Sir Winston Churchill may be one of Britain’s greatest wartime leaders, but in India he has been blamed for allowing more than a million people to die of starvation.
According to a new book on the famine, Sir Winston ignored pleas for emergency food aid for millions in Bengal left to starve as their rice paddies were turned over to jute for sandbag production and supplies of rice from Burma stopped after Japanese occupation.
Between one and three million died of hunger in 1943.
The wartime leader said Britain could not spare the ships to transport emergency supplies as the streets of Calcutta filled with emaciated villagers from the surrounding countryside, but author Madhusree Mukerjee has unearthed new documents which challenge his claim.
In her book, Churchill’s Secret War, she cites ministry records and personal papers which reveal ships carrying cereals from Australia were bypassed India on their way to the Mediterranean where supplies were already abundant.
“It wasn’t a question of Churchill being inept: sending relief to Bengal was raised repeatedly and he and his close associates thwarted every effort,” the author said.
“The United States and Australia offered to send help but couldn’t because the war cabinet was not willing to release ships. And when the US offered to send grain on its own ships, that offer was not followed up by the British,” she added.
The man-made famine and the contrast between the plight of starving Indians and well-fed British officers dining in the city’s many colonial clubs has been described as one of the darkest chapters in British rule on the Indian subcontinent.
Miss Mukerjee blames Churchill’s ‘racism’ for his refusal to intervene.
He derided Gandhi as a “half-naked holy man” and once said: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”
He was known to favour Islam over Hinduism.
“Winston’s racist hatred was due to his loving the empire in the way a jealous husband loves his trophy wife: he would rather destroy it than let it go,” said Miss Mukerjee.