What wonder that at the time when India was involved in the war, the leaders were caught napping. Such a state of ideological, organisational and technical unpreparedness was a natural corollary from their attitude towards the war and its international issues and implications. To them it was not an opportunity which could be turned to national account. They suffered from an excess of moral integrity and irrelevant considerations. On the 3rd September 1939 when Britain declared war on Germany, the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, in his “A Message to India”, invited her to play a part worthy of her place among the great nations and the historic civilisations of the world.” Gandhiji rose to the occasion and said that it would not be in keeping with the high traditions of India to enter into a bargaining spirit with England, when she was involved in a life-and-death struggle, and advised that “what support was to be given to the British was to be given unconditionally.” The rest of the Gods in the Indian political and philosophical pantheon followed suit. Pant, Radhakrishnan repeated the same sentiment on the same grounds of India’s historic traditions. Jawaharlal rushed back from China, and hastened to make a statement as he landed at Rangoon, accepting every clause of Gandhiji’s statement—the justification of the cause of the democratic Allies, the high traditions of India and the unbargaining spirit—but added one more clause. He wanted to know how those principles of democracy for which England was fighting would be applied to India. The next day, the same pantheon began to voice the same thing, in the same order, with the same addition.
The ‘historic’ Congress Working Committee met on the 8th September, 1939 and after five days’ prolonged discussions and ‘earnest consideration of the grave crisis’ resolved that “it (Congress) has seen in Fascism and Nazism the intensification of Imperialism.” At the end, it invited the “British Government to declare in unequivocal terms what their war aims are in regard to India.”
The further action of the Congress leadership was nothing but a round of the same sentiments and invitations. It was a round of condemning fascism as a prelude to condemning imperialism. The A.I.C.C. met on the 9th and 10th October and passed:
“While the Committee condemns Fascism and Nazi aggression, it was convinced that peace and freedom can only be established and preserved by an extension of democracy to all colonial countries.”
And as to the need of doing anything about it they did not feel any. They met at Allahabad on the 19th November and passed :
“The Congress has looked upon the war crisis and the problem it raises as essentially a moral issue and have not sought to profit by it in any spirit of bargaining.”
Hate the sin and not the sinner, was the motto. For, this is true both ethically as well as logically. Ethically, we should not hate or harm anybody. Though I, on my part, cannot see how you can help singeing nobody’s beard if you go around with the ‘Torch of Truth’. The proposition was also logically true. British exploitation of India is not the same thing as the British exploiters of India. Every time they said they hated British imperialism, they hastened to add they loved the British people. What an attitude towards those with whom, you know, you are not arguing, but against whom you are fighting.