The war ended in Europe in April 1945 and with it India’s struggle for independence entered a new phase. The 1942 Revolt and the INA episode revealed the heroism and determination of the Indian people. With the release of the national leaders from jail, the people began to look forward to the final struggle for freedom. Two prominent strands of national upsurge appeared during the last 2-3 years of British rule that included:
- Intermittent and localized mass action by the peasants, workers, and States’ people. This often became extremely militant in nature taking the form of a nationwide strike wave. Many incidents during the last few years prompted such action. Some of the important events were the INA Trials, RIN Revolt, Telangana Uprising, and Tebhaga Movement.
- Complicated nature of negotiations between the Congress, Muslim League, and the Colonial Government. They were increasingly accompanied by communal violence and demand for partition.
The government was also keen on finding a solution to the Indian problem because it wanted to divert Indian energies into channels more profitable for the British. Nothing less than complete independence, and transfer of full powers, was acceptable to the Indian people. The government expected to find a demoralized people which will not be interested in any mass movement. But the contrary happened immediately after the ban was lifted from the Congress and Congress leaders were released in 1945. The expectations of the people rose tremendously by the release of their leaders. The impatience was waiting to be channelized in some form and finally the energy of the masses resurfaced after three continuous years of repression in the form of sporadic mass actions.
The British Government was compelled to change its attitude towards India which finally led to change in its policy as well. All the movements from the Revolt of 1857 till the Quit India Movement were initiated by the Indian people with the intention of liberating their country from the British rule. All of them were crushed by the British Government ruthlessly, but after 1945, the government found it difficult to continue with the same policy. Now the British Government was no more in a position to ignore the Indian opinion. Even though the Court Martial found the INA prisoners guilty, the government felt it expedient to set them free. There were a number of factors which led to such a change in the British attitude, they were as follows:
- The Labour Party came to power in England, in 1945, and replaced the Conservatives. The new Labour Government was more sympathetic to the Congress Demands. It sent the Cabinet Mission to negotiate for handing over the power to Indian leaders.
- The Second World War had changed the balance of power at the international level. Britain’s place was taken over by USA and USSR. Both the powers supported India’s demand for freedom.
- Even though Britain was on the verge of winning the war, its economic and military might was shattered. The British soldiers were weary of war. Having fought and shed their blood for nearly six years, they had no desire to spend many more years away from home in India.
- Due to the Swadeshi Movement, the Indian industries had developed to some extent in the 20th century. At the same time, the demand for British goods in India was coming down rapidly due to the policy of boycott of foreign goods. Moreover, after the Second World War, Japan and USA emerged as the industrial rivals of Britain. It weakened the economic position of the British Government.
- Growth of National Consciousness among the Indian Forces made it impossible for the British to rule India for long. The INA had shown that patriotic ideas had entered the ranks of the professional Indian Army, the chief instrument of British rule in India. There were also some strikes in Indian Naval Ratings, Air Force, and the Indian Army. The other two major instruments of British rule, the police and bureaucracy were also showing signs of nationalist leanings.
- There was a large-scale unrest among the workers and peasants all over the country with hardly any industry without strikes. In July 1946, there was an all-India strike by the postal and telegraph workers. Railway workers in South India went on strike in August 1946. Peasant movements acquired a fresh thrust after 1945 as freedom approached. The most militant post-war struggle was the Tebhaga Movement by the share-croppers of Bengal. They declared that they would pay only one-third instead of one-half of the crop to the landlords as revenue. Struggles for land and against high rents also took place in Hyderabad, Kerala, Bengal, U.P., Bihar and Maharashtra.
- The English regarded Indian Princely States as their supporters. But the mass movement program of British India did not left the people of the Princely States untouched. The organizations like All India Peoples Conference were established, and people of many Princely States like Hyderabad, Kashmir and Patiala organized demonstrations to express their discontent against British.
By now, the Indian mood was quite confident and determined. The people would no longer tolerate the humiliation of foreign rule. During 1945-46, there were numerous agitations, strikes and demonstrations all over the country. The British were left with no choice except retreat. The labour Government just increased the pace in this direction.
The nationalist sentiments had reached their peak by the time of INA trials. Later, these sentiments developed into violent confrontations with the symbols, representatives, and institutions of British colonial authority. There were three important surges during 1945-46 which prompted the British to extend some concessions. Along with other forces and contemporary events these upsurges helped nationalism to penetrate the hitherto untouched sections and areas of the country. From here onwards there was only one aim of the British policy-makers and that was a graceful withdrawal from India. The settlement of modalities for the transfer of power and nature of post-independence Indo-British relations was an integral part of the withdrawal process.
The three important surges were: (1.) the students’ procession in Calcutta to mark their protest against the INA trials on 21 November, 1945, (2.) the students’ procession in Calcutta to protest against the seven year sentence to Rashid Ali, an INA officer on 11 February, 1946, and (3.) a strike by 1100 Naval Ratings of HMIS Talwar in Bombay to protest against the unequal pay, unpalatable food, mistreatment by superior officers, INA trials, use of Indian troops in Indonesia, and arrest of a colleague B. C. Dutt for spelling out the slogan ‘Quit India’.
In all the above mentioned upsurges the groups of protestors were repressed when they defied authority. They were later joined by the people in their respective cities who engaged in different forms of activities to express their support for the concerned groups and anti-British mood on the other hand. In the end, in all the three cases people from other parts of the country sympathized and expressed their solidarity with the protestors or rebels.
These upsurges had a great implication for the National Movement. They were an expression of fearless action and militancy in the popular mind. The revolt in Armed Forces had a great liberating effect on the public mind. The RIN revolt was taken as an event marking the end of colonial rule in India. The British were able to control the situation but they were compelled to quit India very soon.