Indian Independence: A Topic Home to Fervid Opinions

Yesterday, I came across on Quora the question, “Why do my friends make fun of me when I say that Hitler and not Gandhi gave India Independence? Are they afraid of the fact that I am a 12 year old woke Aryan Hindu who has unsupervised Internet usage?” I reproduce here the answer that I wrote in response:

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My already limited faculties of comprehension cannot rationally come to terms with the phrase ‘woke Aryan Hindu’, for that seems to me an oxymoron. To a ‘woke’, who is but a diseased iconoclast, the word ‘Aryan’ is even greater a source of abhorrence than the word ‘Hindu’. Perhaps ‘awake’ is a more appropriate adjective, unless you are prepared to wrest control of ‘woke’ from the contemporary repertoire of problematic opinions — an arduous task.

But to refrain from addressing so secondary a topic any further, I assure you of my unwillingness to essay the role of the average overbearing and condescending instructor, that other writers have taken delight in doing while writing their responses to this question. I shall, therefore, not contend that you ought not to spend time on Quora. I shall not contend that you ought to be studying instead. At best, I deem it helpful to caution you against the potential quagmire that Quora may prove to be, should one’s sense of control and awareness be sacrificed. If indeed you are but a child of twelve, and if you have succeeded in linking India’s independence to Hitler, rest assured that your willingness to read beyond the insipid and woefully perspective-shorn books at school is quite commendable.

Prithvi, in all likelihood, has many more intellectual man-children than it deserves to bear, and they are ill-equipped to serenely discuss the topic of India’s independence. Left to them, the topic, already tendentious, is a primrose path to billingsgate and insults in general.

But those, who have the potential or those who certainly strive to attain the potential to utterly divorce all sentiment from their assessments, will not see much difficulty in linking Hitler to India’s independence — not owing to assumptions of altruism on part of Hitler, but owing to his weakening of Britain. But that, in my view, is only a partial factor.

No colonial power would much like to renounce its hold over the crown jewel of its empire. After so devastating a war as World War II, it would only be natural of Britain to covet India’s resources and geographical location in even greater measure. That it should nonetheless depart must be owed to factors more than one. Alike credited, besides its weakening, are repeated U.S. implorations to Britain and the well-known mutinies of 1946 in the Royal Indian Navy, followed by other branches of the military. That which Anuj Dhar and Major General G.D. Bakshi contend to have sparked those mutinies, is the decision by the colonial rulers to subject to trial a few soldiers of the Indian National Army (INA), a fighting force raised for the purpose of liberating India, at first headed by Rash Behari Bose, who subsequently handed over its command to Subhas Chandra Bose. There is, therefore, a remote link to Subhas Chandra Bose; that the INA catalyzed India’s independence, and him heading the Provisional Government of Free India, of which INA was only the military wing, makes him deserving of that credit. The leader is subject both to praise and to blame.

Much though the interested chambers of academia may cantillate, I fail to credit the Indian National Congress with the decision of independence. In point of fact, it is us who call it independence; the British always referred to it as a ‘transfer of power’. Peaceful mass movements have, at best, the power to consolidate an electorate and animate amongst the people a degree of interest and awareness concerning political affairs, ridding them of what might otherwise have been prolonged lethargy. Such movements can never constitute a force potent enough to oust a colonial power, which definitionally cannot care for the aspirations and opinions of the colonized people.

The cold fact, which is perhaps an ignominy in the eyes of those who are more interested in the ‘civilization’ than in the ‘nation-state’, is that we did not strictly ‘win’ our independence, for it is a ‘win’ only if it is wholly on our terms. The date, however, was decided by the British. Regardless of what it amounts to in substance, and regardless of contextualization, which is by no means insignificant, the principle nonetheless stands that it was little more than a ‘grant’; it was the colonizing power that departed on the date of ‘its’ choosing, and not the colonized entity that threw the oppressors out by its will.

Our independence is more a result of circumstances beyond India’s control, than of endeavours by its admittedly heroic assortment of revolutionaries, and even more so than the endeavours of the Indian National Congress. I face neither an emotional difficulty, nor an intellectual one, in coming to terms with this perspective, for 15 August 1947 is not the culmination of our past for me. I do not find it necessary to subscribe to that specific myth for the sustenance of India as the commons know it. In the past, perhaps, even until recently, but no more.

Interested as I am in the voyage of our civilization, little though I may be able to articulate in that regard, 1947 is to me but a landmark. It is not, contrary to protestations to that effect, the beginning of an entirely new and enlightened entity that must blithely dismiss the past as the reign of darkness and move on, and that praises its heritage but in name. There have been efforts, of course, to create one such entity and have it override our civilization, but I think Bhāratavarsha’s impulse is to resist any such imposition. The impulse has already manifested, and the fruition of its goal is yet to be seen. It is an uphill task. It must, nonetheless, be achieved.

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Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in full measure, and I hope to augment my acuity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

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Samved Iyer

Samved Iyer

Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in full measure, and I hope to augment my acuity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

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