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R. Craine

Phillips Report, Wavell-Gandhi Exchanges, Reveal —

Great Britain Will Not Free India!

(September 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 38, 18 September 1944, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One of the points up for discussion at the Quebec meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill, it is understood, will be the Indian question.

The dispute between these two allies over India was brought into the open by the report of U.S. Ambassador Phillips, based on his special mission to India in the spring of 1943. In it he told the President of the United States that the British policy toward India is threatening military operations in the Far East and he suggested that this country press Britain to declare a specific post-war date for Indian independence.

Upon disclosure of this report, the British declared Phillips “persona non grata” and forced his recall to this country. Later the British Information Service denied the points contained in the Phillips report and stated that “Britain has gone a good deal further than offering India self-government on a specific date. The Cripps proposal left the date to the decision of the Indian leaders themselves. In the meantime they were asked to join the government of India under the existing constitution.”

The Cripps Mission Hoax

Actually, all the facts concerning British policy toward India, and especially the Cripps proposals and subsequent events, reveal that the British imperial government had and has no intention of granting even the most elementary rights to the nearly 400,000,000 people of India, and that this policy is motivated by the oft-made declaration of its chief spokesman, Churchill, who has stated: “The loss of India would mark and consummate the downfall of the British Empire.” By this, of course, is meant that without the exploitation and outright robbery of the Indian masses, the profiteering of the British capitalists would be seriously, if not fatally, impaired.

The Cripps mission to India was an attempt on the part of the British government to trick the Indian people into the support of a war in which they felt they had no interest. In response to the announcement of England that India was at war with the Axis – an announcement in which the Indian masses were never consulted and certainly never consented – the Congress Party, under the pressure of the restive Indian population, declared early in 1940 that nothing short of complete independence would satisfy the desires of the people of India. The Cripps proposal was then an attempt to palm off a “post-dated check” on independence for the genuine and complete independence which the Indian people so rightly demanded.

The people of India, however, saw through the Cripps hoax, which proposed firstly that independence be postponed until after the war, something with which India had already had a negative experience during and after the First World War. Secondly, Mr. Cripps proposed that in the new Indian government (for the setting up of which he offered no date), any of the, Moslem majority provinces could secede. However, this right of secession was not, based on democratic consultation of the people involved, but rather on the constitution proposed by the British in 1935. According to this document, the “independent” India would be headed by a British-appointed Governor General who could veto or approve any bill, suspend the constitution, appoint or dismiss any minister, make police rules, issue decrees, etc.

British Reveal Themselves

The spontaneous outburst of strikes, especially among the industrial workers, who fought side by side with the radical students and went over the heads of the conservative leaders of the Congress Party, was India’s answer to Mr. Cripps and the imperialists he represented. Only the most brutal suppression, murder and arrests were able temporarily to still the revolt.

In recent months the British have revealed with what little sincerity they had proffered even the miserable Cripps proposals. Since his release from prison, Gandhi has been trying to start negotiations with the British for the settlement of the “Indian problem.” As a starting point; he made a series of proposals, many of which are closely akin to the Cripps proposals. He set forth a transition government, in which civilian affairs will rest with the Indian representatives, and military affairs will be in the hands of the British, with a cabinet responsible to the Legislature and not to the Viceroy. Gandhi has expressed himself as prepared to support the War against Japan and has issued a sharp injunction to the Indian nationalists to cease underground political activity against British rule. He proposed to the Moslem League that it enter the transition government.

What was Britain’s answer? A frigid rebuff! If you keep in mind that Gandhi’s mild demands upon the British have never fully reflected the aspirations of the Indian masses, that they were usually made under the pressure of these masses, who threaten to get out of control, and that Gandhi, representing the Indian capitalist class, has been ever ready to compromise with the British, the reply of Lord Wavell to Gandhi’s invitation is all the more significant.

Now that the danger of Japanese conquest of India has passed, the British feel that they do not even have to negotiate with the Indian nationalists. In an arrogant and insulting reply, Wavell expressed the attitude of the British rulers:

“I believe that the greatest contribution that the Congress Party can make toward India’s welfare is to abandon the policy of non-cooperation and join wholeheartedly with the other Indian parties and with the British in helping India forward in economic and political progress – not by any dramatic or spectacular stroke but by hard and steady work toward the end ahead.”

Put into undiplomatic language, this means: You, the Indian people, must not fight for your independence, even by such mild measures as non-cooperation, to say nothing of revolution. Instead, you must cooperate with us, your enslavers, and work hard, while we – we will just continue to live off your hard work.

The Gandhi Proposals

What Gandhi was proposing, and what the British rejected, was not independence for India. He was merely proposing that the Indian national leaders be permitted to share the government, with the British, in a set-up which would leave the most decisive factor of government, namely, control of military affairs, in the hands of the British.

The proposal that, at the end of the war, a plebiscite should be held in the Moslem areas to determine whether they shall constitute independent states or be part of an all-India federation was likewise turned down by the British, who have no wish to see the “Moslem problem” settled. Jinnah, head of the Moslem League, with the help of the Viceroy, has raised numerous technical obstacles in the way of considering the proposition, even though he has resumed discussions with Gandhi.

The proposal for the plebiscite can have meaning only if it is made in conjunction with the establishment of democracy in India. Without at least freedom of speech, press and organization guaranteed to all sections of the population, a democratic vote in the Moslem areas cannot even be taken and the will of the people involved cannot be expressed.

To attain these rights it is necessary that the Indian people break completely with the British, take matters into their own hands and establish a democratic government with a National Assembly elected by free and universal suffrage. But it is just such a break that Gandhi is NOT advocating. Instead, he proposes a “share-the-government” plan, which would only strengthen Britain’s position in India during the war and make independence more difficult to obtain later on.

It is at this point that the Gandhi proposals show their inherent weakness. On the one hand, they are unacceptable to the British, who do not wish to see the Moslem problem settled and who are sticking to the Cripps proposals as the only basis for discussion. On the other hand, they offer no solution to the Moslem question because they do not go far enough. It is impossible to obtain democracy in one sphere – that of national self-determination – without fighting for it in all spheres, especially in a country like India, where none of the democratic rights, commonly known in the United States, are in existence. But these rights are not obtainable, by any “share-the-government” plans with the British, but only by an all-out fight against British rule.

The Gandhi method of proceeding against the British rulers can only end in a blind alley. The British refusal even to consider the Gandhi plan is only additional proof of the fact that negotiations and bargaining will get the Indian people nowhere. Their freedom will be won only through clear-sighted and direct struggle.

At the Quebec conference between Prime Minister Churchill arid President Roosevent it is most likely that the United States will not press for the immediate liberation of India, although Roosevelt may seek certain concessions for American big business. The imperialist interests of the two great democracies represented at Quebec will overshadow the issue of democratic rights of the millions in India.

It is quite possible that in the days to come the United States may, for the purpose of strengthening its own imperialist interests, demand that England “liberate” India by declaring an “open door” policy. A demand for such “liberation” will have nothing in common with the demand made by the Indian people, who want freedom from British rule, not in order to come under the domination of another imperialist power, but in order that they may govern themselves as they sees fit. The Indian people will inevitably resume active struggle for freedom, and in this fight we place ourselves unmistakably and unconditionally on their side.

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