India (Situation)

– in the House of Commons on 10th September 1942.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make with regard to the present situation in India?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

The course of events in India has been improving and is, on the whole, reassuring. The broad principles of the declaration made by His Majesty's Government which formed the basis of the Mission of the Lord Privy Seal to India, must be taken as representing the settled policy of the British Crown and Parliament. These principles stand in their full scope and integrity. No one can add anything to them, and no one can take anything away. The good offices of the Lord Privy Seal were rejected by the Indian Congress Party.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

This, however, does not end the matter. The Indian Congress Party does not represent all India. It does not represent the majority of the people of India. It does not even represent the Hindu masses. It is a political organisation built around a party machine and sustained by certain manufacturing and financial interests. Outside that party and fundamentally opposed to it are the 90,000,000 Moslems in British India——

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

—who have their rights of self-expression; the 50,000,000 Depressed Classes, or the Untouchables as they are called because they are supposed to defile their Hindu co-religionists by their presence or by their shadow; and the 95,000,000 subjects of the Princes of India with whom we are bound by treaties; in all 235,000,000 in these three large groupings alone, out of about 390,000,000 in all India. This takes no account of large elements among the Hindus, Sikhs and Christians in British India who deplore the present policy of the Congress Party. It is necessary that these main facts should not be overlooked here or abroad, because no comprehension of the Indian problem or of the relations between Britain and India is possible without the recognition of these basic data.

The Congress Party has now abandoned in many respects the policy of nonviolence which Mr. Gandhi has so long inculcated in theory, and has come into the open as a revolutionary movement designed to paralyse the comunications by rail and telegraph and generally to promote disorder, the looting of shops and sporadic attacks upon the Indian police, accompanied from time to time by revolting atrocities—the whole having the intention or at any rate the effect of hampering the defence of India against the Japanese invader who stands on the frontiers of Assam and also upon the eastern side of the Bay of Bengal. It may well be that these activities by the Congress Party have been aided by Japanese fifth-column work on a widely extended scale and with special direction to strategic points. It is noteworthy, for instance, that the communications of the Indian forces defending Bengal on the Assam frontier have been specially attacked.

In these circumstances the Viceroy and Government of India, with the unanimous support of the Viceroy's Council, the great majority of which are Indians, patriotic and wise men, have felt it necessary to proclaim and suppress the central and Provincial organs of this association which has become committed to hostile and criminal courses. Mr. Gandhi and other principal leaders have been interned under conditions of the highest comfort and consideration, and will be kept out of harm's way till the troubles subside.

It is fortunate, indeed, that the Congress Party has no influence whatever with the martial races, on whom the defence of India apart from British Forces largely depends. Many of these races are divided by unbridgeable religious gulfs from the Hindu Congress, and would never consent to be ruled by them. Nor shall they ever be against their will so subjugated. There is no compulsory service in India, but upwards of a million Indians have volunteered to serve the cause of the United Nations in this world struggle. The bravery of the Indian troops has been distinguished in many theatres of war, and it is satisfactory to note that in these last two months when the Congress has been measuring its strength against the Government of India, more than 140,000 new volunteers for the Army have come forward in loyal allegiance to the King-Emperor, thus surpassing all records in order to defend their native land. So far as matters have gone up to the present, they have revealed the impotence of the Congress Party either to seduce or even sway the Indian Army, to draw from their duty the enormous body of Indian officials, or still less to stir the vast Indian masses.

India is a continent, almost as large as and actually more populous than Europe and divided by racial and, above all, by religious differences far deeper than any that have separated Europeans. The whole administration of the government of the 390,000,000 who live in India is carried on by Indians, there being under 600 British members of the Indian Civil Service. All the public services are working. In five provinces, including two of the greatest and comprising 110,000,000 people, provincial ministers responsible to their Legislatures stand at their posts. In many places, both in town and country, the population has rallied to the support of the civil power. The Congress conspiracy against the communications is breaking down. Acts of pillage and arson are being repressed and punished with incredibly small loss of life. Less than 500 persons have been killed over this mighty area of territory and population and it has only been necessary to move a few brigades of British troops here and there in support of the civil power. In most cases the rioters have been successfully dealt with by the Indian police. I am sure the House would wish me to pay a tribute to the loyalty and steadfastness of these brave Indian police as well as of the Indian official classes generally whose behaviour has been deserving of the highest praise.

To sum up, the outstanding fact which has so far emerged from the violent action of the Congress Party has been their non-representative character and their powerlessness to throw into confusion the normal peaceful life of India. It is the intention of His Majesty's Government to give all necessary support to the Viceroy and his Executive in the firm but tempered measures by which they are protecting the life of the Indian community and leaving the British and Indian Armies free to defend the soil of India against the Japanese.

I may add that large reinforcements have reached India and that the numbers of white soldiers now in that country, though very small compared with its size and population, are larger than at any time in the British connection. I, therefore, feel entitled to report to the House that the situation in India at this moment gives no occasion for undue despondency or alarm.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the statement he has just made—while every one of us is anxious to secure the defences of India against the Japanese or the enemy in general—will profoundly shock and disappoint millions of people in this country? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Is he aware, in spite of his alleged reassuring statement, that in the "News-Chronicle" today there appears a statement by an American commentator to the effect that a strike has broken out at the Tata munition works and that 50,000 workers are out? Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that the statement he has made—so critical of Congress—is calculated to improve the position? Does he believe that by the throwing overboard of Congress it will lead to a solution of the problem? Generally speaking, is not his statement in line with the background which he himself provided in the Debates on the India Bill?

Mr. Graham White:

Having regard to the profound interest in the course of events in India and, I might add, the anxiety which is felt, could the Prime Minister take some steps to make it possible for the people of this country to follow the march of events? It is exceedingly difficult now. The Indian papers are late, and other newspapers give only sporadic telegrams. A White Paper would better indicate the course of events.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

I have thought that the accounts in British newspapers have been very full of what has happened in India. I have endeavoured to give the House a considered statement of the facts, every one of which is established, in order to add to the information which has appeared from time to time. It is very necessary, I agree, that information of the real facts should be made public, not only here, but also in the United States.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

Will my right hon. Friend take steps to associate this House and the country with the generous tribute he has just paid to those Indians who are carrying on under circumstances of such great difficulty? I am sure the House heard the tribute with great rejoicing.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

It is probably true—I am sure it is true—that what the Prime Minister has said is fact, but it is good Government propaganda in form. On the next Sitting Day, I understand we are discussing this matter. Shall we have the Secretary of State for India to give us the detailed facts of the situation?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

When we come to the Adjournment any hon. Member can raise any topic, if he catches the Speaker's eye, and should anyone raise the question of India, we will see that the Minister responsible is here in order to deal with any point which may arise.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is able to tell the House that the actual text of the statement which he has just made has the approval of the War Cabinet?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

It is my business to speak in the name of the War Cabinet, and I have every reason to believe that I am doing so. I do not mean by that that I submit every word of a statement and go through it line by line, but the general policy is the policy of His Majesty's Government.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

The right hon. Gentleman has just made a statement of first-class Government importance. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House, if he is able, that the actual form of the statement and the language he has used—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I want to know whether the Deputy Prime Minister approved that language. I want" to know whether the Lord Privy Seal approved that language. I want to know, not what Tories are thinking, but whether we are committed to that silly language.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

Of course, it is very unusual to seek to inquire what are the details of the discussions which prevail in any Government, but I have every reason to believe that my colleagues approve of the statement I have made, as I think does the House in general.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Then they ought to be ashamed of themselves. They do not represent us.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

The hon. Gentleman is a merchant of discourtesy. I was about to answer his question, and I can do so by saying that up to a very late hour last night my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and I were at work on the actual words of this statement.

Photo of Hon. William Waldorf Astor Hon. William Waldorf Astor , Fulham East

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of how welcome his statement and assurances will be to the gallant Indian troops in the Middle East who have played such an outstanding part and have filled all of us who have been in contact with them with the utmost admiration?

Photo of Mr Andrew MacLaren Mr Andrew MacLaren , Stoke-on-Trent Burslem

In view of the importance of the statement, and the profound effect for and against the statement, which will appear throughout the world, has the right hon. Gentleman anything to say in a reassuring way as to the tendency to-day in regard to the acceptance of the proposals offered by the Lord Privy Seal on his recent visit to India?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

I have made it perfectly clear in my statement that those proposals, which were solemnly undertaken, in their broad principles stand.

Photo of Mr Andrew MacLaren Mr Andrew MacLaren , Stoke-on-Trent Burslem

What I wanted the Prime Minister to say was whether he had any indication that there is a tendency to accept the proposals to-day. Is there any increased tendency among Indians to take the proposals offered by the Lord Privy Seal?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

I have no information which would lead to that idea, and, of course, in the present state of affairs in India, with invasion not far off, these constitutional solutions and agreements are very difficult to come to.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton West

In view of the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made, of a somewhat provocative nature—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—may I ask whether there will be another statement made on the next Sitting Day, and in any case, in view of the importance and urgency of the matter, whether the Government will not take steps to see that adequate time is secured on the next Sitting Day for a Debate on this subject?

Photo of Mr Arthur Molson Mr Arthur Molson , High Peak

Before he answers that question, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether there will be some opportunity given to the great majority of this House of expressing their support of the Government? On these occasions it is generally those who are dissatisfied who are heard, and it would be a great misfortune if the general sense of the House were misrepresented by the sort of questions that have so far been asked.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

There was a feeling in a great many quarters that the Debate on the Adjournment might prove the occasion for some reference to Indian affairs, and, no doubt, opinions will be expressed on both sides on this matter as the Chair may call Members. I entirely agree that we must look forward to an opportunity in the future, in the not distant future, for debating the general issue that is open now in India. Personally, I think that when we come back such an opportunity might well be found, though one must see what is the exact situation in that country as to whether it would be a good moment for a very extended Debate. But the Government have a perfectly plain and clear policy upon which they are united, and we are quite ready to stand any Debate or discussion which the House may wish to raise, having regard to the general interest.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Could we then have a simple vote on the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has just made? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes" and "Now."] Could we have, on that statement, a simple vote which will record the approval or disapproval of hon. Members? [HON. MEMBERS: "Now."] May I, at the same time, ask my right hon. Friend about his statement regarding reinforcements being send to India? What are those reinforcements being sent for—to repel the Japanese enemy or to deal with civil disobedience? Is that part of the second front?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

The reinforcements have been sent to protect the great masses of the Indian people from Japanese invasion. The fact that they are in the country undoubtedly does add to the general stability which happily prevails in India. What was the other point raised by the hon. Gentleman?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Whether you are prepared to give an opportunity to us to vote?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

It is not within my power to improvise Parliamentary procedure.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Nobody can do it better. I would take lessons from you any time.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

On the contrary, I may have learned something about it from 40 years' experience, but I would not attempt to improvise. As a matter of fact, a vote can take place only on a Resolution, and Resolutions require proper notice and so forth, but it may well be that there will be a vote when we have a full-dress Debate on India at a later period.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

On that statement condemning Congress?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

On the policy of His Majesty's Government.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

On your general attitude on India?

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

May I remind the House that earlier this week I did indicate that there might be a desire for the Indian situation to be debated before the House rose for the Recess, and that I proposed, through the usual channels, to raise that point with a view to such a Debate on the Adjournment Motion?

Photo of Sir William Davison Sir William Davison , Kensington South

On a point of Order. May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on whether there is any procedure which would enable the House at this present moment to express its general approval, which, by its cheers, is evident, of the statement of the Prime Minister?

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

It could not be done today.