“Rascals, etc….”: Churchill & India

by Richard Langworth on 6 June 2012

“Rascals, Rogues and Freebooters” xxxxxxxxx


“Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low calibre & men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air and water would be taxed in India.”

The statement above is attributed to Winston Churchill. I cannot find it, as a speech or in a book. Where can I find it? Although it is widely and increasingly quoted in the Indian press and, given what is happening, he seems to have been prophetic! —K.P., India

rascalsI searched for this line, and isolated key word combinations (rascals, etc.), without success. It sounds like his early sentiments toward the Congress Party, but I cannot confirm that he said these words.

Churchill was more nuanced about than is commonly understood. For instance, he defended the Indian minority in South Africa. when he was at the Colonial Office in 1906. This left  Gandhi quite favorably disposed toward him. In 1935, Churchill sent this message to Gandhi:

I do not care whether you are more or less loyal to Great Britain. I do not mind about education, but give the masses more butter….Tell Mr. Gandhi to use the powers that are offered and make the thing a success….I am genuinely sympathetic towards India. I have got real fears about the future…But you have got the things now; make a success and if you do I will advocate your getting much more.

Gandhi, Birla, Nehru

Churchill wrote this to Ghanshyam Das Birla, a Gandhi supporter who had lunched with Churchill at Chartwell. Birla repeated the conversation. Gandhi replied: “I have got a good recollection of Mr. Churchill when he was in the Colonial Office and somehow or other since then I have held the opinion that I can always rely on his sympathy and goodwill.”

Part of Churchill’s friendly overture to Gandhi in 1935 was prompted by Gandhi’s (and Birla’s) defense of the Dalit, or Untouchables.

Remember also that twenty years later, Churchill became quite friendly with Nehru, whom he thought no rascal, partly because they were both Harrow Old Boys. Churchill By Himself, page 163:

I have worked very hard with Nehru. I told him he should be the light of Asia, to show all those millions how they can shine out, instead of accepting the darkness of Communism.      —18 February 1955, WSC to Eden’s private secretary Evelyn Shuckburgh.

Arthur Herman’s 2008 book Gandhi and Churchill is a brilliant piece of writing that is fair and balanced toward both leaders, and effectively captures their mutual generosity of soul. The sins of past and present politicians aside, Churchill would be as proud as Gandhi over the democracy that is modern India.



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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Langworth December 28, 2016 at 08:37

Well said. I think the blog persists because of searches for Churchill’s alleged “rascals” quote.

Anand December 28, 2016 at 01:53

It is interesting to see this 2012 blog still alive—but no wonder, it’s the ‘demonetization’ that’s helping. The very fact that 90% of the cash is back in the system and it was suspected not more than 50% would make it back is forcing an optimist like myself also become a pessimist and believe in what Churchill “quoted.”

As for the idea of India to continue, only the choices India and Indians make in the present will decide her future and in that sense, history, whether 6 months ago or 6000 years, is irrelevant to me. We Indians must learn that basking on the past glory won’t do any good at the same time be aware that there is something in this country (‘sanatan-dharma’) that somehow keeps it running and always look alive, corrupt or otherwise. The way we need to approach is; wake up in the morning and work to fix the damn problem, one-day-at-a-time. Eventually, in hindsight, that becomes history.

Richard Langworth December 23, 2016 at 12:17

I appreciate the thoughtful argument from Indians replying to this post. Personally I think India has been around quite a long time, and it’s premature to contemplate the demise of even the idea.

For the benefit of readers, Google records: “Bhakts is a Sanskrit word and also used in Hindi, meaning a person who believes in someone he follows. As far as the Indian political scenario is considered, this term is coined by Mr. Digvijay Singh and usually applied to Modi supporters.”

A M Morawala December 23, 2016 at 03:13

Perfectly true. Just because some blind bhakts cannot see what the Great Visionary saw does not mean he was wrong. Instead of taking the government to task, these bhakts are hastening the demise of the Idea called India.

viswanathan Raja October 3, 2016 at 13:39

What Winston Churchill said is true to India both economically and politically. 1 When you see any Indian in foreign soil ,he will say i am from Andhra,Karnataka,Tamil Nadu etc Not as Indian,(seperation of states in Language biggest mistake 2.Did we achieve any major development in Infrastructure,In roads,Railways, Bridges,Nuclear plants, Defense in the past 70 years.(read APJ Kalam’S college days book How he was sent from pillar to post 3 Caste and religion is predominant in deciding a Councillor seat (have a open /objective survey with respect to selection of candidate and come out with white paper .What is true face of all political parties 4. corruption even with dead body and burial ground .5 Did you fulfill any water (see Karnataka having problem with all states .How because of Positioning of Tamil Nadu other states store water and Tamil Nadu is starving ) this applies to Maharashtra,Gujarat ,Rajasthan also (but Karnataka is Worst state in India) ,food (millions of people are without one time food and eating what is thrown out in the streets ,shelter (just visit Major metropolitan cities and people are in family way in streets) self sufficiency to all Indians (basic needs) Much more due to space i left out Both National parties will point out each other .Even in National security we did not have one voice .Our Institutions like Supreme court,Election commission,CAG ,CBI successively degraded /diluted by politicians .You may ask whether other countries are free from above issues . Yes, every country has own problems.but in India every individual has own set of rules ,this is not in other countries . 99% of corrupt,Rapers ,Theif can go scot free in India .But in other countires the chances of people scoot free are may be 10-15 % .Hence i fully support what Winston Churchill said .Even if WC has not told the statement . The statement is true and applicable to Indian system of course to me also .Since i am also part of the system Talking about what is happening in 4000-5000 years old But never think on world has changed.The difference between age old and contemporary is very WIDE .

Richard Langworth August 16, 2016 at 08:35

“Your guys?” I’m not British. Seems to me that India was free to choose its systems from 1947, and tried most of them, including a pretty abject form of socialism. India’s British-style parliament has its roots in Magna Carta, which applies as well to Icelanders as to Englishmen. Reminds me of Churchill’s quote from an old adage that democracy is the worst possible system, except for all the other systems that have been tried from time to time. I think however that you could be right about paper money, ethics and icebergs.

I asked an eminent economist and thinker for his comments: “Anyone who thinks the Indian system was (is) less corrupt than the Anglo-Saxon system, or that India’s problems can be blamed on Britain or anyone else, is beyond reason. Others might like to consider that for all its faults the Anglo-Saxon banking system has provided the liquidity and capital to fuel economies that have propelled living standards to heights not dreamed of a short time ago. Also, it has demonstrated a capacity for reform that must have Mr. Modi green with envy as he attempts to bring India into the 21st century. It is true that central banks are groping for ways to prevent slow growth from morphing into recession, and some of the tools they have whipped out of their kits do contain the danger of undesirable future consequences. But better that than anything else that seems on offer.”

Vikram Shenoy August 15, 2016 at 02:41

” True, the Raj was around for a very short time in India’s long history, but free India adopted British institutions of Parliamentary government which have stood her well since 1947.”

Well what could we possibly do, the amount of filth your guys had left by completely transforming Indian economics to their corrupt Anglo-Saxon banking treachery, we just have to take it as it is. Any attempt to change this would have created more chaos. This obviously never proves that your system was better than any system existing in India prior to British rule or for that matter prior to Mughal rule. This only says the amount of transformation that had taken place due to mis-rule of first Mughals then British.

On a separate note, we all know how disgusting is this Banking system Anglo-Saxons have levied on the whole world, where the bankers go about loaning tax payers money to all of the so called elites, who year on year basis crook their books to show profits. Banks conveniently show these losses as NPAs. A system where in a deep understanding exists between politicians, elites and bankers. Tip of iceberg, let me not open my mouth to show with proof, to demonstrate how the whole world is inching towards destruction day by day by your system! Not to mention Bank Of England has been worse hit lately by your own holy system of banking and economics. Print more paper money and reduce interest rate we will, until we destroy that every bit of ethics!

Richard Langworth June 28, 2016 at 08:07

By your standard the Frenchman de Tocqueville should not have written about the USA, or the Englishman Macaulay about the Roman Empire, and Dipesh Chakrabarty had no business writing Provincializing Europe. True, the Raj was around for a very short time in India’s long history, but free India adopted British institutions of Parliamentary government which have stood her well since 1947. Churchill probably did have a superiority complex. After one of his rants about the India Bill, Stanley Baldwin said the principle fact was that “the unchanging East has changed.” “With that one nugget,” wrote Manfred Weidhorn, “the usually pedestrian Baldwin shoots the usually eloquent Churchill, with his romantic, Victorian, imperial rhetoric, right out of the water.” All this is incontrovertible; but in the end Churchill wished Gandhi and Nehru well. And that is to his credit.

Partha sarathi mukherjee June 27, 2016 at 15:41

If Sir Winston was here I would have said to him, “India was there ages before the Britishers knew how to brush their teeth, India was there when the Britishers ruled, and India is still there and the world’s biggest and glorified democracy and Britishers are long gone.” Churchill is no one to talk about my nation. If someone wants to talk, that person needs to be among us, who knows the problems we Indians are going through. Still we are here in the map with 6000 years of history, and where were the Britishers then? Churchill said these words because he was suffering from superiority complex, period.

Manoj May 10, 2016 at 21:50

Thanks Mr Langworth for clearing this confusion. Though the words look chillingly prophetic, it seemed to me that he would never have said it, even considering his scathingly critical nature. We have done well, we Indians, but I believe if we were more pro-country instead of being pro-ourselves, we would have been on top of the world. Agree with you that there are no dearth of looters anywhere in the world!

Richard Langworth May 8, 2016 at 07:47

I am not sufficiently versed to understand all your points but I gather this is a message to Indian commentators below, and a kind of back-handed agreement with words ascribed to Churchill which he apparently never said. But if you are saying that “rascals, rogues and freebooters” exist in democracies because people elect them, I agree. The quote you mention (“…ignorance of voters”) was never said by Churchill, who had more respect than that for the average voter. Nor did Churchill ever wish Indians to be slaves.

As for Sir Winston’s present location, I’m reminded of Robert Lovett’s question when Churchill asked President Truman what they would say to their Maker on their day of judgment: “Are you sure, Prime Minister, that you are going to be in the same place as the President for that interrogation? It could be in another court far away.” I think we have to regard the answer to Mr. Lovett’s question as “undetermined.”

Vishnu Sankar May 7, 2016 at 23:07

I’m really upset with Indians who say the words of a person who wanted us to be slaves is correct. Did you they forget the struggles behind our freedom? What they or their elders of independent India did to preserve and take India forward to its zenith? Even after 74% literacy we don’t do our democratic duty of electing our rulers. Are we all not responsible for electing rascals, rogues and freebooters? This same Winston Churchill said “The failure of democracy is because ignorance of voters.” Failing to do our duty, be it voting or voting for great leader or NOTA if you don’t feel there is one, we vote for our family member or a relative or someone from our caste or seine who give something free to us. After selecting these leaders, which is our mistake, we blame the government in turn blame the country. Without patriotism today many are comparing India with USA and praising the latter.

I would say if a leader selected through elections is a rascal, then the people who elected him are rascals. Raping a child, being addicted to liquor without caring for wife and kids, spoiling self-education in name of love and getting divorce sooner if at all married, killing elderly for 1 gram of gold, did government ask you to do this? A country filled by these rascals will elect rascals (as you people say).

I say this country is ruled and being ruled by good leaders from Nehru to Narendra Modi. They are supposed to be great leaders which did not happen because of the citizens who do the above two things. When citizens are patriotic, self disciplined, well educated, enthused for growth, then the good leaders become great leaders. Jai Hind! I say to Winston Churchill now India is the largest successful democracy of the world which he will watch from hell…

Britto February 11, 2016 at 22:58

Why worry? But this is what happening in India…

Richard Langworth February 8, 2016 at 08:32

All free peoples tend to think at times that their countries are governed by “rascals, rogues and freebooters.” Churchill urged us all to “Never Despair,” and to K.B.O. –good advice, I suspect.

VSGR February 8, 2016 at 03:16

Very true statements. Given the way India is being governed, I do not see any hope or future on this country.

Richard Langworth November 11, 2015 at 10:24

I welcome these views from India, while knowing nothing of your current politics. In the larger picture I believe Churchill would be pleased to see India the world’s largest democracy, though governing in a democracy is never easy.

sacha Indian November 10, 2015 at 23:40

About what Churchill said, true rascals are there. Nehru was the man who spoiled India with his so-called socialism and brought a communal- and caste-based constitution to keep the Indians in a divided spirit….

Dr R K Gupta May 2, 2015 at 01:18

The actual writer of these lines was so good an observer: Indians are trying their best to prove the prophecy right, irrespective of who said it.

Richard M. Langworth October 26, 2014 at 08:00

Yes, well, I know how you feel. There are plenty of rascals, rogues and freebooters outside India!

Raj July 7, 2013 at 09:01

I too have researched on these lines a while ago. I received the following official response from Laure Clinquin at the Churchill Archives Centre:

I searched the quote in a variety a sources, including our catalogue of the Churchill Papers: http://www-archives.chu.cam.ac.uk/perl/search and Churchill by Himself, a book of attested quotations by Churchill by Richard Langworth (London: Ebury, 2008), in particular Chapter 6, “Britain, Empire and Commonwealth”, and some quotations on India (pp. 162-165). I also checked the speeches on India in 1946 and 1947 included in Robert Rhodes James, ed., Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches 1897-1963. (New York: Bowker, 1974, vol.7, 1943-1949). Unfortunately I haven’t found a reference to this quotation in any of these authoritative sources. While this sentence might have been pronounced by him, it seems that no hard evidence can back this attribution.

While no certain source can be found for this quote, I wish, looking at the state of India after 65 years of independence, that he had said it.

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