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Twilight Years of India's Independence
Twilight Years of India's Independence
Exploring the past and looking into the future, PDL is digitizing, preserving and sharing with our valued patrons some of the rare documents which have a bearing on our national heritage. In this issue, we present a synopsis of a letter from a Home Department file no. 4/6/1944 containing M. K. Gandhi's interview with a British journalist in India in 1944 and the reaction and response of prominent political figures from Britain, Canada and America to this interview published in "News Chronicle" on July 11, 1944.

Mighty empires never fall abruptly nor do they negotiate transfer of power easily. They negotiate and compromise only when cornered and coerced from all sides. While the Great Britain was deeply embroiled in the second world war, the rising anger and discontent among Indians against the oppressive and exploitative British rule in India and strong public opinion in Britain, America and Canada in favor of breaking the deadlock and starting negotiations with M. K. Gandhi and other imprisoned Indian leaders, had to contend with these multiple pressures. This document provides an insightful glimpse into this complicated scenario. Earlier, the negotiations between Great Britain and Indian leaders during the visits of cabinet mission and Sir Stafford Cripps Mission (1942) had failed. But, this interview between M. K. Gandhi shortly after his release in 1944 and Stuart Gelder reflects M. K. Gandhi's inclination to break the deadlock and make fresh proposals for an enduring settlement between the British and India. M. K. Gandhi is prepared to advise the Indian National Congress working committee to co -operate and join the British Government's war-time efforts by making Indian viceroy and Commander-in-chief free to handle the affairs of world war two, provided the British agree to give a guarantee to grant independence to India immediately after the war was over. The British must also hand over civil administration including the ministry of defense to the interim Indian national govt. He is also prepared to accept Muslim league leader M. A. Jinnah's proposal made to C. Gopalachari to demarcate Muslim majority districts/areas through a plebiscite and settle the Hindu Muslim dispute if the Muslim League agreed to endorse the demand for India's independence and cooperated with the congress in forming a provisional interim govt. The British must help the two parties to solve what he calls "the knottiest problem." Denying starting his civil disobedience movement afresh and setting the clock of Indian history back, M. K. Gandhi believes that despite his best efforts and despite the possibility of viceroy's willingness to negotiate, the British prime minister of the time, Winston Churchill would never agree for a settlement with the Indians. But despite Winston Churchill's intentions to “crush” M. K. Gandhi, the latter believes that “no one can crush a Satyagrahi who offers his body as a willing sacrifice, thus leaving the spirit free."

Apart from the contents of this interview what is more significant are the editorial comments in some of the prominent contemporary British, American and Canadian newspapers as well as the views of the then members of the British house of commons and the political leaders of the western world. The editor of "New Chronicle" calls M. K. Gandhi's pronouncement as of "far reaching consequence" since it goes very close to the British offer made to the congress by Sir Stafford Cripps in 1942. Another message from the United Press London sent to the Indian united press on 10/7/1944 also endorses "new chronicles" views and those of an overwhelming number of members of the house of commons belonging to liberal, labor and conservative parties supporting M. K. Gandhi's offer of negotiations and ending the deadlock. Similarly a press release signed by 110 prominent Americans including leading educationists, authors, columnists, church, and labor spokesmen and addressed to British Lord Hallifax strongly appeals for release of Indians leaders because their imprisonment had "served to intensify the bitter cleavage between the British and Indians." It further states: "so long a suppression of justice is allowed to continue in India, liberty is threatened everywhere in the world." Similarly two other British newspapers "Daily Herald" and "Daily Worker" endorse the path of negotiations. "The Daily Worker" regards India as the "The Achilles Heel" of Britain. Everywhere there is a feeling that India represents a great blot on Britain's present day record". Opposing the lone member MR Amery's opposition to a dialogue, it remarks; "the need is urgent; Britain's moral capital suffered a terrible blow during the Bengal famine. We cannot afford such a consequence of Mr. Amery's methods a second time."

Thus this document reflects the public mood in Britain, India and some other countries during that period. It also hints at the vulnerable position of Great Britain both due to the looming war clouds as well as the Indian discontent. Prime Minister Winston Churchill's bravado and the steadfast vision of M. K. Gandhi and the conditional response of M. A. Jinnah for Hindu-Muslim unity also get reflected in this document. It also provides a peep into the minds of major stakeholders and the temper of the times.

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