Historians blast BBC for ‘unbalanced’ News At Ten report on Churchill

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Historians have criticised the BBC for an ‘unbalanced’ News At Ten report claiming Churchill was responsible for the ‘mass killing’ of up to 3million in the 1943 Bengal Famine.

A section broadcast on Tuesday examined how modern Indians view the wartime prime minster as part of a series on Britain’s colonial legacy, and featured a series of damning statements about his actions. 

Rudrangshu Mukherjee of Ashoka University in India, said Churchill was seen as a ‘precipitator’ of mass killing’ due to his policies, while Oxford’s Yasmin Khan said he could be guilty of ‘prioritising white lives over Asian lives’ by not sending relief. 

Historians have criticised a BBC News report on Tuesday about Churchill’s role in the Bengal Famine, which killed three million people in 1943 and 1944 

The Bengal Famine was triggered by a cyclone and flooding in Bengal in 1942, which destroyed crops and infrastructure.

Historians agree that many of the three million deaths could have been averted with a more effective relief effort, but are divided over the extent to which Churchill was personally to blame.

Yogita Limaye, the BBC News India correspondent who led the report, said many Indians blamed him for ‘making the situation worse’.

But historians suggested the report attributed too much of the blame onto Churchill when other factors were more significant. 

Tirthankar Roy, a professor in economic history at the LSE, argues India’s vulnerability to weather-induced famine was due to its unequal distribution of food. 

He also blames a lack of investment in agriculture and failings by the local government. 

Rudrangshu Mukherjee of Ashoka University in India, said Churchill was seen as a 'precipitator' of mass killing' due to his policies

Rudrangshu Mukherjee of Ashoka University in India, said Churchill was seen as a ‘precipitator’ of mass killing’ due to his policies

‘Winston Churchill was not a relevant factor behind the 1943 Bengal famine,’ he told The Times. ‘The agency with the most responsibility for causing the famine and not doing enough was the government of Bengal.’

Winston Churchill has been blamed for down-playing the crisis and arguing against re-supplying Bengal to preserve ships and food supplies for the war effort.

However, Churchill’s defenders insist that he did try to help and delays were a result of conditions during the war. 

They point out that after receiving news of the spreading food shortages he told his Cabinet he would welcome a statement from Lord Wavell, his new Viceroy of India, about how he planned to ensure the problems were ‘dealt with’. He then wrote a personal letter urging the Viceroy to take action.   

Sir Max Hastings, the military historian, agreed that Churchill’s behaviour was a ‘blot on his record’ but argued it should be considered against his achievements in helping to defeat fascism.

The recent Black Lives Matter protests have seen a renewed focus on Churchill’s legacy, including calls for his statue to be taken down from Parliament Square.

At one point the monument was even boxed in by London Mayor Sadiq Khan to protect it from vandalism.

The Bengal Famine was triggered by a cyclone and flooding in Bengal in 1942, which destroyed crops and infrastructure

The Bengal Famine was triggered by a cyclone and flooding in Bengal in 1942, which destroyed crops and infrastructure 

Threats to the statue triggered a strong reaction from defenders of the national hero who pointed out that his greatest achievement was defeating racist, anti-Semitic fascism.

BBC insiders said the report made clear Churchill didn’t cause the famine but has been accused by some of making it worse. 

A BBC spokesman told : ‘The item was the latest in a series looking at Britain’s colonial legacy worldwide. 

‘The series includes different perspectives from around the world, in this case from India, including a survivor from the Bengal famine, as well as Oxford historian Dr Yasmin Khan. 

‘The report also clearly explained Churchill’s actions in India in the context of his Second World War strategy. We believe these are all important perspectives to explore and we stand by our journalism.’ 

How the Bengal Famine claimed three million lives and sparked a furious debate about whether Churchill was to blame 

The Bengal Famine of 1943 was one of the worst human disasters in British imperial history, claiming three million lives. 

The disaster was triggered by a cyclone and flooding in Bengal in 1942, which destroyed crops and infrastructure. 

In the early stages of the famine the local government denied it existed, and historians accept humanitarian aid was insufficient. 

Winston Churchill has also been blamed for down-playing the crisis and arguing against re-supplying Bengal to preserve ships and food supplies for the war effort. 

The Bengal Famine was triggered by a cyclone and flooding in Bengal in 1942, which destroyed crops and infrastructure

The Bengal Famine was triggered by a cyclone and flooding in Bengal in 1942, which destroyed crops and infrastructure

Secretary of State for India Leopold Amery recorded that Churchill suggested any aid sent would be insufficient because of ‘Indians breeding like rabbits’.

However, despite his unsavoury comments about Indians, Churchill’s defenders insist that he did try to help and delays were a result of conditions during the war. 

They point out that after receiving news of the spreading food shortages Churchill told his Cabinet he would welcome a statement from Lord Wavell, his new Viceroy of India, about how he planned to ensure the problems were ‘dealt with’. 

He then wrote to the Viceroy in a personal letter: ‘Every effort must be made, even by the diversion of shipping urgently needed for war purposes, to deal with local shortages. 

‘Every effort should be made by you to assuage the strife between the Hindus and Moslems and to induce them to work together for the common good.’

According to the Churchill Project: ‘There is no evidence that Churchill wished any Indian to starve; on the contrary, he did his best to help them, amidst a war to the death.’ 

The amount of aid increased greatly after the British Indian Army seized control of famine relief from the local government in October 1943. 

By December, more food arrived after a record rice harvest, and deaths from starvation declined. 

Even so, more than half of famine-related deaths happened in 1944 after the food crisis had abated, with thousands falling victim to diseases including malaria and cholera.     

Churchill’s legacy under attack: Civil servants claim they ‘do not feel comfortable’ with a Treasury room named after war leader

By Harry Cole, Deputy Political Editor for the Mail On Sunday 

Civil servants have complained to their superiors that they ‘do not feel comfortable’ with a room in the Treasury being named after Winston Churchill.

Reigniting attacks by Black Lives Matter protesters and Left-wing critics on Britain’s wartime hero, some staff at the vast Whitehall department have demanded that its Churchill Room be confined to history.

It was named after the former Prime Minister because he used the room’s balcony to give an address to the crowds below on VE Day in 1945.

Civil servants say they ‘do not feel comfortable’ with a room in the Treasury being named after Winston Churchill (pictured in speaking from his balcony in 1945)

Civil servants say they ‘do not feel comfortable’ with a room in the Treasury being named after Winston Churchill (pictured in speaking from his balcony in 1945)

A number of junior officials raised their concerns during an official Treasury equalities team question-and-answer event, sparking panic among senior mandarins.

The Mail on Sunday understands the issue has been raised all the way up to Treasury Permanent Secretary Tom Scholar, but has been met with derision by Ministers.

An insider said: ‘This has received a robust no from the politicians but there was a concerted effort to get it going.’

As Chancellor Rishi Sunak explained in a Treasury video released on the 75th anniversary of VE Day in May: ‘It is called the Churchill Room because it is the balcony where Winston Churchill stood and addressed the crowds.

‘He spoke to a sea of people stretching all the way down Whitehall and into Parliament Square.

‘After six years of horror, hardship and grief when so many sacrificed so much, people came together in a collective moment of joy and relief.’

And comparing the situation to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Sunak added: ‘Today we are fighting a very different kind of battle but one thing is the same: we will get through this together.

‘As Churchill said from the balcony 75 years ago, ‘This is not victory of a party or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole.’ ‘

Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured) defended the choice of name for the room as it is the balcony where Winston Churchill stood and addressed the crowds in 1945

Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured) defended the choice of name for the room as it is the balcony where Winston Churchill stood and addressed the crowds in 1945

The row comes after calls to tear down the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square that was defaced during unrest last month.

At the , Boris Johnson criticised the calls as being the ‘height of lunacy’.

The Prime Minister said he would resist any attempt to remove the statue ‘with every breath in my body’.

And he described his wartime predecessor as ‘one of the country’s greatest ever leaders’ adding he was ‘extremely dubious about the growing campaign to edit or photoshop the entire cultural landscape’.

The Treasury declined to comment. 

Cost of Churchill statue madness: London Mayor Sadiq Khan spent £30,000 boarding up heroic PM as well as figures of Mandela and Gandhi 

By John Stevens for the Daily Mail  

London mayor Sadiq Khan spent more than £30,000 on boarding up statues in Westminster including one of Winston Churchill, it can be revealed.

The monument to the wartime leader was boxed up by Mr Khan after it was daubed with graffiti during Black Lives Matter demonstrations last month.

Underneath Churchill’s name, protesters had daubed ‘is a racist’.

The monument to the wartime leader was boxed up (pictured) by Mr Khan after it was daubed with graffiti during Black Lives Matter demonstrations last month

The monument to the wartime leader was boxed up (pictured) by Mr Khan after it was daubed with graffiti during Black Lives Matter demonstrations last month

The Greater London Authority, run by the mayor, put hoardings around three statues in Parliament Square ahead of further protests

The Greater London Authority, run by the mayor, put hoardings around three statues in Parliament Square ahead of further protests

The Greater London Authority, run by the mayor, put hoardings around three statues in Parliament Square ahead of further protests.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show it cost £10,147 to put a hoarding around the statue of Churchill. 

A further £21,115 was spent on protecting statues of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. 

The GLA said it cost £3,050 to remove graffiti in Parliament and Trafalgar squares.

Churchill’s statue was boxed up on June 12 but the boarding was removed six days later ahead of a visit by French president Emmanuel Macron. 

Boris Johnson said it was ‘absurd and shameful’ that the monument was at risk of attack, saying Churchill remained a hero for saving the country from ‘fascist and racist tyranny’.  

Mr Khan last month defended his actions after Home Secretary Priti Patel accused him of failing to stand up to ‘thuggery’ and demanded the statue be set free.

He said the decision to protect the statue in Parliament Square – and the monuments to Mandela and Gandhi – was a ‘wise’ precaution.

He said there were fears the London monuments could become a ‘flashpoint for violence’ involving far-Right protesters, after the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

Mr Khan has previously pointed out that the statues had been boarded up before, including while Mr Johnson was mayor.