[Editorial Analysis]Renaming islands in Andamans obscures complex loyalties, horrific memories

Mains Paper 2: Indian History

Prelims level: INA

Mains level: Post-independence India

Context

• On December 30, 2018, three islands of the Andaman group were renamed. The Ross Island as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Dweep, Neil Island as Shaheed Dweep and Havelock Island as Swaraj Dweep.

• The renaming commemorates Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s visit to the Andamans as the commander of the Azad Hind Fauj (INA) in December 1943.

• This was during World War II when the Japanese had occupied the Islands as allies of INA.

• They had wrested control from the British who had colonised the Islands in 1858. Although mistakenly assumed to be a consequence of the Revolt of 1857.

• The colonisation of the Andamans was an outcome of the oceanic politics of the Raj and its need for a strategic foothold in the Bay of Bengal.

Historical evidence

• Historical evidence points in the direction of Bose’s visit has been stage-managed by the Japanese generals stationed on the Andamans. However, what could Bose have done had he known?

• Was he really in a position to challenge the only allies he had?

• After all, the loss of lives of the local Andamanese was small compared to the INA soldiers who were willingly laying down their lives for India’s independence.

• I had met local people who would have liked to see Neil and Havelock islands renamed (not Ross Island as it was named after Sir Ronald Ross, the discoverer of mosquito transmission of malaria”) because they were named after two British officers James Neil and Henry Havelock who were infamous for their role in the Revolt of 1857. But I am not sure if they had wished them to be changed to commemorate Netaji.

• The Andaman Islands became part of the Indian Republic with Partition.

• Mountbatten handed them to Nehru, despite Jinnah’s repeated claims, because in his view the Republic of India was the inheritor of the legacy of nationalist struggle and thereby of the Andamans, which were a sacred symbol of this struggle.

• It’s a different matter that Mountbatten had hoped to use the Islands’ as a British naval base.

Way forward

• The inclusion of the Andamans in the Indian Union was thus the culmination of a century-long process, beginning with its colonisation in 1858 and then with imprisonment of the Indian revolutionaries in the Cellular Jail from 1910 onwards.

• The experiences of the revolutionaries, who were numerically minuscule in comparison to the settlers, forged and immortalised a monochromatic image of the Islands as a muktitirth, sacred site of nationalism.

• This image shrouded the history of the indigenous Andamanese, the ordinary convicts, their descendants, and settler communities who made it their home.

• This image continues to be reproduced with the naming of the Port Blair airport after Savarkar and the installation of his statue inside the Cellular Jail by the Vajpayee government and now with the renamings.

• The irony is the more we rename the more we erase; and what gets swept away is not the Mughal or the British master’s history, but our own past.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Consider the following statements about the views of Subhash Chandra Bose.

1. Bose considered industrialization as a potent factor in making India strong and self-sufficient.

2. Bose did not share Gandhian ideal of “Ahmisa”.
Which of the above is/are correct?

a) 1 only

b) 2 only

c) Both 1 and 2

d) None

Correct Answer: C

Mains Questions:

Q.1) The irony is the more we rename the more we erase; and what gets swept away is not the Mughal or the British master’s history, but our own past. Briefly examine the statement.

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