First World War

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The First World War lasted over four years from 1914 to the end of 1918. Germany and its allies Turkey, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, were called the ‘Central Powers’ while the Entente Governments — France, Russia, Britain were termed as ‘Allies’.

During the war Turkey sided with Germany. In Turkey at that time there was rule of Ottoman Empire that still owned Khilafat which the Muslims of the Subcontinent highly honored and cherished. They feared that if Germany was defeated, Turkey would also suffer a lot. But Great Britain fighting against the ‘Central Powers’ continued to reassure the world at large and the Indian Muslims in particular that they would not cause any harm to the Ottoman Empire and would not deprive Turkey of its capital city, Asia Minor or the fertile lands of Greece.

The First World War brought with it far-reaching economic and social change as the European colonial powers utilized their possessions for the raw materials and manpower necessary to wage war. The war had an impact on the price of goods and foodstuffs, which rose faster than incomes. Further hardship resulted from the increase of taxation on the peasantry. Inevitably the First World War was prone to create turmoil in India’s political and constitutional position too. The most important thing the British Government required in her hour of travail was to ensure the loyalty of the Indians throughout the War. Thus the Secretary of State Montagu proclaimed that the Government of India was willing to encourage Indian ambitions of self-rule and therefore increase eventually Indian participation in the administration of the country. So when it was declared that India was also at war with Germany, legislative Councils readily voted for emergency powers to the executive and gave full financial backing to War expenditure. Approximately one-and-a-half million Indian troops volunteered to serve overseas and fought to defend the interests of British capitalists. But after the war ended, the British sought to introduce draconian legislation to contain the activity of people presumed to be political extremists. Punjab disturbances of 1919, including the notorious massacre by General Dyer of nearly 400 unarmed Indians at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar evidently marked the emergence of a nation-wide movement against the British rule.

A significant impact was that the Congress and the Muslim League drew closer. The main reason was that at the end of the First World War Germany and its allies were defeated and the British Government entered into negotiations with other colonial powers to divide the Ottoman Empire. The Indian Muslims got furious, as they felt cheated by the violation of repeated pledges by the British Government. Furthermore, the Indians’ full-fledged cooperation with the British Government was not rewarded in the form of political concessions or self-rule for India but an unexpected change in her attitude that was too strict and aggressive to be endured. So under the immediate stress of anti-British emotions, the basic differences between the Hindus and the Muslims were momentarily forgotten and it seemed that political exigency had overcome deep-rooted instincts and suspicions. During the years 1913-1924 the Hindus and Muslims remained united and started in unison the ‘Khilafat Movement’ against the British Government. Especially Gandhi threw his overall influence and pressure on the side of the ‘Khilafat Movement’ and carried most of the Congressmen with him. The Muslims welcomed this unexpected help as it reinforced the ‘Khilafat Movement’ and brightened the chances of its success.

In the aftermath of First World War the political, cultural, and social order of the world was drastically changed in many places, even outside the areas directly involved in the war. New countries were formed and old ones were altered.

International organizations were established, and many new and old ideas took a firm hold in people’s minds. In 1919, the British had to give added responsibility to Indian officials, and in 1935, India was given a federal form of government and a measure of self-rule.

This article was last updated on Monday, Jan 01, 2007