Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)
Mr. Mahindra49 came in to pay his respects. He wished to express the hope that we would continue to implement the Grady report. He said in his considered judgment announcement of our intention to go ahead on the lines recommended would be a very considerable stabilizing influence in the present disturbed Indian situation.[Page 724]
He added that he hoped the United States might say something which would assist in the settlement of the Indian question. He was clear that what was going on now was merely surface rioting by disorderly elements; the real campaign of civil disobedience had not begun; he thought it probably would begin sometime in October. When it came, it would far transcend in importance anything which had occurred to date.
I said that we had felt we could not take sides in the matter; that any act on our part would only be considered if we had reason to believe it were welcome to both sides. I added that our national doctrines here were in favor of independence and we approved it in the Philippines; but that if it were a question as between defense and independence for India, we should of course choose defense. Without defense there would be no independence for India or anyone else.
Mr. Mahindra said that he agreed. He said that in July every Congress leader had been in favor of defense of India. When he left India in July one of the principal reasons for the Congress upheaval was their understanding that the British did not intend to defend India.
I expressed surprise at this.
Mr. Mahindra then said that a secret staff document had leaked out and had been circulated in Indian newspapers. This was purely and simply a plan for the evacuation of India in the face of any Japanese thrust, leaving the country helpless and at the mercy of the invaders. This, he said, was why the Congress insisted on control of the defense of India. They feared that otherwise they would be abandoned as had been the case with Burma.
I said that my impression was that the present policy was quite otherwise; that the British were reenforcing in India and were asking, in that regard, certain assistance from us.
Mr. Mahindra said that defense of India really turned on defense of the Calcutta area; that the RAF50 there consisted of 50 planes though they had been sending in reenforcements of troops. He said that 500 planes in that area probably would be determinative. He was an industrialist and he knew India well; he was not in politics nor had he been in Government service; but he was convinced that defense was possible and that fear that it would not be carried out was at the very root of the Congress movement.
I said that I noted his points. Naturally we were exploring daily any possibilities in the whole matter though at the moment I saw nothing that could be done. Some of us had wondered why the Congress did not state that they were wholeheartedly in favor of defense of India and were prepared to cooperate in that regard, irrespective of other political controversies.[Page 725]
Mr. Mahindra said that some weeks ago they had been prepared to make that statement; that he thought they would now if Pandit Nehru were not in jail. But as all Congress leaders were in jail now there was no one who could make the statement; and no Congress leader would sit down with the British while they were in jail.
I said that it seemed to me that if the Congress really wanted to defend India, agreement would be established on one point between the groups, namely, that both British and Indians proposed to defend India.
Mr. Mahindra said that they could get together only with the United States on this point. The Congress Party would not now sit down around the table with the British.
I said that I was, of course, not empowered to discuss anything of that sort.
Finally, Mr. Mahindra made one suggestion. He said that the attack on the Solomon Islands was, in one sense, a vigorous implementation of the defense of India by the United Nations, namely, ourselves. It directed Japanese strength away from India and safeguarded their position. He thought our people might well state that fact over the radio for the benefit of the Indian population.
I said I noted the suggestion and would pass it on.