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Decolonization of French India

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Ajit K. Neogy

7. Revolt in Mahe and New Development in Chandernagore: Perspective of the Jaipur Resolution

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1The Mahe Mahajana Sabha decided to contest all the 12 municipal seats. It had already lodged it protest to the Pondicherry authorities about the various restrictions under which it had to carry on election campaign and urged the authorities to restore the civil liberties of the people. I. K. Kumaran had earlier declared the futility of holding any popular consultation and preferred automatic integration of Mahe into the Indian Union. The Mahe Mahajana Sabha, a pro-congress organization, had been demanding the withdrawal of France from Mahe since 1938. Since the intensification of the pro-merger movement, it was working in close collaboration with the Socialist Party of Jayaprakash Narayan. I. K. Kumaran, C. E. Bharatan, MangalatRaghavan were leading political personalities of Mahe and they had a good organizational network. In their bid to liberate Mahe from the French they received spontaneous support from persons like Kerala Gandhi (K. Kalappan), Nettor P. Damodaran and K. A. Damodaran Menon who was the editor of Matribhumi.

  • 1 Administrateur de Mahé à Pondichéry (tél.). 6 mai 1948. Aff. Politiques. Also S. G. Inde F 19, (A. (...)
  • 2 Baron au consul Général Pondichéry, 5 juin 1948. Also Baron a Outre-mer, 2 août 1948, Aff. Politiqu (...)

2Trouble had been brewing in Mahe for sometime past and the situation became tense since the end of September when I. K. Kumaran and other office bearers of the Mahajana Party were sentenced to jail for having conducted “jathas and meetings” in violation of the prohibitory orders. Moreover, according to Indian police reports a large number of communists from Indian territory had taken shelter there and joined hands with anti-merger groups of Goubert and the Progressive Democratic Party propagating in favour of French Union.1 Baron had also been complaining to the Indian authorities about the infiltration of congress volunteers from the adjoining Indian territory and the disturbances fomented by them. He urged the French Foreign Department to take up the matter with New Delhi. Baron also complained to the Indian Consul General in Pondicherry about2 this, but the latter preferred to remain indifferent. The Mahe Mahajana Sabha was critical of the June Agreement and Lévi, on his part, drew the attention of the Government of India to the disturbances prevailing there. To this was added the spurious character of the French Indian elections which were always scandalous.

  • 3 The Hindu, 28 Oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 4 I. K. Kumaran whom I met in his Mahe residence gave me this information.
  • 5 Pondichéry a outre-mer (tel.), 5 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 6 L’Aurore, 23/24 oct. 1948. Le Monde, 29 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.). Consul de Fra (...)
  • 7 Le Monde, 29 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

3The trouble which led to the collapse of the French administration in Mahe for a few days erupted on the question of distributing identity cards which had to be produced in the election booths before any person could be allowed to exercise his franchise. The distribution of identity cards was generally to begin 10 days before the date of election. House to house distribution was done during the first seven days and during the last 3 days undistributed cards were given from the municipal office. The Mahe Mahajana Sabha complained that deliberate discrimination was made against those who were known to hold or were suspected of holding pro-merger views. It pointed out that a large number of people were denied identity cards during house to house distribution and hundreds of Mahe voters assembled before the municipal office on 21 October. Waiting from 8 in the morning and not getting their cards till 3.30 in the afternoon, a large number of people led by Kumaran marched to the residence of the Mayor and finding him unhelpful, returned and resorted to picketing in the municipal office demanding the distribution of the cards. Kumaran (who was a sitting municipal councillor) had sharp exchange of words with the Police Commissioner who was there.3 The latter became violent and assaulted Kumaran. N. Narayanan Nair, a Praja Socialist Party worker, was also manhandled. This provoked the wrath of the people and the situation degenerated. Those assembled there was joined by a large crowd including the fishermen with whom the Mahajana Sabha had a good contact.4 They ransacked the municipal office, seized the electoral rolls and burnt them. The Police Commissioner was roughed. Events followed in quick succession. Records of civil and criminal cases were removed from the court and destroyed. The Residency was besieged. The Administrator and his family became prisoners.5 The armed guards of the Administrator’s office surrendered. The infuriated crowd marched into the adjoining French Indian villages of Pallour, Pandakkel and Naluthara where the police also surrendered and Indian national flags were hoisted on the police stations.6 The surrendered arms and ammunitions were brought to the Mahajana Sabha office. Cash money, taken away from the Treasury, was carefully kept and later returned to the French when order was restored. The administrative machinery collapsed and volunteers took over the police stations, the treasury and the revenue offices. On 23 October, I. K. Kumaran proclaimed the integration of Mahe with Indian Union and hoisted the Indian national flag on the Residency. Mahe members to the Pondicherry Representative Assembly including Counouma resigned. They were joined by five municipal councillors. French Mahe fell. Elections were postponed. The October Revolution was accomplished.7 A Peoples’ Defence Committee was formed to run the administration. The Administrator was there and the existing officials did their duties, but they had to take instructions from the Defence Committee. In this connection The Hindu wrote

  • 8 The Hindu, 28 Oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.). I. K. Kumaran told me the same thing.

The Peoples’ Defence Committee, under the joint auspices of the Mahajana Sabha and the Socialist Party was also formed only in the interests of people, as otherwise, taking advantage of the paralysis of the French administration, the communists would have exploited the situation and another reign of terror would have been inaugurated.8

4The Peoples’ Defence Committee also requested the Government of India to take over the administration of Mahe in its own hands.

  • 9 Lévi a Paris (tél.) 24 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 10 K. P. S. Menon (Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations) to French Ambassador. 25 O (...)
  • 11 L’Epoque 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 12 Coste-Floret au Administrateur de Mahé, 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 13 A member of the Defence Committee.
  • 14 28 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 15 Chargé d’Affaires of India (Paris) to the French Foreign Minister, 27 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C (...)
  • 16 K. P. S. Menon to the French Ambassador, 25 Oct., 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.). Kumaran (...)

5The outburst of the Mahesians came as a surprise to the French. Lévi held the view that the Ministry of External Affairs (Government of India) and the Congress Party might have inspired the press to assume an anti-French posture and the nationalist volunteers who penetrated into Mahe might have been encouraged by the Indian leaders of Madras or the Malabar Congress Committee.9 The Collector of Malabar countered him. The Madras Government had instructed the Malabar Collector to maintain absolute neutrality.10 Robert Schuman described the incidents of Mahe as “serious”.11 The French Overseas Minister had, meanwhile, declared that it would not recognize any decision which would be imposed on the people of Mahe by foreign disturbers.12 Jayaprakash Narayan, in a telegram from Mahabalipuram to Mangalet Raghavan,13 extended warm greetings and congratulations for the great part played by the Mahesians in freeing the settlement and deciding to unite with India. The Government of India expressed regret for the Mahe affairs, but it considered the Mahe affairs as a purely domestic one between the French Government and its people and asserted that the Indian Union people had nothing to do with it.14 It did not recognize the integration of Mahe as proclaimed by I. K. Kumaran. In fact the Aide-mémoire of the Government of India rejected the French contention that the Mahe incidents were “inspired by thousands of Indian subjects who invaded Mahe”15 and stoutly denied the allegation that the Madras Government had cut off telegraphic communications to and fro Mahe. Rather the “invaders” were all local people. From all the information which reached the Indian Government it seemed clear that the regrettable incidents which had occurred in Mahe were of indigenous origin and were in no way inspired from Indian Union.16

  • 17 Paris tl 1’Ambassade de France (tél.). 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 18 Lévi a Paris (tél.). 23 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 19 Coste-Floret au Commissaire de la République (Pondichéry), 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451.
  • 20 Paris a l’Ambassade de France (tél.), 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 21 L’Aurore, 23/24 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 22 Lévi a Paris (tél.) 28 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 23 I. K. Mumaran told me that he was taken to Chambala Hill.
  • 24 This was the estimate of I K Kumaran.
  • 25 Gazette of India Union Territory of Pondicherry; P 279, Vol. 1
  • 26 Le Monde, 28 Oct, 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

6It has been discussed earlier that the cruiser Duguay Trouin was on its way to Pondicherry from Trincomale when the incidents in Mahe occurred. The Overseas Minister expressed anxiety for not getting any news about Mahe and its officials.17 Lévi who was earlier in favour of despatching a French man-of-war along the coast of Pondicherry on the eve of municipal elections now feared that the despatch of the cruiser to Mahe and the disembarkation of corps might lead to effusion of blood and in such a situation France would lose her “moral advantage” over Delhi.18 Instead Baron instructed the sloop “Commandant Bory” to rush immediately to Mahe for rescuing the beleaguered Administrator and his family and reconquer Mahe and re-establish French sovereignty there. The Overseas Minister had instructed Baron to adopt,” with prudence”, military measures in a manner so that the moral position of the French was not lost.19 The Commandant of the sloop was also instructed to show “extreme prudence” and avoid any action which might provoke unpleasant incidents.20 Baron thundered that “France is neither Pudducottah nor Hyderabad” and announced that France would protect by all means the people of French India so that they might freely express their wishes in a democratic manner.21 The sloop reached Mahe on 26 October and anchored two miles off Mahe.22 The arrival of the “Commandant Bory” had created a panic in Mahe. The Administrator and his family were taken away by the nationalists to an unknown destination.23 Other Frenchmen had fled. Nearly 75 % of the people of Mahe also left the town with their families for fear of reprisals by the French troops.24 Jayaprakash and Rajkumar had advised them to follow a policy of evacuation with a view to avoiding bloodshed. The leaders and workers of the Mahe Mahajana Sabha also quitted the town. Meanwhile a group of crew of the cruiser landed only to find the government house (residency) deserted. Negotiations started between the Captain of the ship and the representatives of the Defence Committee. In the talk that took place between them the fishermen of Mahe played an important role as go between as they had played earlier when the municipal building was besieged. However, the Defence Committee demanded a categorical declaration from the French Government regarding the future of the French settlements while the Captain insisted on removing the Indian national flag from the Residency. Negotiations broke down, but the exodus from Mahe continued. The Administrator was released without any damage being done to him and his family. The Captain lowered the Indian flag and hoisted the French flag again. Armed soldiers were put on sentry duty.25 French naval troops, accompanied by French Indian armed and ordinary police, paraded the streets of Mahe. Another French cruiser, Duguay Trouin, brought Baron to Mahe with more reinforcements to re-establish French sovereignty there.26 Mahe was reoccupied; but France, refusing to take lesson from the October Revolution, continued to follow a policy of repression. Normal condition took some time to come back. Jugol Kishore, protested and issued the following statement

  • 27 As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 8 (Qd).

After the reassertion of French authority in Mahe, the administration seems to be bent upon taking punitive action against those who were involved in the recent incidents there. Some of them have been arrested and extradition warrants have been issued against the rest. Inside Mahe itself, reports go to show that French troops landed there are terrorizing the population.27

  • 28 Lévi au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères (tel.) 13 nov. 1948. As 44-55, Inde Française, Vol. 8 (Qd)

7To this Nehru reacted and he pointed out that renewal of repressive measures might provoke a new cycle of incidents. He also remarked that those small enclaves could not exist on its own for a long time.28

  • 29 P. K. Osman of Naluthara, K. Damodaran (Court Registrar of Mahe).
  • 30 I. K. Kumaran, C. E. Bharatan, Magalat Raghavan etc.
  • 31 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 32 Le Monde, 29 oct, 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

8The French police arrested some leaders29 of the Mahajana Sabha, others continued to live in Indian territories. Some of them were tried in absentia and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment.30 Fines were imposed and property confiscated. The Mahajana Sabha was debarred from participating in the municipal elections which were held on 27 February 1949. The pro-French party swept the poll. The French policy in Mahe came in for sharp criticism from L’Aurore,31 particularly the presence of Duguay Trouin in the Bay of Bengal and the sloop in the Gulf of Oman was looked upon with disfavour. It held the policy makers in France responsible for the existing mismanagement in French India and it made the prophetic remark that whatever the results of the elections in Pondicherry, Karaikal and Yanam, the process of integration of the French Indian territories with Indian Union was on its way. The events of Mahe were significant for reasons more than one. This was the first uprising of the nationalist forces in French India. It was the spontaneous outburst of the sorely tired and exhausted patience of the people. It was throughout conducted in a non-violent manner. For six days there was no trace of French rule in Mahe, but the Peoples’ Defence Committee did not allow situation to degenerate into a chaos; they set up a makeshift government of their own so that normal life was not dislocated. It has been mentioned earlier that the cash they had removed from the Treasury and the Rationing Office was not forfeited; it was returned intact and the arms and ammunitions which were taken into Indian territory were surrendered to the Indian police. Perrier, Administrator of French Mahe and his family members, were treated well and he himself admitted this.32 The leaders were conscious of their limitations and gave proof of practical sense and political sagacity by retracing their steps when French troops landed in Mahe. Any rash policy followed by them might have costly repercussions.

  • 33 Comrep (Pondichéry) a Outre-mer (tél.), 22 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 436 (A. O. M.).
  • 34 28 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 450 (A. O. M.).

9Elections in Pondicherry, Karaikal and Yanam were held as scheduled. The Indian National Congress appointed two observers to supervise the municipal elections of Pondicherry and Yanam and the Pondicherry authorities were informed of this. Baron did not take this kindly and urged the French Ambassador at New Delhi to inform the Indian Government that they could come to Pondicherry in private capacity and would be treated as foreign visitors and they would not be allowed to enter the booths.33 The Indian observers were Rajkumar and Subbarayan, a former minister of the Madras Government. The Provincial Congress Committees of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh were instructed to send their representatives to Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam. According to the two observers of the AICC the elections were a mockery of democracy. Even if the reports of Rajkumar and Subbarayan were ignored, the reporters of the leading newspapers gave a picture of the elections which was disappointing. The Hindu34 wrote the elections were democratic only on paper. One can get a glimpse of the spurious character of the elections in the settlements from the following.

  • 35 The Hindu, 25 Oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 450 (A. O. M.).

The Election booths are small huts situated in prominent corners in each division. One part of the hut is partly covered by a curtain within which are placed ballot-papers of the various parties. The President, as the Polling Officer is designated in Pondicherry, is a nominee of the Mayor. Assessors selected by the government represent the various parties. A voter will have to produce his electoral identification card at first and then he will be permitted to enter the corner and will take a ballot paper. The President will hand him over a blue envelope and the voter should put the ballot paper in the envelope and deposit it in the ballot box. A count will be made in the evening and the results announced and forwarded to the government who will declare the official results.35

10 The Hindu further wrote

with adult suffrage one would have expected large queues forming before the booths for exercising their votes, but Pondicherry streets this morning, presented a deserted appearance.

11The spurious character of the elections was vividly described by the same paper.

  • 36 Ibid.

A party of pressmen went round a number of booths in Pondicherry and in the neighbouring communes and had full opportunity of observing the realities behind the democratic camouflage of the French Indian election. The Presidents of almost all the booths belonged to the French Indian Socialist Party. The Presidents, in several cases, were themselves candidates for election as for example, the division 16 and 17 of Pondicherry and division 2 of Villenour commune. In division 16, the President, who is also a candidate, was not in the seat when pressmen entered the booth. He was outside and was distributing ballot papers of his party to the people gathered there. When Congress representatives protested, he said, “I do not care for you and for what your friends may write in the papers”. In Villenour, the Mayor, who is the candidate, has also nominated himself as President of one of the divisional booths.36

  • 37 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques C 450 (A. O. M.).

12When the pressmen drew the attention of Goubert to the irregularities during his visit to the booths, he admitted that there was some irregularity but that it was not very serious. In some divisions, all the blue envelopes were kept filled with the ballot papers of the Socialist Party. In the third division of Ozhukarai commune, pressmen asked the President whether all the envelopes were already filled. He immediately replied in the affirmative and proceeded to show the pressmen the envelopes. The ballot papers which were inside were of the Socialist Party and the envelopes were handed over to the voters who deposited them in the box in their presence. The same story, The Hindu37 wrote, was repeated in section 8 of the same commune.

13 The Indian Express wrote

  • 38 26 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 450 (A. O. M.).

there was gross discrimination in the issue of identification cards among the voters and even when they were actually distributed at the last moment, it was indifferently done.38

14In Pondicherry, according to the paper

  • 39 Ibid.

polling stations in most places were under the virtual control of Socialist Party nominees [...]. ballot papers deposited by Congress supporters were either destroyed or replaced by the Socialists and pro-congressmen were even manhandled.39

  • 40 The Hindu, 27 Oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 450 (A. O. M.).
  • 41 Dinamani, 25 Oct. 1948. The Hindu, 27 Oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 450 (A. O. M.).

15 In Karaikal too elections were farcical and ridiculous. The Mayor of Karaikal was himself a candidate, appointed men of his choice for distributing identity cards. Hence cards were not properly distributed and many voters were unable to exercise their franchise on the day of election.40 The congress assessors in Karaikal had not been allowed to do their work. They were assaulted and driven out of booth nos. 3, 5, 6, 8 and 9. In fact, the toughs of the Socialist Party created such a panic in Karaikal that the Karaikal Congress had to take the decision to boycott the elections.41

16The All-India Congress Committee observers Rajkumar and Subbarayan who were in Pondicherry at the time of the voting and witnessed the elections from close range, in their report to the All-India Congress Committee General-Secretary, wrote

  • 42 Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

Our considered finds after careful observations are that so many manipulations and malpractice occurred that the results do not remotely represent the true will of the people.42

  • 43 Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 44 Rajkumar, N. V., The Problem of French India, p. 44.
  • 45 Perspectives politiques de l’Inde Française par le Gouverneur, Commissaire de la République, 5 déc, (...)

17They, therefore, refused to believe that the elections served the purpose for which they were held and that they should not be recognized as first steps towards referendum. The same kind of irregularities were reported from Karaikal and Yanam. In Yanam, where congress workers were stabbed, terror prevailed. The Praja Party complained that they were not allowed to bring out any procession and a strict censorship was imposed on the printing of handbills or pamphlets. Female voters were not registered despite having valid papers.43 That the elections of 24 October were full of lapses and irregularities was also admitted by Laugenie, special political envoy whom the French Government had sent to Pondicherry to report on the elections. He said that he had visited almost all the polling booths in Pondicherry and in other communes and regretted the incidents which had occurred in certain places. This led him to conclude that a tripartite negotiation, not referendum, would be a more appropriate solution to the vexed problem.44 In any case the results of the elections were a foregone conclusion and the Socialist Party scored a massive victory. The results of the municipal elections were looked upon by the French India authorities as a verdict in favour of French Union and a victory of the francophiles.45 Lévi took pride in the fact that the French Indians had been enjoying adult suffrage for a long time and elections were always “free and fair”, but perhaps he had forgotten to mention that in the last 60 years no party opposed to the government had ever succeeded in winning elections. In French India only the government-backed party could win.

* * *

18Chandernagore was now moving in the direction of integration with Indian Union. Deben Das and Arun Datta of Chandernagore were shuttling between Chandernagore and New Delhi and again between New Delhi and Pondicherry meeting and confabulating with Nehru, Lévi and Baron. They apprised Lévi about the readiness of the people of Chandernagore to merge with Indian Union and communicated to him the reasons for avoiding the referendum. A referendum, in their opinion, might cause a rift in the better relations subsisting between France and India and the communist might seize the opportunity to create a new cycle of troubles. An automatic merger with Indian Union would belie such an unpleasant situation. They gave Lévi a text of the proposed resolution adopted by the Chandernagore Council of Administration. The resolution was to be placed in the budget session of the Municipal Assembly of Chandernagore to be held on 4 December 1948. Endorsed by the Council of Administration the proposed scheme, which was a significant document and an important step towards integration with Indian Union, runs as follows

Being elected by universal franchise, this Municipal Assembly of the Free City of Chandernagor considers itself as the legitimate and rightful interpreter of the voice of the population.

19In complete agreement with the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants it decided on natural reunion with India and resolved

  1. That the Ville Libre de Chandernagore decides on joining Indian Union as early as possible.
  2. That in remembrances of the age-old comradeship with France and in honour of the growing France-Indian friendship, the population of the Free city demands to effect the change of Administration in a smooth and amicable manner within 31 March 1949.
  3. That this Assembly is of opinion that a plebiscite which may unwillingly offend the feelings of one or the other nation, is considered redundant. To achieve the above it, therefore, prays to both the governments that conversations be taken up without delay based on the following.
    1. After Union, in view of the different Financial Administrative, Judicial and Educational system in force at present, Chandernagore is to have a “stand still” arrangement covering a sufficient period (say 5 years) to enable the new system to be introduced.
    2. At the end of the “Stand Still” arrangement, the maximum financial and administrative autonomy practicable is to be granted, in Chandernagore with the peculiar characteristics of Chandernagore and the privileges as enjoyed by it.
    3. Chandernagore will inaugurate higher studies in French culture from which a panel of staff recruits for the ambassadorial and foreign departments of India may be drawn.
  • 46 Levi à Schuman, 26 nov. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 47 Note pour M. Baeyens, 4 dec 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 9 (Qd).

20 According to Das and Datta the Ville Libre de Chandernagore décret of 7 November which created the Municipal Assembly by universal franchise was “the legitimate and rightful interpreter of the voice of the population” and hence it could take such a decision of integration with Indian Union and Nehru, in their opinion, would not object to such an integration. To this Lévi reacted in a different manner.46 He pointed out that from constitutional point of view such an evasion of popular consultation would not be possible and that New Delhi, taking advantage of the precedence, might induce the municipalities of Pondicherry, Karaikal and Yanam to accede to the Indian Union without referendum. The south Indian enclaves were not enjoying Villes Libres status. In fact the status of Chandernagore was different from its sister settlements. Its elected representatives could take vital decision on behalf of the people. But situation had changed in the aftermath of the municipal elections in the south Indian settlements which gave a clear majority to the French. The Government of India, Lévi feared, might follow a policy of economic strangulation to compel them to join India. Lévi candidly admitted that while this pressure could be overcome by making necessary arrangements so far as the south Indian settlements were concerned, the same would not be possible in Chandernagore where a gentle and friendly merger without bitterness with Indian Union would be the obvious end. Such an eventuality, in his opinion, would promote French “prestige” not only within the French Union but also at international level. Chandernagore in fact posed a problem to the French authorities in India and France as well. First, if Chandernagore were allowed to merge with Indian Union without referendum, it would amount to a violation of French constitutional requirements. This would also have an adverse repercussions within the French Union. Secondly, if referendum in Chandernagore were held separately, its results would influence the rest of the enclaves in the south. Thirdly, the referendum of the five settlements might be held on the same date. In that case, the date of referendum would have to be pushed back for quite some time. The people of Chandernagore, already impatient, would brook no more delay and they might merge unilaterally with the Indian Union in accordance with “the brutal resolution” of the Municipal Assembly. The Government of India also, in that case, accused the French authorities of following a policy contrary to the spirit of the June Agreement. Such a policy would give rise to tension and New Delhi would exercise pressure, mainly economic, and intimidate the French Indian population for integration with Indian Union. The problem thus became both knotty and sensitive and it needed a delicate handling.47 The Council of Ministers must take a decision. The Ministry of the Overseas Empire called a meeting of the competent departments of the Overseas and the Foreign Ministries in early December 1948 and invited Goubert, Gaudard (Counsellor, Assembly of French Union), Saravane, Deben Das, and Lévi to enlighten rue Oudinot about the existing situation in the French possessions in India and the real wishes of the local people thereby enabling Schuman and Coste-Floret to come to an agreement in this regard on the basis of their suggestions. The meeting, however, took place on 11 December 1948. Neither Baron nor Lévi nor Deben Das could attend it and in their absence no decision could be taken except exchanging views. On the question of fixing the date of referendum, most of those present were inclined to hold the referendum as early as possible in order to derive benefit from the favourable results of the municipal elections. But in this also they had to face difficulty because the municipal elections of Mahe were yet to take place without which the congress of the newly elected municipal councillors could not be held. They were more than sure that in any case Chandernagore would be lost, but they believed that it would have some positive side. A different result in Chandernagore would go to prove that fairness and regularity would be maintained in conducting the referendum.

  • 48 Harihor Sett au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 27 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C451 (A. O. M.).
  • 49 Deben Das reported this after he and Arun Datta had met Nehru and the French Ambassador at New Delh (...)
  • 50 Deben Dash a Tézenas du Montcel, 1 dec 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).
  • 51 Ibid.
  • 52 Ibid.

21However, the first stage of the popular consultations, i. e. the municipal elections, were over except Mahe, but the second stage was yet to begin. But public opinion was going against referendum. After the mockery of municipal elections in the south Indian settlements people were getting disenchanted with it. Laugenie’s suggestion for a tripartite discussion for solving the vexed problem might also have induced them to drop the demand for referendum. In Chandernagore it was thought unnecessary by Harihor Sett, that grand old man. In his letter to the Minister for Overseas Empire he stressed that Chandernagore’s relations with France harked back to many years and Chandernagore too nourished a good sentiment for France. He thought that a referendum would give rise to mistrust and misunderstanding. He urged the Overseas Minister to cede Chandernagore to the Indian Union without delay, without having recourse to referendum.48 Arun Datta, another member of Council of Administration, held the view that a plebiscite or a referendum as means of ascertaining public opinion was redundant. A straight and smooth transfer of power would be more appropriate.49 “This will”, he thought” also eliminate all counter efforts of the reactionaries” and that such reactionary elements were active was evident from incidents happening in Pondicherry, Karaikal and elsewhere. Deben Das, in a letter to the Inspector of Colonies, expressed identical views on referendum which, according to him, would involve huge expenditure.50 Moreover, it would be a difficult task as, he apprehended, complications would arise on the question of deputing observers; charges and counter-charges of malpractice would vitiate the whole atmosphere and above all the miscreants might take advantage of the situation to create “a chaotic atmosphere” with a view to deriving benefit from it. Deben Das further informed him that the people of Chandernagore were at the end of their patience with the French Government and the scandalous elections in the south Indian settlements had further served to augment the feeling of mistrust which was already there. He feared that one more violent demonstration, apart from undermining the position and prestige of the French officials, would gravely compromise the protection and the security of life and property as well.51 The Council of Administration was at that time under a terrible pressure from the people on account of the delay in reaching the settlement. Deben Das told Tézenas du Montcel that they were “ready” to hold the referendum any time and “a microscopic minority” would also vote for France, but the vast majority would desire “a natural reunion with India”. The result was bound to be disastrous and in that case French position in Chandernagore would be a relic of historical past. Keeping these in view he sought the assistance of the Inspector of Colonies in persuading the French Government to accept his proposition for automatic accession of Chandernagore into Indian Union and requested him to communicate the decision during the budget session of the Municipal Assembly.52

22Meanwhile, the budget session of the Municipal Assembly of the Ville Libre of Chandernagore was going to be over, but it could not pass the above resolution without a clearance from Pondicherry. This proved the subservient character of the Municipal Assembly of Ville Libre of Chandernagore as it could not take decision on any important matter without the approval of the Pondicherry authorities. As this matter was of vital importance, the President of the Municipal Assembly invited the opinion of the house. The house unanimously resolved to decide immediately the momentous issue on the ground that it was perfectly entitled to take a decision in the same session on matters which were urgent and involved the general interest of the town. The Municipal Assembly of the Villes Libres passed at midnight on 15 December 1948 the following resolution

  • 53 Aff. Politiques, C 451, D6, Le Monde, 18 déc 1948 (A. O. M.).

Being elected by universal franchise this Municipal Assembly of the Free City of Chandernagor considered itself the legitimate and rightful interpreter of the voice of the population. In complete agreement with the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants, it decides on natural reunion with India and resolves that the “Ville Libre de Chandernagor” be incorporated with the Indian Union as early as possible and that in remembrance of the age-old association with France, the population of the Free-City desires to effect the change of administration in a smooth and amicable manner before March 31, 1949 at the latest.53

  • 54 President du Conseil d’Administration à Coste Floret, 16 dec 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 D6 (A. O. (...)

23Emphasizing on the competence of the house, the President (Deben Das) informed Coste-Floret that all the members had been elected on the manifesto urging Chandernagore to join the Indian Union.54 In his opinion the manifesto had since turned into a mandate after their election. He cited the constitution of the Fourth Republic of France which enjoined that the consent of the population should be obtained whenever any territorial transfer was to take effect. This was how, he said, the idea of referendum had cropped up. But he said he firmly stood in his conviction that the necessity of taking the consent of the people again should not arise in view of the results of the last election which was run on the specific issue of merger, thus making a referendum redundant. In one sense it was a session of historic importance because it adopted the resolution without waiting for any signal from Pondicherry. In moving the resolution which “fathomed the desire of the population”, the President expressed the hope that by joining new India by peaceful and amicable negotiation they would be cementing the growing friendship between India and France.

* * *

  • 55 Note pour le President Schuman. Approuvée 13 nov. 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 8 (Qd)

24During his visit to Pondicherry, many people had approached Lévi with a proposal –a proposal of conceding, as soon as possible, total autonomy to the enclaves guaranteed jointly by India and France. Lévi personally favoured such a proposal as capable of promoting French interests and this led him to believe that this proposal had large number of takers. Immediately after the municipal elections in the French India settlements, Lévi sincerely addressed himself to the proposal. Lévi’s concept of co-suzerainty consisted of transforming the south Indian settlements into Villes Libres whose status would be guaranteed jointly by India and France. He communicated his views to Schuman. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs prepared a note for Schuman which dealt with issues connected with the possible introduction of co-suzerainty on the French enclaves on India.55 Although the pro-French Socialist Party had a clean sweep in the last municipal elections, the French Government realized that even if the referendum had registered a verdict in favour of French Union, France would find it impossible to retain its existing control over the enclaves without the consent of the Government of India. The geopolitical situation and the complete economic dependence of the enclaves in India would baffle such a possibility. Moreover, India would never allow such a thing to happen and challenge the validity of such a verdict. Hence, the proposal of co-suzerainty, in order to be workable, must be acceptable to India and negotiations with India should be opened. Before the commencement of such a negotiation, the note stated, the newly elected municipal councillors of Pondicherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam would have to express their wishes for it in a clear and determined manner. In such an eventuality it would be an issue in the referendum and if the voters voted for it, France would find it easy to commence negotiations with New Delhi on that basis. This would give the French Government a strong and unassailable moral position at international level.

25The proposal which was confined to the official circle was made public when, on 20 November 1948, Baron in his opening speech to the French India Representative Assembly said

  • 56 Procès-verbaux de la deuxième session, 20 nov. 1948.

Pondicherry in the Indian Union is exactly a dead loss for the world. Pondicherry –I say Pondicherry to signify an Indian town within the Indian Union– is as much for India as for France, a link for friendship and progress.56

26This new proposal was nothing but a camouflage to perpetuate French rule in India. Quick came the retort from the French India nationalist leaders. R. L. Purushottama Reddiar in a press statement remarked that “the people of French India are Indians first and Indians last” and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the French from their pockets. Deploring this attitude, he said

  • 57 Gazetteer of India. Union Territory of Pondicherry, Vol. 1 P. 257.

to see the Governor pleading for the acceptance by the French Indians of the masked sovereignty of France, under cloaks of friendly links and cultural contacts, in the same breath in which., the time of domination is over.57

27Judging from the June declaration the attempt of the French Government to impose some sort of “masked sovereignty” in its Indian possessions was contrary to the original spirit of the declaration and hence untenable. Such a proposal intended to turn back the hands of the clock at a time when preliminary arrangements were completed for the transfer of French Indian territories to Indian Union. The Government of India was never consulted before Baron made such a statement in the Representative Assembly of Pondicherry. Soon after this Baron had to vacate office.

* * *

  • 58 Levi au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 18 nov. 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 9 (Qd).
  • 59 30 nov. 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 9.
  • 60 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 12 et 24 fév. 1949. Aff. Pol (...)
  • 61 Pondichéry à outre-mer, tél 18 dec 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 437 (A. O. M.).

28So strong was the desire for integration with Indian Union among the French Indian people that the policy of repression and harassment, followed in the wake of the municipal elections of 24 October, could not dampen their energy though undoubtedly there was a temporary set back among them. The Indian press was highly critical of the Pondicherry Government for having gerrymandered the elections in a naked manner and pursued a policy of coercion even when the elections were over. Lévi informed the French Foreign Minister that the Madras Government contemplated taking “a strong action” –a Hyderabad-type police operation against the French.58 This was a remark not substantiated by facts whereas the French themselves had let loose a policy of panic in Mahe. The All India Congress Committee Secretary condemned this in a statement.59 The Government of India’s proposal to France to grant temporary amnesty to those of the Mahesians who had taken shelter in Indian territory did not have any effect.60 In Karaikal, the French Administrator Goumain, taking advantage of the absence of Pakkirissamy who had gone to Paris, violated all norms of administrative neutrality by exercising tremendous pressure and coercion to secure the resignation of some municipal councillors.61 This was done in order to dissolve the municipal council of which Pakkirissamy was the Mayor. The Hindu wrote

  • 62 The Hindu, 24 Feb. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D1 (A. O. M.).

Vested interests in French India are bent upon eliminating him (Pakkirissamy) so that the referendum might result in a victory to extremists in Socialist Party.62

  • 63 The Indian Express, 18 January 1949. Aff. Politiques, D442 (A. O. M.).
  • 64 Pondichéry a outre-mer. tel 18 déc 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 437 (A. O. M.).
  • 65 The Hindu, 24 Feb. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D1 (A. O. M.).

29The French India Representative Assembly passed a resolution63 on 17 December condemning the high-handed action of the Administrator and the President of the Representative Assembly demanded his immediate recall.64 It was at that time that an ingenious move was made by the pro-French elements to declare Pakkirissamy an Indian by nationality so that he might be removed permanently from the French Indian political scene.65

  • 66 Lévi au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères (tel.), 13 nov. 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 8 (A. (...)
  • 67 Note pour le President Schuman. Approuvée 13 nov. 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 8 (Qd).

30The farcical municipal elections and its aftermath induced the Government of India to harbour doubt about the sincerity of the French Government to hold the referendum in an impartial manner and to believe that France was destined to delay the process under one pretext or another. From official correspondence exchanged at that time between the Pondicherry Government and the French Embassy in Delhi on the one hand and the Ministry of French Foreign Affairs on the other, it becomes clear that both Pondicherry and Paris authorities were following a negative policy acceptable neither to the Government of India nor to the people of French India. Coming back from Paris, Nehru once more declared that fusion with Indian Union was the only way open to French India because they could not exist on their own for a long time and that referendum should decide the issue.66 Along with referendum was connected the question of appointing observers –a demand which New Delhi had been making long before the municipal elections were held. On this important question, the French Government was following a dilly-dallying tactics always pointing out that the matter was under its consideration. During the municipal elections, the All India Congress Committee did send some observers whom the Pondicherry Government did not give any official recognition. But the French authorities reviewed its attitude on this matter after the municipal elections keeping in view the forthcoming referendum in which the question of co-suzerainty might crop up. The note,67 referred to above, considered New Delhi’s demand of sending joint observers during the referendum. Instead the French Government preferred the presence of neutral observers. The presence of such neutral observers, the French Government believed, would give legitimacy to the results of the referendum and the Government of India would find it difficult to challenge the results. The French Government deemed it preferable to approach the President of the Permanent Court of International Justice who on his turn would spell out the names of the observers. As precedence the note cited cases of Tende and Brigue (in Alpes Maritimes, South France) where referendum were held in 1947 under the supervision of ICJ.

  • 68 Tract publie par Pakkirissamy Pillai de Karaikal, 15 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D1 (A. O. (...)
  • 69 Ibid.

31Meanwhile, an important approach on the question of merger with Indian Union had emerged. Immediately after the municipal elections Léon St. Jean said the congressites of French India realized the necessity of a long transitory period ranging from 5 to 30 years for the adaptation of French institutions and administrative departments with the Indian situation. Chandernagore had earlier asked for a “stand still” agreement for 5 years. This new approach was formulated possibly with a view to dispelling the doubts gathering in the minds of people about the consequences of sudden change over from one system to another. Such a doubt had already arisen in their mind when Pakkirissamy issued a tract68 informing them that integration with Indian Union might cause inconvenience to the merchants, mirasdars (land holders), workers, employees and pension-holders and they might have to face difficulty in getting supplies of food and lose fiscal advantages. He appealed to the people to think whether they could decide to merge immediately or after a few years following a temporary convention. He described this desire to merge with Indian Union as like entering a monarchy by renouncing a republic, but as a pro-mergerist he preferred to live better as a citizen in monarchy than a slave in a republic.69

32The changed approach to merger needs explanation. The francophiles of the south Indian settlements were staunch supporters of French Union and the Pondicherry authorities had been organizing them under one banner as a counterpoise to the pro-mergerists. They were thriving under the patronage of Goubert’s Socialist Party and the Progressive Democratic Party as well. A fear psychosis of losing all the benefits of French administration in the event of fusion with Indian Union was being harped by a systematic but malicious campaign. Needless to say the sustained campaign had some effect on the beneficiaries of the French rule and an impression was getting rooted in their minds that the pension holder would be deprived of his pension, merchant and trader would have to pay higher trade taxes, landholder would be subjected to higher assessment and house-owner would have to pay house tax at an enhanced rate and 200 years old cultural heritage would be severed etc. in the event of French India joining Indian Union. The interim period, now spoken of, was expected to settle claims and benefits of the people of the French enclaves and ensure a slow but smooth change over from one set up to another. The Indian National Congress fully appreciated this changed approach on merger and lent support to it by adopting a resolution more or less on the same line at its Jaipur session on 19 December 1948. This resolution, stated below, demanded incorporation of all foreign possessions into Indian Union and pledged to preserve the various benefits enjoyed by the people living there.

  • 70 Zaidi, India Wins Freedom, Vol. 13. pp.155-56.

With the establishment of independence in India the continued existence of foreign possessions in India becomes anomalous and opposed to the conception of India’s unity and freedom. Therefore it becomes necessary for these possessions to be politically incorporated in India and no other solution can be stable or lasting or in conformity with the will of the people. The Congress trusts that this change will be brought about soon by peaceful methods and the friendly cooperation of the governments concerned. The Congress realizes that during this long period administrative, cultural, educational and judicial system have grown up in these foreign possessions, which are different from those prevailing in the rest of India. Any change over therefore must take these factors into consideration and allow for a gradual adjustment which will not interfere with the life of the people of the areas concerned. The Congress would welcome the present cultural heritage of these possessions to be continued in so far as the people of those possessions desire and for a measure of autonomy to be granted, wherever possible, so as to enable the people of those possessions to maintain their culture and institutions with the larger frame-work of free India.70

33The Jaipur resolution made clear three things: that with the coming of independence in India the continued existence of foreign possessions in the country had become anomalous, that the political incorporation of these territories with India had become inevitable and that for this to come about, peacefully and in co-operation with other powers concerned, India would take into account the usual international procedure and the cultural transition. But India could no more tolerate any foreign foothold within her borders though she might allow some time for the change over to take place and she would see that the wishes of the people were respected and implemented as quickly as possible. The Jaipur resolution and the Nasik resolution as well clearly defined the policy of the Government of India towards the colonial powers still trying to cling to their pockets in India.

Notes

1 Administrateur de Mahé à Pondichéry (tél.). 6 mai 1948. Aff. Politiques. Also S. G. Inde F 19, (A. O. M.).

2 Baron au consul Général Pondichéry, 5 juin 1948. Also Baron a Outre-mer, 2 août 1948, Aff. Politiques, C 437 (A. O. M.).

3 The Hindu, 28 Oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

4 I. K. Kumaran whom I met in his Mahe residence gave me this information.

5 Pondichéry a outre-mer (tel.), 5 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

6 L’Aurore, 23/24 oct. 1948. Le Monde, 29 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.). Consul de France (Madras) a Outre-mer, (tél.), 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

7 Le Monde, 29 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

8 The Hindu, 28 Oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.). I. K. Kumaran told me the same thing.

9 Lévi a Paris (tél.) 24 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

10 K. P. S. Menon (Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations) to French Ambassador. 25 Oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

11 L’Epoque 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

12 Coste-Floret au Administrateur de Mahé, 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

13 A member of the Defence Committee.

14 28 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

15 Chargé d’Affaires of India (Paris) to the French Foreign Minister, 27 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

16 K. P. S. Menon to the French Ambassador, 25 Oct., 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.). Kumaran told me that the movement was peaceful and non-violent.

17 Paris tl 1’Ambassade de France (tél.). 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

18 Lévi a Paris (tél.). 23 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

19 Coste-Floret au Commissaire de la République (Pondichéry), 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451.

20 Paris a l’Ambassade de France (tél.), 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques C 451 (A. O. M.).

21 L’Aurore, 23/24 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

22 Lévi a Paris (tél.) 28 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

23 I. K. Mumaran told me that he was taken to Chambala Hill.

24 This was the estimate of I K Kumaran.

25 Gazette of India Union Territory of Pondicherry; P 279, Vol. 1

26 Le Monde, 28 Oct, 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

27 As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 8 (Qd).

28 Lévi au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères (tel.) 13 nov. 1948. As 44-55, Inde Française, Vol. 8 (Qd).

29 P. K. Osman of Naluthara, K. Damodaran (Court Registrar of Mahe).

30 I. K. Kumaran, C. E. Bharatan, Magalat Raghavan etc.

31 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

32 Le Monde, 29 oct, 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

33 Comrep (Pondichéry) a Outre-mer (tél.), 22 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 436 (A. O. M.).

34 28 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 450 (A. O. M.).

35 The Hindu, 25 Oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 450 (A. O. M.).

36 Ibid.

37 25 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques C 450 (A. O. M.).

38 26 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 450 (A. O. M.).

39 Ibid.

40 The Hindu, 27 Oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 450 (A. O. M.).

41 Dinamani, 25 Oct. 1948. The Hindu, 27 Oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 450 (A. O. M.).

42 Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

43 Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

44 Rajkumar, N. V., The Problem of French India, p. 44.

45 Perspectives politiques de l’Inde Française par le Gouverneur, Commissaire de la République, 5 déc, 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 437 (A. O. M.).

46 Levi à Schuman, 26 nov. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

47 Note pour M. Baeyens, 4 dec 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 9 (Qd).

48 Harihor Sett au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 27 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C451 (A. O. M.).

49 Deben Das reported this after he and Arun Datta had met Nehru and the French Ambassador at New Delhi 8 Nov. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451, D 16 (A. O. M.).

50 Deben Dash a Tézenas du Montcel, 1 dec 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 (A. O. M.).

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid.

53 Aff. Politiques, C 451, D6, Le Monde, 18 déc 1948 (A. O. M.).

54 President du Conseil d’Administration à Coste Floret, 16 dec 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 451 D6 (A. O. M.).

55 Note pour le President Schuman. Approuvée 13 nov. 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 8 (Qd)

56 Procès-verbaux de la deuxième session, 20 nov. 1948.

57 Gazetteer of India. Union Territory of Pondicherry, Vol. 1 P. 257.

58 Levi au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 18 nov. 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 9 (Qd).

59 30 nov. 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 9.

60 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 12 et 24 fév. 1949. Aff. Politiques. C 457, D6 (A. O. M.).

61 Pondichéry à outre-mer, tél 18 dec 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 437 (A. O. M.).

62 The Hindu, 24 Feb. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D1 (A. O. M.).

63 The Indian Express, 18 January 1949. Aff. Politiques, D442 (A. O. M.).

64 Pondichéry a outre-mer. tel 18 déc 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 437 (A. O. M.).

65 The Hindu, 24 Feb. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D1 (A. O. M.).

66 Lévi au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères (tel.), 13 nov. 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 8 (A. O. M.).

67 Note pour le President Schuman. Approuvée 13 nov. 1948. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 8 (Qd).

68 Tract publie par Pakkirissamy Pillai de Karaikal, 15 oct. 1948. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D1 (A. O. M.).

69 Ibid.

70 Zaidi, India Wins Freedom, Vol. 13. pp.155-56.

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1997

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