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'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk
Reacting to a Counterview story, "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded reaction in the form of a link, which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in.
The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here.

Text:

Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle. This is one of the most flawed arguments put by his critics.
Let’s know the reality of this so-called statement.
CONTEXT
G.D. Bakshi (retired Indian army officer) [1] claimed in his book ‘Bose: An Indian Samurai’ that when former Governor of West Bengal Justice PB Chakraborty [2] asked Clement Attlee (in a private chat) what was the main reason for the British exit from India, Attlee gave the credit to INA and Subhash Chandra Bose, and gave minimal credit to Gandhi, this has been mentioned by G.D Bakshi.
But this story is ‘apocryphal’ (a story or statement of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated as being true or completely true).
Let’s understand the whole story and rebuttal GD Bakshi’s argument.
Following is the excerpt from GD Bakshi’s book ‘Bose: The Indian Samurai’ [3] :
In 1956, Atlee had visited India and stayed in Kolkata as the guest of the then Governor of West Bengal, Justice P. B. Chakraborty. They had a most remarkable conversation on how India had won her freedom. Justice Chakraborty remarked that the Quit India movement launched by the Congress in 1942 had been completely crushed and had petered out entirely by 1944. Why then did the British leave India in such a tearing hurry aer the war? Atlee replied that it was because of the INA of Subhash Bose and the mutinies it had triggered in the British Indian Armed Forces. Chakraborty then pointedly asked “What then was the role of Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India Movement in the grant of India’s Independence?” He said and I quote ‘Atlee’s face twisted into a sarcastic smile as he spelt out the word “minimal”.
Let’s understand the reference or background of this story.
Now GD Bakshi’s claim’s reference is: Ranjan Bora, writing in The Journal of Historical Review Vol No 3,1982 article titled “Subhash Bose, the INA and the War of Indian liberation” [4]
Following is the excerpt of Ranjan Bora’s article (or GD Bakshi’s reference):
Chief justice P.B. Chakrabarty of Calcutta High Court, who had also served as the acting Governor of West Bengal in India, disclosed the following in a letter addressed to the publisher of Dr. R.C. Majumdar's book A History of Bengal. The Chief Justice wrote: "You have fulfilled a noble task by persuading Dr. Majumdar to write this history of Bengal and publishing it … In the preface of the book Dr. Majumdar has written that he could not accept the thesis that Indian independence was brought about solely, or predominantly by the non-violent civil disobedience movement of Gandhi. When I was the acting Governor, Lord Atlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing the British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor's palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi's "Quit India" movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi's influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee's lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, "m-i-n-i-m-a-l!"
  1. Okay, so Ranjan Bora used RC Majumdar’s autobiography as a reference. Ranjan Bora’s reference to this story is a letter written in Bengali (translated into English) by [a Bengali] PB Chakraborty to the publisher of [Bengali] historian R.C. Majumdar's book (publisher of the book, not RC Majumdar) ‘Bangla Desher Itihas’ or ‘A History of Bengal’ (Vol. IV).
  2. The facsimile of the letter was published in the appendix of Majumdar’s autobiographical book in Bengali Jibaner Smritideep (The light of my life’s memories) published in 1978 for the first time. R.C Majumdar’s reference is not a peer-reviewed history source, only a reminiscence. And no reliable secondary source has paid attention to Chakraborty’s claims.

Critical Background Check Of This Story:

  1. First of all clear one thing which many people fail to understand this so-called remarkable conversation was a ‘private chat’ (maybe at the dinner table), not any public talk.
  2. Now the letter addresses Attlee’s title incorrectly, Attlee was knighted, but was an Earl, instead of a Lord in 1955-56.
  3. As per the list of Governors of West Bengal, there was a gap between Harendra Coomar Mookerjee’s death on 7 August 1956, and Padmaja Naidu’s tenure starting on 3 November 1956. PB Chakraborty was indeed the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court during 1952-58. The Raj Bhavan of Calcutta does not record acting governors in its list – It would be slightly strange for an “acting governor” of less than 3 months to have actually bothered to move into Raj Bhavan.
  4. It is also established that Attlee indeed travelled to India during Oct 1956, and after spending 5 days in Madras, visited Calcutta, where he met Nehru at the Raj Bhavan. And the former British Premier, Earl Attlee, met Prime Minister Nehru at the Raj Bhavan in Calcutta on October 22 and had an informal discussion with him for about half an hour. Earlier, he called on the Chief Minister, Dr. B.C. Roy.
  5. This letter by PB Chakraborty was written on 30 March 1976 to Majumdar, nine years after Attlee's death and 20 years after the incident (or private chat) with Atlee. RC Majumdar himself was 88 years old then (He died in 1980).
  6. This letter was published in the appendix of Majumdar’s autobiographical book in Bengali R.C Majumdar’s reference is not a peer-reviewed history source, only a reminiscence. No reliable secondary source has paid attention to Chakraborty’s claims.
Now, before we take this story as a historical fact, it is important to note these points
This was such a bombshell story, why did Mr Chakraborty wait 20 years to tell it?
  1. Even RC Majumdar, a renowned historian, but a fierce critic of Gandhiji, waited for two years, and only used this remark in just one place, in a non-academic work (his autobiographical book in Bengali), not in any of his published academic work, books and papers.
  2. Neither there’s any corroboration of this private chat nor reference is peer-reviewed which is used to conclude history or say so-called ‘most remarkable conversation on how India had won her freedom’ by ultra-minded people like GD Bakshi.
  3. These alleged remarks made by Attlee are very strong and extraordinary as claimed. So it, therefore, is noteworthy, that nowhere else in all his speeches and writings in his entire life, till his death in 1967, did Attlee utter any words to this effect anywhere, apart from this claimed conversation with Mr PB Chakraborty.
CONTRADICTIONS:
(The other circumstantial and chronological evidence also challenge this story) 
1. Atlee and his Labour party are the ones who were in the favour of India’s independence. In the 1945 election in Britain, India’s freedom had been a campaign promise of the Labour party, its manifesto pledging “the advancement of India to responsible self-government.”[5] From 1945 Labour Party Election Manifesto:
2. Atlee In his speech at the Blackpool Conference on 23 May, 1945, Attlee clearly said that 'they would strive earnestly to enable India to get full self-government’. An excerpt from RC Majumdar’s book 'History of the freedom movement in India', Vol.3, 1963, page no. 743:
3. Attlee considered Indian Independence his 'finest achievement'. [6]
India found its mentions in the 1950 Labour manifesto too: “The selfish and cowardly bungling of the Conservative Government landed us in a war which collective security could have prevented and for which the Government had not prepared. The Colonies were shamefully neglected and the democratic aspirations of the Indian people met with continuous frustration and delay.” [7]
4. “Oh and btw, India’s independence was for all practical purposes decided well before the INA trials [Simla Conference]. Only a few sticky items like Dominion status vs. full sovereignty were discussed.”
To back this statement “India’s independence was for all practical purposes decided well before the INA trials”, I would like to quote Churchill and British King's conversation.
In July, King George VI write in his diary wrote, “He [Churchill] surprised me by saying that all his associates and all the three parties of Parliament are ready to leave India in the hands of Indians after the war.” (Source: Viceroy to Prime Minister, 24 February 1946, Transfer of Power Documents, Vol.6, p. 1055)
5. Viceroy Wavell blamed Congress leaders’ speeches’ for the mutiny uprising.
Then Viceroy of India — Lord Wavell had no doubt that the primary cause of the REN “mutiny” was the “speeches of Congress leaders since September last” which he said in a letter to PM Attlee. [8]
6. In fact, the Punjab CID authorities warned the Director of the Intelligence Bureau of the “considerable danger,” while dealing with the Communists, “of putting the cart before the horse and of failing to recognize Congress as the main enemy.” [9]
7. The Home Department’s provincial level enquiry into the causes of these “disturbances”, came to the conclusion that they were the outcome of the “inflammatory atmosphere created by the intemperate speeches of Congress leaders in the last three months.” [10]
8. In 1948, the British branded the Mutiny as a larger communist conspiracy raging from the Middle East to the Far East against the British crown. [11]
British Prime Minister Clement Attlee then blamed the Communists for the 1946 Royal Naval Mutiny. ( Source: San Bernardino Sun newspaper on 23rd Feb 1946)
9. An argument is the attribution of the sending of Cabinet Mission (which spoke of Indian independence coming soon) is that it was because of the impact of the RIN revolt.
But if we see chronology, on February 18 the Bombay Naval strike began. And on 19 February, Attlee in the House of Commons announced the decision to despatch the Cabinet Mission. This is obviously untenable. The decision to send out the Mission was taken by the British Cabinet on 22 January 1946 and even its announcement on 19 February 1946 had been slated a week earlier.

Last But Not Least:

Even if anyone finds that quote true then Mountbatten also has something to say:
“It had always been the British policy not to yield anything to force but Mahatma's non - violence had won. We decided to quit as a result of India's non violent struggle.”
— Lord Mountbatten
(Source: CWMG, Vol 94 Pp.209 published by IB Ministry, Gol)
“A divinely inspired saint I know that I am expressing the views of the British people in offering to his fellow countrymen our deep sympathy in the loss of their greatest citizen. Mahatma Gandhi, as he was known in India, was one of the outstanding figures in the world today, but he seemed to belong to a different period of history.
Living a life of extreme asceticism, he was revered as a divinely inspired saint by millions of his fellow countrymen. His influence extended beyond the range of his co-religionists.
For a quarter of a century, this one man has been the major factor in every consideration of the Indian problem. He had become the expression of the aspirations of the Indian people for independence, but he was not just a nationalist. His most distinctive doctrine was that of non-violence. He believed in a method of passive resistance to those forces which he considered wrong. The sincerity and devotion with which he pursued his objectives are beyond all doubt.
The hand of the murderer has struck him down and a voice which pleaded for peace and brotherhood has been silenced, but I am certain that his spirit will continue to animate his fellow countrymen and will plead for peace and concord.” [13]

— Lord Clement Attlee
(Source: https://www.gandhiheritageportal.org/tribute-detail/MTEx/OTM=)
This one is the actual quote.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] G. D. BAKSHI - WIKIPEDIA
[2] PHANI BHUSAN CHAKRAVARTTI - WIKIPEDIA
[3] BOSE
[4] SUBHAS CHANDRA BOSE, THE INDIAN NATIONAL ARMY, AND THE WAR OF INDIA'S LIBERATION
[5] 1945 LABOUR PARTY MANIFESTO -
[6] THE BRITISH PM WHO OVERSAW INDIA'S INDEPENDENCE
[7] 1950 LABOUR PARTY MANIFESTO -
[8] THE TRANSFER OF POWER 1942-7; : FREE DOWNLOAD, BORROW, AND STREAMING : INTERNET ARCHIVE
[9] INDIA'S STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE
[10] INDIA'S STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE
[11] CPI (M) ON TWITTER
[12] GANDHI HERITAGE PORTAL: REPOSITORY OF AUTHENTIC INFORMATION ON THE LIFE AND THOUGHTS OF MAHATMA GANDHI

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