Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)
Sir Girja came in to see me, principally to give his interpretation of the Indian events.
He said that the disturbances in India were not going according to pattern. They certainly were not a non-violence campaign got up by the Congress. They started with violence, and were on a straight revolutionary pattern. Though they started, of course, in Bombay and Allahabad, and similar places, they were now principally affecting the Province of Bihar. The pattern in all cases was the same: a concentrated assault on railways, communications and telegraph lines. The railways running through the Bihar and adjoining districts which were affected carry ninety per cent of the coal and minerals of India to the rest of India; they are therefore strategic.
Bombay, he gathers, is pretty well back to normal; the Government ordnance factories are at work.
But Sir Girja was concerned over a number of developments. The students at the University of Benares had taken over the leadership [Page 726]of the mob; the University had been closed and occupied by the police, but the students thus dispersed would probably carry the movement to the rural districts. Sir Girja said that under the circumstances the British were entirely right in closing the university—though he felt badly, since he had himself got it financed with an annual draft of $100,000., in earlier days.
Sir Girja said that they saw, as yet, no evidence of Japanese fifth column penetration outside of Calcutta, where there had been a small amount.
No one was yet certain whether the non-violence campaign was yet to begin.
Sir Girja felt that in view of the way the campaign had been handled, the British had done the only thing they could, in meeting force with force. It was idle to say that they could merely let things alone, or that they were under any obligation not to resist a violent movement directed against them. In practice, no one was prepared to set up a provisional government in India, should the British leave; by consequence, as he saw it, the immediate withdrawal of the British would mean either anarchy and civil war on the one hand, or a Japanese take-over, on the other—neither of which was of any use to India.
Sir Girja said that he had had a number of leading radio commentators in to see him at lunch, in New York. They had asked him why the United States did not make a move. Sir Girja had said that he could not, of course, discuss any such matter; that his personal view was that it would be absurd for the President to make any move unless he were assured in advance that it would be successful. A premature move which aligned the President with one side or the other and led to failure, would mean that there was literally no one in the world (unless one might name Hitler or Hirohito) who could thereafter enter the situation with any hope of success.
Finally, Sir Girja urged again that we promptly appoint a successor to Col. Johnson, saying that the personality and standing of the man could be of extreme importance in the situation. Only in that way could we have any real data on what was going on.