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The newly liberated Dutch looked forward to restoring control over their most profitable colony. But they were disappointed by Lieutenant General Sir Philip Christiansen’s broadcast stating that ‘the British have no intention of meddling in Indonesian internal affairs, but only to ensure law and order’. On 19 September 1945 a Dutchman raised the red, white and blue flag of the Netherlands over the Hotel Oranje in Surabaya, and an Indonesian climbed up to rip off the blue, leaving the red and white flag Merah Putih flag of Indonesia flying. Protests and rioting followed.51
The Indonesian flag flying over the Hotel Oranje in Surabaya
When they had landed at Batavia, the British troops were faced with slogans that read ‘Our government is a government from the people, for the people and by the people’, ‘What is good for the British Labour Party is good for us too’, and ‘Hands off Indonesia/Respect our Constitution/Down with Imperialism’.52 The Japanese forces handed over to the incoming British troops in October and the Seaforth Highlanders soon faced attacks from Indonesian nationalists in Bandung. Protests rang out there and in other centres.
Though reluctant to reinstate their Dutch rivals in the east, the British troops slipped quickly into the role of colonial policemen. Hostility to the Indonesian nationalists came as second nature to Britain’s white suprematists, for whom the problem was always the nationalism of the oppressed. Laurens van der Post broadcast on the BBC that Indonesian nationalism was really just anti-European hatred, ‘a tragic and abnormal psychology created by yellow fascism in an atmosphere of organised lying and intimidation’.53 Brigadier Mallaby’s burnt out car after he was killed in Surabaya Events came to a head in Surabaya in November 1945. A relatively inexperienced Brigadier Mallaby led the 49th Indian Infantry Brigade with the goal of disarming the nationalists. Though Sukarno and Hatta were promising cooperation, local commanders under the militant Bung Tomo were unwilling to hand over their guns. In an argument Mallaby was shot and his car blown up with a hand grenade.
British revenge came on 10 November when Major General Robert Mansergh brought in additional troops and attacked the city with air power and tanks and two cruisers and three destroyers off shore bombarding the city. Mansergh’s troops took Surabaya street by street, clearing buildings as they came. Two hundred thousand Indonesians fled the city, and 6,000 were killed in the invasion. British losses were some 600 mostly Indian troops. Indonesians still celebrate 10 November as Heroes Day – and the heroes they have in mind are not Mallaby or Mansergh, but the men and women who fought back against Britain’s invasion.
The official British war history records that ‘the situation as described to Mountbatten when he was made responsible for the whole of the Netherlands East Indies had been a supreme example of wishful thinking’. ‘Instead of willing cooperation by the Indonesians, there was not only an open threat of war but also a considerable Indonesian force trained and equipped by the Japanese and ready to fight anyone attempting to restore Dutch domination’.54 At the end of 1946 many of the British troops left, and the Seaforth Highlanders, angered by the role they had been made to play, were heard chanting ‘Merdeka!’ – ‘Independence!’ as they marched to the port.55 Independence, though, would be stymied for another five years, as the British left a Netherlands Indies Civilian Administration in charge of the main urban centres, with Dutch troops taking over from the British.56 Chapter Twenty Eight India uprisen, divided The suppression of Congress in 1942 and the sapping effect of the British-engineered famine left India traumatised. Congress was for the last two years of the war effectively shackled, directing its attention to welfare activities like the Kasturba Gandhi Memorial Fund.
Without Congress the British had to rely on disparate groups to negotiate for the Indians. Indian Princes were again artificially boosted. The Muslim League, though of real social weight was a lopsided representative of the Indian people. The British even legalised the Communist Party of India, whose Stalin-inspired support for war production drives recommended it. The Communists characterised Congress as being run by a ‘capitalist clique’ – but even they were obliged to call for the release of the Congress leaders from jail.1 Overshadowing the whole question of a political settlement was the division that Britain had sowed between Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League and the Congress. In the 1931 census the population of British India included 67 million Muslims or 24.7 per cent, as compared to 178 million Hindus, or 65.5 per cent.2 Back in March of 1940 Jinnah had given a speech to a crowd of 40,000 Muslim League supporters at Minto Park where he said ‘the Musulmans are a nation by any definition’. ‘If the British Government are really in earnest and sincere to secure the peace and happiness of the people of this Subcontinent’, he had said, then they would have to ‘allow the major nations separate homelands, by dividing India into “autonomous national states”.’ Though Jinnah did not use the word, the crowd called out ‘Pakistan! Pakistan!’ 3 In prison, Nehru was in despair at Jinnah’s push for a separate state. Reading another Jinnah speech in April 1943 Nehru wrote ‘there is no way out as far as I can see except for a real bust-up in India’. Aware of the disaster that partition would be, Gandhi tried again and again to rebuild bridges with Jinnah, writing to the Muslim League leader from his prison cell in May 1943 to ask for a meeting. Churchill, knowing what a threat Indian unity would be for the Empire vetoed the idea of allowing an ‘interned person’ to talk with anyone for ‘the purpose of uniting’ to drive the British out.4 The detention of Gandhi put Britain in a bad light internationally, with inquiries after his health and liberty coming from Madame Chiang Kai-shek and President Roosevelt’s envoy in India William Philip. In 1944 Gandhi was in ill-health and Wavell asked Colonial Minister Leo Amery if he could be released as ‘serious difficulties would result if Gandhi died in detention’. A churlish Churchill accused him of faking illness, but he was released on 6 May.5 Nehru was kept in jail till 15 June 1945.
In August 1944 a Governors’ Conference thought that demobilisation at the end of the war would lead to strong pressures for independence. The Viceroy, Archibald Wavell, told the War Cabinet’s India Committee that Congress and the Muslim League would have to be drawn into constitutional discussions before hostilities stopped. The British Viceroy’s position was that Congress was just another communal party, the Hindu equivalent to the Muslim League, which meant that Britain would not recognise any cross-communal Indian representation. With reason, the Muslim league hoped that their loyal contribution to the war effort, and the heroism of Punjabi soldiers in Burma, would secure them Britain’s support against the congress.6 The stakes were high for Britain, as Wavell set out to Churchill at the India Committee
on 26 March 1945:
The future of India is the problem on which the British Commonwealth and the British reputation will stand or fall in the post-war period … with a lost and hostile India, we are likely to be reduced in the east to the position of commercial bag-men.7 In July 1945 Wavell invited the Congress and the Muslim League to take part in a conference on the future of India and the possibilities of self-rule. Preparatory to the invitation Wavell released the remaining Congress leaders and on 22 June 10,000 came out to welcome them. Under Wavell’s plan the Governor General would appoint an executive committee drawn from India’s political leaders with an equal balance of Muslims and Hindus. With some internal disagreements, Congress agreed to take part, but Jinnah objected that the Muslim representatives must be nominated by the Muslim League, and in particular to bar any Congress Muslims, as a precondition for taking part in the talks. Even Wavell understood that this was too much, and the conference fell apart. Trying to avoid the obvious conclusion that Jinnah had wrecked the agreement, Wavell publicly took the blame for the failure on himself. For Britain the wider point, though, was to stress that ‘the difficulty does not lie as between India and his Majesty’s Government, but within India itself’, as Colonial Secretary Leo Amery wrote to Wavell on 12 July.8 The failure of the Simla conference left India once again in a state of uncertainty, but events would force the British hand. As feared, the end of the war brought new pressures to bear. The end of the war drive robbed the British Raj of the justification for the State of Emergency through which it had ruled. Returning soldiers of the British India Army and of the Indian National Army brought new expectations of a settlement. In particular the Indian National Army, returning for the most part as prisoners facing charges of treason, was a stark challenge to Britain’s authority.
One thousand five hundred INA fighters had been captured at Imphal and 17,000 had surrendered in Malaya and Bangkok. Thousands were interrogated in the Red Fort in Delhi.
Realising that it was impossible to try them all the British divided them into categories:
‘Blacks … so imbued with enemy propaganda that they remained hostile to the present Government of India and, if released forthwith would constitute a danger to the reliability of the army and to the peace and order of the country’; ‘Greys’ were those misled, but still influenced by ‘enemy propaganda’; ‘Whites’ were not so. Of the ‘Black’ group, those who had killed or abused allied troops or citizens were to be court-martialled, the rest to be dismissed without pay. The ‘Greys’ were to be dismissed with forty days’ pay, and the Whites allowed to return to the army.9 On 30 June 1945 a train carrying Indian National Army prisoners passed through a Punjabi railway station as crowds were gathering to see Jawaharlal Nehru. The British there were outraged to see the crowd waving pictures of Subhas Chandra Bose.10 The issue of the Indian National Army prisoners brought all the conflicts of the war in the east back into the public domain. While Britain set out to try the INA fighters, Indians put the whole of the British war to take back its East Asian colonies on trial. On 15 November 1945 India’s oldest
newspaper, the Amrita Bazar Patrika editorialised:
Never perhaps in the annals of the Indo-British relationship has the government been completely isolated on such questions as the trial of the INA, the use of Indian troops in Indonesia, the surreptitious execution of Indians in Malaya and Singapore, the reimposition of an autocratic rule in Burma and the grave allegations of torture made in the public press, in the Delhi Red Fort and the Lahore Fort. These events have stirred public feeling to its very depths.11 The British authorities held elections in October 1945 under a communal system, where seats were reserved for Muslims elected in separate voting lists. The rigged voting system could not disguise the large majority of Indians supporting the Congress which won 91.3 per cent of the vote in the General Constituencies, and was awarded 57 seats when the outcome was announced early in 1946. But the institutionalised communalism of the election did achieve the British aim of dividing India. After years of stirring hostilities between the two communities, the British did manage to drive more Muslims into the hands of the separatist Muslim League. In the Muslim seats the League won 88.6 per cent of the vote and was awarded 30 seats (where its vote had been negligible in the 1937 elections).
Sir Stafford Cripps, ‘India’s friend’, told British Prime Minister Clement Attlee that ‘we might have to contemplate a division of India into Hindustan and Pakistan as the only solution’.12 That December, while the elections were taking place Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in Bombay. If Britain could not rule, it could divide.