“World War II” was not only war of nations but it was also war of dominance, war of ideologies, war of identities and war for humanity. As world is commemorating 72 years of end of the war it is high time to analyse Indian contribution in the war.
India’s role in World War II is largely uncredited for. The British on their own did not have a chance to win against the Germans. India also had it’s economic contribution negated by England as India was never paid back for this. In fact India contributed more in terms of resources than England and all the other colonies in terms of human life and productivity.
In what was a perfect storm, the contribution of India was swept under the rug so to speak. As newly independent India did not want to draw attentions to those it now viewed as mercenaries to a foreign power which at the time most Indians viewed as worse than even NAZI Germany.
During World War II, most Indians were cheering when Britain lost. Thus, Indian service men in World War II were not honored by newly Independent India; they of course had no hope of being honored by England. As after World War I, Indian army members were not even allowed to march in victory parades, as this would have drawn attention to the fact that India had more loses and more wins than the other colonies. This coupled with racism against Indians justified this in the colonial mindset of the British Raj.
In recent times, a book called “Churchill’s Secret War”, by Mukherjee explores the level of the negation of India and Indian contributions to the war effort. The book was largely discouraged by many. However the book was published and has shed incredible light on World War II in India. In 1942 the Province of Bengal which the British had first connived away in 1757 from Indian rule, had a bountiful harvest.
But, large scale grain export was extracted to under guise of the war effort. However this was hardly the case. It was a deliberate effort by Churchill to cause mass starvation in India Bengal and India at large, “It was not just a tactic forced out of Britain’s war needs,” says British author and academician James Woudhuysen. During this famine more than 6 million Indians died of “starvation”. And England deliberately made sure than no food entered India.
The mayor of Calcutta sent the following cable during the crisis, “Acute distress prevails in the city of Calcutta and the province of Bengal due to shortage of foodstuffs. Entire population is being devitalized and hundreds dying of starvation. Appeal to you and Mr Churchill in the name of starving humanity to arrange immediate shipment of food grains from America, Australia and other countries.” But no food came, actually food continued to leave India, along with Indian steel and cotton. After all in Churchill’s words, “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion’.” When the question of grain being sent to the victims of the Bengal famine came up once more, “flourish on Indians breeding like rabbits and being paid a million a day by us for doing nothing by us about the war.”
Of course nothing could have been further from the truth. Churchill had no issue of taking money out of a starving India, as that year one of the “Contributions”, India was forced to make was 24 Million to the Relief & Rehabilitation Administration. In 1943 an Aircraft carrier cost 5–6 Million to make. A later “accounting change”, stripped India of the billions of pounds it was owed for the war effort.
Sad for such greatness to be despised; sad for such sacrifice to be forgotten..
• As a supplier of raw materials – India suffered its worst famine during this time as the British diverted a major chunk of local produce for the War effort. Some 5 million died in Bengal during this time.
• As a supplier of troops: Indian Army troops fought commendably in North Africa, Italy, China, Guam and Burma.
• As a Logistics Base: USAF used Indian Air force bases in Orissa and Bengal to fly missions in China and Japan. Indian Navy was used for Naval blockade of major routes in Indian Ocean.
• As a political distraction to the British: The efforts by Subhash Chandra Bose, the Azad Hind Fauj and the mutineer troops had a huge effect on the thinking of British and their confidence on being able to rule India over the long term. Gandhi and Nehru were “the good boys”, supporting the allied War effort.
• As an after-market for the British WW2 Junk: Hindustani’s made their fortune by buying substandard British WW2 equipment marked as junk and selling it to India, yes through “Chacha” Nehru!
• Ideological support – ideological contribution of leaders were a mixed bag of responses while Gandhi Ji was most critical of Fascist aggression, Nehru and Bose saw it as war for colonial dominance, leftist parties vacillated over its response but were in favor of Indian support to British due to involvement of Russia.
• Contribution of human Resources – millions Indian soldiers participated on the side of allies and thousands perished in the service, Thousands of Indian volunteers provided medical-aid to the wounded, lakhs of civilians died in aerial bombarding.
• Contribution of material resources – Indian factories manufactured war material. Indian food was diverted for the soldiers fighting on side of Allies at the loss of hungry Indians, Indian territories was used as bases for Allies Armed forces even present IIT Kharagpur was base for American Air Force, undivided Indian subcontinent provided transit root for resource mobilization on two fronts between Germany and Japan.
Despite such huge contribution, India’s role in World War II seems to be lost in the pages of history, while the major world powers take pride in highlighting their war contribution, India should not forget its heroes. While India is seeking a permanent seat in UNSC, It is even more important for India to highlight its contribution in World War 2 and post war peace efforts.