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Decolonization of French India

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Ajit K. Neogy

13. A Barren Year: Stalemate Continued

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  • 1 The Indian Express, 23 April 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 7 (A. O. M.). Ménard’s address to the (...)
  • 2 The Indo-China Bank notes were valid only in Pondicherry and not in other three settlements where I (...)
  • 3 The Indian Express, 30 March 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 7 (A. O. M.).

1Economic condition in the French Indian settlements was in utter doldrums and one of the primary reasons was an acute shortage of Indian currency notes and coins of small denominations in Pondicherry. A study of the problem by the local government revealed that the main cause was the deficit of French India’s commercial balance with India.1 The Indo-China Bank, which was authorized to issue currency in 1936,2 was responsible for over-issuing Indo-China Bank notes and the encouragement it gave to clandestine gold and silver trade.3

  • 4 “French Policy has ruined economy of French settlements " by Muthu Kumarappa Reddiar. The Indian Ex (...)

The Sea Customs of the war time came to an end on 1 April 1949 and the land customs were set up again on the borders of the settlements. By this arrangement Pondicherry again became one of the world’s five free ports, enjoying absolute immunity from restrictions of imports and currencies. Naturally it attracted in a few days all kinds of commercial adventurers, monetary speculators and smugglers. They all flourished under the encouragement of the Indo-China Bank which gave practically unrestricted credit against imports for a commission on boom time basis. That it was able to do by inflating its currency issue by eight times.4

2The administration exercised virtually no power over the transactions of the Bank, but actually abetted its extraordinary transactions. Then the bank soon began to import and sell gold, contravening the well-known international convention which restrains banks from directly engaging in any business. The results was that all kinds of goods –gold, diamond, textile, luxury goods, liquors, food stuff etc. came to be imported into Pondicherry in amazing profusion and the administration, which had been receiving only a flat rate share of 6.2 lakhs from the Indian Union under the old arrangement, managed to obtain from just a token tax on imported goods nearly ten time that value. There was not only boom for the administration, there was boom also for the public. When a city turned into a vast emporium of contraband articles any one who could just manage to push the goods across the customs was in a position to make good money. It is no reflection on the Indian customs but it is at the same time true to say that a good part of the population of Pondicherry practised smuggling on a scale, small or large.

  • 5 13 March 1950. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 6 (A. O. M.). In 1952, 11 tons of gold were imported into (...)
  • 6 Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 5 (A. O. M.).
  • 7 Ibid.

3Goods of every description overflowed into the vast hinterland, money flowed with remarkable volume and speed among all sections of the public including the poorest and liquor kept pace with this simultaneous process of rise in incomes and fall in morals. It is then that the spirit of patriotism became dormant, a circumstance which the French rulers counted as an additional gain. They decided to retain the settlement as a republic of contented smugglers under their own beneficent auspices. They deliberately put on a stigma by extending patronage to Goubert’s men whose reputation was nil. As early as March 1950, the Government of India wrote to the French Embassy at New Delhi requesting it to urge the Pondicherry authorities to prevent importation of gold in excess of its requirements.5 But this was unheeded and a substantial portion of the imported gold was smuggled into India where its import was prohibited. By a note of 8 May 1950 the Government of India also sought the cooperation of the French Government to prohibit the exportation of Indian currency from French establishments to abroad. This, it pointed out, had the effect of depreciating Indian rupees in foreign markets and interfering with Government of India’s Exchange Control measures. Finally at a joint meeting of the French Overseas Ministry and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was decided to take necessary measures to restrict the supply of Indian rupees abroad and clandestine import of gold and silver.6 An act was passed to this effect in December 1950 and by a decree of 30 November 1952 importation, circulation and exportation of gold was interdicted with effect from 3 December 1952.7

  • 8 The Hindu, 6 May 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 5 (A. O. M.). The Indian Express, 23 April 1953. (...)
  • 9 The Indian Express, 2 Feb. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).
  • 10 The Hindu, 6 May 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

4However, this shortage of Indian currency badly hit trade with India. Pondicherry trade had paralysed since October 1952. Indian currency was in high demand at that time and French currency was converted by the people at a heavy discount. Actually Indian currency position in Pondicherry started deteriorating since May 1952. The picture became more gloomy by November of that year as the exchange rate of 2 per cent in May for Indo-China Bank notes rose to 15 per cent by November.8 The people of Pondicherry were all inconvenienced by the shortage of small denomination coins. Prices of commodities at Pondicherry had risen. Following the creation of barbed wire fences on land frontiers around French India and adoption of tougher administrative measures to prevent illegal exports to French India, prices of food stuff –a majority of them were available only in Indian Union– had gone up. Merchants of Pondicherry and Karaikal demanded prices well over 60 per cent of those obtaining in Indian border villages.9 This state of things had aggravated the distress of the poor and middle class people and consequent on this the employees of the French Indian Government demanded a 75 per cent dearness allowances.10

  • 11 The Indian Express, 26 Feb. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).
  • 12 The Hindu, 30 April 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).
  • 13 Pierre Laroque, Conseiller d’Etat au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 26 dec. 1952. Aff. Politiqu (...)
  • 14 The Indian Express, 16 Feb. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

5Food position in Pondicherry was not at all comfortable. High prices ot Indo-China rice had made it impossible to purchase its requirements at Saigon. Moreover failure of seasonal rams had further worsened the rice position in Pondicherry. Mayors of the communes who were mostly pro-French denied landholders who had nationalist leanings to take or sell their produce in Pondicherry by refusing to give them necessary permits. pro-French elements were putting all sorts of obstacles in the way of nationalists cultivating their lands. Contracts for municipal works were given only to those who were pro-French. Such people were also given licence tor running ration shops in the communes.11 The same practice was, of course, followed by the Indian Consul General. Licence for kerosene, coal etc. were given to those who were recommended by Merger Congress leaders and who agreed to pay for it. Ration system had collapsed. In Karaikal also, where the economic condition was better than in Pondicherry, prices of rice and other provisions had reached an unprecedented height. To this was added the November (1952) cyclone which further reduced stock of food grains by 5 000 tons. To meet the deficit, rice had to be imported from Siam and Burma during February 1953.12 The condition of the labourers in Pondicherry was extremely bad. Weaving industry had already become extinct. The Pondicherry administration did nothing for importing yarn for the local handloom weavers and many hundred weavers had left the French Indian territory in order to eke out a living. Speaking of the labourers, Pierre Laroque said that their standard of living was deplorably low and physical condition unsatisfactory.13 Strikes were going on in Anglo-French Textile Company and in Savana Mill. The striking workers were demanding bonus to cope with the erratic behaviour of Pondicherry economy. In Karaikal labourers were also demanding enhanced wages and salaried employees higher dearness allowances.14 The social life of Pondicherry and Karaikal was vitiated by large scale smuggling business and the consequent flow of ill-gotten money. The poverty of the peasants and the workers on the one hand and the economic prosperity of the smugglers on the other had created an imbalance in the socio-economic life of the two neighbouring settlements. The moral fabric of the society was tainted. There was no scope for employment and the unemployed youths suffered from frustration.

  • 15 The Indian Express, Feb. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).
  • 16 The Hindu, 16 Nov. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 2 (A. O. M.).
  • 17 The Indian Express, 15 Feb. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).
  • 18 The Madras Mail, 28 Feb. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).
  • 19 The Indian Express, 23 April 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 7 (A. O. M.).

6When this was the economic condition the Pondicherry administration proposed to enhance taxes. Already house tax had been increased. People had to bear the brunt of licence fees, taxes from landed goods and income tax. The Pondicherry Representative Assembly opposed the move and rejected the proposal.15 For the first time in French Indian history, members of the Representative Assembly took a firm stand and threw out the government’s proposal. Later the Representative Assembly had to retrace its steps in connection with Turnover Tax. It was a tax of 3 per cent imposed on all foreign imported goods. But in the face of strong protest from the merchants of Pondicherry, Karaikal and Yanam the Representative Assembly had to exempt Indian goods from the purview of the tax.16 The merchants of Karaikal observed a total hartal (strike) against the Turnover Tax. The Representative Assembly demanded that Indo-China Bank should stop issue of currency for the time being and finally passed a resolution.17 Local merchants had earlier passed a resolution unanimously in the Chamber of Commerce asking French Indian Government to circulate Indian Union currency and they urged the Government to take immediate steps to arrest the situation. The French Indian Governor had told a delegation headed by Colombani on 17 January (1953) that normal condition would be restored within a fortnight. But the situation did not change a whit. Meanwhile, the French Government, on a request from Pondicherry Government, sent two French financial experts in January 1953. They visited Pondicherry, studied the situation and expressed the view that the Indo-China Bank notes should be converted into Indian currency and recommended the establishment of Indian Sea Customs at Pondicherry as the only means of averting economic crises.18 Ménard during his visit to France in March also discussed the currency question along with other problems. However, on being requested by the local government and the Merchants’ Association, the Paris authorities agreed to allot, from May (1953), some amount to be converted into Reserve Bank of India notes. This allocation having been found insufficient, the monthly contingent of sterling given to Pondicherry had been carried to £195,000 (Rs. 13 lakhs) from 1 July, the intention being to meet the local monetary needs.19 But this did not bring about any marked improvement of the situation. Economic condition in French India was bogging down on a progressive scale.

  • 20 Commissaire au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer (tél.) 30 mai 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 5 ( (...)
  • 21 Commissaire au Consul Général de l’Inde, 23 mai 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273 D5 (A. O. M.). Also “ (...)
  • 22 The Mail, 21 June 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).
  • 23 The Hindu, 20 June 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 5 (A. O. M.).
  • 24 Ibid.
  • 25 Note sur l’Etablissement de l’Inde. Aff. Politiques, C 466 (A. O. M.).
  • 26 Ibid.

7Economy of French Mahe was badly hit by measures taken by the Government of India. There had been a large scale smuggling of consumer’s goods from French Mahe into Indian territory. This prompted the Government of India to strengthen the customs regulations since 21 May 1953 and to redouble the customs force at the border for their stricter enforcement. The Government of India had to take these steps to check or prevent smuggling. This also resulted in the stoppage of the entry of all goods of Indian origin, liable to export duty or cess, into Mahe.20 The Pondicherry Government complained that these measures had adversely affected the economic life of Mahe and accused the Government of India of having imposed a complete blockade on Mahe. French news agency despatch said that the blockade had landed Mahe in difficulty and this might lead to the outbreak of famine there. Pascal, Mahe Administrator and Moisset, Acting Governor, strongly protested against this arbitrary and unilateral measures and pointed out that the Indian action amounted to a violation of the July agreement of 1918 which placed Mahe in customs union with India.21 Moisset wrote to the French Overseas Minister about the alarming situation in Mahe and pleaded with him to urge the French Ambassador at New Delhi to take up the matter with the Government of India. Meanwhile Tandon (Indian Consul General) visited Mahe for the purpose of studying on the spot the “hardships” alleged to have been caused to the inhabitants of Mahe consequent on the institution of customs restrictions by the Government of India in the Mahe borders.22 Tandon, in his letter of 22 June, refuted the charge that India had imposed economic blockade on Mahe. He pointed out that only leviable goods had been interdicted for exportation to Mahe. No food item, except tea, figured in the prohibited list. He also maintained that it did not appear to him that the Mahesians were experiencing any particular inconvenience or difficulty.23 The Indian Consul General also strongly refuted the French contention that the convention ot 1918 had been violated because the Indian customs cordon was situated on Indian borders. C. E. Bharatan also said that there was no blockade in Mahe. “The Mahe Administrators and the French supporters are making a mountain out of a mole [...] with the intention of creating a sensation in foreign countries...”, he added.24 However, following a talk between the French Foreign Ministry and the Indian Embassy at Paris on 28 June certain relaxations were made in order to mitigate the hardships of the people, but the Mahe Administrator continued to complain on the ground that the relaxation were marginal and the people were still suffering.25 The French authorities believed that the Indian measures taken against Mahe were political and aimed at tampering with the fidelity of the Mahesians towards French administration.26 The French point of view cannot be totally ruled out in the context of Indian reaction to Mahe trial and the delaying tactics followed by the French National Assembly to introduce a bill regarding the general amnesty of those accused in the Mahe rebellion of 1948. The overall economic situation of Mahe was not at all reassuring. The stalemate persisted. The Paris authorities admitted that the only way out of the impasse was to establish a close economic and customs union between French Mahe and Indian Union. The French Overseas Minister brushed it aside.

  • 27 Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 2 (A. O. M.). Also Ministre des Affaires Etrangères au Ministre de la Fr (...)
  • 28 Note pour le Ministre. Sept. 1953. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 15 (Qd).
  • 29 Note d’audience. 13 oct. 1953. As 44-55. Inde Française Vol. 15 (Qd).
  • 30 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 8 oct. 1953. Aff. Politiques (...)
  • 31 The Hindu, 22 Nov. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 2 (A. O. M.).
  • 32 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 8 oct, 1953. Aff. Politiques (...)

8’ The French Ministry of Finance was aware of the financial crises which had gripped the French Indian settlements and was keen to resolve it. Perhaps keeping in mind the recommendations of the two French financial experts it was decided at an interministerial conference held at Quai d.’Orsay on 2 October 1953 under the chairmanship of Parodi to explore the possibilities of restoring Sea Customs Union proposed by the Government of India.27 Many things were considered. The French Foreign Ministry thought that this was the right moment for a meaningful dialogue with India. The French Foreign Ministry thought that Nehru, in spite of his denunciation of the June Agreement and his occasional outbursts against colonialism in Asia and Africa, was willing to settle the Indo-French problems peacefully. He had, according to the note, at that moment abstained himself from actively intervening in the colonial problems. He was not so forcefully encouraging the North African nationalists against France. He had also given recognition to the concept of Associated States. During his long talks with Ostrorog on the problems of Indo-China held on 12 May 1953, Nehru made mention of a compromise solution. Might be, according to the note, the spread of communism in Asia and its eventual repercussions in India induced him to revise his attitude. The French Foreign Ministry did not like to see Indo-French relations going out of hands any more and it was keen to go back to those days of friendly relations as reflected in the declaration of 1948.28 To the French Foreign Ministry Indian proposal of re-establishment of the Customs Union could have been the starting point for such a dialogue, but unfortunately Indian proposal which was earlier rejected by the French Overseas Ministry met the same fate.29 Bidault, who was then French Foreign Minister, brought to the attention of his counterpart in the Overseas Ministry the far-reaching consequences that might flow from the rejection of Indian proposal.30 This might interrupt aerial connection with Indo-China. New Delhi might also refuse permission to construct high tension lines connecting Pondicherry and the adjoining communes. Both the Pondicherry authorities and the Overseas Ministry had been suffering from the misconception that the Sea Customs Union would eventually pave the way for the annexation of the settlements to Indian Union. They were greatly influenced by the views of Henri Jacquier who was recently elected by the Muthupillai and Muther Kumarappa Reddiar group to the Assembly of French Union in Paris. In his electoral circular he strongly opposed the policy of economic and customs integration with India as such an integration, he argued, would “result in an annexation at short period”.31 The French Foreign Minister dispelled their misconception by pointing out that such a thing would not lead to the liquidation of French sovereignty over the French pockets. This meeting decided that the opinion of the people concerned should be taken.32 Accordingly Pondicherry authorities were instructed to ascertain the local public opinion with regard to the above.

  • 33 Commissaire de la République au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 26 oct. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C (...)
  • 34 Ibid.
  • 35 Embassy of India to the French Foreign Ministry, 14 Jan. 1954. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 16 (Q (...)
  • 36 Ostrorog aux Affaires Etrangères (tel. secret). Pas de date. As 44-55. Inde, Française, Vol. 16 (Qd (...)

9In its note of 26 October 1953 the Pondicherry Government informed the French Overseas Ministry that French India’s participation in the Sea Customs Union would usher in better economic relations between Pondicherry and the enclaves. French position would be better in Mahe and Yanam. Passport menace would disappear and cars and other transports would move more freely. The loss of time for customs checking would be avoided. Cotton and coal could be obtained from India at moderate prices and weaving industry would be brought back to life. Nevertheless, it might generate political consequences affecting the maintenance of French sovereignty over the settlements. It might also enhance Indian interference into the administrative affairs of French India.33 The note also mentioned that the activities of the free port of Pondicherry would be reduced to a minimum because its operations would be limited according to the real needs of the territory and its exportations would remain confined only to the actual production of the establishments. It was also feared that this would put to an end the egress of pepper, groundnut, onions etc. and deprive the local merchants from a share of the profit they had been deriving from their exportation. The note further thought that India might retaliate by taking off the allocation of quotas of commodities grown and produced in India. The Pondicherry Government also expressed the apprehension that India might utilize the merchants for its own propaganda purpose in return for substantial commercial concessions.34 While the benefit likely to tilt in favour of the Sea Customs Union, the Indian offer was twisted and practically turned down. The Government of India wanted a positive response from the French Government and therefore in its note of 16 December 1953 the Indian Embassy at Paris again urged the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to review the question of directly transferring the French settlements to Indian Union without referendum. But France responded in the negative.35 France, in fact, did not respond to Indian overtures. Ostrorog informed the French Foreign Ministry that the motives were to gain time and delay the settlement. He did not give his approval to such a policy.36

  • 37 Embassy of India to the French Foreign Ministry, 22 March 1954. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 71 ( (...)
  • 38 The Hindu, 26 April 1953.
  • 39 The Indian Express, 16 May 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2270, D 5 (A. O. M.).
  • 40 The Hindu, 7 July 1953.
  • 41 The Hindu, 8 Aug. 1953.
  • 42 The Indian Express, 15 Sept. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).
  • 43 The Hindu, 10 Sept. 1953.
  • 44 The Hindu, 21 Sept. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).
  • 45 The Hindu, 4 Sept. 1953.
  • 46 The Indian Express, 15 Dec. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 5 (A. O. M.).

10The economic depression in the French settlements did not impose any moratorium on the movement for merger with Indian Union. Border incidents and goondaism within Pondicherry went on hand in hand. Disquieting stories of encounter between the pro-merger fugitives who had taken shelter in Indian territory on the one hand and the French Indian goondas, sometimes accompanied by the French Indian police, on the other continued to occur. The Pondicherry authorities were told several times to restrain their police from entering into Indian territory, but in vain. The Franco-Indian borders remained sensitive. The unfortunate incident of Suramangalam (21 February 1953) adjoining the Nettapakam commune in which a French Indian police was wounded created quite a stir. One Thulasingham –a pro-mergerist– fled from French India and the Government of India gave him political asylum. But the French police crossed the border, kidnapped him from Indian territory and kept him in detention in a lock-up in Pondicherry. The Indian Parliament viewed the incident very seriously. The Government of India reacted strongly, lodged a strong protest against the ‘highly improper’ action of the French Indian police and the Indian Government demanded the surrender of Thulasingham.37 This incident again confirmed the arrogance of French Indian police to which New Delhi had been complaining. The economic recession did not deter the determination of the pro-mergerists from their main demands, i. e. the integration of the French pockets into Indian Union. Support and sympathy began to pour in spontaneously from different quarters. The Tamil Nadu Congress Committee which met at Tranquebar in April in which delegates from Pondicherry and Karaikal were present forcefully pleaded for the merger of the French pockets.38 Liberation committees were formed along the French-Indian frontiers of Karaikal for conducting propaganda in favour of merger.39 At a meeting in Cuddalore a nine-man committee with Venketakrishnan Reddiar of the South Arcot District Congress as President was set up for devising ways and means for solving the French Indian problem and for rendering assistance to the French Indian nationals undergoing unbearable hardships and difficulties under French rule.40 The Bharat Yuvak Sangh also adopted a resolution demanding immediate fusion of all foreign possessions with India and celebrated the “Liberation Day” on 9 August (1953).41 Karaikal observed “Bharati Day” and the pro-mergerists took pledge to free themselves from foreign rule42 In early September a resolution was taken at the first Mayavaram Taluk Tamilarasu Kazhagam Conference requesting the Government of India to take effective steps to liquidate the French colonial domination in Karaikal and Pondicherry, supporting the merger demand of these territories with Indian Union and warning that a struggle would be launched by Tamilarasu Kazhagam to secure freedom for these possessions if the French imperialists did not quit them.43 Badagara Praja Socialist Party also demanded the Union of the French pockets with India.44 Subbiah, in a memorandum submitted to the Indian Prime Minister, urged the Government of India to take up the question of merger without further delay and pending the settlement the Government of India should urge the Government of French India to fully restore civil liberties and democratic and trade union rights in the territory.45 The National Convention of Foreign Pockets, held under the auspices of The Madras Peace Committee at Madras (13 December), requested the Government of India to take firm steps to put an end to foreign pockets in India and look upon the French settlements “a menace to the independence and sovereignty of India”.46

  • 47 The Indian Express, 20 May 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

11The pro-merger committees were yet to come out openly with a determined zeal. They were, in fact, in disarray. Yanam, so long peaceful, became restless. Kamichetty Parasuram, President of Yanam Merger Committee, said at Kakinada that the inhabitants of Yanam were in panic and were living under miserable condition and that the merger committee was on its way to start a movement in the border areas of Yanam for effecting the merger of the settlement with Indian Union. Kamichetty gave a grim account of the oppression to which the workers and sympathisers of the merger movement were subjected to. He said that everyday the police and the stooges of the French Indian administration in Yanam were persecuting the pro-mergerists in various ways and leaflets were being circulated in the town attacking the Indian Union Government and the members of the merger committee.47

  • 48 The Indian Express, 17 April 1954. Aff. Politiques, C 461 (A. O. M.).

12Recrudescence of violence since the middle of April (1953) following the formation of a new party, i. e. French India Labour Party, disturbed the normal life of Pondicherry. The violence was unleashed by goondas who thrived under the aegis of the party in power. Jittery of criticism and intolerant of rivals, the Socialist Party goondas swooped down upon the members and sympathisers of the French India Labour Party. Disgusted with the misrule of Goubet’s Party, André Gaebelé founded his party with a view to ending injustice and maintaining self-respect and appealed to the people to join the newly founded party fearlessly. This new party was, in fact, propped up by Ménard to undermine the preponderance of the Socialist Party which had been enjoying uninterrupted patronage of the French authorities. Bonvin set it against Subbiah’s French India Communist Party. Now the party was falling from the grace of his successor. This necessitated the creation of another party. Since Goubert’s election as Deputy to French National Assembly in place of Saravane, the Socialist Party had practically become the arbiter of the French Indian situation. The French Indian authorities became totally dependant on his party for its survival and fully identified with it. They believed that on Goubert alone depended the results of the referendum because he alone could bag the huge support necessary to win the electoral contest. Actually the party was blackmailing the French Indian authorities in a skilful manner. The misdeeds of the party were passed on as misdeeds committed by the French. This seemed embarrassing to the Pondicherry government. Series of charges –murder, arson, intimidation, corruption, misuse of power, involvement in smuggling– were reaching both the Pondicherry and Paris authorities. The top brass of the party further embarrassed the Pondicherry government in the budget session of the Representative Assembly (1953) by opposing its attempt to levy fresh taxes on the people. The French India Government had to succumb to this. The faulty monetary cum fiscal policy which was primarily responsible for the financial malaise in the French Indian possessions was resented by them. A brilliant exposition of the faulty policy was made by R. Muthu Kumarappa Reddiar, counsellor, Pondicherry Council of Administration in an article published in the Indian Express (17 April 1953) entitled “French Policy has ruined economy and French settlements”.48 In this article he mercilessly exposed the loop-holes of the French financial policy followed in French India and made certain unkind observations.

13The Socialist Party was not a political party in the strict sense of the term. It was essentially a party of musclemen. It was a gang up of selfish and greedy people who acted as stooges of French Indian administration and blindly supported all its sayings and doings against the pro-merger groups which were critical of French rule. In return the party leaders enjoyed manifold privileges –social recognition, political status and economic opulence. It also pampered them, overlooked their misdeeds and banked on them for survival. Least said the better about their fidelity. It is really unfortunate that it took to the French Government such a long time to unearth the true character of the party and the Socialist Party of France to disown its leadership. Differences were just coming into surface. In the coming months difficulties between the two partners of power deepened resulting in complete parting off. Meanwhile to overcome the financial crises as well as to retrieve the lost ground among the people, the French Government made huge financial investment in various constructive programmes. A substantial portion of the fund was squandered away by the Council of Ministers represented by the Socialist Party. The Inspector General of Colonies submitted to the French Government a report on the financial mismanagement in Pondicherry. Tired of the past misdeed of the party and the present financial irregularities, Ménard was determined to throw it off from its position of primacy and patted André Gaebelé –a loyal Franco-Indian, to organize the French India Labour Party. Encouragement was also given to another loyalist –Duthamby– to join the ranks of the newly created party. Needless to say the party and its men and managers enjoyed administrative protection. The new party was more anti-Socialist than anti-Indian. In spite of the subdued differences the Socialist Party had not yet broken off from French Indian administration. But developments stated above were bound to have repercussions, sooner or later. Goubert realized that the soil down below his feet was eroding and within the Council of Government Goubert and Ménard were moving in different directions. The ominous sign of a rupture was in sight. It was at that time the Government of India sent to Pondicherry Kewal Singh as Indian Consul General to replace R. K. Tandon. The incoming Consul General was a shrewd diplomat. He knew his business well. The merger movement began to take a definite shape. He fully exploited the situation within the Council of Government as well as the situation prevailing along the Franco-Indian borders.

  • 49 The Hindu, 8 June 1953.
  • 50 Ibid.

14However, the formation of the new party was a challenge to Goubert. Guided by the philosophy that what could not be tolerated must be crushed, the party in power unleashed a wave of terror by attacking the members and supporters of the newly founded labour party in Pondicherry town and also at Thengaithittu, Odiampetu, Periapet, Pillaithottam, Pattanikkadai, Thandavankupam and other villages. Apart from this, a batch of 60 goondas raided the house of Thangavel Gramani at Pillaithottam, assaulted him as well as the members of his family and drove them away from their house. The house, garden and all other belongings of Thangavel were also looted. The goondas also raided 8 other houses in different villages and did similar havoc.49 A member of the French India Central Merger Committee said, as reported by The Hindu, that the situation was rapidly deteriorating and labourers and workers were suffering. It was reported that even French officials had sought the permission of Paris authorities to be relieved of their posts even before the expiry of the terms of their appointment.50 Some prominent public men from France who visited Pondicherry at that time had written very outspoken articles in a French weekly of Paris condemning the regime of the Socialist Party in French India. Perry, a member of the Assembly of the French Union, had characterized as “shameful” the policy of the French Government

in playing into the hands of Socialist Party in French India which has absolutely no faith in civilized administration and whose main creed is goondaism.

  • 51 As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 14 (Qd).
  • 52 The Hindu, 10 Nov. 1953. The Indian Express, 10 Nov. 1953 Aff Politiques C 2273, (A. O. M.).
  • 53 Ibid.

15Pierre de Pimodan, who was sent by the French Foreign Ministry, visited Pondicherry in July (1953) to study the economic situation in French settlements. He had talks with the Indian Consul General and they discussed many other problems. But Pimodan said that French constitution did not permit to cede French territories without the preliminary consultation of the people concerned.51 Raymond Aron, a French academician and a spokesman of the liberal opinion in France, who was on a lecture tour in India at the invitation of the Indian Committee of Cultural Freedom, said at Nagpur that France should cultivate better friendship with India.52 He remarked that France should give back to India the settlements which had a “mythological value” and to him Indian friendship was more important than some patches of territory.53

  • 54 No 1808. Assemblée Nationale. Rapport. Constitution du 4 oct. 1958. Premier législature. Deuxième s (...)

16The year 1953 ended without any apparent change in the situation – rather, according to French official sources, bilateral relations between the two countries deteriorated considerably. The Government of India’s reaction was unusually strong. It refused to renew licence for importation of petroleum products into Pondicherry. It also dismantled the high tension lines which connected Pondicherry with the enclaves resulting in the discontinuation of electricity and held back all parcels posted to the settlements. Realizing the drift overtaking the relations between the two governments, Quai d’Orsay expressed its inclination to talk to New Delhi, but the French Overseas Ministry maintained an “intransigent attitude”.54 Indo-French relations reached rock bottom.

Notes

1 The Indian Express, 23 April 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 7 (A. O. M.). Ménard’s address to the Representative Assembly of French India.

2 The Indo-China Bank notes were valid only in Pondicherry and not in other three settlements where Indian currency was the sole legal tender.

3 The Indian Express, 30 March 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 7 (A. O. M.).

4 “French Policy has ruined economy of French settlements " by Muthu Kumarappa Reddiar. The Indian Express, 17 April 1954. Aff. Politiques, C461, (A. O. M.).

5 13 March 1950. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 6 (A. O. M.). In 1952, 11 tons of gold were imported into Pondicherry against 450 tons in 1949. The actual need of Pondicherry was 500 kilograms per year. This was admitted by Henri, de la Direction économique at a meeting of the Cabinet held on 8 Nov. 1952. Note: Rapports économiques entre Pondichéry et l’Inde ", 21 oct. 1952. Inde Française, Vol. 62 (Qd).

6 Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 5 (A. O. M.).

7 Ibid.

8 The Hindu, 6 May 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 5 (A. O. M.). The Indian Express, 23 April 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 7 (A. O. M.).

9 The Indian Express, 2 Feb. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

10 The Hindu, 6 May 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

11 The Indian Express, 26 Feb. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

12 The Hindu, 30 April 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

13 Pierre Laroque, Conseiller d’Etat au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 26 dec. 1952. Aff. Politiques, C 2275 (A. O. M.).

14 The Indian Express, 16 Feb. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

15 The Indian Express, Feb. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

16 The Hindu, 16 Nov. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 2 (A. O. M.).

17 The Indian Express, 15 Feb. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

18 The Madras Mail, 28 Feb. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

19 The Indian Express, 23 April 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 7 (A. O. M.).

20 Commissaire au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer (tél.) 30 mai 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 5 (A. O. M.).

21 Commissaire au Consul Général de l’Inde, 23 mai 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273 D5 (A. O. M.). Also “Note sur l’Etablissement de Mahe” (Confidentiel). Aff. Politiques, C466 (A. O. M.). The Hindu, 13 June 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 5 (A. O. M.).

22 The Mail, 21 June 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

23 The Hindu, 20 June 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 5 (A. O. M.).

24 Ibid.

25 Note sur l’Etablissement de l’Inde. Aff. Politiques, C 466 (A. O. M.).

26 Ibid.

27 Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 2 (A. O. M.). Also Ministre des Affaires Etrangères au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 9 juin 1954. Aff. Politiques, C 2276, D 3 (A. O. M.).

28 Note pour le Ministre. Sept. 1953. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 15 (Qd).

29 Note d’audience. 13 oct. 1953. As 44-55. Inde Française Vol. 15 (Qd).

30 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 8 oct. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 2 (A. O. M.).

31 The Hindu, 22 Nov. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 2 (A. O. M.).

32 Ministre des Affaires Etrangères au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 8 oct, 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 2 (A. O. M.).

33 Commissaire de la République au Ministre de la France d’outre-mer, 26 oct. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 2 (A. O. M.).

34 Ibid.

35 Embassy of India to the French Foreign Ministry, 14 Jan. 1954. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 16 (Qd).

36 Ostrorog aux Affaires Etrangères (tel. secret). Pas de date. As 44-55. Inde, Française, Vol. 16 (Qd).

37 Embassy of India to the French Foreign Ministry, 22 March 1954. As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 71 (Qd). The Hindu, 1 March 1953. Inde Française, Vol. 71 (Qd). Also Embassy of India to the French Foreign Ministry, 22 March 1953 and 30 July 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 6 (A. O. M.).

38 The Hindu, 26 April 1953.

39 The Indian Express, 16 May 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2270, D 5 (A. O. M.).

40 The Hindu, 7 July 1953.

41 The Hindu, 8 Aug. 1953.

42 The Indian Express, 15 Sept. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

43 The Hindu, 10 Sept. 1953.

44 The Hindu, 21 Sept. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

45 The Hindu, 4 Sept. 1953.

46 The Indian Express, 15 Dec. 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2273, D 5 (A. O. M.).

47 The Indian Express, 20 May 1953. Aff. Politiques, C 2271, D 5 (A. O. M.).

48 The Indian Express, 17 April 1954. Aff. Politiques, C 461 (A. O. M.).

49 The Hindu, 8 June 1953.

50 Ibid.

51 As 44-55. Inde Française, Vol. 14 (Qd).

52 The Hindu, 10 Nov. 1953. The Indian Express, 10 Nov. 1953 Aff Politiques C 2273, (A. O. M.).

53 Ibid.

54 No 1808. Assemblée Nationale. Rapport. Constitution du 4 oct. 1958. Premier législature. Deuxième session ordinaire de 1961-62. p. 13.

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1997

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