Gary Oldman won an Oscar for portrayal of Churchill in “Darkest Hour” earlier this month.
Earlier this month, English actor Gary Oldman won an Oscar for his portrayal of Churchill in the World War II movie “Darkest Hour.” Much like in Britain, where he is a towering figure, the former British prime minister has been equally idolized on this side of the pond as well.
But now since Oldman’s Oscar, a number of Indian writers, among them, former Indian minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor, has questioned the uncritical adulation of Britain’s wartime hero in the West.
In a column in The Washington Post, Tharoor criticized Hollywood for “rewarding” Churchill, whom he termed as “one of the great mass murderers of the 20th century,” who has “escaped historical odium in the West”—unlike his contemporaries Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
The Indian politician and author pointed out that in spite of Churchill’s support of “terror bombing” and using weapons of mass destruction against people, Hollywood praises him as a great leader.
Tharoor, whose recent criticism of the British colonial rule in India touched a nerve, wrote that Churchill was accorded a hero’s status because of his “stirring rhetoric and his talent for a fine phrase during World War II, as epitomized in the following words: “We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. … We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. … We shall never surrender.”
Tharoor cited a number of occasions when Churchill supported the use of deadly weapons, among them his call for bombing protestors demanding the Irish independence.
“Dealing with unrest in Mesopotamia in 1921, as secretary of state for the colonies, Churchill acted as a war criminal,” Tharoor, a former diplomat, wrote. “He ordered large-scale bombing of Mesopotamia, with an entire village wiped out in 45 minutes.”
According to Tharoor, Indians were the “principal victims” of Churchill.
Though he wanted to use chemical weapons in India, he couldn’t go ahead with his decision because his cabinet colleagues were against it, but he inflicted terror upon Indian people in a different way, Tharoor wrote.
The Congress MP pointed out that about four million Bengalis had to starve to death as a result of the famine in 1943 caused by Churchill’s decision to divert food supplies from Indians to British soldiers and European stockpiles in different countries.
Writing on BuzzFeed, New York-based writer Bedatri Datta Choudhury recalled that, in Bengali families, the elders don’t let others waste their food. Even after 75 years, “I am still grateful for the rice grain that makes its way to my plate,” she wrote.
She recalled stories her grandparents used to tell her. Though her generation hasn’t seen anything like that, the memories of old people are enough to understand the hardships faced by the people of Bengal during one of the worst famines in the history.
Apart from cutting down the food supplies to Bengal, Churchill didn’t allow an Australian ship to unload the cargo in Kolkata and diverted it to the Mediterranean and the Balkans to increase the buffer stocks.
When Churchill was busy with procuring supplies for his troops, the rural women in Bengal took to prostituting themselves to feed their children, Choudhury wrote.
Churchill, whom Choudhury termed “a famous racist,” maintained that the famine was the fault of Indians for “breeding like rabbits.”
Writing in The Indian Express, Adrija Roychowdhury pointed out that Churchill was an admirer of Mussolini, who called him a “Roman genius…the greatest lawgiver among men.”