Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)
Sir Girja41 came in to see me, at his request. He was obviously shaken and unhappy about the events of the past few days. He said he had come in more to unburden his mind than for any other purpose. He pointed out the difficulty of his own position. He said that under the circumstances he had felt that he could not talk freely in Washington, but hoped that he could come in from time to time to present to me his appreciation of the facts, which was all he could do.
He then made two points. He said he hoped that we would go forward with the implementation of the Grady report;42 and he hoped that we could promptly get a ranking American to India as Agent General. I said that both matters were under close and immediate consideration.
He then stated the now familiar facts in the controversy between the Congress Party and the British Government, and he wondered whether we were taking any attitude.
I took my line carefully from the answer which Secretary Hull had prepared to General Chiang Kai-shek. I said that the last thing in the world this Government felt it could do was to take sides in a controversy, or attempt to pass judgment on the merits. Still less could we expect to obtain any practical results unless there was reason to believe that our good offices were wanted. As we saw it, the cardinal issue was the victory of the United Nations in respect of which the defense of India was a vital part. In line with this, we had a historic interest in the question of independence as shown both by our steady enunciation of principle and our own action in the matter. The British war effort was vital to the defense of the United Nations. The aspiration of India to independence was entirely consistent with our ideals. If forced to choose, defense necessarily had to come first.
Meanwhile, I could only express a personal opinion as to what the Government might do; but my personal opinion was that, at least for the time being, we would not feel free to make any announcement or take any action. Naturally, circumstances might change, but unless and until a favorable opportunity developed, I did not see that we could say anything. In respect of the internal matter, we had little, if any, standing. We had, of course, an over-all interest both as a matter of defense and by reason of the fact that our troops and supplies were in India, and because India was on the line of communications [Page 720]to our Chinese ally. But the existence of this interest did not mean that it was desirable to enter, much less take sides in, a controversy at the present time.
Sir Girja said that he was entirely of this view, and very glad of it. He said his own opinion was that the President could only step into this situation when he was virtually assured of success. He said that the British feeling in the matter was not reassuring. The Chinese Ambassador42a and Sir Frederick Leith-Ross43 had been at his house to dinner a couple of nights ago; the Chinese Ambassador had indicated the vivid Chinese interest in settlement of the Indian controversy. Thereupon, Sir Frederick Leith-Ross had grown purple with rage and had used language to the Chinese Ambassador which finally forced Sir Girja, as host, to intervene and end the discussion. If, said Sir Girja, the Britishers felt that way about the obvious Chinese interest, it was difficult to see that much could be done until their views had developed further.
He was somewhat worried about the strain on Chinese-English relations.
I said that this was of course regrettable but that some allowance had to be made for the British point of view. They were fighting for their lives; and as they saw it, the Congress movement was endangering their very safety. For two centuries the British Empire had been the symbol of Britain’s greatness and position in the world; and while this might not justify all of their policies, it had to be realized that they were operating under a very severe strain. Further, I said, the intercepted first draft of Gandhi’s resolution contemplating talks with Japan was not one which would be taken very well by Britain, or for that matter, in the United States. Sir Girja said that that was unhappily true. Gandhi had seemed to indicate that he thought the Japanese and the Germans would win the war—whereas all of our thinking had to be based on an exactly contrary premise.
Sir Girja said he would come in from time to time, in case he got any new light on the situation. I said we should be glad to have him.