Regarded as one of the greatest Britons of all time, Winston Churchill is revered for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War against the onslaught of violence from Hitler’s Nazi Germany. He was admired for his ability to keep his country’s morale up and being the perfect nemesis against Hitler’s anti-Semitic, racist policies that were at the core of the Second World War. In 2002, Winston Churchill was voted as the most remarkable individual in the history of Britain, upstaging Shakespeare, Darwin, and Brunel.
However, while he is a hero to his countrymen years after his death, people seem to have forgotten his hatred for Hindus, his innate white supremacist tendencies and several blunders that marked the duration of his career as a politician and leader of multiple British colonies across Asia and Africa. Analyzing the mistakes Churchill made might not be a popular task among Britishers and there is enough literature that bears testimony to the same. His actions have been white-washed and often justified by historians talking about the era that marked his rule.
For example, in 2014, Labour candidate Benjamin Whittingham tweeted that Churchill was "a racist and white supremacist", enraging the former Prime Minister's family. The tweet was soon removed, and Whittingham and his party apologized for the same. But that did not take away from the fact that his racist beliefs have been documented in the past.
According to John Charmley, the author of 'Churchill: The End of Glory', the Britisher was a firm believer in race hierarchies and eugenics. In his worldview, white Protestant Christians were superior to white Catholics while Indians ranked higher than Africans. He believed that the British population was, in some way, the winner in Darwin's social hierarchy.
Needless to say, his admirers pushed these accusations under the carpet and felt that these are baseless, ignorant assumptions against an extremely respected man. Richard Toye, the author of Churchill's Empire, mentions in his book that while Churchill believed that certain races were superior to others, he did not necessarily subscribe to the idea that it was justified to treat non-white people in an inhumane manner.
However, some instances go against this very point that Toye makes. Winston Churchill might be sitting on a golden throne that has been crafted especially for him by his countrymen. But his frequent Hindu-hating speeches, utter disrespect for Mahatma Gandhi, and his involvement or rather the utter indifference towards the Bengal famine of 1943 bear testimony to the monstrous racism that this man harbored especially towards the British colonies and its inhabitants.
Irreverence towards Mahatma Gandhi
Let's start with his blatant irreverence towards the Mahatma. Gandhi remains as one of the greatest Indians that the country has ever seen. His sacrifice for the nation, his Satyagraha movement, and his struggle for India's independence are taught around the world. He inspired several of the world's greatest leaders with his dedication to leading a movement with only non-violence as his weapon. Seemingly unprovoked, Churchill called him a "malignant subversive fanatic” and “a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, and posing now as a fakir of a type well known in the East, adorned half-naked up the steps of the Viceregal palace.” Who is to say that this wasn't motivated by Gandhi's obvious Hindu heritage and the former's racist tendencies?
Churchill's hatred towards Gandhi was confusing - a baseless, inane hatred towards a man who put in significantly genuine efforts towards achieving the freedom of his nation. He continued his crusade against Gandhi even after India's independence, slandering him in his war memoir, The Hinge of Fate resulting in retaliation from the Indian Press, calling him a hegemonistic leader living in the waning glory of his Anglo-Saxon heritage.
Another horrific incident that was worsened by Churchill's indifference towards the majorly Hindu population of then Bengal was the 1943 famine. A projected 3 million people perished in this widespread disaster primarily affecting the north-eastern part of Bengal which was caused by the Japanese occupation of Burma in 1942. What is extremely unacceptable in this account was the fact that Churchill insisted that India continue to export rice to fuel his war efforts in Europe, while human beings were dying due to starvation in the country. The streets of Calcutta, one of the major strongholds of the British Indian Empire, was populated by emaciated Bengalis from the city and neighboring villages, barely surviving in utter poverty. Churchill compared them to vermin and claimed that they "breed like rabbits", strangely justifying his lack of action for solving this issue.
Toye mentions that Churchill viewed the Bengal famine as a distraction. He was preoccupied with defeating Germany in Europe and hence, didn't want to be bothered by it when people raised the issue. Allen Packwood, director of the Churchill Archives Centre, said, "Churchill is running a global war at this point and there are always going to be conflicting priorities and demands. It's an incredibly complex and evolving situation while he will not get everything right."
Needless to say, that this sorry justification of his actions does not take away from the fact that he traded the lives of 3 million people in his colony for winning a war which barely impacted his nation besides losing its position as a global power center.
The fascination for Islam.
While not directly connected to his discontent towards Hindus, Churchill had a strange fascination for Islam which to an extent made him look at it as a religion that is superior to Hinduism. It recently came to light that his enchantment with Islam made his family think that he might just convert to this religion. This would have been fine in isolation. But he also went on to tell Ivan Mikhailovich Maisky, the Soviet Ambassador in London, "Eventually, the Moslems will become master, because they are warriors, while the Hindus are windbags."
It's not surprising that he had an unbiased hatred towards Indians irrespective of their religion but somewhere, even in a situation such as that, he was able to create a more intense dislike for one community over another. It was his remarks such as the above that sparked the idea that Churchill might have been a xenophobic, irreverent, Hindu-hating ruler who was hell-bent on maintaining race hierarchies in the society, often at the cost of innocent civilian lives.
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