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Decolonization and the Struggle for National Liberation in India (1909–1971)

Historical, Political, Economic, Religious and Architectural Aspects

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Edited By Thierry Di Costanzo and Guillaume Ducœur

At the end of the First World War, the Raj remained economically or even strategically more central than ever in the general colonial architecture of the British Empire. Yet, between the two World Wars, the colonial regime hung only by a thread when confronted with the rising popularity of the nationalist movements. As a result, independence was granted in 1947 to this major component of the Empire, a truly cataclysmic event for the remainder of the world. This reality conflicts with the idea that a well-managed, peaceful decolonization process was launched by the British authorities. The independence of British India proceeded at the same speed as the Partition of British India which had both immediate and distant, but surely terrible, consequences like the 1971 war with Pakistan over Bangladesh.
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Unanticipated Catastrophe: Bengal in the 1940’s

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Introduction

Whether empire was created in a ‘fit of absent-mindedness’ or happened to be part of some benevolent project on ‘civilizing mission’, its denouement might well reveal another dimension of colonial rule–that when exit appeared imminent, empire could be left to lurch, perhaps in another fit of absent-mindedness! In the historiography of decolonization1 there are dimensions which need to be re-visited both from the purely academic and administrative/management angles. Study of the past may not be entirely devoid of an applied dimension!

This paper looks back to the late colonial India, to see why even the best-managed systems go off the rails causing disastrous consequences which perhaps were avoidable or would have perhaps passed off with lesser damages only if they could have been anticipated2. The paper seeks to examine the failure of the much vaunted British administration with its ‘steel frame” (the Indian Civil Service), the Indian Police, the provincial civil services, and the intelligence network to anticipate the cataclysmic events, and take timely preventive/remedial measures. Alertness might have saved thousands of lives, prevent panicky mass exodus of millions of people, enormous destruction of properties and myriad other socio-religious problems like forced conversion/marriages of hapless women etc. Though the army used to be deployed at times, but it was often requisitioned late, and by then colossal damages had already been caused. ← 169 | 170 →

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