Last Thursday, December 1, Becca Solnit gave a presentation of the first part of her year-long Honors project to faculty from the history department, members of our American diplomatic history class, and others who attended the roughly hour-long event. The topic Becca has chosen to investigate in order to earn her honors status is what she cautiously terms the “India Lobby.” Much like the better known China Lobby or Israel Lobby, the India Lobby refers to a varied group of people people, tied together only because of their common desire to influence either directly or indirectly through public opinion U.S. policy during and after World War II with regards to two issues: naturalization for Indians in the United States and support for the Indian independence movement against imperial Great Britain. Her presentation focus though is apparently mostly preoccupied with the latter. The India Lobby, she is careful to point out, is not a single organization and really has no overall centralization at all but is in fact comprised of individuals, typically Indians or Indian-Americans, and smaller organizations who worked for one or both of these causes.
India, a British colony since the nineteenth century, was considered by the Americans for most of its history as precisely that: the business of Britain. “World War II changes [that],” Becca argues, as developing ideological views and strategic consideration in East Asia begins to transform the ways in which the United States views India. Efforts in America on India’s behalf begin to take root and spread during this time and key organizations such as the India League of America are formed. Certain individuals have a profound influence of their own such J.J. Singh, head of the aforementioned league, and Indian ambassador to the United States, Madame Pandit. Becca emphasizes the targeting of public opinion by members of the India Lobby throughout her presentation, citing evidence of it in the public consciousness such as political cartoons and other appearences in newspapers, most notably the leaked “Phillips report,” which exposed the sympathies of a U.S. representative to India. She closes her presentation with the acknowledgement that this “lobby” is essentially a forgotten one and by reiterating her intention to re-discover its history and influence.
In general, I think that the presentation was well-delivered and that the subject was ambitious and intriguing. But while Becca’s work is undeniably laudable, there were some key weaknesses that I feel were for the most part brought out during the question and answer session. The most important, I believe, was the first question which asked how Becca was able to “detect” the influence the lobby had on policy-makers and/or public opinion. She responded by admitting that the link between lobby actions and influence was hard to measure and by falling back on the Phillip’s report as one tangible example of the lobby’s connection with the public. This question was discussed at some length in class afterwards and is in my opinion, crucial to the success of her project. Another department member stressed the potential for the title to mistakenly lead people into perceiving a sort of homogeneity within the lobby, although I thought the point was moot considering Becca went out of her way to explain her reasoning behind choosing it in the the beginning. Nearer to the end, I thought the questions were more of matter of interest than of structural importance, such as that concerning whether there was coordination between India lobbyists in America and those Britain, which was posed by a member of our class and whose thoughtfullness ended up earning him left-over pizza rights.