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Decolonization of French India

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Ajit K. Neogy

1. French India in the Aftermath of World War II

Texte intégral

  • 1 Roux a Bidault, 30 mai 1947. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 6. Also Bidault à Roux 26 mai 1946. As  (...)
  • 2 Bidault à Roux, 26 mars 1947. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 6 (Qd).
  • 3 Roux à Bidault, 30 mai 1947. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 6 (Qd).

1Baron succeeded Bonvin as interim Governor of French India in February 1946. French position in India was very shaky during the war years. The war had an adverse effect on France, both within and without. Henri Roux, Chargé d’Affaires (New Delhi), very succinctly summed up the French position in the post World War II years in a letter to Georges Bidault who was then heading the French Foreign Ministry.1 During the war years, the French had somehow maintained their existence in India with the support of the British Indian Government. The Pondicherry Governor did not have the independence to take any major decision without the approval of the British Consul General in Pondicherry. France came out of the war badly battered. 1.5 million of her people were killed compared to six millions in World War I. The influence which she had been exercising in Asia diminished and her material means dwindled correspondingly. Inflation dominated and characterized the French economy. The value of French franc went down. The French marine, military and merchandise had been gravely hit. The value of export trade had reached an all-time low. France imported from India oil seeds, cotton and jute 5 to 10 times more than it exported metallurgic goods, alcoholic products, and medicines. Since the war the flow of exchange went down to nil.2 Roux further observed that during the past 6 years (i.e. from 1941-42) French intellectual activities had come to a halt. While the Indian educated community had been making persistent demand for freedom from British control, the privileged position of France in China, Roux stated, had disappeared and in the Indo-Chinese states too, French position was far from satisfactory.3 According to Roux these developments in the post-war period had lowered French prestige.

  • 4 Ibid.

Our internal divisions, our economic and financial difficulties and the various movements which have recently broken out in our Empire have not strengthened our position.4

2Actually France came out of the war weak and disorganized. To the people of France the memories of Nazi occupation had not yet faded. The government itself was incapable of facing the problems which was a legacy of the war. Situation in French Overseas Empire was not rosy either. Not to speak of France, the world situation underwent a radical change. Germany had been vanquished, Japan surrendered in August 1945 after Hiroshima, the communists were capturing power throughout Eastern Europe. China was well on its way to revolution and a tremendous anti-imperialist consciousness was sweeping North Africa, India, Indo-China and Indonesia. Anti-imperialist upsurge in India (1942-46) had assumed an unprecedented dimension. The Simla Conference failed and the failure at Simla gave a further boost to anti-imperialist consciousness. The INA trial, the RIN trial, numerous strikes all over India completely changed the mood of the Indians. In fact popular upsurge and action were shaking the foundation of the solid base of the British empire. A shaky Wavell told Churchill the impossibility of holding India through strong-arm methods. It was in this background that the massive victory of the Labour Party in Britain in July 1945 gave an unmistakable indication of the forthcoming change in White Hall’s attitude for the struggling people of India in particular and Asia in general and this was evident from Attlee’s declaration in British Parliament (20 February 1947) of granting independence to India before August 1948. Already a congress-dominated interim government had been formed and headed by Jawaharlal Nehru. India was moving ahead on the path of complete independence.

3Attlee’s announcement caused a tremendous flutter. World events were destined to follow a different channel. Great Britain was going to surrender power and authorities to Indian leaders. French reaction to this was quick and the Pondicherry authorities were visibly dismayed. If Britain had withdrawn from India, how long the French would remain in India? Baron took charge of French Indian administration at a time when things within the subcontinent were moving in a dizzy pace. But he did not lack in sincerity and he bore uppermost in his mind

  • 5 Gouverneur (p. i) de l’Inde Française au Ministère de la France d’outre-mer, 18 juin 1947 (A. O. M. (...)

the well-being of 300,000 Franco-Indian who deserve much of our solicitude and friendship and also, if necessary, some sacrifices from our side so that they may rest in the French family freely as long as possible, so that our friendship and our influence can penetrate, by a natural osmosis, among the 400 millions great neighbouring people.5

  • 6 Ibid.
  • 7 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères à Roux, Chargé d’Affaires de France, Delhi, 26 mars 1946. As 44-55 (...)
  • 8 Ibid.

4French India was not an integrated territory –they were isolated patches of territory, one separated from the other by a distance of a few hundred kilometres to two thousand kilometres, speaking different languages and practising different social habits. Moreover they were surrounded by areas which were swept by anti-imperialist forces and by people who were delighted at the forthcoming changes in the subcontinent. Would it be able to keep aloof the small pieces of French territories from anti-imperialist agitation of the surrounding people and places? Would it be able to put a stop to all contacts and correspondence between them? This was well-nigh impossible. Baron himself admitted that “French India occupies a perilous position”. But he believed that if the whole situation could be handled with “tact, wisdom and broad outlook, it might turn in our favour”.6 The best policy, he thought, would be to demonstrate sincerity in words and deeds towards the French Indian people who had been for a long time “duped by her politicians and the so-called representatives (députés) to the Third Republic”. He believed that the policy enshrined in the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme might go a long way to strengthen the concept of French Union. The French authorities agreed with the views of Baron. But apart from French India and French Indian people there was a third party on whom depended the future of the French settlements. This was India – India which was going to be independent. What policy France would follow towards India? This was earlier enunciated by the French Foreign Minister in his letter of instruction to Roux.7 Roux was instructed to follow a policy calculated to improve future French relations with India. He was to study Indian attitude towards the French Union and more particularly towards the Indo-Chinese states. The Minister told him that during the last two years Indian delegates in international conferences were holding views diametrically opposite to those of France. India was acting as the mouth-piece of countries fighting for independence and attacking French position in certain overseas territories. Roux was asked to strive to remove this attitude of hostility. France was afraid lest India might one day raise the question of Vietnam in the Security Council. In that case Roux would have to demonstrate the sincere desire of the French Government to conclude “a pact of association” with Indo-China states which would respect their liberty and at the same time ensure the cohesion of the French Union. The French Foreign Ministry told him that Nehru’s thinking was much more influenced by the non-violent doctrine of Mahatma Gandhi than that of Moscow. Therefore he must not hesitate to denounce the method of violence and terrorism resorted to by the Viet Minh leaders. Actually he was instructed to plead and propagate the Vietnam policy of France and denounce the methods of violence and terrorism resorted to by the Viet Minh leaders. “It was by these methods that they succeeded in isolating the Hanoi Government from other political parties and claiming as the sole representatives of Vietnam, imposed their domination on the whole of the Annamite countries as well as Laos and Cambodia by totalitarian methods”. But the development of friendly relations with India must be the first concern of Roux. The oft-repeated statements of Indian leaders that foreign powers must not be allowed to “disfigure” India by maintaining colonial pockets were seen by the French Foreign Minister as a threat to annexation. The success of such a policy depended largely on the wisdom, tact, imagination and a perfect synchronization between the action of the French Embassy and the French Indian administration in relation to New Delhi. The French Foreign Ministry was quite aware that the future of the French settlements in India depended largely on the “total colonial policy” of France. Enlargement of cultural facilities at Pondicherry and Chandernagore, the French Foreign Ministry believed, would tend to serve as the principal instrument of rapprochement with India. The Indian authorities were to be impressed that France continued to take interest in the study of Indian civilization and Roux was to find out the avenues by which French engineers, doctors, professors and intellectuals could be implanted in India. The success of the whole scheme would depend on the amount of orientation he would be able to give in the Indo-French relations. Roux was also instructed to take interest in the promotion of better economic relations between French India and the Indian authorities.8

5Situation in the sub-continent was charged with emotion, excitement and apprehension too. It was beyond the comprehension of Paris or Pondicherry authorities to ascertain the shape of things the sub-continent was going to take. The interim government had faced with a series of complex problems. There was the problem of the integration of the princely states; there was the ugly problem of communalism; and, there was also the problem of Kashmir. Foreign powers would have to spell out their policy towards India. One of the biggest Asian countries was going to be independent with Gandhi as the champion of non-violence and Nehru as the spokesman of the down-trodden and fettered people of Asia. India would have a big say in all international matters and more particularly on the problems of Asia. No foreign power could afford to ignore India. They would forge new diplomatic relations with her. France could not escape it.

6On 6 April 1946, two months after his arrival in Pondicherry as interim governor, Baron elaborated in a press conference attended by French India officials and political leaders of Pondicherry the policy of the Fourth Republic towards India. The policy of the Fourth Republic in the post-war period, he emphasized, would be to work uninterruptedly for the development of French India by eliminating those forces standing in the way of its flowering. The Fourth Republic, he pointed out, granted new rights to all men and women living in French territories –rights based on the principles of equality. France under the Fourth Republic had, he said, proclaimed the death-knell of colonialism and

all men and women –whether they belong to Paris, Quimper, Tananarive or Pondicherry, are free and equal. That all men and women have the same right and can also be freely elected, without distinction of caste or race or colour, representatives who should faithfully express the ideas and wishes of the electors.

7He also added

  • 9 Ibid.

There is no more any empire, any colonies. There has, however, been a grand nation of 100 million souls, all perfectly equal and willing, or, more exactly, a free association of original communities within the French Union based on their full will because they wish to be free, equal and fraternal.9

8France, he declared, had no intention to rule French India even for a minute contrary to their will, but nevertheless French India would serve as a link (trait d’union) between France on the one hand and India on the other. Baron expressed the hope that since French India had participated in the Revolution of 1789, she would participate in the Revolution of 1946. He observed that India is an ancient country with a rich cultural tradition –it is a country of saints and sages, philosophers and painters. France too is a very great nation having a very ancient tradition of culture. Thinkers and savants of the two great cultures could interact and endeavour, for the benefit of both, to effect a synthesis of the two great civilizations. Both India and France shared universal outlook and approach and since they inclined to enlarge their horizons and culture, French India, to Baron, could be a melting pot where a new humanism and a fraternal civilization could be experimented. He also referred to the various rights and facilities being enjoyed by the French Indian people in the fields of administration, education and politics and appealed to those present in the press conference to work together for the inauguration of a constructive era by way of executing the reforms demanded by the representatives of the people.

  • 10 Ambassadeur de France à Georges Bidault, 18 mai 1946. As 44-55. Inde, Vol. 62. (Qd).
  • 11 Ambassadeur de France en Grande Bretagne à Georges Bidault, Président du Gouvernement Provisoire de (...)
  • 12 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères au Consul Général de France à Calcutta, 15 oct. 1946. As 44-55 (Qd (...)
  • 13 Christian Fouchet a Léon Blum, Président du Gouvernement Provisoire, Ministre aux Affaires Etrangèr (...)

9The ticklish issue over which the French Government dilly-dallied for quite some time was connected with the establishment of diplomatic relations with the new Government of India. As early as May 1946, the French Ambassador at London wrote to Georges Bidault suggesting that France should pursue “an attitude of reservation and discretion” as far as the recognition of the new status of India was concerned. Any precipitate action in this regard might hurt British public opinion.10 Possibly the issue was first broached by the French Consul General of Bombay after Nehru headed the interim government on 2 September 1946 and it was in this background that the French Foreign Minister wrote to him informing that it would be premature on the part of the French Government to establish diplomatic relations with India at this stage as, in his opinion, this might give rise to misunderstanding with Great Britain. India was yet to be completely free and Britain was still representing India. The French Ambassador in London also wrote to Bidault on 9 October 1946 that India had so long been represented by Great Britain in all international matters and foreign governments had to approach London for any matter whatsoever with India. The French Ambassador in London contacted the Permanent Under-Secretary of the British Foreign office with a view to ascertaining British reaction in the event of the establishment of French diplomatic relations with the interim government of India. To this the British Under-Secretary in the Foreign office assured him that there would not be any objection from the side of Great Britain if France wished to open a legation or an embassy at New Delhi. But the French Ambassador adduced certain reasons for not doing this.11 First, he pointed out the political uncertainty of the government headed by Nehru. Until the Nehru government was consolidated and a normal collaboration established between the two biggest Indian communities, New Delhi would remain “eminently unstable and provisional”. Secondly, according to him the interim government’s authority was very limited in character. The writ of the new cabinet was effective only within British India and the princely states of India, covering one third of the Indian territories and having one third of its population, remained outside its orbit. The Viceroy was still the channel through whom foreign powers would have to reach the princes. His suggestion was therefore to wait for some time before taking a firm decision for forging diplomatic relations with New Delhi. But he added that the situation would change if the Nehru cabinet would ask France to establish relations with India. To the French Foreign Ministry the question seemed to be a very delicate one. But while France was between two minds with regard to the question of establishing diplomatic relations with New Delhi, Great Britain nominated T. A. Shone, formerly Minister of Great Britain, as British High Commissioner in New Delhi and this brought about an important change in the whole situation, particularly between Paris and New Delhi.12 Already the Chinese and the American governments had officially declared their intentions of opening embassies in New Delhi. The French Foreign Ministry weighed the situation very carefully. It had to bear in mind the position of the French settlements in India as well as in Asia where a new wave of nationalism had emerged denouncing imperialism. France therefore should cultivate better relations with the new government of India before it was too late for the sake of French Indian possessions in particular and Asia in general. It was in this backdrop that the French Council of Ministers had approved the decision of opening an embassy of France at New Delhi on 30 October 1946. Although a formal decision was taken to this effect, the French Government did not set up a full-fledged embassy in New Delhi or send any Ambassador. Perhaps it still had doubt about the future of the interim government. Throughout this period the French India policy of the Paris authorities was marked by hesitation, doubt and lack of steadiness. Taking note of the political ups and downs in India, the French Overseas Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the Pondicherry authorities planned to move in a very cautious manner even when the mighty colonial power had decided to retrace its steps from India and nominated a High Commissioner. In January 1947 Christian Fouchet wrote from Calcutta to Léon Blum, President of the Provisional Government of France and Minister of External Affairs strongly advocating the necessity of sending without delay a representative, even unofficial, to the capital of India for day to day business.13 He spoke from his personal experience as holder of the post for 16 months at Delhi. “Delhi”, he maintained, “is the best place for obtaining a better glimpse of the political condition of India”. He argued that the new government at New Delhi might expect a friendly gesture from France. This might go a long way in softening her attitude in the affairs of Indo-China. Nehru had been a strong critic of French policy in Indo-China. In September when Roux met him Nehru had already shown his interest in Indo-China affairs. The Indian press was also highly critical of French policy in Indo-China. He pointed out that the interim government of Nehru might adopt a strong attitude and follow a policy analogous to that of Burma which had already interdicted French military planes to fly over its sky. In such an eventuality the consequences would be severe and air communication between France and Indo-China via India would be stopped. The Department, he expressed the hope, would do whatever necessary to tide over the eventual risk.

  • 14 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères a l’Ambassadeur de France à Londres. 7 janv. 1947. As 44-55. Inde, (...)
  • 15 Consulat Français a Calcutta au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 21 janv. 1947. As 44-55. Inde, Vo (...)
  • 16 Ambassade de France (Londres) aux Affaires Etrangères (tel.). 21 janv. 1947. As 44-55. Inde, Vol. 6 (...)
  • 17 Affaires Etrangères a l’Ambassade de France (Londres) (tél), fév. 1947. As 44-55. Inde, Vol. 62 (Qd (...)
  • 18 Affaires Etrangères au Consulat de France (Calcutta), (tel.). 12 fév. 1947. As 44- 55. Inde, Vol. 6 (...)

10 On the same day (7 January 1947), the French Ministry of Foreign affairs instructed, the French Ambassador in London, to inform Krishna Menon about the desire of France to forge diplomatic relations with New Delhi and, it would be glad if India would give permission to a French legation being set up at New Delhi headed by a Ministre plénipotentiaire. France would also welcome an Indian legation of 3 or 4 members in Paris which would have identical status with the French counterpart in New Delhi.14 Nehru was eager to see a French diplomatic legation taking an embassy status in New Delhi. Two weeks later (21 January 1947) Fouchet wrote another letter from Calcutta to the French Foreign Ministry intimating that he was in favour of recognizing the interim government of India as a fully independent sovereign state. The USA, he reminded, had already decided to open an embassy at New Delhi and he urged the Paris authorities to follow suit. “Else”, he warned, “our position would become very awkward”.15 Far from getting a base in India, France would neither get any source of supplying provisions for French soldiers nor any passage for French military aircraft. India, he opined, would become a hostile country. The dilatoriness of the Paris authority in the matter of giving its mission in New Delhi a full-fledged diplomatic status was not taken kindly by Krishna Menon.16 He expressed his dissatisfaction and observed that France was the only country which had not done this. Of the five big states, Great Britain, USA and China had already sent accredited High Commissioners or Ambassadors to New Delhi and Russia was thinking to do the same. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been delaying under one pretext or another and, this time it argued that India had not yet been admitted into the UN. However, either due to the dissatisfaction expressed by Menon, or the pressure exerted by the French Embassy of London, or Fouchet from Calcutta, Bidault telegraphically informed the London Embassy its intention of opening an embassy at New Delhi17 and Nehru was informed of this. Fouchet was also given the message.18 It was exactly after 8 months that the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs nominated Daniel Lévi, who was minister at Helsinki, as French Ambassador to India and he presented his letter of credence to Mountbatten on 10 December 1947. This brought to a close the stalemate which could have been avoided earlier.

  • 19 Gouverneur de l’Inde Française au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 23 juillet 1946. Aff Politique (...)

11The internal condition of the French India settlements was not going well. They were rather in “perilous conditions”. While major political changes were taking place in India, the people of French Indian settlements could not remain indifferent. Chandernagore and Mahe witnessed a new awakening. Karaikal followed the same path. Pondicherry was calm, but trouble might erupt at any moment. Chandernagore had been nurturing a feeling of hostility against Pondicherry authorities since the beginning of the century and successive elected representatives from Chandernagore to Conseil Général (Pondicherry) had been protesting against the discrimination meted out to it. The Pondicherry authorities never tried to assuage this feeling of hostility of Chandernagore; rather their step-motherly attitude became more pronounced in subsequent years. During the days of nationalist struggle in British India, Chandernagore identified itself more with the nationalist politics and developed a strong tendency to slip away from the tutelage of Pondicherry. They, for the first time, demonstrated their rebellious temperament in the middle of July 1946 in the wake of the municipal elections. In that elections the NDF (a communist-led Front) secured a majority and Kamal Ghosh, a NDF leader, became the Mayor. They, along with the congressites, hoisted the flag of the Indian National Congress on the Mairie (Town Hall). The trend of defiance of the Pondicherry authorities thus commenced continued until Chandernagore seceded from Pondicherry. Baron was of the opinion that French administration was largely responsible for the separatist tendency manifested by Chandernagore. The Pondicherry authorities had abandoned Chandernagore as a lost case some 20 years ago. Very few government officials or teachers liked to go there even for a few months. The Pondicherry Governor hardly found time to visit Chandernagore even once a year. Bengal had always been the intellectual and revolutionary centre and Chandernagore felt more homely with Calcutta than with Pondicherry. The Chandernagoreians had turned their faces away from France and Pondicherry and looked towards Calcutta. To Baron, Chandernagore was, in fact, “the neuralgic point of French India”.19

  • 20 Note Secret par Bazin, 9 nov. 1946. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.). Also Inde Française, Vol (...)
  • 21 Bazin au Gouverneur de Pondichéry. 14 Oct 1946. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.). Rapport de l (...)
  • 22 Bazin au Gouverneur (Pondichéry), 9 nov. 1946. Aff. Politiques C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 23 Gouverneur (Pondichéry) a Outre-mer (tel.) 16 mai 1946. Aff. Politiques C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 24 Roger Louis au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 17 juillet 1946. Aff. Politiques C 368, D3 (A. O. (...)

12Towards the beginning of 1946, a disturbance broke out in Chandernagore. Though it was confined to Gondalpara Jute Mill area, it had its repercussions on the inhabitants of the whole town. The mill-hands, nearly 1200, had many grievances and they put pressure on the management for their redressal. But the latter refused and were reluctant to accept the Code du travail (Labour Code). The workers, backed by communist-led trade union, threatened to occupy the mill. The management locked it out for indefinite period. This created tension and excitement in the area and from there it spread to other parts of the town when communal colour was given to it. A large number of the workers were Muslims and they were affiliated to and supported by the communist party contrary to the feelings of the great majority of the Hindu workers of the mill and the inhabitants of the town.20 Bazin, who was then the Administrator of the settlement, wrote to the Pondicherry authorities that after the great Calcutta killing the pampering of the Muslims by the communist party produced dissatisfaction among the Hindu population.21 He also added that the Gondalpara Jute Mill had been the centre of propaganda for the Congress, Communist and the Muslims League. It was in this situation that the Durgapuja festival was observed in Dinemardanga where no puja was performed previously. Tension mounted on the immersion day on the question of taking out the procession along the highly sensitive area where the Muslims lived. The day passed off peacefully, but the communist policy of supporting the Muslims provoked the anger of the Hindus. The Hindus of Chandernagore retaliated by following a policy of ostracizing the Muslims. Shopkeepers refused to sell goods to them, barbers and washermen too refused to render them any service. Bazin called a meeting of the prominent persons of the two communities and met them on 11 and 12 October. They, however, promised to maintain peace and refrain from doing any thing that might further deteriorate the relations between them. Suddenly, in November, the Muslims of Gondalpara decided to slaughter cows on the Bakr-id, not in Urdibazar but in the masjid of Dinemardanga for the first time. Tension recurred and reached a point of confrontation between the two communities.22 A helpless Bazin despatched an urgent message to Baron requesting him to come to Chandernagore to help him overcome the impasse. Chandernagore was not unknown to Baron where he had served as Administrator. Realizing the gravity of the situation the latter rushed to Chandernagore. Baron studied the situation carefully and in order to calm down the situation sent Ballard, Président du Tribunal d’Appel, to Chandernagore to arbitrate the dispute between the workers and the management. There was also dissatisfaction among the student community of Chandernagore over the presence of the statue of Dupleix and they had been persistently demanding the removal of “the symbol of imperialism”. The agitation continued and the statue was later removed. Pondicherry situation was no better. Labour trouble also erupted there and the workers of the Modeliarpeth Textile Mill, numbering nearly 1200, threatened complete stoppage of work if the management refused to accept their demands. In Pondicherry, the labour union was very strongly organized under the leadership of Subbiah. As President of the labour union he even demanded23 the nationalization of the mills for the benefit of the workers.24 In Savana Mill, the workers became violent and some personnel of the management were manhandled. The Manager solicited the protection of the Overseas Minister. Enhy Mill was also closed and the situation in the Rodier Mill was no better. The workers were underpaid; they had to work in unhygienic condition. But thanks to the organizing ability of Subbiah, the labour unions of Pondicherry were affiliated to the Confédération générale du travail (Paris). The mills and factory workers of the Overseas French Empire were entitled to the benefits which the Code du Travail (Labour Code) had guaranteed. But the Governor wrote to the Overseas Ministry that the management of the French India mills refused to accept and apply the progressive labour laws and the benefits flowing from it.

  • 25 Gouverneur de l’Inde Française au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer. 23 juillet 1946. Aff. Politiqu (...)
  • 26 Ibid.

13The inhabitants of the French settlements in India were no different people from those living in the neighbouring British territory. They belonged to the same ethnic group; they followed the same tradition and customs and professed the same religion. They were after all Indians and historical reasons only separated them from the mainstream. The Pondicherry authorities knew it very well that once India became fully independent the people of the French enclaves would demand their fusion with Indian Union. Nationalist upsurge in India was spilling over to French Indian territories. But Baron believed that if the situation could be handled with tact and wisdom, it might be turned in “our favour”. He was an optimist and sincerely believed that his cultural programme, if accepted and implemented, would go a long way to strengthen the concept of French Union. He continued to believe that Franco-Indian people, particularly the people of Pondicherry and Karaikal, were pro-French, but he observed that in order to completely win them over, a different policy other than that followed during the last 30 years had to be adopted. He took pride from the fact that in the midst of a vast Indian people 350,000 Franco-Indian people were living with a distinct culture. He defined the goal as (i) preservation of French Indian settlements within French Union and (ii) preservation and development of friendship between France and the great people of India going to be free. And he believed that French India could not and must not be an obstacle to the promotion of that friendship. It was, he said, a difficult and an exacting task, but with the support of the Paris authorities he hoped to be successful.25 To reach the desired goal, Baron stressed that the consuls-general, cultural attaché, commercial attaché and press attaché should all work together under one common direction. Baron’s impression was that his declaration (6 April 1946) had a favourable impact on Nehru. That was why Nehru later declared that the liquidation of British domination would follow the end of the Portuguese domination. But in so far as French India was concerned Nehru adopted a different stand and expressed his desire to forge cultural relations with France and welcomed the transformation of the French establishments as “centres of cultural extension”. This, according to Baron, was evident from the fact that while Nehru incited the inhabitants of Portuguese India to revolt against the Portuguese authorities of Goa, no such thing was done against French India. Moreover, Baron held the view that India would not get immediate independence and this would provide France an opportunity to introduce measures for the social progress of French India and build up cultural centres with the help of Alliance Française, Association du Musée de l’Homme, Mission Archéologique etc. Baron was overtaken by emotionalism which betrayed his sense of reality.26

  • 27 Ministre de la France d’outre-mer au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 14 juin 1946. As 44-55. Inde (...)

14Baron’s statement (6 April) had the effect of creating quite a stir. The press and the public had a mixed feeling. His declaration had been misunderstood. The Melbourne Herald, Canberra (5 June 1946), the Age, Australia (5 June 1946) etc., gave sufficient publicity to his declaration. The Paris press reacted differently. On 8 October 1946 Baron had telegraphically informed Marius Moutet, then French Overseas Minister, that his sole concern was to effect the integration of the five settlements within French Union and this goal he wished to reach with his full approval. Moutet endorsed the declaration of Baron. This declaration had, in his opinion, largely contributed to cooling off the situation then prevailing in the French outposts in India and succeeded in disarming those who accused France of harbouring an imperialist design in India.27 Moutet believed that Baron by his patient and careful policy would be able to remove the misunderstanding and overcome prejudices fomented by external elements in French Indian pockets. Although Mahatma Gandhi had described the foreign settlements as a “pocket of reaction” survived by the grace of British Government, his reaction was neither against nor favourable to the declaration. His opinion was that French Indian administration was better than the Portuguese administration in Goa. Nehru believed that French Indian problem could be resolved diplomatically after India became free. He ruled out the possibility of any violent eviction of the French from India. Nehru had taken Baron’s declaration in a conciliatory spirit. Pondicherry as a cultural centre would be welcome to him, “Pondicherry would be a window on France in India’’. In his press conference, on 22 August 1946, he said that the Congress did not wish to put pressure or impose its policy on the French settlements, but he added that he would be happy to see French India joining freely with India after she became fully free.

  • 28 Ministre de la France d’outre-mer au Gouverneur des Etablissements français de l’Inde, 17 sept. 194 (...)

15Marius Moutet endorsed Baron’s scheme and commended the various measures Baron proposed to adopt for strengthening the position of the French Indian settlements within the French Union.28 Moutet gave much importance to Baron’s scheme of setting up cultural centres and he described this as the most important feature of Baron’s political action. But he had instructed Baron not to rush through it or propagate it too much on account of the shortage of budgetary fund. Christian Fouchet’s scheme of founding an Institut français in British India had to be adjourned for want of fund. Actually the schemes of the French Governor and the French Consul of Calcutta had created some misunderstanding and the latter feared that the grandiose project of the Governor might get priority and prominence. A feeling of subdued rivalry was working between them and to put a stop to this undesirable rivalry, the Paris authorities might have shelved the project of Baron. But Baron’s plan of founding intellectual centres in Pondicherry and other-French pockets would have, Moutet believed, far-reaching influence and reputation. To him, his plan was bold though ambitious, but he pointed out that “in that part of French Union where we have modest economic interest”, Baron’s scheme could achieve success and “might guarantee the permanence of our establishments in the sub-continent”. He finally remarked that time for working it out had not yet arrived for want of fund, but he was of opinion that it was high time to make preliminary studies.

  • 29 Aff. Politiques, C 383, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 30 Gouverneur de l’Inde Française au Ministre de la France d’outre-iner, 28 Oct 1946. Aff. Politiques, (...)

16In spite of the endorsement of Baron’s scheme by the French Overseas Ministry, the French press severely criticized him. Franc-Tireur29 (20 October 1946) accused Baron of trying to detach the French possessions in India from the metropolis with a view to creating a Monaco type principality and himself ruling over it like a Raja. The paper viewed with suspicion the contact Baron had with Nehru. It also pointed out the irregular manner by which Lambert Saravane was elected Deputy to the French National Assembly. Franc-Tireur (1 November 1946) launched another attack on Baron in the wake of the election held on 10 November. According to the paper anti-social elements and ruffians roamed unhindered through the streets of Pondicherry and they unleashed a reign of terror. At least 12 houses were burnt and nearly 100 people had left the French territory and took shelter in the adjacent British territory. Already K. Soundararadjalou, President, Weavers’ Union of Modeliarpeth, in a memorandum30 submitted to the Overseas Ministry complained that the trouble makers in Pondicherry belonged to the group of Subbiah, and Baron and Pacha (the General-Secretary) were responsible for this because of the soft policy taken by them towards Subbiah whom Bonvin had expelled. Deploring the total political situation in Pondicherry Franc-Tireur observed that Baron was incapable of maintaining law and order and restraining the activities of the band of murderers. In this background the paper asked Moutet to recall Baron.

  • 31 L’Ordre, 12 nov.1946. Aff. Politiques, C 383, D3 (A. O. M.).

17The failure to gauge the real political trend in India by the Paris and Pondicherry authorities was analysed by Claude Viviers in his article entitled “Destin de l’Inde et présence française”.31 Viviers forcefully discouraged the prolongation of French rule in India after the departure of GreatBritain from India. He referred to the violent attacks launched by the Indian press against foreign possessions in India. He wrote that the distinction between British India and Indian India would disappear in future. There would be only Indian India, whatever the form of government. Viewed from that angle, the question of non-British European possessions in India would take a new turn, he believed. He maintained that the restitution of these territories “to the Government of tomorrow will be a gracious act on the part of the French and Portuguese governments”. By doing this they would not cede any spoils to their rivals in plunder, but they would restore what actually belonged to India. “The people of India would appreciate, I am sure, this act of courtesy and generosity”, he added. Viviers made it clear that the application of force for the preservation of French sovereignty “is out of question”. His decided opinion was that dialogue had to be started between Paris and London and in all practical sense between Pondicherry and New Delhi.

  • 32 Note pour le Ministre, dec. 1946. As 44-55. Inde Vol. 62, D4. (Qd).
  • 33 Ibid.

18It has been stated above that the position of the French Indian settlements was exposed to danger in the backdrop of the terrible excitement reigning in India. This was admitted by the policy makers in Paris.32 In a note prepared for the Minister (9 December 1946) it was frankly admitted that the Pondicherry authorities had largely to depend for its existence on the loyalty of the local people. Very candidly the note admitted that if nationalist India had given the slightest signal, a few hundred French sepoys found themselves unable to prevent 350,000 Franco-Indians from joining 400 millions Indians of India. Such a thing had not taken place because Nehru had ruled out the possibility of using force. The note emphasized the need of pursuing a new policy –a policy of granting more concessions in moral and intellectual fields reserving a large place for France and thereby drawing the maximum benefit by an attitude of good will and co-operation. It maintained that the scheme for intellectual co-operation would play a greater role than any other advantages conferred on the five French pockets. This would also be in consonance with the opt-repeated desire of Nehru that “Pondicherry would become a window open on France”. Judging from that point of view Baron’s scheme of cultural collaboration should be developed, the note added. This might induce the Indian leaders to consider Pondicherry and in a wider sense the four other settlements as enjoying a special status and permit the French authorities to preserve their interests over them. The note therefore suggested, before the establishment of a French Embassy at New Delhi which was still a premature idea despite a decision being taken in the affirmative by the government, to accredit to the interim government of New Delhi “a mission of contact and information” which would be diplomatic but provisional in character.33 Its role would be to enlist the confidence of the Indian leaders, to sound them with prudence with regard to the political condition that would born out of the eventual retreat of Great Britain from India and ascertain the repercussions in the event of the French settlements being given a status within the French Union.

  • 34 Pondichéry à Outre-mer (tel.), 4 janv. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

19The French Overseas Ministry had already allotted a sum of 100 million francs for building a big centre at Pondicherry for the diffusion of French culture in collaboration with the Indian authorities. So that the effort for cultural enlightenment might not seem to be a one way traffic, a nucleus of Indian studies would also be founded in Calcutta where French scholars would come to study. The note stressed the need of co-ordination between the action of the French Foreign Affairs and Overseas Ministries. It also emphasized that the action of the French diplomatic service and that of the Consul should be carefully co-ordinated with that of the Governor of the French settlements. For French India the year 1947 was critical and crisis followed crisis. Agitation, demonstration, strikes galore and a situation was created which the Pondicherry authorities had to grapple with precariously. French policy towards the Indo-Chinese states came under heavy fire. A confidential telegram34 from Pondicherry intimated Marius Moutet about the serious repercussions such a policy might produce here in India. He was also informed that he might get an icy reception during his forthcoming visit in the French Indian settlements unless hostilities were stopped or a change of policy brought about. Nehru, in a statement on 7 January 1947, expressed his concern for Indo-China and accused France of having attempted to crush the principles of liberty. In fact, French policy towards the Indo-Chinese states had profoundly shocked the people of India. Nehru said

Our good wishes for France have been rudely shaken by the present policy of France in Indo-China and our sympathies go to the people of that country.

  • 35 The Hindu, 8 January 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D1. C 370, D1 (A. O. M.).

20Sarat Chandra Bose, Chief of the Bengal Congress, gave a call to the volunteers to go to Indo-China for fighting along with the Vietnamese against France. The Indo-China question was also discussed in the extraordinary session (January 1947) of the Pondicherry Representative Assembly where Lambert Saravane disapproved the attitude of the French Government with regard to the Vietnam movement in Indo-China. He further observed that the Associated Press of India had declared that French India could not remain in the French Union only to be a victim of colonial oppression and exploitation. Political leaders as well as the students of Pondicherry became very much restive over Indo-China issue. After the Assembly was adjourned a procession marched along the Government Place shouting slogans such as “Down with Imperialism. We want complete independence for French India and Down its regime of ordinances and décrets”.35

  • 36 Pondichéry à Outre-mer (tél.), 22 janv. 1947. Aff. Politiques.
  • 37 Ibid.

21Shouting slogans such as these, in the very heart of the capital of French India, clearly indicated the changing mood of the people. This indicated also how strong was the desire of the people of French India to merge with Indian Union even before India gained complete independence. To express their solidarity with the oppressed Vietnamese “Vietnam Day” was observed and the students organized anti-French demonstrations all over India on 21 January 1947. In Pondicherry students paraded the streets of the town defying prohibition. Meetings condemning French policy in Indo-China were held. In Mahe a big procession was organized and shops remained closed. Situation in Chandernagore was really tense where the French Administrator and the three French officers had been beleaguered, insulted and menaced.36 Reinforcements had to be sent from Pondicherry to Chandernagore to ensure safety of the four functionaries there.37

  • 38 Pondichery à Outre-mer (tél.), 25 fév. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 39 Pondichéry a Outre-mer (tél.), 27 Fév 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 40 President, Congrès National de l’Inde Française au Ministre de la France d’Outre-mer, 16 mars 1947. (...)

22A couple of years earlier the mutiny of the ratings of Bombay had given a terrible jolt to the British authorities in India. Its memories were still fresh in the minds of the people. While the rest of India was observing the anniversary in a befitting manner, French India did not lag behind and decided to observe 21 February 1947 as “a day of union between the army, the police and the people” in order to demonstrate their determination to wrest complete independence and throw off foreign domination. The French India Communist Party organized the whole thing and the NDF took the lead.38 Students’ Congress was aloof from it and the difference that surfaced between them at that time continued in the subsequent years. A hartal was called on that day. All shops were closed –coffee and tobacco shops were, however, exempted. The participation of the students of Collège Colonial and Calve College was not impressive, but the schools of Modeliarpeth, Oulgaret and Ariancoupam were closed. The procession that paraded through the streets of Pondicherry was mainly composed of factory workers, 5 000 in number. The morning was more or less peaceful, but in the afternoon the processionists attacked Café Ansari which was open, destroyed and looted it. The police party rushed in to control the situation, but there was terrible brick-bating resulting in the injury of several police personnel. One person was killed. The Café Ansari incident created a terrible excitement in Pondicherry and people became panicky. In a telegram the Pondicherry authorities informed the Overseas Ministry about the unfortunate incident and held the anti-social elements affiliated to the group of Subbiah responsible for it.39 In a telegram the President of the French India National Congress also held the communists and their associates the NDF responsible for the incident at Café Ansari and pointed out that inadequate preventive measures of the Pondicherry administration gave the attackers a free hand.40

  • 41 Pondichéry à Outre-mer (tel.), 11 mars 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 42 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 6 mars 1947. Aff. Politiques (...)

23The funeral of the victim in Café Ansari sparked off profound reaction in other French Indian pockets, particularly in Mahe and Chandernagore. In Mahe, the Communist Party threatened to drive out violently all the Europeans. In Chandernagore, on 25 February, a group of students marched to the office of the French Administrator when he was in Calcutta with a view to submitting to him a resolution, attacked the central police outpost and wrote on the black board “French Imperialism Down Down”. To the Pondicherry incident was linked the Indo-China policy of France.41 Repelled and dispersed by the cipahis, the students came back in large number and attacked the police force with stones and bricks. The Mayor and members of the Representative Assembly from Chandernagore reacted strongly and urged Adjudant Drouin to withdraw the cipahis and demanded a public apology which he refused. The situation worsened when the mill hands of Gondalpara Jute Mill joined the fray. Soumaille (Inspector of Works) intervened unsuccessfully. The Mayor, the French report stated, instead of pacifying the students, instigated them to press for their demand of public apology. When the situation became grave Drouin had to offer an apology and the mob dispersed.42

  • 43 The members of the Representative Assembly from Chandernagore did not belong to the NDF.
  • 44 Pondichéry à Outre-mer (tél.), 22 janv. 1947 C 370, D1 (A. O. M.).

24The incident of Chandernagore gives a glimpse of the frayed temper of the people in background of what was happening in Pondicherry. The Administrator of Chandernagore observed that it was for the first time that all parties –United Parties (members of the Representative Assembly),43 the NDF (Mayor), communists (labour leaders)– jointly protested against the police and not only patronized an illegal action but threatened to blockade the police post as long as their demands for apology were not accepted. What was more disquieting to him was the fact that the government functionaries had to offer apology under public pressure. To the Governor of French India the development in Chandernagore was an echo of what had happened in Pondicherry. He further remarked that the people had agitated to record disapproval of French policy in Indo-China.44

  • 45 Moutet a Pondichéry (tel.), 23 juin 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 369, D1 (A. O. M.).

25The Chandernagore situation did not escape the attention of the Paris authorities. Bidault wrote (16 March 1947) to the Overseas Minister that the situation in Chandernagore was really alarming and basing on a report from Fouchet, observed that in spite of the tact and firmness followed during the last 18 months, French position in Chandernagore had become “precarious” particularly after Great Britain’s declaration. This increasing difficulty which the French administration was facing in Chandernagore led him to propose, as a remedial measure, to grant larger autonomy to the local municipality.45 This was in fact for the first time that proposal to grant greater autonomy to the municipality of Chandernagore was mooted at official level. The people of Chandernagore had been complaining for a pretty long time against the discriminatory attitude meted out to them by Pondicherry by way of financial deprivation although they had been making considerable contribution to the central budget. They also demanded complete autonomy. The Director of Political Affairs thought that the question, whose importance could by no means be underestimated, might be submitted to Tézenas du Montcel, Inspector of Colonies, if necessary, during his forthcoming visit to India.

  • 46 Pacha (Pondichéry) a Outre-mer (tel.). 5 mars 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D1 (A. O. M.).
  • 47 10 mars 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D1 (A. O. M.).
  • 48 Ministre de la France d’outre-mer au Gouverneur de l’Inde Française, 24 mars 1947. Aff. Politiques, (...)
  • 49 Pacha (Pondichéry) a Outre-mer (tél.), 10 mars 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D1 (A. O. M.).

26When these things were happening within the French settlements, the Paris authorities felt themselves embarrassed by what they called the “unguarded” press statement of Baron. Following Great Britain’s declaration (20 February 1947) of withdrawing from India before June 1948 Baron made the most sensational observation pointing out that British declaration had nothing to do with French India and the people of French India themselves would decide their fate, i. e. whether they would merge with Indian union or remain within French Union.46 This statement of Baron for which he was castigated by his superior in Paris was made without the approval of the Foreign and Overseas Ministries. This created a lot of confusion and deep resentment in Paris and Marius Moutet who had been well disposed towards him took serious exception for the controversy it generated. It was considered an “unfortunate” statement. Reuter telephoned Quai d’Orsay about Baron’s statement. But curiously enough no official of Quai d’Orsay either confirmed or rejected it. Since Baron’s declaration had no official sanction it was altogether unaware of it. This created a great deal of confusion. The President of the Council of Ministers wrote to Moutet informing him that an official of the French Government had no right to make such a declaration about the future of French India.47 Later Pondicherry urged the Overseas Ministry to give a posthumous approval to Baron’s declaration. This further enraged Moutet. He expressed his displeasure and warned the interim Governor not to issue in future any statement or make any declaration without prior approval and advised him to follow the instructions contained in his letter of 24 September 194 648 Whatever might be the reaction of the two Ministries, Baron’s press statement had created a real détente and Pacha, General-Secretary, Pondicherry Administration, thought that the people considered this policy as quite in conformity with the liberal tradition of France.49 Rather the publication of the contrary statement (in March) from Quai d’Orsay had caused confusion in public mind and damaged French prestige, he observed.

Notes

1 Roux a Bidault, 30 mai 1947. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 6. Also Bidault à Roux 26 mai 1946. As 44-55. Inde Française Vol. 6 (Qd).

2 Bidault à Roux, 26 mars 1947. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 6 (Qd).

3 Roux à Bidault, 30 mai 1947. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 6 (Qd).

4 Ibid.

5 Gouverneur (p. i) de l’Inde Française au Ministère de la France d’outre-mer, 18 juin 1947 (A. O. M.).

6 Ibid.

7 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères à Roux, Chargé d’Affaires de France, Delhi, 26 mars 1946. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 6 (Qd).

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ambassadeur de France à Georges Bidault, 18 mai 1946. As 44-55. Inde, Vol. 62. (Qd).

11 Ambassadeur de France en Grande Bretagne à Georges Bidault, Président du Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Française et Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 9 Oct 1946. As 44-55. Inde, Vol. 1 (Qd).

12 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères au Consul Général de France à Calcutta, 15 oct. 1946. As 44-55 (Qd) Inde, Vol. 1 (Qd).

13 Christian Fouchet a Léon Blum, Président du Gouvernement Provisoire, Ministre aux Affaires Etrangères. 7 janv. 1947. As 44-55. Inde, Vol. 17 (Qd).

14 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères a l’Ambassadeur de France à Londres. 7 janv. 1947. As 44-55. Inde, Vol. 62.

15 Consulat Français a Calcutta au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 21 janv. 1947. As 44-55. Inde, Vol. 62 (Qd).

16 Ambassade de France (Londres) aux Affaires Etrangères (tel.). 21 janv. 1947. As 44-55. Inde, Vol. 62 (Qd).

17 Affaires Etrangères a l’Ambassade de France (Londres) (tél), fév. 1947. As 44-55. Inde, Vol. 62 (Qd).

18 Affaires Etrangères au Consulat de France (Calcutta), (tel.). 12 fév. 1947. As 44- 55. Inde, Vol. 62 (Qd).

19 Gouverneur de l’Inde Française au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 23 juillet 1946. Aff Politiques. C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

20 Note Secret par Bazin, 9 nov. 1946. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.). Also Inde Française, Vol. 6.

21 Bazin au Gouverneur de Pondichéry. 14 Oct 1946. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.). Rapport de l’Adjudant de Gendarmerie Drouin, Serge. Commandant la sous-section de G. A. I. sur l’état d’esprit de la population, 24 oct. 1946.

22 Bazin au Gouverneur (Pondichéry), 9 nov. 1946. Aff. Politiques C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

23 Gouverneur (Pondichéry) a Outre-mer (tel.) 16 mai 1946. Aff. Politiques C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

24 Roger Louis au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 17 juillet 1946. Aff. Politiques C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

25 Gouverneur de l’Inde Française au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer. 23 juillet 1946. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

26 Ibid.

27 Ministre de la France d’outre-mer au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 14 juin 1946. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 6 (Qd).

28 Ministre de la France d’outre-mer au Gouverneur des Etablissements français de l’Inde, 17 sept. 1946. (A. O. M.).

29 Aff. Politiques, C 383, D3 (A. O. M.).

30 Gouverneur de l’Inde Française au Ministre de la France d’outre-iner, 28 Oct 1946. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

31 L’Ordre, 12 nov.1946. Aff. Politiques, C 383, D3 (A. O. M.).

32 Note pour le Ministre, dec. 1946. As 44-55. Inde Vol. 62, D4. (Qd).

33 Ibid.

34 Pondichéry à Outre-mer (tel.), 4 janv. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

35 The Hindu, 8 January 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D1. C 370, D1 (A. O. M.).

36 Pondichéry à Outre-mer (tél.), 22 janv. 1947. Aff. Politiques.

37 Ibid.

38 Pondichery à Outre-mer (tél.), 25 fév. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

39 Pondichéry a Outre-mer (tél.), 27 Fév 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

40 President, Congrès National de l’Inde Française au Ministre de la France d’Outre-mer, 16 mars 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

41 Pondichéry à Outre-mer (tel.), 11 mars 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

42 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 6 mars 1947. Aff. Politiques, C369, D1 (A. O. M.).

43 The members of the Representative Assembly from Chandernagore did not belong to the NDF.

44 Pondichéry à Outre-mer (tél.), 22 janv. 1947 C 370, D1 (A. O. M.).

45 Moutet a Pondichéry (tel.), 23 juin 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 369, D1 (A. O. M.).

46 Pacha (Pondichéry) a Outre-mer (tel.). 5 mars 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D1 (A. O. M.).

47 10 mars 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D1 (A. O. M.).

48 Ministre de la France d’outre-mer au Gouverneur de l’Inde Française, 24 mars 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D1 (A. O. M.).

49 Pacha (Pondichéry) a Outre-mer (tél.), 10 mars 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D1 (A. O. M.).

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1997

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