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Indian Independence: World War II Source 10

Letter from Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin to Prime Minister C.R. Attlee, 1 Jan 1947



Prime Minister.

I must express my strong views with regard to India, as I mentioned to you this morning. I have examined this problem in relation to Egypt, Palestine the Middle East, and all the Arab States and Persia, and I cannot help feeling that the defeatist attitude adopted both by the Cabinet and by Field-Marshal Wavell is just completely letting us down. I do not believe that, with leadership, the Indian Army is in the bad way that people suggest. I can quite understand that with a mind like Wavell's the demoralisation of the whole of the Army and the Police must be inevitable and I would strongly recommend that he be recalled and that you find somebody with courage who, even if he were the last man left there would come out with dignity and uphold the British Empire and Common-wealth.

2. Further, I cannot help feeling that the President of the board of Trade is so pro-Congress that a balanced judgement is not being brought to bear on the importance of the Moslem world, while, on the other hand, probably, the Minister of Defence is too pro-Moslem. I listened to yesterday's discussion and, frankly, I was despondent and did not think that the facts justified the pessimism that seemed to pervade the whole Cabinet. I am against fixing a date. I am willing to support a declaration, as we have done, that we are ready to hand India over as a going concern to established governments. I do not mind, even, using the plural in this sense, if Nehru and Jinnah are not going to agree, but the qualification should be that they can preserve law and order. I cannot get it out of my head that there must be millions of Indians who, as a result of the murder incidents in the last few months, would welcome a strong and courageous lead so as to preserve their safety. Personally, I do not think it depends on the number of British troops there, but it is the complete lack of leadership in the Indian Army which I believe will cause the disaster that will overtake the British Empire. In fact, you cannot read the telegrams from Egypt and the Middle East nowadays without realising that not only is India going, but Malay, Ceylon and the Middle East is going with it, with a tremendous repercussion on the African territories. I do beg of you to take a stronger line and not give way to this awful pessimism. When I saw Wavell and Alexander on the 21st December, I was filled with dismay.

3. Now, as regards administering the country under Section 93; with an army of over 30,000 in India I cannot be persuaded that, if such a situation arose, we could not find the men from the Indian Army and at home to administer Section 93. What would happen if the Congress withdraw? The people of the Provinces would want government, and stable government. They would be just terrified at the idea of no government. The Indian Army itself would not know what to do. Therefore, If we were able to move into Germany and other occupied countries and find administrators among the young men from the Services, as we had to do, why can't we find them from the Forces in India and at home? Secondly, continued searching for men with reputations leads us, I believe, into a morass. Try some one untried and it is remarkable how they will rise to the occasion.

4. Therefore, my view is that while we issue a declaration that it is our determination to clear out of India and to hand the responsibility to the Indians, we should declare that it is our determination to hand it over as a going concern and to place the responsibility squarely on their shoulders of failure in that respect. I would impress you with this fact. As Foreign Secretary, I can offer nothing to any foreign country, neither credit, nor coal, nor goods, (and) expected to take bricks without straw - to use that old proverbial phrase. And on top of that, within the British Empire, we knuckle under at the first blow and yet we are expected to preserve the position. It cannot be done and I beg of you in all sincerity, even if does involve a certain risk, to take it, and I believe the world will respect us.

5. Now as regards the United States: I sent you report from America which was handed to me by Byrnes. I have not had a reply but why cannot we use the United States to put pressure on Nehru and on Jinnah? Why not bring the whole of our diplomatic power to bear at this stage to make the Indian politicians realise that it is not merely Great Britain they are facing but a very much wider area. It would be especially useful if they could be made to say that Great Britain is taking a magnanimous attitude and I believe the United States can be honest in such a way to bring a tremendous amount of pressure to bear on the Indian politicians. We appear to be trying nothing except to scuttle out of it, without dignity or plan, and I am convinced that if you do that our Party in this country, as a leading Party in this new world settlement, will lose and lose irrevocably when the public become aware of the policy of the Cabinet at this moment.

1st January 1947.