Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_Indian independen

Was Britain divided about Indian independence, 1930-47?

Source 2

Extracts from a speech by Churchill entitled ‘Our Duty in India’


 CHAR 9/98 (images 61 to 66)

We've highlighted the parts of the document which appear in the transcription below.

Simplified Transcript

I think it’s bad that this meeting has been organised by the Indian Empire Society and not the Conservative Party. I would have thought that the Conservative Party would have wanted to defend the cause of British rule in India. It should be using its influence – which is great – to inform and persuade people. Unfortunately, the influence of the Conservative Party is being used for the opposite cause. The Conservatives have decided to go along with the Socialists, the Labour Party. So have the Liberals, so we’re facing all three major parties in Britain – Conservatives, Labour and Liberals. We’re here under a ban. If any MPs or members of the House of Lords are at this meeting they’ll be criticised by their party whips
I’m against giving concessions to Gandhi. I’m against these talks he’s having with Lord Irwin. Gandhi stands for the removal of the British from India and for Hindu domination of India.
To abandon India to the rule of the Hindu would be cruel and wrong. The Hindus who talk about democratic principles are the same Hindus who discriminate against nearly 60 million of their fellow Indians whom they call Untouchables. Alongside the Untouchables are 70 million Moslems, a warlike race who’ll resist them.

Original Transcript

I THINK it hard that the burden of holding and organising this immense meeting should be thrown upon the Indian Empire Society. One would have thought that if there were one cause in the world which the Conservative party would have hastened to defend, it would be the cause of the British Empire in India. One would have expected that the whole force of the Conservative party machine would have been employed for months past in building up a robust, educated opinion throughout the country, and in rallying all its strongest forces to guard our vital interests. Unhappily all that influence, and it is an enormous influence, has been cast the other way. The Conservative leaders have decided that we are to work with the Socialists, and that we must make our action conform with theirs. We therefore have against us at the present time the official machinery of all the three great parties in the State. We meet under a ban. Every Member of Parliament or Peer who comes here must face the displeasure of the party Whips. …

I am against this surrender to Gandhi. I am against these conversations and agreements between Lord Irwin and Mr. Ghandi. Gandhi stands for the expulsion of Britain from India. Gandhi stands for the permanent exclusion of British trade from India. Gandhi stands for the substitution of Brahmin domination for British rule in India. You will never be able to come to terms with Gandhi. ...

To abandon India to the rule of the Brahmins would be an act of cruel and wicked negligence. It would shame for ever those who bore its guilt. These Brahmins who mouth and patter the principles of Western Liberalism, and pose as philosophic and democratic politicians, are the same Brahmins who deny the primary rights of existence to nearly sixty millions of their own fellow countrymen whom they call “untouchable”, and whom they have by thousands of years of oppression actually taught to accept this sad position ... Side by side with this Brahmin theocracy and the immense Hindu population - angelic and untouchable castes alike - there dwell in India seventy millions of Moslems, a race of far greater physical vigour and fierceness, armed with a religion which lends itself only too readily to war and conquest.

What is this source?

This is the text of a speech made by Churchill to the Indian Empire Society at the Albert Hall in London on 18 March 1931 entitled ‘Our duty in India’. It was included in a compilation of his speeches on India published as a pamphlet in 1931 and this source is taken from the published version.

Background to this source

By March 1931 the British Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin, had freed Gandhi and other Congress leaders from detention and reached an agreement with them called the Ghandhi-Irwin Pact. As part of this agreement Congress leaders participated in the second session of Round Table talks beginning in September 1931, aimed at agreeing a new federal constitution for India that would pave the way for eventual Dominion status. Churchill and his Conservative supporters still vehemently opposed the negotiations.

By March 1931 Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative leader of the opposition had pulled his party out of participation in the talks.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re hoping that the source can be useful to us in investigating whether opinion in Britain was divided on the question of Indian independence. The sources can be analysed in two ways:

Surface level

  1. Why is Churchill disappointed in his own Conservative party?
  2. Why does he think the government is wrong to negotiate with Gandhi?
  3. Which group of Indians would benefit most from the end of British rule in India?
  4. Why is Churchill against granting India independence?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
There is support for Indian independence among all the political parties in Britain.

Churchill is alone in his opposition to Indian independence.

There is evidence that some people in Britain supported Indian independence.

There is evidence that some people in Britain opposed Indian independence.

Download table (PDF)
Download table (Word document)

Need help interpreting the source?

  • The Simon Commission 1928–30 had been set up by the British parliament to look at how effectively India was governed under the new system established in 1919. Many Indians protested that there was no Indian representation on the commission but some groups did cooperate.
  • Three round table conferences were held in London in 1930, 1931 and 1932 but the Indian National Congress only attended the second meeting and the British Labour Party refused to attend the third.
  • Gandhi attended the second conference and claimed to speak for all Indians, but other Indian leaders disagreed with him.
  • Indian Muslim leaders were concerned to prevent Hindu domination in any future government of India.

Explore the guide to interpreting speeches

 Source 3

 Back to sources page

 Back to investigation page