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Challenging the Metanarrative Of Indian Independence Struggle.

A historian ought to be exact, sincere and impartial; free from passion, unbiased by interest, fear, resentment or affection; and faithful to the truth, which is the mother of history the preserver of great actions, the enemy of oblivion, the witness of the past, the director of the future, says Ambedkar.

The function of historian is neither to love the past, nor to condemn the past, nor to be free from the past, but to master the past in order to understand its bearing on the present. Therefore, let us re-look into the significance of 15th August 1947 for our country and its citizens. And also what we as Indians technically achieved on our most celebrated and glorified National holiday.

What India got on 15th August 1947?

  • What is a Dominion? Dominion means colonial self-Government.
  • Was the Total independence achieved from the British rule?

The late 19th century till the mid of twentieth century is very crucial in the evolution of Republic of India, as it stands today. This period marks the rise of political conscious and ambitious Indian nationalism. This is the period when the Indians started voicing out their political demands to the British Government. The politics of this time is described by the nationalist historiography as India’s Independence Struggle. This description is hitherto not challenged. Nationalists will not challenge this description is natural and can be easily understood. The Hindutva ideology also does not counter this description and in fact makes an attempt to locate itself within this framework in order to picture themselves and their leaders as ‘freedom fighters’ as it serves their task of Hindu Nationalism. The Ambedkarite Movement, the leftist Marxist movement, the Kanshiram pioneered Bahujan movement seems to disagree with this nationalist description though it cannot be in anyway regarded as countering the fundamental basis of the description and hence cannot be regarded as a challenge to the nationalist description. Their objection is mainly to the title of ‘Freedom Struggle’ and they want to merely describe it as ‘Transfer of Power from B2B i.e. From British to the power hungry Brahmins’. They do not question the fundamental assumptions of this description namely the ‘struggle of Indians against the tyrannical British rulers’, ‘the Congress Nationalism as the only nationalism’ etc. Their complain, being merely over the title and as it does not challenge the nationalist paradigm in any way, hence not fundamental and does not have any major bearing on the nationalist historiography. Thus their disagreement in fact is no disagreement.

Dr. Ambedkar described the Indian politics of his times as having two different aspects, namely –

  1. Foreign politics i.e. Quit India or the Transfer of Power Politics and
  2. Constitutional Politics i.e. the Communal Deadlock or the struggle between the Hindu Communal Majority against the Minorities.

Below is the sequence of events that took place around 15th August 1947, technically:

  1. What India got on 15th August 1947?
  2. On 15th August 1947 India got the Dominion status under the Indian Independence Act, 1947.
  3. Dominion is defined as a British colony with a responsible local self government. This means that India was a British colony even on 15th August 1947.
  4. The below excerpt from the Constituent Assembly debates would serve as the best evidence to understand the significance of 15th August 1947:

The confusion in the Constituent assembly:

Thursday, the 14th August 1947

(2) the Constituent Assembly of India has endorsed the recommendation that Lord Mountbatten be Governor-General of India from the 15th August 1947.

and that this message be conveyed forthwith to Lord Mountbatten by the President and Pandit Jawaharlal.Nehru. (Cheers.) I take it the House approves it.

The motion was adopted.

Friday, the 15th August 1947

The wishes from many countries started pouring in to India for achieving the Dominion status. None of them mentioned  “Republic of India” but just “Dominion of India” in their wishes.

Few messages could be read as below:

Message from Dr. Soedarsono on behalf of the Republic of Indonesia:

“On the eve of the establishment of the Dominion of India it is a great pleasure to the Republic of Indonesia to express her feelings of heartfelt joy, sympathy and friendship.”

Message from the President of the United States of America:

“On this memorable occasion I extend to you, to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and to the people of the Dominion of India the sincere best wishes of the Government and the people, of the United.States of America. I wish to avail myself of this opportunity of extending my personal congratulations to Your Excellency on your assumption of the post of Governor-General of the Dominion of India and at the same time to convey assurance of my highest consideration.”

H.E (His Excellency), the Governor-General: Mr. President and members of the Constituent Assembly:

“From today I am your constitutional Governor-General and I would ask you to regard me as one of yourselves. I am glad to announce that "my" Government (as I am now constitutionally entitled and most proud to call them) have decided to mark this historic occasion by a generous programme of amnesty.”

 

HOISTING OF THE NATIONAL FLAG

Mr. President: His Excellency will now give the signal for hoisting the Flag.

(The sound of a gun being fired was heard).

H.E. The Governor-General: That is the signal for hoisting the flag over this roof.

Mr. President: The House now stands adjourned till 10 of the Clock on the 20th.

Honourable Members: Mahatma Gandhi ki jai.

Mahatma Gandhi ki jai.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ki jai.

Lord Mountbatten ki jai.

The Assembly then adjourned till 10 of the Clock on Wednesday, the 20th August 1947.

 

  1. On 15th August 1947 what was achieved was not Independence (Swatantrya) but Home Rule (Swarajya).
  2. The Constitutional head of India was the British Crown till 26th January 1950.
  3. On 26th January 1950 after all the provisions of the Constitution were made effective, India became a Sovereign Republic and Democratic country.
  4. From 15th August 1947 to 26th January 1950 India was governed according to the provisions of amended Government of India Act, 1935.
  5. Only on 26th January 1950 all the ties with the British Crown were broken and India was politically and constitutionally free country with all the privileges related to military and foreign relation powers.
  6. Therefore, India became free and got Total Independence (Swatantrya or Purna Swarajya) only on 26th January 1950, at least in technical sense.
  7. More so because even the date of 26th January was chosen for the implementation of Constitution because on this very day in 1930, the Congress passed the resolution of “Poorna Swaraj” in Lahore.
  8. Therefore, 15th August is therefore just a Dominion Day and not the Independence Day.
  9. The below illustration explains the political entitlements and progress India achieved:

 

India before the advent of British Raj

We must remember that what we now see as "India" was originally a collection of petty rajas, and kingdoms. It's the invaders who unified the subcontinent into a country called India. So let's be truthful about the facts and teach history as it happened and notoriously though thank those invaders for the present unity and diversity we enjoy. Myths also have played a major role in India attaining independence. The political movement of the Indian National Congress which started from the demand of ‘Home Rule’ i.e. ‘Dominion Status’ and matured into the demand of ‘Total Independence’ under the pressure of extremist movements outside and within the Congress is referred as the movement of Indian Independence is a point in case. The significance of 15th August 1947 must be seen in the light of these demands. Dissenting voices, if any, are raised only in the academic intellectual circles and are deliberately confined within the closed walls of universities, academic institutions and history congress.

The ‘Secularist’ and ‘Hindu-Nationalist’ Narratives concurrent apparently contradictory but part of the Same Grand Narrative, namely which camp is more patriotic.

 Civic Nationalism (New India) and Anti-colonial Nationalism (Quit India):

Nationalism is not an end but just a means for the individuals to reach the highest stage of Human development. An Individual is an end it itself. To create the social, political conditions in the world where each individual could spread the wingspan to its maximum potential. Nationalism which reformists like Phule and Ambedkar vouched for did not just object to the external domination but also the internal oppression, i.e. their brand of Patriotism deals with both the above progresses namely, Foreign politics as well as Constitutional politics which India as a country was heading towards. Unfortunately, the glorification of 15th August as Independence day which is confined to the mere idea of Foreign politics clearly subverts the latter progress, namely, the Constitutional politics which was also moving forward in parallel with the Foreign politics. Mere celebration of the freedom struggle movement against the British rule, invokes a limited sentiment of Anti-colonial Nationalism. The period of late 19th century till the mid of twentieth century has been also remarkable in resolving the age-old feuds among Indians. The people, now citizens, were nothing but warring camps. The Hindu-Muslim issue. The caste inequalities. The princely states vs their subjects, now citizens. The Zamindars vs the landless.

This period has been instrumental in finding a safe ground plan to address innumerable such issues among Indians for a safe and sustainable democracy after the British rule would end.

Social reform must precede Political reform. Alteast the political reformists must consider Social reform as an integral part of the political reform. But the subversion of Social conference of Ranade by Tilak is the best example of the undermining of Social reform in context of Indian independence struggle. Be it through right from Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms, to the working and contribution of Indian intelligentsia in the works of various commissions, the Round table conferences that followed likewise in the making of India. And then ultimately at the remarkable and exhaustive Constituent assembly debates.

Like Anti-colonial movement, the Constitutional politics involved even more herculean task of bringing all the warring groups on board. All of these efforts involved a series of conflicts and struggle among the Indians to achieve the position of dignity in free India. The biggest example of the conflict among Indians manifested into partition and blood bath that followed soon after 15th August 1947. The constitutional politics was addressing this very problem. It was indeed talking about New India and the new order.

The significance of this period is more relevant in today’s times of continued struggle among Indians. If it is true that Political democracy cannot sustain without Social democracy, then this period of Constitutional politics must be indeed celebrated as Freedom struggle movement. It was the century of the Making of Present India. The test of patriotism therefore does not lie in participation in the Anti-colonial movement. The contribution towards the Constitutional politics is more apt in today’s times of continued struggle.

The constitutional politics plays an instrumental role in defining the present form of India as a Nation-in-the making. Therefore, at least in technical sense, India became free and got Total Independence (Swatantrya or Purna Swarajya) only on 26th January 1950.

The results of glorification of 15th August as Independence day therefore subverts the much needed Constitutional morality which is already lacking among Indians.

Like they say in New Zealand, Happy Dominion day !

 

References

[1] Swatantrata din ki Paheli - A research paper by Sumedh Ukey

[2] Constituent assembly debate proceedings.

[3] http://www.international.gc.ca/department/history-histoire/dcer/details-en.asp?intRefid=10567

[4] http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/dominion-status/symposium

[5] The Modern Law Review,Volume 12, Issue 3, Article first published online: 18 JAN
[6] Conditions precedent for the successful working of democracy, Dr. Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol 17 , Part THREE, page 480

[7] parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/debates.htm

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6 || Part 7

Such a wide definition of dharma created the ground for tolerance and dialogues across people with different philosophies, faiths and beliefs. That did not suit the British imperialists, who depended on a policy of divide and rule. By destroying the earlier education systems prevalent in this sub-continent that had an important component of experiential learning at individual and group levels, they introduced a kind of pseudo-Western education systemii. Its thrust was to produce clerks and various lower level employees. Destruction of the meaning of dharma and changing it into a very divisive Judeo-Christian concept called religion was an important tool for executing the power of divide and rule. Since experiential learning is a very powerful tool for locating one’s truth within oneself that leads to questioning many cultural, including politico-economic, assumptions, the imperialists also took care to define the word darshan as philosophy only. However, since darshan literally means, ‘to see’ or ‘seeing’, use of that word points to the fact that behavioural prescriptions and proscriptions arose from experience based consensus. The handful of those who were able to ‘see’ realities missed by the majority were known as hrishis, a word that can be translated as ‘seer’. But once darshan was translated as philosophy and this new meaning was taught at all levels of education, like in the case of dharma, the idea of experiential learning gradually vanished from the sub-continent till, sadly (for me at least) it was once again learnt from the USA and England. I am here referring to t-groups or sensitivity training started in USA, which reduces all relationships to interpersonal, thus knocking out the possibility of questioning societal and organisational assumptions; and group relations conferences (also known as working conferences), introduced by the Tavistock Institute of UK, that keeps its focus on inter and intra-group assumptions from very small groups to larger and larger groups. It is interesting to note that this latter form of experiential learning is based on the work of W. R .Bion (1962), who was born in India and had imbibed many Indian ideas and notions unconsciously. He got in touch with this inner reality and acknowledged it rather late in life and decided to revisit the sub-continent. Unfortunately he died before he could undertake the trip.

Division of the Indian Empire by the British in South East Asia into Sri Lanka and Myanmar was based on political and economic reasons. But the other division – that division into India and Pakistan – was based largely on religion. To be precise, this division was based on Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s two-nation theory, i.e., that the Hindus and Moslems comprised of two different nations. To reinforce this constructed reality of two-nation theory, this part of the division of the Indian Empire of the British in South East Asia was named in English as Partition, while partitioning of the same empire into Myanmar and Sri Lanka were not named partition in the English language. The use of these two different words, ‘partition’ for the division of the British Empire into India and Pakistan and ‘separation’ for the division of Myanmar and Sri Lanka from the British Empire in what was then considered as the Indian Empire, was a very clever and diabolical ploy of the British. It created a great myth. This myth is that, in the past, there was a nation called India that was partitioned off by the British, thus wishing away the reality of the state of the Indian sub-continent prior to British invasion. This sub-continent with its fertile land and many other resources has been invaded since the proto-historical times as well during the period when the written historical period started, as far as my knowledge goes, from the Greek Invasion onwards. Later invaders like the Turks, Afghans and Mughals also appropriated chunks of the subcontinent as part of their reign. Many kingdoms and sultanates existed as well as much of the forest land occupied by tribes that considered themselves as independent nations prior to British invasion. The notion of ‘partition’ created not only the myth of pre–existence of a nation called India by bringing alive the ancient identity of the landmass of the sub-continent known as Bharatbarsha, but also envy in the minds of people in both sub-divisions of the sub-continent. Those who remained in India felt that part of ‘their country’ was partitioned off to Pakistan. Those who remained in Pakistan felt the envy of the larger chunk remaining in India. It was thus a great British ploy creating a situation in which both countries would keep on bleeding financially and in terms of its armed forces personnel through intermittent wars, and a general feeling of bad blood between the two. These, I hypothesise, are some of the unconscious assumptions buttressing the colonial hangover.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalytic schools of thought, had used the term coping and defence mechanism (Chattopadhyay 1998) to include a number of processes that people unconsciously employ to deny or distort an experienced reality. This denial or distortion does not permanently change one’s inner reality which remains intact in the unconscious and keeps getting acted out, also unconsciously, whenever a current experience resonates with that which has been repressed into the unconscious. One of those inner realities is unconscious identification with the aggressor to avoid punishment and to curry favour.

Continued in Part 4

Biographical Note

Gouranga Chattopadhyay is Emeritus Professor of HR of the Academy of Human Resources, Ahmedabad and an independent OD consultant, executive coach and personal counsellor. He can be contacted at gipisi2@gmail.com.

1

At a time when Indo-Pak anything seems to be depressing under an onslaught of undesirable stuff, "The Indo-Pak Express" as the tennis duo Rohan and Aisam from India and Pakistan respectively come as a refreshing shock as you blink in disbelief at the utterly energizing attitude the two bring to the relationship. Its crisp, refreshing and leaves one rooting for them.

The duo reached to the finals in the US Opens Men's Doubles Finals on the eve of the 9/11 Anniversary. If one believes in fate, look at the symbolism here. Hindu-Indian Muslim-Pakistani partnering in an international arena with the message "Stop War and Start Tennis". Add to it that 9/11 is also Eid here as well as Ganesh Chaturthi, it is certainly enough to trigger a pause to breathe the clean air of excellent teamwork and sportsmanship.

The UN Ambassadors from India and Pakistan, Hardeep Suri and Abdullah H Haroon sitting next to each other and cheering or that the Indian and Pakistani crowds in the stands rooting for the same side is something I would have liked to witness in person. And the impact was profound. They lost the finals to the Bryan brothers, who said that they would have been rooting for their 16th seeded rivals if it hadn't been the Grand Slam Finals:

"We would have been rooting for them. Great guys. It's great to see another marquee team out there. They're gonna gather a lot of attention for doubles. They're going to be spokesmen for doubles, which we love. I think this is gonna raise the profile," said Bob.

"It choked me up. I could see him (Qureshi); he was quivering a little bit; he was very choked up. Just to give that message to everyone was very heartfelt. You know, even said before, he's like, I'm gonna say something about Pakistan. I hope you don't mind. I don't want to steal your limelight. We said, That's great," he added.

From all accounts, as we hear about the sad scenario with Pakistan's cricket team, I only wish this country loved tennis like that, because Aisam is bringing home great joy and respectability as a sportsman. The duo charmed their way into their fan's hearts with their dignified presence and skill.

I was touched that we can have players from India remembering Pakistan in their acknowledgments and vice versa.

"All those people from Pakistan and India supporting us these past two weeks, I thank everyone for helping me out but most importantly I would like to thank Aisam for playing with me and sticking with me we have had a great year together," said Bopanna.

"I must thank my parents, brother, sister for supporting me throughout my career. People in Pakistan and India for supporting us, I must thank Rohan for sticking by me when I needed him the most and for playing with me and helping me with my cause and helping me to send some positive news to people back home in Pakistan and making them smile," added Qureshi.

What a wonderful, vibrant way to begin my day!

9

I had never thought that I would criticize aid coming into Pakistani flood victims. When I read about banned organizations offering aid, my first thought was "Great! All help welcome." I got the reasoning about why they should be banned, though my thinking was that keeping people alive should have been more important. No one is asking that they be funded. They obviously have the money - isn't it better that they hand it out to the survivors than not be allowed to and have abundant cash on hand for weapons later? Anyway, what happened, happened. For better or worse, these people belong to this land and the Taliban actually offered a donation. Call me a terrorist supporter, but I appreciate that. We can't go around looking at the world as 100% good or bad. Stop them from doing good deads and don't have control on bad deeds, all that remains is to fight endlessly. Anyway, I am not making policies.

I admit a lot of my good feeling about them died when I heard that they have threatened the aid workers. It was a group of Christian Missionaries that got attacked. My blood boiled at this intolerance for someone helping save lives. I have been following this aspect - the safety of the rescue workers out of concern. And then I found Disaster reveals God's truth to Muslims and there is no mention of what these people are suffering through, what their needs are:

Pakistan (MNN) ― While floodwaters may be covering a large portion of Pakistan, the response of ministries reveals the truth in the hearts of Christ's followers.

Voice of the Martyrs USA has redirected all of their in-country efforts to distribute Action Packs: vacuumed-sealed containers holding much-needed items such as food, clothes and Bibles to encourage and strengthen affected Christians.

However, they are not limiting their relief efforts to Christians. Muslims are more than willing to accept the packages, even when they discover the packs contain Bibles.

The actions of Christians after the rains--and as they continue to pummel the country--are shining through this record-breaking tragedy. One Muslim said, "You Christians are better than Muslims. You came all the way from Faisalabad to help us."

Many are not only willing to accept the Bibles, but they have told VOM teams they will read them.

As VOM rejoices over this positive turn of events, pray for the teams as they continue to distribute Action Packs. Also pray for even more victims to be open to the truth of Christ's message.

The Voice of the Martyrs USA site says:

In one community, several Muslims asked for Action Packs. The team told them the backpacks contained Bibles, but the Muslims still wanted them.

They weren't offering them to Muslim survivors unless they asked? Or do they think that the Muslims wanted the Bibles? D'uh. Guess what? They were hungry. The Bibles aren't a hot item in Pakistan. The people didn't have a change of clothes, and there were action packs being distributed to Christians. They asked for survival necessities. They would suffer the book to feed their stomachs. This is what missionaries are reducing the Bible to - something to be accepted in order to get Christian aid. If they could come from half way across the world to give them food, they weren't exactly incapable of quietly and gracefully taking out the Bible from those "packs for Christians" to make them suitable for any religion if this were really about service as opposed to a recruitment drive among vulnerable people. How would these missionaries feel if they were stranded without food or water and in grave danger and swallowed their pride to ask for desperately needed help from Muslims? What if they were told that they would get it, but it came with a Quran? Would they refuse to accept food? Or would they tell the people helping them that what they could do with their Quran? No. They would quietly take the food knowing that they had no choice.

These peddlers are in essence telling a people surviving for weeks without hope "We aren't really here to help you. But since you ask, we will, but you also have to take a Bible." For people who deal with faith, its incredible that they don't 'get it' that in desperate times, all a religious person has is his faith to carry him through. And this is an intensely religious part of the world. A proud people have to let humble their beliefs to accept the aid. No wonder there are some who would rather wait for the banned organizations.

Not that refusing aid to non-Muslims in a time like this is any better.

The survivors have to accept crucial necessities at the cost of dignity - whether it is scrabbling in the mud for packs thrown from a truck or helicopter, or it is thanking someone politely and saying please give us that bag with food, even if it has a Bible in it. Someone needs to look into this. The Pakistanis don't need to go through the humiliation of being forced to accept a Bible if they want to eat.

If I as someone who doesn't consider violence a useful option feel so outraged on behalf of a people I have little in common with, I imagine that the Taliban accustomed to violence, rabidly Muslim and enjoying great freedom in current circumstances is actually acting under unusual restraint to have killed only three people and have donated two million on top of that. I see it as a testimony to how shaken they themselves are with the state of their land. Sure, they are wrong in killing those people, but if we understand the fierce religious pride of this land, we can understand that it seems like an unforgivable insult for a Muslim to have to accept the religious book of another religion to get access to life-essential assistance.

And no, I am not a Muslim. I am Indian, atheist, Hindu by birth and have a healthy contempt for what I call the perpetual victim mentality of Muslims that keeps them blaming the world and violently retaliating against assumptions of evil and further demolishing their own moral fabric, reputation and well being. But this is not about how I see a religion. It is about how people see their own beliefs. Its not impossible to separate religious strings from humanitarian relief. It is happening.

Much as I detest the Hindu religious structure (though I live in it), what I really appreciate about Hindu aid in Pakistan is its absence. 'Hindus' have donated and assisted without religious tags knowing that the average Pakistani would see accepting Hindu aid (particularly) as a monument to their utter defeat in saving themselves. India as a country (as different from Hindus) accepts that it must donate through the UN to protect the dignity of a proud people who are left with precious little else. I admire the stand the Pakistani government took in asking India to do this, even though it could be interpreted as a snub, even though they needed the money desperately (not that India offered a fortune in the greater scheme of things). It is one of the few moments the government showed sensitivity to the tattered dignity of their people and protected it. US is pouring in tremendous amounts of money, resources and people, as are many other countries. The UN probably has Jews in it too right along with all kinds of religions, and they are making a monumental change without emphasizing differences core to the dignity of the survivors.

I think its high time the religious aid focused on the tragedy at hand and stopped playing chess with real live people. I also invite the world to see this as an opportunity to engage ideological differences and create bridges of spiritual generosity. Perhaps the rebirth of Pakistan can include greater peace for all.