how Britain lost the will to rule
The First World War was a seminal moment in modern Indian history a watershed that ushered in the final phase of Britain 300 year involvement in the subcontinent.
As part of the British Empire, India played an important role in the war effort and raised more than a million men for the Indian Army, most from the northern province of the Punjab.
In autumn 1914, the Indian Corps, comprising two Punjabi divisions, arrived in France in time to play a key part in holding the line with the first Indian soldier to receive the Victoria Cross, Khudadad Khan, being recognised for his selfless bravery during the fighting around Ypres in October 1914.
Yet the Western Front was unremittingly hard on Indian troops and by the end of 1915, the Indian Corps had sustained more than 32,000 casualties, including hundreds of highly trained officers, which imperilled its viability. So it was redeployed to the Middle East, where Indian troops made a major contribution to the war against Ottoman Turkey.
Indian soldiers Rajputs, Sikhs, Gurkhas and Punjabi Muslims fought for many reasons including pay, izzat (honour), adventure and a desire to protect their country. In the Punjab, military service was a hereditary profession and serving the Sirkar (ruler) was a valued and highly profitable occupation. The Indian Army was made up of volunteers and although the efforts of Britain recruiters intensified during the war, conscription was never introduced nor compulsion ever employed. Yet while India response to the war effort had been encouraging, the war dislocated its economy and stimulated demands from nationalists for a say in how the country was run.
The 29th Lancers (Deccan Horse) on the Somme
In August 1917, long before Mahatma Gandhi would make his mark on Indian history, Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India, made a historic announcement in the House of Commons. A liberal, naturally uncomfortable with imperialism, Montagu wanted to harness nationalist support for the war effort and proposed that Britain begin the process of gradual self government, with Indian politicians taking an increasing role in the administration. Disregarding the sacrifices and loyalty that significant sections of the Indian population had shown towards the empire, Montagu focused his efforts on winning the support of those nationalists who had often been hostile to the Raj. It would pandora jewellrey be a fatal mistake.
Before Montagu reforms could come into being, an event took place in Amritsar in northern India that would reshape the political landscape and wipe out any public relations gains Montagu had made with his announcement. On April 13, 1919, five months after the end of the war, Indian troops under the command of Brig Gen Reginald Dyer fired on demonstrators in a walled garden (the Jallianwala Bagh) in the city of Amritsar in the Punjab.
In up to 10 minutes of firing, 379 people were killed and more than 1,000 wounded in an episode that became known as the Amritsar Massacre. This was the culmination of three days of rioting, arson and anti government activity across northern India. Brig Gen Dyer had found himself in a hostile city where civilian rule had been overthrown and the prospects of bloodshed perhaps even a second Mutiny were growing by the day. He would later describe his actions as duty, a very horrible duty and that he fired to restore order and send a message that revolt would not be tolerated.
Left to right: Dyer; Khudadad Khan; Edwin Montagu
Amritsar soon become enshrined in Indian national myth as a moment of unparalleled barbarity. Dyer had fired into a gentle and unarmed crowd of men, women and children from a combination of racism, aggression and revenge, so it was said, symptomatic of the bankruptcy of imperial rule.
This view which the nationalists were quick to propagate was recreated to high acclaim by Richard Attenborough in Gandhi (1982). But the massacre was a freak event: the unexpected result of a collision between a nervous and insecure officer operating in a claustrophobic city with little or no intelligence.
In an earlier age, Dyer actions would have been seen as a necessary response to the threat of widespread disorder. Yet in Montagu new age of conciliation, a sacrifice was demanded. After an inquiry deals on pandora bracelets ordered by the Secretary of State, Dyer was criticised for making an of judgment and retired on the grounds of ill health. His treatment sent a clear message to those upholding British power overseas that they could no longer count on their government automatic support and sympathy.
When Montagu reforms were introduced in December 1919, the landscape of British imperial rule had altered unmistakeably. Instead of witnessing a new imposition of imperial strength, the events of 1919 sapped the will of Britain Indian administrators and undermined their control of the subcontinent. By handing over significant responsibilities to Indian politicians with the naive hope that this would not destabilise the Raj Montagu inadvertently opened Pandora box and began the process that would end padora bracelet in the communal slaughter of partition in 1947.
For Sir Michael O Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab throughout the Great War (and often erroneously conflated with Dyer) Montagu reforms, combined with his squeamish handling of the shooting in Amritsar, were symptomatic of an empire that cheap pandora bracelets had lost its nerve. Criticising Montagu for giving control of the administration 250 millions of people to a narrow, inexperienced, and unrepresentative Indian oligarchy O maintained that those who had bled in the service of empire the Indian Army should be rewarded, not a select band of Indian politicians.
It would be a call he would repeat many times. Britain must continue to rule in India, to hold fast to her ideals of impartial justice, the rule of law and the protection of the minorities, or she must leave.
While Britain armies would rise to a peak of efficiency at the end of the First World War, scattering her foes from Flanders to Palestine, and conquering a new empire in the Middle East, her political leaders by men like Montagu lost their dominating will to rule. Strength and resolve traits that Britain had shown in such depth during the war would be increasingly replaced by compromise and appeasement. The scuttle had begun.
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