Saturday, September 22, 2012

Churchill, Hitler, Stalin, Mao: what’s the difference?

If my last post (From Sir Winston to Washington Post) seemed to suggest that I had joined the Churchill fan brigade – known more for its unseemly concern with the Great Man’s dentures than with his Imperial and imperious criminality – as a fresh and overenthusiastic recruit, let me clear the air. What I ought to have said in that post was that his Indophobic outburst in the June 1947 debate on the India Independence Bill in the British Parliament sounds prophetic in the prevailing Indian political context. I stand corrected and abashed for my haste. To save face, my only lame-duck – if that! – excuse could be that, in any case, a visionary – even an accidental one – is sighted and anointed only after the event. If Hitler was responsible for the Holocaust, Stalin for the Holodomor (“killing by hunger” in Russian) or the Great Famine of Ukraine (1932-33) and Mao for the mammoth number of starvation deaths in the Great Leap Forward (1958-62), Churchill needs must shoulder the responsibility for the 2000 a month death toll in the 1942-43 Bengal Famine. In his own words, Indians were “a beastly people with a beastly religion” who “bred like rabbits”. Ergo, they probably were beyond redemption and not worth saving. What the King Emperor’s First Minister did to worsen the situation in the Bengal Famine was to deny food shipments to India and insist on rice exports from India to shore up the war effort. Churchill’s collaborators in his war crime were: the Japanese occupation of Burma that choked off rice imports to India; an untimely cyclone in the Bay of Bengal that wiped out the winter crop; and a panicky government that confiscated in a knee-jerk reaction all vehicles that used to ferry rice from Burma in order to keep them out of reach of the invaders. The government also started buying food grains on the open market to feed the troops and the war workers, thereby nudging the traders into hoarding the scarce stuff and spawning what came to be known as “the black market”. (I vaguely remember hearing the phrase repeatedly at 233 Khetwadi Main Road for the first time a bit after the Quit India call by Gandhi on 8 August 1942.) In a sense, Churchill was the blackguard who brought the black market to India. 

Thursday, September 06, 2012

From Sir Winston to Washington Post.

Most of my life, I have been far from an admirer of the late Sir Winston Churchill. I had always looked at him through a jingoistic prism as an India baiter and an India hater.  Recent events, though, have made me sit up and revise my opinion drastically. Saying the following in the British Parliament at the time of the debate on the India Independence Bill in June 1947 showed acuity, perspicacity and wisdom that was nothing short of a visionary’s. “Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low caliber & men of straw. They will have sweet tongues & silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power & India will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air & water... would be taxed in India.Why are Indians so offended now that Washington Post paints Dr Manmohan Singh in these lurid strokes: “a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government”? A part of the answer to this riddle may lie in the fact the urban Middle India craves for constant adulation from the West. Partly, it may be the backlash of believing in the hubris of India Shining and India-is-a-global-power brouhaha. Given these circumstances, the mildest rebuke or a slap on the wrist from an outsider, particularly an Occidental, may seem akin to public tar-and-feathering, even a torture rack.