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The Story that led to India’s Freedom

On this 75th Independence day, let’s remember famous lawyers and leaders who left an imprint and later paved the way for freedom in 1947.

Here is the story of Bhulabhai Desai, a lawyer with assistance of Nehru and Tej Bahadur Sapru set a precedent for India towards its freedom.

Born into an agricultural family in Gujarat, to Jivan Ji Desai and Ramabai Desai, grew to be a freedom activist as well as a lawyer. Before entering the Judiciary, Desai worked as a professor in Gujarat, teaching his favourite subjects English and History.

As a working professor, he registered as an advocate in Bombay High Court. Desai gained stardom in no time, where his memory, effort, photographic memory and unique approach to cases, made him stand out from the crowd.

Before taking up cases of prominence, Mr. Desai represented Gujarat farmers against an inquiry by the British government where the latter revised the revenue as well as returned the seized land of the farmers. During this Satyagraha, Desai met and became close to Sardar Vallabhai Patel.

He was famously known for the defence of INA (Indian National Army) soldiers led by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. This case was seen as a crucial juncture for India’s Independence. Desai joined congress because he was very much intrigued by Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement to boycott British goods and promote indigenous mills.

Desai also advocated for the Government of India Act, 1935 and was elected as the majority leader of the Central Assembly. “Unless it is India’s war, it is impossible that you will get India’s support,” said Desai which caused him to go to prison under the Defence Act and later released due to poor health.

 He also played a significant role in negotiating terms between Congress and Muslim League (Desai- Liaquat pact) to form a government. He kept Congress in dark about the negotiations and denial by Muslim Leauge to make a pact. Also due to the worsening of health of Mr. Desai led to no ticket in the upcoming elections.

As a member of the Indian National Congress, he was appointed to the defence committee by Nehru where the British tried the soldiers for “treason”.

With deteriorating health and a tattered reputation, he took the case with utmost responsibility. The hearing of three INA officers, Shahnawaz Khan, Prem Sahgal and Gurbaksh Dhillon took place at Red Fort in October 1945 and was assisted by Jawaharlal Nehru, KN Katju, Tej Bahadur Sapru. They were charged on multiple grounds for inciting war against the nation, murder, assisting in murder etc.

 As the whole nation was awaiting the trial the congress lawyer knew it was a vain attempt even before the start of it. But he defended the three accused knowing it will be useful in the long run for freedom.

The famous line of Desai goes…. “I am your Defence counsel, you will be either saved or sentenced but we will not compromise on the ideals for which your leader Netaji and your army stood for”.

He argued beautifully using powerful statements and tactics, quoting international law. This case got popular among the Indian crowd which led to empathising with the INA. This caused the uprising of many protests and demonstrations across the country in solidarity with the army. Congress took advantage of this opportunity to ignite the movements for freedom.

The exceptional defence by Desai and assistance from Nehru, Tej Bahadur put the British on deadlock and caused the removal of death sentences, but the soldiers were dismissed from the service and given lifetime imprisonment.

Later, they were remitted and brought back by fellow Indians and hailed as heroes. This trail has given an ample amount of popularity to Desai. These trials led to mutiny and pressure on the British government increased tremendously.

This further led to strikes and resulted in a discussion between the British and Indian freedom fighters. This cascaded into India’s Independence in 1947.

Mr. Desai died a year before Independence. He met Gandhi and Shahnawaz khan on his deathbed. He believed that freedom will surely be achieved one day. A year later, India got its Independence attaining the unfulfilled dreams of the leaders, freedom fighters, sacrifices of martyrs and the struggle of every common citizen of India.

Niharika G
Niharika G

The author is an avid blogger and likes to write on subject matters related to Law, Politics and matters of Constitutional importance.

Niharika G
Niharika G
The author is an avid blogger and likes to write on subject matters related to Law, Politics and matters of Constitutional importance.


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