The Proudest Day: India's Long Road to Independence

By Anthony Read; David Fisher | Go to book overview
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24
'We are on the Threshold of a Great Tragedy'

The widespread violence surrounding the INA trials convinced Attlee that he had to do something quickly to reduce tension in India. In early December 1945, Pethick-Lawrence assured Indians of 'the British people's urgent desire' to see India rise quickly to the full and free status of an equal partner in the British Commonwealth. On New Year's Day, 1946, he broadcast a personal message telling them their battle was won: 'The problem now is a practical one. It is to work out a rational and acceptable plan of action. It must be a plan under which authority can be transferred to Indian control under forms of government which will willingly be accepted by the broad mass of India's people so that the new India will not be torn and rent by internal strife and dissentions.' 1 It was a fine aim - but more easily said than done.

To back up the pious words, Attlee sent an all-party Parliamentary delegation of eight MPs and two peers to India, to meet Indian political leaders and learn their views at first hand. The delegation, headed by Professor Robert Richards, a long-serving Labour MP who had been under-secretary of state for India in 1924, arrived in India on 5 January 1946, and spent a month touring the country talking to just about every political leader. Its members were received everywhere 'with cordiality and friendliness', according to V.P. Menon, and no doubt they learned a great deal as the provincial election campaigns raged around them. But they had no authority and no purpose apart from trying to mend fences and gather information which the governments of both India and Britain already knew.

The one definite conclusion the delegation brought back to London was that the 1942 Cripps plan was a dead letter. Attlee, however, was convinced that it had come so near to success that it was worth trying to develop and modify it until it was acceptable, though he had no illusions about the difficulties involved. 'It was clear to me,' he wrote in his autobiography, 'that the problem could not be

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