845.00/1385: Telegram

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

501. The press interview with Maulana Azad yesterday afternoon further emphasizes the lack of unanimity in the Congress Working Committee (reference my 500, 21, 10 a.m.; and first paragraph of my 487, July 14, 1 p.m.7). The Indian journalist who interviewed Azad is a good friend of the Mission and at Mission’s request posed the question as to possibility of negotiation. While the Maulana’s published reply is significant, his reply “off the record” is even more so. Azad proposed the following: (1) Let Britain make absolute promise of independence after war and let United Nations or President Roosevelt [Page 691] alone guarantee fulfillment of this promise, and (2) let United Nations or President Roosevelt alone offer to arbitrate question of interim settlement and he (Azad) guarantees that he will get Congress to accept offer and agree beforehand to accept whatever interim plan is submitted by United Nations or President Roosevelt alone. The Mission feels that such a declaration if drafted with great care, has more than a fair chance of acceptance by principal groups. The following draft has been drawn up with view to avoiding words or implications which would be likely to antagonize any of major parties and is submitted for possible assistance to Department:

“Realizing as I do the intense desire of all principal political groups in India for a settlement that will enable them to assume a real share in the defense of the country and at the same time to aid and assist the United Nations to the fullest possible extent, I as President of the United States, would be prepared to guarantee the fulfillment of the promise of independence to India, without prejudice to the principal elements in the national life of the country, immediately after the cessation of hostilities which will be given by His Majesty’s Government.

Furthermore, in order to give immediate effect to the desires referred to above, which have been notably reiterated in the Wardha resolution of the Congress Party of July 14 and the recent statement in Bombay of the President of the All-India Muslim League, I am willing to submit an arrangement for an interim government, which I believe should prove reasonable to all sections of political thought in India and which should enable the country to play a real part in its own defense and to render immeasurable assistance to those powers who are fighting against the forces of wanton aggression and barbarism. I submit the foregoing suggestion in all good faith as the most feasible plan in present circumstances to give effect to the publicly pronounced desires of all the principal political groups in India and earnestly appeal for its acceptance. Upon receipt of the assent of these groups and their agreement to abide by my decision, I will submit an interim plan and pledge its immediate implementation.”

Should constitutional or political objections possibly be perceived to the phrase “as President of the United States”, it is suggested that the word “personally” might be substituted therefor although such substitution might detract from strength of declaration. The Mission would recommend declaration by President rather than United Nations because (a) there is not sufficient time to get latter to agree on form of declaration. If move is to be made it must be done before meeting of Working Committee at Bombay on August 4 or at least before meeting of Indian Congress Committee on August 7; and (b) President is trusted by and enjoys great prestige among Indian leaders and declaration by him would lodge responsibility in one place.

The question of course arises: Will Azad be able “to deliver the goods”? In the first place, I still believe that statements of Gandhi [Page 692] and Nehru that there is no more room for negotiation constitute a mere “front” which has been adopted until they see what offer will be forthcoming from British. In addition, they could say that acceptance of President’s declaration was not negotiation with British of whom they are sick and tired, but acceptance of guarantee of independence and friendly offer of arbitration by a third power in the fairness of whose chief they have confidence. It is believed that President’s declaration would be all but irresistible. In addition, Azad holds a very strong hand. The Congress has always held itself out to be not a communal but a national party which represents all sections of the country including Muslims. Should it refuse to accept a declaration such as that submitted above (which Azad has already agreed to accept), Azad could and, in my opinion, would threaten to walk out of Congress accompanied by every Muslim member of Committee except one nonentity. I am convinced that Azad and his Muslim colleagues would actually quit the Congress in case of refusal of declaration. This is one of last things on earth that Gandhi and Nehru wish to contemplate as such a development would leave the Congress naked before the world as a strictly Hindu body, exactly what Jinnah has always said it was. The gloating and derisive laughter of Jinnah and his Muslim League would resound throughout India. That a declaration in the form suggested above would prove acceptable to Jinnah is hardly open to question. In a recent statement in Bombay he used the following words:

“Soon after India was declared a belligerent I stated that in our own interest and to defend our homes and hearths we should assist England in the prosecution of the war, provided Great Britain accepted our hand as a confident friend and as an equal partner to face the peril and provided real share in the authority of the Government at the center and in the provinces was given to us within the framework of the present constitution.”

As late as July 12 the Secretary of the All-India Muslim League stated that the League’s Nagpur resolution of December 1941 still represents its present position. The following is an extract from that resolution:

“The Working Committee once more declare that they are ready and willing as before to shoulder the burden of the defense of the country, singly or in cooperation with other parties on the basis that real share and responsibility is given in the authority of the Government at the center and the provinces within the framework of the present constitution, but without prejudice to the major political issue involved in the framing of the future constitution.”

If such a declaration is to be made it should be quite unheralded. It would, in my opinion, be highly inadvisable to submit it to India leaders beforehand as to do so would bring about endless haggling as to [Page 693] wording which they love so much. It should be released for acceptance as it is or not at all.

As to actual plan to be submitted should declaration be accepted, I strongly recommend that formula follow closely that submitted in this office’s 263, May 4, 8 p.m.8 Azad is familiar with that formula and it is acceptable to him. In fact, he says that he submitted almost an identical plan to Cripps who informed him that he (Azad) would have to take it up with the Viceroy. Azad declined to do anything of the kind, stating that he was negotiating with Cripps, not Linlithgow. Nehru in May saw the formula referred to in the telegram last mentioned above. While he did not commit himself to it, he raised no objection but merely contented himself with saying that he could say nothing without referring it to Working Committee and, as plan had not been officially proposed, he saw no object in doing so.

With reference to problem of distributing seats in Cabinet, I suggest following as fair solution: 1 European (the Commander in Chief); 6 Hindus (4 Congress, 1 Labor (no Joshi), and 1 Hindu Mahasabha); 5 Muslims (4 Muslim League and 1 non-Muslim League); 1 depressed classes; 1 Parsi; and 1 Sikh.

I feel strongly that Congress is not likely to negotiate further with British on anything short of independence now unless a gesture and guarantee is forthcoming from a friendly third power which enjoys great prestige and in which Congress leaders have shown confidence. Without actually being on the ground here, it is difficult if not impossible to appreciate how distrust and hatred of the British has developed even during the last 3 months. As it is hardly likely that British will grant demands of Wardha resolution, I firmly believe that entirely new approach such as that suggested in this message must be made if serious consequences of civil disobedience campaign are to be avoided and India placed on full war footing. The President’s declaration, if made, would be free from the objection raised in Department’s 186, May 8, 4 p.m.9 since if it were unacceptable to Indian parties it would simply remain a friendly gesture without, in my judgment, causing any ill feeling or disturbances whatever here. The objection that the formula would be unacceptable, to an important element in the Congress Party is presumed to refer to the Ghandtan [Gandhian], non-resistance group. This objection would theoretically apply to any formula providing for active assistance in war effort. The same objection could have been urged against making the innocuous Cripps proposals. Despite internal differences of opinion, the decisions of the Working Committee are unanimous (reference the Bardoli resolution) and a united front is presented to public. It must also be remembered that it was the [Page 694] Ghandian [Gandhian] group itself which fathered the Wardha resolution with all its avowals of a desire to assist China, Russia and the United Nations in general, in spite of the cult of non-violence. If it is said that these avowals were predicated on the grant of freedom now, my answer is that the new approach recommended above would create an entirely new situation. I am convinced that formula would be acceptable to other Indian parties referred to in Department’s telegram. If it is unacceptable to the British at this stage of the proceedings, then they are more diehard, obtuse and reactionary than even the Congress leaders suspect. If the British are agreeable (and I hardly see how they can be otherwise), I strongly urge making declaration as there is, in my opinion, everything to be gained and nothing to be lost by doing so.

Merrell
  1. Latter not printed.
  2. Ante, p. 648.
  3. Ante, p. 650.