Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)

Mr. Mahindra came in to see me at his request. He wasted no time in coming to the point. He said that for the past three weeks he had noticed a slowing down of interest in supplies for India. He wished to know whether we had changed our policy.

I said I knew of no directive changing policy. There had been, as he and everyone else knew, considerable concern here as to political conditions in India; and this had engendered doubt in some quarters as to whether supplies sent to India would be saved. I did not understand that a change in policy had been agreed upon.

Mr. Mahindra looked a little doubtful and then carried the discussion a step forward. He said that in conversation with various of his American friends, a number of them had taken the position that India might be regarded as an “occupied country” much as the Germans regarded countries which they had seized as “occupied”; and that the military men regarded India as merely a springboard for future conquests. He noted that a British order had been issued authorizing American troops in India, on orders of any officer above the rank of captain, to fire on crowds where needed, or to conscript labor. Since the British had (he said) used 112 battalions in putting down recent uprisings, it was inevitable that American troops would be involved in the event of any general disturbance; and he wondered whether the apparent change in tempo was not due to some understanding reached between the British and ourselves.

I said I knew of no such understanding. We had given orders to our troops to stay out of internal Indian affairs and these orders still held good. I said that as I understood it, any body of American troops would have the right to fire on anyone who attacked them; and they had, and of course would have, the usual military rights in the event they were attacked by enemy troops. The British may have sanctioned this by general orders; but there was a long distinction between the American troops receiving the assent of the British Government to exercising their military rights and any intent of ours to enter an Indian controversy.

Mr. Mahindra then opened his mind a little. He said he had seen correspondence between Halifax, the British Government and Lord Linlithgow. Linlithgow’s answer “would have made your blood boil”. He expressed real concern as to what might happen.

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I said that of course the state of warfare on the ground would create its own circumstances. Were there a Japanese attack and were there an Indian uprising at the same time, it would be extremely difficult to take separate lines of action. The troops defending India would presumably do what was necessary to beat the enemy, including protecting their lines of communication. For that reason, any Indian uprising could not be separated from Japanese action. The Finns had tried to run a separate war against Russia and found that they were automatically assimilated to a place in the German war machine. For that reason I thought that every Indian had the greatest possible reason to hope that no such fate would befall Indian troops.

Mr. Mahindra promptly and vigorously agreed. But, he said, they were offered a terrible alternative. On one hand they now had convincing evidence that the British not only could not solve the Indian problem, but did not wish to. When the war turned in their favor, they would be still less anxious to do anything about it. Nothing remained ahead but a period of long agitation and perhaps a “blood bath”. This was the prospect offered them if they kept quiet. On the other hand, an attempt to take their rights by force would place them in a category with Japan—a category where they did not belong, did not wish to be, and did not propose to get into. The only other course seemed to be to hope for a solution by process of reason and negotiation—and this the British seemed unwilling to accept. He said he considered that there never would be any solution unless three men were taken out of the picture: Amery, Linlithgow, and the Indian Secretary, Laithwaite57 (?).

He felt that the Indian matter had now become a matter of international concern. The United States had raised a moral issue. This had been taken seriously; and had concerned both our standing and the position of China, and, indeed, the whole position of affairs in that part of the world. From his personal point of view, he thought this could not be indefinitely ignored.

I inquired whether anything would be gained if an initiative were taken from outside which was declined by either of the parties to the controversy.

Mr. Mahindra admitted that nothing would be gained. He closed by expressing the hope that we would send to India the technicians which had been suggested by the Grady Mission.

A[dolf] A. B[erle], Jr.
  1. Sir Gilbert Laithwaite, Secretary to the Governor General of India.