Mr. William Phillips, Personal Representative of President Roosevelt to India, to the President 77

My Dear Mr. President: Before leaving for London, I feel it my duty and my responsibility to express to you my concern with regard to the Indian situation. In previous letters from New Delhi I have dealt somewhat in detail with the growing resentment against the British among the political parties as a result of the political deadlock which is permitted to continue without hope that negotiations will be permitted among the leaders themselves or between the leaders and the British Indian Government.

While it is true that the political unrest largely affects only the more educated Indians, there is in addition a disturbing and even alarming situation developing among the uneducated masses, particularly in Bengal, on account of the famine. It should be borne in mind that the frontiers of Bengal touch those of Assam where American air forces are being concentrated in great numbers. In fact, Assam is the principal base from which our future efforts against Burma will be directed. Is it not therefore important that the attitude of the people near and around our principal base should continue to be friendly and cooperative? If only from the point of view of strategy, should we not avoid having a hostile population close to our important base and to our lines of communication? And yet, so far as I know, nothing has been done or is being done by the British Indian Government to remedy this situation which, in my estimation, has become serious. In this connection the following telegram recently received from our Mission in New Delhi is illuminating:

[Here follows text, except for last paragraph, of telegram No. 583, August 26, 5 p.m., printed on page 296.]

[Page 301]

Further information is to the effect that many of the rural areas in Bengal are foodless, with the villagers wandering into the cities to die there of starvation. Deaths from starvation on the streets of Calcutta are reported to have become so numerous that prominent European members of the community have addressed open letters to the municipal authorities requesting that more adequate means be found for the removal of the bodies. Similar letters have been addressed to the authorities in an endeavor to prevail upon the latter to provide means of assistance for persons taken to hospitals in a state of collapse from starvation and who because of their numbers are unable to gain admittance. It is reported also that in eastern Bengal—always a site of unrest—one finds much increased evidence of pro-Japanese sympathy among the peasants who are said to be hopeful of a Japanese invasion in the belief that the Japanese would bring with them rice from Burma. Instances of lawlessness throughout India occasioned by a desire to obtain food are said to be becoming of common and increasing occurrence.

I am venturing to bring this matter to your personal attention because I do not want anything in the records to appear to indicate an indifference on my part to a situation in India which might develop in such a way as to affect and even hinder our operations.

May I repeat that it is not alone the continuation of the political deadlock nor is it merely the famine conditions among the masses of Bengal that disturbs me, for, it is only too true, that in the past India has suffered from famines of similar severity. But it is the combination of the two, the deadlock and the famine, and the fact that there are Indians of high and low degree, many millions of them, who are resentful against their present conditions, hostile to the British because of the failure of the British to help them, and distrustful of Americans because of our close association with the British, that to me renders the situation of consequence to our military effort.

The remedy, if there is one, is for the British to open the door to negotiations and to do everything possible to lessen the famine conditions in the province of Bengal.

Faithfully yours,

William Phillips
  1. Letter dictated by Ambassador Phillips in the office of the Adviser on Political Relations (Murray) on September 9; copy forwarded by Mr. Murray to the Secretary of State on September 10.