Saluting Indian heroes of World War I: But, why forget freedom fighters

The centenary of World War-1 (1914-18) is being celebrated through a series of series of events in erstwhile colonies of the allied powers. India, too, has planned to celebrate the centenary of World War I through full four years with a sense of pride that its soldiers participated in expeditions to defend the British Empire. The call to participate in the war effort was given by no less than Mahatma Gandhi and Bal GangadharTilak, iconic freedom fighters, with the hope that the colonial rulers would grant home rule under Dominion Status after success in the war. Gandhi said: “If we would improve our status through the help and cooperation of the British, it is our duty to win their help by standing by them in their hour of need.”

While scholars in India and across the world are being encouraged to collect evidence of the participation of Indian forces, little is being done to bring to light the Indian nationalist anti-colonial movement that began in the heart of Europe during the same period. Indian nationalist revolutionary, VirendranathChattopadhyaya (affectionately called Chatto), led the network of Indian activists scattered across Europe, with Germany as the focal centre for their propaganda against the British Empire. The Indian activists received financial and diplomatic assistance from the then Kaiser-ruled Germany. The reciprocity between these Indian activists and Germany was an arrangement based on a mutual understanding to disturb the British war efforts. The Indian emigrants, therefore, had the chance for mobilising the anti-colonial struggle.Prime Minister Modi should have taken up this issue with Chancellor Angela Merkel when he recently visited Germany.

netaiSimilarly he should take up this with Russian President Putin. Russia has several documents relating to the activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose during World War II.

Prime Minister Modi, during his recent visit to Australia, signed an agreement to jointly celebrate the centenary of the World War I in which Australian and New Zealand forces alongwith Indian forces, fought the Turkish army in Gallipoli peninsula and also the German forces in the Pacific Ocean. True, we should be proud of our soldiers who valiantly fought the war and the 11 received the highest honour – Victoria Cross – and other awards. Around 75,000 Indian soldiers laid down their lives.

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