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The decisive shift in British Policy really came about under mass pressure in the autumn and winter of 1945 to 46 – the months which Perderel Moon while editing Wavell’s Journal has perceptively described as ‘The Edge of a Volcano’. Very foolishly, the British initially decided to hold public trials of several hundreds of the 20,000 I.N.A. prisoners (as well as dismissing from service and detaining without trial no less than 7,000). They compounded the folly by holding the first trial in the Red Fort, Delhi in November 1945, and putting on the dock together a Hindu, a Muslim and a Sikh (P.K. Sehgal, Shah Nawaz, Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon). Bhulabhai Desai, Tejbahadur Sapru and Nehru appeared for the defence (the latter putting on his barrister’s gown after 25 years), and the Muslim League also joined the countrywide protest. On 20 November, an Intelligence Bureau note admitted that “there has seldom been a matter which has attracted so much Indian public interest and, it is safe to say, sympathy … this particular brand of sympathy cuts across communal barriers.’ A journalist (B. Shiva Rao) visiting the Red Fort prisoners on the same day reported that ‘There is not the slightest feeling among them of Hindu and Muslim … A majority of the men now awaiting trial in the Red Fort is Muslim. Some of these men are bitter that Mr. Jinnah is keeping alive a controversy about Pakistan.’ The British became extremely nervous about the I.N.A. spirit spreading to the Indian Army, and in January
the Punjab Governor reported that a Lahore reception for released I.N.A. prisoners had been attended by Indian soldiers in uniform.
The trial of P.K. Sehgal, Shah Nawaz and Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon symbolises