Mr. William Phillips, Personal Representative of President Roosevelt in India, to the President 8

Dear Mr. President: I have never had a more interesting two weeks than those since my arrival. The journey from London was somewhat longer than I had expected on account of the delay at Bristol, but once on board the Clipper everything went on schedule. In Liberia I transferred to an Army transport plane which took me to Cairo, via Accra [Page 181] and Khartoum instead of the more direct route to Aden. I did this in order to visit the Indian troops in their desert camp near the Pyramids. I was told that this would be a sympathetic gesture and it was clearly so regarded.

On arrival in Karachi I was met by General Ferris, Deputy Chief of Staff, United States Forces in China, and the Secretary of our Mission, both of whom had flown from Delhi to take me there the following day. Before leaving London the Viceroy had invited me through the Secretary of State for India to spend the first three days with him. I should like to have avoided the visit but was assured that it was a customary procedure for all official visitors to Delhi and so I accepted, and am now glad that I did so.

The presentation of your letter was without ceremony and was delivered during my first private talk with the Viceroy in his library. He was most cordial and friendly and wanted me to feel free to move about the country as I wished and to meet and converse with all shades of opinion. He said that later he would give me his own views on the political situation. He promised not to “propagandize” me and assured me that he wished me to form my own judgment. He is a good example of the Tory type, a huge man physically, very reserved before people, but he warms up in private conversation.

My days are filled with people and I am gradually becoming acquainted with the terrific problems which face this country. The Hindus are united in their distrust and intense dislike of the British but they are not altogether united behind Gandhi.9 Since the arrest of the Congress leaders an organization known as the Hindu Mahasabha under the leadership of Mr. V. D. Savarkar has sprung into prominence. Mr. Savarkar is even more uncompromising than the Congress leaders in his demand for a Hindu rule over all minorities including the one hundred million Muslims.

Jinnah10 and the Muslim League are equally resentful of the presence of the British but because of their fear of the Hindu claims for an all India administration, they would probably prefer to have the English remain unless their own claims to Pakistan were guaranteed. Neither the League nor Congress has any faith in the British promise to free India.

The Indian members of the Viceroy’s Council,—the so-called Government of India—condemn both Hindu and Muslim extremes and are doing their best to carry on the government and at the same time to keep their own jobs. They have no popular following because they represent the voice of the Viceroy.

The Princes live aloof and do not attempt to inject themselves into the religious and political controversies. Some of their States, I am [Page 182] told, have liberal and advanced governments, while others are pitifully backward and have made little or no progress since the Dark Ages.

Then there is the caste system, which again divides the people into more rigid categories.

In all this confusion resulting from religious, political and caste differences, four men stand out who dominate the scene; Churchill and his Viceroy, Gandhi and Jinnah. The Viceroy represents England of the old school, of the tradition of Empire, of British responsibility to govern backward peoples. Behind him are the six hundred British Indian Civil Servants who are devoting their lives to India and who know little of what is going on in the world outside and who in their hearts want to preserve the status quo, since their livelihood depends upon it. Undoubtedly their views must have some influence on the Viceroy.

While in London I got the impression that the English people were ready and even eager to grant dominion status to India if only the Indians would agree among themselves with regard to the form of their government. I cannot say as much of Churchill, but certainly several members of his government with whom I have talked feel that way and have it much in their minds. The British press too is moving along more advanced lines in this respect.

But here in India the situation appears to be the reverse. The British whom I have met seem unaware of the changing attitude in England and cannot really envisage a free India fit to govern itself. They point out that eighty-five percent of the country is illiterate, that the great mass of the people are utterly indifferent as to who governs as long as there is a government to which they can look for food and relief in times of stress. They see the antagonism of the Hindu and Muslim political parties and feel that it is hopeless to expect them to reach any practical agreement. They speak of civil war the moment England departs, et cetera, et cetera. Naturally these views are reflected in the Indian leaders, and convinces them that British promises are worthless.

Gandhi is the third great personality,—the god whom people worship and, I imagine, a wholly impractical god … But if he could be convinced that the British are sincere in their desire to see India free, there is hope that he might be unexpectedly reasonable in his approach to Jinnah and the League.

To all inquiries as to whether I was planning to see him I have replied that I would consider an answer to the question later. Gandhi is still in prison and I think it is wiser not to make any such request of the Viceroy just yet. When, however, I have some helpful suggestion to discuss with Gandhi I shall not hesitate to ask for permission, but just now, my call upon him would raise speculation to fever heat without any compensating advantage.

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Jinnah is the fourth person who has to be reckoned with. He and Gandhi distrust each other and are bitter political enemies. Jinnah’s Muslim League, which in fact represents the great bulk of Muslim India, stands for Pakistan, that is, a complete independent Muslim State free from any interference whatsoever from British and Hindus alike. Recently it has been growing in power and influence, and is therefore a formidable opposition to the Hindu claim.…

I have seen something of Gandhi’s son, who runs the principal Congress paper in New Delhi, and we have had frank talks. Jinnah is in Bombay and is coming to Delhi about the middle of February but I have already talked with his representative here.

Whenever I have an opportunity I urge the importance of another attempt by the leaders to reach a compromise agreement before allowing India to drift into the position of a house divided within itself. Gandhi’s son assures me that his father is ready for another attempt at compromise, if he were out of jail, and that may be true.

And so there seem to be four men who hold in their hands the destiny of three hundred eighty-eight million people; Churchill dominates the Viceroy, the Viceroy dominates the Government of India, Gandhi controls the Congress and Jinnah the great mass of the Indian Muslims.

There seems to be only one way to bring about an agreement between the Indians themselves and that is to be in a position to convince them of Britain’s sincerity. How can this be done is the heart of the problem. I hope that I may have some suggestions to offer later but not until I have more information. Meanwhile, I am planning to visit various parts of the country; first, the Punjab, where constitutional government is said to be flourishing; then to Bengal, where constitutional government functions but less successfully; then to Assam, to visit our forces; then to Bombay, Hyderabad and perhaps to the far South if I have time. I am also planning to visit several of the Hindu and Muslim universities. To all invitations to speak I have replied that I have come to study and to learn and so to be in a better position to report to you, and too I appreciate the danger of speaking in public to any group in this divided country.

I hope, Mr. President, that I may have the benefit of your judgment and guidance, for this is not an easy task that you have set me to and I would welcome any thoughts that you may have on the subject.

Sincerely yours,

William Phillips
  1. Copy transmitted by Ambassador Phillips to the Secretary of State on January 22; received February 10.
  2. Mohandas K. Gandhi, leader of the civil disobedience movement in India.
  3. Mahomed Ali Jinnah, President of the Muslim League.