The brilliant British philosopher and activist offers his views on Indian independence.
Malvern, Pa., August 27
Dear Sirs: The Indian situation is dangerous, and if it is to be wisely dealt with, clear thinking is very necessary. I find in some quarters a lack of clear thinking which may increase the dangers that we all wish to diminish.
There are some points about which we are all agreed. First, the Indian difficulty must be handled in the way most likely to help in winning the war. Second, as soon as the war is over, India is to have independence–as complete, at any rate, as Great Britain or any other country will have. The only practical question at issue is: what is to be done during the continuance of the war? I feel that neither the British government nor the Congress Party is treating this question in the way most likely to lead to victory. Many people in America seem to feel that Gandhi must be in the right since he stands for national independence; others feel that loyalty to an ally makes criticism of the British government impolitic. Both seem to me mistaken. On the one hand, insistence on immediate independence, with all the confusion resulting from a transfer of government in the middle of a war, would probably end in the enslavement of both India and China to Japan. On the other hand, the problem of India, since it is part of the problem of victory, is a problem on which all the United Nations have a right to a voice.
The question of India is much more complex than it appears to many American liberals. They do not know that one of the points on which the Cripps mission broke down was the unwillingness of the Hindus to admit that Moslems have the same right to independence from Hindus as Hindus from British. They do not face the difficulties of a complete change of government when a Japanese invasion is imminent. They profess to think that Sir Stafford Cripps’s promises are not to be trusted. They imagine that if the demands of the Congress Party were granted, India would become enthusiastic for the war, although the example of Ireland should suggest the contrary. They attribute the poverty of Indians to the British, in spite of the fact that the poverty of China has always been at least as great. Mr. Louis Fischer, in The Nation of August 22, mentions that the infant death rate is 274 in Bombay as against 66 in London, and remarks that “such figures burn deep resentment, hatred, and disloyalty into the soul of India.” The implication that the higher death rate of Bombay as compared with London is entirely the result of British misgovernment is most unfair. Bombay has a hot climate and a high birth rate; London a low birth rate and a temperate climate. I have no doubt that the British government could have done more than it has done to reduce the high infant death rate, just as the government of the United States could have done a great deal more than it has done to reduce the death rate among the children of Southern Negroes; but there is no reason to suppose that fewer children would die in Bombay if British rule were to be succeeded by a government headed by Mr. Gandhi. Some years ago Mr. Gandhi stated that the earthquakes then troubling India were sent as a punishment for sin. This attitude has never been very effective against a high infant death rate. And Mr. Fischer should remember that there is every reason to think that the death rate in China, before the beginning of the war with Japan, was at least as high as in India.