India and the War


By SIR GIRJA SHANKAR BAJPAI, Agent General for India

Delivered before the Metropolitan Club, New York and Broadcast over the Blue Network, April 16, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, 511-512.

DURING the last few months and, even more, during the last few weeks, India has come to occupy a position of prominence in the horizon of interest of the American people. Even in normal times, this would be no matter for surprise. India is the home of one of the oldest civilizations. The sub-continent is two-thirds the size of the United States of America and has three times its population. Its resources in raw materials are immense; she has three-fourths of America's reserves of iron ore and of better quality; 60 billion tons of coal; one-third of the world's manganese; enough bauxite to meet the requirements of half the world; three-quarters of the world's mica and many other minerals, excepting non-ferrous ones, in varying quantity. Her wealth in the vegetable kingdom is no less impressive; she produces cereals, cotton jute and oil seeds in rich abundance. She has probably the largest population of domestic cattle of any country in the world. Living, these provide milk, butter and other dairy products for her teeming population; dead, they constitute one of the world's richest sources of supply of hides and skins. During the last half century, India's industrial progress has been striking. She now ranks eighth amongst the world's industrial countries and the range of her manufactures covers a wide field, including cotton and woolen textiles, burlap or jute cloth, leather goods, steel and hosts of other goods of less importance. Outside of Japan she has the best railway system of any country in Asia.

In time of war, she has acquired new importance, by virtue of her strategic position, her reserves of man power and of material supplies, whether raw commodities or finished products. Strategically she constitutes a position of unique value to reinforce the armies of the United Nations in the Near East; indeed, with the loss of Rangoon her ports now provide the only means of access for goods vital to the defense of China, whether shipped from the United States or the United Kingdom. Troops raised in India—they now number over a million—have seen active fighting, since the outbreak of war with Germany and Italy, in North and East Africa and Syria, at one end of this global conflict, and in Malaya and Burma at the other. Wherever they have been engaged in battle, they have shown courage, endurance and aptitude for mechanised warfare of a high order. Her factories have supplied clothing and footwear for all the troops of the British Commonwealth fighting east of Suez and shelter, in the form of tents, against the blistering African sun. Her munition plants, working twenty-four hours a day, supply 60 per cent of the equipment needed by a modern army—rifles, machine and field guns, trench mortars, some heavy artillery, and munitions for all these arms. True, she is not equipped to manufacture the internal combustion engine and thus depends for aeroplanes and tanks or supplies from outside. Nevertheless, the possibility of her industrial expansion into an arsenal of democracy in the

Middle East has received significant recognition from the Government of the United States by the despatch of an American Technical Mission which has recently arrived in India.

Today this strategic base, this reservoir of fighting men and of supplies is directly threatened by Japan. The Mikado's navy is already present in force in the Indian Ocean. Parts of the Indian mainland have already been attacked by Japanese planes. Where experts differ, it may sound presumptuous for a layman to express an opinion regarding Japan's immediate objective. Is this Australia or is this India? It may be both, but I hazard the opinion that India is the more alluring, materially the more fruitful and, viewed tactically, perhaps the easier prey; more alluring because of India's historic prestige as an Empire, more fruitful because her iron ore and her steel are likely to meet Japan's most pressing need, tactically easier to grasp because through French Indo-China, through Thailand and through Malaya all Japanese land forces can muster and move in massive strength across the short and comparatively safe routes to the assault on India's mainland.

How is India prepared to face this imminent and grave peril, is she united politically and moved by a truly patriotic impulse to resist the invader? Materially is she equal to this task?

Let me deal with the political issue first. Since the outbreak of the second world war, the conditions on which India's two political parties, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, would cooperate whole-heartedly in the struggle against the enemy have been in dispute. The Congress, until last December, practised symbolic civil disobedience to mark Mr. Gandhi's disapproval of war, even as an instrument of defense. The Muslim League, offered cooperation only in return for a share of political power which was considered unfair to the numerically much larger Hindu community. The Congress demanded a completely National Government for the period of the war besides guarantees of independence after the war, as the price of its support; the League asked for equal power with the Congress in any war-time Government, and a guarantee of full freedom for the Muslim community to create a separate State, or States, in post war independent India, as a condition precedent to its collaboration. Faced with this conflict of claims, British policy sought the support of all representative Indians, owing allegiance to neither of the main political parties, in the conduct of the war. It was with this object that the Executive Council of the Governor General of India was increased in strength last autumn from seven to twelve and Indians, who were in a minority in the former council of three to four, secured eight seats on the Council against a British membership half that number. For the future, this policy envisaged the grant of dominion status to India, as soon as possible after the war, on the basis of a constitution framed by Indians themselves.

While this part of the policy was criticised as too vague, the reconstructed Executive Council, despite its Indian majority, was deemed insufficient to satisfy Indian claims because these members did not represent the two major po-

litical groups. The presence of a European element in the Council was also attacked as limiting the scope of Indian authority. The proposals recently discussed by Sir Stafford Cripps with Indian leaders were designed to meet these criticisms, both of the existing structure of Government and of the goal of future policy. In lieu of the present Council, India was offered one composed entirely of Indians, with the addition of a fresh portfolio of Defense, also in charge of an Indian member, which would take over the governmental relations of the Commander in Chief and of Army, Naval and Air Headquarters. All war finance in India and supplies for all forces and munitions were to be under Indian control. For the future, the Cripps plan offered, immediately after the war, the creation of a new Indian dominion, equal to the other dominions of the British Commonwealth in every respect, in no way subordinate in any aspect of its domestic and external affairs, and free from any restriction on its power to decide in future its relationship to other member states in the Commonwealth.

This plan has been rejected by the Indian National Congress because it does not offer India a truly national government now or a guarantee of a united and democratic India after the war. It has been rejected by the Muslim League, primarily because the plan for the future does not go far enough to meet the Muslim demand for separate Muslim States. Sir Stafford has explained why it was not possible to make further concessions in order to secure the agreement of the two political parties. Apart from the conflict between the aims of these two parties regarding Indian Unity in the future, solution of the immediate problem of the form and the structure of India's Government at the centre appears to have proved impracticable because the Congress demand raised all the controversial issues which, in order to secure agreement now, the Cripps plan proposed to postpone until after the war.

No Indian or friend of India can do other than regret the unsuccessful end of the Cripps Mission. Had it succeeded, India would have presented to her enemies a spectacle of unity of effort and purpose, of immense moral significance. For comment on the failure to take the form of apportioning blame amongst the parties to the negotiations would scarcely be helpful. In the discussion of issues which enlist both reason and emotion, true wisdom lies in the avoidance of judgment that might stir up rancour. In times like the present, men of good-will can serve the cause of Indo-British relations best by persistence in hope and effort for a better understanding. The future historian may be left to be the arbitor of praise and blame.

For my part I hold that the Mission has not been a failure. It has placed the sincerity of Britain's resolve to give India her freedom beyond doubt. It has made the call on Indian statesmen for agreement amongst themselves more compelling, by making the offer of freedom explicit and unequivocal. Japan's promises cannot undo the good that this Mission has done because no patriotic Indian believes those promises; Japans' record of rapacity and terror in China, in Formosa, and recently in Hong Kong gives the lie to her professions. Both Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Nehru have declared that the Japanese invader need look to them for no aid; Mr. Gandhi would have his followers withhold from the Japanese even a cup of water, though such withholding cost them their lives. Mr. Nehru would offer to the invader more active resistance. And so, though the feeling uppermost in our hearts today be one of disappointment let no one despair of Indian fortitude, Indian courage, Indian capacity to suffer and endure whatever destiny may bring to us in the next eventful weeks or months. Inspired by the example of China, her next door neighbour, of Great Britain, and of Russia our people will, I am confident, prove themselves worthy of the freedom which they desire.