845.01/192: Telegram

The Officer in Charge at New Delhi (Merrell) to the Secretary of State

312. For the President, Secretary and Colonel Louis Johnson. Berry saw Nehru yesterday morning shortly after the latter’s arrival from Lahore. The following is Berry’s summary of the interview:

“I informed Nehru that I was very much disturbed by a report received by me from what I considered an unimpeachable source to the effect that Gandhi was planning to launch mass civil disobedience in the near future (reference this office’s 304, May 21, 4 p.m.). I pointed out that my Government would naturally be intensely interested in knowing his reaction to such a program. He replied that he had been away at an isolated place and consequently out of touch with developments for several days. He accordingly found it very difficult to give me his reaction without first having an opportunity of ‘ascertaining Mr. Gandhi’s present position’. This was precisely the noncommittal type of reply that I had anticipated and I proceeded to give him details of the form which Gandhi’s program would take as reported to me in order to give him another opportunity of stating his reaction. He was not to be drawn, however, and replied that while he had, of course, heard various rumors he had not before been supplied with such detail. I explained my own views of the very serious consequences that might be expected of a mass civil disobedience program and suggested that perhaps I was exaggerating the seriousness of such a movement. He answered in a flash that ‘No, the result of such a program might be very serious indeed’. He stated that he had proposed to go to Allahabad Sunday night but that on the basis of our interview he would now proceed to Wardha. He promised that, after learning Gandhi’s position, he would, if at all possible, let me have a preliminary statement of his own position.”

The fact that Nehru finds himself unable or unwilling to state his position on a question likely to have such catastrophic consequences as mass civil disobedience without consultation with Gandhi, leads me to suspect that he is veering to his master’s point of view. This suspicion is supported by Nehru’s statement in a speech at Lahore on Thursday night that the Congress could never accept coalition ministries (with the Moslem League) in the provinces because to do so would mean that Congress accepted a compromise with the British. [Page 665] This is only another way of saying what Gandhi has been writing in his weekly paper, namely, that the British must withdraw from India at once. Nehru also stated at a press conference in Lahore on Friday that Hindu–Moslem unity could not be secured as long as the British are in India. This is precisely Gandhi’s own view.

Since this message was begun Nehru has handed Berry the following message with the request that it be cabled to Colonel Johnson:

“On my return after 10 days’ absence in the mountains, I find considerable deterioration in situation and events seem to be marching towards internal crisis. The Government of India’s attitude and policies as well as London pronouncements on India exceedingly irritating to Indians. Gandhi’s recent writings betray great bitterness and do something to put an end to intolerable situation in which Indians treated contemptuously as pawns. He feels unable to remain passive spectator and demands British withdrawal from India. In effect this means recognition of Indian independence. While Congress demand same, it is uncertain what attitude Congress will take up in regard to any new action suggested by Gandhi. But Gandhi by himself can powerfully affect mass opinion and any step he may take will have far-reaching consequences, though it may be limited in scope and area to begin with. For him at this age, it is his final struggle for Indian freedom and he is bent on carrying it to end. While declaring his desire to resist Japanese aggression in India, he emphasizes that present government in India is not only a continuing insult to Indians but is also incapable of defending India effectively and every risk should be taken to end it. While there is widespread sympathy with this nationalist approach, there is also among many an apprehension that this may have adverse reactions on international and war situations. No clear programme outlined so far or decisions taken, but Gandhi appears resolved to persevere. Congress executive will meet soon to consider situation. I am much perturbed at some of these developments and am proceeding immediately to Wardha to see Gandhi for personal talks to clarify situation.”

Nehru has now definitely promised to furnish Berry with a statement of his position after seeing Gandhi.