Winston Churchill and India were closely connected from 1896 when he went there with his regiment until 1947 when India finally achieved independence. Other politicians were more involved with India at one point or another in their careers, but none had such a long association with the sub-continent. He was accordingly able to influence its politics in a sustained and almost always unhelpful way.
He consistently sought to sabotage moves towards any degree of independence for India. He led the opposition the Government of India Act 1935. The result was to cripple the legislation and separate the different interests, the princes, the Hindus and the Muslims – divide and rule: in 1939 he congratulated himself that he had created a three-legged stool on which Britain could sit indefinitely.
As Prime Minister during the war when for strategic reasons there were attempts to buy India’s support with promises of eventual independence his conduct was appalling. He worked behind the scenes, colluding with an equally die-hard viceroy to frustrate any advance. He delayed independence by most of a decade. Many blame him for the effects of the Bengal Famine in 1942-43.
In Britain Churchill was named as the Greatest Briton in a celebrated poll. In India he is seen as an archetypical, imperialist villain. India was not his finest hour. This study of his involvement with India reveals him at his worst, malign, cruel, obstructive and selfish.
Walter Reid was educated at Oxford and Edinburgh Universities. He is the author of a number of acclaimed books on British politics and history, including Neville Chamberlain: The Passionate Radical. He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. In tandem with his career as an historian he raises sheep and cattle in Scotland and grows olives in France.
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