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A Historical Retrospective:


by Robert K. Olson

·  Introduction
·  The Grady Mission
·  After the Pageantry
·  Aftermath
·  ABOUT Robert Olson

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After the Pageantry

A measure of reality set in the morning after the 1947 independence ceremonies. British-American relations quickly cooled off. At a Washington meeting that December, Grady reported

The British have been friendly but have made no attempt to consult with us on common problems or to ask our advice. Neither Shone [Sir Terrence, British high commissioner] nor Mountbatten think of us in any way as partners. On more than one occasion, Mountbatten has warned Nehru against dollar imperialism. I have waited patiently for a hand of cooperation from the British but it has never come. . . . The British are not happy about the strong position which we have in India, or about the weak position which they have. They are trying to salvage everything they can from the separation.2

Mohandas Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi

Ambassador Grady had little to say about Gandhi except for his assassination. He does refer to a two-hour talk with Gandhi during his 1942 mission:

Gandhi sat on a mat on the floor with his legs crossed and, as a concession, I was allowed to sit in a chair. I have always had the greatest admiration for Gandhi. However, he talked to me in a manner which I felt was completely unrealistic. He urged that nothing should be done to prevent the invasion of India by the Japanese. The reason he gave was that the Japanese could do no real harm to India -- at least no greater than what the British were doing.


Jinnah Hazam
Jinnah Hazam
Grady had mixed feelings about Jinnah, "a man of outstanding ability although extremely vain and difficult to deal with." He described how he had invited Jinnah numerous times to the Embassy for a talk but without success. Grady finally realized that Jinnah was too proud to go calling on a mere ambassador and that if they were to talk, Mohammed would have to go to the mountain, which he did.

As a result of an August 17 announcement of the Radcliffe awards for the India-Pakistan boundary, the Sikhs went berserk, killing every Muslim in sight and setting off a new wave of communal violence. Grady was appalled and fearful for his family, staff, and servants as the killings spread to Delhi. "The sight of butchered Muslim women and children as well as men on the streets of Delhi," he writes, "was a ghastly one." Bodies remained for several days where they fell, because the sweepers had all been killed and no one else would do the work.

Before the Embassy got troops for protection, Grady and two of his staff, all armed, patrolled the premises at night. The mob, he writes, seemed determined to get at the Muslim servants but, fortunately, their worst fears were not realized. Refering to his Muslim head boy, Shakoor, "who showed great bravery when passions were running high and killings frequent," he added, "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din."

Grady wrote that Nehru was "fearless and brave to the point of foolhardiness." He did not even take the simplest precautions to prevent his being attacked; he plunged into rioting crowds without protection of any kind.
When he learned of my solicitude for him, which was based not only on my realization of his inestimable importance to his country, but also on my personal love for him, he chided me.
The ambassador faced two basic challenges, both equally daunting. The first, political, was winning Nehru's trust and, hopefully, his allegiance in the Cold War world. However, as early as March 1947, even before independence, Nehru had organized the first Asian Relations Conference at New Delhi, taking the leadership of the Asia for Asians movement. This led to the non-aligned movement and the Bandung Conference of 1955. Nehru and Indians generally saw capitalism and imperialism as two sides of the same coin of foreign domination.
They say that they have freed themselves of British political imperialism, and don't want American economic imperialism as a substitute. American leadership in effecting post-war decolonization in Southeast Asia seem to have little effect on Nehru's thinking.
Grady criticized Nehru for his attempt to maintain a "so-called neutral position between Russian imperialism and Western democracy.&quote;
I do not quarrel with Nehru's desire not to become provocative toward Russia, but I do think he is naive if he thinks India could keep out of the present world struggle, particularly if Russia should attack the Western democracies . . . . The Soviets do not, anymore than did the Nazi, think in terms of neutral countries.
The ambassador's second challenge was encouraging economic development. Grady urged the Indians to contract with Bechtel and Morrison-Knudson to start work on urgently needed dams for power and irrigation, even promising them Exim Bank financing of external costs. But it was no deal. "The leaders and people in general have an almost irrational fear of what they call 'dollar-imperialism'."

Further, Indian engineers wanted to learn by doing it themselves. Writing several years after the events, Grady commented that an experienced contractor could have finished a number of dams with the result that India would have greatly increased her industrial power and irrigated land to increase the food supply. Instead, India had to import shiploads of grain from the United States. What Grady failed to mention was that India actually did go into a massive dam building program mainly on its own, including the great Tailaiya Dam, the Damodar Valley Dam in Bengal, the 690-foot high Baakra Dam in the Punjab with 3,000 miles of irrigation canals, and the three-mile long Hirakud Dam in Orissa, plus several others in the 1951 Five-Year Plan.

Nehru and Indira Gandhi with Pres. Harry Truman
Nehru and Indira Ghandi with Pres. Harry Truman, 1949
Grady promoted Nehru's visit to the United States in 1949 in the hope that "seeing at first hand the working of the American industrial and agricultural systems," he (Nehru) would become more sympathetic "toward what one might call the New Capitalism." But, according to Grady, Nehru left America "without abandoning his critical views of us." On the other hand, he added, Nehru "admires . . .the Soviet system and has no hesitancy in saying so." Nehru seems to have driven home his point by recognizing Red China in January 1950, immediately after his return to India.

Continue reading Olson: Aftermath


1. I draw this and all other quotations, with the one noted exception, from Henry F. Grady, "Adventures in Diplomacy," Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, Independence, MO.

2. U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. VII, 1947, Washington, DC, p. 178.

3. Richard Alexander Hough, Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, Weidenfeld and Nicolson (1983).

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