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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