• The road to Indian Independence was long. It was tough. It was marked by moments of political high, interspersed with long periods of political low. But the freedom struggle eventually succeeded, with the British leaving the land that they had no business occupying in the first place.
    In this finale, HT senior editor Prashant Jha traces the brutality of colonial rule and its systematic policy of encouraging a Hindu-Muslim divide which left India with a tragic Partition. He also examines the brilliance and bravery of Indian nationalists who slowly built the edifice of the freedom struggle, and offered India a vision of an inclusive, progressive and internationalist nationalism, leading to the triumph of August 15, 1947.

  • The war had ended. India was inching towards independence, but a clear political roadmap and timeline was missing. The Muslim League had stepped up its agitation for Pakistan. It was a turbulent, uncertain time.
    And then, in 1946, the Empire was struck with a final blow from within. The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny started from Bombay, and spread across the country and, at its peak, saw the involvement of 20,000 sailors across almost 100 ships and shore establishments. It sparked popular mobilization. The Mutiny eventually ended, but 89 years after the Sepoy Mutiny, colonial rule was on its final leg.
    In this penultimate episode of the podcast, publisher and author Pramod Kapoor examines the roots of the Mutiny, takes us through nature of the rebellion, and the nationalist and British response.

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  • Even as a war broke out in Europe, a clash between different streams of the Indian nationalist movement broke out at home. Triggered by differences with the Mahatma and his protégés, and a desire to leverage the the crisis presented by the war, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, the political lion from Bengal, decided it was time to embark on his own path.
    Bose, after a dramatic escape from India while under arrest, travelled to Europe and Japan decided to work with Axis Powers. His subsequent leadership of the Indian National Army inspired the young and by creating a new, inclusive, armed force to fight for independence, Bose pioneered a new form of struggle. But in 1945, Bose died in a tragic and sudden air crash.
    In this episode, the historian and Netaji’s grand nephew, Sugata Bose takes us through Bose’s life, politics, beliefs, relationship with the Mahatma, INA and explains his legacy.

  • In 1939, the Second World War broke out in Europe. And India suddenly found itself as a participant in the war, on behalf of the allied powers. There was one problem — no Indian had been consulted. Indian nationalists were clear. They were opposed to Fascism in Europe, but wanted independence at home first. But, by this time, there were a range of other actors on the Indian political stage, from the Muslim League to Babasaheb Amedkar to VD Savarkar, who had their own approach to India and the war.
    In 1942, the Mahatma issued what was to become one of the most powerful and evocative slogans of the freedom struggle. He declared that it was time for the British to Quit India. The Quit India movement commenced, and saw a fierce British crackdown, in what was to become one of the final chapters of India’s freedom struggle.
    In this episode, the eminent historian Srinath Raghavan reconstructs India’s tremendous contribution to the war, the nationalist dilemma, the roots and impact of the movement, and how the war years Quit India hastened independence but also deepened India’s internal divisions.

  • As the civil disobedience movement faded, the British embarked on a political exercise to defuse nationalist aspirations — in a way that would help the Empire retain absolute political control. This manifested itself in the Round Table Conferences, the Government of India Act 1935, and the 1937 provincial elections, in which the Congress participated and performed exceedingly well.
    But each of these measures had both intended and unintended consequences. Why did the Congress have an ambivalent attitude to the Round Table Conferences? What was the 1935 Act do and what were its long term implications? And did being in power give Indian nationalists prepare them for the future, or did it deepen the Hindu-Muslim faultline within Indian nationalist movement?
    In this episode, the scholar Arvind Elangovan reconstructs the years of British Indian constitutionalism and explains its long lasting legacy.

  • The nationalist movement was at a crossroad by the end of the 1920s. On one hand, the British had shown no inclination to give Indians the right to self rule and continued with their repressive methods. On the other, anger against colonial rule had been building up, with the Congress finally declaring its aim was purna swaraj, complete independence.
    The Congress decided to launch a civil disobedience movement and turned to the only man who could mobilise the masses — the Mahatma. And the Mahatma turned to the most unusual commodity, and the most unusual method to challenge the Empire. He decided to defy colonial salt tax laws, and he decided to do so by leading a march.
    In this episode, Tridip Suhrud, among India’s most eminent Gandhian scholars, take us back to the iconic Dandi March, the Mahatma’s meticulous preparation for it, and how it captivated the masses.

  • The Rowlatt Acts and the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre had enraged nationalist opinion, and it was in this backdrop that the Mahatma launched his first truly mass-based national movement against the Empire - the Non-Cooperation movement — in 1920. Added to it was the demand for the restoration of the Caliphate — a demand close to the heart of Indian Muslims.
    The movement democratised India’s freedom struggle and saw the participation of women, peasants, workers, students, and people from all castes and religions. It energised the Congress leadership and base. The British were stunned. And then a violent incident in Chauri Chaura saw Gandhi withdraw the movement on principle, much to the disappointment of even his colleagues.
    In this episode, the historian Aditya Mukherjee brings alive the mood in India during those turbulent years when the nation stopped cooperating with the Empire, explains the wider significance of the movement, and defends the Mahatma’s decision to call it off.

  • Even as nationalist consciousness was growing, the British decided to embark on what was arguably one of the most coercive phases of colonial rule. In 1919, soon after the First World War ended, the British introduced the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, popularly called the Rowlatt Acts. The new legislation provided for indefinite preventive detention. It imposed controls on free speech and the free press. It violated every tenet of a rule-of-law-based society.

    But this attack on civil liberties led to an upsurge. As the Mahatma called for a Satyagraha, Punjab emerged as a site of resistance and repression. And it was here, in April 1919, that the British showed their most brutal avatar, massacring hundreds of unarmed civilians who had congregated at Jallianwala Bagh in the cruellest fashion possible.

    In this episode, Durba Ghosh, the Cornell historian and author of Gentlemanly Terrorists: Political Violence and the Colonial State in India, 1919-1947, takes us through Britain’s coercive machinery and how the Amritsar massacre transformed Indian nationalism.

  • 1915 marked a decisive turn in India’s freedom struggle. And that wasn’t because of anything the British did. It wasn’t because of anything that the Congress did. It was because one man returned to India after close to two and a half decades abroad. That man was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. And his return, his political philosophy, his techniques of mobilisation, his most unusual political style, and his ability to connect with the masses altered the trajectory of British colonialism and the Indian nationalist movement.

    In South Africa, the Mahatma had conceptualised the idea of satyagraha; he had committed himself to the ideas of truth and non-violence; he had led agitations against British rule in South Africa. But who was this man? Why did he return? What did he do after returning? And why did he choose a remote district in Bihar, Champaran, as the first site of his struggle?

    In this episode, the great historian and the Mahatma’s grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, brings alive Gandhi’s evolution in South Africa, his vision for the Indian freedom struggle, and his first mass-based intervention in Indian politics — the Champaran Satyagraha.

  • Just a decade after the Partition of Bengal, and the sharpening of the Hindu-Muslim divide, there was a moment of unity — a unity made possible by a pact between the Congress and the Muslim League in Lucknow in 1916. The Congress agreed to the idea of separate electorates and demanded that one-third of the seats in the imperial and provincial legislative councils should be for Muslims. In turn, Muslim League agreed with Congress’s demand for an increase in the number of elected seats in the Council and greater autonomy for provinces.

    For the first time in the 20th century, Hindus and Muslims presented a common front, a common set of demands to the British. But was the Lucknow pact an exhilarating moment of unity? Or did it sow the seeds for further division? What led to the pact and what were its implications?

    In this episode, historian Mridula Mukherjee joins HT to take us through the history of the British strategy to deepen religious divisions and how Indian nationalists formed a common front.

  • 1905 saw a change in the direction of India’s nationalist struggle and deepened a communal divide that would haunt India for decades to come. The reason: Lord Curzon, the imperial Viceroy decided it was time to divide British India’s largest province, the Bengal Presidency. The Partition of Bengal was an attempt to divide the Hindu-majority west and the Muslim-dominated east. A year later, the British encouraged the formation of the All-Indian Muslim League. And in 1909, the Raj introduced separate electorates — a move that would cement a separate Muslim political identity, and eventually, Muslim separatist politics.

    But the Partition of Bengal also galvanized Indian nationalists, furious at the British divide and rule strategy. New forms of protest, from calls for a boycott to the advocacy of swadeshi, emerged. The differences between extremists and moderates sharpened, but Indian nationalist political opinion was united — the Partition was wrong. In 1911, the British reversed the decision, but they had sown the seeds of the eventual partition in the east, four decades later.

    In this episode, Bhaswati Mukherjee, a former Indian Foreign Service officer and author of the book on the Partition of Bengal, takes us through the roots of that fateful decision and its impact.

  • It had been three decades since the mutiny. It was a period of gloom, as the Crown consolidated its rule, caring little for the well-being of Indians. But a set of early Indian nationalists and a somewhat unusual British reformer came together in Bombay in 1885 to set up what was to become the primary vehicle of India’s political aspirations — the Indian National Congress.

    In the early years, Congress sought reforms and increased political voice for Indians, within the British Empire. Its leaders, especially the remarkable Dadabhai Nauroji, exposed Britain’s great drain of wealth from India through economic exploitation. But as British repression continued, and Indian nationalist tempo increased, the party slowly saw a division between moderates and extremists, with the latter arguing that it was time to assert and confront the Raj.

    In this episode, Dinyar Patel, a Harvard-trained historian and an accomplished biographer of Nauroji, brings alive the early years of Indian nationalism and the birth of one of the world’s premier political organizations — the Indian National Congress.

  • The summer of 1857 changed the course of Indian history. For over a century, the East India Company had been expanding its territorial economic control over India. The Company used coercion, deception, and cooption, and appeared invincible.

    But beneath the surface of deceptive calm, there was discontent against what was the foreign corporate rule. From soldiers to peasants, princely rulers to landlords, Hindus to Muslims, the most unlikely of allies came together to wage the most powerful rebellion that the nation had seen. The British, with the utmost cruelty, succeeded in repressing the uprising. But Company Raj ended, giving way to the Crown.

    In this episode, William Dalrymple, the author of The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857, joins HT to discuss the Mutiny, its roots, its significance, and how it changed the British colonial architecture in India.

  • India’s freedom struggle is a story of evolution and revolution. It is a story of elite leadership and mass movements. It is a story of the most remarkable and successful non-violent struggle in global history wearing down the most powerful Empire the world has seen through the power of truth. It is a story of repression and revolt. It is a story of failures and successes. It is a story of unity and fragmentation.

    But fundamentally, it is a story of an ancient civilization and a new republic finding its voice.

    To mark India@75, HT’s new special podcast series takes you through 12 key moments of the freedom struggle, spread over 90 years, from the Mutiny of 1857 to the Naval Mutiny of 1946. Join some of India’s most distinguished historians and writers, in conversation with HT senior editor Prashant Jha, as they look back at the era of early nationalism, the British strategies of divide and rule and repression, the rise of the Mahatma and his mass movements, and help answer that fundamental question: How did India gain Azadi from the brutal and repressive colonial empire? Listen in as we introduce our series.