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INDIA-US 2+2 CAN’T YIELD DESIRED SUCCESS MINUS STRONG QUAD

Success of Quad is an essential condition for a comprehensive success of the 2 plus 2 dialogue as the security and stability in the Indo-Pacific are based upon strong quadrilateral ties. Only then can we handle the Chinese well.

Lt Gen Dushyant Singh (retd.)

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Japan prefers the mechanism of 2 plus 2 dialogue to engage a country diplomatically. It has perfected this art to a finesse. Taking a cue from Japan, India since 2010 adopted the same model. However, it restricted itself only to Japan. The outcome of 2 plus 2 talks with Japan has been very encouraging. For example, holding of bilateral and trilateral Naval Exercises such as Malabar 2019 and MINEX, between Indian Navy, Japanese Maritime Self Defence Forces (JMSDF) and the US. Similarly, participation in exercises ‘Dharma Guardian’ and ‘Shinyuu Maitri’ in 2018 and COPE India between Army and Air Forces of India, Japan and the US. On the diplomatic front when India refused to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) at the Hong Kong summit, many thought that Japan would insist on India to join the RCEP. But displaying understanding of India’s concerns, Japan voiced that it would not be a part of RCEP unless India is on board. Further, there are multiple areas in defence technology where cooperation between the two countries are on the anvil such as Visual Simultaneous Localization & Mapping (SLAM) Based Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and Augmentation Technology for UGV/robotics. Also, we may see 30% manufacturing of an amphibious plane Shin Maywa US-2 and acquisition of an armed Sea Guardian drone. Because of the success of the 2 plus 2 mechanism with Japan, India has adopted this dialogue framework with the US also. The current 2 plus 2 dialogue was aimed to deepen the Indo – US relations.

The current, 2 plus 2 dialogue between India and US is the third edition in the series. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark T. Esper visited India from 26 to 27 October 2020. The aim was to strengthen regional security cooperation, defence information sharing, military to military interaction and defence trade. Highlights of the joint statement issued on 27 October 20 by Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India from national security perspective are:

1) Elevation of relationship to Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership.

2) Resolve to strengthen cooperation in the development of vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, ventilators, and other essential medical equipment.

3) Commitment to maintaining a free, open, inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous Indo-Pacific built on a rules-based international order; underpinned by ASEAN centrality, rule of law, sustainable and transparent infrastructure investment, freedom of navigation and over flight, mutual respect for sovereignty, and peaceful resolution of disputes.

4) Expand joint capacity building efforts with partner countries in the Indo-Pacific. And participate in multilateral peacekeeping training exercises.

5) Promoting a sovereign, peaceful, united, democratic, inclusive, stable, and secure Afghanistan, including support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

6) A US promise of strong support for India’s permanent membership in a reformed UNSC and membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

7) Recounted the Major Defense Partnership (MDP) between India and the United States. They also commended the significant step of signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), enhanced maritime information sharing and maritime domain awareness. The two sides confirmed their commitment to build upon existing defence information-sharing at the joint-service and service-to-service levels and explore potential new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.

8) Commitment to pursue increased cooperation between the Indian military and US Central Command and Africa Command, including broader participation in exercises and conferences, so as to promote shared security interests.

9) Two sides emphasized the importance of Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), and stated their intent to fast track projects under DTTI.

10) Cooperation in the sphere of defence innovation between the US and India was welcomed. The virtual meeting between the Indian Defence Innovation Organization (DIO- IiDEX) and US Defense Innovation United (DIU) in July 2020 came in for praise. They also looked forward to the inaugural Industrial Security Annex (ISA) Summit later this year which would further strengthen defence industrial cooperation between both countries. As part of bilateral ties, our Ministers noted with satisfaction the significant strides made under the four Pillars of Strategic Energy Partnership (SEP) covering Oil & Gas, Power and Energy Efficiency, Renewables and Sustainable Growth. They also appreciated the progress made under the India-US Gas Task Force and the launch of industry-led projects. They welcomed the announcement of new priorities and roadmap for each of the Pillars during the Ministerial meeting of the SEP held on July 17, 2020. With the objective of intensifying cooperation in the area of Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPRs), the Ministers welcomed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in this regard.

11) The Ministers welcomed the virtual convening of the 17th meeting of the India-US Counter Terrorism Joint Working Group and the 3rd Session of the India-US Designations Dialogue on September 9-10, 2020. They also reaffirmed their support for an early adoption of UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) that would advance and strengthen the framework for global cooperation and reinforce the message that no cause or grievance can ever justify terrorism.

12) Two sides were looking forward to the launch of NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) satellite by 2022. Commitment to sharing Space Situational Awareness information, which will catalyze efforts to create the conditions for a safe, stable, and sustainable space environment. They also expressed the intent to continue the India-US Space Dialogue as well as discussions on areas of potential space defense cooperation.

In summary, India has gained considerably from the dialogue. Especially in defence information sharing, signing of BECA, military to military interaction and extending this interaction to other countries of the Quad—Japan and Australia. This would further benefit India if Quad is enhanced to include the important EU countries especially France. Without doubt, the dialogue is a positive development but there are question marks on the outcome as to its success. What is going to be the impact of important international events such as the US presidential election and efficacy of Quad and international conflict theatres such as Afghanistan and the Middle East? A number of positives have come out from the dialogue for India, the most important being the signing of BECA and sharing of Geospatial Information. Pakistani media is abuzz and surprised with this development.

TIMINGS OF THE DIALOGUE

With the US elections mere days away the timings of the dialogue are questionable. India-US policy will undergo a change with a change of the Presidency, Kamala Harris a semi Indian origin Vice Presidential running mate notwithstanding. The current election trends put Biden well ahead of Trump but as they say, it is difficult to stick one’s neck out these days on poll outcomes due to sheer volatility of behaviour by people. What could change the equation is the toss up states numbering 134 Electoral College seats. It has happened in the past that despite garnering country wide popular votes, candidates have ended on the losing side due to winner take it call policy of the Electoral College seats from a state should a candidate win that particular seat. Hillary Clinton in 2016 is the latest case in point. Margin of votes becomes immaterial. Further, Trump is known to spring surprises. But a rational analysis of trends indicates Biden moving into the White House after the elections. A Biden win despite some pro-India policy statements by Biden, Sino-American relations will shift from conflict driven intent to competition driven intent. Such an approach will render the current India-US agreements under review and moderation. Even the presence of Kamala Harris, the Vice Presidential running mate of Biden, is unlikely to help. As per Navtej Sarna, former Ambassador to the US and many other experts, she is known to be a strong defender of human rights. Such an attitude will not help India as far as the US stands on J & K and other internal security operations in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) and North East (NE) are concerned, however, incorrect her perceptions may be on these matters. Similarly, Biden, as per a recent report in Deutsche Welle (DW) dated 16 October 20, has expressed disappointment with the Indian government over its new citizenship law and called for the restoration of the rights of all Kashmiris. In contrast, Trump has refrained from making any comments on events following our policy decisions pertaining to Kashmir, NAA and NRC. To make matters worse the Russians do not need the Indians, as Putin is growing closer to the modern incarnation of Mao—Xi Jinping. Economic compulsions of Russia override Indo-Russian relationship. Chinese may also get emboldened and push further in other areas to claim operational advantage in the Eastern Sector where operations are feasible during winters in certain areas through their now famous salami slicing strategy to offset the advantage gained by Indian occupation of tactically important heights on the Kailash ranges before the new administration settles down. This may leave India with very limited options at least until the spring. We need to be prepared for such an eventuality.

EFFICACY OF QUAD

As per reports, the two sides did speak about India’s military stand-off with Chinese Army that has continued for over 175 days and led to the Galwan bloodshed in eastern Ladakh as well in June. The two sides did make an oblique reference to China that has driven India, the United States, Japan and Australia as part of Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Therefore, success of Quad is an essential condition for a comprehensive success of the 2 plus 2 dialogue as the security and stability in the Indo-Pacific are based upon strong quadrilateral ties. Only then can we expect the Chinese to be fixed on two fronts. There is no doubt the outcome of the current 2 plus 2 dialogue has been very encouraging. The commitments in defence and bilateral ties if pursued meaningfully will force China to look at a two front scenario especially in the backdrop of strong Quad which some experts also tout as the NATO of the East. However, is Quad really NATO of the EAST? In its current state, there are serious doubts about its efficacy and effectiveness especially in the event of a conflict involving China. The outcome of the 6 October 2020 Quad meet in Tokyo has sent mixed signals. Just before resigning, Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe engineered a reconciliation with Beijing after years of frosty ties, with support from businessmen and China-friendly Liberal Democratic Party politicians. As per report by Anthony Kuhn and Chie Kobayashi, it is probably due to this that the Japanese spokesperson in the press brief insisted on stating, “Quad meet was not held with any particular country in mind.” Similarly, the Australian Foreign Minister responding to Mike Pompeo tirade against the Chinese had responded in July 2020 that “Let me reiterate that we make our own decisions.” These developments cast a major doubt on the operationalisation of Quad and by corollary Quad’s ability to respond to any Chinese activity directed against India barring some vocal support and condemnation. In any case, India must NOT expect any overt support from the Quad in case of any hostilities especially when member countries have strong trade and commercial interests with China. Therefore, ultimately India may have to rely entirely on the good will of the US for responding to a Chinese threat. This also dictates a careful approach to National Security issues and assessments by Indian Security Establishments. Quad without a commitment of enduring material and moral support is an exercise in futility. Merely conducting joint exercises is not going to pay any material dividends in conflict with China other than some diplomatic support in the form of condemnations. It also implies the need for robust bilateral alliances with Strategic partners such as the US and France. Australia and Japan currently appear heavily weighed down by economic considerations. And should Biden become the President of the US we may see a further drawdown in the Sino-American relations, which will severely restrict India’s options in dealing with China.

FINAL TAKE

Mike Pompeo visited India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Male, and Hanoi to build support for the US against the Chinese activities in the Indo-Pacific. Not only will this help in keeping the anti-china momentum going but also help in making it irreversible should the Presidency change. Largely Pompeo has been successful in this endeavour barring some hesitancy by Japan and Australia. Even Indian Foreign Minister refrained from directly naming China. When asked if Beijing was a factor, he had said, “There isn’t one factor, there are two factors. One is called India; the other is called the United States of America. If you look at the growth of this relationship, as I pointed out in virtually every domain, it’s been—it’s actually been very, very remarkable over the last 20 years, but I would say especially the last few years.” The statement avoids any direct reference to Beijing, but the support to the US is prominently visible. The conservative approach of the Foreign Minister may also be coming from his career diplomat background and outlook. However, the RM who is a thoroughbred politician was more forthright in pointing out India’s displeasure with China. According to a US Department of State readout dated 27 October 2020, RM Sh. Rajnath Singh mentioned that, “in the area of defense we are challenged by reckless aggression on our northern borders.” A statement which was diplomatically omitted in the final statements.

For India, the key issues of immediate concern are confrontation with China, deepening of the India-US strategic ties especially in the area of defence and economy, securing of Indian interest in Afghanistan post the US pull out and a stable and secure IOR & Indo-Pacific. India would also welcome a Chinese fix in the South China and East China Sea to force it to look at a two front scenario. This can only be achieved through a strong India-US bilateral ties going beyond the current levels. Quad is still undergoing birth pangs and does not appear to have the capability to hold China at bay. India has signed three important agreements with US, COMCASA, LEMOA and BECA. It must be noted with some satisfaction the US has signed these agreements only with close partners to enable interoperability of forces and exchange of sensitive and classified information. Further, in February this year, the two countries had sealed defence deals worth $3 billion. India needs to work in a manner that the gains in any eventuality irrespective of who the next President of the US is, the current agreements are taken to their fruition.

Lt Gen Dushyant Singh (retd) has served in varied terrains and theatre of operations, in Indiaand in the UN as Military Observer. He has commanded an Infantry Battalion, Brigade and aDivision in Jammu and Kashmir. He is currently Professor Emeritus Defence Studies at GujaratRaksha Shakti University. Twitter handle: @dushy40098

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Defence

DRDO celebrates National Science Day

Ashish Singh

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National Science Day 2021 was celebrated in Defence Research & Development Organisation, DRDO Head Quarter in New Delhi on 1 March with great fervour. To mark the occasion, a special function was organised by Defence Science Forum. Principal Scientific Advisor to Government of India, Prof K. Vijay Raghavan, was the Chief Guest on the occasion. The function was presided over by Secretary DDR&D and Chairman DRDO Dr G. Satheesh Reddy.

In his keynote address, Prof Vijay Raghavan said that there is a significant amount of work being done by DRDO that epitomises quality science. He appreciated the speed and quality of innovations by DRDO during the pandemic. He stated, “We are a design driven world, and our two major goals should be designing and manufacturing indigenously”. He further said that in this new era of partnership between DRDO and industry, we should have the capability to buy local and make local.

Secretary DD R&D and Chairman DRDO in his address congratulated the scientific community for its ongoing quest to achieve excellence and self reliance. He emphasised the need to concentrate on science in laboratories and academic institutes to come out with state of art technologies. He highlighted the requirement for a focus group in each DRDO laboratory to work on future technologies. Dr G. Satheesh Reddy further said that it is very important for any nation to work on the fundamental side of science, for which the universities need to be made stronger, so that the nation can come out with quality products.

DRDO Science Day orations were delivered by scientists of three DRDO laboratories namely, Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), Hyderabad, Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), Bengaluru and Defence Research and Development Establishment (DRDE), Gwalior. National Science Day is celebrated each year on 28 February to commemorate the discovery of “Raman Effect” in 1928 by Sir C.V. Raman, which led to the Nobel Prize being awarded to him in the year 1930.

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Vice Admiral A.B. Singh takes over as Eastern Naval Command Chief

Ashish Singh

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Vice Admiral Ajendra Bahadur Singh took over as the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C), Eastern Naval Command (ENC) from Vice Admiral Atul Kumar Jainat an impressive Ceremonial Parade held at the Vizag Naval Base on Monday. Vice Admiral A.B. Singh inspected the Ceremonial Guard and reviewed platoons of naval personnel drawn from various ships and establishments of the ENC. The ceremony was attended by all Flag Officers and Commanding Officers of ships, submarines and establishments. Later, he also paid homage to martyrs who have made the supreme sacrifice in service of the nation, by laying a floral wreath at the War Memorial on Beach Road, Visakhapatnam.

Commissioned on 1 July 1983, Vice Admiral Ajendra Bahadur Singh is an alumnus of the prestigious National Defence Academy (NDA) Khadakvasla. A Navigation and Direction Specialist, Vice Admiral AB Singh has held various Operational Staff and Command Appointments in his career spanning over 38 years. The officer has excelled in all professional courses in India and abroad and received his first Masters from Madras University during the Staff Course, where he was awarded the Scudder Medal. The Flag Officer has also earned a Master’s Degree in Global Security from Cranfield University, United Kingdom.

He has commanded Indian Naval Ships Veer (Missile Vessel), Vindhyagiri (Frigate), Trishul (Guided Missile Frigate) and Viraat (Aircraft Carrier). The officer has rich operational experience of Op Pawan in Sri Lanka and Op Parakram on the Western Seaboard as the Fleet Navigating Officer of Western Fleet. He has also been the Chief of Staff at Western Naval Command during the period of intense Op activity in early 2019.He has commanded the Eastern Fleet and is familiar with the peculiarities of Eastern Seaboard, and was closely associated with the response to Super Cyclone Hudhud in 2014.

As Principal Director and ACNS (Policy & Plans) at Naval HQ, he was closely associated with promulgation of Maritime Strategy, Transformation & Long Term capability development plan and Aatmanirbhar shipbuilding roadmap of the Indian Navy. The officer has a rich tri-service exposure in jointmanship during the tenures as instructor at NDA and DSSC Wellington, Deputy C-in-C at Strategic Forces Command and Deputy Chief (Operations & Training) at HQ IDS (prior to assuming Command of the Eastern Naval Command).

He is the first Alumni of UP Sainik School to achieve the rank of Commander-in-Chief in the Indian Navy. For his distinguished service, he was awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal in 2011 and Ati Vishisht Seva Medal in 2016.The Flag Officer is married to Charu, who now heads the Navy Wives Welfare Association.

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PRESIDENT WITNESSES SPECTACULAR OPERATIONAL DEMONSTRATION BY ANDAMAN & NICOBAR COMMAND

Ashish Singh

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President Ram Nath Kovind witnessed a Joint Services Operational Demonstration at the Radhanagar beach, Swaraj Dweep. Integral combat platforms and forces of the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) demonstrated multi-dimensional operational capabilities of the Command, including an amphibious landing.

The President was, earlier, briefed by Commander-in-Chief Andaman and Nicobar Command (CINCAN) Lieutenant General Manoj Pande on the operational capabilities and state of readiness of the Command. Fourteen ships of the Indian Navy, two Fast Attack Crafts of Coast Guard, aircraft of the Indian Air Force and over 300 troops of the Indian Army with six BMPs showcased integrated application of combat power of the only Tri-Service Command of the nation. The demonstration highlighted the synergy, cooperation and interoperability between the Services towards achieving desired outcomes.

The Operational Demonstration showcased various facets of joint operations and included Combat Free Fall (CFF) and helocasting by the MARCOS, Special Heliborne Operations (SHBO) by Ghatak Platoon and amphibious assault by infantry troops, who landed on the beach with six BMPs and over 300 combatants. Naval Gun Fire Support (NGFS), Counter Surface Force Operations (CSFO), Search and Rescue (SAR) operations and vertical replenishment at sea were also demonstrated.

The amphibious landing of Infantry troops on the beach was executed by Landing Ship Tank (Medium) and Landing Craft Utility. Operational Demonstration culminated with the fly past of Dornier aircraft, MI-17 V5 and Chetak helicopters flying in close formation depicting the Tri-Service synergy and Combat potential of the Andaman & Nicobar Command.

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Defence

VICE ADMIRAL R. HARI KUMAR TAKES OVER AS WESTERN NAVAL COMMAND CHIEF

At a ceremony held at the Command Post of Headquarters, Western Naval Command, the outgoing and incoming Commanders-in-Chief were accorded a Guard of Honour.

Ashish Singh

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Vice Admiral R. Hari Kumar took over as the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C) of the Western Naval Command at Mumbai. He succeeds Vice Admiral Ajit Kumar, who retires upon superannuation, after an illustrious career, spanning forty years, in the Indian Navy.

At a ceremony held at the Command Post of Headquarters, Western Naval Command, the outgoing and incoming Commanders-in-Chief were accorded a Guard of Honour after which the formal handing-taking over took place with the handing over of the baton to the new Commander-in-Chief. On assuming command Vice Admiral R. Hari Kumar laid a wreath at the Gaurav Stambh monument.

Vice Admiral R. Hari Kumar, an alumnus of the National Defence Academy was commissioned into the Indian Navy on 1 January 1983. He specialised in Gunnery and has commanded five ships including a Destroyer and the aircraft carrier INS Viraat. He has held important staff appointments both ashore and afloat and has also been Naval Advisor to Government of Seychelles. On promotion to flag rank he has held the appointments of Commandant of Naval War College at Goa, Flag Officer Sea Training, Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet, Chief of Staff at Western Naval Command, Controller Personnel Services and Chief of Personnel at NHQ.

Vice Admiral R. Hari Kumar was CISC/ VCDS (Vice Chief of Defence Staff) at HQIDS prior to taking over as FOC-in-C Western Naval Command. The Flag Officer is a recipient of the Vishist Seva Medal, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal and Param Vishisht Seva Medal for distinguished service.

The outgoing FOC-in-C, Vice Admiral Ajit Kumar superannuated from service on 28 February 2021. The Admiral served at the helm of this premier naval Command since 31 January 2019. During his tenure, the WNC saw extensive operational deployments in response to developing security situation post the Pulwama attack and the Galwan crisis across the Indian Ocean Region. During this period WNC was also at the forefront of anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden as also Op Samudra Setu for evacuation of Indian nationals from various countries during Covid-19 and Missions Sagar I & II to reach out to countries in the IOR littoral with assistance in the fight against the pandemic.

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THE UNKNOWN UPRISING THAT SHOOK THE MIGHTY BRITISH EMPIRE

The largely forgotten 1946 Royal Indian Navy mutiny was, arguably, the ‘single most important event’ in convincing the British government that it could ‘no longer hold on to India’.

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In its platinum jubilee year, the 1946 naval uprising is worth revisiting so as to place it in proper context and also inform many of our countrymen who may not be aware of this event.

Sub Lt Balwant Singh with other officers. He was among the few officers discharged from service, as Lieutenant, for suspicion of being involved in the uprising. Issue of uniform kit to new recruits in 1940.Royal Indian Navy recruitment camp 1941.

RIN Job Advertisement Booklet, published in 1940

B.C. Dutt

The week that went by, from 18 to 25 February, marked the 75th anniversary of a landmark event in Indian History—the uprising by sailors of Royal Indian Navy (RIN) in February 1946. Over the years while the uprising has been studied and documented at the academic level it has not acquired the same salience in popular lore as, for example, the 1857 war of independence or the exertions of the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose led Indian National Army (INA). The reasons for this are manifold and are a subject of separate analysis. However, recent history indicates that while the Congress spearheaded non-violent approach was the principal vector of our freedom struggle there were many other revolutionary struggles and active movements which contributed significantly to the final outcome. In this light, in its platinum jubilee year, the naval uprising is worth revisiting so as to place it in proper context and also inform many of our countrymen who may not be aware of this event.

Originally termed as the naval mutiny, the event has, over the years, been described in many ways—revolt, rebellion, insurrection, strike, depending upon the prism of the observer. Irrespective of the characterization, there is little doubt amongst many contemporary historians that the naval uprising along with similar such (smaller scale) revolts in the Indian Army and the Air Force and the INA trials spelt the death knell of the British Empire or, at the very least, hastened its departure. When the British finally realised that the coercive elements of state could no longer be under their control it was game up for the Raj. Before we explore the many dimensions of the uprising, let us look at what happened in those tumultuous days.

BACKGROUND

The end of World War 2 bequeathed a complicated situation in India. The euphoria of winning the war was soon replaced by political uncertainty amidst hopes of early independence and economic distress, caused in large measure due to the burdens imposed by the war. Unemployment, agrarian distress and increased costs of living had made life difficult for the common man. On the global stage, the cold war had begun and the US and the USSR emerged as the new powers. War worn Britain, while still the preeminent colonial entity, was losing its sheen and reaching a point of exhaustion. On the strategic plane, India had contributed hugely to World War 2 by men and material and expectations were rife that this would be recognised by moving quickly towards some form of transfer of power. At the tactical level, the personnel of Indian Army, Air Force and Navy who had fought in foreign territories alongside troops from Britain and other countries realised that they were not inferior in any way, in skills or courage, and hence started questioning the need for them to be servile to a foreign power.

The Royal Indian Navy (RIN) was formed, in Oct 1934, essentially as a Coastal Defence force for India, while the British Royal Navy (RN) continued to be in-charge of blue water operations in the Indian Ocean Region and in furtherance of India’s ‘interests’. As war clouds hovered in the late 1930s and Britain realized that RN could no longer afford to devote forces for protection of India, the RIN was rapidly expanded to 15 times its original size from nearly 2000 personnel to more than 30,000. [On Mahatma’s birthday, remembering Indian Navy’s pre-independence journey (

https://thedailyguardian.com/on-mahatmas-birthday-remembering-indian-navys-pre-independence-journey/

While the RIN acquitted itself very well in the war especially considering the makeshift nature of many arrangements and acquisitions, it could no longer sustain at that size after the war. Hence, the force was planned to be truncated to meagre levels and personnel demobilized. At the end of the war about 20,000 men of the RIN were located in the ships and establishments in Bombay. The British Government decision to demobilise the war time recruits in the post-war period resulted in much dissatisfaction and disquiet because Sailors who had joined the Service after being promised a rosy future of a permanent well-paying job in Navy or assured career transition to civilian jobs were now suddenly being rendered unemployed. There was loss of, both, pride and economic status.

HMIS Talwar the Navy’s wireless communication establishment and training school, in Bombay, accommodated the communication branch ratings and ‘draft reserves’, many of whom were awaiting demobilisation. It was woefully overcrowded with restive ratings. Communication sailors, at that time, were more qualified and were generally better educated; this also made them more questioning of authority and less amenable to discriminatory practices.

THE PRELUDE

As a subsequent RIN Commission of Enquiry (CoE) report on the Mutiny brought out, things had been heating up at Talwar for a while. Unsatisfactory working and living conditions, bad food, indifferent leadership, rude and racist behavior by British officers and Warrant Officers, recruitment promises gone awry, a bleak future that stared many who were being released from service and the volatile political situation were all adding up to a dangerous simmer. The situation is well described by naval historian Rear Admiral Satyindra Singh, in his book ‘Under Two Ensigns’ as “a young over expanded service rapidly disintegrating in the rush to demobilise, living in a supercharged political atmosphere with its own additional feelings of disappointment, apprehension, uncertainty and un-redressed grievances”.

Three events stand out in this regard. On 01 Dec 1945, Navy Day was sought to be celebrated with great fervour emphasising post-war jubilation. It was the first time that the event was open to the public and HMIS Talwar was gearing up for the occasion. While the officials were looking forward to a successful event, a group of dissatisfied ratings, on the preceding night, silently and secretly hoisted brooms and buckets on the mast and painted subversive slogans with political overtones—‘Quit India’ and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’—on the walls and on the parade ground. As author Lt Cdr G.D. Sharma in his book Untold Story: The Naval Mutiny says, “The first signal of mutiny flashed up on the night of 1 December 1945.”

Another instance brought out by Sharma took place a month later and is further described by history blogger Ratnakar Sadasyula, “The beginnings of the Naval Ratings Mutiny were in an event that occurred on 16 January 1946 when a contingent of more than 60 ratings arrived at the Castle Barracks in Mint Road of Mumbai’s Fort Area. They were from the training ship HMIS Akbar at Thane and it was evening 4 pm. On being informed of their arrival the galley cook, took out 20 loaves of bread, casually added some water to the mutton curry as well as the dal that was from the previous day and served it. The food was so tasteless and substandard that only 17 ratings took it, the rest of them went ashore.”

The authorities took punitive measures including appointing Commander Arthur King a ‘strict no-nonsense’ officer as the new Commanding Officer of Talwar. In retrospect, this was a short-sighted move because he adopted a typical high-handed approach. Similar anti-British slogans again appeared on 01/02 Feb in anticipation of the visit of Vice Admiral JH Godfrey the Flag Officer Commanding Royal Indian Navy (FOCRIN). An early ‘success’ in identifying Leading Telegraphist Balai Chandra (BC) Dutt as the ‘mastermind’ of the painting incident and placing him under close arrest induced false optimism and gung go attitude. However, even after that the slogan writing continued.

Further, there were more troubling signs. A sailor, RK Singh, due for release anyway chose to resign instead, as an act of civil disobedience as Sailors were not allowed to resign as per service rules. He was immediately sentenced and sent to Arthur Road prison. The car of Cdr King was painted with Quit India slogans and his tyres deflated. He also received anonymous threatening calls. Unfortunately, none of these were seem as warning signs.

The more proximate reason occurred on the morning of 06 February 1946, when King entered one of the barracks and abused the communication ratings not on duty as ‘sons ofbitches, Junglees and Coolies’ perceiving that they had not paid attention to his arrival. As a protest against his language, fourteen ratings made individual complaints to Lt Commander Shaw, the Executive Officer. Shaw forwarded the complaints to King and apprised him of the gravity of the situation. However, King deferred the matter until 16 February and then told the ratings that they were making false complaints against the Commanding Officer. He gave them twenty-four hours to rethink. As would be obvious, this was a bizarre situation where the accused was adjudicating on his case. Further, his stubborn attitude matched by the determination of the ratings to seek justice took the situation to a boiling point. On the same day Dutt was informed about the authorities’ decision to demote and discharge him from Service.

THE REVOLT

On 18 February 1946, the ratings found the breakfast served was not properly cooked and inadequate. BC Dutt who, many years later, authored a book ‘Mutiny of the Innocents’ says: “As a protest, the ratings walked out of the mess hall. Someone shouted the slogan: No Food, No Work.” Satyindra Singh brings out that “the mutiny originated on the then HMIS Talwar and then spread to various naval ships and establishments all over the country and even beyond Indian shores. Only a few remained unaffected”.

Author Pramod Kapoor who is writing a book on the Uprising describes it thus “Just before dawn on February 18th, 1946, ratings on HMIS Talwar struck work, refused to eat and shouted slogans of ‘Quit India’, ‘Down with the British White Rats’, ‘Jai Hind’ and relayed signals to all within radio range informing them of the strike. The ratings were all young men, barely 17 to 24 years old, but they had lit the spark for what could be termed the Mutiny of 1946. For most people, the Indian mutiny refers to the one that took place in 1857 against the British East India Company, and posed a threat to the British Crown’s rule over India. The Naval Mutiny of 1946 was a courageous and audacious revolt by patriotic young men that spread like wildfire among the ship and shore establishments controlled by the RIN, spreading as far as Aden and Indonesia, and posed a major threat to the British rule because of its timing and circumstance”.

While the political aspects can be debated there is no doubt that the revolt spread far and wide and at its height involved 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 ratings. While Talwar was the nerve centre it spread across Mumbai, Karachi, Visakhapatnam, Madras, Kochi, Jamnagar, Kolkota and Bahrein where other units of the RIN were located. In spontaneous reaction, sailors at these places stopped work, went on hunger strike or resorted to other forms of agitation. In Mumbai, the naval dockyard, ships and Castle Barracks (today’s INS Angre) were enveloped in the revolt. Officers, mostly British, were sent out of the ships and the Union Jack and Naval Ensign were hauled down and replaced with flags of the political parties of the day. Ships were taken over by ratings and in some cases the main guns trained at the Gateway of India, Taj Mahal hotel and the Yacht Club adjacent to it. While this was more to deter any firing at them, the significance of pointing weapons on what were seen as colonial symbols was not lost on the establishment and the general populace. As Talwar was the Communications training school the ratings used wireless telegraphy and codes to communicate among themselves and to spread the message across all naval echelons. The ratings in an act of chutzpah also took over the Butcher Island which served as the ammunition depot for the British.

The immediate cause of the ‘mutiny’ in other ships and establishments were sympathy with Talwar, supportive (or inflammatory depending on the perspective) articles in the press and similar feelings of disenchantment with the authorities. On 19 February 1946, around 2000 ratings from various establishments and ships in Mumbai came down on the breakwater to carry out ‘a sit down strike’. Singh stresses through that “with rare exceptions, the behavior of the mutineers towards their officers was courteous with the usual marks of respect”.

The ‘mutiny’ was also accompanied by civil unrest in many places. The reports on radio and in newspapers spread like fire and considerable sympathy was shown towards the demands of the ratings. In Mumbai, a meeting was held in Azad Maidan by the ‘mutineers’ and they marched in processions shouting anti-British slogans. As the enquiry report states “The ratings paraded the streets… although their behaviour in general was rowdyish, the mutiny was still non-violent.” Mumbai also saw mass protests by citizens coming out in support of the ratings. Civilian port and dockyard workers, mill hands, railway workers, student unions joined in the protest. The public transport system came to a halt, trains were burnt, roadblocks were erected and commercial establishments were shut down. A general strike in support of the revolt took place in Bombay on 22 February and in Karachi on both 22 and 23 February. The revolt came to receive widespread support from public even for the short period that it lasted, not only in Bombay and Karachi, but also in Calcutta, Ahmadabad, Madras, Trichinopoly, Madurai, Kanpur and several places in Assam.

The ratings formed a Naval Central Strike Committee (NCSC); MS Khan, Leading Telegraphist and Madan Singh, Petty Officer Telegraphist, were elected as the President and Vice-President respectively. On 19 February, a meeting was held at Talwar between Flag Officer Bombay Rear Admiral AR Rattray, RIN officials and representatives of the NCSC. The Committee demands included aspects such as non-victimisation of strikers, release of R.K. Singh, speedy demobilisation and reasonable peace time employment, immediate disciplinary action against Commander King, improvement in standards of food, scales of pay and other aspects of work environment. Interestingly, the demands also included immediate release of political and INA leaders, immediate and impartial enquiry into the firing on the public all over India and immediate withdrawal of Indian troops from Indonesia and Middle East. The last part clearly indicated the political nature of the protests.

As may be expected the establishment having been taken by surprised reacted with full fury. The ratings were warned to surrender failing which threat of use of force was openly made. The Government summoned Royal Navy ships from the East Indies Fleet at Trincomalee, RN ships in harbour were asked to be at standby for actions against RIN ships commandeered by mutineers, British Army troops were called in after the Indians refused to fire, Tanks and Artillery were requisitioned for support if needed and the Air Force bombers made low passes over naval dockyards in a show of strength. Unfortunately, pitched battles took place between the revolting ratings and their antagonists in the Castle Barracks of Mumbai where the Army troops laid a siege of sorts, surrounding the Castle and cutting off water and electricity while the ratings responded by sniping at them from the parapets, and in Karachi where an exchange of gunfire took place between ratings on HMIS Hindustan and Army troops. Mumbai witnessed 2 deaths and 6 personnel injured while Karachi saw 8 deaths and 40 injured. 33 personnel could not be accounted for and while presumed deserted by the authorities then may also have figured on the casualty list. Also, many sailors in various parts of the country were arrested and put in custody during the crisis.

In Bombay, the mass civil unrest and certain acts of arson by extreme elements resulted in curfew being imposed and police/military firing on unruly mobs. A panicky establishment reacting in knee jerk manner caused considerable blood to be spilled as close to 400 people were killed and nearly 1,500 injured. As Sharma eloquently brings out, “It must be said to the credit of the striking ratings that it required the bravest of the Braveheart to face the British might in this unequal contest. The ratings were now facing military might similar to the 1857 mutiny against England.”

While generating popular support, the uprising did not, however, garner the backing of the main political parties. The movement was leaderless and rudderless unlike, for example, the INA where the charismatic leadership of Netaji provided the glue and organisational coherence. Further, the naval uprising was seen as a one-off episode and not continuation of a political movement. This deprived it of much legitimacy. Some experts also argue that the Congress and the Muslim League having moved into pole positions with regard to transfer of power did not wish to cede that space to anyone or detract from that trajectory.

The happenings in Bombay and elsewhere were seen as acts of indiscipline and defiance of the authority by most political leaders of significance such as Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. While Pandit Nehru was more sympathetic, he too did not wish to upset the non-violent nature of the freedom struggle. As historian Srinath Raghavan says, “The leaders realised that any mass uprising would inevitably carry the risk of not being amenable to centralized direction and control. Besides, now that independence and power were in sight, they were eager not to encourage indiscipline in the armed forces”. On 22 February Sardar Patel sent a message saying, “The strikers should lay down all arms and should go through the formality of surrender, and the Congress would do its level best to see that there is no victimisation and the legitimate demands of naval ratings are met as soon as possible.” This advice was eventually accepted.

The revolt was called off following a meeting between M.S. Khan and Vallabhbhai Patel. Patel issued a statement calling on the strikers to end their action, which was later echoed by Mohammed Ali Jinnah on behalf of the Muslim League. However, the agitations, mass strikes, demonstrations and support for the revolt continued for several days even after it had been called off. The surrender statement was remarkable for its defiant tone. It stated: ‘Our strike has been a historic event in the life of the nation. For the first time, the blood of the men in the services and the people flowed together in a common cause. We in the services will never forget this. We also know that you, our brothers and sisters, will not forget. Jai Hind.’

B.C. Dutt and son Tanush with authorities of Western Naval Command in 2003. Photo Courtesy – Cdr Mohan Narayan (Retd)Felicitating RIN heroes in KannurNaval Uprising Memorial, Mumbai. PHOTO: CAPT NAVTEJ SINGHTug Madan SinghMadan Singh at the launch ceremony of the yardcraft named after him.

It is notable that the 1946 naval uprising more or less disappeared from the nationalist narratives soon thereafter. This is in contrast to the trials of the INA officers which were under way at the same time. While the INA trials have, often, been incorporated into the narrative of the final push for Independence, the RIN revolt, in comparison, vanished from memory. The reasons for this vary. While most experts are agreed that the ratings acted in good faith and conscience, the disputation, in general, relates to two factors regarding the nature of the uprising—firstly, was it merely an outcome of bad service conditions lacking pronounced political character and secondly, should their revolt be seen as a patriotic act or did it behove uniformed men to go against the oath of service to a ‘lawful’ entity.

While the initial spark may have been a reaction to the treatment meted out to ratings and the lack of service facilities it also encompassed several other issues. In particular, the discontent of ratings to the resettlement arrangements became one of the main causes of the revolt. The British Naval policy of expansion, consolidation and radical contraction followed by demobilisation was to have deleterious consequences on a fledgling service that had only just started its journey.The summary of the Commission of Enquiry reporttestifies that there were several faults in the administration.

It is noteworthy that there were nine ‘mutinies’ in the Royal Indian Navy between March 1942 and April 1945. The reasons related to “grievances regarding pay, rations, bad cooking, inadequate lodging, menial duties and such like.” Most of these mutinies were suppressed by the British officials and the details never revealed to the world. Incidentally, a revolt took place in the Indian Army, almost at the same time as RIN Revolt, in February 1946. Two of the Indian Pioneer units of the Eastern Army Command at Calcutta refused to obey orders; the ‘mutiny’ was suppressed and mutineers sentenced without leaking the news to the political parties and press. During this period, there were also ‘mutinies’ in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Indian Air Force. While it is open to speculation on whether all the previous and immediately preceding mutinies had an impact on the RIN Revolt of 1946, there is no doubt that together they offer a stinging indictment of the British military administration. In fact, just a few days later, on 27 February 1946, the Indian Army Corps of Signals troops revolted in Jubbelpore and that ‘mutiny’ resulted in three deaths and more than 60 injured.

It is in this light that experts, especially in recent times, argue that the Naval Revolt of 1946 played a significant role in the freedom struggle of India. They argue that it is when the Raj realised they could no longer rely on the loyalty of the armed forces, it signaled the end of the colonial regime. As Pandit Nehru said “The RIN strike has altogether opened a new chapter in the history of our armed forces.”

Vice Admiral R.D. Katari, the first Indian CNS, in his autobiography A Sailor Remembers, brings out the dual nature of the uprising when he says, “The senior officers of the Service, who were all British, were particularly culpable in not sparing some thought to what was required to maintain the discipline and morale in the Navy. Superimposed on this set of circumstances was the revulsion against the British rule which the Indian component of the Navy not unnaturally shared with the rest of the country”. As Arthur King himself admitted in his memoirs, “The political background in India was tense and the demand of home rule was understandably on the increase. The fact that demobilisation plans had not been fully developed made the situation even more severe.”

It is a matter of historical record that Clement Atlee, the British Prime Minister at the time of Indian Independence, visited Kolkata in 1956 and when queried about British departure in a hurry in 1947, attributed it to the Indian National Army, which weakened their army, and the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny. He was also categorical that the impact of the Quit India movement was minimal. While Atlee may have had his own reasons to disparage the non-violent freedom struggle, his admission of RIN mutiny as a precipitating factor is important.

In an article published in April 2017, Raghavan opined, “After all, the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) mutiny was, arguably, the single most important event in convincing the British government that it could no longer hold on to India.” Satyindra Singh quotes then Lt S.N. Kohli (later Admiral and CNS) who was posted on HMIS Talwar “It is my view that the Naval Mutiny coming as the culmination of a number of similar incidents in the Indian Defence Services was largely instrumental in convincing the British that holding India was no longer feasible without the use of large scale British force and was, inter alia, responsible for ushering in freedom”.

Admiral S.M. Nanda, another close witness to the uprising, also echoes the same thought when he says “It would not be an exaggeration to claim that the mutiny hastened the attainment of Independence. Though resentment had been simmering in the Indian Army and Air Force as well, it was the sailors of the Royal Indian Navy at HMIS Talwar who fired the first shot for freedom…in retrospect, I feel that the naval mutiny convinced the British Government, which feared attacks, and a situation like the 1857 mutiny, to hasten the grating of independence to India.” Singh also quotes Congress leader Minoo Masani who said: “I imagine that the ratings were motivated partly by their own grievances like food, partly by poor leadership and partly by nationalistic motives”.

With regard to the means of struggle occupied B.C. Dutt had a ready answer. In his book he says, “In India a new generation had grown by wearing the soldier’s uniform and exulting in the sound of gunfire.  Most of them wanted the total overthrow of the Raj.  The means did not much matter.  Nor were they, at that point in Indian history, the only ones to feel the way they did.  Other segments of society were also similarly inclined.  The leadership would not have it.  They nipped what the young thought was the revolution in the bud.”

Most Indian historians and analysts agree that the disproportionate British response while winning them a pyrrhic victory robbed them of any sheen or moral halo they may have postured about at that time. Minoo Masani in his speech in the Central Legislative Assembly on 22 February said, “I wonder whether this kind of victory is worth having. The ratings who surrendered in the interest of their country are the moral victors of the struggle.” Even Katari, no fan of those who rose in revolt, admits, “It was unfortunate that Vice-Admiral Godfrey called in the East Indies Fleet and mouthed vague threats of the destruction of the Indian Navy. As a Commander-in-Chief, his action might have had some justification, but in the political climate of the time, it was disaster.” Nanda echoed similar sentiments when he said, “The RIN strike should not have provoked the British commanders to behave as they did.  Godfrey’s name became notorious because he had the audacity to threaten the destruction of the entire Navy.” Further, the promises of non-victimisation were belied when all those suspected of being involved were discharged from the service and sent home with a one-way ticket and minimal belongings.

THE INDIAN NAVY’S HEALING TOUCH

While the revolt has been analysed through many angles such as national versus colonial, subaltern studies or class struggle, not enough though has been given to the Indian Naval perspective. Admittedly, that is difficult because there may not be a single perspective in this regard. It needs to be noted that the Indian officers at that time were extremely junior in service with senior-most in the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Most of them were not in a position to be hugely influential though S.G. Karmarkar, S.M. Nanda and S.N. Kohli played useful roles in mediation. Many of their contemporaries like Soman, Krishnan, Chatterji, Ghandhy were exposed to the different facets of the uprising.

All these officers who rose to Flag rank learnt valuable lessons which could be utilized in building up a post-independence Navy. As Katari puts it, “The mutiny profoundly disturbed the delicate officer-man relationship in the Service which needed years of patient labour to repair and rehabilitate. The deep emotions that brought them together to stage this massive demonstration had to be tempered and channeled into the more purposeful pursuit of reconstructing a disciplined Navy once again.”

This was achieved over a period of time gradually through good and compassionate leadership reflecting the ideals of a free country. Initially, and understandably, the mutiny came to be viewed as an aberration to normal naval way of life. As time passed and the Service became more assured in its growth and development the event was subject to reappraisals.  In 1971, the personnel involved in mutiny were recognized as freedom fighters and were sanctioned pensions similar to those involved in the independence struggle. In the late nineties the Navy took the significant decision of characterising it not as mutiny but as an uprising. A navy veteran Rear Admiral A.R. Radhakrishnan recollects, “For the 50th anniversary of the Mutiny, the Fleet had staged a much applauded enactment of the uprising—this was when the terminology was changed. My ship Ranvir had coordinated the play. The show was on again, on a tableau/trailer for PM Vajpayee a couple of years later.”

A little later the Navy honoured the two prominent leaders involved in the uprising B.C. Dutt and Madan Singh by naming two yardcraft in Mumbai’s dockyard after them. On Navy Day 2001, Vice Admiral Vinod Pasricha, the then FOCinC Western Naval Command, inaugurated an open to the public ‘Uprising Memorial’ at Cooperage, Mumbai, paying homage to those who had taken part in the movement and to preserve their tale of sacrifice. The wheels of time seemed to have turned as it was on Navy Day in December 1946, that the first flame of the uprising had been lit. In Kochi, where the Navy’s Signal school is now located, the memory of the uprising is kept alive in the form of its state of the art auditorium named as ‘Talwar Hall’. Five years ago, in Kannur in north Kerala, some of the surviving personnel who had taken part in the uprising were publicly felicitated and honoured with a cheque of Rs 1 lakh. Further, organisations like the Maritime History Society conduct academic studies as was done last week in a high quality seminar centred on the uprising. The Navy has, thus, harmonised the different strands of the uprising through its unique approach.

The authors are associated with the Naval History Project. Views expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the Indian Navy or the Government of India.

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THE UNKNOWN UPRISING THAT SHOOK THE MIGHTY BRITISH EMPIRE

In its platinum jubilee year, the 1946 naval uprising is worth revisiting so as to place it in proper context and also inform many of our countrymen who may not be aware of this event.

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The week that went by, from 18 to 25 February, marked the 75th anniversary of a landmark event in Indian History—the uprising by sailors of Royal Indian Navy (RIN) in February 1946. Over the years while the uprising has been studied and documented at the academic level it has not acquired the same salience in popular lore as, for example, the 1857 war of independence or the exertions of the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose led Indian National Army (INA). The reasons for this are manifold and are a subject of separate analysis. However, recent history indicates that while the Congress spearheaded non-violent approach was the principal vector of our freedom struggle there were many other revolutionary struggles and active movements which contributed significantly to the final outcome. In this light, in its platinum jubilee year, the naval uprising is worth revisiting so as to place it in proper context and also inform many of our countrymen who may not be aware of this event.

Sub Lt Balwant Singh with other officers. He was among the few officers discharged from service, as Lieutenant, for suspicion of being involved in the uprising.

Photo Courtesy – RAdm AR Radhakrishnan Retd

Issue of uniform kit to new recruits in 1940.Royal Indian Navy recruitment camp 1941.

RIN Job Advertisement Booklet, published in 1940.

B.C. Dutt

Originally termed as the naval mutiny, the event has, over the years, been described in many ways—revolt, rebellion, insurrection, strike, depending upon the prism of the observer. Irrespective of the characterization, there is little doubt amongst many contemporary historians that the naval uprising along with similar such (smaller scale) revolts in the Indian Army and the Air Force and the INA trials spelt the death knell of the British Empire or, at the very least, hastened its departure. When the British finally realised that the coercive elements of state could no longer be under their control it was game up for the Raj. Before we explore the many dimensions of the uprising, let us look at what happened in those tumultuous days.

BACKGROUND

The end of World War 2 bequeathed a complicated situation in India. The euphoria of winning the war was soon replaced by political uncertainty amidst hopes of early independence and economic distress, caused in large measure due to the burdens imposed by the war. Unemployment, agrarian distress and increased costs of living had made life difficult for the common man. On the global stage, the cold war had begun and the US and the USSR emerged as the new powers. War worn Britain, while still the preeminent colonial entity, was losing its sheen and reaching a point of exhaustion. On the strategic plane, India had contributed hugely to World War 2 by men and material and expectations were rife that this would be recognised by moving quickly towards some form of transfer of power. At the tactical level, the personnel of Indian Army, Air Force and Navy who had fought in foreign territories alongside troops from Britain and other countries realised that they were not inferior in any way, in skills or courage, and hence started questioning the need for them to be servile to a foreign power.

The Royal Indian Navy (RIN) was formed, in Oct 1934, essentially as a Coastal Defence force for India, while the British Royal Navy (RN) continued to be in-charge of blue water operations in the Indian Ocean Region and in furtherance of India’s ‘interests’. As war clouds hovered in the late 1930s and Britain realized that RN could no longer afford to devote forces for protection of India, the RIN was rapidly expanded to 15 times its original size from nearly 2000 personnel to more than 30,000. [On Mahatma’s birthday, remembering Indian Navy’s pre-independence journey )

While the RIN acquitted itself very well in the war especially considering the makeshift nature of many arrangements and acquisitions, it could no longer sustain at that size after the war. Hence, the force was planned to be truncated to meagre levels and personnel demobilized. At the end of the war about 20,000 men of the RIN were located in the ships and establishments in Bombay. The British Government decision to demobilise the war time recruits in the post-war period resulted in much dissatisfaction and disquiet because Sailors who had joined the Service after being promised a rosy future of a permanent well-paying job in Navy or assured career transition to civilian jobs were now suddenly being rendered unemployed. There was loss of, both, pride and economic status.

HMIS Talwar the Navy’s wireless communication establishment and training school, in Bombay, accommodated the communication branch ratings and ‘draft reserves’, many of whom were awaiting demobilisation. It was woefully overcrowded with restive ratings. Communication sailors, at that time, were more qualified and were generally better educated; this also made them more questioning of authority and less amenable to discriminatory practices.

THE PRELUDE

As a subsequent RIN Commission of Enquiry (CoE) report on the Mutiny brought out, things had been heating up at Talwar for a while. Unsatisfactory working and living conditions, bad food, indifferent leadership, rude and racist behavior by British officers and Warrant Officers, recruitment promises gone awry, a bleak future that stared many who were being released from service and the volatile political situation were all adding up to a dangerous simmer. The situation is well described by naval historian Rear Admiral Satyindra Singh, in his book ‘Under Two Ensigns’ as “a young over expanded service rapidly disintegrating in the rush to demobilise, living in a supercharged political atmosphere with its own additional feelings of disappointment, apprehension, uncertainty and un-redressed grievances”.

Three events stand out in this regard. On 01 Dec 1945, Navy Day was sought to be celebrated with great fervour emphasising post-war jubilation. It was the first time that the event was open to the public and HMIS Talwar was gearing up for the occasion. While the officials were looking forward to a successful event, a group of dissatisfied ratings, on the preceding night, silently and secretly hoisted brooms and buckets on the mast and painted subversive slogans with political overtones—‘Quit India’ and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’—on the walls and on the parade ground. As author Lt Cdr G.D. Sharma in his book Untold Story: The Naval Mutiny says, “The first signal of mutiny flashed up on the night of 1 December 1945.”

Another instance brought out by Sharma took place a month later and is further described by history blogger Ratnakar Sadasyula, “The beginnings of the Naval Ratings Mutiny were in an event that occurred on 16 January 1946 when a contingent of more than 60 ratings arrived at the Castle Barracks in Mint Road of Mumbai’s Fort Area. They were from the training ship HMIS Akbar at Thane and it was evening 4 pm. On being informed of their arrival the galley cook, took out 20 loaves of bread, casually added some water to the mutton curry as well as the dal that was from the previous day and served it. The food was so tasteless and substandard that only 17 ratings took it, the rest of them went ashore.”

The authorities took punitive measures including appointing Commander Arthur King a ‘strict no-nonsense’ officer as the new Commanding Officer of Talwar. In retrospect, this was a short-sighted move because he adopted a typical high-handed approach. Similar anti-British slogans again appeared on 01/02 Feb in anticipation of the visit of Vice Admiral JH Godfrey the Flag Officer Commanding Royal Indian Navy (FOCRIN). An early ‘success’ in identifying Leading Telegraphist Balai Chandra (BC) Dutt as the ‘mastermind’ of the painting incident and placing him under close arrest induced false optimism and gung go attitude. However, even after that the slogan writing continued.

Further, there were more troubling signs. A sailor, RK Singh, due for release anyway chose to resign instead, as an act of civil disobedience as Sailors were not allowed to resign as per service rules. He was immediately sentenced and sent to Arthur Road prison. The car of Cdr King was painted with Quit India slogans and his tyres deflated. He also received anonymous threatening calls. Unfortunately, none of these were seem as warning signs.

The more proximate reason occurred on the morning of 06 February 1946, when King entered one of the barracks and abused the communication ratings not on duty as ‘sons ofbitches, Junglees and Coolies’ perceiving that they had not paid attention to his arrival. As a protest against his language, fourteen ratings made individual complaints to Lt Commander Shaw, the Executive Officer. Shaw forwarded the complaints to King and apprised him of the gravity of the situation. However, King deferred the matter until 16 February and then told the ratings that they were making false complaints against the Commanding Officer. He gave them twenty-four hours to rethink. As would be obvious, this was a bizarre situation where the accused was adjudicating on his case. Further, his stubborn attitude matched by the determination of the ratings to seek justice took the situation to a boiling point. On the same day Dutt was informed about the authorities’ decision to demote and discharge him from Service.

THE REVOLT

On 18 February 1946, the ratings found the breakfast served was not properly cooked and inadequate. BC Dutt who, many years later, authored a book ‘Mutiny of the Innocents’ says: “As a protest, the ratings walked out of the mess hall. Someone shouted the slogan: No Food, No Work.” Satyindra Singh brings out that “the mutiny originated on the then HMIS Talwar and then spread to various naval ships and establishments all over the country and even beyond Indian shores. Only a few remained unaffected”.

Author Pramod Kapoor who is writing a book on the Uprising describes it thus “Just before dawn on February 18th, 1946, ratings on HMIS Talwar struck work, refused to eat and shouted slogans of ‘Quit India’, ‘Down with the British White Rats’, ‘Jai Hind’ and relayed signals to all within radio range informing them of the strike. The ratings were all young men, barely 17 to 24 years old, but they had lit the spark for what could be termed the Mutiny of 1946. For most people, the Indian mutiny refers to the one that took place in 1857 against the British East India Company, and posed a threat to the British Crown’s rule over India. The Naval Mutiny of 1946 was a courageous and audacious revolt by patriotic young men that spread like wildfire among the ship and shore establishments controlled by the RIN, spreading as far as Aden and Indonesia, and posed a major threat to the British rule because of its timing and circumstance”.

While the political aspects can be debated there is no doubt that the revolt spread far and wide and at its height involved 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 ratings. While Talwar was the nerve centre it spread across Mumbai, Karachi, Visakhapatnam, Madras, Kochi, Jamnagar, Kolkota and Bahrein where other units of the RIN were located. In spontaneous reaction, sailors at these places stopped work, went on hunger strike or resorted to other forms of agitation. In Mumbai, the naval dockyard, ships and Castle Barracks (today’s INS Angre) were enveloped in the revolt. Officers, mostly British, were sent out of the ships and the Union Jack and Naval Ensign were hauled down and replaced with flags of the political parties of the day. Ships were taken over by ratings and in some cases the main guns trained at the Gateway of India, Taj Mahal hotel and the Yacht Club adjacent to it. While this was more to deter any firing at them, the significance of pointing weapons on what were seen as colonial symbols was not lost on the establishment and the general populace. As Talwar was the Communications training school the ratings used wireless telegraphy and codes to communicate among themselves and to spread the message across all naval echelons. The ratings in an act of chutzpah also took over the Butcher Island which served as the ammunition depot for the British.

The immediate cause of the ‘mutiny’ in other ships and establishments were sympathy with Talwar, supportive (or inflammatory depending on the perspective) articles in the press and similar feelings of disenchantment with the authorities. On 19 February 1946, around 2000 ratings from various establishments and ships in Mumbai came down on the breakwater to carry out ‘a sit down strike’. Singh stresses through that “with rare exceptions, the behavior of the mutineers towards their officers was courteous with the usual marks of respect”.

The ‘mutiny’ was also accompanied by civil unrest in many places. The reports on radio and in newspapers spread like fire and considerable sympathy was shown towards the demands of the ratings. In Mumbai, a meeting was held in Azad Maidan by the ‘mutineers’ and they marched in processions shouting anti-British slogans. As the enquiry report states “The ratings paraded the streets… although their behaviour in general was rowdyish, the mutiny was still non-violent.” Mumbai also saw mass protests by citizens coming out in support of the ratings. Civilian port and dockyard workers, mill hands, railway workers, student unions joined in the protest. The public transport system came to a halt, trains were burnt, roadblocks were erected and commercial establishments were shut down. A general strike in support of the revolt took place in Bombay on 22 February and in Karachi on both 22 and 23 February. The revolt came to receive widespread support from public even for the short period that it lasted, not only in Bombay and Karachi, but also in Calcutta, Ahmadabad, Madras, Trichinopoly, Madurai, Kanpur and several places in Assam.

The ratings formed a Naval Central Strike Committee (NCSC); MS Khan, Leading Telegraphist and Madan Singh, Petty Officer Telegraphist, were elected as the President and Vice-President respectively. On 19 February, a meeting was held at Talwar between Flag Officer Bombay Rear Admiral AR Rattray, RIN officials and representatives of the NCSC. The Committee demands included aspects such as non-victimisation of strikers, release of R.K. Singh, speedy demobilisation and reasonable peace time employment, immediate disciplinary action against Commander King, improvement in standards of food, scales of pay and other aspects of work environment. Interestingly, the demands also included immediate release of political and INA leaders, immediate and impartial enquiry into the firing on the public all over India and immediate withdrawal of Indian troops from Indonesia and Middle East. The last part clearly indicated the political nature of the protests.

As may be expected the establishment having been taken by surprised reacted with full fury. The ratings were warned to surrender failing which threat of use of force was openly made. The Government summoned Royal Navy ships from the East Indies Fleet at Trincomalee, RN ships in harbour were asked to be at standby for actions against RIN ships commandeered by mutineers, British Army troops were called in after the Indians refused to fire, Tanks and Artillery were requisitioned for support if needed and the Air Force bombers made low passes over naval dockyards in a show of strength. Unfortunately, pitched battles took place between the revolting ratings and their antagonists in the Castle Barracks of Mumbai where the Army troops laid a siege of sorts, surrounding the Castle and cutting off water and electricity while the ratings responded by sniping at them from the parapets, and in Karachi where an exchange of gunfire took place between ratings on HMIS Hindustan and Army troops. Mumbai witnessed 2 deaths and 6 personnel injured while Karachi saw 8 deaths and 40 injured. 33 personnel could not be accounted for and while presumed deserted by the authorities then may also have figured on the casualty list. Also, many sailors in various parts of the country were arrested and put in custody during the crisis.

In Bombay, the mass civil unrest and certain acts of arson by extreme elements resulted in curfew being imposed and police/military firing on unruly mobs. A panicky establishment reacting in knee jerk manner caused considerable blood to be spilled as close to 400 people were killed and nearly 1,500 injured. As Sharma eloquently brings out, “It must be said to the credit of the striking ratings that it required the bravest of the Braveheart to face the British might in this unequal contest. The ratings were now facing military might similar to the 1857 mutiny against England.”

While generating popular support, the uprising did not, however, garner the backing of the main political parties. The movement was leaderless and rudderless unlike, for example, the INA where the charismatic leadership of Netaji provided the glue and organisational coherence. Further, the naval uprising was seen as a one-off episode and not continuation of a political movement. This deprived it of much legitimacy. Some experts also argue that the Congress and the Muslim League having moved into pole positions with regard to transfer of power did not wish to cede that space to anyone or detract from that trajectory.

The happenings in Bombay and elsewhere were seen as acts of indiscipline and defiance of the authority by most political leaders of significance such as Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. While Pandit Nehru was more sympathetic, he too did not wish to upset the non-violent nature of the freedom struggle. As historian Srinath Raghavan says, “The leaders realised that any mass uprising would inevitably carry the risk of not being amenable to centralized direction and control. Besides, now that independence and power were in sight, they were eager not to encourage indiscipline in the armed forces”. On 22 February Sardar Patel sent a message saying, “The strikers should lay down all arms and should go through the formality of surrender, and the Congress would do its level best to see that there is no victimisation and the legitimate demands of naval ratings are met as soon as possible.” This advice was eventually accepted.

The revolt was called off following a meeting between M.S. Khan and Vallabhbhai Patel. Patel issued a statement calling on the strikers to end their action, which was later echoed by Mohammed Ali Jinnah on behalf of the Muslim League. However, the agitations, mass strikes, demonstrations and support for the revolt continued for several days even after it had been called off. The surrender statement was remarkable for its defiant tone. It stated: ‘Our strike has been a historic event in the life of the nation. For the first time, the blood of the men in the services and the people flowed together in a common cause. We in the services will never forget this. We also know that you, our brothers and sisters, will not forget. Jai Hind.’

Part 1 of the two-part series.

The authors are associated with the Naval History Project. Views expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the Indian Navy or the Government of India.

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