VI. The World Wars and the Interwar Period, 1914–1945 > G. South and Southeast Asia, 1914–1945
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1914, May 21)
G. South and Southeast Asia, 1914–1945
1. India
The period encompassing the two world wars marked more than the worldwide conflict between Fascism and democracy or socialism/Communism. This was also the period in which imperial powers were profoundly challenged by colonized areas demanding to become nation-states in their own right. British India, as the first locus of a full-blown nationalist movement, created a model—the Indian National Congress—soon to be followed across the colonized world, from Southeast Asia to Africa.  1
Nationalist ideology arose from a complex set of interactions in British India, producing a number of side effects that still loom large in postcolonial South Asia. The general process involved the identification of “imagined communities” and mobilization of public support around these ideological constructions. The dominant pattern involved an all-India, nationalistic definition of community—in which M. K. Gandhi played a key role—which, because of the symbolic vocabulary used, was evocatively Hindu and north Indian in nature. The Indian National Congress, while not the only actor on this nationalist stage, managed to remain the key organization in directing resistance to the British through nationalism.  2
In part prompted by these same processes, and in part as a reaction to the vocabulary invoked by congress, other definitions of community also emerged. Many Indian Muslims, for instance, regardless of the stark differences among them, were led by these developments to define a separate but overlapping identification for themselves. Similarly, in south India, a regional movement grew up around the Tamil language which collapsed into one community identity a range of cultural, religious, and linguistic markers. In most of these movements, proto-class distinctions were deliberately downplayed in favor of other shared characteristics; in the west and the south, however, the domination of the nationalist movement by Brahmans led to “non-Brahman” movements essentially focused on lower-class or caste interests.  3
It is possible to argue that these “imagined communities” emerged especially in response to government institutional changes, in which the identification and, especially, the counting of people as part of one community or another became increasingly important as constitutional changes allowed for more democratic participation in governance. But equally important were movements aimed at religious reform which, for the first time, emphasized individual action as the basis for identity; the passionate activism attached to devotionalism was extended to various movements in defense of other forms of community as well.  4
Events in the larger world helped to shape both the demands by Indians for greater autonomy and British reactions to these demands. Indeed, the interests of the British Indian government were often at odds with those of the British government at home. Moreover, the question of Indian support for British war efforts was much more straightforward during World War I than it was by the time of World War II, when little progress seemed to have been made toward self-rule, and the impact of the world depression had underscored the disadvantages of India's links to the larger world. Rapid population growth from 1921 (1.1–1.4 percent annually) exacerbated social and economic tensions.  5
1914, Aug. 4
Britain at war with Germany, making India automatically a combatant. Indian leaders responded loyally, and during the first two years of the war the political situation in India was comparatively quiet. The imperial legislative council voted a gift of £100 million toward Britain's war effort. British India and the Indian states provided about 1.2 million troops (combatants and laborers), who took part in the campaigns in Europe, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt, and East Africa. During the second half of the war unrest became more and more prevalent, with rising prices and heavy taxation adding to popular discontent.  6
Madan Malaviya, Sir Sundar Lal, and Annie Besant, the Theosophist leader, founded the Benares Hindu University. Besant organized the Home Rule League outside the Indian National Congress. The return from imprisonment (since 1908) of Tilak, and the deaths of Gokhale and Pherozeshah Mehta opened the way for a reunion of the moderate and extremist groups in congress. Meanwhile the Muslim leaders Abul Kalam Azad and Mohammed Ali were interned for opposing Muslim participation in the war against the Ottoman Empire.  7
Baron Chelmsford, viceroy. He was met at once with a demand for increased self-government made by 19 Indian elected members of the imperial legislative council. This was elaborated in the scheme, approved in December by the Indian National Congress and the All-India Muslim League meeting simultaneously at Lucknow, calling for dominion status, extension of the franchise, 80 percent of legislative councilors to be elected rather than government-appointed, and half the members of executive councils to be responsible to the legislatures. The efforts of Tilak and M. A. Jinnah produced the Lucknow Pact between the congress and the league, recognizing separate electorates for the Muslim minority, giving them more seats in the legislatures than their numbers required (“weightage”), and allowing three-fourths of the Hindu or Muslim legislators to veto any measure affecting their communal interests.  8
Tilak and Besant carried on a vigorous agitation for home rule. To forestall serious trouble, and embarrassed by the revelation of maladministration of the Indian forces in Mesopotamia, the British government, through the new secretary of state for India, Edwin Montagu, made an important policy change in August.  9
Aug. 20
The British government announced a policy of developing self-governing institutions in India, with a view to introducing responsible government. Montagu visited India in 1918 and together with Lord Chelmsford worked out a report (April 22, 1918) for limited self-government, presented to Parliament in July, which was denounced by the congress as “disappointing and unsatisfactory” and similarly condemned by the Muslim League. The moderate members of the congress seceded and formed the National Liberal Federation (Nov. 1918), pledged to cooperate with reforms.  10
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.