Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State
The British Ambassador called at his request. He proceeded to refer to the Gandhi fasting and to the matter of Phillips’ possible acts or utterances in this connection. At this point I interrupted him to say that the President desired me to see the Ambassador on the subject of Gandhi and his fasting as it involved the British-Indian situation, and that I was proceeding now to do so. I said that the President desired me to take the matter of Gandhi’s fasting up with the Ambassador and say that it is the view of the President that Gandhi should not be allowed to die in prison. I made this point unmistakably clear to the Ambassador. The Ambassador received this with some appearance of equanimity.
The Ambassador then referred to Ambassador Phillips and said that his Government was very desirous that he avoid any public reference to the Gandhi matter at this time. I replied to his reference to Phillips and the desires of the British Government by saying that he, Mr. Phillips, is in a very difficult and unsatisfactory situation in this connection—that the British Viceroy forbids him to call on him just now and justifies his action on the representation to Phillips that it would be exceedingly dangerous to the British-Indian situation for Phillips to confer with him. I added that now his Government expresses a desire that Phillips say nothing indicative of his serious concern which, if published, would accentuate the already high tension that exists and aggravate the difficulties now confronting the British.
I again referred to the instructions of the President to the effect that not only would Phillips not be expected to remain absolutely [Page 200] quiet and nonvocal but that the President himself goes much further and emphasizes his position that Gandhi should not be allowed by the British to die in prison. (I incidentally reminded the Ambassador that some three or four days before, I myself had spoken to him on this subject in a personal way and not for publication, expressing the serious concern of this Government in regard to the possible death of Gandhi.) I remarked that a vital question for the British to consider from their standpoint would seem to be whether they can deal most effectively with Gandhi alive or with Gandhi dead and his supporters claiming martyrdom to a more or less degree. The Ambassador received these comments from the President with calmness, did not undertake to argue, and twice said that he would get the message to his Government without delay.
The Ambassador finally expressed the earnest hope that Phillips would not undertake to make such public representations in India as would, in the judgment of the Ambassador, give serious trouble. I replied that Phillips had already, as the Ambassador had learned through London, indicated the serious concern of this Government in regard to the matter. I added that Phillips might naturally now leave any further representations to higher officials, since the President had expressed his views in his message, presumably for Mr. Churchill, but that I would nevertheless make a suggestion along this line to Phillips in my next cable.