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Jawaharlal Nehru played a pivotal role in India's nationalist movement to gain independence from British Rule. He became India's first Prime Minister in 1947 and stayed in power until his death in 1964. During World War II, prominent leaders like Nehru and Gandhi were imprisoned and most dissent was silenced. India joined the war on the Allied side, but without any consultation from the Indian legislature. Although Indians generally supported the war effort, British policies in India were unpopular and lead to great unrest after the war.

In in his account of the war in The Discovery of India (Nehru's account of Indian history), Nehru claimed that British war policies in India reflected the general nature of colonial rule. He was angry over the fact that Indians themselves were not asked for their consent to participate in the conflict, making the war seem like it was purely for the preservation of the colonial status quo. Indian troops were shipped out to foreign shores discretely and none of the legislative bodies were consulted about this. He argued that if Britain truly viewed India as a partner, it would have let Indians, who loathed Fascism anyway, voluntarily participate. Instead, it viewed India merely as an appendage and felt free to exploit it to the hilt in the war.

Nehru also felt that a great opportunity to advance the industrialization of India was lost during this time. Mechanical parts and other supplies were scarce and it would have been advisable to manufacture them in India. However, the British government did not want any potential Indian industries competing with Britain in the post-War period. Factories producing industrial alcohol, vehicles, etc on a mass scale could have been easily set up and been feasible. Instead, these commodities were imported from Britain at a large premium. Even industrialists like Tata, who were still able to take initiative, were hindered once the war was over.

Finally, industrial production was diverted to the war effort instead of being enhanced. Nehru argued that the British assertion that this diversion was necessary to prevent the wastage of resources was wrong. He felt there was already enough surplus labor present to enhance India’s industrial capacity considerably. Instead, there was very little growth over the war years. All this underscores Nehru’s general argument about India being a mere economic and political appendage to Britain.

Nehru, Jawaharlal . The Discovery of India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Sarkar, Sumit. Modern India, 1885-1947. New Delhi: MacMillan, 2002.

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