Britain's fatal delay

August 15, 1997

THOSE who would evaluate how Britain left India (in both senses) (THES, August 1) might note that during the second world war there was a mission by Stafford Cripps to bring all native parties into a wartime "national government" which would have looked very like devolution. However, this came to nothing as the viceroy (Lord Linlithgow) and Churchill vetoed it. The Raj, like parliamentary sovereignty, could not be divided. Subsequently, Congress politicians were jailed and Muslim leaders faltered.

It is open to speculation how much this contributed to partition when Britain finally determined that the time to go had come - informal links being less expensive, given the postwar situation, that colonialism.

In the event one might compare the going of the Raj to a guest who outstays their welcome and then decides they must leave posthaste halfway through lunch. The resulting disruption, of course, left the subcontinent with an estimated one million dead.

Mike Belbin Goldsmiths College, University of London

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