When Gandhi supported the British army

Colin Ross has a bone to pick with the Indian independence movement for not having joined Germany against the British in World War I.

Colin Ross was not shy to express his rejection of the Indian independence movement. His reasons ranged from Germany’s economic interest (he considered India under British rule a more promising partner for trade) to the macro-perspective of geopolitics. In his mind the Indian nationalists represented the vanguard of a general uprising of colonized peoples in Asia and Africa and its danger to European supremacy.

In his book Umstrittenes Indien (1930) Ross brings up a more idiosyncratic grievance. “Not so long ago”, he writes, “the Germans and Indians were in the same boat. If the latter had been so invested in their independence during the war as they today claim to be, well, they could have won their freedom then, and our victory.” [p. 89] But, Ross notes bitterly, Indian nationalists were more than loyal to the British crown during World War I, singling out Gandhi’s involvement specifically.

Ross acknowledges that this compliance with the British during the war was also a strategic move to earn independence. Next to his extended review of other points, this gut-level appeal to German patriotism seems more designed to persuasively bolster his opposition to Indian independence. He admits in the beginning of the excerpt that his stance may likely seem counterintuitive to many German readers: they may be more inclined to enjoy seeing the British empire crumble, especially given the ties of “kindness and sympathy” established between the Germans and Indians.1 [p. 89]

Joachim Schätz

Ross, Colin. [Excerpt from] Indien als politisches Gebilde und seine Zukunftsaussichten. In: Umstrittenes Indien. Berlin: Reimar Hobbing; 1930. (Die Welt im Bild); 89–91.

Topic: The Great War
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30


1 For an intellectual history of this Indian-German connection from the 19th century to after World War II, see: Kris Manjapra. Age of Entanglement. German and Indian intellectuals across Empire. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press; 2014; 454 p.

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