The British Library's new exhibition opens today: Propaganda: Power and Persuasion. To mark this we have a story about political propaganda used by the Government of India to attack Gandhi's policy.
In June 1942, with the Second World War raging, and the Japanese occupying Burma, the Government of India was aware that Gandhi was planning a new civil disobedience movement. The India Office Records has a file from this period which contains a telegram that gives a fascinating insight into the planning of a propaganda campaign by Government. The telegram is from the Government of India, Home Department, to the Secretary of State for India, dated 7 June 1942, regarding Gandhi’s motivations and what action should be taken by Government in preparation for any possible mass protest movement.
The writer of the telegram admits that the Government of India has no definite information on what form the movement would take or what support Gandhi will get. It was also admitted that any early Government intervention would risk stiffening Gandhi’s resolve and rally waverers to his cause. Yet it was advised that Government should be prepared: “… we must have our plans ready and one matter that we consider of prime importance is that public opinion in England and even more in America should be prepared well in advance for any strong action we may eventually decide to take. We suggest that Press in England and important American correspondents should be taken into our confidence with object of exposing Gandhi and the Indian National Congress”.
The telegram outlines a possible campaign to counter any protest movement:
- An official paper on Congress policy based on published and secret documents should be supplied to the American Government
- A popular pamphlet based on published material should be prepared
- Development of the theme of Congress using the War opportunistically to attempt to obtain political concessions, and their opposition to the War and willingness to obtain their long term object through Japan if it could not be obtained from England.
The point is made in the telegram that Gandhi should not be personally attacked, only his policy. Emphasis was to be made on the danger to American war efforts and to the safety of American troops in India which could result from Gandhi’s plans. Efforts were also to be made to dispel any American suggestion that an Indian protest movement would compel the British Government to make fresh political concessions.
On 8 August 1942, the mass protest campaign known as the Quit India Movement was launched. The Government did indeed take strong action, moving swiftly to make mass arrests, including Gandhi and the Congress leadership who would be imprisoned for the rest of the War, and employing British troops to suppress the resulting outbreaks of violence.
Post 1858 India Office Records
India Office Political Department, File 4983/1942 Congress and the War, July-September 1942 [IOR/L/PJ/7/5405]