Both before and after Independence, the U.K. was constantly prodding the U.S. to intercede with Congress and Muslim League leaders.
JAWAHARLAL NEHRU had created such a nationalist aura that the British never dared to propose what they had been deliberating on in their internal discussions and with the Americans. The National Archives of the United Kingdom reveal that the Labourites were nearly as imperialistic as the Conservatives, only more realistic. So were Conservatives like R.A. Butler, Lord Halifax and L.S. Amery, whose misfortune it was to serve under Winston Churchill during the Second World War. The archives also demolish the myth about workers being less chauvinistic than the elite. Ernest Bevin, Labour's Foreign Secretary (1945-51) was a trade unionist and an imperialist as his Private Papers on India and Pakistan (1945-51), in the public records office (The National Archives), reveal.
Prime Minister Clement Attlee was little better. He amazingly escaped censure for (a) appointing a superannuated Pethick Lawrence as Secretary of State for India; (b) supporting Stafford Cripps when he sabotaged the Cabinet Mission's Plan in July 1946 to please Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress and thus paved the way to Partition; and (c) supporting Lord Mountbatten as he rushed through with Partition, causing enormous loss of life and property. No Conservative would have disagreed with Attlee's stand on the princely states.
What emerges also is the profound ignorance of the Indian situation in British and American leaders. In a famous exchange, John Foster Dulles called the Gurkhas Pakistanis. Walter Lippmann corrected him No. They were Indians.
Well before India became independent, the United States' Secretary of State, James F. Byrnes, told the British Ambassador on November 9, 1945, that the U.S. would like to see the British control an air base in Karachi and one outside Calcutta (now Kolkata). Attlee himself hinted in 1947 at a treaty of alliance and bases to boot. Both before and after independence, the U.K. was constantly prodding the U.S. to intercede with Congress and Muslim League leaders. But at one point in March 1946, Attlee bristled at the idea and wrote to Bevin: I do not like the idea of a statement by the USA on India. It looks like a pat on the back to us from a rich uncle who sees us turning over a new leaf. A time came when George W. Bush hailed Tony Blair from a distance Yo! Blair.
Bevin, incidentally, was the most ardent advocate of American intercession. In November 1946, he suggested that the U.S. representative in New Delhi should ask Nehru to accept the clear cut wording of the constitutional plan as regards sub-federation, in spite of the effect as regards Assam and the North-West Frontier Province. Being of strategic importance, they would be under the eye of the Indian Union Government. The U.S.' interest was prompted by the impact of developments in India on world peace and prosperity, a delusion Nehru fondly hugged.
Only an ignoramus like Bevin could believe that Vijayalakshmi Pandit was much influenced by Krishna Menon, whom she cordially detested.
On New Year's Day 1947, Bevin sent a long angry memo to Attlee. He found Cripps too pro-Congress and A.V. Alexander too pro-Moslem. The British Army in India was over 30,000 strong. Disorder would break out if the British quit soon. My view is that while we issue a declaration that it is our determination to clear out of India and to hand the responsibility to the Indians, we should declare that it is our determination to hand it over as a going concern and to place the responsibility squarely on their shoulders of failure in that respect. I would impress you with this fact. As Foreign Secretary, I can offer nothing to any foreign country, neither credit, nor coal, nor goods. I am expected to make bricks without straw to use that old proverbial phrase. And on top of that, within the British Empire, we knuckle under at the first blow and yet we are expected to preserve the position. It cannot be done and I beg of you in all sincerity.
Why cannot we use the United States to put pressure on Nehru and on [Mohammad Ali] Jinnah? Why not bring the whole of our diplomatic power to bear at this stage to make the Indian politicians realise that it is not merely Great Britain they are facing but a very much wider area. It would be especially useful if they could be made to say that Great Britain is taking a magnanimous attitude and I believe the United States can be honest in such a way to bring a tremendous amount of pressure to bear on the Indian politicians. We appear to be trying nothing except to scuttle out of it, without dignity or plan.
Attlee replied the very next day expressing the view imperialists held that there are millions of Indians who do not really wish for a change of government, but they are passive. The active elements in the population including practically all the educated classes have become indoctrinate to a greater or lesser extent with nationalism. Twenty years earlier, this man had, as a member of the hated Simon Commission, toured all over the country.
But he was more realistic than Bevin and warned him that the Indian Army was not loyal to the British, and the British forces could not govern India and put in enough troops to enforce our rule. Britain had, moreover, given pledges to India and was seeking to avoid an ignominious scuttle, which is exactly what his handpicked Mountbatten accomplished with Attlee's support. As Prime Minister he knew what was happening. He made a very perceptive remark of abiding relevance: The Indians are very willing to get support from America, but have very little inclination to take advice from them. This is as true in 2010 as it was in 1947.
Read this interesting report by Bevin from Moscow to London on March 25, 1947: When I called upon Generalissimo Stalin yesterday evening I brought up the subject of India, saying that we were trying to settle this difficult problem in the interests of world peace in such a way as not to prevent India having friendly relations with us and our Allies. I said that I foresaw dangers when the Indians obtained their independence, unless we all acted with great care.
Generalissimo Stalin agreed that India was a difficult question. He said that Russia was not interfering and that they wished success to Great Britain in the enterprise she has started in India.
On September 12, 1947, Governor-General of Pakistan Jinnah sent an explosive message to Attlee threatening to move the United Nations General Assembly with a complaint against India. This was over a month before the Kashmir crisis broke out. If India had not moved the Security Council when it did, Pakistan would have. Jinnah sought also a Commonwealth meeting. London was alarmed.
If in fact Pakistan were to decide to appeal to UNO Assembly it is difficult to see how it could possibly be productive of anything but harm to Pakistan interests. A counter challenge from India would inevitably follow, and relations between the two Dominions could only be still further embittered. It seem impossible to believe that an embarrassed UNO, after a presumably most acrimonious debate, could, if it reached any conclusion at all, do more than appeal to the two Dominions to get together.
Mir Laik Ali, whom the Nizam later appointed as his Prime Minister, was then a member of Pakistan's delegation to the General Assembly. He met Bevin on September 17, 1947, and urged incredibly that some sort of a Royal Commission should be set up to investigate the facts as if the British still ruled India. On Bevin pointing out the obvious, he settled for an equally absurd Commonwealth commission.
Pakistan soon began playing the Russian card. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan told Ceylon's (now Sri Lanka) Oliver Goonetilleke in May 1948, no doubt for transmission to London, that Pakistan may make overtures to Russia. London was alarmed at this danger. The British played the same Russian card when they tried to enlist George Marshall's services. He declined.
Pakistan's real interest lay with the West. On September 28, 1948, its Foreign Minister, Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, met Bevin and asked whether we could not consider some pact with Pakistan even if India were unwilling, and the Secretary of State having pointed out that he hoped India and Pakistan could avoid jealousies and rivalries in this matter, which could only be embarrassing to us. He also mentioned British economic assistance for Pakistan; and the water problem in Pakistan and their dependence on India insofar as the latter controlled the upper waters of many of their rivers.
Bevin met Nehru in Paris on October 27, 1948, when several proposals on Kashmir were discussed. Nehru did not reveal his mind. Attlee met both Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan, together in London in October 1948 and failed.
Bevin was exasperated when he learnt of Nehru's stand from the cables of the British High Commissioner to India, Sir Archibald Nye. Nye's telegram also seems to me to illustrate the point I have already made to you that Nehru finds it much too tempting in existing circumstances to use the argument of India remaining in or departing from the Commonwealth as blackmail on any current international issue on which United Kingdom and Indian interest may not be the same, Bevin wrote to Attlee on January 3, 1949.
Far from discouraging Liaquat Ali Khan from going to Moscow, the British advised him how to go about it in view of the invitation from the U.S. as well. The talks that he had with Bevin on July 4, 1950, were important. Nehru had on February 23, 1950, threatened to use force (adopt other methods) if there was no let up in the refugee influx from East Pakistan. Liaquat and Nehru signed the famous agreement on April 8, 1950.
Liaquat Ali Khan soon set about seeking external insurance against an attack by India. On May 5, 1950, he revealed in the U.S. that he was seeking guarantee of Pakistan's territorial integrity. On July 4, 1950, he told Bevin at Claridges in London that it was an illusion to think that all was well between India and Pakistan. All the causes of strain and tension were there. October would be the dangerous time after the rains.
He wanted to know what we would do if India attacked Pakistan. I used the same words in reply as the Prime Minister. I said the Commonwealth was constructed on the assumption that war was unthinkable; but if the worst came to the worst it was equally unthinkable that the Commonwealth would not meet and do utmost to reconcile the two countries. I said that if any attempts were made to formalise such an arrangement ahead it could only lead to all sorts of formal reservations and provisos being made by various countries.
He said that he had told the Prime Minister that he hoped we would meet all Pakistan's arms requirements. She had no arsenal and depended on us or U.S.A. I said we had by no means unlimited supplies ourselves but we would of course always do our utmost to meet the reasonable requirements of any Commonwealth country.
Liaquat Ali Khan had met Attlee earlier on the same day and made his plea: He asked about the Commonwealth attitude towards a war between two Commonwealth countries, suggesting that there should be some kind of guarantee of support against aggression. I said that absence of war between members of the Commonwealth and mutual support were implicit in the very existence of the Commonwealth. I did not believe it would be useful to make declarations. If such a calamity should happen the Commonwealth would have at once to consider the position. I told him that I did not believe that Nehru would take military action. Four years later came the military pact with the U.S.
Pakistan sought to raise Kashmir at the Commonwealth summit in London in January 1951 and was dissuaded by a very British ploy disputes cannot be raised at the conference but there is no bar to discussions outside. Nehru had his own bagful of tricks. He was unable to move an inch without consulting the Kashmiris, he said on January 5, 1951.
At Bevin's instance, the Foreign Office drew up a memo on plebiscites in Europe in Schleswig in 1920, in Silesia 1921 and in the Saar 1935. Attlee and R.G. Menzies of Australia met the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan on January 14, 1951. Nehru repeated his stratagem on plebiscite. He said that he had no power to act. It was a matter for Sheikh Abdullah. Two years later, he put the Sheikh in prison. Attlee and Menzies rightly, though reluctantly, came to the conclusion that Nehru does not want a settlement. In this they were absolutely right. Nehru disclosed to Sheikh Abdullah, on August 25, 1952, that he had decided against a plebiscite in Kashmir as far back as in 1948. He, however, kept on publicly repeating his pledges to hold it.