The Officer in Charge at New Delhi ( Merrell ) to the Secretary of State
[Received July 18—1:15 a.m.]
495. Nehru held a press conference here yesterday afternoon but as everything he said there, plus additional details, was [repeated?] during Berry’s visit with him last night this message will be confined to the latter (reference section 35 my 489, July 14, 11 p.m.). The following is Berry’s summary of interview:
“The only guests beside myself were the Chinese Commissioner and the Chinese Minister Designate to Panama. This was not the most satisfactory setting for developing the points I wished to raise with Nehru and the disinclination of the Chinese Commissioner, who despite the good contact of his office appears to know practically nothing about political situation here, to discuss anything except the difference [Page 686] between Buddhism and Hinduism did nothing to help matters. Nehru was obviously in a mood to discuss the resolution and my first question was whether the resolution ruled out negotiations based on a formula providing for something less than absolute independence now. He replied that there could be no further negotiations except on basis of immediate independence to India, that is, negotiation to arrange details of transfer of complete power to Indian hands now. I inquired whether acceptance by British of Congress demands put forward during Cripps’ Mission would prove acceptable as an interim arrangement. His reply was an unqualified ‘no’. He explained that during Cripps’ negotiations invasion by Japanese appeared imminent and Congress lowered its demands in order to meet danger with a National Government; that at best the Congress formula provided only a makeshift arrangement involving a divided responsibility which was never successful. I then inquired whether he considered the danger of invasion any less now than in April to which he replied ‘Probably not but the restlessness and anti-British feeling of Indian people is immeasurably greater.’
He went on to say that two results followed from failure of Cripps’ Mission: (1) A greater conviction that it is quite impossible to carry on Government in cooperation with the British Government, and (2) there was a very big reaction of relief that the negotiations did not succeed on the basis offered as the people felt that the terms which the Congress had proposed were not good enough. He declared that even had Cripps agreed to the Congress demands, it would have been extremely difficult for it to have ‘delivered the goods’ under such a scheme; to do so now would be ‘quite impossible’. He concluded this part of the discussion by saying that British acceptance of Congress demands made to Cripps coupled with absolute promise of independence on cessation of hostilities and unqualified by any mention of Pakistan would likewise be unsatisfactory at this stage. The Indian people he said are now intensely anti-British and cannot trust any promise of British Government. The underwriting of such a British promise by United Nations or by President Roosevelt might do some good in helping to reassure Indian people but ‘it is not enough’. I returned again and again during the discussion to the possibility of compromise on a formula such as that mentioned above in an attempt to find some loophole or hint in his replies that such a possibility exists. I found none. For one now to believe that a compromise is possible on any formula short of the Wardha resolution, he must also subscribe to one of the two following possibilities: (a) Nehru was lying to me last night. I dismiss this possibility because if a compromise is possible Nehru would hope to obtain assistance from United States in bringing it about to advantage of Indian people. For him categorically to deny possibility of such a compromise, knowing full well that we would communicate such denials to Washington and thus possibly rule out American assistance, seems to me untenable; or (b) he was unwilling to talk to me in presence of others as frankly as he otherwise might have done. I propose to put this possibility to test tomorrow morning when Nehru returns to Delhi. I expect to see him privately and, remote as I now think the chances are, I shall not be wholly convinced that the Congress has shut its doors to compromise until Nehru persists in his intransigent attitude if [in] private.[Page 687]
Having disposed of question of compromise, I then asked Nehru what chance he thought there was for British acceptance of Congress demand. He replied ‘very little at present but perhaps later they will recognize desirability of it’. I interpret that to mean that Japanese infiltration into eastern sections of India, followed by breakdown of civil administration, passive acceptance of and even cooperation with Japanese by Indian population in those areas, may convince British that Congress demand must be met in order to imbue civilian population with spirit of resistance and prevent spread of pro-Japanese feeling, thus avoiding Burma experience. I inquired why, if he did not expect Congress demands to be met, he felt it necessary, while repeatedly professing in resolution disinclination to interfere with war effort, to launch a movement which must inevitably hinder that effort. He said that he had been watching the growth of a spirit of passivity and bitter anti-British feeling among Indian people for several months; that he was firmly convinced this spirit likely to develop rapidly into pro-Japanese feeling, not from any love of Japanese but because of intense hatred of British; that he as a patriot refused to stand idly by and watch this development without making an effort, remote though its chances of success were, to supply the only antidote (Indian freedom); and that nothing could Be more repugnant to him than to see his country become another Burma. He added that any interference with war effort would be as brief as movement itself would be short, thus implying that he expects Government to jail important Congress leaders and ban Congress organization.
Nehru declared that under Wardha resolution Viceroy would be expected to depart immediately. I asked who would assume British obligations to Indian States. He replied that Government of Free India would undertake these obligations, thus subscribing to a unilateral theory of transference of treaty rights and duties quite unknown, so far as I am aware, to international practice. He added that while the States would be invited to accede to the Government of Free India, no immediate attempt would be made to force them to do so. He claimed that the fire of freedom which would spread through India would so imbue peoples of most India States with like feeling their rulers would be forced to come into the union. He explained that resolution does not contemplate immediate removal of all British officials but would at first only involve removal of a comparatively few ‘useless individuals’ at the top. The remainder would be permitted to remain, if they so desired, until arrangements could be made, by process of negotiation with British, for their disposition. They could not, however, expect to receive ‘the fat salaries’ to which they have been accustomed at the expense of the Indian people. The governors of the provinces would, like the Viceroy, have to go at once as there would be no place for them in Free India. The slow removal of lower British officials would avoid the confusion and delay to war effort which might otherwise be caused by complete independence now.
I inquired Nehru was absolutely convinced that Jinnah and Congress could come to terms immediately upon withdrawal of British [Page 688] power. His answer was a categorical affirmative. He repeated the well known argument that there can be no settlement between League and Congress as long as British are here to keep them apart and outbid-either party. He claimed that once full responsibility is entrusted to Indian leaders, with no third party from whom they may expect bargains, they will reach an honorable settlement at once. Nehru stated that Congress and League were on verge of a settlement just prior to visit of Cripps. But Cripps’ proposals showed that British were prepared to grant Pakistan so that, from Jinnah’s point of view, further negotiation with Congress was without purpose (in connection with this paragraph, reference my 492, July 16, 11 a.m. and 494, July 16, 3 p.m.).
While supplying answers to many questions, the interview, due to lack of time and the necessity of covering such a wide field, left others untouched. In addition, some of the replies could not be pursued for the purpose of developing their full implications. I hope to fill in at least some of these gaps when I see Nehru, again tomorrow morning.[”]
- Third paragraph and remainder of telegram.↩