2 February 1931
Speaking to a crowd in Liverpool on 2 February 1931, Winston Churchill expressed his fear and indignation that Britain might ‘loose’ India. ‘Would France,’ he asked rhetorically, ‘be cheated out of Syria or Indo-China ? Would the United States be hustled out of the Philippines ? All these countries asserted themselves and their rights with the greatest vigour.’
‘We alone,’ he continued, ‘seem to be afraid of our own shadow,’ and he raised the dismal prospect that ‘the British lion, so fierce and valiant in bygone days… (might) now be chased by rabbits from the fields and forests of his former glory.’ Was it not Britain’s duty to protect ‘the primitive millions of India ?’1 Twelve years later as prime minister, he himself failed miserably to protect millions of Indian peasants from the Bengal famine of 1943-4.
The famine was caused primarily by British wartime demands on India’s economy and rice crops. It was then exacerbated by Churchill’s diversion of food stocks to supplement strategic reserves to enable Britain to operate militarily in Europe independently of the United States. It is estimated that by 1945, some three million lives in India had been needlessly lost, many due to starvation and others to diseases linked to extreme malnutrition.2
- ‘Mr. Churchill and India,’ The Western Morning News, 3 February 1931, p. 7.
- Madhusree Mukerjee, Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II, Basic Books, New York, 2011
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