The issues in this
war are being increasingly clearly realized; even the ignorant and the prejudiced recognize today that these issues can be
grouped under three major positions, and this enables them to make a personal choice as to loyalties.
The democratic position, with its emphasis upon the
Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter, ensuring right human relations and the ending of aggression.
The totalitarian position, with its emphasis upon world
dictatorship, the slavery of the many conquered nations, its anti-racial bias and its blatant cruelty and terrorism.
The appeasement and the pacifist attitudes - idealistic
and impractical and finding their focus today in the attitude of Gandhi. He brings into clear perspective the uncompromising,
fanatical attitude which is non-realistic and which will willingly sacrifice lives, nations and the future of humanity in
order to attain its object.
If Gandhi were to succeed in his objective now, it
would precipitate civil war in India, sacrifice all immediate hope of freedom for that country, permit the Japanese to realize
an easy conquest of India, bring about a slaughtering of countless thousands, and permit Germany to join hands with Japan
across Asia, with the appalling probability of a totalitarian victory. EXT 368.
JC. Indian Revolutionary Chandra Bose in colaberation
with the German Forces the SS no less, formed the Free India Legion. Which, ultimatly led to the British becoming aware that
the Indian army could no longer be trusted by the Raj to be loyal, independence soon followed. As DK mentioned, this originally
inspired probably by Gandhi's stance, led to the early and forced withdrawel of the British rule and so terminated ubruptly
the experiment in bringing a unified democracy to India. The subsequent troubled state of affairs between India and Pakistan,
their tension between a premature democracy and a Communist backed Pakistan are well documented.
As quoted from the BBC doc below... "By the end of
1941, Hitler's regime officially recognised his provisional "Free India Government."
'On August 14, 1947 India partitioned and a new theocratic
state of Pakistan was created. Both India and Pakistan claim all of Kashmir but the territory has been partitioned since 1947.
India controls most of Kashmir but Pakistan still claims it. India sent its troops over to Kashmir to defend its territory.
But by the time they did that Pakistan had already captured a large chunk of the region. This act started a localized warfare
that lasted through 1948. India and Pakistan decided on a ceasefire line that divided the two countries in 1949. Which left
Kashmir a divided and disturbed territory.' http://tps.dpi.state.nc.us/connectasia/kashmir/kashmir_history.htm
Gandhi and World War II
Gandhi never quite seemed
to realize that the non-violence he urged against the British would have failed horribly if applied to the Nazis. He urged
the British to surrender, and suggested that the Czechs and even the Jews would have been better off committing heroic mass
Even as late as June 1946, when the extent of the Holocaust
had emerged, Gandhi told biographer Louis Fisher: "The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They should
have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs."
As the Japanese advanced into Burma (now called Myanmar),
there was a real possibility of an Axis invasion of India. Gandhi thought it was best to let the Japanese take as much of
India as they wanted, and that the best way to resist would be to "make them feel unwanted."
(In fact, the Axis was helping a buddy of Gandhi's
to raise an army of Indians that would have seized the country from the Brits, but that's another story.) www.
PROGRAMME 4: Monday 20th September 2004
Housed in a vault in an obscure music library in Germany
is a recording by a Luftwaffe Orchestra of the current Indian National Anthem.
This would not be noteworthy except for the year 1942,
which is clearly written on the old vinyl disc. This was in the middle of World War 2 and not a time for jolly renditions
of other countries national songs.
Not, that is, unless it was the anthem of an ally.
Yet India at that time was ruled by Germany's enemy, Britain and still swayed to the tune of God Save the King. So what was
Mike Thomson investigates the little known story of
the Free India Legion made up of thousands of soldiers from the sub-continent that donned German uniforms and marched with
Recruited by the Indian Revolutionary leader, Chandra
Bose, they teamed up with Germany in the hope of getting Hitler's help in driving Britain from India. At one point they were
asked to dig in along the Atlantic Wall in France in preparation to fight the British.
Mike Thomson follows their footsteps
and talks to surviving members of the legion, German soldiers who fought with them and French resistance men who fought against
23 September, 2004, 23:52 GMT 00:52 UK
secret Indian army
By Mike Thomson
In the closing stages of World War II, as Allied and
French resistance forces were driving Hitler's now demoralised forces from France, three senior German officers defected.
Legionnaires were recruited from German POW camps
The information they gave British intelligence was considered
so sensitive that in 1945 it was locked away, not due to be released until the year 2021.
Now, 17 years early, the BBC's Document programme has
been given special access to this secret file.
It reveals how thousands of Indian soldiers who had
joined Britain in the fight against fascism swapped their oaths to the British king for others to Adolf Hitler - an astonishing
tale of loyalty, despair and betrayal that threatened to rock British rule in India, known as the Raj.
The story the German officers told their interrogators
began in Berlin on 3 April 1941. This was the date that the left-wing Indian revolutionary leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, arrived
in the German capital.
Bose, who had been arrested 11 times by the British
in India, had fled the Raj with one mission in mind. That was to seek Hitler's help in pushing the British out of India.
He wanted 500 volunteers who would be trained
in Germany and then parachuted into India. Everyone raised their hands. Thousands of us volunteered
Lieutenant Barwant Singh
Six months later,
with the help of the German foreign ministry, he had set up what he called "The Free India Centre", from where he published
leaflets, wrote speeches and organised broadcasts in support of his cause.
By the end of 1941, Hitler's regime officially recognised
his provisional "Free India Government" in exile, and even agreed to help Chandra Bose raise an army to fight for his cause.
It was to be called "The Free India Legion".
Bose hoped to raise a force of about 100,000 men which,
when armed and kitted out by the Germans, could be used to invade British India.
He decided to raise them by going on recruiting visits
to Prisoner-of-War camps in Germany which, at that time, were home to tens of thousands of Indian soldiers captured by Rommel
in North Africa.
Finally, by August 1942, Bose's recruitment drive got
fully into swing. Mass ceremonies were held in which dozens of Indian POWs joined in mass oaths of allegiance to Adolf Hitler.
Chandra Bose did not live to see Indian independence
These are the words that were used by men that had formally sworn an oath to the British king: "I swear by God this holy
oath that I will obey the leader of the German race and state, Adolf Hitler, as the commander of the German armed forces in
the fight for India, whose leader is Subhas Chandra Bose."
I managed to track down one of Bose's former recruits,
Lieutenant Barwant Singh, who can still remember the Indian revolutionary arriving at his prisoner of war camp.
"He was introduced to us as a leader from our country
who wanted to talk to us," he said.
"He wanted 500 volunteers who would be trained in Germany
and then parachuted into India. Everyone raised their hands. Thousands of us volunteered."
In all 3,000 Indian prisoners of war signed up for
the Free India Legion.
But instead of being delighted, Bose was worried. A
left-wing admirer of Russia, he was devastated when Hitler's tanks rolled across the Soviet border.
Matters were made even worse by the fact that after
Stalingrad it became clear that the now-retreating German army would be in no position to offer Bose help in driving the British
from faraway India.
When the Indian revolutionary met Hitler in May 1942
his suspicions were confirmed, and he came to believe that the Nazi leader was more interested in using his men to win propaganda
victories than military ones.
So, in February 1943, Bose turned his back on his legionnaires
and slipped secretly away aboard a submarine bound for Japan.
Rudolf Hartog remembers parting with his Indian friends
There, with Japanese help, he was to raise a force of 60,000 men to march on India.
Back in Germany the men he had recruited were left
leaderless and demoralised. After mush dissent and even a mutiny, the German High Command despatched them first to Holland
and then south-west France, where they were told to help fortify the coast for an expected allied landing.
After D-Day, the Free India Legion, which had now been
drafted into Himmler's Waffen SS, were in headlong retreat through France, along with regular German units.
It was during this time that they gained a wild and
loathsome reputation amongst the civilian population.
The former French Resistance fighter, Henri Gendreaux,
remembers the Legion passing through his home town of Ruffec: "I do remember several cases of rape. A lady and her two daughters
were raped and in another case they even shot dead a little two-year-old girl."
Finally, instead of driving the British from India,
the Free India Legion were themselves driven from France and then Germany.
Their German military translator at the time was Private
Rudolf Hartog, who is now 80.
"The last day we were together an armoured tank appeared.
I thought, my goodness, what can I do? I'm finished," he said.
"But he only wanted to collect the Indians. We embraced
each other and cried. You see that was the end."
A year later the Indian legionnaires were sent back
to India, where all were released after short jail sentences.
But when the British put three of their senior officers
on trial near Delhi there were mutinies in the army and protests on the streets.
With the British now aware that the Indian army could
no longer be relied upon by the Raj to do its bidding, independence followed soon after.
Not that Subhas Chandra Bose was to see the day he
had fought so hard for. He died in 1945.
Since then little has been heard of Lieutenant Barwant
Singh and his fellow legionnaires.
At the end of the war the BBC was forbidden from broadcasting
their story and this remarkable saga was locked away in the archives, until now. Not that Lieutenant Singh has ever forgotten
those dramatic days.
Read Listener's comments.
This topic has been covered
before in Carlos Caballero Jurado's 'Foriegn Volunteers of the Wehrmacht 1939-45' published by Osprey in 1983. Furthermore,
in both Purnell's or Orbis's histories of the Second World War are references to the legion (initially known as Indisches
Inf Regt 950 , later a panzergrenadier (motorised) unit) including a photo of an inspection of the Indian troops by Rommel
himself ! Jurado also details a 'Free Arab legion' fighting alongside the Afrikakorps. Part of this legion was a unit that
was initially raised to support the 1941 Iraq insurgency, an element of which went to southern europe on security duties.
Other nationalities - French, Belgians, Spanish, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Croatians, Slovaks, Russians, Cossacks,
Armenians, Turkmens, Georgians,etc all contributed larger amounts of personnel to fight with the German armies (which already
incorporated the Austrians) although some of these European volunteers were quite prepared to assist in the Nazi extermination
of Gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, pacifists, socialists and other victims of the Nazis.
A vast crowd greeted Gandhi upon his return to India.
He told them "I have come back empty-handed, but I have not compromised the honor of my country." The ripples of the overwhelming
victory of the Conservative Party in the October general elections were being felt in India.
The British Government in India acting in concert with
the Government in Britain was taking harsh repressive measures. The faint glow of freedom that Indians felt after the Irwin-Gandhi
pact was being extinguished.
Jawaharlal Nehru and the President of the Congress
organization in the United Provinces had been arrested while travelling to Bombay to greet Gandhi upon his return.
Emergency powers had been promulgated in the United
Provinces, NorthWest frontier and in Bengal to deal with a widespread no-rent movement. Under Emergency powers the police
could arrest suspects without a warrant, deny bail and habeas corpus, suspend trials, seize property, and impound bank balances
and confiscate wealth. All this came as a rude shock to Gandhi. The Round Table Conference may have been a flop. But all political
leaders that Gandhi met in London were extremely friendly. In India it was the reverse.
At a public meeting he described the existing situation.
He said that the Congress was charged with trying to run a parallel government. He said that he would strain every nerve to
see whether he could offer co-operation on honorable lines to induce the Government to withdraw the repressive measures.
With that objective in view Gandhi sought an interview
with the Viceroy. He was rudely rebuffed. On 4th January 1932 Gandhi was arrested and sent to prison without trial.
Within a couple of months after being entertained for
tea by the King and Queen, Gandhi was their guest in prison.
In March 1932 Gandhi learnt from the newspapers that
the untouchables were to be given separate electorates in the proposed new constitution for India. The Muslims already had
Gandhi considered separate electorates to be a divisive
factor. Roughly twenty-five percent of the population were Muslims and twenty percent were untouchables.
Gandhi was the champion of the untouchables. Throughout
his life he had campaigned for untouchables to be given equal status. He had led by example, by inviting untouchable families
to live with him in his ashrams in South Africa, and in India. However, he was strongly against separate electorates for untouchables.
He did not see it as a solution to the problems that the untouchables had. He saw it as a divisive factor. He wanted to retain
the untouchables within the Hindu fold. He did not want India already divided between Hindus and Muslims to have a further
sub-division. He remembered very vividly his deep humiliation at the Round Table Conference where the divisive and fractious
Indian delegates made a sorry spectacle of themselves.
Therefore, he wrote a letter addressed to the Secretary
of Sate for India Sir Samuel Hoare:
" 'A separate electorate for the Depressed Classes
(untouchables) is harmful for them and for Hinduism…. So far as Hinduism is concerned, separate electorates would simply
vivisect and disrupt it….. The political aspect, important though it is, dwindles into insignificance compared to the
moral and religious issue.' If therefore the Government decided to create a separate electorate for untouchables, 'I must
fast unto death.' 'For me the contemplated step is not a method, it is part of my being.' "
Sir Samuel Hoare replied saying that the matter was
still under consideration and that Gandhi's views would be considered before a final decision was taken.
However, without any further communication with Gandhi,
Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald announced in August 1932, the British Government's decision in favor of separate electorates.
Gandhi wrote to Ramsay Macdonald the next day:
"I have to resist your decision with my life. The only
way I can do it is by declaring a perpetual fast unto death from food of any kind save water with or without salt and soda."
The fast would commence at noon, 20th September.
The British Government's intentions were honorable.
They were truly bewildered. Gandhi was a known champion of the untouchables. They thought that he would welcome the scheme.
Ramsay Macdonald replied that he received Gandhi's
letter with surprise and sincere regret. He assured Gandhi, that the Hindu community would not be divided. He explained: "Under
the government scheme the depressed classes will remain part of the Hindu community and will vote with the Hindu electorate
on an equal footing. But for the first twenty years, while still remaining part of the Hindu community, they will receive
through a limited number of special constituencies, means of safeguarding their rights and interests." In effect the untouchables
would have two votes. One vote would be exercised by voting with the mainstream Hindu community. The second vote would be
cast for the limited number of seats in the special untouchable electorate.
Macdonald further explained that the alternate method
of 'reservation of seats' for the untouchables was rejected because in practice such members would be elected by a majority
of higher caste Hindus. Under such a scheme he feared that the untouchable candidates would be dependent upon higher caste
Hindu votes for election. Therefore, they may tend to be pliable stooges of the higher caste Hindus. They may not adequately
represent their own interests.
Macdonald concluded his letter by stating that he thought
Gandhi's decision to fast was based on a misapprehension and therefore the Government's decision would stand.
Gandhi, equally adamant replied:
"Without arguing, I affirm that to me this matter is
one of pure religion. The mere fact of the Depressed Classes having double votes does not protect them or Hindu society in
general from being disrupted. You will please permit me to say that no matter how sympathetic you may be, you cannot come
to a correct decision on a matter of vital and religious importance to the parties concerned. I should not be against even
over-representation of the Depressed Classes. What I am against is their statutory separation, even in a limited form, from
the Hindu fold, so long as they choose to belong to it. Do you realize that if your decision stands and the constitution comes
into being, you arrest the marvelous growth of the work of Hindu reformers who have dedicated themselves to their suppressed
brethren in every walk of life?"
He added that he was opposed to the other separate
electorates, but that they did not warrant such extreme measures that he was about to take.
The news that Gandhi may fast created high drama. The
nation, depressed by the fierce repression of the Government quickened to life in many areas.
Caste Hindu leaders scrambled in desperate haste to
seek Dr. Ambedkar and other untouchable leaders to negotiate an urgent solution. The Mahatma's life was on the line.
The British Government allowed visitors access to Gandhi
to facilitate a solution.
Throughout the country many doors that were previously
closed to the untouchables, were opened for the first time. These included Hindu Temples, Universities and water wells. Nehru's
mother declared that she had accepted food from an untouchable, signifying equality.
Nehru who was in prison at the time was as puzzled
as everyone else when Gandhi announced his fast. Later, he appreciated the genius of the man. Nehru wrote in his autobiography:
" 'I felt angry with him, at his religious and sentimental
approach to a political issue, and his frequent references to God in connection with it.' Nehru felt annoyed with him for
choosing a side issue for his final sacrifice. Untouchability was a side issue, independence the central issue. For two days,
Nehru 'was in darkness'. He thought with sorrow of never seeing Bapu (father) any more….
" 'Then a strange thing happened to me, I had quite
an emotional crisis, and at the end of it I felt calmer, and the future seemed not so dark. Bapu had a curious knack of doing
the right thing at the psychological moment, and it might be that his action - impossible as it was from my point of view
- would lead to great results not only in the narrow field in which it was confined, but in the wider aspects of our national
struggle…. Then came the news of the tremendous upheaval all over the country…What a magician, I thought, was
this little man sitting in Yeravda Prison, and how well he knew how to pull the strings that move people's hearts.' "
Gandhi's body may have been in prison, but his all-pervasive
soul or spirit was influencing events outside the prison walls, right across a vast country.
Indians simply could not contemplate the death of their
beloved Mahatma. The very thought spurred them into action.
Although, Gandhi had fasted earlier for twenty-one
days without a serious threat of death, this fast proved to be different. He rapidly deteriorated. The earlier fast was for
Hindu-Muslim unity. It did not depend upon any particular outcome. It had a fixed duration of twenty-one days. In contrast
this fast depended upon a particular objective being achieved. The outcome and the duration were uncertain. Hence the additional
pressure and uncertainty, which contributed to the more rapid decline in his health. The removal of the separate electorates
for untouchables was the only way to save his life. He was willing to sacrifice his life for the cause.
Upon notice of the fast, and during it, there was a
flurry of intense activity to find a formula that would satisfy Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar the leader of the untouchables.
Dr. Ambedkar was not to be easily moved. He was deeply
embittered by thousands of years of degrading treatment and obnoxious deprivations meted out to his community by the higher
caste Hindus. He preferred British rule to Hindu rule. The British did not recognize caste. He preferred the Muslims to the
Hindus. Islam proclaimed brotherhood, while the Hindus ostracized the untouchables. Conversion to Islam or Christianity was
one way to escape the vicious yoke of untouchability. At one time Dr. Ambedkar had thought of leading his entire untouchable
community into the Muslim fold.
Whatever Dr. Ambedkar thought of Gandhi and the Hindu
community he could not treat the possible death of Gandhi, lightly. Gandhi was a true champion of the untouchables. He was
deeply loved by the untouchable community. Dr. Ambedkar would have jeopardized his own position as their leader if he ignored
the beloved Mahatma.
Sir Taj Bahadur Sapru, an expert on constitutions,
was among the Hindu leaders involved in the negotiations. They shuttled between Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar. Sapru found a possible
In order to enable them to do so Gandhi himself had
softened his position. He had now become reconciled to reserved seats.
The only problem that now remained was to ensure that
the reserved seats would not be occupied by docile sycophants of the higher castes.
Sir Taj Bahadur Sapru suggested a novel innovation.
He suggested primary elections. The untouchables voting exclusively among themselves would choose their candidates. Those
elected would be beholden first and foremost to the untouchable community. Then at the election proper, the entire Hindu community
would choose and vote for these candidates to fill the reserved seats.
Moreover, the system of reserved seats was not going
to be a permanent feature. It was agreed that it would be discontinued at a future date when social conditions so warranted.
Dr. Ambedkar drove a hard bargain. Macdonald had ordered
71 seats in the scheme of separate electorates. Dr.Ambedkar claiming his pound of flesh had demanded 197 seats under the revised
scheme of reserved seats. Gandhi settled for 147 reserved seats. So, the untouchables were better off.
However, he would not break his fast. The British Government
had to approve the scheme before he did so. The entire text was telegraphed to London.
With the Mahatma's health in a critical condition,
Gandhi's friends in London Charles Andrews, Henry Polak and others pressed the Government for urgent action.
Macdonald and his Secretary of State for India Sir
Samuel Hoare burnt the midnight oil during the weekend and studied the text. They approved the scheme.
The British Government announced their approval simultaneously
in London and New Delhi. Hundreds of millions breathed a sigh of relief.
The Mahatma broke his fast by sipping a glass of orange
Gandhi the saint often obscured Gandhi, the brilliant
politician. A few months earlier at the Round Table Conference he had incurred the wrath of Dr. Ambedkar by opposing reserved
seats. The occasion and the timing were not correct. He would have been apprehensive about the reaction of the caste Hindus.
A few months later, he agreed to the same thing and
was more generous in the number of seats granted. He was now reacting to a proposal by the British Government which, he deemed
to be worse. By accepting reserved seats at that stage he made it appear a 'fait accompli' and a great victory for the Hindu
Indeed it was a great victory to the Hindu community.
The system of untouchability was a disgrace to the religion. Gandhi's fast and its aftermath was the biggest blow delivered
against untouchability. Besides, it had many unexpected by-products such as paving the way for many doors being voluntarily
opened to the untouchables.
By attacking untouchability Gandhi was also indirectly
attacking the entire caste system. He would encourage Brahmans to marry untouchables and in his later year he would attend
only inter-caste marriages.
After the epic fast was over Gandhi did not display
much interest in politics until the Second World War broke out in 1939.
He was jailed intermittently.
He fasted once for twenty-one days for self-purification
and to impress his co-workers in the ashram on the need to emphasize service at the cost of indulgence. The Government released
Gandhi from jail for the duration of the fast.
The British Government enacted the Government of India
Act in 1935. Under this new constitution the provinces were given more powers. It did little to affect power at the Center.
Winston Churchill was against even this limited devolution
of power. He declared vehemently that:
"Gandhi, and all he stands for must ultimately be grappled
with, and finally crushed!"
Gandhi was not enamoured by the new constitution. Nevertheless,
he sanctioned Congress participation in the elections held under it in 1937. Congress had an overwhelming victory at the elections.
Gandhi also approved the Congress Party members assuming
public office. He did so on the understanding that the British Governors of the provinces would not interfere and that the
Congress ministers would utilize their offices to prepare the country for independence.
Gandhi did not hold any office in the Congress Party.
Jawaharlal Nehru was the president of the Party for 1936 and 1937. But Gandhi made the final decision on all- important matters.
He was the paramount leader.
Although Gandhi did not take an active interest in
politics between 1933 and 1939, he was not idle. He devoted his time to improving the lives of the millions of impoverished
peasants living in the villages.
He traveled extensively on foot from village to village
urging the people to participate in his Constructive Program.
The Constructive Program covered every aspect of village
life. Among them were education, cleanliness, sanitation, nutrition, health, abstaining from alcohol and opium, spinning and
weaving of cotton for their clothes. His advice was very practical and useful. Most of what he preached, he had practiced
successfully in his ashram.
He taught the people that by their own efforts and
by co-operating with others, in the common interest, they could seek their own economic and social emancipation.
He stressed the importance of equality to untouchables
and women, and tolerance of other religious faiths.
He reached the millions of India. Those that he could
not reach directly read about it, in his weekly newspaper 'Young India' now renamed 'Harijan'.
World War Two broke out on the 1st September 1939.
The war brought Gandhi back into politics.
His sympathies were all with Britain and her allies.
He did not want in any way to disrupt the British war effort:
"I am and have always been a friend of the British.
Therefore I could never use the weapon of Civil Disobedience during the war unless there was a very grave reason, as for instance
the thwarting of India's natural right to freedom…..
"If I wanted to do it, I could start Civil Disobedience
today on the strength of my supposed influence with the masses. But I would be doing so merely to embarrass the British Government.
This cannot be my object….. It is my conviction that we cannot improve the food situation and, alleviate the suffering
of the people unless power and responsibility are transferred from the British into Indian hands. Without such a transfer,
the attempt of Congressmen and others to alleviate the people's suffering are most likely to lead to conflicts with the Government."
In the freedom he envisaged, the British could have
retained their troops on Indian soil for the duration of the war:
"Britain and America and other countries too can keep
their armies here and use Indian Territory as a base for military operations. I do not wish Japan to win the war. I do not
want the Axis to win. But I am sure that Britain cannot win unless the Indian people become free. Britain is weaker and Britain
is morally indefensible while she rules India. I do not wish to humiliate England."
He had no doubt that Hitler was the aggressor. He was
profoundly moved by the plight of the Jews. He said:
"If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name
of and for humanity, a war against Germany to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race would be completely justified."
However, he did not believe in war and violence. His
pacifism had grown to its full maturity. He sympathized with Britain and her Allies but would not directly help the war effort.
In World War One he had helped to recruit for the British army. This time, for religious reasons he declined to do so. His
advice to the Allies and Jews was to practice Satyagraha.
Nehru and others in the Congress took a more practical
view. They were horrified by the Nazis. They were concerned that the imperial ambitions of Japan could be a possible threat
to the security of India. They were willing to co-operate and actively participate in the war effort if Britain granted independence
In May 1940 with the German armies storming through
Europe Britain faced a real threat of invasion. The British nation in grave peril turned to Winston Churchill. He became Prime
Minister of a Coalition Government, and the symbol of British defiance. In words of brilliant eloquence he inspired a despairing
nation to resist and fight back.
However, Churchill had not changed his views on Indian
independence. If at all it had hardened. Granting India independence was a sacrilege to him. His views are best expressed
in his own words uttered on a later date:
"I have not become the King's First Minister in order
to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire."
India offered to co-operate and actively participate
in the war. The offer was spurned. The Congress was disappointed and incensed.
They had to react. There were elements within the Congress
who would contemplate violent action with equanimity. Some, like Subhas Chandra Bose could be more extreme. They would dream
of an alliance with the axis powers to overthrow British rule. Later on he attempted to do so. But it was left to Gandhi to
give the lead:
"Gandhi explained the new position in a speech to the
All-India Congress Committee on 15th September 1940, in Bombay: 'I do not want England to be defeated or humiliated. It hurts
me to find St. Paul's Cathedral damaged….. It is not because I love the British nation and hate the German. I do not
think the Germans as a nation are any worse than the English or the Italians. We are all tarred with the same brush; we are
all members of the vast human family. I decline to draw any distinctions. I cannot claim any superiority for Indians….
I can keep India intact and its freedom intact only if I have goodwill towards the whole of the human family and not merely
for the human family which inhabits this little spot of the earth called India."…
"I would ask to see the Viceroy. I will tell him that
this is the position to which we have been reduced: We do not want to embarrass you and deflect you from your purpose in regard
to the war effort. We go our way an d you go yours….. But Congress must have freedom to preach. If we carry the people
with us, there will be no war effort on the part of our people. If, on the other hand, without using any but moral pressure,
you find that the people help the war effort, we can have no cause for grumbling. If you get assistance from the Princes,
from the landlords, from anybody high or low, you can have it, but let our voice also be heard. If you accept my proposal…..it
will certainly be a feather in your cap. It will be honorable of you, although you are engaged in a life and death struggle,
that you have you have given us this liberty."
In the position he outlined, Gandhi's intention was
to be as helpful to the British as possible without overtly co-operating. The only condition he imposed was that of freedom
of speech. The Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow did not find it acceptable.
In the circumstances Gandhi had no option but to launch
He chose the mildest form of civil disobedience that
would be least harmful to the British war effort.
In the method he chose individuals nominated by him,
would defy the ban on propaganda against the war and would court arrest and imprisonment. Eventually nearly twenty-five thousand
ended up in jail.
In December 1941, the war took a menacing turn. The
Japanese army was sweeping through Asia. The British bases in Hong Kong and Singapore fell. Indonesia was occupied and the
Japanese captured Burma.
President Roosevelt and the American public opinion
were highly concerned about the low morale of the Indian people. The Americans had strong anti-colonial traditions. They were
a British colony once and had fought their own revolutionary war of independence against the British. Roosevelt had a natural
sympathy with Indian aspirations. He was concerned about the strategic implications of the low morale of the Indian people
if the Japanese chose to expand further east. President Roosevelt urged Churchill to make an acceptable offer to the Indians.
Roosevelt was not the only one to do so. The Labor
Party who were in the war time coalition Government sympathized with Indian independence. Chiang Kai-Shek, then a strategic
partner of the allies in the east urged the British and American Governments to grant India independence.
Pressed on all sides Churchill sent Sir Stafford Cripps,
a member of the Labor Party who was sympathetic to Indian aspirations, to India, with a proposal.
The scheme proposed by Cripps would give Indians immediate
representation in the Viceregal Government except for defense. Dominion status was promised at the end of the war. At that
time, the princely states and religious minorities could work out a separate arrangement with the British if they so wished.
Gandhi acutely aware of the trends of history called
the offer of Dominion status after the war "a post dated check on a failing bank". The provision to allow the princely states
and religious minorities to work out separate arrangements he said "would lead to the perpetual vivisection of India." On
those grounds, Gandhi firmly rejected the proposals. The rejection would have pleased Churchill.
Cripps was sincere in his effort. He tried to modify
the proposals in order to make it more acceptable. Churchill prevented him doing so, and recalled him back to London.
President Roosevelt sent a special envoy Louis Johnson
to India at the time of the Cripps mission to assist in obtaining an agreement. After it failed he continued to press Churchill,
unsuccessfully. Churchill was even prepared to retire to private life, rather than give India independence
The war aims of the allies were defined in the Atlantic
Charter. Among other things it proclaimed "the right of all people to choose the form of Government under which they will
live" Churchill made it clear, that this provision did not apply to India. He was fighting to defend the British heritage.
It meant defending to retain the British Empire. Churchill did not know that the tide of History was flowing against him.
He was on the winning side of World War Two, but would lose the Empire.
The Congress Party was deeply disappointed at the turn
of events. They were hoping that President Roosevelt could prevail upon Churchill to offer an acceptable proposal. In the
following weeks it became quite clear that any such proposal was not forthcoming. Their hopes were dashed. They had no alternative
but to launch civil disobedience.
Accordingly, the Working Committee of Congress met
on the 14th of July and moved a resolution demanding an "immediate end to British rule." The resolution stressed that it did
not wish to embarrass the Allied powers; it is therefore agreeable to the stationing of the armed forces of the Allies, in
an independent India. The resolution concluded that if the appeal failed they would be reluctantly compelled to start a civil
disobedience campaign, which would inevitably be under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.
The resolution needed to be ratified by the All India
Congress Committee, which was convened to meet on the 7th of August.
In the meantime Gandhi issued a statement warning Japan
not to take advantage of the situation. He stated that Japan will not be welcome and that India would resist an invasion with
all the might that she could muster.
On 7th August the All India Congress Committee approved
the resolution. Gandhi intended to meet the Viceroy and plead with him once more, before taking action. He had not decided
on the date of commencement or the scope and form that civil disobedience would take.
However in his address to the delegates, Gandhi asked
everyone to consider himself or herself free:
"Everyone of you should, from this very moment, consider
yourself a free man or woman and even act as if you are free and no longer under the heel of this Imperialism. This is no
make-believe. You have to cultivate the spirit of freedom before it comes physically. The chains of a slave are broken the
moment he considers himself a free man. He will then tell his master: 'I have been your slave all these days but I am no longer
that now. You may kill me, but if you do not and if you release me from the bondage, I will ask for nothing more from you.
For henceforth, instead of depending upon you, I shall depend upon God for food and clothing. God has given me the urge for
freedom and therefore I deem myself to be a free man'."
He asked Britain to "Quit India" and said, "I want
freedom immediately! This very night before dawn if it can be had." He declared that Indians should "Do or die! We shall either
free India or die in the attempt. We shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery."
That night, before Gandhi could meet the Viceroy as
he intended to do, the Government arrested Gandhi and all Congress leaders. Gandhi was imprisoned at the Aga Khan's palace
near the Yeravda prison in Poona.
The arrest of Gandhi provoked an explosion of violence.
Government offices and police stations were attacked and set on fire. Railway tracks and telegraph lines were cut. British
officials were attacked. Some were killed. Terrorist groups flourished in subverting the government. In many areas the writ
of the British Government no longer ran. The British Government was losing control. India was becoming impossible to govern.
The Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow blamed Gandhi for the
violence. Gandhi blamed the Viceroy. Many letters were exchanged between Gandhi and the Viceroy regarding who was to blame.
The Viceroy had precipitated the crisis by the pre-emptive arrest of Gandhi. If Gandhi was not imprisoned he could have kept
the movement on non-violent lines. In prison he was not free to control the movement.
The fact is that Gandhi did not launch Satyagraha.
Congress had merely authorized him to do so. He wanted to meet the Viceroy prior to any civil disobedience. He was denied
the opportunity to do so by the pre-emptive arrest and confinement.
From the time the World War broke out he had expressed
his sympathy and support to the British. In any non-cooperative action he took, he was careful not to impede the war effort.
The form of non-cooperation employed was merely symbolic and as mild as possible. Lastly, his whole life was dedicated to
The pre-emptive arrest of Gandhi reflected the hard
line the government was taking, perhaps influenced by Churchill. They preferred repression to discussion. Gandhi's arrest
created the widespread impression that Britain would not ever give independence to India and provoked the violence.
In order to clear his misunderstanding with the Viceroy
over who was to blame for the violence, Gandhi decided to fast. He informed the Viceroy that the fast would be of a limited
duration of twenty-one days.
The Viceroy replied saying that the fast was political
blackmail without any moral justification. He alluded to Gandhi's previous writing that one may fast only against those who
love you and never against a tyrant. Gandhi replied that his fast was an appeal to the Highest Tribunal for justice, which
he failed to secure from the Viceroy.
The Government offered to release him for the duration
of the fast. Gandhi declined. If he was released, he would not fast. In the circumstances the Government announced that Gandhi
would be entirely responsible for any result of the fast. He was allowed visits by any doctors or friends from outside that
he chose to entertain.
Gandhi was then seventy-three yeas old. The fast was
a tremendous ordeal. The possibility that he may die was chillingly real. The Government discretely made preparations for
his funeral. Brahman priests were summoned and sandalwood for the funeral pyre was stocked for the eventuality.
Many resigned from Government positions in protest
against the Viceroy's accusation that caused the Mahatma to fast. There was widespread agitation to release the Mahatma.
The Government allowed crowds to gather in the grounds
of the Aga Khan's palace where Gandhi was confined. They were allowed to file through the room in which Gandhi was fasting.
Somehow Gandhi managed to survive the ordeal. Everyone
was relieved. Except Churchill who instructed the Viceroy to let Gandhi starve to death and inquired later why Gandhi had
Gandhi survived the fast, but was to experience a different
kind of pain and suffering. Two of his closest companions died.
First Mahadev Desai who was imprisoned along with Gandhi
died of a heart attack. He was devoted to Gandhi and served him efficiently as his secretary. Gandhi loved him like a son.
Gandhi felt the loss very deeply and would daily visit the spot in the palace grounds where his ashes were buried.
Shortly afterwards, Gandhi's wife Kasturbai fell seriously
ill with chronic bronchitis. She preferred Ayurvedic treatment. When it failed to cure her, western medicine was tried, without
success. Gandhi forbade penicillin as he considered it unnatural and violent.
Knowing that she would not live long the Government
permitted her sons and grandsons to visit her in jail. She particularly wanted to see her first-born Harilal. He arrived drunk.
It broke her heart. The next day, her head resting on Gandhi's lap she breathed her last. Gandhi was shattered. She was cremated
and her ashes were buried next to those of Mahadev Desai in the grounds of the Aga Khan's palace, which was their prison.
Gandhi and all others referred to Kasturbai as Ba,
which meant mother. He deeply missed and mourned her loss. He reflected upon their marriage:
"I cannot imagine life without Ba…Her passing
has left a vacuum which never will be filled…We lived together for sixty-two years…And she passed away in my lap.
Could it be better? I m happy beyond all measure.
"Though for her sake I have welcomed her death as bringing
freedom from living agony, I feel the loss more than I had thought I should. We were a couple outside the ordinary. (Continence,
after the age of thirty-seven) knit us together as never before. We ceased to be two different entities…. The result
was that she became truly my better half.
"I learnt the lesson on non-violence from my wife,
when I tried to bend her to my will. Her determined resistance to my will on the one hand, and her quiet submission to the
suffering my stupidity involved on the other, ultimately made me ashamed of myself and cured me of my stupidity in thinking
that I was born to rule over her, and in the end she became my teacher in non-violence."
In her own way Kasturbai was a remarkable woman. Married
as a child, she was illiterate. She was lost in the turbulent world her illustrious husband was moving in, and creating great
She was a very orthodox Hindu. She dutifully but not
without difficulty followed her husband's revolutionary practices such as socializing and living with untouchables and cleaning
Gandhi's vow of poverty would have caused immense anguish.
Gandhi renouncing wealth had an extremely adverse impact on his sons. It deprived them of a sound education in good schools
and universities. Gandhi would happily give letters of introduction to other young men to facilitate their entry into prestigious
universities, while depriving the same to his own sons. He could not accept others paying for his sons'education, as it would
have perverted his vow of renunciation and diluted his moral authority.
Kasturbai and the children may not have failed to notice
the paradox in Gandhi's own life. He taxed the resources of his extended family to obtain a good education for himself in
London. Without his education Gandhi would have stagnated in the vicinity of his place of birth.
As a result, Harilal her eldest son rebelled and became
a drunkard and a wastrel. Kasturbai as a mother would have borne monumental pain and anguish to see the impact on her children
of her husband's Mahatma qualities.
Moreover, Gandhi was surrounded by many women in the
Ashram. Although Gandhi was a Bramcharaya and the relationships were platonic they vied for the attention and affection of
One of whom, was Miss Madeleine Slade an English lady
and daughter of Sir Edmund Slade, a British Admiral. Miss Slade shocked London society by becoming a devotee of Gandhi and
taking residence with him in his ashram. She took the vows of chastity and poverty and participated diligently in the struggle
for Indian independence. Gandhi named her Mirabai. There was a strong relationship between the two. She ministered to Gandhi
like a wife would.
Kasturbai would have had qualities that would rival
those of a Mahatma. In order to bear the suffering due to the plight of her children and tolerate the other women in Gandhi's
life and yet remain totally loyal and devoted.
Six weeks after Kasturbai's death Gandhi suffered an
attack of Malaria. He became delirious. Although he recovered from Malaria his general health was poor and caused anxiety.
On the 3rd of May 1944 the Government released him from jail.
This was Gandhi's last time in jail. In total he had
spent 2089 days in Indian and 249 days in South African prisons. He recuperated by the Sea in Bombay.
Meantime World War Two was progressing very well for
the Allies. They were making final preparations for the D. Day landing in Normandy, which took place on 6th June 1944.
However, British resources were stretched to the limit.
The chief economic advisor to the British Government, the mathematician and brilliant economist John Maynard Keynes had issued
a dire warning. As early as in December 1943 Keynes advised the Government that Britain's resources were nearing exhaustion.
Victory would have to be achieved within a year or the British war effort would have to be curtailed.
By 1945 after nearly twenty-five years of Gandhi's
intermittent civil disobedience India was too volatile for the British to subdue and govern.
They had neither the resources nor the heart to engage
in another round of non-violent civil disobedience with Gandhi or a violent one if he lost control.