India received independence from the British Empire in 1947. It had a long history of independence movement, stretching from 19th century, but it had gained a massive support only from 1910-1920.

The question is, to what extent is it due to the independence movement? Or is the weakened state of British Empire after WW2 the major reason behind granting independence? I'm not exactly asking Would India have gained independence had there not been WW2?

I am asking - Was the independence movement a nontrivial factor behind the independence? And if it is, what made the British Empire pay heed to the peaceful protests (for the most part) of the Indian independence movement?

Note: I have posted this question after a discussion in chat. Moderators are free to edit this question so that it's within the scope of this site.


In 1937, the Indian Independence Movement conducted provincial elections that clearly demonstrated the will of the people. It also "wound down" an earlier campaign of armed resistance. Finally, Indians gave "qualified" support to Britain in World War II.

The Indian Independence Movement showed the world that the Indians were capable of self-government. In so doing,it created a situation that would have led to independence "eventually," although World War II probably speeded up the process.

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    One additional thing Tom. American Pressure on Britain would also be a factor. Franklin D. Roosevelt pressurized Britain so much about leaving India that Churchill threatened to resign if he did not stop. – NSNoob Dec 11 '15 at 5:49
  • @NSNoob: That was the key "eventuality." – Tom Au Dec 11 '15 at 15:10

To answer your question on the impact of Indian Independence movement in obtaining Indian Independence, we need to look on both British and the Indian sides simultaneously.

Indian scenario before WW1:
India's fight to self rule began from the time of English East India company initially in South India by Puli Thevar, Pazhasi Raja(Pychy Raja), Veerapandiya Kattabomman followed by the Sepoy Mutiny at Vellore that caught the crown's attention marking the start of British Raj. Initial radical fighters(extremists) such as Lala Lajpat Rai, Bala Gangadhara Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal(Lal Bal Pal); moderates Gopala Krishna Gokhale, Dadabhai Naoroji; the Indian National Congress and several other socio-religious groups strived for Independence before WW1.

British Scenario before WW1: Ref1
Britain was one of Europe's most prosperous countries, conquered other nations for trade and abundant raw materials to fuel its progress in industrial production. The crown resorted to policies to deal with the colonies (Partition of Bengal), few were unsuccessful and lead to wars(Boer war) that taught Britain a costly lesson to improve their army and colonial policies.

Indian Scenario during WW1:
Britain was stumped with the overwhelming response Indians gave in support of Britain during WW1. Though the incentives to the volunteers would bring the families of soldiers out of poverty, I still wonder how so many people volunteered to support them in WW1(see here). There are several claims stating it was an attempt to prove Indians were capable of self-rule and fell right into the crown's deceit.

British Scenario during and after WW1:
Britain suffered from heavy war casualties, couldn't afford to fight another WW due to its weakened economic state and the damage incurred post war. Britain efficiently utilised the Indian Army from WW1 to fight wars in its Indo-Afghan border until the next WW. Ref2 The British policy makers managed to convince Indians by allocating posts in all Government bodies through the Minto-Morley reforms. There were several revolts from Indians, but they were effectively contained and controlled by the British forces that also contained Indians.

British Raj in India declared entry into WW2 in support of the crown without consent from majority of National leaders(Ref3), Subhas Chandra Bose formed the Indian National Army(INA) uniting military strength across and outside India against British, this was a major hiccup and they were effectively dealt when Japan was crushed by USA.

Post WW2:
The final breakdown of Imperial Britain in India took place due to coordinated factors of economic weakening and lack of reliable man power to control the colonies. Do read this article by Dr. Susmit Kumar explaining an alternate of the canonical view prevalent in India. Quoting his source:

It was British prime minister Clement Atlee who, when granting independence to India, said that Gandhi’s non-violence movement had next to zero effect on the British. In corroboration, Chief Justice P.B. Chakrabarty of the Kolkata High Court, who had earlier served as acting governor of West Bengal, disclosed the following in a letter addressed to the publisher of Ramesh Chandra Majumdar’s book A History of Bengal:

You have fulfilled a noble task by persuading Dr. Majumdar to write this history of Bengal and publishing it … In the preface of the book Dr. Majumdar has written that he could not accept the thesis that Indian independence was brought about solely, or predominantly by the non-violent civil disobedience movement of Gandhi. When I was the acting Governor, Lord Atlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing the British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor’s palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi’s “Quit India” movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji [Subhash Chandra Bose]. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee's lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, “m-i-n-i-m-a-l!”

The question of loyalty to crown raised in their minds due to the Royal Indian Navy mutiny, 1946, that propogated across the coastal cities of India due to ill treatment of sepoys by officers.

With this background information, my answer your question if Indian Independence movement was a major factor is NO. They(Britain) have faced all kinds of threat posed by Indians during 1940s and yet they managed to maintain their supremacy in India. Their weakened economic state put them in a state obliged to US which was against colonialism, lack of reliable man power questioned their control over Indian rebels, threat from Burma occupied Japan, there was a risk of civil war(partition clashes) in India that hastened the grant of freedom from 1948 to 1947.

To be noted, Independence of several other colonies was granted around the same time(late 1940s to early 1950s)! Coincidence?

  • Atlee wasn't exactly a disinterested observer though. I'm not saying he was lying, but if he were inclined to shade the truth in this matter a bit, this is exactly the direction one would expect him to do so in. – T.E.D. Dec 22 '15 at 15:03
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    @T.E.D If Atlee didn't want to accept defeat by the Indian Freedom Movement this would've been the perfect strategy to maintain his dignity. Gandhi's pacifist ways weren't new to the British. Eg. Gopala Krishna Gokhale, his mentor, was moderate in his approach to Independence. I just wished to clarify that in my answer. Also, I read somewhere when I was looking for references, Subhas Chandra Bose's dissatisfaction over Gandhi's plans for freedom struggle. – Andrew Dec 22 '15 at 15:58

It was certainly one of the contributing factors, simply because India would not have gained independence without at least putting in a request for it.

No independence movement is possible unless the situation allows for it. Only a couple of decades prior to the American Revolution, George Washington was a loyal subject to the British crown, fighting the French on its behalf.

Prior to the 19th Century, the opinion of India's population mattered little, and no matter how strongly some of them felt about the British rule, all efforts to gain independence were easily suppressed by the British (the rebellion and demise of Pychy Rajah, for example, had no chance of becoming international news (in the modern sense).

The advent of mass communication in the 19th Century enabled the manipulators of public opinion to ply their trade on the global scale, which was how the world (especially that portion of it that opposed England) learned about India's plight, and those who were in favor of her independence could now expect to be heard, at least, when they talked about it.

As the dominance of the British navy became less obvious with the advent of steam ships, the talking intensified.

It died down a little when said navy switched from coal to diesel and once again became the fastest and most efficient in the world. It rose up again, stronger than ever, after World War Two, which conclusively demonstrated that England was vulnerable. In addition to the vulnerability, it could no longer easily control its colonies: India's population was six times larger than that of the United Kingdom and was no longer centuries behind technologically. Whatever she lacked in her struggle against England could (and would have been) supplied by England's enemies, covert and otherwise. Last but not least, it was no longer economically viable for England to continue to hold on to India.

  • All but last points that you make were true from the beginning of the 20th century through 1947. Plus, what does navy have to do with this? Independence movement was never a war or a conflict between two armed forces. – taninamdar Dec 11 '15 at 0:44
  • @taninamdar: I'm not quite sure I understand your first sentence. As for the other thing: It is my opinion (and only my opinion, of course) that should India have been, say, Romania's or Uzbekistan's colony, the independence movement would have achieved results a few centuries sooner. – Ricky Dec 11 '15 at 1:05
  • I mean all but last points have nothing to do with the questions that I ask. They were true from the turn of the century, and yet India gained independence only in '47. As for the latter part, that's beyond question, one of the reasons being that those nations weren't as technologically advanced as Britain, so it would've been resolved by armed conflict. But, this was British Empire, and such a conflict was not practical (with the exception of Azad Hind Force, I guess) – taninamdar Dec 11 '15 at 5:00
  • @taninamdar: Then maybe you should rephrase the question. What was true from the turn of the century? Goodness. – Ricky Dec 11 '15 at 5:47

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