Labour Monthly, October 1942
Source: Labour Monthly, October 1942, p. 306-307, by Ben Bradley;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
India’s crisis is Britain’s crisis. In face of this urgent situation the demand increases both in this country and in India for steps to be taken to end the deadlock and to win India as a free ally in the fight against Fascism.
The announcement that Mr. Churchill was to make a statement in the House of Commons to be followed by a debate aroused considerable interest in Indian political circles, but no great hope that either the statement or debate would produce anything or bridge the political impasse: a serious matter because indicative of a widespread opinion in India that nothing can be expected from this side. Mr. Churchill’s speech can only have had the effect of strengthening this opinion; for so far from making use of a great opportunity to allay this mistrust and to win not only the confidence of the Indian people but a new and great ally in the fight against Fascism, his speech, like that of Mr. Amery, Secretary of State for India, showed that reaction was still in the saddle. The speeches were an expression of complacency that repressive measures had held in check the reactions to arrests of Congress leaders; and their aggressive and belligerent tone has had a serious effect in India, as shown by comments of responsible Indian politicians and newspapers, resulting in further deterioration in the political situation.
The Civil and Military Gazette, a newspaper in no way pro-Congress, ironically comments on Mr. Churchill’s efforts to belittle the Congress that he had forgotten to add 200,000,000 politically unawakened Indians to his total of non-Congress elements, whereby he could have proved, doubtless to the satisfaction of himself and his audience, that the Congress Party’s following is precisely minus 45,000,000. This newspaper’s summing-up of the speech is that India had asked for bread and had been given a stone. The Tribune of Lahore, a moderate newspaper, speaks of Mr. Churchill’s “amazing and wholly inexcusable” ignorance of the representative character of the Congress: “Mr. Churchill,” adds the newspaper, “had made many blunders in his time and this one easily tops the list and will prove the most disastrous of all in its consequences.” The Hindu of Madras declares that Mr. Churchill packed into 400 words more venom and mischievous half-truths than he gave to the House of Commons during the whole of the weary progress of the India Bill. Nationalist and Liberal newspapers generally stated that after negotiating with the National Congress so long and so often it is a bit late in the day for the British Government to begin challenging the representative character of the Congress.
In this country the speech was received by wide sections with dismay and disappointment. The News Chronicle said: “This attitude is a complete bankruptcy of statesmanship,” while the Manchester Guardian stated “There can be no going back on the offer of independence made to India. But is there to be no further effort to go forward?” As R. Palme Dutt said in his last Notes of the Month: “Important sections of democratic opinion in this country are also pressing for a solution.” It is disastrous that this found no expression in the Premier’s speech.
On the same day that Mr. Churchill was making his statement in the House of Commons, a statement was issued in India urging him to declare India’s independence forthwith to enable representatives of the major political parties to form a truly representative National Government. The signatories included the Moslem Premiers of Bengal and Sind, the Nawab of Dacca, the President of the Momin Conference, and the Hindu Mahasabha leaders. Dr. Mookerjee, President of the Hindu Mahtisabha, is confident that many other parties and interests will actively support the statement, and emphasised that Mr. Churchill did not realise how strong anti-British feeling was. The Viceroy has, however, refused permission for Dr. Mookerjee to visit the Congress leaders in prison to discuss his proposals.
In Calcutta a meeting of Europeans adopted unanimously a resolution declaring that the British Government should forthwith announce its readiness to transfer full power to a National Government in India and provide immediate facilities for its formation. Mr. Rajagopalachari, who has been working for unity, warmly endorsed this action of this section of Calcutta Europeans.
Immediate efforts to form an Indian National Government were urged in a statement issued by the leader of the Indian Liberal Federation, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and Mr. Jayakar, the representative of the Indian non-party group. They declared that the recent speeches by Mr. Churchill and Mr. Amery “will in no way help the worsening situation.” The demand for independence and for a responsible National Government comes from all sides and is overwhelming. In the Legislative Assembly when it met in Delhi on September I6 information was given by the Home Member of the cost (658 killed) up to the present moment.
On the resumption of the debate in the Legislative Assembly on the present situation, Mr. N.M. Joshi, Labour representative (General Secretary, All-Indian Trades Union Congress) voiced a strong demand for a move by the Government to solve the deadlock. Independence was a national demand, he said, not made by Congress alone. The British did not yet appreciate the advantage of a National Government. They could have an Indian Army many times over a million from an independent India. Production and the war effort in general would be increased ten-fold if the Congress demand for an independent National Government were granted. Mr. Joshi was followed by Maulana Zafar Ali Khan of the Moslem League, who said that Gandhi and Nehru should be released. Sardad Sant Singh made the same plea and drew the lessons from Burma and Malaya which had proved that Britain could not fight both external and internal enemies.
From every side the call comes for a way out, for national unity, for independence, so that India’s mighty resources can be thrown into the fight against the world’s greatest menace – Fascism. On behalf of the Communist Party of India, P.C. Joshi, its General Secretary, states: “This stalemate cannot last. It is the last desperate stand of reaction. The only problem is: Are we to leave it to the Japanese to break the stalemate, or will the Indian people, in alliance with the British people, break it?” The Communist Party of India is working might and main to secure national unity and to mobilise India’s millions and material for the war against Fascism.
The immediate situation is extremely serious and threatening. The Japanese may attack at any moment. A set-back in India is not merely a victory against the Indian people but a victory of the Axis against the people of this country, the Soviet Union and all peoples fighting against Fascism. The present Government policy on India cannot remain unchanged for a moment longer. The question is urgent. The policy of self-satisfaction and complacency – “India is returning to normal” – means continuous repression, and a refusal to acknowledge that in every village and hamlet, in every town and city, the people of India call out for that freedom which we are fighting to defend against Fascism.
We must increase our pressure a thousand-fold through our Trade Union organisations, workshops and factories everywhere and demand that the Government immediately declare India independent and reopen discussions with the representatives of Indian opinion.
The C.P. of India in their call to the people of India state: “Not Fascism, but the people will emerge victorious out of this war. This is the guarantee of India’s liberation.”
We in this country have the power to make this possible to-day. And we must – and thus win India as a free ally in the fight against Fascism.