Historians have taken aim at the BBC for an unbalanced News at 10 segment which suggested Sir Winston Churchill was responsible for “mass killing” in Bengal.
One featured guest, Ashoka University’s Rudrangshu Mukherjee claimed that Churchill was “seen as the precipitator of mass killing” in Bengal, then part of Britain’s Indian empire, in 1943, when the country was stricken by famine.
Oxford University’s Yasmin Khan further alleged that the British wartime leader could be held responsible for “prioritising white lives over South Asian lives” because of insufficient relief efforts.
Such ideas have gained some currency among Black Lives Matter and other anti-Western activists in recent months, with a viral video shot in London’s Parliament Square showing women denouncing Churchill as having killed millions in Bengal near his statue — which has been a frequent target for BLM-supporting vandals.
Churchill Statue Imprisoned In Grey Box to Protect It from BLM Vandals https://t.co/eo22i9cx6Z
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) June 12, 2020
Professor Tirthankar Roy, an economic historian at the London School of Economics (LSE), also argued in comments quoted by The Times that “Winston Churchill was not a relevant factor behind the 1943 Bengal famine” — precipitated by a cyclone which destroyed huge swathes of the country’s crops, rather than any direct action by the British colonial authorities.
“The agency with the most responsibility for causing the famine and not doing enough was the government of Bengal,” Roy insisted.
“It is often said that Churchill prevented import of food in Bengal. This has no relevance either. There was no famine in the rest of British India; the Bengal government could easily import food from other regions.”
Popular military historian Sir Max Hastings said that while he regarded Churchill’s actions during the famine as a “blot on his record”, it was “pretty outrageous” that the BBC “failed to include a voice to suggest that his services to Britain, and to mankind, were so great that they must rightfully be set in the balance against this failure.”
“The BBC’s version was 2020 propaganda, not news or balanced history,” he concluded.
Second World War historian James Holland further suggested that “Historians of British India tend not to understand” the context in which the Bengal famine took place — namely, the Second World War.
Many of the countries traditionally relied upon to supply India in times of shortages had been overrun by the Japanese — who further exacerbated the situation in Bengal with an air raid campaign — at the time of the famine, while shipping supplies in from countries like Australia was complicated by a lack of resources and submarine warfare.
Indeed, Churchill wrote to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt expressing serious concerns about the situation in Bengal and requesting American assistance to transport relief aid — “We have the wheat [in Australia] but we lack the ships” — but Roosevelt proved unable if not unwilling to fully fulfil these requests.
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— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) June 14, 2020
Instead of focusing on the Bengal famine in particular, some critics of Churchill have attempted to smear him as a racist by referencing quotes and alleged quotes describing Indian people in less than complimentary terms.
However, while Churchill, having born in 1874, did express himself in terms which would be considered socially unacceptable today, many believe he was in many ways progressive by the standards of his own time, for example telling his War Cabinet in 1943: “The old idea that the Indian was in any way inferior to the white man must go. We must all be pals together. I want to see a great shining India, of which we can be as proud as we are of a great Canada or a great Australia.”
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— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) June 18, 2020