FAMINES IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT, 1500 to 1767
|1688 (a): Mandi state|
|Documented causes: unspecified|
|Documented effects: heavy mortality|
|Lepel H. Griffin, "The Rajas of the Punjab" (1870)|
|p637: The Mandi State … Sidh Sen, who came to the throne in 1678. This chief was a great warrior, and Mandi, under his rule, was more powerful than ever before or since. In 1688, he conquered the districts of Nachan, Hatal, Dalel, and in the same year a terrible famine occurred, from which very many people died." ...|
|1688 (b): Delhi?|
|Documented causes: unspecified|
|Documented effects: unspecified|
|Pandit Kota Venkatachalam, "Chronology of Kashmir History Reconstructed" (1955)|
|p114: "... in 1688 Delhi was devastated by a dire famine."|
[This famine could plausibly be the same which caused the above-mentioned catastrophe in Mandi, but I am suspicious that I have only found it mentioned in a history of Kashmir. Unfortunately, we have a serious problem regarding the history of Delhi at this time. To quote Mountstuart Elphinstone's "The History of India" (vol. ii, 1841) p492: Emperor Aurangzeb "not only discontinued the regular annals of the empire, which had before been kept by a royal historiographer, but so effectually put a stop to all record of his transactions, that, from the eleventh year of his reign, the course of events can only be traced through the means of letters on business and of notes taken clandestinely by private individuals."]
|1688: Kashmir incorrect report|
|Documented causes: n/a|
|Documented effects: n/a|
|Pandit Kota Venkatachalam, "Chronology of Kashmir History Reconstructed" (1955) [more from the text quoted above re Delhi]|
|p114: [Events during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb around Delhi, the Imperial capital, where the ninth Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur, was martyred in 1675 CE] "There were two tremendous earth quakes in 1669 and 1681 during the reign of Aurangazeb. In 1672 and 1678 Delhi was in flames and a prey to arson. In 1682 a great flood submerged Delhi and in 1688 Delhi was devastated by a dire famine. These may be Nature's Nemesis for Aurangazeb's atrocities to learned Hindus and godly Tej Bahadur Guru."|
|Gwasha Lal Kaul, "Kashmir Through the Ages" (7th edition, 1965)|
|p65: "The long roll of natural calamities during the half century of Aurangzeb's reign includes two earthquakes (1669 and 1681), two conflagrations of the capital (1672 and 1676), one flood (1682) and a famine (1688).|
[The Guru Tegh Bahadur story is given as a footnote and not explicitly linked to the disasters (no mention of "Nature's Nemesis")- also, "the capital" of the Empire, or of Kashmir?]
|S.R. Bakshi, "Kashmir: History and People" (1997)|
|p131: "The long roll of natural calamities during the half century of Aurangzeb's reign includes two earthquakes (1669 and 1681), two conflagrations of the capital (1672 and 1676), one flood (1682) and a famine (1688)."|
[Tegh Bahadur appears not to be mentioned at all; nor is the connection of the events with Delhi.]
[Incredibly, several other books make the same careless use of this version of the list of disasters]
|The Churchill conundrum|
|Straying temporarily away from the topic of famines, one of the most extreme examples of misrepresentation of quotations in the context of Indian history seems to be this one which has been used many times in online discussions:|
"Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues and free booters. Not a bottle of water or a loaf of bread shall escape taxation, only the air will be free. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight among themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles."
(On the Eve of India's Independence)
While some phrases from that "quotation" were indeed uttered by Winston Churchill in 1947, others seem to have been invented as recently as 2001 ! Here's what I have found so far about how the story developed.
The background was that Churchill had been unimpressed by the effects of the 1919 Government of India Act, which had given increased power to local politicians and voters. By the time the new system was undergoing its tenth-anniversary review, his view was that India's politicians were "a handful of politically-minded classes … who have no real contact with the masses, who are incapable of giving them the guidance they require, and are animated in the main by very great hostility to this country" (speech at the Constitutional Club, London, 26 March 1931, in which he also suggested that "India is a geographical term. It is no more a united nation than the Equator."). However, the result of the review was a further transfer of power from Britain to India, under the Government of India Act 1935.
On 6 March 1947, as Leader of the Opposition in the British Parliament at Westminster, Churchill made a speech on the Government's plan to remove all British control from India by June 1948, which he thought was too short a timetable, given the way Indian politicians had behaved under the 1919 and 1935 reforms. Here is the relevant section:
"... The Government, by their 14 months' time limit, have put an end to all prospect of Indian unity. I myself have never believed that that could be preserved after the departure of the British Raj, but the last chance has been extinguished by the Government's action. How can one suppose that the thousand-year gulf which yawns between Muslim and Hindu will be bridged in 14 months? ...
These 14 months will not be used for the melting of hearts and the union of Muslim and Hindu all over India. They will be used in preparation for civil war ...
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. ...
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."
The speech (quoted here from Hansard, the official record of proceedings in the British Parliament) was widely reported in newspapers across the world, particularly the remark about "men of straw". They did not, however, mention other dramatic phrases from the modern version of the quotation, such as "rascals, rogues …" or "sweet tongues and silly hearts" which implies that, on that occasion at least, Churchill did not say them.
On 3 June 1947, the Government published a "White Paper" discussion document containing proposals for inclusion in the legislation to make British India independent. Churchill's response in Parliament that day was broadly supportive of revisions that had been made since March, and it contained nothing of relevance to our "quotation". A week later, he was in hospital, for an operation on a hernia which had been getting worse and worse since 1945. As he was then 72 years old, recovery took several weeks, and he took no part in the key Parliamentary debates about Independence which led to the Indian Independence Act 1947 becoming law on 18 July. However, events over the next couple of months seemed to be confirming the gloomy predictions he had made in March, and at a constituency meeting in Wanstead, London, on 27 September, he quoted them to his audience (transcript published in "Europe Unite: Speeches 1947 and 1948 by Winston S. Churchill", edited by Randolph S. Churchill, 1950)- but again "men of straw" was the only really harsh term he used.
On 26 June 1948, the fully recovered Churchill gave a blockbuster speech about the failings of Britain's Labour Party Government to an audience of over 100,000 people at a Conservative Party rally in the park at Luton Hoo in Bedfordshire (also in the 1950 book). One of the many subjects he mentioned was India, including a subtle reference to his prophecy of March 1947:
"Power has been recklessly confided to Indian political parties which in no way represent the needs or feelings of the 400 million people ... Already there has been something like a collapse in the process of self-administration and we must expect an indefinite epoch of internecine and religious strife."
He did not even bother to use the words "men of straw" this time; Conservative supporters would be well aware of his prophecy. Even so, the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, speaking to 25,000 agricultural workers in Skegness, Lincolnshire, the next day, condemned Churchill's claims about India as "ignorant and prejudiced". India's Deputy Prime Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, though in poor health, also responded at a public meeting in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, on 29 June, again using the words "ignorant" and "prejudiced", and observing that "Mr. Churchill is an unashamed imperialist and at a time when imperialism is on its last legs, he is the proverbial last ditcher for whom obstinacy and dogged consistency gain more than reason, imagination or wisdom" (quoted in "A Nation's Homage: Life and work of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel" edited by P.D. Saggi, 1953, p77). Churchill turned out to have a good deal of personal respect for Mr Patel, and there the matter rested.
In addition to the various published transcripts of Churchill's speeches, most of the world's major newspapers have now been scanned and indexed for online searching. His "men of straw" claim features frequently, both in newspapers and in history books. Yet other phrases from the famous "quotation" such as "rascals, rogues …" and "sweet tongues and silly hearts" are never mentioned as being spoken by Churchill or any other public figure. Until, suddenly, in 1971, history gets rewritten in India.
" 'Liberty is man's birthright. However, to give the reins of government to the Congress at this juncture is to hand over the destiny of the hungry millions into the hands of rascals, rogues, and free booters. Not a bottle of water or a loaf of bread shall escape taxation; only the air will be free, and the blood of these hungry millions will be on the head of Mr. Attlee. India will be lost in political squabbles. ... It will take a thousand years for them to enter the periphery of philosophy or politics. Today we handover the reins of Government to men of straw, of whom no trace will be found after a few years.'
Thus spoke Sir Winston Churchill while opposing the Bill to grant independence to India, introduced by the Prime Minister Clement Attlee in the British House of Commons, in 1947."
That alleged quotation, with its somewhat precise attribution, appears on page 413 of "The Coorg Memoirs (the Story of the Kodavas)" by I. M. Muthanna. There are the "men of straw" and there too is the "thousand years"- but given a completely new context. Online searches for other interesting terms such as "loaf of bread … escape taxation" reveal no hits at all in books or newspapers before 1971.
After 1971, on the other hand, this passage starts appearing in other books, and eventually on the infant Internet. But of course it's still not the "quotation" we started with. A step closer was taken in 1991, when veteran journalist and politician Khushwant Singh wrote an article for Newsweek (3 Jun 1991) "Was Churchill Right? The Decline Began in Nehru's Lifetime". His streamlined and slightly aggressive version was:
"Power will go into the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. Not a bottle of water or a loaf of bread will escape taxation. Only the air will be free and the blood of these hungry millions will be on the head of Prime Minister Clement Attlee. These are men of straw of whom no trace will be found after a few years. They will fight among themselves and India will be lost in political squabbles."
With such a distinguished and widely-read source, that version soon gained popularity, not least because the 1991 essay was itself very thought-provoking. Also, Khushwant Singh recycled it in a short article, "Men of Straw," for the Hindustan Times (26 Oct 1996), prefaced with the words "I recall the sense of outrage at the words of Winston Churchill who was doggedly opposed to the Labour Party's promise to concede independence to India. A few months before our Independence Day he said:" ...
Still no "silly hearts" though; that doesn't seem to appear anywhere until 2001, when it is featured on page 5 of "Introspection for India: A Paradigm for Progress" by V. K. Subramanian. Nicely timed to catch attention online, that version, as quoted at the beginning of this summary, spread rapidly across the World Wide Web.
With at least three different versions of the false "quotation" available online, things start to get really weird. In 2007, a new biography of Sardar Patel was published: "India's Bismarck, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel" by Balraj Krishna. Attempting to explain what Churchill had said to merit such a stinging rebuke in June 1948, it looks as if he had found out that Churchill never said the famous lines in Parliamentary debates about Independence, so he guessed that they were part of the 1948 Luton Hoo speech! He accepted the Khushwant Singh version as correct, and (p255) quoted the most offensive words:
"Power will go into the hands of rascals, rogues and free booters ... These are men of straw, of whom no trace will be found after a few years."
Lal Krishna Advani, in a blog about the book, quoted that attribution, and the blog has since been incorporated into his 2014 book, "My Take". Others have combined elements from the false quotations with genuine quotations from Churchill's 1931 speech. So it goes on and on, further and further from reality …