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

Historical, Political, Economic, Religious and Architectural Aspects


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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Towards Freedom: the Making of a History


The theme of this article is how the Towards Freedom series took shape as a counterpoint to the Transfer of Power series published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office since 19701. British Prime Minister Wilson had announced the publication of records on transfer of power on the twentieth anniversary of Indian independence and British departure. These were selections from historical records from the official holdings made by an editorial team headed by Nicholas Mansergh, widely recognized as an authority in Commonwealth history. The timing of the publication was such that there was widespread interest, both academic and popular, in the end of empire and the attainment of independence by colonies across several continents, Asia, America and Africa. These volumes, eventually numbering twelve for India for the period 1942 to 1947, were limited in the sources they self-confessedly drew upon, to the official papers of His Majesty’s Government pertaining to the constitutional relations between the colony and the metropolitan power.

The raison d’être of the Towards Freedom series conceived by the Indian government, and entrusted to the Indian Council of Historical Research for its execution, was to go beyond the limited perspective of transfer of power to a broader perspective of seeing independence as the culmination of the multifaceted struggle for independence. Diverse sections of society had participated in the struggle, with working class movements intertwined with peasant rebellions, among others. Whereas the Transfer of Power series interpreted the British departure as primarily voluntarist2, for which the...

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