Flip Flopping toward reality in French India

In stamp collecting there is much about colonies. If there is a universal theme, it might be that trouble comes when a settlement goes beyond a trading post. Sometimes maintaining a trading post is not realistic when the times are against it. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

The aesthetics of this stamp are fun. It celebrates the 1939 New York World Fair. But colonial issues stay around a while probably as they have to be ordered/requested from the home country. In this case the colony of Pondicherry and a few other trading posts had aligned with the Free French on the Allied side of World War II. Hence the old New York Fair is overprinted France Libre. These were issued in the French trading posts. Vichy France, the German puppet also printed stamps for French India which they still claimed ownership. These new issues did not get to the colony, only collectors.

The stamp today is issue CD82, a 2 Fanon 12 Cashes stamp issued by the Territories of French India in 1941. The overprint was on the 1938 two stamp issue of the New York Worlds Fair in 1939. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth $4.75 mint. The version without the overprint is $1.25. A later version of the overprint that added a cross is $7.25.

Several European countries set up trading posts in India. France and Britain agreed to respect each others posts and both agreed not to meddle in Indian affairs. While that is pretty laughable it explains how the relatively tiny area around present day Puducherry was allowed to last into the mid twentieth century.

World War II created a conundrum  for the still far flung French Empire. This can be seen in the behavior of French India governor Louis Bonvin. Bonvin had been appointed governor by the prewar French government after serving in Gabon, French Africa. After the German invasion on June 20th 1940, Bonvin radioed that he felt it was his duty to fight on the Allied side after French defeat. On June 22nd, an armistice between France and Germany was signed and Bonvin immediately recognized the authority of the new German backed Vichy government under Marshal Petain. He was quickly informed by the British that French India would be occupied if it sided with Vichy France. By the 27th, Governor Bonvin announced is unwavering loyalty to the Free French cause. The Vichy government tried Bonvin in a military tribunal in Saigon, Vichy French Indo China convicting him of delivering French territory to a foreign power. He was sentenced to death and his wife sentenced to life in prison. Since the couple was not present the sentences were not carried out. Bonvin returned to France in late 1945 but died the next year of an ailment he received in India

French India was later made untenable by the independence of India in 1947. Already there had been stirrings in labor troubles at Pondicherry textile mills. France and India agreed that the territories should vote on their future. In the event the vote never happened. Socialists unilaterally declared union with India with the support of the mayor of  Pondicherry but not the colonial governor. However when the Indian flag was raised over the police station in 1954 that was the de facto end of French India. No one was forced to leave the area and French was still an allowed language. The French government formally ended French India in 1962. Pondicherry was formally renamed Puducherry in 2006 and the left over French architecture is a major tourist draw.

Well my drink is empty so I will pour another to salute the dancing ability of Governor Bonvin. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.

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