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

Dear Mr. President: May I add a few words to what I said to you on Tuesday afternoon when I had the pleasure of giving you an oral report of my impressions on the Indian situation.

Assuming that India is bound to be an important base for our future operations against Burma and Japan, it would seem to me of highest importance that we should have around us a sympathetic India rather than an indifferent and possibly a hostile India. It would appear that we will have the primal responsibility in the conduct of the war against [Page 221]Japan. There is no evidence that the British intend to do much more than give token assistance. If that is so, then the conditions surrounding our base in India become of vital importance.

At present the Indian people are at war only in a legal sense as, for various reasons, the British Government declared India in the conflict without the formality of consulting Indian leaders or even the Indian legislature. Indians feel that they have no voice in the Government and therefore no responsibility in the conduct of the war. They feel they have nothing to fight for as they are convinced that the professed war aims of the United Nations do not apply to them. The British Prime Minister, in fact, has stated that the provisions of the Atlantic Charter are not applicable to India, and it is not unnatural therefore that the Indian leaders are beginning to wonder whether the Charter is only for the benefit of the white races. The present Indian Army is purely mercenary and only that part of it which is drawn from the martial races has been tried in actual warfare and these martial soldiers represent only thirty-three percent of that Army. General Stilwell47 has expressed to me his concern over the situation and in particular in regard to the poor morale of the Indian officers.

The attitude of the general public toward the war is even worse. Lassitude and indifference and bitterness have increased as a result of the famine conditions, the growing high cost of living and the continued political deadlock.

While India is broken politically into various parties and groups, all have one object in common, eventual freedom and independence from British domination.

There would seem to be only one remedy to this highly unsatisfactory situation in which we are unfortunately but nevertheless seriously involved, and that is to change the attitude of the people of India towards the war, make them feel that we want them to assume responsibilities to the United Nations and are prepared to give them facilities for doing so, and that the voice of India will play an important part in the reconstruction of the world. The present political conditions do not permit of any improvement in this respect. Even though the British should fail again it is high time that they should make a new effort to improve conditions and to reestablish confidence among the Indian people that their future independence is to be granted. Words are of no avail. They only aggravate the present situation. It is time for the British to act. This they can do by a solemn declaration from the King Emperor that India will achieve her independence at a specified date after the war and as a guarantee of good faith in this respect a provisional representative coalition government will be established at the center and limited powers transferred to it.

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I feel strongly, Mr. President, that in view of our military position in India we should have a voice in these matters. It is not right for the British to say “this is none of your business” when we alone presumably will have the major part to play in the future struggle with Japan. If we do nothing and merely accept the British point of view that conditions in India are none of our business then we must be prepared for various serious consequences in the internal situation in India which may develop as a result of despair and misery and anti-white sentiments of hundreds of millions of subject people.

The peoples of Asia—and I am supported in this opinion by other diplomatic and military observers—cynically regard this war as one between fascist and imperialist powers. A generous British gesture to India would change this undesirable political atmosphere. India itself might then be expected more positively to support our war effort against Japan. China, which regards the Anglo-American bloc with misgiving and mistrust, might then be assured that we are in truth fighting for a better world. And the colonial peoples conquered by the Japanese might hopefully feel that they have something better to look forward to than simply a return to their old masters. Such a British gesture, Mr. President, will produce not only a tremendous psychological stimulus to flagging morale through Asia and facilitate our military operations in that theater, but it will also be proof positive to all people—our own and the British included—that this is not a war of power politics but a war for all we say it is.

Sincerely yours,

William Phillips
  1. Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, Commanding General, U. S. Forces in India.