On September 3, 1939, Viceroy Lord VA Linlithgow announced that India had entered the war on the side of Great Britain. India’s contribution to the English cause was not indifferent. The army was increased to two million men and Indian troops fought in Africa, against Japan and in the Italian campaign. The losses amounted to 24,338 dead, 11,754 missing, 64,354 wounded and 79,489 prisoners. The small Indian navy and air force were considerably increased in materials and manpower. The action of the Indian troops, however, found almost no resonance in the interior of the country, accustomed to considering its soldiers as little more than English mercenaries. Congress had called on the British government to state clearly what its war aims were towards India. The answer was given on October 17 by the viceroy, who promised that after the war the government would negotiate with the various political groups for a revision of the constitution. This statement was a serious disappointment to the public. Congress ordered its provincial ministries to resign; the governors consequently assumed full powers under the terms of art. 93 of the constitution. Negotiations between the viceroy and the Congress failed (October 29-November 5), and so this gradually passed to ever more determined opposition. The session of Congress held in Ramgarh in March 1940 declared that India had been drawn into the war without being consulted and that it refused its support for England; required the convening of a constituent assembly and the granting of absolute independence; he entrusted Gandhi with full powers to launch a campaign of individual civil disobedience at the moment he saw fit. Gandhi stalled until his hand was forced upon him by Bose, whose Bloc had begun civil disobedience on its own, dragging many congressmen with it. Gandhi’s campaign began on October 15, 1940 and was conducted without serious incidents and without appreciable success, also for the declared intention of not hindering England in its struggle. Moreover, the Indian government had severely repressed any mention of riots, arresting Bose (July 1940) and dissolving the Avanti Block. The situation dragged on as most of the Congressional leaders were jailed; not V’ on both sides there was neither a desire for agreement nor an intention to push the struggle to the bitter end. In all this a separate position was occupied by the Muslim League, which had kept itself out of the action of the Congress and was quietly reinforcing its own organization by maintaining cold but fair relations with the government; in Lahore, on May 25, 1940, the League had accepted as its program the idea of Pakistan, that is, of an independent state for the Muslims of India, essentially formed by the Indus basin and Bengal. A new move was made on July 22, 1941 by the British government, with the publication of a “white paper”, whose only concrete proposal was a rehash of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, to include 8 out of 12 Indian members. For India military, please check militarynous.com.
Japan’s entry into the war shifted the terms of the problem somewhat. Jawāharlāl Nehrū and the other leaders arrested in November 1940 had been released on 7 December 1941. On 30 December Gandhi handed over the command of the Congress to Nehrū, in favor of more concrete action; civil disobedience was suspended. Then events precipitated. The British cabinet sent the Lord of the Private Seal, Sir Stafford Cripps, the bearer of the latest English proposals, on a mission to India: at the end of the war a constituent assembly would draft the new constitution; India would have the rank of dominion; right of individual provinces not to accept the constitution and to remain outside the Union of India; India’s participation in the war, but with a British Defense Minister. Cripps arrived in Delhi on 23 March 1942 and immediately began consultations with the various Indian parties; but both the Muslim League and the Congress ended up declaring the proposals unacceptable, especially on the question of the Ministry of Defense. On 11 April Cripps noted the failure of the negotiations and left for England.
Meanwhile, a new complicating element was introduced by the attempts of the Axis powers to influence the Indian situation by means of extremist elements sheltered abroad. Japan favored the establishment of Indian units alongside its army, made up of Indians already residing in Malaysia and Siam, prisoners of war and deserters. At the end of 1941 Bose had managed to escape to Germany, from where he carried out active propaganda on the radio, inciting India to revolt. In 1943 he went to Japan and, on October 18 of that year, announced from Singapore the establishment of an Indian government in exile headed by him and of a free Indian army (Āzād Hind Fauj). But it was too late: Japan had had to become defensive and the favorable moment had now passed. In any case, the activities of the exiles did a great deal to push Congress, fearful of being supplanted in favor of the masses, to direct action. A meeting of the central congressional committee decided to present to the government an ultimatum for the immediate transfer of powers to the representatives of the people, threatening, in case of refusal, non-violent mass action, but on the largest possible scale (8 August 1942). The government’s reaction was swift: on the same day Gandhi, Nehrū and the other members of Congress were arrested and interned. This coup was followed by a series of riots and riots across India, especially in the north, which lasted more than two months and were severely repressed (more than 600 dead and 20,000 arrested). For the moment, the government energy had won and by the end of the year the situation had everywhere returned to normal; the Muslims had remained strictly neutral. And so the calm of the repression spread over all of India for the remaining years of the war. In vain Gandhi sustained a 21-day fast (10 February-3 March 1943), seriously endangering his life. The government was unyielding and his arrest was kept. In August 1943, Marshal Lord Wavell was appointed successor of Lord Linlithgow in the office of viceroy: the appointment was a clear sign of the English intention to consider first of all the needs of the war, updating every solution of the Indian question. During the autumn of 1943 some areas of Bengal were hit by a very serious local famine, mainly due to transport difficulties; a prompt rescue action managed to avert worse damage.