of troops from Indonesia and Egypt.


In a matter of a few hours, there were demonstrations on Bombay’s streets close to the port area, as ratings on board other ships trained their guns on the shoreline. By the next day, the city’s millworkers had struck work as well. And over the next two days, the mutiny spread to 70 more ships across bases, involving more than 20,000 ratings. While national leaders such as Gandhi, Jinnah and Vallabhbhai Patel reacted with shock and advised nonviolence – Patel would negotiate with the central strike committee – local leaders in Bombay such as Aruna Asaf Ali, Tara Reddy, Achyut Patwardhan expressed support for the mutiny. Support also came from a little-known left wing party called the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India.

The establishment reacted all too soon. The navy’s head, Admiral John H Godfrey (his assistant Ian Fleming would later base the character ‘M’ in his Bond novels on Godfrey) had fighter planes flying low over the harbour, and soon, a more superior naval fleet was summoned from Trincomalee, Sri Lanka.

The mutiny in Karachi

The most serious impact of all this was felt in Karachi and more particularly on board the ship Hindustani, which had seen war action in Rangoon. As the word of the Bombay mutiny spread, ratings from the offshore bases of Bahadur, Himalaya and Chamak began marching toward Karachi. When their commanding officer declared the city off-limits, the ratings commandeered motor launches anchored by the bay and moved towards the Hindustan and seized its armoury. Among these ratings was Anand Bakshi, an aspiring poet who would make it big as a lyricist in Bombay’s film industry a decade or so later. Bakshi was among the ratings sacked later. Still, he was fortunate. At least six ratings were killed as the British battalion opened fire on the ship, after a Baloch regiment refused to do so. A widespread strike followed in Karachi the next day.


The mutiny ended on February 23 after the strike naval committee in Bombay met with Sardar Patel. Though the committee was unhappy with his response, they were promised no victimisation. There were other rumours too. According to Madan Singh, a mutiny leader, the British reinforcement troops were ready to adopt scorched earth tactics: an “iron gate” close to the Town Hall was “wired to the system”, and in the event of a threat a “press of the switch” would have blown up the city.

The ratings were court-martialled, for evidently the British didn’t want a repeat of the court trials that followed in the INA instance. More than 500 ratings were interned in Mulund, a suburb of Bombay, and Maliar in Karachi. They were dismissed and later sent home. In 1973, the Indian government recognised some of them as freedom fighters and awarded them a pension, although it continues to disregard the pension claims filed by 70 other surviving ratings from Kerala. In the late 1990s, two of the navy’s tugboats were named after Madan Singh and BC Dutt. And in 2001, the uprising was commemorated with a statue in Colaba that was sculpted by Bombay-based artist Neelkanth Khandwilkar.

Memories of 1946

For all the general amnesia over the mutiny, it still inspired some creative efforts. Salil Chowdhury, then part of the Indian People’s Theatre Association, wrote a song in July 1946 that spoke of the popular upsurge of the times.


On September 25, 1965, Utpal Dutt, who had written the play Kallol (Sound of the Waves) based on the mutiny, was arrested under the Defence of India Act. He remained imprisoned for a few months. But till November that year, the play continued to be staged for three nights a week at Calcutta’s Minerva theatre. It was praised for the authenticity of its stage settings, the warship on stage reconstructed by the master puppeteer Suresh Dutta. It was restaged in 2005, ironically as an extravaganza, on an offshore stage on River Hooghly.

In Salman Rushdie’s 1995 novel The Moor’s Last Sigh, the narrator, Moraes Zogoiby or the "Moor", tells of his artist mother Aurora as she painted the strikers and the city that month in 1946:

“In February 1946, when Bombay, that super epic motion picture of a city, was transformed overnight into a motionless tableau by the great naval and landlubber strikes, when ships did not sail, steel was not milled, textile mills neither warped nor woofed, and in the movie studios there was neither turnover nor cut – the twenty one year old Aurora began to zoom around the paralyzed town in her curtained Buick, directing her driver Hanuman to the heart of the action, or rather of all that grand inaction, being set down outside factory gates and dockyards, venturing alone into the slum city of Dharavi, the rum-dens of Dhobi Talao, and the neon flesh pots of Falkland Road, armed only with a folding wooden stool and a sketchbook. Opening them both up, she set about capturing history in charcoal.”

Aurora never signed her pictures but sketched a lizard at the corner and these were exhibited as “Chipkali” pictures. She drew the “elated tension” of the strikers, the “kiddie pride on their faces as they munched chana at Apollo Bunder”, and the “shipwrecked arrogance of the British officers as power ebbed from them in waves”.

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Forgotten By History Books: The True Story of the 1946 Naval RIN Mutiny

Forgotten By History Books: The True Story of the 1946 Naval RIN Mutiny

On the anniversary of the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946, it’s time we remembered the brave young men who dared to defy an Empire and “energised the hearts and minds of our sailors, infantry soldiers, airmen ordinary mill hands, students, workers, citizens.”

Promotion

Although it was an episode that actually lasted less than a week and remains largely forgotten in public memory today, the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) Mutiny of February 1946 was arguably the single most critical event in convincing the British to hasten their exit from India.

Triggered by a group of 20 young Indian ratings (low ranking sailors) of the RIN between the ages of 17 and 24 stationed on the His Majesty’s Indian Ship (HMIS) Talwar, the mutiny spread to 74 ships of the British Royal Navy—from Indonesia to Aden, 20 shore establishments, and brought together nearly 20,000 of their fellow Indian sailors across mother tongues, class, caste and creed.

These young men, who called themselves ‘Azad Hindi’ (Free Indians), had one cause binding them together—the rapid exit of the British from India. But what caused 20 young Indian ratings to perform such an act of daring on the morning of 18 February?

The answers are manifold. With the end of World War II, the British coffers were nearly empty. They could not afford to maintain a large Navy in India and began letting go of many Indian personnel, particularly ratings, despite their heroics in the War.

Those ratings who continued working were paid poorly, given shoddy accommodation, made to do demeaning tasks like cleaning toilets, sweeping floors and carrying tea for the British officers, and then suffer the indignity of suffering racist insults from them. Add an insensitive and cruel disciplinarian like Commander Arthur Frederick King commanding the HMIS Talwar, and rebellion wasn’t far away.

“Torture and injustice often work as a powerful adhesive even when inflicted upon disparate groups with a common cause. The young ratings—Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Brahmins, with different mother tongues, of all class and caste, were made to sit around a large wooden vessel full of indigestible daal, given half-cooked rotis, which they would dip into the common vessel and eat as a community meal. Irrespective of their religious and class differences, the act of breaking bread together made them brothers in arms. Inadvertently, the British naval officers had united them to turn rebels,” writes Pramod Kapoor, the author of ‘1946: The Unknown Mutiny’.

For the story
(Source: Twitter/Advaid)

However, their experiences in the War also triggered a growing discontent with the institution, which was further charged with an ever-increasing spirit of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism.

While liberating different countries from the throes of fascism, serving Indian personnel also witnessed many countries fight for their Independence from their colonial rulers. The likes of BC Dutt, one of the main protagonists of the mutiny, asked themselves questions like ‘What did I fight for’ and ‘Whose war did I fight.’

A key demand of the mutineers was the withdrawal of Indian soldiers from Indonesia, which was fighting its own War of Independence. Another significant demand was the release of Indian National Army soldiers, who had served under Subhash Chandra Bose. Their objective was ‘revolutionary action’ against the British because they were “as much sons of the soil as the nationalist Indians fighting for Independence,” argued BC Dutt.

Laying the ground for revolt in the wee hours 2 February 1946, Dutt painted slogans like ‘Quit India’ and ‘Jai Hind’ on the wooden platform leading upto the HMIS Talwar, where the commander-in-chief of the RIN was to address the officers and men. Dutt was arrested but kept in custody on board and tensions between the commanding officer and crew grew.

Meanwhile, Dutt and his fellow conspirators like MS Khan and Madan Singh began persuading their fellow ratings to join them in a hunger strike. Finally, on the morning of 18 February 1500 ratings went on strike shouting slogans like “No food! No work!” at the mess upon the HMIS Talwar.

In a conversation with The Tribune, Madan Singh describes how the rebel ratings spread their message of rebellion to colleagues boarded in different ships.

“We did this with the help of the wireless system under our control. We were able to win over almost all the 70 ships and all the 20 seashore establishments. We had secured control over the civilian telephone exchange, the cable network and, above all, over the transmission centre at Kirkee manned by the Navy, which was the channel of communication between the Indian Government and the British,” says Singh.

Within a few days, the rebels had managed to take control of 74 other RIN ships stationed in Bombay, Karachi and other parts of the world. All these ‘liberated ships’ had replaced the British ensign with the three flags of the Congress, Muslim League and Communist Party.

Promotion

“The most significant feature of this short uprising was the massive outpouring of public support for the mutineers. The city of Bombay, especially the labouring classes, went on strike on 22 February in solidarity. The public transport network was brought to a halt, trains were burnt, roadblocks were erected, and commercial establishments were shut down,” writes military historian Srinath Raghavan for Mint.

For the story.
A sailor of the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) being arrested after the Naval Mutiny uprising. (Source: Twitter/Advaid)

And the British response was swift and brutal. As Pramod Kapoor goes on to write,

“Not just naval ratings, students’ unions and mill workers galvanised by the Communists, too joined in the mutiny and hit the streets of Bombay, leading to widespread arson, looting and vandalising of anything British. The retaliation was inevitable, and nearly 300 civilians lost their lives, and over 1,500 were injured when police opened fire. So intense was the anger against the British, and so rapid and widespread was the rebellion, that it took months before peace and sanity could return…Officially, HMIS Talwar and nearby ships surrendered on 23 February, but in Karachi, the mutiny lasted till 25 February.”

The decision to surrender on 23 February came from the Naval Central Strike Committee established on 19 February, which elected Leading Signalman Lieutenant MS Khan and Petty Officer Telegraphist Madan Singh as President and Vice-President respectively.

They expected the national leadership to join them in their struggle but received an inadequate response. Abandoned and left for dead, the committee feared that more would die mercilessly and thus decided to surrender.

“We decided to surrender after being called upon to do so by the Congress leaders, particularly by Sardar Patel. We were assured that there would be no victimisation…we made it clear that we shall surrender only to our national leaders and not to the British authorities. However, the promise made to us about ‘no punishments’ was honoured more in the breach,” says Madan Singh, speaking to The Tribune.

Many were sent to detention camps, dismissed from service, sent home without a trace and court-martialed.

For the story.
Naval Uprising Statue, Colaba, Mumbai. (Source: Twitter/Manu Pubby)

But the reason why they were left at the altar by the leaders of the freedom struggle (with the possible exception of Aruna Asaf Ali) is open to interpretation.

Some argue that the Congress leadership wasn’t keen on disturbing the intense negotiation for Independence with the British by a strike that had devolved into violence. “The leaders [also] realised that any mass uprising would inevitably carry the risk of not being amenable to centralised direction and control. Besides, now that Independence and power were in sight, they were eager not to encourage indiscipline in the armed forces,” writes Srinath Raghavan.

Whatever be their reasons, it’s time we remembered the brave young men who dared to defy an Empire and “energised the hearts and minds of our sailors, infantry soldiers, airmen and RIAF [Royal Indian Air Force] pilots, ordinary mill hands, students, workers, citizens,” writes Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, the former Chief of Naval Staff.









THE TRIBUNE
                                                                   
Thursday, February 25, 1999
Hero’s honour for Royal mutineer
Follow up
by Reeta Sharma
TOMORROW will be a historic day in the life of this self-respecting Punjabi from Siar village, near Ludhiana. He would be presiding over the "induction ceremony" of ‘INS Madan Singh’, named after him in recognition of his role in India’s struggle for freedom from colonial rule. The honour has come his way 52 years late. An incredible optimist he laughs off the delayed honour and grins: "It did appear like a mirage all these years but it’s better late than never."
Mr Madan Singh held his head high for all these 52 years despite the tag of having been dismissed from service after a ‘Commission of Enquiry’ set up by the British Colonial rulers found him guilty. He was charged with leading the historic ‘Royal Indian Naval mutiny’ of 1946. Although India became Independent in August 1947, no review of or rethinking about the mutineers was ever done all these years.
Nobody knows what happened to hundreds of mutineers who were dismissed from service. However the two main leaders, former leading telegraphist B.C. Dutt and telegraphist Madan Singh are still around. While Mr Dutt settled in Maharashtra, Mr Madan Singh worked in several parts of the world after dismissal. But eventually he came back to settle in his own country, "as that is what I always yearned for".
Here is a follow up on his life, packed with events which are gripping.
Mr Madan Singh continues to assert that "The mutiny in the Navy was the immediate cause of India’s freedom. The British rulers were simply shaken. Nevertheless, the role of the mutineers has been ignored and they were denied due recognition."
He vividly remembers even the minutest detail of the mutiny. "The roots of the mutiny in the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) lay in the British themselves who indulged in blatant racial discrimination over the years. The simmering discontent over ill-treatment, poor service conditions, lack of a redressal forum, humiliating of our Indian political leaders, etc pushed us to the wall and then to the mutiny. However the immediate cause was the arrest of B.C. Dutt who was put under detention. His crime was that he had painted slogans like, "Jai Hind".
"After the outbreak of the mutiny, the first thing that we did was to free B.C. Dutt. Then we took possession of Bucher Island (where the entire ammunition meant for Bombay Presidency was stocked) and telephone and wireless equipment, including transmitters at Kirki near Pune. Our quick actions ensured that all naval ships were fully under our command."
"Simultaneously we the Indians ratings at RIN had formed a ‘Naval Central Strike Committee’ (NCSC) to coordinate and direct the activities of the various units outside the HMIS Talwar. Leading Signalman M.S. Khan and I were unanimously elected President and Vice-President, respectively.
There is another crucial point to be recalled today. You see, next to the Castle Barracks there was an ‘iron gate’ closer to the town hall of Bombay. It was cleverly wired to the system so that in the event of an enemy trying to capture Bombay, a press of the switch would blow up the whole of Greater Bombay. This was the scorched earth policy of the then British government.
"Fortunately for us, this ‘iron gate was heavily manned by Indians who obviously obeyed our command when General Lockheart attempted to capture it. When he tried to advance towards the gate, the NCSC ordered firing which led to many casualties among the British sailors."
Sadly hundreds of mutineers were arrested and imprisoned either with the prisoners of world war or in solitary confinement as was the case with both Mr Madan Singh and Mr B.C. Dutt. The ‘Commission of Enquiry’ dismissed all of them from service. The national leadership, according to the various accounts and statements, seemed to be divided on the role of the mutineers. No wonder they were forgotten for good.
Mr Madan Singh had an extremely hard life after his dismissal in July 1946. "I went to my village Siar. I felt hurt when I overheard my father telling someone that I have come to see him only to take money from him. I left my village penniless and joined as a reporter with the Bombay daily, Free Press Journal. The great Sadanand was the proprietor and Natarajan was the Chief Editor at that time. Within a year I got disgusted at a majority of journalists reporting on the basis of handouts issued by the British authorities. The final blow was struck when I was an eyewitness like other journalists to the shooting of a leader of mill workers at point blank range. But my report was not carried. All papers carried the handout released by the British government with no mention at all of the killing of the leader. Crushed by agony and humiliation, I confronted Natarajan who directed me to meet Sadanand. I had always revered this illustrious old man who treated Churchill and Sardar Patel in the same way. When I barged into his room he very calmly said: "Your report was absolutely correct but I am sorry to have disappointed you. I hope you will one day understand my turmoil. My 18 ventures of newspapers have one by one been banned by the British. By keeping this one alive, even at such a cost like not using your report, we are at least able to point out some misdeeds of the British and motivate our people to eventually rise against the slavery". "I understood him fully but I still resigned because I knew that I won’t be able to swallow it day in and day out. Sadanand gave me the warmest ever send off in Free Press Journal. I reached Calcutta with only Rs 6. On the third day of my stay on the streets of Calcutta I got a job on a salary of Rs 150 a month with Dalmia Jain Airways. When I raised the issue of my petty salary, they rebuked me in the most humiliating manner. I walked back like a whipped dog, swallowing my pride for I could not afford to let this job go".
But Mr Madan Singh was an extraordinary worker with a brilliant brain and expertise in his line. No wonder then that by the seventh week of his job with Dalmias, the company raised his salary by five times. By 1952 he got admission into a regular course run by BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation), in International License in Radio Electronics nowadays known as AVIONICS. "These were the most stressful three years of my life. Minimum pass marks were 75 per cent, whereas in London University one was required to secure only 45 per cent." Mr Madan Singh not only passed out with 83 per cent, which was rare for even an Englishman, but also was the first ever Indian to make it. BOAC handpicked him and he worked in their foreign service wing.
By 1990 he came back to lead a retired life in India. Rear Admiral (retd.) Satyinder Singh wrote him five letters requesting him to apply for the status of a freedom fighter. "But I wrote back that if it is such a thing which one can get for the asking, it is not worth having it." However when Beant Singh former Chief Minister met Mr Madan Singh his childhood friend he was aghast on learning the fate of mutineers. He personally approached the Ministry of Home in Delhi in this regard. "So finally I have received a letter from Commodore Dina Bandhu Jena, VSM inviting me to the ‘Induction Ceremony’ on February 26, 1999 at Bombay."
His face was embossed with the serenity of the sea shore at sun set.
      ANOTHER STORY ABOUT THE REVOLT -{FROM INTERNET} -WRITTEN BY A MARXIST IDEOLOGIST:-

The 1946 rebellion of the sailors of the British Indian Navy


One of the most spectacular episodes of the intense revolt against the British Raj was the uprising of the sailors of the British Indian Navy in 1946. On February 18 of that year the sailors and shipmen of the British Indian Navy battleship HMS "Talwaar" went on strike. They invited  the masses of Bombay to join in the struggle they had started. As a result, anti- British imperialist sentiments started to spread like wildfire throughout the region. One of the most spectacular episodes of the intense revolt against the British Raj was the uprising of the sailors of the British Indian Navy in 1946. On February 18 of that year the sailors and shipmen of the British Indian Navy battleship HMS "Talwaar", who were at the time posted to the Bombay harbour, went on strike. They were protesting against the bad food and adverse conditions.
Although on the first day it was limited to a peaceful hunger strike, the signs of an imminent and much bigger rebellion against the British rulers were evident. On February 19, the sailors announced the strike to the Naval personnel stationed in the fortress and to those in the Naval Barracks. They took over the Naval trucks, boarded them, hoisted red flags on them and started patrolling the city of Bombay. They were inviting the masses of the city to join in the struggle they had started. As a result, anti British imperialist sentiments started to spread like wildfire throughout the region.
On the eve of February 19 1946, much wider layers of the Naval personnel had joined in this revolt. The union jacks on most of the ships of the Royal Indian Navy in the Bombay harbour were torn down and the rebel sailors hoisted red flags along with the flags of the political parties that were involved in the struggle for independence.
Within 48 hours the British imperialists were faced with the largest revolt ever of their Naval units. The message of this rebellion started to spread by word of mouth and then over the radio (the radio station had been taken over by the rebels) to military garrisons and barracks across India. Some of the leaders of the sailors broadcast the message of the uprising and revolutionary songs and poetry were also broadcast round the clock. The revolt spread to 74 ships, 20 fleets and 22 units of the Navy along the coast. It involved Bombay, Calcutta, Karachi, Madras, Cochin and Vishapatam. On February 20 only 10 ships and 2 naval stations were not in complete revolt.
In the beginning this revolt was considered to be spontaneous but that is not completely true. On the eve of February 19 a strike committee had been formally set-up. Signalman M.S Khan and petty officer telegraph operator Madan Singh were elected unanimously to the positions of president and vice president of the committee. Both of them were under the age of 25. One was a Muslim and the other a Sikh, and this was a conscious act to reject the religious divide being injected into the liberation movement by the native bourgeois leaders and their British masters.
Apart from the other tasks charted out for the strike committee, one of the important objectives agreed upon was to involve the political parties in this movement and gain their support. Tragically the Communist Party of India (CPI) had lost the leadership of the independence movement due to its disastrous policy of supporting the British imperialists under the so-called "anti fascist front" policy dictated by the Stalinist elite in the Kremlin. This had led to a rapid diminishing of support for the CPI in the liberation movement. The nascent Indian bourgeoisie and their leaders were at that time negotiating a settlement with the British. They were as hostile as the British to any revolutionary upsurge at this delicate juncture in the history of the subcontinent.
Gandhi reflected this by openly condemning the uprising of the sailors. The CPI leaders once again lost the opportunity to link up with the revolutionary masses. They did nothing to connect the Naval revolt with the strikes which were taking place in the textile industry, on the railways and in other sectors throughout India. Even leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose were unable to connect this movement with the revolt taking place in the British Indian army. He was rather more involved in an adventurist binge and had gone too far in launching the INA (Indian National Army) to fight British forces, under the auspices of the reactionary Japanese regime!
Congress and the Muslim League were not prepared to back the revolt for they feared the penetration of revolutionary and class struggle ideas into the movement which they had done so much to tear apart along religious lines with cunning and deception. In spite of this betrayal and contemptuous attitude of the national bourgeois leaders, the revolutionary momentum of the uprising gave it an impetus of its own. Revolutionary zeal, sentiment and passion were booming. The whole country was filled with the echoes of the slogan, "long live the revolution".
These slogans electrified the whole of Bombay. One of the poets of the era, Josh Malihabadi wrote enthralling verses an example of which was,
My task is my growth; my name is martyr
My slogan is revolution, revolution revolution.

On the February 21 the British shock troops opened fire with live ammunition on the sailors as they came out of their barracks in the Bombay fortress. This provocation changed a peaceful uprising into an armed rebellion. There were armed clashes between the British elite troops and the rebellious sailors throughout the day. On the first day one death was reported in Bombay, but on the second day 14 sailors were martyred in Karachi. The industrial workers who had joined the revolt with the sailors were subjected to brutal attacks by the British forces.
On February 22 and 23, 250 sailors and workers were slaughtered by the imperialist forces. According to various eyewitnesses interviewed, on February 21 it seemed that the oppressed masses of the whole subcontinent had risen up in a revolutionary movement against British rule. In these events the revolutionary strike committee had shifted its command to the "Narba" fleet. The sailors had now aimed the barrels of their guns on the ships and were now targeting the British Naval installations and command centres on the coast. Sirens were being sounded from all the ship decks. They were announcing through the loud speakers that to defend their comrades in the cities and in the harbour they would destroy the British military bases and installations if they dared to attack.
The British government in London was in shock. The British Labour Prime Minister Clement Atlee, in sheer desperation ordered the uprising to be crushed through brute military force. The commander of the British Indian Navy, admiral Godfrey threatened the rebellious sailors with "surrender or be perished". The so-called leader of the independence movement and one of the stalwarts of the Indian National Congress, Sardar Vallabhbai Patel, openly came out on the side of the British. He denounced the uprising and supported the imperialists' ultimatum. In this uprising the national leadership of India, both Hindu and Muslim, became allies of the British imperialists. This exposed their real class character and their collaborationist role in the saga of transition from British to native rule to independence.
Meanwhile the British fighter aircraft were carrying out threatening sorties over the rebellious fleet. In such conditions Sardar Patel gave the following infamous statement: "Only a small band of insolent, hot headed and insane youngsters are trying to get involved in politics through these acts, when they have nothing to do with politics".
Isolated, disillusioned and desperate after the treacherous role and attitude displayed by the "national leadership" towards the uprising, M.S. Khan put before the strike committee, the proposal of surrender. But the 36-member committee rejected this plea. Several tense hours passed. The mainstream "national leadership" intensified its efforts to isolate the Naval uprising from the mass movement for independence that was surging across the subcontinent. Demoralization was setting in amongst the members of the strike committee.
Another session of the committee commenced in the early hours of February 24 on the battleship HMS Talwaar. Now it had become more evident that there was no option but to surrender and lay down arms. At 0600 hrs on February 24, 1946 black flags were raised from the deck to announce surrender. In its last session the strike committee passed a resolution that was the last message of the revolutionary sailors to the toiling masses of the South Asian subcontinent. The resolution stated, "Our uprising was an important historical event in the lives of our people. For the first time the blood of uniformed and non-uniformed workers flowed in one current for the same collective cause. We the workers in uniform shall never forget this. We also know that you, our proletarian brothers and sisters shall also never forget this. The coming generations, learning its lessons shall accomplish what we have not been able to achieve. Long live the working masses. Long live the Revolution".
After the surrender most leaders and activists of this uprising were prosecuted incarcerated and executed inspite of their surrender. The nationalist bourgeois leaders refused to raise any protest. Not a squeak not a whimper came out from these nationalist parties masquerading as the stalwarts of independence.
However, this episode stands as one of the greatest chapters in the story of the struggle for independence from British rule. In spite of the fact that this uprising was defeated the movement showed the British what was in store for them in the future. One of the effects of this uprising was that the British Prime Minister Clement Atlee was forced to announce that the British would leave India before June 1948. Such was the blow inflicted upon the confidence of the British rulers by this naval uprising that they were forced to beat a retreat. The British, in connivance with the native bourgeois leaders, hastened the process of partition along ethnic and religious lines. After this episode they manoeuvred in such a way as not to leave the subcontinent united in any form whatsoever, either as a confederation or whatever political superstructure they may have envisaged before these revolutionary events.
The policy of divide and rule, that the British had learned from the emperors of Rome, now came into full play. The living body of a culture that was thousands of years old was cut in half and the blood of 2.7 million innocent souls was shed.
There is a criminal silence and elusiveness about the details of this glorious episode in the education syllabi in both India and Pakistan. Several other similar events and great episodes have yet to see the light of the day. Still, the memory of that naval uprising haunts the echelons of power from London to Islamabad to Delhi. The task of learning and carrying out the message and the aspirations of the sailors' strike committee of the February 1946 falls to today's rising generation of youth and workers. This can only be accomplished by carrying out a successful Socialist Revolution in any of the present day countries of the subcontinent. A socialist victory in any of these states would inevitably lead to the formation of a voluntary Socialist Federation of the South Asian Subcontinent.



http://oldphotosbombay.blogspot.com/2010/05/list-of-governors-of-bombay-1662-to.htmlhttp://oldphotosbombay.blogspot.com/2010/05/list-of-governors-of-bombay-1662-to.html

all these mutinies scared british colonial rulers.they found just divide and rule using muslim and hindu political parties will not succeed so left in a hurry 1947 instead of 1948


The British had to leave because of forces of economics, world and domestic politics .
The wars weakened them - they ceased to be a superpower and lost position to the US.
Napoleon’s warning unheeded if you like, that they should have stuck with trade and not interfered in politics.
Economics : The economies of UK and India were in bad shape. In fact in such a bad shape that -
  • In UK despite seeing Churchill as the war hero, they had to vote him out of power
  • In South India there were food shortages, famines in Bengal. For the first time famines in India were traceable to economic changes and political decisions to divert grain from starving people.
  • Devaluation of the British Indian Rupee
Politics:
  • Gandhi organised the Indian masses in the civil disobedience movement which crippled the functioning of the government.
  • His shrewdness and understanding of the stakeholders - Indians and British, his negotiating acumen and his popularity with Americans coupled with the actions of extremists like Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sulhdev, their execution, the mutinies and the rising political consciousness among Indians.
  • The scale of the problem of governing India magnified post war due to the stretching of military, paramilitary and police forces, their distrust of Indians following the mutinies made it impossible to have manpower to hold the Indians by force.
  • Aspirational change in UK as a result of economics and generation change.
  • Sweep in the UK elections by the Labour Party which had sympathy for fellow socialists like the Indian politicians.
  • The utter lack of coordination in second Cripps mission and their being outfoxed by the Indian politicians- Gandhi, Nehru and Patel.
  • With Churchill’s letter to Attlee accepting the decision to grant freedom, it became an irrevocable decision.

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THE AIR FORCE MUTINY – 1946 :- The Forgotten Mutiny that ...

heritagetimes.in › the-air-force-mutiny-1946
Dec 4, 2018 — While the disturbances in the Army and the RIN were confined to Indian soldiers and sailors, the unrest in the RIAF was induced by 'strikes' by ...

THE AIR FORCE MUTINY – 1946 :- The Forgotten Mutiny that Shook the British Empire 

The mutiny in the RIAF (Royal Indian Air Force) occurred at almost the same time as the more serious uprisings in the RIN (Royal Indian Navy) and Army units at Jubbulpore in February 1946. Many historians prefer to call it a strike rather than a mutiny, since there was no violence and neither was any one punished. However, the term ‘strike’ is seldom used in the armed forces, collective disobedience  always being called a mutiny, irrespective of the number of persons involved and the gravity of the insubordination.  Though they occurred at almost the same time, the trouble in the RIAF was quite different from the insurrection that occurred in the other two services. While the disturbances in the Army and the RIN were confined to Indian soldiers and sailors, the unrest in the RIAF was induced by ‘strikes’ by British airmen of the RAF (Royal Air Force). Since no disciplinary action was taken against the British airmen, the authorities had to take a lenient view of the indiscipline by Indian airmen also. Unlike the uprisings in the Navy and the Army that had some nationalistic element, the demands of the RIAF personnel related mostly to pay, rations and travel concessions.

Though the RIAF mutiny was controlled without the use of force, it had far reaching implications. The Indian Air Force –  the prefix Royal was added only in 1943 – was just six years old when World War II began, undergoing a ten fold increase in size by the time it ended. Though still minuscule compared to the Indian Army, it was a potent force that could no longer be ignored. Coupled with the more serious incidents in the other two armed forces, it reinforced the perception of the British authorities that the Indian troops could no longer be relied upon to maintain Britain’s hold over India. This necessitated a serious review of British policy, leading ultimately to the decision to pull out of India.

Three Indians pilots held commissions in the RAF during World War I, fighting with great gallantry. They were Lieutenant H.S Malik, 2ndLieutenant E.S.C. Sen and Lieutenant Indra Lal Roy. Sen was shot down over Germany and became a prisoner of war, while Roy was killed in air combat in July 1918. It was only in 1930 that a decision was taken to establish an air force in India. Officers selected as pilots were sent to Cranwell in UK for training, while the ground staff, recruited as hawai sepoys (air soldiers) were trained in India. The first batch of five Indians commissioned as pilot officers comprised Sircar, Subroto Mukerjee, Bhupinder Singh, A. Singh and A.D. Dewan. The IAF (Indian Air Force) formally came into being on 1 April 1933, when the first Indianised squadron – No. 1 Squadron – was formed at Karachi, exactly 15 years after the creation of the RAF.1

            Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, it was decided to form the IAFVR (Indian Air Force Volunteer Reserve) to take over the task of coastal defence from the RAF. Following the commencement of the Japanese offensive in South East Asia in December 1941, a flight of the IAFVR was flown to Moulmein to carry out anti-submarine and convoy protection operations. After the capture of Moulmein by Japanese forces, No. 3 IAFVR Squadron was sent to Rangoon for reconnaissance and convoy protection duties. As British forces withdrew in the face of the relentless Japanese offensive, No. 1 Squadron arrived at Toungoo, where they were subjected to raids by the Japanese Air Force on the first day itself. During the next two days, Squadron Leader K.K. ‘Jumbo’ Majumdar led the whole squadron on raids against the Japanese base at Mehingson inflicting severe damage and earning a great moral victory. The exploit not only made Majumdar a hero overnight but also enhanced the reputation of the fledgling IAF in its first major operation during the war. In view of its splendid performance during the war, the IAF was given the prefix ‘Royal’ on its tenth anniversary, becoming the RIAF (Royal Indian Air Force) on 1 April 1943.

 

From one squadron in 1939 the IAF had grown to three by the beginning of 1942, the year which saw the greatest expansion in its size. By the end of 1942, it had seven squadrons; during the next year another two were added, bringing its strength to nine squadrons by the beginning of 1944. The number of personnel had increased correspondingly, from 16 officers and 269 airmen at the beginning of the war to 1,200 officers and over 20,000 trained airmen, with another 6,000 undergoing training, besides about 2,000 followers. In the early years of the war, 20 Indian pilots had been sent to the UK to help the RAF, which had run perilously short of pilots during the Battle of Britain. These Indian pilots served in RAF squadrons and did sterling work during the critical months, carrying out fighter sweeps over France and escorting bombers.  Seven Indian pilots were killed in operations, the remainder returning to India in mid 1942. One of the pilots who returned from the German front with a DFC was K.K. Majumdar, who later died in an air crash at Lahore in February 1945. 2

While World War I lasted four years, World War II continued for six years. When it ended in 1945, everyone was weary and drained out. Many of the participants had been away from their homes for several years and were eagerly looking forward to a reunion with their families. Demobilisation began soon after the end of the war, but the sheer numbers of servicemen, especially from the USA and UK, made the process slow and time consuming. Hundreds of thousands of troops were literally doing nothing, waiting for ships to take them home from remote and inhospitable corners of the globe. The wait seemed interminable, and most men were unable to comprehend the reasons for the delay in sending them home. Coupled with the delay in repatriation, another major problem was the uncertain future that most of the men faced. Resettlement and rehabilitation measures obviously could not cater for all the servicemen, who knew that they would have to fend for themselves. Wartime industries that employed millions of workers were closing down, and most of the men shedding uniforms had neither the training nor the experience for the new enterprises that were coming up.

The first sign of unrest came from American troops based in Germany who held mass parades to demand speedier demobilisation and repatriation. These parades were given wide publicity on the American forces programmes that were very popular and eagerly heard by servicemen all over the world. Similar demonstrations by American soldiers in Calcutta could not leave British troops serving in South East Asia unaffected and it was only a matter of time before the virus spread to other stations. Apart from the logistics, another reason for the slow rate of demobilisation of British servicemen was the uncertainty about the future of British rule in India. As late as June 1946, the Chiefs of Staff in London were still considering various options, one of which was to continue British rule in India, for which seven additional divisions would be needed. This would naturally result in suspending the process of demobilisation, with serious implications, especially the effect on morale.3

Taking a cue from the Americans, British airmen at the RAF base at Mauripur refused to join duty on 22 January 1946. The Inspector General of the RAF, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Barratt, who was on tour in South East Asia, and was passing through Mauripur at the time, held a meeting with the men to ascertain their grievances. The men had many complaints, most of which were related to aspects of demobilisation that could only be dealt with at a higher level by the Cabinet or the Air Ministry. One such grievance was, ‘why is RAF demobilisation so slow compared with that in the Army and the Navy?’ Air Chief Marshal Barratt explained that practically all the points raised by the men had been explained in the demobilisation forms which were a part of the release scheme and kept the personnel fully in the picture, explaining the  reasons for the various actions taken, especially with regard to the release under classes ‘B’ and ‘C’.

 

The men were not satisfied and demanded that a Parliamentary representative should visit them so that they could impress upon him, and he on Parliament, their feelings about the slow speed of demobilisation. A Parliamentary delegation was then in India and they asked that it should visit Mauripur. Air Chief Marshal Barratt assured the men that he would forward their demands to Air Ministry, and asked the men to return to work but they refused. He warned the airmen that nothing would be obtained under threat and urged them to return to duty. The meeting ended with no promises made. The Air Officer Commanding 229 Group stated that he would be able to get the men back to work that afternoon. After making his report to the Air Ministry, the Inspector General proceeded on his pre-arranged tour programme. The situation remained unchanged in the evening. Many of the men showed an inclination to join duty but appeared to be fearful of rough treatment at the hands of others.

In his report to the Air Ministry, Air Chief Marshal Barratt had mentioned all their grievances, asking for a reply to be sent to the Air Officer Commanding India. As regards the demand for the Parliamentary delegation already in India to visit Mauripur, he felt that the delegation was visiting parts of the Commonwealth for an entirely different purpose and it would not be wise to permit the members to address the men, as they   were not well versed in the intricacies of the demobilisation policy of the government and did not understand the feelings of the personnel in South East Asia. However, it was possible for Mr Harold Davies, the MP for Leek, who was visiting South East Asia, to meet the airmen. Mr Davies had already visited units in India, Burma and Malaya in order to keep the men in touch with the new Government’s policy and, during his tour, had spoken to hundreds of servicemen.4

News of the strike at Mauripur soon spread to Ceylon, the first unit being affected being at Negombo, where the personnel of No. 32 Staging Post refused to carryout servicing of aircraft.  The morning York service from Mauripur on 23 January 1946 was serviced by the aircrew themselves, giving an indication that something was amiss. As at Mauripur, the major complaint was that of slow demobilisation, the other grievances being bad administration and lack of sports facilities and entertainment. The men felt that personnel of the Fleet Air Arm should be drafted into the RAF to assist with key trades, and expedite the RAF release. Another cause for complaint was that RAF airmen were being asked to work on BOAC and Qantas aircraft. The men felt that this had two effects: firstly, that the air passage of civilians was delaying release of servicemen and secondly, that the employment of airmen was incorrectly providing aviation companies with cheap labour.

The Air Officer Commanding, Air Commodore Chilton was on his way to the Cocos Islands when he received news of the strike. He returned to Negombo and talked to the men, promising to remedy the local problems straightaway. As regards the drafting of personnel of the Fleet Air Arm, speeding up demobilisation and servicing of civilian aircraft, he assured them that these would be forwarded to the Air Ministry. With the resolution of grievances concerning administration, sports facilities and entertainment, it was hoped that the men would resume duty on the following day. Air Commodore Chilton decided to continue his flight since the news of the Negombo incident had reached 129 Staging Post in the Cocos Islands where it was understood that the airmen intended taking similar action.

However, on his arrival at the Cocos Islands, he found the station running smoothly, with no sign of trouble. While he was visiting the station he received a signal asking him to return to Negombo where the situation had deteriorated. The stoppage of work by the airmen had spread from the Staging Post to the rest of the station including the Communication and Meteorological Flights. The men were well behaved but adamant. The Air Officer Commanding tried to convince the men that no good would come of their strike irrespective of what was happening in India. The men continued to complain of the delays regarding repatriation and mails. It was pointed out that by refusing to work they would delay their release and mails even more.  Releases were governed by the Manpower Committee in London and the local RAF authorities could do little more than forward the complaints to the Air Ministry.

By this time the disaffection had spread and by 26 January airmen at Koggala, Ratmalana and Colombo were also involved. It was apparent from reports received from various units that broadcasts made by the BBC on 24 and 25 January were largely responsible for the information reaching them, bringing out feelings that were dormant and encouraging them to emulate their colleagues who had joined the strike. Except at Negombo where the relations between the Station and Staging Post were not easy, at other stations the unit commanders and officers were in close touch with the men, addressing them at the first sign of trouble. However, the problems concerning repatriation and release could not be solved by them on their own, though every effort was made to take the men into confidence and explain the policy in this regard. Many of the grievances, such as disparity in releases compared to RAF personnel in UK and faster repatriation of personnel of the Navy and Army were unfounded.

Meanwhile, the strikes in RAF stations in India continued to spread. On 26 January 1946 Air Marshal Sir Roderick Carr, Air Officer Commanding, British Air Forces in South East Asia, sent a signal to the Air Ministry giving details of the stoppage of work that had occurred at Palam, Dum Dum, Poona, Cawnpore and Vizagapatnam, in addition to Mauripur. Except at Mauripur, all stoppages were of short duration but it was considered that other units were likely to be affected. The majority of units were ‘striking’ in an orderly and respectful manner in order to register a protest against the Government’s policy, and then returning to work. Air Marshal Carr considered that unless the Government shouldered the responsibility of making a comprehensive statement, even if that statement did not meet the airmen’s requirements, he anticipated that the men would strike again. Units that had returned to work had done so on the assumption that their dissatisfaction with the demobilisation policy had been presented to the Government from which they were expecting a comprehensive statement. No promises were made, but the men had been informed that the questions raised in the Inspector General’s report had been forwarded to the Secretary of State. In conclusion, Air Marshal Carr stressed that he saw no alternative to a Government statement. While he agreed that the Government should not be called upon to issue a general statement as a concession to indiscipline, he felt that in this instance, failure to do so it may have serious consequences.

The stoppage of work on RAF stations in India influenced the personnel of the RIAF also. Reports of men staying away from work were received from Trichinopoly and No. 228 Group. The main cause of discontent – demobilisation – was augmented by complaints regarding leave, food and family allowances. In addition to speeding up their in release, the Indian airmen requested that family and ration allowances should be paid to them while on leave. They maintained that granting only one free rail warrant per annum meant hardship to airmen who had to split their leave in two or three parts. They requested that that either additional railway warrants should be given or permission granted to avail their entire leave at one time during the year.

The strikes in the RIAF alarmed the authorities, since they could have an adverse effect on the political situation in the country. The Air Marshal Commanding, British Air Forces in South East Asia sent a signal to all RAF units informing them of this. The signal, which was not sent to RIAF units, read:

The Government plan for demobilization must be a balanced one: our industries at home require manpower, but this cannot be provided at the risk of endangering the safety of the World. There are still defence problems in India. The public press has recently made it clear that a political crisis is approaching, a crisis which may only be solved by little short of civil war. If you wish, you may quote me as authority for this. The Government at Home are now fully aware that conscripts in the RAF have little or no pride in their service. I do not believe that these misguided airmen who took part in the recent so-called strikes appreciate that their action may be endangering the safety of India. Already their example has been followed by the RIAF. Such actions can only encourage civil disturbances and may lead to grave consequences for everyone in India including those airmen who are not due for repatriation in the near future.

The Allied Air Commander-in-Chief, Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park was also concerned by the RIAF strikes. He signalled all commanders in South East Asia, stressing that it was essential that pay and allowances and other conditions of service in the post-war Indian Air Force should be made known to all concerned, with the least possible delay. The Government of India had set up a committee to examine and make recommendations on the terms and conditions of service to be applied to the post war Indian forces, including the Air Force. The work of the committee would be hastened with due regard to the necessity of arriving at a well considered conclusion. The message continued:

I have collected from various sources a full list of the grievances of the Royal Indian Air Force airmen and will do everything in my power to have them investigated. To do this thoroughly will take time. I must make it clear to all concerned that I cannot condone the serious breaches of discipline that have taken place during the last twelve days, and any improvement in conditions that I may be able to make will not, repeat,  not be a concession to discipline. I will always accept honest complaints if passed to me through the correct channels. I would like to assure both officers and other ranks personnel who desire to continue in the service that the Royal Indian Air Force offers a fine career to the right man.

Meanwhile, the strikes in RAF stations continued to spread, with the most serious incident occurring at Seletar in Singapore on 26 January 1946, followed by a similar incident at Kallang on the very next day. The Allied Air Commander-in-Chief visited Seletar and had detailed discussions with the men, which he reported to the Air Ministry. Realising the seriousness of the matter, the British Prime Minister, Mr. Clement Atlee, made a statement in the House of Commons on 29 January, outlining the measures being taken to expedite repatriation and release, which seemed to be the root cause of the trouble. On the same day the men of 194 (Transport) Squadron in Rangoon stopped work. However, they returned to work the next day. The unit was scheduled for disbandment in the near future but in view of this incident, it was disbanded on 15 February 1946.

The mutiny by ratings of the Royal Indian Navy in February 1946 added a new dimension to the problem, especially at Bombay, where the RIAF airmen went on a sympathetic strike. To subdue the mutineers who had taken control of ships and were threatening to bombard Bombay, one of the measures being seriously considered was air attacks using rocket projectiles. However, in view of the strike by RIAF personnel, the authorities felt that Indian squadrons could not be used for this purpose. Responding to an appeal from Sir Roderick Carr, Air Officer Commanding British Air Forces in South East Asia, the Allied Air Commander-in-Chief, Sir Keith Park agreed to divert some aircraft from his resources. However, in view of the recent experience in Java, he advised Carr to obtain the approval of the C-in-C India before using RAF and RIAF aircraft in an offensive role against the local population. 6

RIAF personnel refused to report for duty at many stations for varying periods. The Naval strike came to an end on 23 February 1946, leading to improvement in the situation at Bombay, though the airmen had still not resumed duty. Other than Bombay, the stations that continued to be affected were Cawnpore, Allahabad and Jodhpur, though conditions seemed to be improving and were expected to become normal soon. However a serious incident occurred in Rangoon, where 140 RIAF personnel failed to report for duty on 23 February. When asked for their grievances, the airmen listed the following demands:-

  • Equal rights with BORs in the Unit canteen
  • Equal distribution of Unit dues between the RAF and RIAF.
  • Separate Mess for RIAF with half BOR and half Indian type rations.
  • Weekly show of Indian films.
  • Separate recreation room with Indian periodicals.
  • Full entitlement of leave for all RIAF personnel.
  • Better living conditions.
  • Higher scale of pay and allowances.
  • Second class railways warrants
  •  Speed up demobilisation.

On the night of 24 February the Commanding Officer interviewed two of the of the men’s representatives and informed them that their grievances had been forwarded to the Air Marshal Commanding Air Headquarters Burma. Grievances that could be resolved locally would be dealt by the Air Marshal personally while the remaining questions concerning pay, allowances and demobilisation would be forwarded to higher authorities. The Commanding Officer emphasized that the men must return to duty before their demands could be considered. The representatives agreed and gave an assurance that they would do so, but the men did not join duty until 28 February 1946.

In February there was strike at Kohat, the only Air Force station in India manned by the RIAF, where the Station Commander was Group Captain (later Air Chief Marshal) A.M ‘Aspy’ Engineer. An account of the strike and how it was handled has been described by Squadron Leader (later Air Vice Marshal) Harjinder Singh, who was then posted at Air Force Station Peshawar.  On 26 February Harjinder received a telephone call from Flight Lieutenant Shahzada, Adjutant of the Air Force Station Kohat informing him that the airmen had gone on strike that morning. The men had collected at the aerodrome from where they intended to take out a protest march through the city. Group Captain Engineer had asked the Adjutant to inform Harjinder that he had already requisitioned some Gurkha troops from the Army to erect a road block at the aerodrome gate, and if necessary, open fire on the strikers if they tried to force their way out. Harjinder asked his Station Commander, Group Captain Vallaine, to permit him to fly to Kohat, without giving him any reason. Fortunately, Vallaine agreed, and detailed Flying Officer Glandstein to take Harjinder to Kohat in a Harvard aircraft.

After reaching Kohat, Harjinder reported to the Station Commander who gave him some more details of the strike. Apparently the men were in no mood to listen to any officer and he advised Harjinder not to go near them. Harjinder felt that unless the situation was brought under control immediately, it would be the end of the only Indian Air Force station in the country. He asked for permission to approach the strikers and talk to them. Engineer refused, but when Harjinder insisted, he relented, telling the latter that that he would not be responsible for his life. When Harjinder approached the strikers, who had collected on the airstrip, one of them shouted: ‘Don’t let this officer come near, because he will call off the strike.’ But there were others who differed, and wanted him to come.  Harjinder proposed that they take a vote by show of hands, and was pleasantly surprised when the majority elected to hear him. After talking to the men, Harjinder found that they had heard that it was planned to bomb and machine gun the Naval ratings that had gone on strike in Bombay. When asked for their demands, they said that the Station Commander should send a message to the Commander-in-Chief in Delhi telling him that the Indian Air Force Station Kohat refuses to cooperate in bombing their colleagues in the Navy. Also in the signal it should be clearly mentioned that the Air Force Station Kohat sympathizes with the relatives of the people who have been killed in the firing at Bombay. The rest of the story is best described by Harjinder in his own words:

To my mind, it was a reasonable demand and I asked them: “Is that all?” and they all said “Yes”. So I told them:” I will guarantee that the Station Commander will do what you have asked, and what is more, there was never an intention of sending Indian Air Force Squadrons to bomb and machine-gun our naval colleagues and there must have been some misunderstanding.

After addressing the men further and quietening them down I told them that they had disgraced themselves by striking, and before it was too late they should report back to work; and as a first consequence, they should immediately fall in. The men readily agreed. I got them fallen-in in three ranks and marched them to the Cinema hall. I told them to accept any punishment that the Station Commander gave without hesitation and if the station Commander asked them: “Did you go on strike?” they should say “No, we never had any such intention.” It took me exactly ten minutes to settle the issue in this way.

After marching the airmen into the Cinema hall, I reported to the Station Commander and briefed him on what to say. In fairness to Aspy I must say he sent the signal to General Auchinleck on the lines that I had promised the airmen. When he went into the Cinema hall and asked the men whether they had intended to go on strike, the men with one voice shouted: “No.” As preplanned, he said: “All right, but as a punishment for your indiscipline this morning, I am ordering extra parades in the afternoon for the whole Station for one month.” They filed out of the hall quietly enough.

After the ‘strike’ was over, I took off for Peshawar. Some days alter I heard that the Station Commander had been called up by Delhi and given a sound dressing down because of the signal which he ah sent concerning the Indian Naval mutiny  at Bombay.7

Another strike that was defused by an Indian officer was the one at the Factory Road Camp in Delhi. The strike lasted four days and was eventually broken by sympathetic handling by Group Captain (later Air Chief Marshal) Subroto Mukerjee, who was ably assisted by Warrant Officer Verghese. After the strike ended, RAF Intelligence was asked to identify the ring leaders. Based on their report, Air Headquarters decided to discharge the personnel involved in the strike. Surprisingly, the first name on the list was that of Warrant Officer Verghese, who had been instrumental in subduing the strike. It was only after Subroto Mukerjee intervened with Air Marshal Sir Rodrick Carr that the orders for Verghese’s discharge were withdrawn.

Though officially classified as a mutiny, the incidents in the RIAF were nothing more than ‘strikes’. In almost all cases, the airmen resorted to stoppage of work or a sit down strike. They was no slogan shouting, waving of flags or processions, as happened in the mutinies in the other two services that occurred at almost the same time. No violence was used, by the strikers or the authorities, and in most cases the strikes ended after the intervention of officers who assured the men that their grievances would be looked into sympathetically. None of the participants were punished, though a few of the ring leaders were discharged from service. Though the strikes were not serious, they brought to light the feeling of discontent among the Indian personnel serving in the Air Force, forcing the British authorities to review the dependability of the armed forces in India. This played a part in the decision of the British to quit India in 1947.

END NOTES

This chapter is largely based on N. Mansergh and Penderel Moon’s The Transfer of Power, (London, 1982); Lt. Gen S.L. Menezes’ Fidelity & Honour, (New Delhi, 1993); Air Commodore A.L. Saigal’s Birth of An Air Force – The Memoirs of Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh, (New Delhi, 1977); and documents in the Ministry of Defence, History Division, New Delhi. Specific references are given below:-

  1. Air Commodore A.L. Saigal (ed.),Birth of An Air Force – The Memoirs of Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh, (New Delhi, 1977), p. 34.
  1. Saigal, p. 216.
  2. Nicholas Mansergh and Penderel Moon, (ed.) The Transfer of Power 1942-          47 (12 vols, London, 1982), vii, pp. 894-5
  3. A Brief History of Events Associated with The Disaffection and ‘Strikes’ Among Personnel in the RAF units of Air Command, South East Asia, Ministry of Defence, History Division, (MODHD), New Delhi, 601/9768/H, pp. 1-2

Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières


The Great Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946 and beyond – A mortal blow to the British Raj

, by IQBAL Javed

It is often said the victors always write history. This is nowhere more appropriate than in the case of the struggle for Indian independence from the British Raj and carving up of the Indian subcontinent resulting in the killings of over one million and enforced migration of over twenty million. Indian and Pakistan bourgeois over the last 70 years have repeatedly been shouting from their respective pulpits that independence was won by the Indian National Congress led by Gandhi and Nehru and Muslim League led by Jinnah while ignoring the role played by workers, peasants and the Indian army, navy, air force and the police in the struggle for independence.


This year is the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the mutiny or revolt of the Royal Indian Navy (RIN). This revolt that transformed into a revolutionary situation broke out on February 18, 1946, and, in only five days spread throughout India delivering a mortal blow to the entire structure of the British Raj and resulting in its hasty retreat.

The war had caused rapid expansion of the RIN. In 1945, it was 10 times larger than its size in 1939. Due to war and as with the army recruitment was no longer confined to martial races; men from different social strata, including many educated up to the college level were recruited. Marx explained during the first war of independence that British captured India by using the Indian army. However by 1946 British were no longer confident that they can rely on Indians in the British armed forces to maintain their coercive rule.

Ruling classes throughout history have always depended on the state machinery to maintain their exploitative system of loot and plunder. Lenin explained in State and Revolution, “The state is a product and a manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises where, when and insofar as class antagonism objectively cannot be reconciled.” Similarly, Marx explained that state could fundamentally be reduced to “armed bodies of men”.

The refusal of these armed bodies of men to carry out orders shook the British imperialist rule. British imperialism was always sensitive to the revolt amongst the Indian army. The “First War of Independence” or the great Indian “Sepoys” Mutiny of 1857 as the British called it left a very deep mark on the British imperialism’s psyche. During this Sepoys Mutiny, both Hindus and Muslims demonstrated a unity that was never seen before in India.

The imperialist and capitalist classes have always and will always attempt to confuse, deflect and undermine class struggle and international solidarity of the proletarian masses and deny the correct description by using terminologies like ‘mutiny, ‘coup’, ‘Arab Spring’, ‘green, orange, velvet revolution’, etc., when they are faced with struggles, revolts, movements, uprisings and revolutions against their system. They do this to undermine the revolutionary character of the event or the movement and to disguise the underlying class conflicts and antagonisms. The attitudes of the British imperialists to the 1946 RIN revolt were very similar. This was not a mutiny but a full-fledged revolutionary insurrection supported by the Indian proletariat particularly the textile workers of Bombay.

The navy revolt did not happen overnight. The revolt took place due to the accumulation of resentment over a long period among the sailors. The salary of the British sailors was 10 times more than that of the Indian sailors. In addition, British sailors had better food, better quarters, and better quality uniforms and travelled comfortably in individual berths. The Indian barracks were ‘pigsties’, the food was often inedible and Indians were herded into train compartments. However with the war coming to end demobilization and the anxiety of unemployment was hovering over the sailors. However, the major cause of the revolt was political and the trial of the Indian National Army (INA) leaders acted as pouring petrol over the fire.

Subash Chandra Bose’s struggle for freedom and the exploits of INA during the siege of Imphal, when the INA inflicted massive damage on the British army were an inspiration to the sailors. It gave them courage and belief that the mighty British Empire was not all that invincible. B. C. Dutt, one of the RIN leaders wrote in his book Mutiny of the Innocents: “What have we been fighting for—the preservation of empire? Shouldn’t our own country be free?”’ He goes on to say that Phillip Mason, the War secretary’s despite his valiant attempts to describe the revolt or the mutiny as an attempt to secure better terms of service was forced to acknowledge that sailors also wished to make a protest to the Government of India regarding the INA policy, the firing on the public at various places, and the use of Indian troops in Indonesia and the Middle East.’’

 Royal Indian Navy Revolt – Bombay

The Royal Indian Navy revolt started on 18th February 1946, when 1100 sailors on the HMIS Talwar stopped work and declared an official strike at dawn. The sailors unanimously elected signalman M.S Khan as President and petty officer telegraphist Madan Singh as Vice-President. Leading signaller Bedi Basant Singh, S.C. Sen Gupta, Chief Petty Officer, School Master Nawaz, Seaman Ashraf Khan, Able Stokers Gomez and Mohammad Hussain were also elected to the Central Strike Committee.

The Central Strike Committee was clear about the nature of their struggle for independence and economic gains. This can be gauged from their action of dropping the ‘Royal’ prefix and called themselves the ‘Indian National Navy’ (INN) following the footsteps of Bose and the INA. They also drew up a charter of demands demanding the release of all the political prisoners, the withdrawal of Indian troops from Indonesia and Egypt, for immediate improvement in their conditions, and the provision of equal status with the British officers. The committee in the midst of huge support and cheers got the charter accepted from their fellow sailors.

In Bombay harbour, the revolt quickly spread to 22 ships and the Castle Barracks and Fort Barracks shore bases. The Central Strike first step was to take possession of Butcher Island, where Bombay Presidency’s entire ammunition hold was stored including telephone and wireless equipment. By taking over the wireless system under their control, they used it to spread their revolt to other sailors and ships. The strikes spread like wild fire to military establishments in Karachi, Madras, Vishakhapatnam, Calcutta, Delhi, Cochin, Jamnagar, and Andaman’s Islands on to the shores of the Middle East in Bahrain and Aden. They were able to win over almost all the 70 ships and all the 20 seashore establishments with over 30,000 sailors actively participating in the revolt. They had secured control over the civilian telephone exchange, the cable network and, above all, over the transmission centre at Kirkee, which was under the supervision of the Navy. This was the channel of communication between the Indian Government and the British.

The next morning Indian sailors seized military vehicles in the dockyards, and drove around Bombay shouting slogans in support of the INA prisoners and chanting slogans like ‘Hindu-Muslim eik han.’ A peaceful mass rally was held at the Azad Maidaan. The Central Strike Committee issued a leaflet that ended with the call: ‘long live the solidarity of workers, soldiers, students and peasants. Long live Revolution’.

By the 20th February, British destroyers positioned themselves near the Gateway of India. The British Government, now headed by the Labour Party under Clement Attlee’s premiership was alarmed and it gave orders to the Royal Navy to put down the sailors revolt. Admiral JH Godfrey, the Flag Officer in command of the Royal Indian Navy, gave an ultimatum to the striking sailors to submit or perish. On the other side, a wave of patriotic fervour swept Bombay and the rest of the country in favour of the revolutionary striking sailors. The sailors from the clerks to the cleaning hands, cooks and wireless operators were united to face the might of the British imperialism.

On the morning of February 21, 1946 British guards opened fire at the Indian sailors in the Castle Barracks and this transformed a peaceful revolt into a violent armed uprising. By this time the Central Strike Committee shifted command to the RIN flagship Narba. The sailors in Calcutta, Madras, Karachi, Vizag and other naval centres, also went on strike with the slogans “Strike for Bombay” and “Release 11,000 INA prisoners”

The strike, which began on HMIS Talwar, soon took serious proportions. Hundreds of strikers from ships, minesweepers and shore establishments in Bombay demonstrated near the Victoria Terminus of the Indian Railways. The strikers who were armed with steel rods, hammers and even hockey sticks singled out British personnel of the Defence forces for attacks. When British ordered Indian soldiers to fire at the striking sailors, the latter refused to shoot at their fellow Indian brothers. B. C. Dutt again writes: The navy sailors addressed the soldiers over the loud-speaker in Hindustani: “Brothers! We are not fighting to fill our stomachs with better food and for a softer life. We are fighting for the country’s freedom. You are as much sons of the soil as we are. Don’t heap shame on the heads of your descendants by pointing your rifles at us…Almost immediately, the firing ceased. It was obvious that the Indian soldiers did not need much persuading. Their hearts were in the right place.’’

 General Strike in Bombay

On February 20 and 21, the striking sailors gave a call for a general strike, which evoked tremendous public response. Three hundred thousand workers put down their tools and walked out of textile factories, mills, and railways and from other industries. This sent shockwaves to their British imperial oppressors. Peaceful meetings and demonstrations developed into violent clashes as the police intervened. Barricades were set up on the streets that were the scene of pitched battles with the police and the army. Two army battalions were needed to restore order in the city. The strike was a direct challenge to the Raj’s authority. In Calcutta, over 120,000 people came out and all major Indian cities witnessed strikes and demonstrations on a similar scale.

The British again had to resort to deploy their own forces from the army against the civilians in Bombay on 22nd and 23rd February 1946. As a result of indiscriminate firing and use of tanks and artillery the British had blood of over 300 people on their hands. All navy ships were taken over by the striking sailors including taking over of the ships guns. The sailors than raised steam and began to hoot on the ships whistle declaring their intention of defending their comrades on shore. The sheer noise could be heard for miles away unnerved the British. This was a revolt that received unprecedented passionate public support. By this time, the striking naval sailors had seized all the armouries of the ships and establishments. The deck and engine hands, stewards, cooks and wireless operators of the striking ship armed themselves with whatever weapon was available to resist the British destroyers that had sailed from Colombo and Trincomalee in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). In Madras and Pune, the Indians in British army garrisons went on strike. A detachment of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps had tried to join the sailors. Over a thousand men in the Royal Indian Air Force camps in Bombay came out in support of the revolt. Ground crews mutinied in Madras, Karachi, Poona, Allahabad and Delhi.

Nearly 2000 men in the Royal Indian Army Signal Corps mutinied near Jabalpur. There were mini-revolts by Indian gunners in Madras, signallers at Allahabad, and clerical staff at army headquarters in Delhi. Nor were the British forces stationed in India totally reliable. Indian officers of the RIAF refused to fly out troops, and the transport units refused to ferry British troops to fight the naval sailors and the Indian officers refused to pilot planes to bomb the ships. Felled trees blocked train tracks and roads.

While the British troops were going berserk with the gunfire over the city, masses, in turn, took vented their anger at symbols of British authority, like banks, post offices, banks, government buildings and shops. Troops fired live ammunition at youth, who resisted with rocks and bottles. Workers dug up the streets and built barricades. The textile factory districts looked like a battle zone, BC Dutt, recalled: “For the first time in Bombay, the British had to bring in tanks to put down the workers. The industrial workers of Bombay knew that the sailors were trying to do something great for the country, particularly when they heard that water had been cut off to Talwar and Castle Barracks and that we were being starved into surrender. That infuriated them”. The role played by women was equally courageous and heroic. Women of Bhindi Bazaar and Dongri joined in the rebellion by throwing hot water and pans, from the rooftops, at the British soldiers. These same women welcomed the striking sailors and public who were resisting the British onslaught with fresh flowers. During the revolt they also ensured no sailor went hungry and provided all the food on the ships.

 Karachi

In Karachi, sailors struck on the HMIS Hindustan off Manora Island. The ship alongside the establishment on the shore was taken over by strikers. Later HMIS Bahadur was also taken over. The sailors then took out a procession through the streets of Manora shouting anti-British slogans. Local residents of Manora joined the procession in large numbers as well. British authorities were extremely alarmed by these developments. The Local British army commander sent two platoons of Baluch soldiers to suppress the revolt. The Baluch refused to fire upon their Indian brother. The British then called on the Gorkha troops to put down the revolt on HMIS Hindustan. Gorkha soldiers have been the cornerstone for the British Imperialism during their occupation of India and historically relied upon them to do the most difficult tasks. In this case, Gorkhas who were not immune to the nationalist struggle taking place refused to fire upon the Karachi striking sailors. Then the British troops were summoned and HMIS Hindustan was surrounded from all sides. The British troops started firing and the sailors on the ship retaliated. The firing and attacks and counter-attacks continued for four hours. Six of the sailors were killed, more than 30 were wounded. Trade unions in Karachi called a general strike and the whole city was shut down. More than 35,000 people, Hindus and Muslims marched towards Eidgah and held a massive rally despite intimidation, harassment, arrests, baton charge and live injuring more than 50 civilians in the process.

 Revolt in the in IAF

The Second World War changed geopolitics. It also altered the way societies view the world and themselves. The Indian soldier was no exception. With the war coming to an end in 1945, there were nearly five million men and women in the British armed services. The British anxiety of stationing troops to secure its colonial territories were in direct contrast to the grievances of soldiers particularly over the conditions of slow demobilisation of their troops back home. In January 1946 the Royal Air Force (RAF) mutiny involving more than 50,000 men in over 60 RAF stations in India and South Asia shows the levels of discontent amongst the armed forces.

Just 5 months after the WW2, preceded by the navy revolt in Bombay, 2,000 British airmen from the Royal Air Force (RAF) went on strike, in January 1946 at Bamhrauli, Allahabad, India. The 2100 airmen at Mauripur, Karachi and 1200 airmen at Dum -Dum, Calcutta airfield quickly joined this strike. The strike then spread to Kanpur, Palam (Delhi), Poona, Vizagapatam, Allahabad, Dum Dum, Kallang, Chaklala, Lahore and Negombo. The strike also spread to South East Asia where 4000 airmen struck at Seletar, Singapore.

These strikes by the British Air Force were later a subject of the Channel 4 programme called “Secret History”. According to this programme there were strikes at more than 60 RAF units, with more than fifty thousand men involved. These “incidents”, some lasting only a few hours, others up to four days, all took place within eleven days of the initial protest at Allahabad and Drig Road, Karachi.

The Viceroy of India, General Wavell, held the RAF men guilty. Referring to the RIN revolt, he wrote, “I am afraid that the example of the Royal Air Force, who got away with what was really a mutiny, has some responsibility for the present situation”.

 Revolt of the INA

In 1945, the British realised that the days of the Raj were numbered. The Labour government came to the conclusion that it has no choice but to negotiate some kind of settlement with Congress and the Muslim League. The British often used the Indian soldiers as cannon fodder; they were the first soldiers on the front line in conflict whether it was in France, Turkey, Egypt, Hejaz or Iraq. In just the two great World Wars over a million of Indian soldiers died fighting for the British Empire with very little appreciation. While the Austrians, New Zealanders, South African and Canadian white settlers were being granted dominion status Indians were being subjugated ever increasing discrimination, slavery and broken promises. This also explains why Subhas Bose and INA rapidly became a real force.

There is no doubt that British made a huge mistake when it decided to an example of the INA men in order to prevent further revolts within the British Indian Armed Forces. The first to be tried were Captain Shah Nawaz, Captain PK Sahgal and Lieutenant GS Dhillon. This trial was indeed the turning point, as it would prove to be a triumph for the INA and disaster for the British. It is from here that the tide turned inexorably against the British. Mass demonstrations calling for the freedom of the INA prisoners rocked Calcutta and other cities in November 1945 and again in early February 1946. The demonstrations were significant not only for their size and militancy but also for the demonstration of the Hindu–Muslim unity. Unsurprisingly, the trial gave rise to a countrywide wave of protests. The government’s intelligence agencies reported that seldom had a matter attracted so much public attention and sympathy. The three officers were later released from jail and given dishonourable discharges from the Indian army. But the INA trial and the protests had driven a nail into the Raj’s coffin. Not only were the British increasingly unsure about the political reliability of the Indian army but they also realised that the army could no longer be taken for granted as a strategic tool of the empire.

There was a grave doubt whether the Indian Army could be used to suppress a rebellion. On the remission of sentence of Shah Nawaz, Sahgal and Dhillon, Auchinleck explained in a letter to all senior British officers “that any attempt to enforce the sentence would have led to chaos in the country at large and probably to mutiny and dissension in the Army, culminating in its dissolution”.

 Mutiny in the British Indian Army Jabalpur

On the 26th February 1946 120 army men of the ‘J’ company of the Signals Training Centre (STC), Jabalpur rebelled against their British superiors and broke free from their barracks directly due to the naval revolt. Part of a radio signalling unit, they were sick and tired of the racist abuse heaped on them by their paranoid British counterparts.

The ranks of the mutineers swelled to 1,700 men, armed with nothing more than the combination of red flags. Shouting slogans, the soldiers protested peacefully for some days till a vicious bayonet charge by the Somerset Light Infantry, which killed 8 main leaders and seriously wounded at least 32, crushed the revolt in blood. Eighty men behind the revolt were court-martialled and dismissed without pay and pension. Forty-one others were sent to prison. But the incident was quickly hushed up. The Jabalpur mutiny, left a deep irreversible impact on the British. The then commander-in-chief of the British Indian army, Gen Sir Claude Auchinleck, sent several secret cables back to London, discussing a quick transfer of power from British hands to the Indians.

Gen. VK Singh explains in his book Contribution of the Armed Forces to the Freedom Movement of India, “Though the mutiny at Jabalpur was at that time not considered as ‘serious’ as the naval mutiny, its repercussions were immense. The earlier revolts in the RIAF and RIN, though more widespread and larger in scale, did not really worry the British authorities, because the Indian Army, on which they depended for meeting external and internal threats, was still considered reliable, having proved its worth during World War II. The mutiny at Jabalpur was the first major uprising in the Indian Army during or after the war. This set alarm bells ringing from Delhi to London, and doubts began to be expressed on the steadfastness of the Indian Army. Ultimately, it forced Britain to reach a settlement with the political parties and quit India.”

No army, no navy, no air force, no communications, no police, restless railways, docks and postal workers, all highly politicised and ready to jump into the fray. This was a scenario British never ever expected to be faced with.

 British facing revolt at home and in the Empire

In 1945, Labour Party led by Clement Atlee won a landslide victory defeated Churchill and his Conservative Party. Labour victory was a direct result of the Second World War. Both British industrial workers and the armed forces personnel became much radicalised during the war and they ensured a labour landslide for an end to war and improved living conditions. It was this pressure that catapulted Atlee government to nationalise railways, coal, steel, gas, electric, telephone, telegraph and laid the foundation for National Health Service free at a point of delivery. After decades of tireless struggle, British Raj exhausted by the war and paralysed by the radical mood of the British working class, fully understood the futility of trying to hold back the clock of the historical progress and very rapidly passed the responsibility for this impossible task to the Indian bourgeoisie.

Nicholas Mansergh who was appointed by Harold Wilson in 1967 as editor-in-chief of a multi-volume collection of documents from the India Office on the transfer of power to India in the 1940s had the following to say about those revolutionary days in India “It is pertinent to remember that one of the compelling reasons for the departure of the British from India was the apprehension that the loyalty of Indian armed forces was doubtful. Due to obvious reason, the staunchness of the Army was more worrisome than that of the other two Services. On 5 September 1946, in a note by the commander- in chief on the military aspects of the plan to withdraw from India, General Auchinleck was to record, “The importance of keeping the Indian Army steady is emphasised. It is the one disciplined force in which communal interests are subordinated to duty, and on it depends the stability of the country. The steadiness of the RIN and the RIAF is of lesser import but any general disaffection in them is likely seriously to affect the reliability of the army.”

Sir Stafford Cripps

Stafford Cripps - Wikipedia
Stafford Cripps - Wikipedia
en.wikipedia.org
spoke in the debate at the British House of Commons.
“…The Indian Army in India is not obeying the British officers.
We have recruited our workers for the war; they have been demobilised after the war. They are required to repair the factories damaged by Hitler’s bombers. Moreover, they want to join their kith and kin after five and a half years of separation. Their kith and kin also want to join them. In these conditions if we have to rule India for a long time, we have to keep a permanent British army for a long time in a vast country of four hundred million. We have no such army and money….

General Auchinleck
Claude Auchinleck - Wikipedia
Claude Auchinleck - Wikipedia
en.wikipedia.org
in his many cables to the British Government back in London was warning the British Government that the loyalty of the Indian troops couldn’t be taken for granted anymore
. In one of his cable during the critical days of 1947 said “that we cannot hold India for three days
”. The question to be asked is why was this? What forced the British to make this Strategic retreat of 1947? The answer lies in the effect of decades of strikes, mass demonstrations, daring and heroic guerrilla actions as we witnessed with Bhagat Singh and his comrades, numerous and rapidly increasing revolts within the police, air force, navy and the army and the rapidly developing threat of violent mass insurrection from Calcutta to Karachi and Delhi to Colombo.

 Mutiny in the British Indian Army Jabalpur

On the 26th February 1946 120 army men of the ‘J’ company of the Signals Training Centre (STC), Jabalpur rebelled against their British superiors and broke free from their barracks directly due to the naval revolt. Part of a radio signalling unit, they were sick and tired of the racist abuse heaped on them by their paranoid British counterparts.

The ranks of the mutineers swelled to 1,700 men, armed with nothing more than the combination of red flags. Shouting slogans, the soldiers protested peacefully for some days till a vicious bayonet charge by the Somerset Light Infantry, which killed 8 main leaders and seriously wounded at least 32, crushed the revolt in blood. Eighty men behind the revolt were court-martialled and dismissed without pay and pension. Forty-one others were sent to prison. But the incident was quickly hushed up. The Jabalpur mutiny, left a deep irreversible impact on the British. The then commander-in-chief of the British Indian army, Gen Sir Claude Auchinleck, sent several secret cables back to London, discussing a quick transfer of power from British hands to the Indians.

Gen. VK Singh explains in his book Contribution of the Armed Forces to the Freedom Movement of India, “Though the mutiny at Jabalpur was at that time not considered as ‘serious’ as the naval mutiny, its repercussions were immense. The earlier revolts in the RIAF and RIN, though more widespread and larger in scale, did not really worry the British authorities, because the Indian Army, on which they depended for meeting external and internal threats, was still considered reliable, having proved its worth during World War II. The mutiny at Jabalpur was the first major uprising in the Indian Army during or after the war. This set alarm bells ringing from Delhi to London, and doubts began to be expressed on the steadfastness of the Indian Army. Ultimately, it forced Britain to reach a settlement with the political parties and quit India.”

No army, no navy, no air force, no communications, no police, restless railways, docks and postal workers, all highly politicised and ready to jump into the fray. This was a scenario British never ever expected to be faced with.

 British facing revolt at home and in the Empire

In 1945, Labour Party led by Clement Atlee won a landslide victory defeated Churchill and his Conservative Party. Labour victory was a direct result of the Second World War. Both British industrial workers and the armed forces personnel became much radicalised during the war and they ensured a labour landslide for an end to war and improved living conditions. It was this pressure that catapulted Atlee government to nationalise railways, coal, steel, gas, electric, telephone, telegraph and laid the foundation for National Health Service free at a point of delivery. After decades of tireless struggle, British Raj exhausted by the war and paralysed by the radical mood of the British working class, fully understood the futility of trying to hold back the clock of the historical progress and very rapidly passed the responsibility for this impossible task to the Indian bourgeoisie.

Nicholas Mansergh who was appointed by Harold Wilson in 1967 as editor-in-chief of a multi-volume collection of documents from the India Office on the transfer of power to India in the 1940s had the following to say about those revolutionary days in India “It is pertinent to remember that one of the compelling reasons for the departure of the British from India was the apprehension that the loyalty of Indian armed forces was doubtful. Due to obvious reason, the staunchness of the Army was more worrisome than that of the other two Services. On 5 September 1946, in a note by the commander- in chief on the military aspects of the plan to withdraw from India, General Auchinleck was to record, “The importance of keeping the Indian Army steady is emphasised. It is the one disciplined force in which communal interests are subordinated to duty, and on it depends the stability of the country. The steadiness of the RIN and the RIAF is of lesser import but any general disaffection in them is likely seriously to affect the reliability of the army.” Workers Struggle

Months immediately after the surrender of the Japanese on 2nd September 1945 India passed through a stormy resurgence of the working class movement. The workers in large numbers participated in the post-war political upsurge. Industrial strikes in virtually all the major cities – Bombay, Calcutta, Allahabad, Delhi, Madras, and Karachi erupted with full force. The Indian working class courageously jumped into the fray ignoring massive state oppression, arrests, beatings and even bullets as the decisive force in the struggle of the Indian people for independence from the British bondage. Towards the end of 1945, the Bombay and Calcutta dockworkers refused to load ships going to Indonesia with supplies for troops meant to suppress the national liberation struggles there. Indian workers were the main force behind demonstrations protesting against the British imperialism’s farcical Red Fort trials of members of the Indian National Army.

Calcutta

In September 1945, the militant streetcar workers struck bringing the city’s transportation system to a halt. The bus and taxi drivers struck in sympathy with the car workers. During the same month workers at the Cassipore Gun and Shell Factory, near Calcutta, struck in sympathy with 100 discharged workers.

At the beginning of October several thousand engineering workers in different plants struck for bonus payment and reinstatement of discharged workers. Similar action was taken by 4,000 at Clive Jute Mills at Mitabriz, a suburb of Calcutta. The textile workers at Bouria, at the Vassari Cotton and Silk Mills and the Mafolta Spinning and Manufacturing Mill went out in the same period.

In November, during the general strike in protest against the Delhi Court Martials, 20,000 municipal workers struck in Delhi bringing all forms of transportation and public utilities to a standstill. Street barricades and roadblocks were erected including occupying railroad tracks to stop movements of trains.

RIN Uprising memorial Colaba, Mumbai

Bombay

Bombay followed with a strike of railway workers and this, in turn, set off a series of student demonstrations throughout India. Bombay was the scene of similar struggles during this period. Thus, the workers at the Ford Motor Co. Assembly Plant in Bombay and other Ford plants in the country went on a sit down strike against lay-offs. In December 8,000 Bombay dockworkers struck, demanding payment of three months bonus, upgraded scales of pay, medical aid and a guarantee of 20 days work a month. There were strikes by the electrical workers at Colaba and by the workers of the Burma Shell, Standard Vacuum and Caltex Oil Companies. A strike by the staff of the Bombay Electric Supply and Trolley Co leaving the city’s 2,800,000 population without transport by bus or street car.

However at the beginning of 1946, this strike wave assumed a highly political character. On January 24 1946, 175,000 textile and industrial workers went on strike in Bombay to protest the shooting of demonstrators celebrating the birthday of Subhas Chandra Bose, leader of the “Azad (Free) Indian Government” and organizer of the Indian National Army.

The power and militancy of the workers were most graphically demonstrated in support of the striking sailors of the Royal Indian Navy. In Bombay a series of huge demonstrations took place. “Some 60 textile mills were closed by strikes which also extended into some railway shops,” reported the Associated Press on the 22nd February 1946. The following day: “Striking drivers of one of the city’s principal transportation companies seized busses, festooned them with flags.” Throughout the city trenches were dug across the roads, filled with inflammable materials and gasoline, thus erecting a veritable “wall of fire.” In March, 45,000 primary school teachers in Bombay Province went on strike.

Cawnpore (Kanpur)

A Reuter’s dispatch reports a mass demonstration held on 10th February of 100,000 members of all Indian parties in Cawnpore, leading industrial city in the United Provinces. This action was taken in protest against the 50 percent reduction in wheat rations. The meeting called upon Government officials to resign from their posts inasmuch as they had “failed to feed the country.” On the day before the meeting “angry citizens marched through the streets, shouting protests against the ration cut and stopping and stoning private cars.” All shops and industries were closed and no public transportation vehicles were on the streets that day. The city of Allahbad was paralyzed by a general strike on 12th February 1946. “50,000 hunger marchers paraded through the streets protesting cuts in food rations and demanding more wheat for bread,” reported the Associated Press.

Rest of India

Elsewhere in the country, the strike of 10,000 tailors and labourers in the ordnance-clothing factory at Shahjahanpur was in its 18th day on 9th January. In four goldfields at Kolar in Madras province, 24,000 miners went on strike on 7th January for a basic minimum wage and increases. In Trichinopoly, 10,000 workers struck; a general strike was called in Karachi; the similar action was taken in Madras, where the demonstrators “stoned British military trucks and battled police forces around the city railway station.” Throughout all these demonstrations the inspiring and fiery slogan “Long Live the Revolution!” was repeatedly heard.

Workers struggles in 1947

The last years of colonial rule also saw a remarkably sharp increase in strikes on economic issues all over the country — the all-India strike of the Post and Telegraph Department employees being the most well known among them. The pent-up economic grievances during the War, coupled with the problems due to post-war demobilization and the continuation of high prices, scarcity of food and other essentials, and a drop in real wages, all combined to drive the working class to the limits of its tolerance.

Also, the mood in anticipation of freedom was pregnant with expectation. Independence was seen by all sections of the Indian people as signalling an end to their miseries. The workers were no exception. They too were now struggling for what they hoped freedom would bring them as a matter of right.

 Role of Congress, CPI and ML

The revolutionary insurrections in the air force, navy, army, police, railways, civil servants etc. had erupted at the time when the Congress and Muslim League were focussed on campaigning for the 1946 elections for the constituent assembly. The last thing they wanted was another ‘Quit India’ movement. In a rare display of unity, the implacable rivals both condemned the Royal Indian Navy revolt in HMIS Talwar and other ships and shores across the country.

It is not surprising why the courageous striking sailors received no support at all from the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. Rather than supporting the rebels, they were in fact condemned for their actions. Mahatma Gandhi issued a statement criticizing the mutineers for revolting without any guidance from a political party. The Muslim League too denounced the mutineers, arguing that unrest on the streets was not the best way to deal with grievances and that protest should be through constitutional methods only.

Valabhbhai Patel demanded that the sailors surrender and summoned vice president of the sailors strike committee, Petty Officer Madan Singh in a flat at Bombay and literally shouted at him and demanded that he stop the revolt. Nehru did not want to be left behind Patel and in a meeting with Madan advised him and his comrades to surrender and bring the navy revolt to an end.
Gandhi declared that ‘a combination between Hindus and Muslims and others for the purpose of the violent action was unholy’. Nehru, the darling of the Congress left, held a press conference to chastise the mutineers.

The Communist Party of India was caught in a contradiction. On the one hand, the CPI wanted to ‘be with the people’, in order to restore some of its credibility lost during the war, when the party overtly supported the government in the name of ‘Peoples’ War’. Their rank-and-file, particularly the students, enthusiastically jumped into the fray in the uprisings in Bombay and Calcutta. On the other hand, the more compromised leadership didn’t want to jeopardise its would-be ‘united front’ with Gandhi’s Congress and the Muslim League. And so, contrary to the myth, the CPI, in fact, had called on ‘all parties’ to give a ‘peaceful expression to the protest against military atrocities’.

Surrender

The negotiations moved fast, keeping in view the extreme sensitivity of the situation and on the fourth day 22nd Feb 1946, most of the demands of the strikers were conceded in principle. Even after the sailors surrendered, there was sporadic resistance in the mill districts. Tanks rumbled through the streets. Small groups fought guerrilla-style battles. Mosquito bombers roared overhead. The British light carrier Glasgow steamed into the harbour. Sympathy strikes and mass protests continued in Calcutta, Madras, Madura and Trichinopoly. On 24th February 1946 white flags were raised from the decks of all ships to announce surrender. In its last session the strike committee passed a resolution that stated, “Our uprising was an important historical event in the lives of our people. For the first time the blood of uniformed and non-uniformed workers flowed in one current for the same collective cause. We the workers in uniform shall never forget this. We also know that you, our proletarian brothers and sisters shall also never forget this. The coming generations, learning its lessons shall accomplish what we have not been able to achieve. Long live the working masses. Long, lives Revolution”.

The military arrested over 1300 ratings and dismissed 1000, contrary to Patel’s promise of no victimisation. The CPI dissociated itself from a strike called for 26 February to protest against the repression. But it staged a joint rally with Sardar Patel in Calcutta.

Betrayal of the CPI

Between 1942 and 1945 in other words during the period when Second World War was at its peak and British imperialism particularly its occupation of India was at its weakest and the “Quit India” campaign was in full swing the Communist Party of India (CPI) went through an 180 degrees turn and renounced all agitation, graciously standing aside to allow Congress and Muslim League to seize CPI’s crucial and historically necessary role. While the leaders of Congress were locked up and their newspapers banned, the CPI leaders and activist were free, receiving generous financial donations and carrying out mass recruitment of Indians into the British Indian army and mobilising for other war efforts. However when the time came for transfer of power the preferred option for British imperialism was Congress and League, as they wanted to ensure continuity of capitalist plunder.

As Marx explained in his writing after the first War of Independence that British imperialism conquered India using Indian troops, cynically buying off, manipulating and playing off against one another, the Indian people were amongst the first to light a torch for the colonial oppressed of two-thirds of the world. Had there been a mass revolutionary party in Bombay in 1946, soviets would have been the order of the day, like in Petrograd in 1905. The interview was given by the vice president of the Central Strike Committee, Madan Singh to the Tribune, a newspaper based in Chandigarh, clearly shows the rebel sailors did not want to make compromises with the British Raj and were determined to see an end to British occupation. Madan Singh recalled those stormy events. “After the outbreak of the mutiny, the first thing that we did was to free B.C. Dutt (who was arrested during General Auchinleck’s visit). Then we took possession of Butcher Island (the entire ammunition meant for Bombay Presidency was stocked) and Kirkee near Pune. Our quick actions ensured that all the 70 ships and all the 20 seashore establishments were in our control. We had secured control over the civilian telephone exchange, the cable network and, above all, over the transmission centre at Kirkee manned by the Navy, which was the channel of communication between the Indian Government and the British.”

The need of the hour was for a revolutionary leadership grounded in on the granite foundations of Marxism that could have provided a direction to the sailors as the restless Indian soldiers in the army and millions of workers who came out on the streets in all different parts of the country. Soviets could easily have been established in Bombay, Calcutta, Karachi, Allahabad, Madras, Kanpur, Delhi and many other metropolitan major cities. This would have enabled to wield control, galvanise millions and marshal them to batter down the bastions of imperialism. Unfortunately due to the criminal role played by the Comintern and the leadership of the CPI with the disastrous policy of forming ‘people’s front’ with the “progressive bourgeois” of Congress and the Muslim League missed a historic opportunity. The necessity of the day was and still is the building up a revolutionary leadership, that is, a working-class party, armed with the arsenal of Marxism and conscious of its revolutionary historic role.

Javed Iqbal