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Gandhi was a 'bad man' to Churchill

Winston Churchill once called Mahatma Gandhi "a bad man and an enemy of the Empire" who should have been done away with, secret notes reveal.

india Updated: Sep 20, 2008 11:43 IST

Winston Churchill once called Mahatma Gandhi "a bad man and an enemy of the Empire" who should have been done away with.

The war-time prime minister of Britain told Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts of South Africa at a meeting of the war cabinet in London in the 1940s: "You are responsible for all our troubles in India - you had Gandhi for years and did not do away with him."

To which, Smuts replied: "When I put him in prison - three times - all Gandhi did was to make me a pair of bedroom slippers."

When the Mahatma went on hunger strike during World War II, Churchill told the cabinet: "Gandhi should not be released on the account of a mere threat of fasting. We should be rid of a bad man and an enemy of the Empire if he died."

Churchill's behind-closed-door, candid observations at cabinet meetings about people and issues during the war were recorded for posterity by one of the war cabinet minute-takers, Lawrence Burgis.

At that time it was the law that all notes taken at cabinet meetings should be destroyed. However, Burgis apparently failed to destroy his notes which came to light six decades later when prominent British historian Andrew Roberts was recently going through the British cabinet archives for his forthcoming book "Masters and Commanders".

Roberts came across several files of Burgis in which the then assistant to the deputy secretary to the War Cabinet between 1939 and 1945 kept verbatim notes of cabinet conversations.

"It was at that moment that I realised that Lawrence Burgis had broken the 1911 Official Secrets Act, and had kept his verbatim notes of Winston Churchill's War Cabinet," Roberts says in his personalised account in The Telegraph.

With reference to Mahatma Gandhi, Burgis' notes tell us of a cabinet minister who, referring to Gandhi's fast, said he was getting glucose in his orange juice. Another cabinet minister said "he had oil rubbed into him which was nutritious", allowing Churchill to claim that "it is apparently not a fast merely a change of diet".

Churchill, whose antagonism towards Stalin is well recorded, was initially not so critical of the Soviet dictator.

Roberts found in Burgis' notes how Churchill was taken in by Stalin: "Stalin about Poland said, 'Russia has committed many sins about Poland - pacts and partitions - it is not the intention of the Soviet government to do such things but to make amends'. Stalin had a very good feeling with the two Western democracies and wants to work quite easily with us. My hopes lie in a single man, he will not embark on bad adventures."

The notes tell us Churchill usually wanted to go in for extreme options during the war years.

When the Germans massacred hundreds of residents of Chelmno, in the then Czechoslovakia, as a retribution for the assassination of SS deputy chief Reinhard Heydrich, the British prime minister, writes Burgis, "suggested wiping out German villages (three for one) by air attack, proposing that one hundred bombers would be required to drop incendiaries from low levels in bright moonlight on three unprotected German villages, with the reason announced afterwards.

Burgis' notes tell us of the outcome: "On this occasion the cabinet blocked him, and the prime minister concluded: 'I submit (unwillingly) to the view of the cabinet'."

Roberts says the notes of Burgis will compel historians to reassess famous British personalities, right from Churchill, in light of their candid observations which never came out during their times.