18 November 2012
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...