845.00/1784: Telegram

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

121. In a long interview yesterday with two members of the Birla family, who are perhaps the foremost industrialists in India, and two other wealthy supporters of the Congress, they emphasized that mutual distrust is main stumbling block to settlement between Britain and India. Gandhi’s son was also present. They stated that Britain began the distrust and Indians as the weaker party had no alternative but to distrust British motives in return. Britain’s disinclination to part with power now cannot, they declared, reasonably be based on fear that war effort would be impeded thereby because Indian leaders would be quite willing to have all military affairs this theatre controlled by joint general staff composed of British, Americans, Indians and Chinese. If Britain sincerely intends to grant freedom to India after the war, what then, they inquired, is the objection to a transfer of civil power to a provisional government now as an earnest of that intention? If, they added, Britain first gives evidence of her good faith and then adduces substantial reasons why it is not, in some respects, feasible to transfer complete civil power to India during the war, she will find Indian leaders reasonable and willing to meet the difficulties in a spirit of friendly accommodation.

Reluctantly I am coming to the conclusion that the Viceroy, presumably responsive to Churchill, is not in sympathy with any change in Britain’s relationship to India.

The impression is widespread among Indians that the British Government is determined to preserve the status quo in spite of the promises given with regard to post war independence and general assurances contained in the Atlantic Charter.14

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In a recent interview which I had with the Viceroy he appeared for the first time suspicious of my intentions until I had repeated again to him that my object was to keep the President and you fully informed with regard to the Indian situation and that I had no intention of “intervening”. He knows of course that Indians of all types are calling upon me and he probably knows also that they are looking to the United States and particularly to the President to induce the British Government to make a fresh and more liberal move toward a settlement. This is in fact the case.

  1. Joint statement by President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill, August 14, 1941, Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, p. 367.