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Decolonization of French India

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Ajit K. Neogy

9. New Areas of Dispute

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  • 1 Other members of the delegation were Karendra Mudaliar (Minister of French India) and Emmanuel Tett (...)
  • 2 The Hindu, 19 Oct., 1949. Aff. Politiques, C 2270 (A. O. M.).
  • 3 The Hindu, 19 Oct., 1949.
  • 4 Ibid.
  • 5 L’Aurore, 2 août 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

1In accordance with the resolution taken in the March meeting of the Municipal Committees to send a delegation of Municipal Councillors to Paris and New Delhi, a three-man delegation1 headed by Goubert left for Paris on 11 July 1949. The aim of the delegation was to get from the French and Indian Governments “clarifications” as to the status that the settlements could expect from the country they might choose to join. In Paris the delegation met many political personalities. The French Overseas Minister who doubted the composition and the legality of the delegation informed them that he had no power to give any assurance or even discuss the issue and he advised them to contact the President of the French National Assembly who could enlighten them on this matter. The delegation was told that “definite clarification” would be given only after referendum and not before.2 The matter would first be placed before the French cabinet and then decided by Parliament. Goubert himself admitted that the treatment they had received in France was “far from satisfactory” and that they “returned to Delhi thoroughly dissatisfied and disappointed”.3 The delegation expressed its desire to obtain some kind of autonomy within the French Union. The Council of Ministers, although examined the proposed status on 27 July, had not taken any definite position in this regard. The Pondicherry delegation came back to New Delhi a few days afterwards. It should be remembered that the delegation had no legal standing whatsoever, and the French Government thought that New Delhi would refuse to accept it. But the Government of India had received the delegation with utmost courtesy – “a reception cordial and satisfactory” was accorded to it.4 Before the delegation had reached New Delhi, Lévi suddenly proposed the creation of a state consisting of the five French settlements in India. To the state to be thus created India and France would guarantee in common complete autonomy. Such a state, he believed, would be able to resolve the vexed problem between the two countries. The new state could maintain political, economic and cultural relations with the two governments.5 The proposed new state would be linked with the French and Indian Union and would have their representation in the Assemblies in New Delhi and Paris. Lévi, while making the new proposal, neither consulted New Delhi nor sought the approval of the French authorities in advance. It was in this backdrop that the Pondicherry delegation met Nehru, Rajaji and other Indian leaders and officials. New Delhi had taken its stand in accordance with the Jaipur resolution of the Indian National Congress. The Government of India told the visiting delegation that the prospect of common guaranteeship of the new state as proposed by Lévi was not acceptable to it. New Delhi believed referendum as the best method of solution to the problem staring both at India and France. The delegation was further informed that in the event of their merger with Indian Union, the French settlements would remain as they had been for the next 2 or 3 years after which they would have to be integrated with Madras, but it would not disturb in any manner whatsoever the existing administration or the way of life in the enclaves without prior consultation or consent of the people. Nehru also said in a press conference

  • 6 The Hindu, 7 August 1949. Aff. Politiques, C 468, D 2 (A. O. M.).

Our policy, first of all, is that these foreign possessions must necessarily revert to India because we cannot tolerate the idea of this Indian sub-continent having footholds occupied by foreign powers. But apart from that, we have said that as far as possible, autonomy should be recognized and a period of transition with their consent and co-operation should be fixed.6

  • 7 Rajkumar, op. cit., p. 75.

2Actually this demand for the reversion of the settlements to Indian Union was conflicting with the demand for holding referendum as the best method of solving the problem. The delegation wanted a direct settlement of the question by mutual negotiations in which they would have a voice.7 New Delhi believed this but did never think that the delegation would soon deceive it by effecting a volte-face.

  • 8 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères a l’Ambassade de France (New Delhi), tel. 3 août 1949. As 44-55. I (...)
  • 9 Levi au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 9 août 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

3The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was surprised over Lévi’s announcement, expressed its reaction by pointing out that he had made the proposal in his personal capacity and it sensibly differed from the position adopted by the French Government.8 The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs wanted to know the motives which prompted Lévi to make the announcement in New Delhi. Lévi explained that the delicate situation which had emerged out of the uncertain assurance given to the delegation at Paris induced him “to such a manoeuvre” which, he believed, would be fruitful if executed immediately and would go a long way to assuage their disappointment.9 Lévi had, in fact, developed some sort of infatuation for the concept of co-sovereignty or co-suzerainty or joint administration for the French settlements of India and he endeavoured for the acceptance of his brain-child by New Delhi. Soon after this the French Overseas Minister (Coste-Floret) came to Calcutta on his way back from Saigon. There he met Lévi as well as the Pondicherry delegation.

4The municipal delegation which met Coste-Floret at Calcutta found a complete change in the attitude of the French Overseas Minister. At Calcutta he received them cordially which he, on the suggestion of Tézenas du Montcel, did not do at Paris. Now he promised to give complete autonomy to French Indian settlements to which he was noncommittal at Paris. He was since then labouring hard to retrieve the lost position. A mysterious draft plan of autonomy was prepared at Pondicherry. The Council of Ministers in Paris passed a law of autonomy within the French Union making the settlements a federation. It was explained in New Delhi that this concerned only with the internal administration and no other change was contemplated in the future of French India. This had its full impact on the decision of the Municipal Congress which met again in 17 October 1949 to hear and consider the report of the municipal delegation. It was Goubert who had piloted the French offer of autonomy in the Municipal Congress.

  • 10 Note pour le Ministre. 18 août 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

5There were differences of opinion as to the degree of autonomy to be granted to the French Indian settlements. Coste-Floret contemplated in terms of giving autonomy as large as Vietnam. But the department never thought in terms of giving autonomy as large as Vietnam. If the French Indian territories were given a status of Associated State in accordance with Articles 61 and 62 of the French constitution, it was impossible to accord a Vietnam-type autonomy.10

  • 11 Pflimlin (Paris) a l’Ambassade de France (tel.) 20 août 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd (...)
  • 12 Ambassade de France au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères (tel.). 27 août 1949. As 44-55. Inde França (...)

6When things were moving in this direction an urgent telegram from the Council of Cabinet was sent to Coste-Floret urging him not to make any declaration in connection with the status of the French Indian settlements because the question needed a careful study and perhaps parliamentary approval.11 It was at this stage Lévi gave the Minister for Foreign Affairs his reactions and cautioned him to the effect that if France fell back on the assurances already given to the delegation, i. e. autonomy as large as possible and comparable to that of Laos, Goubert would go against France and in that case the results of the referendum would be disastrous.12 The Socialist Party leader had demanded that the status of autonomy should be given before referendum. Lévi, therefore, observed that whatever decision taken would have far-reaching consequences. In his opinion the question of the enclaves would unhappily constitute an “abstract problem” that could not be judged and resolved in isolation from a strongly complex local context.

  • 13 The visit took place in early Sept. 1950.
  • 14 Indian Consul General’s fortnightly Report (1 to 15 February 1950). Ministry of External Affairs / (...)
  • 15 The Hindu, 14 November 1949.
  • 16 Ibid.

7It becomes clear from the above that the French authorities –neither the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the Ministry of Overseas Empire– could make up their minds as to the nature of the problem which afflicted the French Indian enclaves and the remedy to cure it. They got lost in the cobwebs of constitutional complications. The hesitation to take a decision as to whether French India was to be given the status of Associated State or an enlarged Vietnam type autonomy speaks well of their lack of determination to solve the problem. The same telegram urged Coste-Floret not to visit Pondicherry where the Pondicherry Council of Administration had invited him. This was not without motive. The motive was to pressurize Keskar, Deputy Minister for External Affairs (Government of India) for cancelling his proposed visit to Pondicherry. But this failed to deter Keskar from fixing the date of his visit to Pondicherry,13 and actually when the date was finalized Lévi raised a hue and cry. Lévi met Girija Shankar Bajpai and K. P. S. Menon with a view to persuading them that Keskar should not undertake the impending visit when Coste-Floret had cancelled it. He argued that such a visit in the wake of referendum might directly or indirectly influence the process of referendum. But Lévi did not object the visits of French officials to Pondicherry. The flow of French visitors had been going up for quite some time. He overlooked the activities of Tézenas du Montcel who had actually started a pro-French movement in Pondicherry. Prominent officials of the French Government like Bruniquel and Escargueil visited Pondicherry in August 1949. Papussamy, an attaché of the French Embassy at New Delhi, arrived in Pondicherry just two days before the meeting of the Municipal Congress which was held on 17- 18 October. In February 1950, he was accompanied by Christian Belle, the Counsellor of the French Embassy in New Delhi. He met the French Governor and also the leaders of the Socialist Party.14 Two members of the French Union Assembly –Lebrun and Schock– ran in from Paris on a private visit and conversed with the political leaders of Pondicherry and Karaikal assuring them that the law of autonomy would be passed very shortly and that the French Indian question could be resolved without referendum.15 The Hindu wrote “The Indian Government began at last to understand what a “domestic affair” is for France and to regret the blind faith which it had placed in France”.16 The Government of India did not object to their visit. If it is deemed that the French visitors had visited Pondicherry in official capacity, Keskar too, as Deputy Minister for the Ministry of External Affairs, could do the same. Lévi had earlier reacted to P. A. Menon’s visit to Pondicherry. Lévi did not even hide his prejudices against Bajpai though the latter never visited the French Indian settlements. The French Indian authorities actually got panicky of the visits of Indian officials or political leaders to Pondicherry or Karaikal and saw in their visits a threat to their position.

8Circumstances demanded that the French Government clarified its attitude towards her Indian possessions without further delay. Accordingly the French Council of Ministers, in its meetings held on 14 and 21 September 1949 respectively took two momentous decisions. It decided that in order to ensure the fairness of the forthcoming referendum in the southern settlements and make it results incontestable the number of neutral observers should be increased. The Council of Ministers, in its meeting on 21 September, also approved the status of autonomy within the French Union to be granted to the French enclaves of south India in the event of the verdict of referendum going in favour of France.

  • 17 The Hindu, 19 Oct. 1949. Also Note (Les Etablissements français de l’Inde et les rapports franco-in (...)
  • 18 The Hindu, 19 Oct. 1949.
  • 19 Ibid.

9Nearly a month after this, the Municipal Congress of the four south Indian settlements met at Pondicherry (17 and 18 October) and recommended the acceptance of the French Government’s offer of federal autonomy to the people of the settlements.17 The Municipal Congress enumerated various types of hardships which the people of Pondicherry were undergoing consequent on the revival of the customs regulations and declared their inability to participate in the referendum.18 It made it clear that referendum should not take place so long the enclaves would continue to suffer under the present system. The Councillors demanded that the pre-1941 regime should be re-established before holding the referendum. It, therefore, resolved that the referendum would not be held on 11 December and that a later date should be fixed for the same. It urged the French Government to take up the matter with the Government of India and to see that these hardships were removed within six months. The Municipal Congress even resolved that if the French Government failed to come to a settlement with the Government of India and remove the hardships, they should hand over the affected communes to the Indian Union and denounce the June Agreement of 1948. After this Municipal Congress adjourned sine die19 with the slogan Vive la France. The postponed referendum was to take place in February 1950.

  • 20 The Hindu, 28 Oct. 1949. Aff. Politiques, C 2270, D1 (A. O. M.).
  • 21 Gouverneur (Pondichéry) au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer (tel.), 12 août 1949. Aff. Politiques, (...)
  • 22 Rajkumar, op. cit., p. 76.
  • 23 Gazetteer of India, Union Territory of Pondicherry. Vol. I p. 260.

10The decision of the Municipal Congress surprised New Delhi and stunned the pro-mergerists. The expeditious manner in which the French Indian Municipal Congress accepted the French offer of autonomy and called on the people of the settlements to accept it confirmed the view that during the months of August and September intense political activity behind the scenes had taken place in all the four settlements to secure unanimous acceptance of the offer by the members of the Municipal Congress.20 In a telegram to the Overseas Minister le Commissaire de la République informed that the delegation was impressed with the Indian offer and expressed the fear that the Municipal Congress might feel tempted for the Indian Union.21 One would not be wrong if one concludes that the French officials who had visited Pondicherry and Karaikal during the preceding months were the real actors “behind the scenes” and they might have either coerced or cajoled the Municipal Councillors to take the above decision. One would obviously like to know the attitude of the Municipal Congress towards the assurances given by New Delhi. The Municipal Congress only “took note of the intentions expressed by the Delhi Government to the Delegation as regards the status to be accorded to our establishments”. There was no reference to India’s attitude and nothing was said about the Indian offer. Evidently a noncommittal stand suited them best under the circumstances. Goubert, who dominated the whole scene from the beginning to the end, made certain remarks in course of his speech before the assembled councillors about New Delhi’s intention with regard to the future of the French Indian pockets which had in fact no real basis and which were at variance with what they had been actually told when they were in Delhi as members of the delegation. “Presumably”, as Rajkumar observed, “it was a case of deliberate distortion on his part with the object of misleading his audience”.22 The Government of India promptly issued a rejoinder clarifying its stand on this subject. The communiqué,23 issued on 27 October 1949, declared

There seems to be some misunderstanding with regard to the policy and intentions of the Government of India concerning the future of French settlements in India in the event of their deciding to join Indian Union. The Government of India have decided that in that event French possessions in India will be administered as autonomous units in direct relations with the Central Government. Any changes in the administrative set up will be carried out only after consulting local public opinion. The special linguistic and cultural interests of the people will be preserved. The Government of India will provide adequate funds for carrying on the administration of these possessions. The existing financial commitments of the French administration will be taken over by the Government of India.

* * *

  • 24 Lévi au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères (tél.) 6 nov. 1949. As 44-55. Vol. 11 (Qd).
  • 25 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères à l’Ambassade de France (tél.), 18 nov. 1949. As 44-55. Inde Franç (...)
  • 26 Government of India’s Aide-mémoire, 16 December 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).
  • 27 Ibid.

11Immediately after the Municipal Congress was over, Rajkumar visited Pondicherry and Karaikal and discussed with the pro-merger elements about the forthcoming referendum. He formed a Committee of Referendum in order to rally the pro-merger parties. Rajkumar’s activities were viewed with disfavour by the French Indian authorities. Both the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Overseas Empire expressed strong reactions against his presence and activities in Pondicherry and Karaikal.24 His activities, in their opinion, would create “an atmosphere of agitation” and this was contrary to the terms of the Franco-Indian letter of 29 June 1948. The two French Ministries instructed Lévi to protest strongly against the entry of foreigners within the French settlements particularly in the wake of referendum. Lévi was instructed by the French Foreign Minister to tell the Government of India to wind up the mission of Rajkumar.25 He lodged a protest to the Government of India. To this, the Indian Ambassador at Paris replied that Rajkumar was not an official of the Government of India and he visited Pondicherry in a private capacity. The Government of India was not in a position to interfere with his mission in Pondicherry and Karaikal.26 He further pointed out that Rajkumar had visited Pondicherry and Karaikal to persuade the people to participate in the referendum and vote in favour of merger with India. Persuasion, he observed, did not mean pressurization or violation of the spirit of the June Agreement. Rather meeting and persuading people were essential traits of the democratic process and denial of these rights to Rajkumar by the French Government would amount to subjecting him to pressure which itself was against the June Agreement and contrary to the assurance of holding free and fair referendum, the Indian Ambassador added.27

  • 28 Copy of a letter addressed to Pathabi Sitaramya, Rajkumar, Gopalassamy Ayyanger. 17/18 December 194 (...)

12The results of the last municipal elections had actually upset the pro-merger elements and considerably perturbed New Delhi. The whole elections were manipulated and government machinaries were recklessly used. Apart from this pro-merger people and parties pointed out their fingers on Rashid Ali Baig for the debacle and the most disquieting thing was that there was a virtual outbreak of a movement against him for his removal from Pondicherry. The demand for his removal was mostly spearheaded by young congressites. Rashid Ali had become controversial for many reasons and only a few months ago the Government of France had declared him persona non grata. Realizing the serious consequences that might spark off from such a step, the French Government later revoked the order. He was critical of the Ashram. He was high-handed, vainglorious and had an exalted impression about his capacity. At a time when the pro-mergerists were fighting against Goubert’s Socialist Party, Rashid Ali was pampering him believing that he would be able to win him over and his party and rally them round the merger movement. He had secret parleys with Goubert. This policy was unacceptable to the pro-mergerists who believed that he was working against their interests. The municipal elections in which they had suffered a disaster failed to bring him to senses and they were of the view that Rashid Ali had not sufficiently exercised his authority to protest against the irregularities in the elections. Moreover, they felt they had not received the necessary support and patronage from him.28 Even Rajkumar had become totally disillusioned with him. Resentment against him mounted after the Municipal Congress of 17-18 October which actually postponed the referendum. New Delhi had already received many complaints against him and a number of telegrams were sent to Patel, Sitaramya, Rajkumar, Gopalassamy Ayangar holding Baig responsible for the whole development. They complained that whatever Baig had done during the last two years had ultimately strengthened the hands of Goubert. His policy had a demoralizing effect on the pro-mergerists. New Delhi had shown so much courtesy to the municipal delegation because of Baig. They unsuccessfully tried to correct Baig who blindly followed the advises of his personal friends like Tetta, Léon St. Jean and Adicéam – all beneficiaries of French administration in India. They accused Rashid Ali of having divided the leadership. Disgusted with his politics posters bearing epithets like “Baig your dishonest politics have failed”, “You are traitor to the cause of liberation of French India”, “This is not your place, either go to Pakistan or to Paris” were pasted in all the principal places of Pondicherry. Visibly embarrassed over this Baig tried to contact the President and Vice-President of the Committee of National Liberation. He believed that this must have been the work of Munussamy of the Student’s Congress and André. The Congress Party instructed Rajkumar to hold an enquiry into the grievances of the pro-mergerists against Baig. Baig was finally recalled from Pondicherry. He was sent to Indo-China as Indian Ambassador.

  • 29 Renseignements Généraux de PondichSéy, 23 déc. 1949 Aff Politiques C 2270, D2 (A. O. M.). ’

13There was another story of Baig’s recall from Pondicherry. Baig had developed close intimacy with the Catholic group of Pondicherry headed by Tetta and Adicéam. They had a good hold on Pondicherry administration. This preponderance of the Catholic clique was disliked by Muthupillai, Muthukumarappa Reddiar and Balasubramanian. Baig was believed to be their patron and they feared that they would have to suffer unless the Catholic clique was crippled. To them the only possible way was to remove Baig from Pondicherry and make the group headless. The anti-catholic group met Rajkumar and reported to have urged him to remove Baig.29 They further assured him that they would join the Indian Union at an opportune moment. They were influential men in Pondicherry politics and their co-operation might have been useful for the merger of the south Indian French settlements with Indian Union. They induced Rajkumar to remove the Consul General and ultimately he had to go. S. K. Banerjee, who was Secretary to the Indian Embassy in Nepal, replaced Baig in Pondicherry on 31 December 1949. The new Consul General identified certain defects in the policy of the Government of India so far followed in handling the French Indian situation. He, in his confidential note, wrote

  • 30 Consul General s Fortnightly Report 1-15 January 1950. Ministry of External Relations/R & 1 Branch. (...)

There is none among the political leaders of French India who could get us the votes in a Referendum. We have lowered our prestige by letting our diplomatic agent dabble in local politics. We have insulted our country men by using useless slanders to be spread against the Ashram; we have looked askance at the motives of Sri Aurobindo who taught us the meaning of patriotism.30

  • 31 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères à l’Ambassade de France (tél.). 20 sept. 1949. As 44-55. Inde Fran (...)
  • 32 Government of India’s Aide-mémoire to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 December 1949. As  (...)
  • 33 Government of India’s Aide-mémoire to the French Ambassador, 21 Oct. 1949. As 44-55, Inde Française (...)
  • 34 Ministre de la France d’outre-mer au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 2 December 1949. As 44-55. I (...)
  • 35 Réunion du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, 1 nov. 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).
  • 36 Note pour le Secretaire, 25 oct. 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 48 (Qd).
  • 37 Ministre de la France d’outre-mer au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 2 dec 1949. As 44-55. Inde F (...)
  • 38 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères a l’Ambassade de France (tél.), 30 nov. 1949. As 44-55. Inde Franç (...)
  • 39 Note sur des Etablissements français dans l’Inde et les rapports franco-indiens. 1 dec. 1949. As 44 (...)

14In the meantime Guerrero, Vice-President of the International Court of Justice, prepared a list of 12 neutral observers. Parodi told Sardar Malik, Indian Ambassador in Paris, when he met him on 20 September 1949 that the Government should retain 8 of them in order to ensure maximum guarantee of electoral operation.31 The latter accordingly accepted, on 21 September, 8 of them but at the same time presented a supplementary list of 6 observers from Asian and African countries and observed, in its Aide-mémoire of 26 November, that the acceptance of the 8 names by the Government of India was dependant on the acceptance of 4 names submitted by the Government of India as additional members. It also insisted that the 8 members and the 4 additional members should start their work jointly and not separately.32 The Government of India also hoped that like the selection of observers, the latter’s functions and the modalities of the referendum should be decided upon in consultation with the Government of India.33 New Delhi’s insistence on the appointment of the 4 additional observers from Asian and African countries were not taken kindly by France.34 Schuman, seeing the list, remarked that 4 of them were not acceptable to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.35 The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs thought that the Indian stand had altered the procedure which France had been following by entirely entrusting the Vice-President of the International Court of Justice to nominate observers. It was of the view that New Delhi itself was usurping the right of nominating observers which France had given to the International Court of Justice. France under no circumstances was prepared to recognize the referendum as a Franco-Indian affair.36 The Overseas Minister later remarked that the panel of observers had been shown to India by courtesy and France was not bound by New Delhi’s observations. He thought that all these indicated New Delhi’s desire to claim a participation in the organization of the referendum which was an internal affair of France. Recognition of such a claim, he pointed out, would give India scope for pressure and propaganda during the referendum and in such an eventuality the fate of the south Indian settlements might go along the Chandernagore way. His decided opinion was to scuttle such a move.37 But the two ministries of France had the apprehension that India would not recognize the results of the referendum if it went against her and she might make a hue and cry on the question of additional members. The nomination of additional members which New Delhi had made a prestige issue created a dead lock and in order to resolve it France had to follow a conciliatory policy. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs proposed that of the 4 additional members 2 would be nominated by India and 2 by France.38 The 4 additional members thus nominated would be finally approved by Guerrero. The Government of India agreed to accept the proposal provided the French nomination of 2 members was made with the consent of India. New Delhi wanted to follow the same principle as was adhered to in the nomination of 8 neutral members stated earlier. The modalities of referendum was also a fount of dispute. India had already wished to be consulted on this issue. It asserted that it was an indispensable condition for recognizing the results of the consultation. To this Parodi told the Indian Ambassador that this could not be discussed with India so long French Parliament had not given its consent.39

* * *

  • 40 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères a l’Ambassade de France, 28 dec. 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, V (...)

15Situation in the enclaves around Pondicherry had been going down since the month of October 1949 and along with it the Indo-French relations which had considerably improved consequent on the meeting between Chambon and P. A. Menon. The rigid enforcement of the customs restrictions by the government of India on the movement of merchandises from one commune to another and between the communes and Pondicherry accounted for this unhappy relations. To this was added the introduction of the permit system which strictly regulated the travel between the French settlements and India. Lévi, in a letter of Schuman, had earlier indicated that New Delhi might harden its customs policy after the set back it had suffered in the Municipal Congress.40 The Government of India had again in fact tightened the economic pressures between Pondicherry and the surrounding communes in order to prevent smuggling. No doubt elements of political motives existed behind the renewed measures. Latourneau, a spokesman of the French Ministry of Overseas Empire whom Sardar Malik had met, pointed out to him that the economic pressures undertaken by the Government of India over the surrounding enclaves constituted a flagrant violation of the Indo-French agreement and drew the attention of the Government of India on this matter. The discussion seemed very embarrassing to him, but Sardar Malik admitted, according to French version, that India had recourse to fresh economic pressures in order to force the hands of the French Government to hold the referendum which it was delaying under one or other pretexts.

  • 41 Note. Etablissements de l’Inde. 31 dec. 1949. Aff. Politiques, C 2271 (A. O. M.).
  • 42 Procès-verbaux de la seance du Conseil du Gouvernement du 15 déc. 1949. Also Note sur “Le problème (...)
  • 43 Procès-verbal de la reunion tenue le 10 janv. 1950 au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères sous la prés (...)
  • 44 Note. Etablissements de l’Inde. 31 dec 1949. Aff. Politiques, C 2271 (A. O. M.).
  • 45 Procès-verbal de la Réunion tenue le 10 janv. 1950 au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères sous la prés (...)

16The renewal of economic measures by the Government of India became the focal point of contention both in Pondicherry and in France. A new dimension was added to the new feeling by the Pondicherry Council of Administration. In its session of 15 December 1949, it urged the French Government to open dialogue with India with a view to wresting from New Delhi assurances that it would not challenge the results of the referendum. Moreover, Goubert brought serious charges against the pro-mergerists who, according to him, were openly threatening that if the results of the referendum were found to be in favour of France they would follow a policy of reprisal against the pro-French elements. He also criticized the bellicose tone of the Indian press and expressed anxiety about the total absence of security of life and property of the supporters of the French Union. Goubert also pointed out that the Jaipur resolution of December 1948 and Nehru’s press statement on 3 and 5 August 1949 led them to believe that India would adopt steps if the verdict went against her. Under the circumstances, Goubert urged that the French Government should demand from the Government of India a public declaration of contradiction and a formal agreement assuring the security of life and property of the electors.41 At the same time the right of option for French and Indian citizenship should be ensured and protected. The Pondicherry Council of Administration further demanded that referendum would take place only after the restoration of a regime of free transit between the enclaves.42 The Council of Administration, in fact, repeated the demands which the Municipal Congress of 17-18 October had already demanded. On the question of withdrawal of Nehru’s statement Schuman said, in a joint meeting of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Overseas Empire held on 10 January 195043 that such a demand could not be made. In his opinion the exchange of letter of 29 June 1948 was an implicit engagement on the part of India to recognize the results of the popular consultation. The denouncement of the June Agreement, as demanded by the Municipal Congress, if acted upon, would totally change Indo-French relations. This would deprive France of the basis from which she could negotiate with India. In that eventuality hostility would mount up and France might even lose the settlements.44 Parodi, however, added that even if the Government of India would do otherwise and decline to show deference to the expressed wishes of the people, the whole question would be reopened and the French Government would be free from all obligations concerning the future of the enclaves and act independently of the Government of India.45 The holding of the referendum in the prevailing situation, according to French official note referred to above, was bound to have disastrous effects on French interests in the settlements.

17Actually the customs restrictions reinforced by the Government of India and the question of neutral observers including the modalities of referendum remained two very live issues and they spilled over to the years to come. The large scale irregularities in the municipal elections and the decisions of the Municipal Congress had dismayed New Delhi and this prompted the Government of India to tighten the customs restrictions in the enclaves. Life in the settlement again became difficult and with it developed greater misunderstanding between the two governments.

  • 46 Note, Etablissements de l’Inde. 31 dec 1949. Aff. Politiques, C 2271 (A. O. M.).
  • 47 Projet de note établi par D. Lévi. 2 janv. 1950. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 12 (Qd).
  • 48 Lévi aux Affaires Etrangères (tél.). 11 fév. 1950. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 12 (Qd). Also Aff (...)

18 Although the resolutions of the Municipal Congress and the decisions of the Pondicherry Council of Administration were embarrassing, France still intended to open a dialogue with New Delhi with a view to reaching a bilateral agreement for resolving the vexed issues. At a meeting held at Quai d’Orsay on 30 December 1949 in the chamber of Schuman where the French Indian interests were thoroughly discussed, Schumann observed that the holding of fresh negotiation with New Delhi as a prelude to an agreement between the two governments would have far-reaching consequences. This might even result in the liquidation of the French Indian settlements. Holding referendum, according to him, was the only way out, but to hold it in the prevailing situation would be disastrous for France. One-sixths of the French Indian inhabitants were living in the surrounding communes and renewed application of the economic pressures had brought untold sufferings to them. The French Government was unsure as to what they would do in the ensuing referendum under the changed situation. It feared that even if one-thirds of people of central Pondicherry voted against France, the settlements would be lost. All necessary precautions would have to be taken before holding referendum. Chambon, who was present in the meeting, observed that India would never accept the agreement under the conditions laid down by the Municipal Congress and the Pondicherry Council of Administration. Referring to the proposal of denouncing the June Agreement of 1948 in case of refusal on the part of the Government of India to accept an agreement, Chambon was of the view that the denouncement would make French position more vulnerable in the settlements.46 Lévi, in his scheme submitted to the Ministry of French Foreign Affairs on 2 January 1950, made, more or less, identical proposals accompanied by an agreement with India not to proceed before or after the consultation to take any sanction or reprisal against the person and the property of the inhabitants unless, of course, there was a threat to public order.47 Chambon’s views were also shared by E. Dairian –a loyal Pondicherrian and serving the French Government as Administrator of the Colonies. He was on furlough at that time. He met Bajpai and had contacted Rajkumar. Like Chambon, Dairian too observed that the proposed denunciation of the June Agreement would be damaging to the interests of France as well as the inhabitants of the settlements. The June Agreement had, in fact, provided France an appropriate basis for reciprocal agreement with India for resolving the problems of the settlements, he noted. If France accepted such a proposition she would only subscribe to a bargain in which she would be deceived. Dairian was also against fresh negotiations with New Delhi. He remarked that such a negotiation would lead France to no where in the face of Indian demand for surrender of sovereignty and French reluctance to abandon it. The delay in the withdrawal of sovereignty on the part of France was interpreted by New Delhi as deliberate. Dairian apprehended a serious press campaign against France with the consequences of Indo-French relations going down and down. He also pointed out that the renewal of customs restrictions would cause “a veritable gagging” (une véritable asphyxie) of the settlements and harm the interests of the local people. Dairian, of course, admitted that the Pondicherry authorities had been exaggerating the sufferings of the people of settlements. His decided opinion was that by participating in the referendum, supported by popular verdict and supervised by international observers, France might induce India to negotiate afterwards for a durable modus vivendi which might satisfy the profound aspirations of the inhabitants of the settlements. According to him it was necessary to arrange everything in a few weeks in order to win the case. The time was considered favourable because the development of Kashmir affair had placed India in a difficult situation and New Delhi’s mood of compromise, the possibility of which was indicated by the British High Commissioner in New Delhi, had to be utilized. The French official circle treated Dairian’s observation as “personal views” –views which he had developed on his own without being asked by the French Government.48

* * *

  • 49 Procès-verbal de la réunion tenue le 6 janv. 1950 sous la présidence de Parodi. As 44-55. Inde Fran (...)
  • 50 Entretien de Lévi avec le Sardar Malik. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 12 (Qd).
  • 51 Government of India’s Aide-mémoire to French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, As 44-55, Inde Française, (...)
  • 52 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères à Lévi, 13 janv. 1950. As 44-55. Vol. 12 (Qd).

19The question of the renewal of customs restrictions was discussed at a meeting (6 January 1950) presided over by Parodi. Lévi and Chambon attended the meeting. It was emphatically stressed that the Government of India must ensure free circulation of men and merchandises from one enclave to another during the period of referendum.49 This was followed by a meeting (9 January 1950) between Lévi and Sardar Malik and the former informed the latter about the terrible “harassment” to which the people were subjected due to its rigid enforcement.50 In an Aide-mémoire (12 January 1950) the Indian Ambassador made it known to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the Indian Government thought it indispensable to exercise a rigorous control on the customs administration on the frontiers of French India, but it had no intention to derive political mileage from this measure.51 It was, he pointed out, not a political measure but a step taken to combat contraband trade. Not satisfied with this the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised Lévi52 (13 January) to lodge a strong protest to New Delhi for having impeded the free flow of merchandises and movements of population from one enclave to another and urged New Delhi to take urgent measures for easing the situation.

  • 53 Note. Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 10 janv. 1950. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 12 (Qd).
  • 54 Note sur “Le problème des Etablissements français dans l’Inde”. Aff. Politiques, C 449. Also Govern (...)
  • 55 Indian Embassy to French Government, 18 February 1950. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 43 (Qd).

20New Delhi stressed an early holding of the referendum. The French Government too thought it desirable to hold the referendum at a time when public opinion was decidedly in its favour. Presuming that the referendum would be held in February 1950 the local authorities of Pondicherry had started revising the electoral lists since 20 December 1949. But the Government of India insisted on the solution of some urgent issues without which referendum would be meaningless. New Delhi had, time and again, approached the French Government for the grant of amnesty to those who had taken part in the mini-revolution of Mahe in October 1948 and who had been, since then, living outside Mahe as political exiles. Sardar Malik, when he met Parodi on 10 January 1950. again raised the question of granting amnesty.53 Moreover, New Delhi contended that the task of revising the electoral lists had been commenced since 20 December unilaterally and arbitrarily by the local authorities in collusion with parties and persons keen to preserve French rule in the southern settlements by way of excluding names of those who had pro-merger leanings. It demanded that the revision process should be stopped until the arrival of the neutral observers. The Government of India also demanded that the political parties should have full liberty to appeal to the people assuring them free and fair vote. It insisted that any person holding any position of power and profit in the French Government or in the local French administration must not be permitted to take part in the electoral campaign.54 While making this demand they had Goubert in view who was originally an employee of the French Government. The French Government had, however, expressed its willingness to advice its functionaries in the four settlements to refrain from participating in the campaign preceding the referendum. The Indian Government thought this was not sufficient. It desired the French Government to impose a general prohibition on all its functionaries from taking part in the campaign.55 It also demanded that the political refugees, referred to above, must be permitted to return to their settlements for registering their names in the revised electoral lists and participate in the electoral campaign. The Government of India also sought permission to depute Vice-Consuls in Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam. It pointed out that settlement of issues would require time and cause delay in holding the referendum. But they were so important for a free and fair referendum that New Delhi was prepared to wait. The referendum was later deferred until May 1950.

21Meanwhile, at a meeting (10 January 1950) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (presided over by Robert Schuman) where the Minister of the Overseas Empire and other top functionaries of the departments were present, the issues raised by the Government of India were discussed. They were all rejected. Apart from this, the deliberations of the meeting further revealed that the Ministry of the Overseas Empire was inclined to take a rigid attitude towards India although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was in favour of moderation. As the points raised by the Government of India were not settled to her satisfaction, the prospect of an agreement between the two governments were few and far between. The neutral observers who had already assembled at Paris en route to Pondicherry by the beginning of February 1950 to ascertain whether local situation was congenial for holding referendum had to be shunted back to their respective countries. The proposed visit of the first batch of neutral observers to French India was thus postponed. When the corps of neutral observers dispersed at the end of March 1950, the Indo-French negotiations on the modalities of the referendum had come to a deadlock.

Notes

1 Other members of the delegation were Karendra Mudaliar (Minister of French India) and Emmanuel Tetta, high ranking officer of the Finance Department (Pondicherry Government). But Goubert tactfully elbowed him out with whom he was breaking. He was replaced by Balasubramanian.

2 The Hindu, 19 Oct., 1949. Aff. Politiques, C 2270 (A. O. M.).

3 The Hindu, 19 Oct., 1949.

4 Ibid.

5 L’Aurore, 2 août 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

6 The Hindu, 7 August 1949. Aff. Politiques, C 468, D 2 (A. O. M.).

7 Rajkumar, op. cit., p. 75.

8 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères a l’Ambassade de France (New Delhi), tel. 3 août 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11. (Qd).

9 Levi au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 9 août 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

10 Note pour le Ministre. 18 août 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

11 Pflimlin (Paris) a l’Ambassade de France (tel.) 20 août 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd). Levi a Schuman, 20 oct. 1949. As 44-45. Inde Française, Vol. 53 (Qd).

12 Ambassade de France au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères (tel.). 27 août 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd). Also Lévi a Schuman, 20 oct. 1949. As 44-45. Inde Française, Vol. 53 (Qd).

13 The visit took place in early Sept. 1950.

14 Indian Consul General’s fortnightly Report (1 to 15 February 1950). Ministry of External Affairs / R & I Branch. File No. 35/R & I/50 (National Archives of India, New Delhi).

15 The Hindu, 14 November 1949.

16 Ibid.

17 The Hindu, 19 Oct. 1949. Also Note (Les Etablissements français de l’Inde et les rapports franco-indiens), 1 dec. 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

18 The Hindu, 19 Oct. 1949.

19 Ibid.

20 The Hindu, 28 Oct. 1949. Aff. Politiques, C 2270, D1 (A. O. M.).

21 Gouverneur (Pondichéry) au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer (tel.), 12 août 1949. Aff. Politiques, C 2270, D1 (A. O. M.).

22 Rajkumar, op. cit., p. 76.

23 Gazetteer of India, Union Territory of Pondicherry. Vol. I p. 260.

24 Lévi au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères (tél.) 6 nov. 1949. As 44-55. Vol. 11 (Qd).

25 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères à l’Ambassade de France (tél.), 18 nov. 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

26 Government of India’s Aide-mémoire, 16 December 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

27 Ibid.

28 Copy of a letter addressed to Pathabi Sitaramya, Rajkumar, Gopalassamy Ayyanger. 17/18 December 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

29 Renseignements Généraux de PondichSéy, 23 déc. 1949 Aff Politiques C 2270, D2 (A. O. M.). ’

30 Consul General s Fortnightly Report 1-15 January 1950. Ministry of External Relations/R & 1 Branch. File No.35/R & I/50 (NAI, New Delhi).

31 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères à l’Ambassade de France (tél.). 20 sept. 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

32 Government of India’s Aide-mémoire to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 December 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

33 Government of India’s Aide-mémoire to the French Ambassador, 21 Oct. 1949. As 44-55, Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

34 Ministre de la France d’outre-mer au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 2 December 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

35 Réunion du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, 1 nov. 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

36 Note pour le Secretaire, 25 oct. 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 48 (Qd).

37 Ministre de la France d’outre-mer au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 2 dec 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

38 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères a l’Ambassade de France (tél.), 30 nov. 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 48 (Qd).

39 Note sur des Etablissements français dans l’Inde et les rapports franco-indiens. 1 dec. 1949. As 44-55, Inde Française Vol. 11 (Qd).

40 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères a l’Ambassade de France, 28 dec. 1949. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 11 (Qd).

41 Note. Etablissements de l’Inde. 31 dec. 1949. Aff. Politiques, C 2271 (A. O. M.).

42 Procès-verbaux de la seance du Conseil du Gouvernement du 15 déc. 1949. Also Note sur “Le problème des Etablissements français dans l’Inde”. Aff. Politiques, C449 (A. O. M.).

43 Procès-verbal de la reunion tenue le 10 janv. 1950 au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères sous la présidence de Robert Schuman. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 12 (Qd).

44 Note. Etablissements de l’Inde. 31 dec 1949. Aff. Politiques, C 2271 (A. O. M.).

45 Procès-verbal de la Réunion tenue le 10 janv. 1950 au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères sous la présidence de Robert Schuman. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 12 (Qd).

46 Note, Etablissements de l’Inde. 31 dec 1949. Aff. Politiques, C 2271 (A. O. M.).

47 Projet de note établi par D. Lévi. 2 janv. 1950. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 12 (Qd).

48 Lévi aux Affaires Etrangères (tél.). 11 fév. 1950. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 12 (Qd). Also Affaires Etrangères a l’Ambassade de France (tel.) 9 mars 1950. As 44-55, Inde Française, Vol. 12 (Qd).

49 Procès-verbal de la réunion tenue le 6 janv. 1950 sous la présidence de Parodi. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 12 (Qd).

50 Entretien de Lévi avec le Sardar Malik. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 12 (Qd).

51 Government of India’s Aide-mémoire to French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, As 44-55, Inde Française, Vol. 12 (Qd).

52 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères à Lévi, 13 janv. 1950. As 44-55. Vol. 12 (Qd).

53 Note. Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, 10 janv. 1950. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 12 (Qd).

54 Note sur “Le problème des Etablissements français dans l’Inde”. Aff. Politiques, C 449. Also Government of India’s Aide-mémoire to the French Government, 3 February 1950. As 44-55. Inde Française Vol. 12 (Qd). Also As 44-55. Inde Française Vol. 42 (Qd).

55 Indian Embassy to French Government, 18 February 1950. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 43 (Qd).

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1997

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