Monday, January 23, 2012

the First World War and the Indian Army

The First World War did not directly concern India. In the second half of the  nineteenth century Indian army periodically to serve the cause of Empire in East Africa, the Sudan, Egypt, Persia, Afghanistan, Burma and China. The annual cost of the enormous army was borne entirely on Indian revenue. On the eve of the War (1913) the Govt of India spelt out the functions of Indian army :
" While India should provide  for her own defence against local agression and, if necessary, for an attack on the Indian Empire by a great power until reinforcements came from home, she is not called upon to maintain troops for the specific purpose of placing them at the disposal of the Home Governmengt for wars outside the Indian sphere, although  -- as has happened in the past  -- she may lend such troops i they are otherwise available "
Initially Indian Army decided that India could spare two infantry divisions and one cavalry brigade for the empire and in Autumn 1914, these were  despatched to France. Soon, however , such niceties were thrown to the winds and India provided troops for Europe and Egypt . During the War the Indian Army was consequently expanded to 1.2 million . More detailed breakdown of figures indicates that the Government of Indian recruited more that 800,000 fighting troops and over 400,000 non-combatants.
This spectacular expansion could only have been carried through with some amount of coercion. Congress enquiry after the 1919 disturbances revealed numerous instances of coercio through lambardars in O'Dwyer's Punjab. Dr. Sumit Sarkar has shown that no less than 355,000 were recruited from Punjab and O'Dwyer in Aug 1918 boasted tha the proportion of soldiers to the adult male population had been forced up from 1:150 to 1:44 in Gujranwala -- a district which was to be noticeably militant during the Rowlatt Act disturbances.
Another recent study indicates that on being requested by the authorities, generally loyalist Oudh lalukdars spared no efforts to aid the Government by collecting material and men for them. James meston, the Lieutenant -Governer of the United Provinces, frankly admitted "that several of the talukdars have already done admirable work in aid of recruiting". Inreality the Oudh peasantlry were compelled to enlist themselves in the army and labour corps. Other regions were not spared either.
The huge army had to be paid for nearly 300% increase in defence expenditure meant a corresponding presure on the exchequer. The Government of India had to take over in March 1917 pound 100 million worth of British government war debt.
According to a recent estimate the total public debt rose substantially from under 4,560 million in 1917 to nearly 6,700 million in 1919.
During the war all tax levels were raised . It was trade and Industry which had to bear the burnt of the enhanced taxes . The collections from income taxes were less than Rs.30 million or 4% of the total tax revenues in 1913-14; by 1918-1919 they had jumped to Rs. 116 million  or 12 %of the total. The burden taxation (excluding land revenue) per head of population roswe from just over Re. 1,5 in 1914-15to just under Rs. 2.5 in 1918-19. Despite protests fromLnchashire its interest had tobe sudordinated to that of the empire and 71/2 %import duty was imposed.