Colonel Warden - Political Career To The Second World War - Political Isolation - Indian Independence

Indian Independence

See also: Simon Commission and Government of India Act 1935

Churchill opposed Gandhi's peaceful disobedience revolt and the Indian Independence movement in the 1930s, arguing that the Round Table Conference "was a frightful prospect". Later reports indicate that Churchill favoured letting Gandhi die if he went on a hunger strike. During the first half of the 1930s, Churchill was outspoken in his opposition to granting Dominion status to India. He was a founder of the India Defence League, a group dedicated to the preservation of British power in India. Churchill brooked no moderation. "The truth is," he declared in 1930, "that Gandhi-ism and everything it stands for will have to be grappled with and crushed." In speeches and press articles in this period, he forecast widespread unemployment in Britain and civil strife in India should independence be granted. The Viceroy Lord Irwin, who had been appointed by the prior Conservative Government, engaged in the Round Table Conference in early 1931 and then announced the Government's policy that India should be granted Dominion Status. In this the Government was supported by the Liberal Party and, officially at least, by the Conservative Party. Churchill denounced the Round Table Conference.

At a meeting of the West Essex Conservative Association specially convened so Churchill could explain his position he said, "It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well-known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace... to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor." He called the Indian National Congress leaders "Brahmins who mouth and patter principles of Western Liberalism".

Two incidents damaged Churchill's reputation greatly within the Conservative Party in this period. Both were taken as attacks on the Conservative front bench. The first was his speech on the eve of the St George by-election in April 1931. In a secure Conservative seat, the official Conservative candidate Duff Cooper was opposed by an independent Conservative. The independent was supported by Lord Rothermere, Lord Beaverbrook and their respective newspapers. Although arranged before the by-election was set, Churchill's speech was seen as supporting the independent candidate and as a part of the press baron's campaign against Baldwin. Baldwin's position was strengthened when Duff Cooper won, and when the civil disobedience campaign in India ceased with the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. The second issue was a claim by Churchill that Sir Samuel Hoare and Lord Derby had pressured the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to change evidence it had given to the Joint Select Committee considering the Government of India Bill, and in doing so had breached Parliamentary privilege. He had the matter referred to the House of Commons Privilege Committee which after investigations, in which Churchill gave evidence, reported to the House that there had been no breach. The report was debated on 13 June. Churchill was unable to find a single supporter in the House and the debate ended without a division.

Churchill permanently broke with Stanley Baldwin over Indian independence and never again held any office while Baldwin was prime minister. Some historians see his basic attitude to India as being set out in his book My Early Life (1930). Another source of controversy about Churchill's attitude towards Indian affairs arises over what some historians term the Indian 'nationalist approach' to the Bengal famine of 1943, which has sought to place significant blame on Churchill's wartime government for the excessive mortality of up to three million people. While some commentators point to the disruption of the traditional marketing system and maladministration at the provincial level, Arthur Herman, author of Churchill and Gandhi, contends, 'The real cause was the fall of Burma to the Japanese, which cut off India's main supply of rice imports when domestic sources fell short... it is true that Churchill opposed diverting food supplies and transports from other theatres to India to cover the shortfall: this was wartime.' In response to an urgent request by the Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery, and Viceroy of India, Wavell, to release food stocks for India, Churchill responded with a telegram to Wavell asking, if food was so scarce, "why Gandhi hadn't died yet." In July 1940, newly in office, he welcomed reports of the emerging conflict between the Muslim League and the Indian Congress, hoping "it would be bitter and bloody".

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