Shameful Flight: Churchill Statement in the House of Commons on Transfer of Power

Partition of India and A Shameful Flight

Churchill Called it A Shameful Flight in the UK’s Parliamentary Proceedings on March 06, 1947

When British Government decided to appoint Lord Mount Batten as Viceroy and send him to India, the House of Commons carried a heated debate on it. In this historic debate, Sir Winston Churchill who had performed as two times Prime Minister severely criticized the decision of leaving India in haste. He called it “a shameful flight”.

Shameful Flight: The Last Years of the British Empire in India (Hardback), Author: Stanley Wolpert

INDIA (UK GOVERNMENT POLICY)

Prime Minister Clement Attlee informed the house on 11th December 1946 that the meeting of the cabinet members with the Indian political leaders has finished into a failure. He also informed that the Government has decided to appoint Lord Mountbatten as Viceroy of India, and PM himself has him conveyed him about this on the 18th of December.

This debate which was held on 6th March 1947 in the House of Commons was a continuation of a question & answer session, started after a statement issued on 20th Feb 1947 by Prime Minister Attlee. Apart from welcoming this debate, Mr. Churchill who was a member of the opposition at that time announced to oppose the decision which authorized the Viceroy to make arrangements for transfer of power until June 1948.

Jinnah Presidential Address
Historic-Hansard INDIA (GOVERNMENT POLICY) HC Deb 06 March 1947_15/12/2020

Winston Churchill took the interim government of Nehru with cross hands and severely criticized him. He described the Indian government as a complete disaster in an already worsened India’s ongoing situation. Mr. Churchill mentioned the frequently happened, large-scale communal riots, and incidents of financial corruption that were happening quite often in India. He told that they spoke of independence, but since the Nehru Government was formed, they are busy curtailing the liberty of peoples. Furthermore, he mentioned that communism is growing under the patronage of the Nehru Government. Winston Churchill stated that it was a grave mistake of the British Government to entrust a caste Hindu like Nehru to India. In a continuation, Mr. Churchill bitterly criticized the British Government for having a time-bound 14 months period for transfer of power in India. He told that the British Government is trying to hide the ongoing matters and the decision of framing a time period of 14 months would uproot the solidarity of India. Leaving India in a haste was described by Mr. Churchill as an act of “a shameful flight”.

Winston Churchill Historic Speech

HC Deb 06 March 1947 vol 434 cc663-776

The order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [5th March]: That this House takes note of the Statement on India made on 20th February by the Prime Minister and approves the
policy set out therein.” …

Edwina Mountbatten-Nehru

I do not think that the 14 months’ time limit gives the new Viceroy a fair chance. We do not know what directives have been given to him… What is the policy and purpose for which he is to be sent out, and how is he to employ these 14 months? … Everyone knows that the 14 months’ time limit is fatal to an orderly transference of power, and I am bound to say that the whole thing wears the aspect of an attempt by the Government to make use of brilliant war figures in order to cover up a melancholy and disastrous transaction… One thing seems to be absolutely certain. The Government, by their 14 months’ time limit, have put an end to all prospect of Indian unity.

Transfer of power- final moments

… I thank the House for listening so long and so attentively to what I have said. I have spoken with a lifetime of thought and contact with these topics. It is with deep grief I watch the clattering down of the British Empire, with all its glories and all the services it has rendered to mankind. I am sure that in the hour of our victory, now not so long ago, we had the power, or could have had the power, to make a solution to our difficulties which would have been honorable and lasting. Many have defended Britain against her foes. None can defend her against herself. We must face the evils that are coming upon us, and that we are powerless to avert. We must do our best in all these circumstances, and not exclude any expedient that may help to mitigate the ruin and disaster that will follow the disappearance of Britain from the East. But, at least, let us not add—by shameful flight, by a premature, hurried scuttle—at least, let us not add, to the pangs of sorrow so many of us feel, the taint and smear of shame… 

A Shameful Flight by Stanley Wolpert:

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By Muhammad Mashhood Qasmi
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