“I don’t want [my views] disturbed by any bloody Indian”: Was it Churchill?

“I don’t want [my views] disturbed by any bloody Indian”: Was it Churchill?

“I am quite sat­is­fied with my views of India. I don’t want them dis­turbed by any bloody Indi­an.” Thus Win­ston Churchill said (or is alleged to have said) to Lord Hal­i­fax née Lord Irwin née Edward Wood, in 1929.

“Bludgeon of choice”

A his­to­ri­an friend says the Indi­an Ben­gal Famine (1943) “is on its way to sur­pass­ing the Dar­d­anelles (1915) as the blud­geon of choice for Churchill’s detrac­tors.” He was com­ment­ing on the lat­est out­burst of Ben­gal Famine nonsense—contested by a thought­ful Indi­an, as well as myself: scroll to comments.

“Bloody Indi­an” tracks to Ben Pim­lott, edi­tor, The Sec­ond World War Diary of Hugh Dal­ton 1940-45 (Jonathan Cape 1986), 126. Hugh Dal­ton was a social­ist Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment who served as Min­is­ter of Eco­nom­ic War­fare in Churchill’s World War II coali­tion. Lat­er he became Pres­i­dent of the Board of Trade. He agreed with Churchill on noth­ing domes­ti­cal­ly, but great­ly admired his war leadership.

In 1929, Par­lia­ment began to debate the future of India, its evo­lu­tion toward inde­pen­dence. The end result was the Gov­ern­ment of India Act 1935, which pro­vid­ed for a fed­er­a­tion of the Raj (British India) and the “prince­ly states,” with a wide degree of autonomy.

The Indian argument

Churchill said such ideas advanced only the Indi­an rul­ing class­es and the Con­gress Par­ty, at the expense of com­mon peo­ple. Par­tic­u­lar­ly affect­ed, he said, were the 60 mil­lion “Untouch­ables,” low­est lev­el of the Hin­du caste sys­tem. His detrac­tors say this was just a smoke­screen for his wish to pre­serve the Raj. In real­i­ty it was a lit­tle of both.

Churchill loved the British Empire, but he had a life­time affin­i­ty for the unfor­tu­nate. In the midst of World War II, for exam­ple, he railed over the dis­pro­por­tion­ate tax bur­den in Egypt. It main­ly fell, he said, on the Fel­la­heen (peas­antry), rather than “the rich pashas and landown­ers and oth­er pre­tend­ed nation­al­ists.” In 1941 he said: “A lit­tle of the rad­i­cal demo­c­ra­t­ic sledge­ham­mer is need­ed in the [Nile] Delta, where so many fat, inso­lent class and par­ty inter­ests have grown up under our tol­er­ant pro­tec­tion.” (Thanks to Andrew Roberts for this snip­pet his upcom­ing Churchill biography.)

Lord Irwin, lat­er Hal­i­fax, was Viceroy of India from 1926 to 1931. Nat­u­ral­ly, he favored the 1930-32 Round Table Con­fer­ences, which took up the case for even­tu­al Indi­an auton­o­my. There, Indi­an and British lead­ers met in Lon­don to dis­cuss the future of the sub­con­ti­nent along inde­pen­dent lines. Hal­i­fax and Churchill dis­agreed, so….

Dalton’s 1929 diary note:

Hal­i­fax one day said to Win­ston, “You have the ideas about India of a sub­al­tern a gen­er­a­tion ago. There are a num­ber of inter­est­ing Indi­ans com­ing to the Round Table Con­fer­ence and I real­ly think it would be very valu­able to you to talk to some of them and bring your ideas up to date.” Win­ston replied, “I am quite sat­is­fied with my views of India, and I cer­tain­ly don’t want them dis­turbed by any bloody Indian.”

It was the kind of thing you’d say in pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion, if not in pub­lic. I recall an alter­ca­tion in a car park in Strat­ford-upon-Avon. It was between the Welsh coach dri­ver on my one of my Churchill tours and an irate local motorist. My dri­ver had blocked his car, and had grown unpleas­ant when the dri­ver asked him to move. “Sor­ry, sir,” said the Eng­lish­man, as I tried to medi­ate. “I’m not about to take that from any bloody Welshman.”

Per­fect­ly ordi­nary? Fair enough. But in the Churchill context—even though it was from 1929—such a crack about an Indi­an is today an offense of geno­ci­dal magnitude.

Accurate or hearsay?

The rather pedan­tic point of all is this one your teach­ers prob­a­bly made to you, as they did me: “Ver­i­fy your sources.” Did Churchill say it? Maybe. It fits his atti­tude at the time. But we can’t prove it. Why not?

Isn’t Hugh Dal­ton an accu­rate wit­ness? After all, he’s the pri­ma­ry source for Churchill’s great, unrecord­ed speech to the wider cab­i­net on 28 May 1940, por­trayed in the movie Dark­est Hour: “If this island sto­ry of ours is to end, let it end only when each of us lies chok­ing in his own blood upon the ground.” And yes, Dal­ton is regard­ed as reli­able by most historians.

But there’s a good rule for Churchill quotes, even from sources like Dal­ton. If the source says he heard it from Churchill direct­ly (like “chok­ing in our own blood”), that’s accept­able. But if he says some­body else told him Churchill said it, it remains hearsay and thus unprov­able. To ver­i­fy it we need some­thing Hal­i­fax him­self wrote. And, despite our best efforts to find it—he didn’t.

At least that was my rule when com­pil­ing Churchill by Him­self, and I rec­om­mend it to you.

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