Demand of the question:
It expects students to write about the change in attitude of contemporary political leadership towards India’s participation in WWII from the approach of WWI.
Indian freedom struggle passed through different phases after each World War. The First World War gave perspective to Indian leadership on politics at the world stage whereas the Second World War provided actual opportunity to contemporary political leadership to play an active role to achieve freedom with the help of prevalent situations.
Attitude of contemporary political leadership about India’s participation during WWI:
In the First World War (1914-1919), Britain allied with France, Russia, USA, Italy and Japan against Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. This period saw the maturing of Indian nationalism.
- Expectation of reward in response to service during emergency need of empire: All the believers in Swadeshi and swaraj it as opportunity to convince colonial leadership about Indian concerns of self government.
- Divided or weak congress at the start of WWI: Congress was not revived to its pre 1907 spirit and energy till start of WWI. Its stand on the issue of participation was pacifist rather than aggressive.
- Moderates supported the empire in the war as a matter of duty; Extremists, including Tilak who was released in June 1914, supported the war efforts in the mistaken belief that Britain would repay India’s loyalty with gratitude in the form of self-government. The Home Rule Movement was the Indian response to the First World War in a less charged way.
- Nationalists believed it will provide an opportunity to boost nationalist sentiment among soldiers as they will experience the freedom of European countries and opportunity to use prisoners of war of enemy nations to plot a coup against the colonial government in India.
- The revolutionaries decided to utilise the opportunity to wage a war on British rule and liberate the country. The Indian supporters of British war efforts failed to see that the imperialist powers were fighting to safeguard their own colonies and markets. During the First World War, the Jugantar party arranged to import German arms and ammunition through sympathisers and revolutionaries abroad for ‘German Plot’ or the ‘Zimmerman Plan’. The Jugantar party raised funds through a series of dacoities which came to be known as taxicab dacoities and boat dacoities, so as to work out the Indo-German conspiracy. During the First World War, Rash behari Bose was involved as one of the leading figures of the Ghadr Revolution.
- War was seen by Indian capitalist class as mean to benefit as supply lines of continental Europe was disturbed due to war.
Changed attitude of contemporary political leadership:
- Gandhiji at the start of the war: Gandhi, who had all sympathy for Britain in this war because of his total dislike of the fascist ideology, advocated unconditional support to the Allied powers. He made a clear distinction between the democratic nations of Western Europe and the totalitarian Nazis and fascists. He said that he was not willing to embarrass the British government during the war.
- Gandhiji after Cripps mission decided to adopt more extremist stand of launching Quit India movement and refused to formally call off movement despite of violence.
- Influence of Socialism: Rise of socialism in 1920s due to disillusion created by abrupt end of Non cooperation movement and influence of Russian revolution. Subhash Bose and other socialists, such as Acharya Narendra Dev and Jayaprakash Narayan had no sympathy for either side in the war.
- Understanding of colonial nature of rule: Contemporary political leadership understood; war was being fought by imperialists on both sides; each side wanted to protect its colonial possessions and gain more territories to colonise, so neither side should be supported by the nationalists. In fact, they thought it was the ideal time to launch a civil disobedience movement, to thus take advantage of the situation and snatch freedom from Britain.
- Middle path of Jawaharlal Nehru and insistence on Purn Swaraj i.e. complete independence: He was not ready to accept the opinion of either Gandhi or of the socialists. He was clear in his mind about the difference between democratic values and fascism. He believed that justice was on the side of Britain, France and Poland, but he also believed that Britain and France were imperialist powers. He, therefore, advocated no Indian participation till India itself was free. However, at the same time, no advantage was to be taken of Britain’s difficulty by starting an immediate civil disobedience movement.
Contemporary congress leadership condemned Fascist aggression and also stressed that India could not be party to a war being fought, on the face of it, for democratic freedom, while that freedom was being denied to India.
The First World War started the phase of nationwide mass movements in India, returned soldiers spread the stories of different free nations among masses, while Second World War hastened the process of India’s independence with all out efforts from INA on the external front and Quit India on domestic front.