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The end of the British empire - India
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Secret memo from the British government on Gandhi's actions in 1944
(Catalogue ref: PREM 4/49/3)
  • This extract comes from the notes of a meeting of Britain's Cabinet (all the chief ministers) in July 1944 during the Second World War. One of the many issues discussed was the situation in India. Gandhi got several pages worth of discussion!
  • Gandhi was the most high profile campaigner for independence for India from British rule. He was a leading figure in the Indian National Congress, which was the main organisation campaigning for independence.
  • The Congress began campaigning in 1885, and Gandhi led the campaigns through the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Congress believed in non-violent protest. This proved to be very effective at embarrassing the British and in getting support for Gandhi (even in Britain).
  • When war broke out in 1939 the British authorities were concerned that Indian nationalists like Gandhi would cause trouble. By 1941 most Congress leaders were in prison. Gandhi went on hunger strike in 1943 and was released in 1944.
  • In this document we can see that he was setting out his ideas and trying to reassure the British. He did not stop calling for Indian independence, but he did not try to disrupt the British war effort. He simply wanted a more democratic government for India, along the same lines as Britain. He also wanted the British to pay more of the costs of the war.
  • During the Second World War hundreds of thousands of Indians served in the forces. India had no choice about whether to go to war, but had to pay the whole cost of India’s contribution to the war. Gandhi was pointing out that India’s sacrifice deserved in return some kind of say in the running of India.
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