Churchill and India

Justice Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.)

Winston Churchill is one of the prominent figures of the 20th century.

He is acclaimed for leading the British people in their heroic battle against Nazi Germany in the Second World War, and against Japan.

Many people, however, condemn him for his anti Indian stand. Churchill hated Indians, calling them ‘ a beastly people with a beastly religion ‘, and was totally against granting independence to India, being a die hard imperialist. Leo Amery, the former Secretary of State for India, in his private diary wrote ” On the topic of India, Winston is not quite sane ”.

Churchill is rightly blamed for causing, or at least considerably worsening, the Great Bengal famine of 1943, in which it is estimated 3 million people died of hunger.

This was during the Second World War, and Churchill is blamed for (1) taking away rice stocks from Bengal to feed the British armies (2) ordering destruction of rice stocks in Bengal so that they do not fall into the hands of the Japanese invaders ( who had already conquered Burma ) if they conquered Bengal., and (3) refusing to send food from Australia to Bengal, as he thought such relief would accomplish little as ‘Indians breed like rabbits’. According to the historian Arthur Herman, Churchill’s main concern was the ongoing war against Germany and Japan, leading to his decision to divert food supplies from India to Allied military campaigns.

Indians, however, while rightly condemning Churchill’s attitude towards India, need to take a more balanced view. Who can forget Churchill’s role in the fight against Nazi Gemany in the Second World War? At a time when Hitler had conquered most of Europe, and Britain stood alone and isolated, Churchill heroically, and with dogged determination, led the British people against the looming forces of Nazi barbarism.

Some people may say how did it matter to Indians whether Hitler had conquered England or not ? They forget that fascist domination in the world, as indeed was Hitler’s aim, would have been a far greater evil than British imperialism. India is not isolated in the world, and it too would have come into the fascist grip if Hitler had succeeded. Similarly, if the Japanese had conquered India, it would have come under the Japanese fascist jackboot, with Indians having no liberties at all, instead of having some limited liberties under British rule.

This aspect should also be considered by Indians when evaluating Churchill.


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