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The curious case of Churchill’s Cigar Assistant and Congress’ inability to move from the status quo

Responding to the Motion of Thanks to the President's address in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Modi highlighted how the Congress and its establishment are so deep-rooted in maintaining 'status quo' in governance and its lack of intent to bring reforms.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday replied to Motion of Thanks to the President’s address in the Lok Sabha. During his speech, Prime Minister Modi highlighted how the Congress and its establishment are so deep-rooted in maintaining ‘status quo’ in governance and its lack of intent to bring reforms.

As he attacked Congress party and other opposition parties for creating roadblocks against the reforms, PM Modi also narrated an incident – “Churchill’s Cigar Assistant” to explain how the Congress system was stuck in ‘status quo’ mindset and unwilling to bring any reforms in the country.

What is ‘Churchill’s Cigar Assistant’ incident?

In the early 1960s, the Madras government had constituted a pay committee to review the pay structure and the service conditions of its officers and staff. According to an article written by Nitin Pai, the chairman of the committee received a ‘top secret’ post sent by a person identified as ‘CCA, the office of the chief secretary, Fort St George, Madras’.

As the chairman opened the letter, he found an eloquent letter asking him to upgrade the post of CCA to that of office superintendent in the chief secretary’s office. The officer claimed that he had an ‘unblemished service record’ of 20 years.

However, neither the chairman nor the committee members had no idea what CCA stood for.

The curious chairman wrote a reply to the officer asking him what those three letters meant and what work he did in the chief secretary’s office. The latter surprised the chairman saying that he cannot speak on the designation since there was a 30-year embargo on disclosure of secret matters and could only speak after 1975.

The chairman argued that the officer should withdraw his representation and place it before the next pay committee after 1975. With no other choice, the office replied to the chairman of the committee. The officer said that the CCA stood for “Churchill’s Cigar Assistant”. He was responsible for supplying Cigar to former British PM Churchill.

The story behind Churchill and his love for Indian-made Cigars:

As the second world war was in its peak during the early 1940s, Winston Churchill, Britain’s Prime Minister, craved two things – French liquor and Havana cheroot. With war escalating in Europe and Hitler’s army hunting down British ships at his will, Britain found it tough to reach American coasts.

This led to the critical shortages of everything in England, including Churchill’s favourite Havana hand-rolled cigars. However, the housekeeping officers of Churchill found an alternative for the depleting stock of Havana. The officers secured a way to procure Trichy cigars from Madras.

Soon, letters were exchanged between London and New Delhi and between New Delhi and Fort St George in Madras. Finally, the Governor of Madras agreed to take personal responsibility for the project and selected two cigar manufacturers of Trichinopoly (now Tiruchirapalli). The manufacturers were sworn to keep the issue confidential, and they were ordered to produce the best quality Trichy cigars to ship for England.

To handle the procurement, the governor appointed an English-speaking person as an assistant. The assistant needed to know about cigar-making and their quality, and he also had to be a cigar taster. The job was kept highly secretive. The officer could neither disclose about the procurement nor his post.

The Governor exercising his special powers under the Defence of India Rules, created a post of an assistant, naming it CCA (Churchill’s Cigar Assistant). It was placed in the chief secretary’s secret cell. Only the governor, the chief secretary and the assistant knew the real meaning of CCA. Meanwhile, others thought that the chief confidential assistant dealt with ultra-secret matters.

Months later, the Cigars were shipped from Trichy to Logan with utmost secrecy and continued throughout the war. Reportedly, Churchill liked the mildly aromatic Trichy cigar in place of the Havana cigar’s heavy pungent smell. In 1945 Churchill lost the election and became the leader of the opposition.

The staff of the new prime minister, Clement Attlee, informed him about the ‘top secret’ Cigar procurement. In a goodwill gesture, Clement Attlee suggested that the supply should continue to the Churchill as he was the opposition leader and also the shadow prime minister. In fact, PM Attee ordered his staff to increase the numbers so that he also mcould occasionally enjoy the Indian cigars.

A few years later, the war ended. British Empire collapsed as India became independent. The supply of Trichy cigars to Whitehall also stopped, however, the post continued till 1960, unknown to most people.

Prime Minister Modi’s narration of the entire incident was to make a strong point that the Congress party, which took the reigns of power from the Britishers, continued most of their policies and did not care to bring in reforms aligned with the interests of independent India. Rather than bringing recent reforms, the Indian government-led by Nehru was happy to maintain ‘status quo’ resulting in anomalies such as Churchill’s Cigar Assistant continuing the job even decades after India’s independence.

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OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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