'A Post-dated Cheque on a Bank that is Failing'
In December 1941 and the first few months of 1942, victory followed victory for the Japanese in the Pacific and South-east Asia. Only a dogged four-month defence in the Philippines by General Douglas MacArthur's US forces slowed them down, tying up thousands of troops who would have been used elsewhere. British prestige in India was reduced still further as one imperial bastion after another crumbled before the invaders. Malaya's fate was sealed only three days after Pearl Harbor, when two British capital ships, the battleship Prince of Wales, on which Churchill had voyaged to meet Roosevelt four months earlier, and the battle-cruiser Repulse, were sunk off Kuantan by torpedo bombers of the Japanese navy's First Air Group. On that same day, the Japanese-trained Burma Independence Army, led by Aung San, marched across the border from Thailand. With a strength of only 2,300 men, it was barely even a token force, but the government of India watched aghast as it rapidly gained support from the Burmese people. A month later, Burmese premier U Saw was arrested for communicating with the Japanese.
It was not only the British who were worried that Indians might follow the Burmese example. So, too, were many Congressmen. Azad and Rajagopalachari were so concerned that they managed to persuade the Congress Working Committee to offer full co-operation against the Japanese in return for a national government at once and a firm promise of freedom immediately after the war. Gandhi, who refused to contemplate any involvement in any war, promptly resigned his leadership. Spurred on by this small but significant shift in the Congress position, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and a group of leading Moderates sent a message to Churchill calling for 'some bold stroke of far-sighted statesmanship', which would 'rouse [India] on a nation-wide scale to the call for service'. 1
But Churchill was in no mood to listen. And why should he? As he told Attlee, the Indian Liberals 'have never been able to deliver the goods. The Indian