What Sir Winston Churchill Really Said

In addition to being the largest repository of cat pictures and porn, the internet unfortunately has also turned out to be the greatest misinformation generator in human history. Nowhere is this more evident than on Social Media in general and Facebook in particular. Thanks to over-enthusiastic image-creators and sensationalists who post all kinds of senseless bullshit to garner the most number of “Likes” and “Comments” through means ranging from pictures of critically ill babies to fully concocted stories on how some guy was electrocuted because he used a flash for taking photos while standing below railway OHE wires. And one of the predominantly featuring one among those is the famous “Winston Churchill Prophecy” which is apparently one of Churchill’s famous quotes regarding the future of India.

Though it hit Facebook only recently, this hoax has been floating around on the internet and elsewhere for years. Apparently Sir Winston Churchill said these words as an argument on why India should not be granted independence, by predicting how the situation in India would become if it were to be granted freedom:

“Power will go to the hands of ras­cals, rogues, free­boot­ers; all Indian lead­ers will be of low cal­i­ber and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst them­selves for power and India will be lost in polit­i­cal squabbles. A day would come when even air and water would be taxed in India.

Given the circumstances we see India in today, this prophecy seemed only too to come true. And as a history buff I thought it would be interesting to read the entire speech from where this excerpt was taken to see what else Churchill might have said and to see and what the premises he drew this conclusion from were. But I came up with zilch, there was no source or even a clue to the origin of his words. All could find were these lines parroted over and over again. Then it dawned upon me: Someone made this up too, another one of those internet urban legends whose origin and originator nobody knows, the product of a fertile imagination. I tried to find the truth behind this and more fervent Googling resulted in these two links:

“Rascals, Rogues & Freebooters”: Churchill & India – A Churchill historian himself couldn’t find any valid reference to these lines.

Winston Churchill on Indian independence – From Snopes, the World’s mythbusting HQ.

Thanks to Snopes, I could locate a speech that Churchill made in the  British Parliament House of Commons on March 6, 1947, as part of a discussion the topic of Indian independence. The entire discussion is available in the Archives of the British Parliament. It is quite voluminous and runs into about 100 pages or so. I am here reproducing two paragraphs of his speech below, the ones that seemed to prompt the origin of the “prophecy”.

WInston Churchill India Prophecy

“Let the House remember this. The Indian political parties and political classes do not represent the Indian masses. It is a delusion to believe that they do. I wish they did. They are not as representative of them as the movements in Britain represent the surges and impulses of the British nation. This has been proved in the war … … The Congress Party declared non-co-operation with Great Britain and the Allies. … … the Muslim League, sought to make a bargain about it, but no bargain was made. … … Nevertheless, the only great volunteer army in the world that fought on either side in that struggle was formed in India. More than three and a half million men came forward to support the King-Emperor and the cause of Britain; they came forward not by conscription or compulsion, but out of their loyalty to Britain and to all that Britain stood for in their lives. In handing over the Government of India to these so-called political classes we are handing over to men of straw, of whom, in a few years, no trace will remain.

This Government, by their latest action, this 14 months limitation—which is what I am coming to— (will) cripple the new Viceroy and destroy the prospect of even going through the business on the agenda which has to be settled. This can only be explained as the complete adoption of one of Mr. Gandhi’s most scatterbrained observations, which I will read to the House. It was made on 24th May, 1942, after the Mission. He said: Leave India in God’s hands, in modem parlance, to anarchy; and that anarchy may lead to internecine warfare for a time, or to unrestricted dacoities. From these a true India will arise in place of the false one we see. There, as far as I can see, is a statement indistinguishable from the policy His Majesty’s Government are determined to pursue.”

As Snopes says, this is as close to the “Churchill Prophecy” as it gets. The only word that seems to have made it to the “prophecy” is the phrase “men of straw” and the remaining words and phrases of the “prediction” seem to be the result of someone’s profound imagination. These two paragraphs can be said to be the centerpiece of the entire speech where Churchill cements his argument on why India should not be given freedom. And interestingly, it was apparently Mahatma Gandhi who used the words “anarchy”, “warfare” and “dacoity” and not Churchill if what he said in the speech is true. But the fact remains that whatever Gandhiji had predicted about India did not come true, and thank God for that. It is not known if Gandhiji had actually said these words, Churchill provides no source for that. But if you take the speech as a whole, most of Churchill’s observations were spot-on and are relevant even today, 66 years after independence!

It is no secret that Churchill hated and held in contempt India, Indians and the very idea of granting India independence, arguing against it whenever he got the chance, which is reflected in most of his speeches and essays. His argument was centered around the theory that India was not ready for freedom and democracy because of the general nature of the people and diversity of the country, which is the central premise of this speech as well. Churchill pleads with the Parliament not to take a decision about India in haste especially with regard to the partition and handing over the government to Indians. The speech makes a fascinating read as it throws spectacular insights about British politics of the time, the views the British held towards India and its people and their policies regarding government in India from a “ruler’s” perspective, though it looks amazingly rational without any emotions or strings attached. And yes, it is peppered with Churchill quotes. But his views found little support and India got independence on August 15 1947 itself. But yes, Churchill’s views were prophetic no doubt with things having turned out just as he envisioned them to be.

But none of all this justifies posting false and misleading information all over the internet be it for Likes or jingoism. This feverish rush to garner “Likes” and “Comments” almost looks like Lord Zuckerberg will give away the codes to World domination to whoever can amass the maximum Likes before Doomsday.

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  • Indian

    Churchill’s words were anything but prophetic! He wanted India to remain as part of Birtish Empire. He loved the empire so much. He knew without India, British empire would crumple quickly. Everyone knew that and within 2 decades they lost what had taken them 300 years to build. So he said and acted whatever he could do to prevent that. The foremost in front of Indian independance movement were their leaders and hence his attack on them – calling them names(half naked fakir etc.), undermining them in any way possible. To call leaders with strong will power like MK Gandhi, Patel etc as men of straw shows nothing but desperation. To subscribe to Churchill’s views on our leaders then as an Indian, is an insult to our forefathers who fought for our independance and in my view, almost equivalent to treason!

    He said “no trace will remain” of India, but the fact is that Modern India survived its ceasearian birth, taken its baby steps, and has just begun to peer outside India with some confidence. The westerners talk about “rise of future super power India” now (eventhough personally I think there is lot more for us to learn as a nation before we can be anything near that). Mind you, previous colonial masters did everything possible to destroy the fledgling nation states. The fact we are still around here and prospering inspite of the various problems, unlike many african states, is testament to the strength of our leaders and belief of our citizens in them. Churchill’s prediction didn’t come true at all here!

    All have not been great, so definitely lot of things has to improve, but that is the case everywhere!

    • Vikas

      U are absolutely right. I was very sad when i read about “churchil on India”. I dont much about history polictics and all but one thing I was sure worgs of churcill were clearly out of desperation.

    • Sanjay Anselm

      Sir,

      Churchill was referring to “men of straw” of the “political classes”, “of whom, in a few years, no trace will remain”. He was not reffering to India as a whole.

      Best wishes,
      Sanjay Anselm

    • E. Prabhakara Rao

      Sir Winston Churchill may be partially correct about the Indian Politicians & King makers who have
      diverted into SWISS & Other countries’ Banks to the tune of 120 Lakhs of Crores @ the rate of .
      130 Crores per year from the time of Independence.

    • Msmills

      He favoured a period of dominion status as helped other former colonies adapt. Helps to remember that British India costly from the early 1920s and that Britain entered WW2 flat broke. Most MPs happy to dump India. Churchill opposed this for good reason.

  • MangoMan

    Wow. You have put in some effort !!

    • Thanks! I love researching about Indian history. The real part of it, that is :)

  • nik

    Churchill has said it right. Comparing the present government. Congress is certainly ” ras­cals, rogues, free­boot­ers; all Indian lead­ers will be of low cal­i­ber and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts”

  • Sridhar

    Churchill’s quality cigars made out of tobacco grown from Dindugal, Tamilnadu. By the by, Quality Tobacco grows well on human urinated land.

    • This is news to me! Thank you for the information!

  • wtf!

    Actually you will have to give Churchill some credit for his foresight. As much as I dislike the jackass I admire his political acumen. With That said I must say he was also right to say there will not a trace of India left again he was right. India wasn’t self sufficient then and it is not self sufficient now. If anything Indian society lost its cultural identity as a whole.

    • Msmills

      Unlike most discussing the future of India in Westminster, his adversaries anxious to simply dump it, Churchill did know what he discussed, that the INC was not indicative of Indian society, and how the fortunes of many kinds of Indians must be considered.

  • Quantum_politics

    My grand pa used to quote the lines of Churchill “… rogues .. free booters etc”. I can testify that Churchill indeed said it.

    Perhaps a period of no elections is required to come out of bad democracy. Good dictatorship is better than bad democracy.

    Capitalism has to establish itself.

    • Guest

      You can’t testify to anything .
      and what your misinformed grandpa uttered cannot be considered as evidence.

      • Quantum_politics

        He might have said it in some speech not recorded

  • vignesh sivakumar

    Churchill’s quote very true regarding Modi’s government :D

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