All the exit polls predicted a clean sweep for the Congress.
Gandhi’s visit to London to attend the Second RTC drew world-wide attention. The British media viewed it favourably. Many politi cians and the public opinion were also supportive. Churchill, however, was of the view that Gandhi would replace the British Raj with a clique of Brahmins. He described Gandhi as a future dictator and accused him of planning a racial war in which the aim was either to “exhaust or destroy the other”. His intense hatred of Gandhi prevented him from rationally and logically analysing Gandhi’s role.
Churchill successfully spearheaded the delay to the introduction of the long-awaited Government of India bill in parliament in January 1933. He was enraged by references to eventual self-government calling it ‘weak and foolish’ and denounced the bill as “a gigantic quilt of jumbled crochet work, a monstrous monument of shame built by ‘pygmies’ ”.
However, once the bill was passed he told the new viceroy Linlithgow on 8 August 1935, who had the task of implementing the Act, that he would maintain only silence and would be of little help.
As a gesture of conciliation, he invited G D. Birla, a close supporter of Gandhi, for lunch. The meeting was amicable with Churchill doing most of the talking. Birla wrote to Gandhi stating it was one of his most pleasant experiences.
Putting aside his biting criticisms of Gandhi, Churchill enquired about Gandhi and when he was informed about Gandhi’s Harijan campaigns his reaction was over- whelmingly positive.
“Mr Gandhi had gone very high in my esteem since he stood up for the untouchables” Furthermore, he told Birla “…to tell Mr.Gandhitousethepowerthatareoffered and make the thing a success”. When asked what was the test of success, Churchill replied the “improvement in the lot of the masses, morally as well as materially. I do not care whether you are more or less loyal to Great Britain”.
He also told Birla that he was genuinely sympathetic to India and had real fears about its future. He hoped the Reforms would succeed and India would be able to take care of herself.
He also added there were fifty Indias and assured Birla that if India could make a success he would advocate more. Churchill hoped India would still remain within the Empire.
Despite his assurance, his negative view of India and Gandhi did not permanently change. Birla on his part was shocked at Churchill’s ignorance of contemporary India and found his views “most peculiar”.
Churchill’s virulent attack on concessions to India alienated him from the mainstream of British politics resulting in the decline of his political stock. He was responsible for the delay in the implementation of the 1935 Act by two years. He was extremely happy at the distrust between the Congress and the Muslim League.
In the summer of 1940 both Churchill and Gandhi knew that they were facing the most serious challenges of their lives. Churchill’s mission was first to stop Hitler’s aggression and then defeat him.
For Gandhi, it was an unprecedented opportunity to prove to his own people and the world the efficacy of nonviolent satyagraha; to compel the British to grant inde- pendence to India and change the course of human history by proving righteousness and effectiveness of non-violent mass action to resolve conflicts.
Churchill as Prime Minister delayed India’s independence as long as he possibly could, a change from his position in 1935 when he reluctantly accepted that Britain would not be able to hold on to India.
During the first two years of the Second WorldWartheCongresspolicywastoextract as many concessions as possible but there was hardly any progress.
The Japanese victories led to new anxieties. Gandhi opposed the Japanese entry into India but he equally and vehemently opposed the continuation of the British rule with the added advantage, the presence of the American troops. He was of the opinion that if Japan attacked India, satyagraha would be enough to deter it.
Churchill had successfully created a special bond with Roosevelt with the two signing the Atlantic Charter in 1941. The Charter promised the right of self-determination to all subjugated nations after the War.
He was in a dilemma as he realized he would have to sign the Charter in order to retain American friendship. Here too, he tried to restrict it by claiming that the Charter was restricted to only the European countries conquered by Hitler and Stalin. Many others, including Amery, held that it applied to all nations including India.
Churchill reassured the House of Commons that the Charter did not include development of constitutional government in India, Burma or other parts of the Empire, totally negating Roosevelt’s view.
To Linlithgow’s request of wanting to reopen fresh negotiations with Gandhi and the Congress, Churchill retorted with a handy excuse, the opposition by the Muslim League.
In April 1942, the Congress declared that Britain had no moral authority to rule India and their control of India was dependent on US support. Their worry was the continuation of the empire with help of American support.
Even more worrisome was the open declaration by Churchill that India would be retained as a colony by force. But privately, Churchill knew that if the Americans insisted, he would have to agree to Indian independence because he realised the indispensability of American friendship for his war efforts. The failure of the Cripps Mission forced Gandhi to launch the Quit India movement, which for Gandhi represented the culmination of his struggle to gain independence. Both Linlithgow and the Imperial office were alarmed.
Gandhi did not anticipate the quick and ruthless British suppression and virtual and total opposition by the Muslims. He faced non-cooperation from many and total opposition from all the non-Congress political formations. The regime heaved a sigh of relief when Gandhi was arrested.
Churchill was not bothered about Gandhi’s hunger strike. He even asked the viceroy to check if the water that Gandhi drank was laced with glucose.
Despite the viceroy’s assurance, his virulence towards Gandhi continued, referring tothelatterasthe“oldhumbugandaras- cal.” He did not publish a tribute nor express any regret when Gandhi was assassinated. However, he recognized the sublimity of Gandhi’s actions in riot-torn Bihar and Noakhali in 1946-47 and considered it as Gandhi’s finest hour.
Churchill is one of the most outstanding statesmen of the twentieth century and one of the most popular Britons because of his determination and courage to keep alive the spirit of freedom in Britain and for rallying his people and the beleaguered Allied forces to fight against Hitler at a time described as the ‘darkest hour’.
He led Britain to victory in the Second World War but he lost the elections subse- quently to Atlee and the Labour party that promised to mitigate serious concerns within British society through the implementation of the Beveridge Report. But his rigid and outmoded defence of the empire was a blemish in a life that was otherwise splendid.
(The writers are, respectively, a retired Professor of Political Science, University of Delhi and Professor of Political Science, Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi)