An Indian politician has put Winston Churchill in the same category as some of “the worst genocidal dictators” of the 20th century because of his complicity in the Bengal Famine.
Dr Shashi Tharoor, whose new book Inglorious Empire chronicles the atrocities of the British Empire, argued the former British Prime Minister’s reputation as a great wartime leader and protector of freedom was wholly miscast given his role in the Bengal famine which saw four million Bengalis starve to death.
In 1943, up to four million Bengalis starved to death when Churchill diverted food to British soldiers and countries such as Greece while a deadly famine swept through Bengal.
During an appearance at the Melbourne writers’ festival broadcast by ABC, the Indian MP noted Churchill’s orders related to Australian ships carrying wheat at Indian docks.
“This is a man the British would have us hail as an apostle of freedom and democracy, when he has as much blood on his hands as some of the worst genocidal dictators of the 20th century,” he said to applause.
He added: “People started dying and Churchill said well it’s all their fault anyway for breeding like rabbits. He said ‘I hate the Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion’.”
Dr Tharoor, a former Under-Secretary of the UN, also gave an extensive description of British colonial exploitation and annihilation of traditional Indian industries such as textiles which reduced it to “a poster child of third world poverty” by the time the British left in 1947.
He said the “excuse that apologists [of British empire] like to make is, it’s not our fault, you just missed the bus for the industrial revolution. Well, we missed the bus because you threw us under its wheels.”
This is not the first time Dr Tharoor has voiced his frustrations about the way Churchill is remembered by the history books. In March, he argued the former PM who led Britain to victory in World War Two should be remembered alongside the most prominent dictators of the twentieth century.
“This [Churchill] is the man who the British insist on hailing as some apostle of freedom and democracy," the author told UK Asian at a launch for his book. "When to my mind he is really one of the more evil rulers of the 20th century only fit to stand in the company of the likes of Hitler, Mao and Stalin".
He added: “Churchill has as much blood on his hands as Hitler does. Particularly the decisions that he personally signed off during the Bengal Famine when 4.3 million people died because of the decisions he took or endorsed."
"Not only did the British pursue its own policy of not helping the victims of this famine which was created by their policies. Churchill persisted in exporting grain to Europe, not to feed actual ‘Sturdy Tommies’, to use his phrase, but add to the buffer stocks that were being piled up in the event of a future invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia”.
“Ships laden with wheat were coming in from Australia docking in Calcutta and were instructed by Churchill not to disembark their cargo but sail on to Europe,” he added. “And when conscience-stricken British officials wrote to the Prime Minister in London pointing out that his policies were causing needless loss of life all he could do was write peevishly in the margin of the report, ‘Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?'"
Dr Tharoor first rose to prominence after his heartfelt speech at Oxford Union, discussing the economic toll British rule took on India, in July 2015 went viral.