How did the outbreak of Second World War affect India’s political scene?

India’s already tensed political situation became more fragile with the outbreak of the Second World War. Anti British sentiments and demand for freedom were at their peak. The British were under pressure to quit India.

On September 3, 1939 the Viceroy declared India’s entry to the war without consulting the elected representatives. The Indian leaders failed to have a unified reaction on such a unilateral decision. Gandhiji was if favour of co-operation with the British to save democracy from the fascist onslaught. But, Bose and the Socialists viewed it as a war for saying imperial interests and were to wrest freedom through mass movement.

The Congress Working Committee resolution set complete independence as a precondition to support the British in the war. But the British did not show any intention to loosen their hold. The Viceroy assumed sweeping emergency powers. ‘Defence of India’ ordinance crippled civil liberties. The British harped on the differences among Indians and tried to use the Muslim League and the Princes against Congress.

The Congress, disgusted with Government’s insensitivity, decided not to support the war. All the Congress led Ministries resigned. It called upon selected few to start individual Satyagraha as a prelude to mass movement. It aimed to pressurize the British to negotiate as well as to tone up its organization for mass struggle.

Fall of France and Japanese sweep of Burma forced the British to reconcile with Indians. Positive statements denouncing fascist axis forces form Indian leader encouraged them. The Cripps Mission reached India in March 1942 with proposals for constitutional reforms. But it failed to resolve the crisis. Indian leaders opposed the offer of dominion status, undue concession to the princes with right to secession, Viceroy’s unhindered powers and absence of any plan for immediate transfer of power. They resolved not to accept anything less than complete independence. Gandhiji went to describe Cripp’s proposal as ‘a post dated cheque’.

Disillusioned with the British apathy towards independence and democracy in India, the Congress finally decided to start mass movement. Thus, the anti-British feeling boiling at the onset of World War finally culminated into the Quit India Movement of 1942.

April 25, 2016

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