A conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia soon led to the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and spiralled into a full-blown bloody crisis in Europe. Clear divisions arose with Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey forming the Central Powers and France, Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan and the United States of America the Allies.
Mid – 1914 to 1918 saw the steady and decisive fall of four imperial dynasties of Russia (1917), the Ottoman, Austria-Hungary and Germany (1918) sowing the seeds of unprecedented bloodshed, destruction and butchery.
Akhanda Bharat had no option but to fight a battle that had little or nothing to do with them as Britain had joined the First World War. However, the British still suffered nightmares from the 1857 First War of Independence and were hesitant to have Indians whom they called ‘black Indian’ fighting with the “superior white European” irrespective of his nationality!
It was initially decided that Indians would not be asked to join as it would embolden them to hack their colonial masters once they return. But with each passing day, the British were forced to disregard their racial connotations and begin enlistment if they were to survive the German assault.
Indian troops made their way to the western front by the end of 1914 and fought at the first Battle of Ypres. It is estimated that more than 10 lakh Indians were sent abroad with more than 47,746 marked down as killed or missing, about 65,000 wounded and over 1,01,439 casualties.
The princely states of Hyderabad, Gwalior, Jodhpur and Mysore who had become eager slaves of their colonial masters wished to further ingratiate themselves and sent food, clothes, ambulances, horses, motorcars and labourers along with large grants of money. Though Indians supported the British cause, the latter were of the belief that if the efforts of the Germans to support the anti-British uprising should succeed, then the British would have their hands full in suppressing the rebellion from all quarters.
Many nationalists also thought that if India would support Britain in their time of need, then Britain would be more accommodating to their demands after the War. The Indian National Congress, Annie Besant and Tilak openly threw their support behind the British and encouraged everyone to do their bit for their colonial masters.
Mr. Gandhi who was in England when the war broke out swung into action and organized medical corps. He asked for people to join his Field Ambulance Training Corps and even took nursing classes.
Mr. Gandhi was a staunch supporter of his colonial masters and believed that one should neither embarrass nor take advantage of the “fair-minded” masters during their time of turmoil. His exact worlds were, ‘England’s need should not be turned into our opportunity and that it was more becoming and far-sighted not to press our demands while the war lasted.’
Mr. Gandhi returned from England in 1915 and actively helped expand recruitment bases for the British Indian Army. He marched from village to village in 1918 in his home province of Gujarat addressing mass gatherings and enlisting people for the War that India should have never taken part in.
How does one justify this act? A man who endorses nonviolence (the apostle of nonviolence) enlists his own countrymen to fight for the invaders who have occupied his land and stolen its riches depriving his own countrymen of independence, livelihood, food and water and effectively sending them to their deaths. What of the widows, orphans and those who will grieve for their kith and kin? Why did he not go to the frontline to fight if he wished to support the British unconditionally?
Nathuram Godse was 4 years old in 1914.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
* Information about Nathuram Vinayak Godse is taken from archives