I have read with interest the article, "The dominant role of the military", (October 6) by the respected Dr Mubashir Hasan. I feel the writer has jumped to conclusions after mentioning the Jallianwala Bagh incident. He has completely ignored the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) mutiny of 1946 which shook the foundations of the British Raj and forced the British government to hasten the process of independence. This mutiny was led by the sailors of the communication branch resulting in a complete paralysis of the RIN.
If it were not for the Indians, the grandeur of the British would not have survived the onslaught of the Japanese in South East Asia. It was public knowledge that the Indian National Army (INA), the Bengal famine and, above all, the war made independence inevitable. Indian soldiers, sailors and airmen, Indian business and labour played a major role in the British victory on the Burma front, which gave birth to a new militant nationalism. Hindu-Muslim unity, protests against the trial of prisoners of the INA and the heroic strike of the RIN in February 1946 were marked by massive solidarity actions in Calcutta, Bombay and Karachi.
The RIN mutiny shook the Raj to its very core and it was no coincidence that then British Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced on February 19, 1946 the decision to send a cabinet mission to India. This event, I would argue, was perhaps the single-most important factor in hastening the process of independence in that it signalled the culmination of the erosion of imperial authority.
However, neither the Muslim League nor the Congress sympathised with the ranks of the RIN for fear of Communist Party involvement. S K Patil and I I Chundrigar, presidents of the Congress and the Muslim League of Bombay respectively, displayed rare unanimity and offered their help to the police in arresting the mutineers. Gandhi thought that the mutiny had set what he called a “bad and unbecoming example” for India. He said that a “combination of Hindus and Muslims and others for the purpose of violent action” was unholy and that if the RIN men were to adopt peaceful methods and apprise him fully of their grievances he would see to it that they were “redressed”. Aruna Asif Ali disagreed with Gandhi and said in a rejoinder that it would be “far easier to unite Hindus and Muslims at the barricade than on the constitutional front”.
The British would have tried to cling to power even after the Royal Indian Navy revolt but, from the day of the uprising, independence was assured. For the British, the events in Bombay and Karachi revived memories of the 1857 mutiny. On February 23, leading seaman M S Khan, president of the Naval Central Strike Committee, announced: “Our strike has been a historic event in the life of our nation. For the first time the blood of the men in the services and the people flowed together in a common cause. We will never forget this. Jai Hind!”
After independence many RIN Muslim mutineers came to Pakistan in search of a new identity but their hopes were shattered as they were considered unsuitable for re-employment in the rechristened Royal Pakistan Navy. The fate of their counterparts in India was no different. Nonetheless, in 1973, the government of India accorded official recognition to those who had served in the Royal Indian Navy and had participated in the mutiny by granting them pension bestowed on freedom fighters. There is a curious silence and elusiveness on this glorious episode in history books in Pakistan. One can only wonder why and for how long these navy personnel will be ignored and their sacrifices forgotten.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2010.
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