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Decolonization of French India

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Ajit K. Neogy

4. Villes Libres: Municipal Reforms and Response

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  • 1 Commissaire de la République au Secretaire d’Etat la Présidence du conseil charge des affaires de l (...)
  • 2 Amrita Bazar Patrika, 5 Oct. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D2 (A. O. M.).
  • 3 The Indian Express, 12 Oct. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D2 (A. O. M.).
  • 4 The Indian Express, 21 Sept. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D2 (A. O. M.).
  • 5 The Indian Express, 25 Sept. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D2 (A. O. M.).
  • 6 Gazetteer of India, Union Territory of India, Vol. 1, p. 252.

1Throughout the month of September 1947 Pondicherry was passing through a period of sporadic strikes, demonstrations and disturbances. The labour problem became acute. Subbiah’s labour union gave a call of strike in the three mills of Pondicherry from 1 September.1 Rival unions tried to frustrate it and the situation became tense. The condition of the workers continued to degenerate. A students’ strike in Pondicherry started from 24 September demanding among other things a non-official enquiry into alleged repression let loose by the French Indian police since 15 August.2 The colleges of Pondicherry were affected. Merchants and traders shut their shops in sympathy. A few days later, Dorai Munussamy of the Pondicherry Youth Congress undertook “fast unto death” for the redressal of some grievances to which the French Government were indifferent.3 Students of Karaikal and Mahe came out of their classes in sympathy for the students of Pondicherry and they also took out processions. The Karaikal Congress demanded complete independence and merger with Indian Union.4 In Mahe the Mahajana Sabha pasted posters in different parts of the town rejecting Baron’s reforms. I. K. Kumaran demanded “complete and unconditional withdrawal of the French”.5 Discontent and dislike for French rule were so spontaneous that the Bar Associations of Pondicherry and Karaikal passed resolutions on 30 August demanding the integration of the French settlements with India.6

  • 7 Procès-verbaux. Assemblée Représentative de l’Inde Française, 2ème seance ordinaire, 1947.
  • 8 Ibid.
  • 9 27 sept. 1947. 2ème séance.
  • 10 Procès-Verbaux, Assemblée Representative, 27 sept 1947, 2ème seance.
  • 11 The Indian Express, 13 Oct. 1947.
  • 12 Baron a Montcel, 22 nov. 1947: Aff. Politiques. C 437, D 2 (A. O. M.).

2While these things were happening in the south Indian settlements, the Pondicherry Representative Assembly was opened on 15 September 1947. In his opening speech Baron reported that the French Indian people were the real arbiter of their destiny. He pointed out that France was thinking in terms of enlarging the financial and administrative independence of French India by giving the settlements a larger autonomy and transforming them into Villes Libres federated to Pondicherry.7 French India, he said, was to be a free democracy with an elected assembly based on universal suffrage and a government composed of the representatives of the people. Baron described the Representative Assembly as a Parliament in true sense and the members of the Conseil du Gouvernement both advisers and guide.8 It was in this session of the Representative Assembly he dramatically announced that he was the last Governor of French India and the first Commissaire of the Republic. This change in designation of the Governor was made by the decree of 20 August. Annoussamy, a NDF member strongly criticized the proposed constitutional reforms and demanded the institution of a really responsible government in French India. The Governor still remained the fount of all executive power, he observed. Police and judiciary, supported by metropolitan budget (from 1 September 1947), remained in his hands.9 Annoussamy demanded the integration of French India with Indian Union and strongly pleaded for the conversion of the Representative Assembly into a Constituent Representative Assembly with all rights and prerogatives.10 Already the Conseil du Gouvernement had been reconstituted. Of the 6 members, three were elected by the Representative Assembly and the remaining three were nominated by the Governor and they were given independent charges of the administrative departments: (1) Sivasubramanian Pillai was given charge of Food and Civil Supplies, (2) Latchoumanassamy, Agriculture, (3) Dr. André, Hygiene and Public Works, (4) Deivassigamany, Revenue, (5) Goubert, General Administration and (6) Counouma, Finance and Education. In the reformed administrative set up of Pondicherry there was no ministerial position nor was there the position of a Chief Minister. Conseil du Gouvernement was not a cabinet. Again, no one was taken from Chandernagore or Yanam and this once again established the charge of discriminatory attitude of Pondicherry towards Chandernagore –a discrimination under which they had been suffering for a long time.11 Some of the members of the newly constituted Conseil du Gouvernement were undoubtedly competent men and Baron spoke very eloquently of them.12 He believed that these francophiles would be able to promote and safeguard the larger interests of their flocks in the five settlements. All of them were pillars of the French India Socialist Party. Lambert Saravane joined their ranks and together they were opposed to French India joining Indian Union and were strong advocates of the concept of double nationality –a concept to which the Mother and Sri Aurobindo had once subscribed. On the occasion of the investiture ceremony of the new ministry of the Conseil du Gouvernement Baron, while focusing the merits of the reforms, remarked

  • 13 Procès-Verbaux, Assemblée Représentative de l’Inde Française, 28 sept 1947, 3ème seance.

In 18 months wc have marched a long way. Colonialism is as exploded as the regime of the Grand Mogul is dead. The organic ordinance of 1840. that old battled horse, has been buried like colonialism [...]. The French are always willing to be in the forefront for the liberty of the people [...]. We have passed from direct administration by the Governor to the free administration of the people by their own representatives and for the people. The principles already proclaimed at Brazzaville have become a reality.13

3Outlining the relations which would exist in future between French India and France, he said

  • 14 Ibid.

I am no longer the head of a colony, but a representative of the French Republic and the French Union, a Counsellor, a guide and an arbiter.14

4In fact, with regard to the question of the relations with France, all the members of the Representative Assembly were in favour of an autonomous administration for French India. That the reforms recently conceded by the French Government were well taken by the members is evident from the telegram sent to Ramadier and Moutet.

The Representative Assembly, at its ordinary meeting, requests you to convey to the Government the expression of the gratitude of the population in connection with the reforms granted to French India, desirous of freely and democratically governing itself, in collaboration with the Commissaire of the Republic and to ensure, in Union with France, the well-being of its inhabitants.

  • 15 Chairman of the Popular Republican Party in France.
  • 16 Hindusthan Standard, 2 Oct. 1947.
  • 17 Revue d’Auroville, 1989, Nos. 23-24.
  • 18 Roux à Bidault (Confidentiel) 6 dec. 1947. Aff. Politiques. C 371, D 2 (A. O. M.).

5In this session was present Maurice Schumann,15 who in his short speech, emphasized the peaceful and constructive role France and India might play for the benefit of mankind. Maurice Schumann was sent by Ramadier as the head of the French Cultural mission to Pondicherry to promote better understanding and good relations between France and India. He also met Sri Aurobindo. Nineteen years ago he had received Rabindranath Tagore with whom he had a face-to-face talk. He again broke his silence when Schumann visited him to pay his respect. He proposed to Sri Aurobindo the foundation of an institute for research and study of European culture at Pondicherry –a project which Baron had been assiduously canvassing for forging cultural relations between the two countries with Pondicherry as the centre.16 But the purpose of the mission was not to be wholly cultural. Political motives could not be totally ruled out. To the French politicians the French Union was a pet idea and the French Government was trying to use it to weld together its overseas colonial possessions instead of ceding them. They knew it very well that in the altered situation in India the French settlements could no longer be maintained in the old form and the French sovereignty over them would be a matter of the past, sooner or later. A shadow of sovereignty –be it cultural– was even acceptable to them. Schumann was the first French dignitary to visit Pondicherry after 15 August 1947. He met French officials and eminent French Indian personalities. It could not be that political situation –India in general and French India in particular– was a forbidden subject to them. In India the aftermath of partition had left a trail of horror. The massacre of the Punjab, the onrushing waves of refugees towards Delhi and Calcutta, the Kashmir imbroglio, communal tension within the country, Gandhi’s fasting and the question of the integration of the princely states –all these had plunged the sub-continent in disorder. Hence the timing of Schumann’s visit was significant if one cares to judge it from that perspective. More often than not top French officials had blown up the difficulties of India in a manner calculated to engender a fear psychosis in the minds of the French Indian people– a sense of uncertainty which they would have to face in the strife-torn country which they intended to merge with. There is no doubt that Schumann mission had purposes othet than cultural, that is, to persuade the Government of India not to annex the five French pockets in India whose consequences might be far-reaching in the Overseas French empire. This he admitted later in an interview given to Philippe Christophe and Daniel (Auroville International France) who met him in the French Senate after four decades on 1 December 1988.17 Schumann was followed by Daniel Lévi who visited Pondicherry and Karaikal where grave incidents were taking place. Lévi had recently come to New Delhi as Ambassador of France. Then came to Pondicherry Louis Faucon, Agrégé de l’Université.18 Faucon came to India as a personal envoy of Ramadier.

  • 19 Tézenas du Montcel au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer 15 janv. 1948. As 44-55, Inde Française, Vo (...)
  • 20 Pondichéry à Outre-mer (tel.) 31 dec. 1947. As 44-55, Inde Française, Vol. 8 (Qd).

6The too frequent shuttling of French officials and French missions might have been undertaken with an eye to wean the francophiles away from the clutches of the pro-mergerists. Chandernagore and Mahe were considered lost cases and Yanam was insignificant. They were aware that the reforms conceded were insufficient to meet the aspirations of the people.19 What doses of reforms had failed to do might be achieved by missions and messengers, it was believed. But by introducing reforms France succeeded in dividing the people and win over a section of the population. It is difficult to ascertain the effectiveness of that policy. But two things were noticeable. First, there was a marked increase in the number of French Indian inhabitants accepting French citizenship by renouncing their Indian status. In 1947 their number increased to 312 compared to 73 in 1946, 23 in 1945 and 22 in 1944.20 They might have been lured by prospect of position and patronage. The French Government had been consciously following a policy of reducing the number of French officials in French India and competent French Indians were appointed instead. Many were also appointed in subordinate position. These people, their family members and relations might have accepted French citizenship or many, fearing the uncertainty ahead of them, opted for French citizenship. Secondly, Pakkirissamy became a political turncoat. His difference with Subbiah was growing. In early October he came out openly in support of Baron’s reforms and strongly criticized those who opposed them. He dubbed them as “agitators fond of power and authority” and became a staunch admirer of the French Union. He said

  • 21 Liberator (Madras), 4/5 Oct. 1947, C 370, D2 (A. O. M.).

We, in French India, are in a position that compares favourably with the present world conditions today. We had no food scarcity, we have no cloth scarcity. Even smuggling is not possible from here. There is no Hindu-Muslim quarrel among us. So, it is absurd to say that French India should join Indian Union. We have great advantage to be in French Union.21

  • 22 Pondicherry Consul General to H. Dayal, Under Secretary to the Government of India in the External (...)
  • 23 Roux au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères (tél.) 3 sept. 1947. As 44-55, Inde Française, Vol. 7. (Qd (...)
  • 24 Roux à Bidault, 19 sept. 1947. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 7 (Qd).
  • 25 Ibid.
  • 26 Roux au Ministre de Affaires Etrangères (tél.), 9 oct. 1947. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 7 (Qd).

7Lambert Saravane joined him declaring that “it would be dangerous to join Indian Union, the very existence of which is yet unsettled”. He was in favour of giving the reforms a fair trial. It is really a baffling task to track down the course of French India politics. It followed a dangerously slippery path full of quagmire, its political relations were inconsistent and political behaviour was beyond calculation. The British Consul General of Pondicherry once remarked in connection with Pondicherry politics: “French politics are inextricable web of intrigue and personal animosities..”22 No doubt a very correct assessment. Alliances, alignments and affiliations were fluid and frustrating. After the Indo-French joint declaration the Government of India expected France to take quick initiative in the matter of opening talks with it as a prelude to reach a solution to the French Indian problem. But France procrastinated so as to gain time. Girija Shankar Bajpai also remarked that the French Government was delaying the solution23 and insisted on starting the negotiations immediately. The French Government in fact needed some time for preliminary arrangements. But Roux was eager to start negotiations with the Government of India before the arrival of a full-fledged Ambassador in order to dispel the Indian notion that the French Government was following a dilatory tactics. He wrote to Bidault that it would be wrong to harbour the impression that the problem of Hyderabad and Goa would keep the Indian Government occupied and divert its attention from the problems of French India.24 He reminded him about the reaction of the Indian press and pointed out that a single indication from Nehru could set in motion a strong anti-French movement in the settlements and this was enough to endanger French position. This might have convinced Bidault about the urgency of the situation and Roux was authorized to conduct talks with the Government of India in accordance with the terms of the joint declaration on the basis of instructions which the French Ministry had taken on 4 September 1947. He was to impress upon Nehru about the far-reaching implications of the reforms which the French Government intended to introduce in French Indian administration, particularly the municipal reforms which were democratic in character and which provided scope for co-operation between the French India settlements and the neighbouring local Indian authorities. Moreover, Roux was instructed to secure from the Government of India the assurance of (i) a treaty of perpetual friendship between the two countries or possibly a treaty of friendship for 50 years, (ii) an agreement on the establishment of a French consulate, (iii) a commercial treaty, (iv) a cultural convention, and (v) a privileged position for Pondicherry. Apart from these he was instructed to secure special advantages for liaison with Indo-China.25 He was further instructed to persuade the Government of India to accept at least 15 English knowing French technical teachers of secondary and superior standard capable of teaching specialized subjects like (a) Architecture and Urbanism, (b) Industrial Chemistry, (c) Bridges and Roadways, (d) Electricity, (e) Geology and Geophysics, (f) Mechanic (g) Naval construction and maritime engineering, (h) Textile technology. Accordingly, a meeting took place at New Delhi on 8 October 1947 between Nehru on the one hand and Schumann, Roux and Baron on the other. They broached condominium and double citizenship proposals.26 Nehru favourably reacted to the project of cultural collaboration with the French Government. But he pointedly told that the French pockets in India needed an urgent political solution. The internal reforms, however enlightened, were insufficient, he remarked. He emphatically said that the French Indian citizens should have total liberty of choosing between Indian Union and French Union. The proposal of double nationality proposed by Baron and Roux seemed impractical to Nehru. Nehru’ s views really landed the French in difficulty. This round of talks with Nehru convinced Roux how difficult it was to continue negotiations with New Delhi on the basis of the instructions given to him.

  • 27 The old Municipal Council had 12 members.
  • 28 President du Conseil au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer (tel. Non daté). As 44-55. Inde Française (...)
  • 29 Ibid.

8It has been discussed earlier that the décret of 30 June 1947 which had conceded financial and administrative autonomy to Chandernagore was rejected by the people. Much water had flown down the Ganges since then. In the face of strong opposition from the people the décret remained unimplemented –only a provisional council (Conseil provisoire) had been instituted. In the context of changed situation the French Government proposed a new scheme of administrative reforms while talks at the diplomatic level were going on. Baron, in his speech in the Representative Assembly, had already given indication to this effect. Discontent of the people was also increasing and to cope with it a new décret of 7 November 1947 was passed. The décret was in many respects an extension of the décret of 30 June (1947). This gave Chandernagore the status of Ville Libre. The modified décret which changed the status of Chandernagore gave the people of the town full freedom of deciding whether or not Chandernagore should immediately join the Indian Union. The décret provided for the dissolution of the old Municipal Council and the creation of a new Municipal Assembly consisting of 25 members27–all elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage. It also provided for the creation of an Administrative Council consisting of the President of the Assembly and 6 Vice-Presidents having full executive power for the administration of Chandernagore. There would be no Administrator but a delegate (délégué) of the Commissaire de la République who might be an Indian and he would function as a liaison officer. In a telegram (undated) to the French Overseas Minister Ramadier urged the suppression of the existing Municipal Council (elected in 1946) before the implementation of the Ville Libre status in Chandernagore and replacing it by a provisional Municipal Assembly until elections were held. This, he thought, would augment the control of the Commissaire de la République in Chandernagore affairs.28 Ramadier also favoured the appointment of Deben Das as President of the Administrative Council. To him he happened to be the most reputed francophile in Chandernagore.29 Bazin remarked that

  • 30 The Hindu, 18 November 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 371, D2 (A. O. M.).

the reforms that have been proposed by the French Government through its decrees are not devised to hoodwink the national opinion, but they pave the way for the fulfilment of the desires and aspirations of the people of Chandernagore.30

  • 31 The Hindu, 30 November 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 371, D2 (A. O. M.).
  • 32 Baron & Tezenas du Montcel, 29 nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 437, D1 (A. O. M.).

9The provisional Municipal Assembly was called on 27 November 1947 in extraordinary session mainly to elect a President and 6 Vice-Presidents. They constituted the Administrative Council of Chandernagore. Baron was present. Harihor Sett was elected President and Deben Das, Sudhanshu Datta, Arun Chandra Datta, Ekkori Datta and Sailendra Kumar Mukherjee were elected Vice-Presidents. The Administrative Council retained Bazin as adviser and delegate of the French Governor. A committee composed of three members was also formed to revise the electoral roll and run the elections after which the Municipal Assembly would become a regular elected body.31 Deban Das even proposed to have a special flag for Chandernagore and this, according to Baron, indicated their secret desire to maintain the Ville Libre status of Chandernagore.32 It did have a separate flag. The role of Deben Das was sometimes shrouded in mystery. He had regular correspondence with the Governor of Pondicherry, the French Overseas Minister and the French Foreign Minister. He was eager to preserve the separate status of Chandernagore. In a letter to Kamal Ghosh Rajkumar expressed dissatisfaction with the “attitude” he (Deben Das) had taken up. He had earlier conveyed his dissatisfaction to Das in a letter. About the new reforms, (giving Chandernagore a free-city status) he said

  • 33 Rajkumar, N. V. Kamal Ghosh, 23. 1947. Aff. Politiques. C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).

they are meaningless and uncalled for specially when negotiations are going on between the two governments about the future of French possessions here.33

10He added that

the French authorities are trying to tempt the people by offering them attractive concessions. I am afraid that some people (of Chandernagor) have caught the bait and are following a course which is inimical to our interests.

  • 34 The Hindu, 30 Nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 371, D2 (A. O. M.).
  • 35 Rajkumar to Kamal Ghosh, 23 Dec. 1947 (Copy to S. Mullick). Aff. Politiques, C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).
  • 36 In the nominated Municipal Assembly there were 5 members of the Pondicherry Representative Assembly (...)
  • 37 Consul Général de France (Calcutta) au Chargé d’Affaires (tél.). 28 nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 3 (...)
  • 38 Dinamani, 3 Dec. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 371, D2 (A. O. M.).
  • 39 Commissaire au Directeur des Affaires Politiques (tél.), 2 déc. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 371, D2 (A (...)

11In his inaugural speech Baron described it as “a historic day” and said that it would have been more democratic if the Municipal Assembly had been constituted with elected members from the very beginning on the basis of adult franchise. By expanding the Municipal Assembly from 12 to 25 members the people, he said, would enjoy the opportunity of expressing their free will.34 Demonstrations and slogan shouting against the décret marked the inaugural day of the Municipal Assembly. It was reported that the party opposed to the NDF had accepted the décret of 7 November on the advice of the Indian National Congress and with the consent of the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee. Rajkumar, on the contrary, said that the Indian National Congress had never supported the Chandernagore reforms nor had issued any instructions to the people of Chandernagore to accept them.35 The Vice-Presidents of the newly constituted Administrative Council could not be strictly called congressmen with the exception of one or two –they were moderately inclined anti-communists and opposed to NDF.36 Expressing his reaction on the installation of a new Administrative Council in Chandernagore the French Consul General of Calcutta reported to the chargé d’Affaires of the French Government at New Delhi that the administrative changes in Chandernagore had been received well by the people. The moderate elements were satisfied for having obtained a status analogous to that of a dominion, but nevertheless their demand for merger with Indian Union remained latent. The first part of the report stemmed from a wrong reading of the situation; the last part was the real desire of the people.37 Subbiah thought that the declaration of giving a free city status to Chandernagore had caused confusion in the minds of the people of Indian Union. He decried the policy of dissolving the elected Municipal Council and replacing it by one entirely nominated by the Pondicherry Government. He demanded that a referendum could alone ascertain whether the people wanted to remain in French India or join Indian Union.38 Strong reactions against the Villes Libres status were expressed by Pakkirissamy Pillai, Sivasubramanian Pillai (Conseil République), Nagamotou Pillai, Srinivassan Pillai, Ibrahim Issoupan (member from Karaikal to Representative Assembly) etc. They contended that the local assembly was not consulted and what was most objectionable to them was that “it aimed at destroying the territorial homogeneity leading to the creation of separatist tendency”.39

  • 40 Baron a Tézenas du Montcel, 29 nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 437, D1 (A. O. M.). Also Report from T (...)
  • 41 Baron a Tézenas du Montcel, 29 nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 437, D1 (A. O. M.). Also Note sur la s (...)
  • 42 Baron a Tézenas, 29 nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 437, D1 (A. O. M.).
  • 43 The Indian Express, 13 Oct. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D2. Also “Revendications politiques des M (...)
  • 44 Aff. Politiques, C 428, D1 (A. O. M.).
  • 45 “Note sur la situation politique des Etablissements français dans l’outre-mer”, 15 janv., 1948. As  (...)
  • 46 Ministre de la France d’outre-mer a Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 4 fév. 1948. As 44-55. Inde F (...)
  • 47 Rashid Ali Baig reached Chandernagore on 3 Dec. 1947.
  • 48 Compte rendu d’une reunion publique du Congrès, sous la présidence de Varma, President de l’All Ind (...)
  • 49 Commissaire de la République au Secrétariat d’Etat a la Présidence du Conseil Charge d’Affaires de (...)

12The décret which had accorded to Chandernagore the status of Ville Libre was proposed to be extended to Pondicherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam, and a notification was made to this effect in the Journal officiel. This produced a terrible reaction in Pondicherry.40 Led by Saravane and Counouma all the members of the Conseil du Gouvernement including Balasubramanian, President of the Representative Assembly and Muthupillai, Mayor of Pondicherry strongly criticized Baron. They recorded their strong protest and considered the décret as an arbitrary act of the authority. They contended that such a measure had been take without consulting the Representative Assembly. None of the members was ever consulted. It was a measure taken by the French Government to reduce to nothing the power which had been conceded previously in the French settlements.41 They actually threatened to resign in bloc.42 They complained because they feared that this arrangement would lead to “the dissociation and extinction of French India” and particularly objected to the discrimination made in Karaikal between the Hindus and the Muslims by reserving 8 seats for the latter. This appeared to them “criminal and anti-democratic” and they expressed the fear that this would flare up communal feuds from which French India was long immune. As early as October 1947 S. Mohamed Dawood, President of the French India Muslim League, drew the attention of the Pondicherry Government that in the Conseil du Gouvernement the Muslim had no representation although they constituted one-thirds of the population of Karaikal, Mahe and Chandernagore.43 In Mahe too the Muslim League demanded separate electorate for them and reserved seats in the Local Assembly as well as a representation in the French Parliament44 Explaining the reasons of the objection raised by the Pondicherry politicians Baron observed that they had been enjoying considerable power. The décret, they apprehended, would take away much of the prestige of the Conseil du Gouvernement and would eventually abolish the Representative Assembly in its present form. Pondicherry would be stripped of her political pre-eminence and the members of the Representative Assembly the powers and privileges they had been enjoying45 The Villes Libres status of the settlements would provide the Indian Government with opportunities to penetrate deep into the settlements and this would, according to Saravane, facilitate the path of their eventual secession. The Congress, on the other hand, saw a sinister motive in it. The Villes Libres décrets, according to it, aimed at creating autonomous French territories which would remain beyond the orbit of Indian nationalist control. In the face of strong protest Baron decided to put off the décrets for the time being and refrained from promulgating them.46 Baron had to succumb to their combined pressure and protest because he did not like to take the risk of alienating the francophile elements of the Conseil du Gouvernement on whom largely depended the consolidation of the French position in the settlements. These were the people who stood for the autonomy of French India guaranteed by France and India –a French India like the Republic of Andorra. Immediately after this Rashid Ali Beg, the first Consul General of the Government of India at Pondicherry, visited Chandernagore in the first week of December47 with the object of studying the political situation there and reporting the same to the Government of India. Rashid Ali was an astute but a controversial diplomat. He was high-handed, overzealous and rash. On his arrival in Pondicherry he had to intervene to bring to an end the fasting of Dorai Munussamy, a student leader. He was arrested by the Pondicherry police along with others for having organized a demonstration against Lévi when he visited Pondicherry. They demanded immediate merger with Indian Union. His condition was deteriorating, but the Pondicherry Government remained aloof. The boy broke off his fast when Rashid Ali visited the hospital and advised him to discontinue the fast. Rashid Ali had a lurking dislike for Sri Aurobindo Ashram. But what irked the Pondicherry authorities most was the active encouragement given by him to anti-French activities. His close connection with anti-French elements particularly with Ravindra Varma and Subbu, Presidents of All-India Youth Congress and Tamil Nadu Student’s Congress, who had gone to Pondicherry to address a public meeting held on 19 December 194748 They indulged in violent anti-French tirade and heaped derogatory remarks on Lambert Saravane, Sri Aurobindo and the Ashram. The Commissaire expressed dissatisfaction of the aggressive tone of the leaders and wrote to the Overseas Minister complaining that the Indian Consul General had been behaving in a manner unfit for a diplomat and was looked upon in Pondicherry as “a persona non grata”.49 The Commissaire further added that he went to Mahe where he had a meeting with elements hostile to France.

  • 50 Mullick had earlier demanded from the French Government Chandernagore’s right of cession failing wh (...)
  • 51 Deben Das à Baron, 9 dec. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).
  • 52 Commissaire de la République pour l’Inde Française au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 22 dec. 19 (...)
  • 53 Daniel Lévi au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 24 déc. 1947 (tel.). Aff. Politiques, C 437 (A. O. (...)
  • 54 Deben Das à Baron, 9 dec. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).

13In Chandernagore Rashid Ali preferred to stay in the Couple (a hotel) brushing aside the hospitality of Bazin. He met Kamal Ghosh, S. Mullick,50 President of the Democratic Front of Chandernagore, Bazin and a cross section of people. At the outset Rashid Ali pointed out that the joint Indo-French declaration of 28 August (1947) was a sort of “stand still agreement” and both the parties engaged not to modify their respective positions till the end of the talk at New Delhi. He intended to mean that by granting the Ville Libre status to Chandernagore France had acted contrary to the agreement or engagement whatever it might be. Rashid Ali further declared51 that the Ville Libre status given to Chandernagore was a misnomer because Pondicherry still retained effective control and Chandernagore did not have the power of taking decision for its inclusion in Bengal. Vous avez donné à l’oiseau la liberté de voler dans la cage (you have given the bird the liberty to fly in the cage), he remarked sarcastically. He complained that the new status of Chandernagore was going to complicate the negotiations with New Delhi which would not agree to Chandernagore having a special status other than joining Bengal and “France would have to choose between French India and Indian friendship. It cannot be both”, he added.52 His meeting with the Council of Administration was stormy, but the Council refused to be browbeaten to his rhetoric. It told him point blank that they had accepted the new status of Chandernagore on the instruction of Gandhi, Nehru and the Government of West Bengal and their ultimate aim was the fusion of Chandernagore into Indian Union. Lévi took serious exception to Rashid Ali’s endeavour to coerce the members of the Council of Administration in Chandernagore and dubbed this as an interference in the internal affairs of the settlements.53 Rashid Ali also complained that France was following a dilatory tactics in the matter of opening negotiation with India.54 There is no doubt in his contention that France had actually brought out the reforms for restructuring the French Indian administration within the frame work of French Union with a view to placating public opinion and gaining time for prolonging their stay in India. But this was another “subterfuge” against which the French Indian people and their leaders as well registered their strong disavowal.

  • 55 Traduction d’un tract publique par le “Congrès national” de Karaikal, 17 janv. 1948. Aff. Politique (...)
  • 56 Extrait du Dinamani, 26 janv. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 57 Rapport de l’Administrateur, Mahé. 27 janv. 1948. Aff Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 58 The Indian Express, 14 January 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 59 Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3. Also Gazetteer of India, Union Territory of Pondicherry. Vol. 1. P. 253
  • 60 Jeunesse, 31 janv. 1948. Vol. I. No. 4. Also Swadeshmitran, 27 January 1948. Aff. Politiques, D3 (A (...)
  • 61 Commissaire a outre-mer (tel.). 29 janv. 1948. Aff. Politiques. C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).

14Slowly the leaders of the Indian National Congress began to take increasing interest in the affairs of French India. India had won her independence. The British had left India, but the Portuguese and the French still clung to their outposts. Relations with Goa were going down. Relations with Pondicherry were not yet too bad. But France was under terrible pressure not only in India, but also in North Africa and Indo-China. The French Indian people manifested their strong desire to get united with their brethren in neighbouring India and they requested the leaders of the Indian National Congress to come to their assistance in their chant de bataille.55 Their appeal did not fall on deaf ears. Support and sympathy for French India liberation movement began to come from outside Pondicherry. Public meetings were held in sympathy for French Indian people even outside Pondicherry under the auspices of the Tamil Nadu Congress and in his presidential address at the 43rd Provincial Congress of Tamil Nadu held in Coimbatore Kamaraj Nadar hurled a threat of “Direct Action” if the French remained indifferent to the demands of the people. A committee was constituted consisting of the members of the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council of Tamil Nadu with S. P. Adittiyane as President for giving all necessary assistance to the liberation movement of the French Indian people.56 A strong propaganda movement was set in motion by the Karaikal National Congress. Mahe observed a hartal called by the Socialist and Communist Parties on 26 January 1948 in which students and workers participated.57 At a public meeting in Karaikal Antonio Mariadas, Narayanassamy, former captain of the INA and Venougobalane, Advocate of Madras exhorted the people of French India to fight unitedly for merger with India.58 The French India National Congress organized a grand conference at Nehru Vanam on 24 and 25 January for deciding the future of French India. Delegates without distinction of caste, religion and party attended the meeting.59 The conference, presided over by R. L. Purushothama Reddiar, expressed strong determination for integration with neighbouring India with which the people of French settlements were closely linked ethnically, culturally, economically and linguistically. It was at this time that the idea of holding referendum was set aside because it was deemed “an insult to the moral right of our people to merge with our true parents and friends”.60 A new demand was thus raised, i. e. integration without referendum. The resolution adopted at the conference was given importance and Baron communicated them to the Overseas Minister.61 This demand later gathered momentum and ultimately the French had to withdraw from the four south Indian settlements without having recourse to referendum with the exception of Chandernagore.

  • 62 The Hindu, 26 January 1948.
  • 63 Bazin au Commissaire de la République, 20 janv. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).

15The working class population of Pondicherry was raging with anger. Processions were brought out demanding the reinstatement of 300 textile workers who had been discharged from the local mills.62 The Council of Administration in Chandernagore submitted new propositions to the French Ambassador at New Delhi and forwarded a copy of the same to Nehru. The Council of Administration demanded that the French Government should recognize the right of Chandernagore to secede from French Union at an early date and that after a period of 5 years Chandernagore would decide its destiny. It also demanded certain modifications in the décret of 7 November 1947 in order to make the autonomous status more effective giving Chandernagore all power to regulate its internal affairs.63

  • 64 Conseillers were popularly called Ministers.
  • 65 Une analyse du rapport publique par Sivassamy sur la situation politique de l’Inde Française. Aff. (...)
  • 66 Extrait de Swadesmitran du 29 dec. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 364, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 67 Résumé de la presse tamoule du 20 au 27 dec. 1947. Aff. Politique, C 368, D2 (A. O. M.).

16The Presidents of All-India Youth Congress and Tamil Nadu Youth Congress had already visited Pondicherry and other French settlements. Leaders of the Indian National Congress visited Pondicherry, Karaikal, Mahe with a view to inspiring as well as expressing their solidarity with them. Towards the middle of December 1947, K. G. Sivassamy, President of the Union of Civil Rights of Madras and militant member of the Servant of India Society, came to Pondicherry, visited the surrounding communes and reported about the seamy side of the French rule in Pondicherry. France, in his opinion, was trying to perpetuate her rule in French India with the help of the Socialist Party headed by Goubert. There was total absence of security of life in Pondicherry. There was no peace, no order. People, particularly the congressites, communist workers and pro-merger elements were harassed, intimidated and detained on flimsy grounds. Ministers were all reactionaries.64 Police was ineffective. He pointed out how Pacha, General Secretary, had to go because of his attempt to discipline the police. Sivassamy further reported that the French India Socialist Party had no real intention to set up a responsible government in Pondicherry. Sivassamy s report was challenged by Pondicherry Government as exaggerated and not corroborated by facts65 Saravane who was inclined to rally French India round French Union also felt that the reforms had not transferred real power in the hands of the people and hence failed to generate confidence. He urged France to follow the footsteps of the English.66 The Tamil press did not approve the police repression and condemned this as inhuman. They attacked French imperialism in Asia and accused her of unleashing oppression and resorting to hypocrisy in order to perpetuate its colonial empire. They also deprecated the policy of killing the patriots of Madagascar fighting for the independence of their country and inclined to rally French India round Indian Union.67

  • 68 Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 69 The Madras Mail, 10 January 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 70 The Indian Express, 11 January 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 71 Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 72 Tract tire du Saudandiram, 19 janv. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).
  • 73 Extrait publique par la Parti Communiste de l’Inde Française, 15 janv. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 368 (...)

17Chandernagore had always been in a militant mood and for a long time it was harbouring a strong anti-French attitude. Mahe did not lag behind Chandernagore. But Pondicherry and Karaikal on which the French authorities had banked so much also showed signs of fissures. Karaikal in fact played a prominent role in launching anti-French movement for uprooting French rule in India. Anti-French demonstrations became more frequent and vocal in the following years. The Karaikal National Congress rejected the proposed Free-City (Ville Libre) status because it was “contrary to the aspirations” of the people of the town and desired to merge with Indian Union. The Karaikal Congress also organized “Propaganda Fortnight” beginning from 1 August 1948 to intensify the campaign for the liberation of French India from French domination.68 Pakkirissamy –that mercurial politician of Karaikal– rejected the Free-City proposal. The Free-City décret, he said, aimed at vesting power in the hands of the French Governor and abolishing the Representative Assembly.69 Venkatachalapati Pillai, President of Karaikal Congress, urged “all municipal Councillors, assembly members, Deputies and Senator to resign immediately and join the national struggle”.70 A tract brought out in Karaikal on 7 January (1948) by Ki Djégenadame of Karai Covilpottou appealed to the people of Karaikal, irrespective of their party affiliations, to form a united71 front for defeating the French policy of dividing the people. Subbiah, always a firebrand, continued his tirade against the French India administration and debunked the Villes Libres scheme of reforms and the Students’ Federation of French India appealed to the people to vow to fight against French imperialism.72 The total picture of Pondicherry and Karaikal was not encouraging for the French. In the face of discontent, dissatisfaction and demonstrations the Pondicherry authorities became nonplussed and were losing their grip over the situation. Early in January 1948 an order was passed prohibiting public meetings. Steps were taken to restrain the press which had indulged in anti-French propaganda. Baron was bent upon framing a proceeding against the Swadeshmitran and as a deterrent measure the Soudandiram Printing Press was fined 200 francs for having published news item in connection with the meeting of the All-India Youth Congress. The Pondicherry administration also forbade the organization of any movement under the name of Youth Congress.73

Notes

1 Commissaire de la République au Secretaire d’Etat la Présidence du conseil charge des affaires de la France d’outre-mer (non daté). Aff. Politiques, C 370, D 2 (A. O. M.).

2 Amrita Bazar Patrika, 5 Oct. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D2 (A. O. M.).

3 The Indian Express, 12 Oct. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D2 (A. O. M.).

4 The Indian Express, 21 Sept. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D2 (A. O. M.).

5 The Indian Express, 25 Sept. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D2 (A. O. M.).

6 Gazetteer of India, Union Territory of India, Vol. 1, p. 252.

7 Procès-verbaux. Assemblée Représentative de l’Inde Française, 2ème seance ordinaire, 1947.

8 Ibid.

9 27 sept. 1947. 2ème séance.

10 Procès-Verbaux, Assemblée Representative, 27 sept 1947, 2ème seance.

11 The Indian Express, 13 Oct. 1947.

12 Baron a Montcel, 22 nov. 1947: Aff. Politiques. C 437, D 2 (A. O. M.).

13 Procès-Verbaux, Assemblée Représentative de l’Inde Française, 28 sept 1947, 3ème seance.

14 Ibid.

15 Chairman of the Popular Republican Party in France.

16 Hindusthan Standard, 2 Oct. 1947.

17 Revue d’Auroville, 1989, Nos. 23-24.

18 Roux à Bidault (Confidentiel) 6 dec. 1947. Aff. Politiques. C 371, D 2 (A. O. M.).

19 Tézenas du Montcel au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer 15 janv. 1948. As 44-55, Inde Française, Vol. 8. (Qd).

20 Pondichéry à Outre-mer (tel.) 31 dec. 1947. As 44-55, Inde Française, Vol. 8 (Qd).

21 Liberator (Madras), 4/5 Oct. 1947, C 370, D2 (A. O. M.).

22 Pondicherry Consul General to H. Dayal, Under Secretary to the Government of India in the External Affairs Department, 21 Jan. 1946. F. O. 371, 60041. File No. 1351. Public Records Office, Kew, London.

23 Roux au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères (tél.) 3 sept. 1947. As 44-55, Inde Française, Vol. 7. (Qd).

24 Roux à Bidault, 19 sept. 1947. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 7 (Qd).

25 Ibid.

26 Roux au Ministre de Affaires Etrangères (tél.), 9 oct. 1947. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 7 (Qd).

27 The old Municipal Council had 12 members.

28 President du Conseil au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer (tel. Non daté). As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 7 (Qd).

29 Ibid.

30 The Hindu, 18 November 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 371, D2 (A. O. M.).

31 The Hindu, 30 November 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 371, D2 (A. O. M.).

32 Baron & Tezenas du Montcel, 29 nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 437, D1 (A. O. M.).

33 Rajkumar, N. V. Kamal Ghosh, 23. 1947. Aff. Politiques. C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).

34 The Hindu, 30 Nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 371, D2 (A. O. M.).

35 Rajkumar to Kamal Ghosh, 23 Dec. 1947 (Copy to S. Mullick). Aff. Politiques, C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).

36 In the nominated Municipal Assembly there were 5 members of the Pondicherry Representative Assembly, a few members of the former Municipal Council, NDF supporters and the rest were moderates.

37 Consul Général de France (Calcutta) au Chargé d’Affaires (tél.). 28 nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 371, D2 (A. O. M.).

38 Dinamani, 3 Dec. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 371, D2 (A. O. M.).

39 Commissaire au Directeur des Affaires Politiques (tél.), 2 déc. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 371, D2 (A. O. M.).

40 Baron a Tézenas du Montcel, 29 nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 437, D1 (A. O. M.). Also Report from Tézenas du Montcel au Directeur du contrôle du budget et du contentieux. Secret, note a l’attention de Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 16 dec. 1947 (Pondichéry).

41 Baron a Tézenas du Montcel, 29 nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 437, D1 (A. O. M.). Also Note sur la situation politique des Etablissements français dans l’Inde par Tézenas du Montcel au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 15 janv. 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 8 (Qd).

42 Baron a Tézenas, 29 nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 437, D1 (A. O. M.).

43 The Indian Express, 13 Oct. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D2. Also “Revendications politiques des Musulmans de l’Inde Franchise”. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

44 Aff. Politiques, C 428, D1 (A. O. M.).

45 “Note sur la situation politique des Etablissements français dans l’outre-mer”, 15 janv., 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 8 (Qd). Also Baron a Tézenas du Montcel, 29 nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques. C 437 (A. O. M.).

46 Ministre de la France d’outre-mer a Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 4 fév. 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 8 (Qd). Also Rapport envoyé par Tézenas du Montcel au Directeur du contrôle du budget et du contentieux: Note a l’attention du Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 16 dec. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 437. (A. O. M.).

47 Rashid Ali Baig reached Chandernagore on 3 Dec. 1947.

48 Compte rendu d’une reunion publique du Congrès, sous la présidence de Varma, President de l’All India Students’ Congress, Aff. Politiques 19 nov. 1947. C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

49 Commissaire de la République au Secrétariat d’Etat a la Présidence du Conseil Charge d’Affaires de la France d’outre-mer, 25 nov. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

50 Mullick had earlier demanded from the French Government Chandernagore’s right of cession failing which he proposed to set up a provisional govt, to run day to day administration. Star of India. Aff. Politiques, C 370, D1 (A. O. M.).

51 Deben Das à Baron, 9 dec. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).

52 Commissaire de la République pour l’Inde Française au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 22 dec. 1947. Aff. Politiques (A. O. M.). Also Copie de la lettre adressée par Bazin Gouverneur Commissaire de la République, 5 déc. 1947 (A. O. M.). Also René Kolb-Bernard, Consul Général de France a Calcutta. Daniel Lévi, 9 déc. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).

53 Daniel Lévi au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 24 déc. 1947 (tel.). Aff. Politiques, C 437 (A. O. M.).

54 Deben Das à Baron, 9 dec. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).

55 Traduction d’un tract publique par le “Congrès national” de Karaikal, 17 janv. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

56 Extrait du Dinamani, 26 janv. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

57 Rapport de l’Administrateur, Mahé. 27 janv. 1948. Aff Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

58 The Indian Express, 14 January 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

59 Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3. Also Gazetteer of India, Union Territory of Pondicherry. Vol. 1. P. 253.

60 Jeunesse, 31 janv. 1948. Vol. I. No. 4. Also Swadeshmitran, 27 January 1948. Aff. Politiques, D3 (A. O. M.). Also The 27 January 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).

61 Commissaire a outre-mer (tel.). 29 janv. 1948. Aff. Politiques. C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).

62 The Hindu, 26 January 1948.

63 Bazin au Commissaire de la République, 20 janv. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 432, D2 (A. O. M.).

64 Conseillers were popularly called Ministers.

65 Une analyse du rapport publique par Sivassamy sur la situation politique de l’Inde Française. Aff. Politiques, C 364, D3 (A. O. M.).

66 Extrait de Swadesmitran du 29 dec. 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 364, D3 (A. O. M.).

67 Résumé de la presse tamoule du 20 au 27 dec. 1947. Aff. Politique, C 368, D2 (A. O. M.).

68 Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

69 The Madras Mail, 10 January 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

70 The Indian Express, 11 January 1947. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

71 Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

72 Tract tire du Saudandiram, 19 janv. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

73 Extrait publique par la Parti Communiste de l’Inde Française, 15 janv. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 368, D3 (A. O. M.).

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1997

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