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“…Subhas commenced a series of broadcasts as the Cripps Mission was announced by Churchill. ‘There is no end to British intrigues. Now they are uselessly making a lot of fuss over a possible enemy invasion of India’, Subhas said in his broadcast on 19 March. Whether governed by Conservative or Labour leaders like Churchill and Cripps, Subhas said, the British Government had been causing starvation in India and ‘want the Indians to work like serfs and ceaselessly toil and fret for them’. Cripps’s visit proved that all party differences in Britain disappeared when it came to India. India would never have been a party to the war if the Government had not arbitrarily dragged India into it. Just as in September 1939, when they were responsible for bringing India into the war, they were responsible at that point for bringing the war into India. Subhas said that
‘Every Indian who works to strengthen British hands betrays the cause of his motherland. Such a man is a traitor to India’

No sane Indian could be pleased with the Cripps proposals, Subhas argued, nor be prepared to trust empty British promises. He added that ‘Only one who lives in a fool’s paradise could imagine that India still cares for Dominion Status’. The proposals were another attempt at the age-long British policy of divide and rule. Regarding Cripps’s argument that the existing constitution could not be changed during the war, Subhas reminded that in October 1939, he had suggested that a provisional government commanding the confidence of the majority of Indians be set up and be made responsible to the central Legislative Assembly, a suggestion that received support from the Congress too.

By retaining full military control of India, the British Government on the one hand wanted to exploit India’s resources, and thereby to force ‘the enemies of Britain to attack Britain’s military base in India, so that the Indian people may be provoked into voluntarily entering the war as Britain’s ally’.

Subhas took a more direct and personal approach by broadcasting an open letter to Cripps from the Azad Hind Radio on 31 March, exposing the hypocrisy of the entire affair. Among other things, he said:

It is understandable that the present Prime Minister and the Cabinet should make use of you for this purpose. But it passes one’s comprehension that you, Sir Stafford, should accept such a job. You are well aware of the reactionary character of the present Cabinet. The presence of Labourites in it does not alter its real character . . .

In the days when you fought with the British Labour Party in vindication of your own principles and convictions, you commanded the admiration of many people including myself . . . That fundamental position of yours has altered so radically that you accepted a portfolio under Mr Winston Churchill, than whom a more anti-Indian Englishman it is difficult to find in the whole of Britain . . . One can easily understand Mr Churchill . . . Even the British Labour Party’s attitude we can perhaps understand. British Labour leaders are in reality as Imperialistic as the Conservatives are, though they may talk in a more polite and seductive manner. We have faced the Labour Party’s administration in 1924 and again from 1929 to 1931.

On both these occasions we had to spend our time in British prisons, sometimes without any trial whatsoever. India will never forget that between 1929 and 1931 a Labour Cabinet was responsible for putting about 100,000 men and women into prison, for ordering large-scale lathi charges on men and women all over the country, for shooting down of defenceless crowds as in Peshawar, and for burning houses and dishonouring women as in the villages of Bengal. You were one of the sharpest critics of the Labour party when in London in January 1938, I had the pleasure of making your acquaintance. But today you appear to be quite a difference man

. . . knowing as you do that the Indian National Congress stands for undiluted independence is it not an insult to India that a man of your position and reputation should go out there with such an offer in his pocket? . .

. . . British politicians and the British propaganda machine have been continually reminding us since 1939 that the Axis Powers are a menace to India and now we are being told that India is in danger of an attack by the enemy. But is not this sheer hypocrisy? India has no enemies outside her own frontiers. Her one enemy is British imperialism and the only adversary that India has to get rid of is the perpetual aggression of British Imperialism . . . I am convinced that if India does not participate in Britain’s war there is not the least possibility of India being attacked by any of the Axis Powers.”

Excerpted with permission from Penguin Random House India.