If India was not granted independence in August 1947, would Ceylon have gained freedom from British occupation on February 4, 1948?

By Sunil Kumar

No; most probably. The Indian empire was the foundation for most of British expansion in South Asia as well as East Asia(Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Opium wars in China etc).

The “Jewel in the Crown” was important to Britain strategically and psychologically. The precise reason why the Victorian imperialist Churchill was so fervently critical of Indian nationalists.

Post World-War II; a Labour government under Attlee was sworn in; and the economic devastation of World War II coupled with rising unrest and a probable revolt by Indian armed forces made the British reconsider their sly myopic reneging on promises in World War I.

If you think this is a “Indian” perspective on things; yes and no. Consider the track record of Britain after the independence and partition of the erstwhile British Indian empire. Myanmar(present-day Burma) also gained its independence in 1948; Malaya(Malaysia) in 1957; Singapore and Kenya in 1963; and Hong Kong in 1997.

From the above partial list; it is clear that the British Empire held on to smaller countries for longer. The Chinese economy was smaller than India in 1978; and the dynamic transformation of the country after Japanese, Taiwanese and Western investment and increasing assertiveness post 90s forced the British to honour their 99-year old lease agreement with Qing China. Historical note: Hong Kong and Kowloon had been given to the British in perpetuity; while the New Territories were on a 99-year lease. Due to impracticality and rising Chinese economic and military power; Britain thought it best to give back the island.

Now for Ceylon and its independence movement. Although its proximity to India is also an important factor; British and Dutch colonization in Sri Lanka; the Buddhist majority; smaller size compared to India; and its unique plantation economy created a wholly different set of factors.

Anagrika Dharmapala, the Ceylon National Congress, Youth Leagues and Communist parties were observing what was happening across the Palk Strait in mainland India and themselves seething with resentment against the Empire.

British defeats in World War II enthused many independence activists; and there was even a “Lanka” regiment in Bose’s “Indian National Army”.

With the defeat of Germany in World War II; the British once again tried to continue with their carefully cultivated myopia for indigenous freedom struggles; but faced with their gradual erosion of power; loss of control in India and increasing dissatisfaction locally decided to give Ceylon independence(dominion status) in 1948.

This long historical brief left aside; summing up; I think Indian independence was a very important catalyst; or a prime motive factor for London to give Ceylon freedom.

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