Rebecca Martinez 18 November 2012 Professor Sutherland ANTH 4002 World War II’s Impact on the Indian Independence Movement The success of the Indian Independence movement is, by some scholars, largely attributed to efforts of Mahatma Gandhi. As stated by BBC, “Gandhi was the leader of the Indian nationalist movement against British rule, and is widely considered the father of his country” (India. wikia. com). However, this revolutionary movement, a dream that had been growing since the mid nineteenth century, was the infusion of a wide spectrum of Indian political organizations, philosophies, and rebellions.
For example, the events and aftermath of the Second World War posed an economic crisis and political confrontation that transformed nationalism and colonialism for many colonies, including India. Even less credit is given to the various international events that shaped the movement, as well as those involved. Regardless of the divisions in Indian nationalist efforts, both in support and against violence, they all contained one common goal: independence from Britain.
Were historians correct in their proposition that India’s independence was largely attributed to Gandhi’s peaceful anti-war efforts, or were Gandhi’s strategies ultimately ineffective? If proven effective, should India’s rapid progress in independence during World War II be seen as affected most by Gandhi, or were bigger actors involved? I believe that the source of India’s successes in their 100-year struggle for independence should not be correlated with one man.
Rather, by paying close attention to key events, powerful political players, critical economic changes, and motivating political factors from around the globe during this period, historians will gain a better understanding of how India’s independence movement was rapidly accelerated, and ultimately successful, during the period surrounding World War II. When war initially broke out in September of 1939, Britain’s grip on India was as fierce and stubborn as ever (Bose and Jalal, 130).
Although Congress leadership in India implored Great Britain to define their war aim before declaring India’s support, viceroy Linlithgow avowed the British Indian Empire a belligerent against the axis powers without consulting prominent Indian leaders (Bose and Jalal, 130). Once it became clear that the British were unconcerned with Indian nationalist aspirations, the entire Congress leadership resigned from the local government councils in protest. However, this protest was not simply an opposition to Britain’s decision.
Many Indian nationalists believed that Britain’s fight for democracy and freedom in the Second World War contradicted their rule over a multitude of colonies (wiki. com). Mahatma Gandhi, for example, termed Britain’s “war to save democracy” as hypocrisy since it was denying democratic rights and individual liberties to Indians (wiki. com). Despite the atrocities faced by Indians under British rule, many Indians supported the British war effort and fought with the Allied Forces.
In hopes that the British would leave India after the Second World War, the Indian National Congress cooperated with the British war efforts, making the British Indian Army was one of the largest volunteer forces during the war (India. wikia. com). However, when it became clear the Britain had no intention of relenting their hold India after the war, Gandhi called for a determined but passive resistance to foster a peaceful negotiation with the British government.
Ultimately, Gandhi and the Congress Party proposed a “Quit India Movement,” which declared that if the British did not accede to the demands for Indian independence, a massive Civil Disobedience would be launched (Bose and Jalal, 133). However, once Britain arrested the top Congress Party leaders, the Quit India Movement fizzed out entirely before it even had a chance to gather steam.
That being said, although Mahatma Gandhi’s initial civil disobedience movements were driving forces that ultimately shaped the cultural, religious, and political unity of a Indian diverse nation, they did not have a significant impact on Indian independence following the Second World War. Although history’s spotlight for Indian nationalist ideas during this time is set on Gandhi, the fight for freedom during World War II saw the rise of two independence movements. Some leaders of the revolutionary Indian independence movement collaborated with the Axis powers to overthrow the British Raj.
Although largely ignored by historians, the Azad Hind movement, in collaboration with Japanese forces, successfully created the Indian National Army in 1942. Indian military alliances with Axis nations also included the Legion Freies Indien in Nazi Germany and the Battaglione Azad Hindoustan in Fascist Italy (wiki. com). Although Adolf Hitler saw Indians as racially inferior and had no interest in India’s future, he believed that if India gained its independence it could become a valuable ally of the Axis powers and help it gain dominance in the Indian Ocean area (Kumar).
As a result, Germany and Japan actively provided support to Indian independence movement leaders. The Indian Nation Army, led by Subhash Chandra Bose, was based on the principle that “An enemy’s enemy is a friend” (India. wikia. com). Bose also formed what came to be known as the Azad Hind Government, with Indian prisoners of war and Indian expatriates in South-East Asia, with the help of the Japanese (Bose and Jalal, 134). Its aim was to reach India as a fighting force that would build on public resentment to inspire revolts among Indian soldiers to defeat the Raj (Bose and Jalal, 134).
However, due to poor arms and supplies from the Japanese and lack of support and training, the Indian National Army and entire Azad Hind ultimately failed. Although defeated, Bose’s initiative gave hope to the Indian public and turned the support and loyalty of the native soldiers of the British Indian Forces from the crown to the Indian National Army soldiers. In doing so, the British Army, whose ultimate goal was to replace the loyalty of Indian soldiers to the crown, was replaced by the Indian National Army (Bose and Jalal, 134).
Bose also succeeded in developing a larger participation and unity in the Indian community, one that crossed religious and gender boundaries, than Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India movement. In his book The Indian Struggle, Bose described his first meeting with Gandhi in 1921, “there was a deplorable lack of clarity in the plan which the Mahatma had formulated and that he himself had no clear idea of the successive stages of the campaign which would bring India to her cherished goal of freedom” (Kumar).
However, although Bose’s efforts did aid India’s independence movement, it did not create an impact large enough for historians to declare its actions as the main source of India’s accelerated independence. The most effective factor in Indian independence during World War II, therefore, could not have been the result of Indian nationalist efforts. It was British prime minister Clement Atlee who, when granting independence to India, said that Gandhi’s non-violence movement had next to zero effect on the British.
In corroboration, Chief Justice P. B. Chakrabarty of the Kolkata High Court, disclosed the following in a letter addressed to the publisher of Ramesh Chandra Majumdar’s book A History of Bengal, “You have fulfilled a noble task by persuading Dr. Majumdar to write this history of Bengal and publishing it … In the preface of the book Dr. Majumdar has written that he could not accept the thesis that Indian independence was brought about solely, or predominantly by the non-violent civil disobedience movement of Gandhi.
When I was the acting Governor, Lord Atlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing the British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor’s palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi’s “Quit India” movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave?
In his reply Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji [Subhash Chandra Bose]. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee’s lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, “m-i-n-i-m-a-l! ”(Kumar).
In reality, the political confrontations and negotiations between Indian nationalists and the British were immensely influenced by an atmosphere of deepening economic crisis. In the aftermath of World War II, Britain’s economy was destroyed to such an extent that they were no longer able to financially maintain their military forces, making Great Britain incapable of containing the incessant freedom movements in their colonies. Therefore, due to its collapsed economy, Great Britain would have left India much later than they did after World War II, regardless of Gandhi, Bose, or any nationalist leader.
The most influential character in India’s independence, therefore, would evidently be Adolf Hitler. Despite his selfish reasons for war, Hitler inadvertently created the perfect economic atmosphere needed for the Indian Independence Movement to take flight. Had Hitler not begun World War II, India’s independence, with only nationalist determination as a driving force, would most probably have taken much longer than it did. In the aftermath of World War II, India had increased its political, economic and military influence, which paved the way for its independence from Great Britain in 1947.
Although the main factor in Britain’s retreat in India was its economic turmoil, India would not have been able to create or sustain a healthy economy, government, or military without the help of key nationalist leaders. For example, previous tensions between Indian castes were eased by Gandhi, who launched the Haijan movement, a campaign to improve the lives of the untouchables, whom he named Harijans, the children of God. Gandhi also influenced India’s blossoming political ideology. According to Jim Yardley, “Gandhi is given full credit for India’s political identity as a tolerant, secular democracy. Likewise, Indian military precedent was also set by Bose in his creation of the Indian National Army. Bose also succeeded in uniting various religious entities in India. For example, when he first three of Bose’s officers to be tried were a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Sikh, Indians of all three religions became united against the British in a national movement against the Indian National Army officers’ trial (india. wikia. com). Nationalist efforts, specifically Mahatma Gandhi, may have not been the leading force in India’s independence in 1947, but it did make independence easier. British historians P.
J. Cain and A. G. Hopkins described the hopeless situation of the British in India as follows, “By the end of war, there was a loss of purpose at the very center of the imperial system. The gentlemanly administrators who managed the Raj no longer had the heart to devise new moves against increasing odds, not least because after 1939 the majority of the Indian Civil Service were themselves Indian. In 1945 the new Viceroy, Wavell, commented on the “weakness and weariness of the importance of the instrument still our disposal in the shape of the British element in the Indian Civil Service.
The town had been lost to opponents of the Raj; the countryside had slipped beyond control. Widespread discontent in the army was followed in 1946 by a mutiny in the navy. It was then Wavell, the unfortunate messenger, reported to London that India had become ungovernable [which finally led to the independence of India” (Kumar). Furthermore, although the Indian Independence Movement was greatly hastened by Britain’s economic crisis posed during the aftermath of World War II, India’s identity would not be the same without the influential works of Indian nationalists. Works Cited:
Bose, Sugata & Jalal, Ayesha. 2011, Modern South Asia: History, Culture Political Economy, Third Edition. Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, London and New York. http://india. wikia. com/wiki/Indian_Independence_Movement http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/India_in_World_War_II Kumar, Susmit. 2012. ‘Hitler, NOT Gandhi, Should Be Given Credit for the Independence of India in 1947’, [Online] Available at: http://www. susmitkumar. net/index. php? option=com_content&view=article&id=100&Itemid=86 Yardley, Jim. 2010, ‘Obama Invokes Gandhi, Whose Ideal Eludes India. ’ New York Times. 6, Nov.
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