Two interesting quotes

By and far, the English are a pretty interesting lot though some tend to be the pompous variety and I can assure you there are still many of them around, prone to making grandiose statements or silly remarks. This little note is about two such comments from history, but with an attempt to understand the basis and perspectives behind them.

Churchill’s oft quoted sentence: It is alarming and nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer now posing as a fakir, well-known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the vice-regal palace….

This was stated on 23rd Feb 1931 by Churchill, at Winchester House Epping following the Labor government’s proposal of Dominion status to India. Now Churchill himself had spent many years in India as a war correspondent and was a staunch believer that the British withdrawal from India would weaken Britain as well as create huge turmoil in India due to all kinds of violence and bloodshed. He was proved somewhat right, but his rude utterance above alienated even conservatives from his policies. Read an interesting piece here. In his diary, Wavell concluded that the British Prime Minister "has a curious complex about India and is always loath to hear good of it and apt to believe the worst".

The full text of what he stated was - “Now I come to the administration of India. In my opinion we ought to disassociate ourselves in the most public and formal manner from any complicity in the weak, wrong headed and most unfortunate administration of India by the socialists and by the viceroy acting upon their responsibility. It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer now posing as a fakir, of a type well-known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the vice-regal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king emperor. Such a spectacle can only increase the unrest in India.”

Seditious middle temple lawyer - The subversive nature related to the civil disobedience campaign arrangement by Gandhiji explained the sedition part. The Honorable Society of the Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers; the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn. It appears that Gandhiji was actually enrolled at the Inner temple.

In April 1919, a group of soldiers led by Gen Dyer fired at a crowd of unarmed Indians at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. Speaking in the House of Commons, the same Winston Churchill described this as "a monstrous event", a "great slaughter or massacre upon a particular crowd of people, with the intention of terrorizing not merely, the rest of the crowd, but the whole district or country". Vikas Kamat puts it succinctly – Winston Churchill loathed Gandhi. Gandhi loathed none.

After 75 years the latest British Prime Minister - Gordon Brown stated in 2007 that Mahatma Gandhi would inspire him as prime minister. “I could never compare myself to Gandhi or those other heroes of mine but I do take inspiration from the way that they dealt with the challenges they faced when I think about how I will deal with the challenges the country and the world faces, including the security challenge," he said. "That means especially having the strength of belief and willpower to do what is difficult and right for the long-term, even when there are easier short-term options on offer."

Charles Dickens telling one of his friends on 4th Oct 1857 that, if he were the Commander in Chief of the British army in India, he would "do my utmost to exterminate the Indian Race" and "with all convenient dispatch and merciful swiftness of execution…blot it out of mankind and raze it off the face of the Earth."

What he actually said was – ‘I wish I were Commander in chief there. I would address that Oriental character which must be powerfully spoken to, in something like the following placard, which should be vigorously translated into all native dialects, I’ the inimitable, holding this office of mine and firmly believing that I hold it by the permission of heaven and not by the appointment of the Satan have the honor to inform you Hindoo gentry that it is my intention with all possible avoidance of unnecessary cruelty and with all merciful swiftness of execution to exterminate the race from the face of the earth, which disfigured the earth with the late abominable atrocities’.

The reason why Dickens, well known for his sympathy for the downtrodden and the poor in his own country, had this outburst was due to the many highly exaggerated reports of the atrocities on the British especially their women and children by Indian rebels during The Sepoy Mutiny which started on 10th May 1857, reaching their shores. AJ Mohammed states It is certain that Dickens empathized and had strong links with both Victorian concepts of family, duty and honor both at home and in India: his son Walter had left for military service in India in July 1857 (who died in India 1863), shortly after the Mutiny. What followed from him was a novella ‘The perils of certain English prisoners’ and commenced on the ‘The tale of two cities’ both books influenced by the said revolts.

The British press exaggerated, describing the rebels as tossing British babies into the air and bayoneting them for sport. By September, Queen Victoria was writing about the horrors committed on women and children making "one's blood run cold." She wrote that ‘Altogether, the whole is so much more distressing than [the war in] the Crimea - where there was glory and honourable warfare, and where the poor women and children were safe.’ Read even more flagrant quotes here and the article detailing the resulting repression by the British, one that is considered by Amaresh Mishra to be of holocaustic proportions with 10 million Indians killed over 10 years.

For those interested – why did the 1857 riots take place? Many explanations have been given for this uprising against the Company rule in northern India, but the East India Company's increasing racial and administrative arrogance lay at the root. Anglo-Indians were excluded from senior positions in the Company; non-European wives of the Company were forbidden to follow their husbands back to Britain. Verbal abuse mounted, with 'nigger' becoming a common expression for Indians. This slide into separatism also affected the Company's relations with its Indian soldiers, the sepoys. One by one, ties between the army and local communities were cut: Hindu and Muslim holy men were barred from blessing the sepoy regimental colours, and troops were stopped from participating in festival parades. As missionary presence grew, fears mounted that the Company was planning forcible conversion to Christianity.

Tail note – What did the Karl Marx have to say in 1853? "The question is not whether the English had a right to conquer India, but whether we are to prefer India conquered by the Turk, by the Persian, by the Russian, to India conquered by the Briton."

Ah! The English……

Additional References - Charles Dickens’s Indian dispatches


Anonymous said…
Really Interesting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts - Raj
Karl Marx statement puzzles me - why should India be conquered by anyone at all.

However having been conquered by the Britons, we were at least left the legacy of their language and the railway network
Maddy said…
Raji - check the hyperlink on Marx's comment. You will see his explanation. and you will wonder, hmm
Anonymous said…

An interesting article-which covers more than a couple of 'interesting' quotes.And perhaps it's difficult for some of us to really comprehend the rationale or political correctness of those statements as they were made in a different era when men spoke aloud their inner thoughts.

Winston Churchill-was an enigma and perhaps his background explains some of his ambiguity later in his life.Half-american boy, educated in Harrow,he was more or less an orphan as the dislike between the father[ descendant of the Spencer family, like Princess Diana]was mutual and his keen desire to get maternal affections, like any other child, was largely unmet.And I think this parental neglect manifested later on in his life as arrogance/diffidence/ruthless selfishness etc-epithets that may or may not be deserving.

His comments on Gandhi and Indians came much later after his controversial remarks on black people.Rude?Patronising?Superiority complex? or just a reflection of the prejudices and ignorances that existed in the British society in those days?

It may also be that Churchill,a very ruthless politician [ changed loyalties twice]and an ungracious loser was rattled by the increasing publicty that Gandhiji managed to acquire for his cause in a non-militarial manner. If Churchill was good at two things they were his oratorial and militarial leadership skills-the first one along with his literary works earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature and the second one,the post of prime minister.Perhaps Churchill did not understand how a frail seditious lawyer could wield such power without lifting a gun?!

History-the reason why it is more interesting than science[which is boringly exact] is that one could look at it with a broad panoramic view or with a tunnel vision or with rose tinted spectacles as most people tend to do.It depends on how you want to look at it.

Love him or loathe him, Winston Churchill was a force of nature and rightly deserves his place in history. However----

When the millenium was approaching and the media was frantically creating all sorts of 'top lists for the past millenium',the effort of Time to identify the most influential person caught my attention as well. It was amusing to read the British media trying to get Churchill as the person of the century but one feels that deep down most of them knew he wouldnt make it.Personally I would have given it to MKG ahead of Roosevelt and even Einstein but then I was also wearing that rose tinted------

Maddy said…
thanks alex - all these great people became great for good reasons within their normal sphere of work. They had fine qualities but otherwise showed their insensitiveness and impatience with people whom they considered to be of a lesser culture...And right you are - they will always have a place in history for the right reasons.


I must also mention here that over the past few days i have been getting very rude messages from a Mr Anonymous (also goes by the name ravi when he posts comments on other blogs) posting from UK over this article. He thinks first of all that my writing (style & content) is total rubbish

he did not like my choice of churchill and dickens & quotes the lofty attitude of Mysore bureaucracy that he WAS once subjected to when he paid a Rs 500 bribe. Thus he concludes that Indians are worse when it comes to arrogance

He also states that i should have included the arrogance of Foster Dulles about india, in the same breath thus effectively contradicting himself.

Thanks Mr Ravi if that is your real name - you are entitled to your opinion, the gist of which I am honestly posting here. Hopefully you can calm youself down in future and use polite & objective language in expressing it. And Yes, I have read of Dulles feelings about India, but in my mind he has absolutely no place of importance, for me to study or write about him.
Anonymous said…

To say that your style and content of writing is rubbish either smacks of unadulterated jealousy or sheer ignorance.One of the main reasons I enjoy reading your blog is that I appreaciate the effort that you put in reading books and then sharing what you feel is interesting to your bloggers.True, some of them may not appeal to all readers-like the previous one on Krueger, which went above my head!-and the reader has the freedom of right to switch onto something else online!!Yes, the fact that you read so much does evoke a certain degree of jealousy in me as I remember a certain Alex who would have devoured books years back. Now that lazy bugger [excuse my french!]struggles to finish reading the Sunday Telegraph![the last book I read was the Kite Runner last year].

As the saying goes: ''It requires wisdom to understand wisdom;the music is nothing if the audience is deaf''.[just trying to boost my own low self-esteem,mate!]

Maddy said…
thanks alex..
something triggered the responses from that reader whom i neither know or have had any interaction with. all i have understood is that he takes serious offense if a point of view does not agree with his ...