World War II
In the midst of these constitutional experiments, when Congress and government seemed to be growing toward one another, came the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. India was far more prepared for this event than for the outbreak of World War I, because she was in much closer touch with world opinion than previously, and the war had been expected in Europe for months. She now also had her own Cassandra, warning her of the future, in the person of Jawaharlal Nehru. The realistic attitude of India toward World War II was a measure of her progress toward adult national status in the previous twenty-five years.
Nationalist opinion in India during the thirties had been generally hostile to the dictatorships of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. The British government had been widely criticized for its appeasement policy and especially for the Munich settlement, with its sacrifice of Czechoslovakia. The stand made after the Nazi occupation of Prague in March 1939 was therefore generally welcomed. But when war actually came, the attitude of the country was markedly detached. The Indian public was now (as it had not been in 1914) an independent entity in its own mind. It judged issues for itself without reference to British reactions. In this case it generally sympathized with the Allied stand against the Nazis. But its attitude remained detached for two reasons. One was the absorption of the country generally in its own concerns. Europe was still far off; Gandhi's latest fast or Subhas Bose being carried to a Congress meeting on a stretcher was more exciting to the average man than the tragic fate of a small and distant country. The other reason was India's dependent status. The manner of India's entering the war emphasized this continuing constitutional fact. The left wing considered the war an imperialist one and was strengthened in its view during the months of "phony war." The public in general considered it a war of interest indeed, but not yet its business. It was Britain's war, and let Britain get on with it. When Hitler invaded Norway,