The Secretary of State to the Officer in Charge at New Delhi (Merrell)
538. Reference is made to the Mission’s recent telegram84 regarding the Indian famine and the impression conveyed by Reuters press items. The Department has considered it inexpedient to issue a formal statement on this subject. It is desired, however, that within the Mission’s discretion the Mission and the India Office of OWI85 publicize by such means as may be possible the following facts:
- The impression conveyed by items in the Indian press that the United States Government is indifferent to the famine conditions prevailing in Bengal and that its representatives in India have failed to supply accurate information on the subject is entirely erroneous. Numerous and complete reports have been received from both the Mission at New Delhi and the Consulate General at Calcutta regarding the food situation as it has developed over the past year, the tenor of which has long occasioned this Government grave concern.
- It should be apparent, however, that there is little that can be done in the United States toward furnishing supplies which could not be done better from other sources. There is no rice source in the Western Hemisphere that is of any significance whatsoever in relation to India’s requirements, nor admittedly is there any large source open at the moment in the Eastern Hemisphere. Consequently, relief from the famine situation must come from equitable distribution of such foodstuffs as may now be within India or from the importation of wheat. There are larger supplies of wheat in Australia than there are boats to move this grain. Not only is the United States much further from India than is Australia, but at the present time both the West and East coasts of the United States are deficient in wheat. It would appear, therefore, that the most practical way in which the food situation in India could be alleviated, other than through such measures as might be necessary to effect a release of quantities of wheat understood to be withheld in India from public distribution by private speculators, would be the assignment of more shipping to move wheat, first from Australia, and secondly, as perhaps is now being done, from stocks in the United Kingdom. In view of the current distribution of world wheat supplies, there would be no advantage at all in attempting to move wheat supplies from North America to India. In any event, shipping between the United States and India is now subject to British control and it naturally rests with the British to determine to what extent available vessels might be utilized to carry foodstuffs from this country to India.
- Despite these considerations, the Department of State has continually indicated its desire to assist in every appropriate way in [Page 305] alleviating the Indian food crisis. Efforts were made to secure from the all too inadequate rice stocks in this hemisphere an allocation of rice for India and the possibility of utilizing American shipping space was explored in the event that the shipment of any grain from this country to India was found to be practical or possible. Appropriate officials of the Government have invited suggestions from the British Indian authorities in the United States with regard to means by which this Government could be of help and had any means been perceived as practicable, suggestions would presumably have been made by the latter.
- The United States Government has been prepared and remains prepared, both on humanitarian grounds and on the basis of its interest in India as one of the United Nations, to render any assistance in the matter which the exigencies of the war render possible.
This matter has been discussed with OWI and it is understood that that organization is advising Block86 of its concurrence.
Should dissemination of the above-mentioned facts be displeasing to the Government of India authorities, it may be made known to them that it is felt that the relations of the Government of India with Reuters are believed to be sufficiently friendly to have enabled the Government of India to prevent that news agency from publicizing items which have reflected unfavorably and unjustifiably on this Government’s position with regard to the famine.