The RIN Revolt started as a strike by ratings of the Royal Indian Navy on February 18, 1946 in protest against general conditions. The immediate causes of the revolt were conditions and food. By dusk on February 19, a Naval Central Strike Committee was elected. Leading Signalman M S Khan and Petty Officer Telegraphic Madan Singh were unanimously elected President and Vice-President respectively. The strike found immense support among the Indian population. The actions of these revolutionaries were supported by huge demonstrations and strikes all over the subcontinent that paralysed imperialist rule. These included a one-day general strike in Bombay. The strike spread to other cities, and was joined by the ranks of the Royal Indian Army, Air Force and workers in various industries across the subcontinent. Naval officers and men offered left-handed salutes to British officers. At some places, Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) in the British Indian Army ignored and defied orders from British superiors. In Madras and Poona, the British garrisons faced revolts within the ranks of the Indian Army. Notably, the revolting ships hoisted red flags and they attached the Congress and Muslim League flags with them, defying communal hatreds.
The revolt was called off following a meeting between the President of the Naval Central Strike Committee (NCSC), M S Khan, and Vallabbhai Patel, a reactionary Hindu member of Congress, who was sent to Bombay to deceive the revolting sailors. Patel issued a statement calling on the strikers to end their action, which was later echoed by a statement issued in Calcutta by Mohammed Ali Jinnah on behalf of the Muslim League. Led by M K Gandhi, the Hindu and Muslim leaders of the native bourgeoisie were as terrified of this revolutionary uprising of the Navy, Army and Air Force personnel, supported by the workers and the broad masses, as the British imperialists were. They could see that under these circumstances it would be almost impossible for them to impose and continue class rule after the British physically left the subcontinent. Using this position and their exaggerated coverage in the media, the politicians of the native elite unleashed a ferocious campaign against this revolutionary upheaval. However, this heroic episode of the revolutionary struggle of the workers, sailors and the soldiers of the subcontinent has been either grossly distorted or totally removed from the official histories and syllabi of independent Pakistan and India. Under these intense pressures, the strikers gave way. However, despite assurances of the good services of the Congress and the Muslim League, widespread arrests were made, followed by court martials and large scale dismissals from the service. None of those dismissed were reinstated into either the Indian or Pakistani navies after independence. At this stage partition became a necessity to quell the revolutionary tide surging towards a complete transformation of the system. The British imperialists and the native elites were acutely aware that this movement would not stop at the juncture of national independence but would go the whole hog and achieve social and economic liberation. That meant a socialist revolution in the subcontinent.
With the ebbing of the revolutionary tide, reaction set in and political power was transferred from the ‘white sahib to brown sahib’, thus ensuring economic control remained in the hands of Britain and the US, the latter having emerged as the major imperialist power after the war. Their hegemony and exploitation was sustained in connivance with the comprador local elite. The elite was grafted, nurtured and fostered into the political leadership of the postcolonial South Asian subcontinent by their imperialist masters. One of the main leaders of the elite, the Harrow-educated Jawaharlal Nehru, accepted the reality of these Anglophiles from the Indian upper classes being inferior to their mentors and of their role as their successors, with their race relegated to second rank. Nehru wrote in An Autobiography, “The fact that the British Government should have imposed this arrangement upon us was not surprising; but what does seem surprising is that we, or most of us, accepted it as the natural and inevitable ordering of our lives and destiny. Greater than any victory of arms or diplomacy was this psychological triumph of the British in India.” In this confession Nehru explicitly exposes the reactionary character and the slavish mentality of the ruling elite, the forefathers of the present day states of the subcontinent. After 67 years of so-called independence, the masses of the region are worse off than their ancestors were in 1577. Misery, poverty, disease, filth, illiteracy, destitution and deprivation stalk the subcontinent’s landscape. The impressive development statistics mask societies split by some of the most shocking divisions anywhere in the world. The rich and the powerful enjoy their fabulous wealth behind the iron gates of private towns from which the poor are physically excluded.
According to statistics from the UN World Food Programme, India and most countries of the region suffer simultaneously from the strictures of poverty and diseases of affluence. It has the largest concentration of poverty, contains 50 percent of the world’s hunger and more than half of children under five are malnourished. On the other hand the expanding middle class of around 300 million in India, with a similar percentage of the population in Pakistan and other countries of the region, is experiencing an obesity epidemic. “South Asia is home to two thirds of the world’s illiterate population. Fifty percent of university graduates are unemployable due to the poor quality of education and vocational training,” says the former State Bank of Pakistan’s Governor, Ishrat Hussain. Tens of millions enter the already ever-increasing mammoth swathes of the unemployed. These harrowing socioeconomic statistics frighteningly sneer at the destiny of these beleaguered societies. There is a lot of talk of the ‘fight against poverty’ by Modi and Sharif. The ultimate scenario is further deterioration of conditions for the oppressed masses. As the socioeconomic system has declined and rotted, the political elites have further degenerated into upstart and neo-rich thugs with low cultural levels and deeply entangled in all sorts of crime and corruption. The ideological basis has constricted into more and more narrowness with religious bigotry being manipulated by corporate capital to further exploit and limit the consciousness of the working classes.
(To be continued)
In this follow-up article to ‘Mahatma Gandhi on Palestine’ (Daily Times, July 22, ...