Wayne K Spear: India’s History With Hitler





Wayne K. Spear is a writer of essays, newspaper articles, fiction, and poetry and has worked in communications, health, and education. His next book is scheduled to be published in 2013 by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Almost precisely seventy years ago, in March of 1942, Winston Churchill dispatched his Marxist-leaning cabinet minister and political rival Stafford Cripps to secure India’s co-operation in the war against Hitler. Partly a result of the well-founded suspicions of Indian nationalists — chief among whom were Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajaji, Subhas Chandra Bose and Mohandas Gandhi — but mostly the result of Churchill’s covert efforts, by April the negotiations of the Cripps mission had failed (as Churchill all along intended). In the subsequent months Gandhi, anticipating a German-Japanese victory, led his colleagues in the Quit India movement, demanding the withdrawal of Britain and immediate Indian independence.
 
This and much more came to my mind as I beheld a photo of the “Hitler” clothing store, the owner Rajesh Shah (a Gujarati surname meaning merchant) standing before it in a Gandhi T-shirt. Shah and his business partner profess to know little of the Nazi leader, and have stated that this selection refers to a strict grand-parent and not the murderous NSDAP Führer. It’s yours to choose whether this is a lie told in the service of self-promotion, or an admission of ignorance, and to determine which constitutes the greater shame.
 
The Indian aspect of the 1939-1945 war against fascism was widely underappreciated and misunderstood by the British public of the time. Indian leaders, for their part, were divided over Hitler and the German threat. Cripps’ mission was dismissed in many quarters as Churchill’s attempt to rid himself of an uncomfortably popular politician, by sending him on a fool’s errand. So it was. There was more at risk, however, should the Indian National Congress’ withholding of support inspire broader Indian non-participation in the war, thereby necessitating a diversion of troops from the European field. Gandhi’s policy of ahimsa (“non violence”) and satyagraha (“firmness in the truth” — a strategy he perfected while defending textile workers) led him as far as recommending mass-suicide, not only of Germany’s Jews but of Indians, should a Nazi takeover of the sub-continent occur. From this policy Nehru and Bose dissented, though as respectively anti-German and pro-German their disagreement was itself the occasion of an argument...


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