Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why did British leave ? The Story of Indian Independence

It's truly said a victory has thousand fathers, but a defeat is an orphan !!  As decades pass and very few left with clear memory of sequence of events, what would have been clearly dismissed as propaganda in another era has now a better chance of success. 

Every interest group is keen on explaining away events in a way it best suits them. The bigger the event and momentous the victory the bigger is the distortion.  

1) If you read Pakistani History World War 2 would be the only cause of Indian Independence. Muslim league's own contribution to Freedom struggle was minimal and negative so they necessarily have to undermine the Indian freedom struggle. 
2)  If you read British history, there is never much talk of Indian Freedom. Emphasis is on transfer of power to the colonies and the white man's burden and the good they did.
3)  Within India, several right and left wing groups groups never participated in the quit India movement. The Muslim league and the Hindu Mahasabha in fact very actively collaborated with British for power during quit India. As matter of fact Hindu Mahasabha even collaborated with Muslim League in formation of coalition ministries in Sind and Bengal, and Savarkar supported and appreciated this move of Hindu Mahasabha. 

There are several books that detail the events in the 1940s, but VP Menon's book on transfer of power in India is a must read in my view. VP Menon was Sardar Patel's right hand man in integrating the princely states in India and was intricately involved with the government both British and Indian from 1940s. As he worked for the Viceroy too before independence he was privy to the internal communication among the British and the British and the Indian leaders. 

Several myths such as Naval mutiny and INA trials miraculously  leading to independence is abundantly clear in it. At best it is like attributing the victory to night watchman who happens to score the winning runs or plays a  late cameo without concern to all those who setup that stage.

The link to the book:

The talks for transfer in power had began in earnest as soon as the Labour government came in power in Britain at the close of the world war 2 well before the INA trials. It was one of the stated manifesto goals of the Labour party before elections to reach a settlement with the Indians. The moment they were in power it was never so much a question of if and when, but only a question of how given the complexities of Muslim league, congress, princely states and the nature of British engagement if any that should remain. ( Besides the protests against INA trials were largely organized by socialist faction of Congress under the leadership of Jayprakash Narayan, so if protests against INA trials were a cause, than JP should be credited more than anyone else.)  

Coming back to the question, on why British left there is no one single cause, event or individual which can be attributed as the sole cause, but a series of factors and events. I enumerate 3 major factors the way I see it (not necessarily in order of significance):  

1) India was no longer a profit center for the British.
I think this is a perspective many lack, on how much India had become a liability for the British rule. One often hears of argument of World war 2 and the economic crisis Britain was in as the major cause of freedom and so forth.

The argument of world war 2 and corresponding economic crisis is at best incomplete. For if I am facing bankruptcy I will get rid of my liabilities and not my cherished assets or profit making units. So implicit in the argument of world war 2 as the major cause of freedom is the assumption that India was already a liability. But how and when did India, the jewel in the crown and that source of prestige and power became such a liability ?

Swaminathan Aiyar, the fianancial editor of Times of India, provides an answer in this article published in 2003. This is worth a read:

The key argument:

Historically, conquered nations paid taxes to finance fresh wars of the conqueror. India itself was asked to pay a large sum at the end of World War I to help repair Britain’s finances.

But, as shown by historian Indivar Kamtekar, the independence movement led by Gandhiji changed the political landscape, and made mass taxation of India increasingly difficult. By World War II, this had become politically impossible.

Far from taxing India to pay for World War II, Britain actually began paying India for its contribution of men and goods. Troops from white dominions like Australia, Canada and New Zealand were paid for entirely by those countries, but Indian costs were shared by the British government. Britain paid in the form of non-convertible sterling balances, which mounted swiftly. The conqueror was paying the conquered, undercutting the profitability on which all empire is founded.

Churchill opposed this, and wanted to tax India rather than owe it money. But he was overruled by India hands who said India would resist payment, and paralyse the war effort. Leo Amery, secretary of state for India, said that when you are driving in a taxi to the station to catch a life-or-death train, you do not loudly announce that you have doubts about whether to pay the fare.

Thus World War II converted India from a debtor to a creditor with over one billion pounds in sterling balances. Britain, meanwhile, became the biggest debtor in the world. It’s not worth ruling over people you are afraid to tax.

So if Britain’s economic crisis played a role in India's independence, it emphasizes the importance of Indian freedom movement and not undermines it.

2) Mass awakening in India: Slowly it was becoming impossible for them to govern. By 1940s nation has a whole had become extremely restive. There was a very real fear of the them loosing complete control. Each successive wave of protests was stronger than the prior years.  During the quit India movement there were districts where parallel governments were formed and British had no say left. There is fundamental truth in Gandhi's oft repeated saying "The power of the rulers is derived from the obedience of its subjects". In the end 100 thousand white man cannot rule the subcontinent, if the Indian people simply did not cooperate with it.

 3) Evolution of the British opinion: It would impossible to peacefully transfer power if British public opinion was in not in favor or at the least indifferent to it. So ethical/moral reasons were also a part of the reason of British leaving India and the entire decolonization process was actually effected by it. For this one has to observe the steady change in the British political landscape and public opinion over the years. The political landscape in Britain had changed significantly by late 1930s and early 40s. and there was a large body of opinion which was anti-imperialist in its outlook and sympathetic to Indian Independence. It was no longer a political suicide to grant independence to India. Our Independence movement had definitely helped bring about this imperceptible change. The evolving stance of major members of the Labour party was decidedly in favor of self rule for the colonies by late 1930s. 

George Orwell, one of the greatest literary figures of the 20th century and more of a critic of Gandhi, has raised this question "On the other hand, this (freedom to India) was done by a Labour government, and it is certain that a Conservative government, especially a government headed by Churchill, would have acted differently. But if, by 1945, there had grown up in Britain a large body of opinion sympathetic to Indian independence, how far was this due to Gandhi's personal influence?".

Bertrand Russel chronicles the feeling of average Britisher here:
Take, for example, the "battle" which occurred during the campaign against the salt tax, which was described by an eyewitness, Webb Miller, in an account of which the following is a summary: "The raid which Gandhi had planned on the salt-pans at Dharasana was now carried out by 2,500 volunteers, led by his second son, Manilal. Before they advanced, Mrs. Naidu led them in prayer and appealed to them to be true to Gandhiji's inspiration and abstain from violence. `You will be beaten, but you must not resist, you must not even raise a hand to ward off blows.' Round the depot a barrier of barbed wire had been erected and a ditch dug. As the first picked column of the volunteers went forward, police officers ordered them to disperse; they still advanced in silence. Suddenly scores of police fell upon them and rained blows on their heads. Not one man so much as raised his arm to fend off the blows. Soon the ground was carpeted with the prostrate bodies of men writhing in pain, with fractured skulls or broken shoulders, their white clothes stained with blood. Then a second column advanced, without wavering, knowing well what awaited it. There was no struggle; the volunteers simply marched forward until they, too, were struck down. Now the tactics were varied. Groups of twenty-five men advanced, sat down and waited. As they sat, the enraged police fell upon them, beat them on the head and kicked them in the abdomen or the testicles. Some were dragged along the ground and thrown into the ditches. Hour after hour this went on, while stretcher-bearers removed the inert, bleeding bodies. Over three hundred casualties were taken to hospital with fractured skulls and other serious injuries: two died. Mrs. Naidu and Manilal Gandhi were arrested."
This sort of thing filled every decent English person with a sense of intolerable shame, far greater than would have been felt if the Indian resistance had been of a military character.
There was, of course, also an opposite effect. The police and some of the British authorities in India were rendered furious as a reaction from their own shame, and became more brutal than they would have been against less passive opponents. But this was not the effect that was produced at a distance by those who read of what was being done. English people who were not familiar with India, and had no direct financial interest in maintaining the British raj, felt that something must be done to put an end to such atrocities. General Dyer, who at Amritsar ordered soldiers to fire for ten minutes upon a packed, peaceful mob, unable to escape, killing many and wounding many more, was recalled, and a Conservative Government even went so far as to deprive him of his pension. It is true that he had a number of admirers who presented him with a large sum of money and a Sword of Honour, but this did not represent average British feeling. People who were neither exceptionally rich nor exceptionally brutal began in the end to feel that if British rule could be preserved only by such methods, then it was not worth preserving.

In short reasons for decolonization were growing resistance in the colonies, changing moral perceptions in the west, and reduced economic incentives in holding on to the empire. 

Many countries for which the Indian subcontinent was the supply base (countries in south and southeast Asia), got their freedom at about the same point as we did mainly because having a standalone base for the smaller countries did not make sense and shifting perceptions in British public opinion which made this possible. Many had their own freedom movements. Some like Kenya and other African countries had to wait longer.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gandhiji & the policy of Reservation

Affirmative actions are hard to digest; especially when we carry a prejudiced approach and further compound that with a myopic out look. Reservations - whether for jobs or seats in academic institutions- have actually strengthened our society. How?

Well, a cryptic answer to that lies in the cliché: "The strength of a chain lies in its weakest link".  

Having understood the benefits of such a noble policy, which in the face of it looks plain discriminatory, I extend a value based support to caste based reservations: A well reasoned rationale can be found in this article- by Mr Swaminathan A Aiyer, where he has debunked the myth of talent:
Hope you've got it! Having said that, I’d further add: the reservation policy- as it exists today- certainly needs a re-look. As it is a fact that the benefits are not reaching to the target audience and the same people who enjoyed it at the first place continue to enjoy it today.

 SC-Supreme Court- has already asked to remove the creamy layer and that is yet to be implemented.  This -affirmative actions -being in the nature of a positive discrimination are discriminations nevertheless and hence must have a definite time frame to run through. For, by default the others- who are not eligible for such privileges- become second class citizens and that would create further anomaly, if practiced without end. 

Hence, the government in consultation with other major political parties should declare a firm date, beyond which Caste based reservation would not be continued as a state policy. That was the original intention of the framers of the constitution including the revered Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar. Even if that date is as far away as 100 years from its insertion, it should be declared, as it would bring clarity and definiteness. 

What about Promotions in the jobs? When it comes to promotion, reservation kills comradeship and that is to be kept in mind. Wherever possible, people with better ability, not with reserved castes, should be promoted. For, we are talking about making a positive discrimination. After someone has enjoyed the fruit of reservation then the beneficiaries will have to pull their stock up and get assimilated in the main stream. If, for the sake of keeping the morale intact, for the candidates admitted through reservation, reservation in promotion is also thought of then that should happen within a reasonable limit; so that, the general category people will not feel short charged.

Neither there should be any reservation in very top echelons like scholarship for higher scientific research. For research we already have very limited resources and people who have reached that stage of maturity and intelligence only should get those breaks, irrespective of their caste, creed and religion.

Just to keep the record straight:
Now it has become a fashion to find fault with the father of the nation- Mahatma Gandhi- for all national failures, whether those or actual or perceived. Some claim that the policy of reservation is an offshoot of the 'Poona pact'. Well that may have been the case and then it has succeeded in its original mandate! What was that? To keep India united! Hence let's not forget, in India, 'Poona pact' is a historic event. It’s unfortunate that Mayawati & her coterie have started Gandhi bashing for the reason for which he should be applauded!

Gandhiji prevented a division of India (not Hindus, they were already divided) by making far larger concessions for dalits. Up till that time such magnanimity was unheard of! When we go through the details we are overwhelmed by the goodwill gestures shown and largess bestowed upon the Dalits by Congress having been forced by Gandhiji.

So, the people who find fault with Poona pact secretly desire a many way vivisection of India in the name of caste; lets be aware of it!

Like wise, after partition, Gandhiji's magnanimity in persuading the government to pay the agreed sum to Pakistan also hugely angered Hindu / Nationalist demagogues. Though Nathuram Godse claimed that to be the main reason for the assassination of Gandhiji a closer analysis proves that this is an after thought. This fact has been clinically exposed, to a good extent, in the legendary book "Freedom at Midnight: by Larry Collins and Dominique Lappiere. However, on an overall analysis it’s clear as day light that the Mahatma laid his life for “Unity of India” and that sacrifice weighed heavy and the fundamentalists could not raise their heads for the following 4 decades, which were very crucial for this fledgling state!

Last words:
Where our actions are based on 'Love' we succeed in the long run and in contrary to that, actions based on 'Hatred' are immediately appealing and may bring some immediate results; yet, in the long run such actions lead a family/ community/ society towards its downfall.

'Affirmative actions' is a policy, which is based on love. Because of such a policy  we've achieved steady progress and equity. Contrast this with the policy of "Varnasram" or casteism, whose cornerstones are exploitation and hatred and how, for centuries, that sapped our society in the past.

Friends, let's grow up! 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lessons from Gandhi on Journalism and Civility

I remember years back when I first read Gandhi's autobiography the passage below where Gandhi discusses journalism had an impact on me. I think it has more relevance now for everybody, individuals, media and the well meaning activists.

What is remarkable is complete absence of rancor and hatred in almost all correspondence I have come across from Bapu. It did have an impact in upholding the dignity and the civility of the movement and the discourse. Note Bapu's own words "The critic found very little to which he could object. In fact the tone of Indian Opinion compelled the critic to put a curb on his own pen."  It is sometimes very disappointing to see even the well meaning activists resort to rancor and slogans. I do not think it does the cause any good.

Also what is very apparent if we study Gandhi's movement is the extensive open communication he maintained through the various journals he edited. You sort of knew his position on the issues of the day. This was at the start of early 20th century. So it is rather surprising in 21st century in the age of twitter and blogs, we (particularly Indians) are sometimes clueless on what their leaders really think and feel. Some like Rahul Gandhi claim to have a genuine interest in change, but it will be hard to know him well when he has never taken the pains to formally communicate in a structured way. Even the activist movements will benefit if they have a more organized, structured  and inclusive way to communicate and form opinions.

Below is the passage from Gandhi's autobiography:

During ten years, that is, until 1914, excepting the intervals of my enforced rest in prison, there was hardly an issue of Indian Opinion without an article from me. I cannot recall a word in those articles set down without thought or deliberation, or a word of conscious exaggeration, or anything merely to please. Indeed the journal became for me a training in self-restraint, and for friends a medium through which to keep in touch with my thoughts.

The critic found very little to which he could object. In fact the tone of Indian Opinion compelled the critic to put a curb on his own pen.

Satyagraha would probably have been impossible without Indian Opinion. The readers looked forward to it for a trustworthy account of the Satyagraha campaign as also of the real condition of Indians in South Africa. For me it became a means for the study of human nature in all its casts and shades, as I always aimed at establishing an intimate and clean bond between the editor and the readers. I was inundated with letters containing the outpourings of my correspondents' hearts. They were friendly, critical or bitter, according to the temper of the writer. It was a fine education for me to study, digest and answer all this correspondence. It was as though the community thought audibly through this correspondence with me. It made me thoroughly understand the responsibility of a journalist, and the hold I secured in this way over the community made the future campaign workable, dignified and irresistible. 

Indian Opinion in those days, like Young India and Navajivan today, was a mirror of part of my life. Week after week I poured out my soul in its columns, and expounded the principles and practice of Satyagraha as I understood it.

In the very first month of  Indian Opinion, I realized that the sole aim of journalism should be 
service. The newspaper press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water 
submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to 
destroy. If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control. It can be 
profitable only when exercised from within. If this line of reasoning is correct, how many of the 
journals in the world would stand the test? But who would stop those that are useless? And who 
should be the judge? The useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on 
together, and man must make his choice. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement

This is one fascinating and inspirational video I have seen lately by Bunker Roy. He was selected as one of Time 100, the 100 most influential personalities in the world by TIME Magazine in 2010. Roy's speech is a little bit over the top with some sweeping assertions, however there is a lot to gain in this keeping in view the bigger picture

Development projects the world over run into one crucial point: For a project to live on, it needs to be organic, owned and sustained by those it serves. In 1972, Sanjit “Bunker” Roy founded the Barefoot College, in the village of Tilonia in Rajasthan, India, with just this mission: to provide basic services and solutions in rural communities with the objective of making them self-sufficient. These “barefoot solutions” can be broadly categorized into solar energy, water, education, health care, rural handicrafts, people’s action, communication, women’s empowerment and wasteland development. The Barefoot College education program, for instance, teaches literacy and also skills, encouraging learning-by-doing. (Literacy is only part of it.) Bunker’s organization has also successfully trained grandmothers from Africa and the Himalayan region to be solar engineers so they can bring electricity to their remote villages.

As he says, Barefoot College is "a place of learning and unlearning: where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher."

"Roy's idea is that India and Africa are full of people with skills, knowledge and resourcefulness who are not recognized as engineers, architects or water experts but who can bring more to communities than governments or big businesses."

- Guardian

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

'India of My Dreams'- Mahatma Gandhi

Everything in India attracts me. It has everything that a human being with the highest possible aspirations can want.

India is essentially my karmabhumi (land of duty) in contradistinction to bhogabhumi (land of enjoyment)

India is one of the few nations on the earth which have retained some of their ancient institutions although they have been overlaid with superstition and error. But she has hitherto shown an inherent capacity for purging herself of error and superstition. My faith in her ability to solve the economic problems that face her millions has never been so bright as it is today.

I feel that India's mission is different from that of others. India is fitted for the religious supremacy of the world. There is no parallel in the world for the process of purification that this country has voluntarily undergone. India is less in need of steel weapons, it has fought with divine weapons, it can still do so. Other nations have been votaries of brute force. The terrible war going on in Europe furnishes a forcible illustration of the truth. India can win all by soul force. History supplies numerous instances to prove that brute force is as nothing before soul force.poets have sung about it and seers have described their experiences.

If India takes up the doctrine of sword, she may gain momentary victory, Then India will cease to be the pride of my heart. I am wedded to India because I owe my all to her. I believe absolutely that she has a mission for all the world. She is not to copy Europe blindly. India's acceptance of the sword will be the hour of my trial. I hope I shall not be found wanting. My religion has no geographical limits. If I have a living faith in it, it will transcend my love for India herself. My life is dedicated to service of India through the religion of non violence.

If India makes violence her creed, and I have survived, I would not cae to live in India. She will cease to evoke any pride in me. My patriotism is subservient to my religion. I cling to India like a child to its mother's breast, because I feel that she gives me the spiritual nourishment I need. She has the environment that responds to my highest aspirations. When the faith is gone, I shall feel liek an orphan without hope of ever finding a guardian.

I would like to see India free and strong so that she may offer herself a willing and pure sacrifice for the betterment of the world. India's freedom  must revolutionize the world's outlook upon peace and war. Her impotence affects the whole of mankind.

I am humble enough to admit that there is much that we can profitably assimilate from the west. Wisdom is no monopoly of one continent or one race. My resistance to western civilization is really a resistance to its indiscriminate and thoughtless imitation based on the assumption that Asiatics are fit only to copy everything that comes from the west...I do believe that if India has patience enough to go through the fire of suffering and to resist any unlawful encroachment upon her own civilization which, imperfect though it undoubtedly is, has hitherto stood the ravages of time, she can make a lasting contribution to the peace and solid progress of the world.

India;s destiny lies not along the bloody way of the west, if which she shows signs of tiredness, but along the bloodless way of peace that comes from a simple and godly life India is in danger of losing her soul. She cannot lose it and live. She must not, therefor, lazily and helplessly say, " I cannot escape the onrush from the west." She must be strong enough to resist it for her own sake and that of the world.

European civilization is no doubt suited for the European but it will mean ruin for India, if we endeavor to copy it. This is not to say that we may not adopt and assimilate whatever may be good and capable of assimilation by us as it does not also mean that even Europeans will not have to part with whatever evil might have crept into it. The incessant search for material comforts and their multiplication in such an evil, and I make bold to say that the Europeans themselves will have to remodel their outlook, if they are not to persih under the weight of comforts to which they are becoming slaves. It may be that my reading is wrong, but I know that for India to run after golden fleece is to court certain death. Let us engrave in our hearts that the motto of a western philosopher, 'plain living and high thinking'. Today it is certain that the millions cannot have high libing and we the few who profess to do the thinking for the masses run the risk, in a vain search after high living, of missing high thinking.

I shall strive for a constitution, which will release India from all thraldom and patronage, and give her, if need be, the right to sin. I shall work for an India, in which the poorest shall feel it is their country in whose making they have an effective voice; an India on which there shall be no high class and low class of people; an Indai in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony. There can be no room in such an India for the curse of untouchability or the curse of intoxicating drinks and drugs. Women will enjoy the same rights as men. Since we shall be at peace with all the rest of the world, neither exploiting, not being exploited, we should have the smallest army imaginable. All interests not in conflict with the interests of the dumb millions will be scrupulously respected, whether foreign or indigenous. Personally, I hate distinction between foreign and indigenous. This is the India of my dreams...I shall be satisfied with nothing less

( This is not one piece of article but Shri R.K. Prabhu's skillful collection from Mahatma Gandhi's writings spanning over hundreds of pages. The above constitutes Chapter one of the book "India of my Dreams" first published in August 1947)

'Saalumarada' Thimmakka - A Peerless Green Champion!

Thimmakka, aged 101*, is a native of Hulikal village in the Magadi taluk of Bangalore Rural district in Karnataka.

She has an unsurpassed credit to her name—some 1000 plus sturdy banyan trees, which she has lovingly tended against all odds, from mere saplings to a sweeping canopy.

Saalumarada Thimmakka (“saalumarada”—“row of trees” in Kannada—is an honorific people have added to her name) and her landless labourer husband Chikkannah could not have children. So one day more than 60 years ago, they started planting trees.

The road to the next village Kudur (Kudoor) was a dry hot one. Ficus (banyan) trees were aplenty near Thimmakka's village. Thimmakka and her husband started grafting saplings from these trees. Ten saplings were grafted in the first year and they were planted along a distance of 20 kilometres near the neighbouring village of Kudur. Fifteen saplings were planted in the second year and 20 in the third year and so on. She used her own meager resources for planting these trees. The couple used to carry pots of water for a distance of four kilometres to water the saplings. They were also protected from grazing cattle by fencing them with thorny shrubs.

The saplings were planted mostly during monsoon season so that sufficient rain water would be available for them to grow. By the onset of the next monsoons, the saplings had invariably taken root.

They covered the whole stretch. The saplings grew to become trees, the trees grew tall, and the couple rejoiced in their children. Chikkanna died in 1990, but Thimmakka continued her life’s work.

Thanks to her unusual labour of love, this illiterate woman is the idol of every environmentalist.

A "living monument of our times" is how the citation of National Citizen's Award describes Thimmakka.

Titles like Vanamitra, Nisargaratna, Vrikshasri and Vrikshapremi, an award by Karnataka government, among many others have been conferred on her.
For one who barely set out of her village once a year, Thimmakka now finds her way to Delhi and Mumbai for tree planting ceremonies. Thimmakka is busy spreading the message of afforestation. She unassumingly suggests that everybody should leave behind some asset for humanity.
She barely ekes out a living from various awards and a monthly pension. But nothing stops her from dreaming big. Now, she has made her will to open up a hospital in her village, so that no poor is affected.

Saalumarada Thimmakka, Hulikal-561101, Kudur, Hubli, Magadi Taluk, Bangalore-Rural dist.

Archive Video:

*age discrepancy

‎"We need to be the change we wish to see in the world" - Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, July 13, 2011