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Remembering the Red Fort trials that tipped India towards complete freedom 

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Despite warnings, the British government went ahead with the trials of INA soldiers, sparking demonstrations across the country.

New Delhi: It was the trials that galvanised a country and strengthened its resolve to gain complete Independence. On this day in 1945, the British Army launched the first of the trials against captured members of the Subhas Chandra Bose-led Indian National Army (INA).

The colonial government had been warned against holding the trials but it went ahead, believing that a majority of Indians would think of the INA personnel as traitors.

First in the dock were three top captured INA members, Shahnawaz Khan, Prem Sahgal and Gurbaksh Dhillon. They were jointly charged with waging war against the nation (Section 121 of IPC) and were individually charged for murder and abetment to murder.

But the ensuing media attention of the case, also called the Red Fort trials, resulted in many Indians getting acquainted with a force that had fought for independence. It led to sympathy for the INA across the country, and before long, demonstrations began springing up in different parts in solidarity with the captured troops.

The Congress also took notice of the widespread support for the INA soldiers and realised that this could be a way to reignite the enthusiasm and hunger in the country for independence.

Congress leader and the country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, also got on board the INA officers’ legal defence team, along with party colleague Bhulabhai Desai and barrister Tej Bahadur Sapru.

The team put up an impeccable defence, arguing that the actions of the INA troops were legal and within the terms of the Indian National Army Act, and thus exempt from the Indian Penal Code and the Indian Army Act.

A vast number of prosecution witnesses were also called to give evidence about the growth of INA and its importance and the role that the three prosecuted members played within the organisation, as well as for the country’s freedom struggle.

As compelling as the arguments of the defence were, the three INA members were found guilty of waging a war. They were, however, not given the death sentence but dismissed from service and handed transportation for life, which too was remitted. The three INA members were then released and welcomed as heroes, with the Congress showing full support in the celebration.

Also read: Remembering Capt. Lakshmi, freedom fighter & social activist, on her 6th death anniversary

Trials continue, lead to revolts

The release of the three, however, did not result in the rest of the captured INA troops going on trial.

Although the British Indian Army was recommended to cease the trials, as it could lead to mutinies, the force’s then commander-in-chief, Claude Auchinleck, decided to go ahead with the rest of them.

This led to the loyalties of the serving Indian Armymen shifting towards the country as the majority turned nationalist. The resistance of Indian armed forces to British pressure kept growing, as well as their loyalties towards the nation.

In January 1946, a massive strike was imposed by officers and pilots of Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF). By February, the ships of Royal Indian Navy (RIN) also joined the mutiny. Civilians in Mumbai joined the strikes as well.

Also read: 50 years before 1857, a mutiny on this day shook British rule in India

This was a clear sign of mass mutiny to the British government, which resulted in the final dialogue of independence between the British government and India.

The freedom struggle, for which the INA was conceived, finally came to fruition two years after the Red Fort trials. As Bose had predicted, “when the British government is thus attacked… from inside India and from outside — it will collapse, and the Indian people will then regain their freedom”.

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