Madhusree Mukerjee's recently published book, Churchill's Secret War, unearths the great war leader's willingness to see millions of Indians die of starvation rather than ship food supplies he wanted elsewhere or stockpiled for the future. Hyperbole?
My indictment is based on what Churchill did, not on what he said. The Ministry of War Transport papers, the Cherwell Papers, and the official histories of British wartime food supply, shipping, and economy are my key sources. They show, for instance, that the War Cabinet scheduled eighteen ships to load with Australian wheat in September and October, 1943. Not one of these ships was destined for famine-stricken India.
Had anyone else been prime minister, he would have striven to relieve India’s plight instead of consigning wheat to stockpiles.
Churchill’s diatribes, as recorded in Amery’s and others’ diaries, are, however, useful in understanding why he acted as he did. Famine had failed to temper his hostility toward Indians. Churchill would tell his secretary that Hindus were a foul race protected by their rapid breeding from “the doom that is their due.” He wished Arthur Harris, the head of British bomber command, could “send some of his surplus bombers to destroy them.”