Memorandum of Conversation, by the Adviser on Political Relations (Murray)

Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, Indian Agent General, called on me this morning and said that he had purposely refrained from visiting the Department during the period of Sir Stafford Cripps’ negotiations in [Page 640] India in order to avoid any possible impression that he was endeavoring to influence in any way the course of those negotiations.

To my question as to whether he believed the full reasons had been set forth by the various Indian groups for their rejection of the British offer, Sir Girja replied most emphatically in the negative. He said that he felt the reasons given were “complete window-dressing” and that the real reasons were unstated. He had no doubt that Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajagopalachari, former Premier of Madras and an outstanding Rightist Congress leader, had every desire to negotiate a successful settlement with Sir Stafford. The working committee of the Congress Party, however, had other ideas and successfully blocked the negotiations with that Party. Once the Congress Party was unwilling to fall in line, it was a foregone conclusion that the proposals would be turned down by the other parties.

I asked the Agent General frankly whether he thought it was a case of “cold feet” on the part of the Indian negotiators and he replied that, while Gandhi could undoubtedly be classed in that category, he felt sure that such was not the case with either Nehru or Rajagopalachari, both of whom had courage and realized that India must resist aggression by force and not by passive resistance.

As for the Congress Party’s working committee which finally defeated the negotiations, he said he was certain that the idea in the back of their minds was the following: With the Cripps proposals on record, they can never be withdrawn by the British Government. Therefore, why accept them now in the present grave situation of India and run the risk of failure which ought to rest on the shoulders of the British rulers. If Britain wins, the offer can always be taken up and tried out, with better chances of success. Sir Girja said he was sorry to say that some members of the Party reasoned that if Britain loses and the Japanese succeed in occupying India the Indians would be in a better position to negotiate a satisfactory settlement with the Japanese than they would have been if they had fallen in with the British proposals.

Sir Girja went on to say that he was not one of those who regarded India under British rule as the best of possible worlds. In this he differed sharply from Lord Halifax and had been responsible for the omission of a number of passages from Lord Halifax’ radio address on April 7 before the Town Hall in New York. He informed me incidentally that Halifax had communicated directly with Cripps before deciding to deliver his address on India and had requested directives from Cripps, particularly as to what he should not say. In his reply, which was sent four days before the breakdown of negotiations, Sir Stafford already at that time expressed his pessimism over the outcome and stated that if his efforts were unsuccessful it would be on account of the defense problem and the question of appointed representation by the Princes to any Constituent Assembly.

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Sir Girja also attributed part of the responsibility for the failure of Sir Stafford’s mission to the Indian industrialists. This group, so he said, was extremely reactionary and self-seeking and it was they who had spread the first rumors designed to discredit our technical mission before its arrival in India. They expressed the view that American imperialism was endeavoring to replace British imperialism in India and that as far as they were concerned one was just as bad as the other. These industrialists, while realizing that the economic policies of the Congress Party are contrary to their interests, have nevertheless supported the Party in the hope that, in case it came to power, they would be better able to influence it to maintain if not to increase the protective tariff in India.

In answer to the question “What now in India?”, Sir Girja said he felt very definitely that there could be no complete return to the status ante quo. The proposal once made had set up such a fermentation in India that further efforts must necessarily be made to pick up the negotiations where Sir Stafford Cripps had left off and bring them to a successful conclusion. Of this he did not despair and he felt particularly gratified, so he said, that this Government had a representative at New Delhi in times like these and in a position to encourage a satisfactory settlement between the British and the Indians. He said it was not for him to judge whether any particular American representative was fully qualified to deal with the complexities and difficulties of the Indian problem but that the mere fact that a personal representative of the President has been sent to India and is in a position to come in direct contact with Indian leaders is of enormous importance. At this point I asked him what he thought might be the reason for certain critical comments of the Indian Press regarding American “intervention” in the Cripps negotiations. He said he felt sure that was merely internal politics and that while undoubtedly Nehru and other Congress leaders welcomed the presence and assistance of Colonel Johnson during the negotiations, they nevertheless would be careful to avoid any charge by the Opposition that the course of the negotiations was being dictated or even influenced by this Government or its local representative. It was for that reason that Nehru could never have considered requesting American “mediation” between the Indians and the British.

I asked Sir Girja whether he thought any of the groups who finally rejected the British proposal did so on the grounds that their acceptance would have entailed grave military responsibilities with inadequate means of defense at their disposal. Or, in other words, would they be inclined to argue that Great Britain should long ago have taken adequate steps to build up and equip the Indian Army and prepare it for such a task as it now faces? Sir Girja replied that the Indian political parties, while they might be tempted to take such a line, could not consistently do so for the reason that they have for [Page 642] years been criticizing the Government for spending so large a portion of the exchequer on the defense forces of India based largely on the Northwest Frontier. Furthermore, any complaints about excessive military expenditures are no longer valid since the visit to India in 1938 of the Expert Committee on Indian Defense under Admiral Lord Chatfield, First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff. As a result of the investigations of the Chatfield Committee, India was relieved entirely of her contributions to naval protection and was relieved of three-fourths of the expenditure for equipment of the Indian Army used for internal defense of the country. Also, the British Government undertook to meet the entire expense of the Indian Army when serving abroad. Sir Girja observed in this connection that India had sent more troops abroad than all the other parts of the British Empire put together.