- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 26 Apr 1951, p. 378-385
- Rau, Sir Benegal Narsing, Speaker
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- The similar democracies that are India and Canada—the type where the Executive and the Legislature cannot long be in conflict; the British Parliamentary type, as distinct from the Presidential type. Some details and history of this type of democracy. The Sukraniti, from the 12th century A.D., which embodies the doctrines and traditions of a far more ancient time. The Ministers in ancient India. Another link between India and Canada of the belief in the Rule of Law; also in the details of the Constitutional structure. Resemblances between the Indian and Canadian Federations. The most important link of membership in the Commonwealth. Why India decided, after struggling to gain complete independence, to remain within the Commonwealth. Indications of a profound change in the Commonwealth, at least in Indian minds. One of the things which the new Indian constitution has borrowed from Canada—the machinery for the supervision of elections. The problem of illiteracy and knowledge, but not intelligence. A highly developed sense of justice and moral obligation in the Indian people. The underdeveloped countries of South and Southeast Asia. The need for a great fund of sympathy and good will for this mass of humanity. The need for help on a people-to-people basis. Bringing the peoples of the world nearer to each other and making it a happier place to live in.
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- 26 Apr 1951
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- Full Text
- "LINKS BETWEEN CANADA AND INDIA"
An Address By
SIR BENEGAL NARSING RAU, D.C.L., India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations
MR. HERMANT: Members and Guests of The Empire Club of Canada: It is our privilege to hear on address today by India's permanent representative with the United Nations at Lake Success, His Excellency Sir Benegal Narsing Rau. Born in the District of South Kanara, Sir Benegal was educated at Madras and Trinity College, Cambridge. He entered the Indian Civil Service in 1910. From 1925 to 1933 he was Secretary to the Assam Legislative Council. In 1934 he became legal adviser to the Government of India. He was Reforms Commissioner in 1938, and Judge of the Calcutta High Court from 1939 to 1944. In 1944 His Excellency was Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, and in 1946 became Constitutional Adviser to the Constituent Assembly of India. He was also Adviser to the Constituent Assembly of Burma in the framing of its Constitution in 1947. He was a Delegate to the Paris Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Elected by the General Assembly to the International Law Commission he became Vice-President of the Commission in 1949. He was also elected Chairman of the Atomic Energy Sub-Committee of the United Nations. Since January, 1950, Sir Benegal has been representative on the Security Council, the Atomic Energy Commission, the Commission for Conventional Armaments, and the Interim Committee. With the Hon. Lester Pearson, Canadian Minister of External Affairs, he took the leading part in the effort to negotiate a cease fire in Korea. His Excellency Sir Benegal Rau's career has been one of service to his Country, to the Empire, and the Cause of Free Men everywhere. He will now speak to us on the subject "Links Between Canada and India".
I would congratulate Mr. Stapells and the members of the Nominating Committee. I am sure, gentlemen, that I voice the opinion of all present when I say that we are grateful to have as President for next year one of Canada's and the Empire's outstanding public spirited citizens. We appreciate too that our Vice-Presidents, Brigadier Colin Campbell, Mr. Harry Jackman, and Mr. John William Griffin, have undertaken to carry on in the early part of the Season. I am going to ask Mr. Gibson to say a few words to the Club at the conclusion of Sir Benegal Rau's address.
SIR BENEGAL RAU: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: I am glad to be amongst you this afternoon, and to be able to talk on so non-controversial--I may even say self-evident a topic as "The Links between Canada and India."
My work in India, towards the end, was mainly in the sphere of constitution-making, and naturally, therefore, the first link that comes to my mind is in that sphere. India and Canada are both democracies essentially of the same type--there are different types even amongst democracies but India and Canada belong to the same type--the type where the Executive and the Legislature cannot long be in conflict. In fact, it is the British Parliamentary type, as distinct from the Presidential type. It is true that India has now a President, as the Head of the State; but the system of government is the British Parliamentary system in which the Head of the State acts upon the advice of Ministers responsible to the Legislature. You may be interested to hear that this particular system of government, under which the Head of the State acts upon the advice of Ministers responsible to the people, is not particularly modern; it was known to India as early as the 4th century B.C. I am quoting now from a work called Kautilya's Arthasastra, which has a reputation in India rather like that of Machiavelli's "Prince" in Europe. The date of this work is the 4th century B.C., and it enunciates the rule "that when there is an extraordinary matter, the Ministers and the Council of Ministers should be called together and informed. There whatever the majority decides to be done should be done (by the King)". It is interesting to note that the Arthasastra suggested even the creation of an inner body of Ministers for constant consultation--the germ of the system of Cabinet Ministers and ordinary Ministers of State outside the Cabinet.
Then there is another work that is placed by Indian scholars in the 12th century A.D., the Sukraniti, which embodies the doctrines and traditions of a far more ancient time and which contains the injunction, "A wise King must always follow the opinion of the members of the Council of Ministers. He must never stand on his own opinions. When the Sovereign becomes independent, he plans for ruin; in time he loses the State and loses his subjects."
It is therefore clear that the King in ancient India was not only expected to have Ministers, but also to act upon their advice.
Were the Ministers in ancient India responsible to the people? A verse in the Mahabharata (which in its present form existed in the 2nd century B.C.) directs that "the King must invest only that Minister with jurisdiction who has lawfully earned the confidence of the people of town and country", a strikingly modern conception. More significant, however, than this general injunction is an incident in Asoka's reign (3rd century B.C.) recorded in the Divyavadana, an important Buddhist work. The city of Taxila in the north became "hostile" and Asoka sent his son Kunala to pacify the people. The citizens, in welcoming the Prince, said: "We are not hostile to Your Highness nor are we hostile to King Asoka, but to the wicked Ministers who come and insult us." It appears from Asoka's inscriptions that the Emperor subsequently made an order that the Ministers at Taxila were to go out of office every three years in order to prevent excitement or trouble among the citizens. Thus the idea that the King must change his Ministers from time to time so as to make them acceptable to the people was not only familiar in theory but was occasionally acted upon in practice. It would be idle to pretend that the parliamentary system in all its modern detail was practised in ancient India, but we may say that the essential conception was familiar.
Another link between our two countries is that we both believe in the Rule of Law. This conception also was familiar in ancient India. Never was the King placed above the law; again and again is the law declared to be above the King and as the King of Kings. The Coronation Oath administered to the King ended with the promise "Whatever the law here is, that will I do unhesitatingly: I will never be autocratic."
Not only in these two broad conceptions, but also in the details of our Constitutional structure, we have much in common. I had occasion to go into this matter in some detail in Ottawa recently and shall not repeat here what I said then; but I may state broadly that the Indian Federation, in its essential features, resembles the Canadian more than any other Federation, whether within or without the Commonwealth.
This brings me to our most important link, and to the question which was often asked about two years ago by people in the U.S.A.: "How is it that, after struggling for so many years to gain complete independence, India has voluntarily decided to remain within the Commonwealth? Why has India changed her mind?" The truth of the matter is that it is not only India that has changed, but the Commonwealth also has changed--at least in Indian eyes. Before 1947, the Commonwealth was, in Indian minds, synonymous with British rule; but after the passing of the Indian Independence Act in that year and the transfer of power to Indian hands that followed it, Indians felt that the era of domination was over and that the Commonwealth was now a really free association of nations, "in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs." Even the old names and labels are gradually changing: there is a growing tendency to refer to the Commonwealth as the Commonwealth of Nations instead of the British Commonwealth of Nations, so that those who are not British do not feel that they are excluded. Equally significant is the provision in the British Nationality Act which came into force on January 1st, 1949, and according to which "British subjects", a name which suggests some kind of subjection to Britain, may in future be described as "Commonwealth citizens".
All these indications, trivial though they may seem, are symptomatic--at least in Indian minds--of a profound change in the conception of the Commonwealth, and that is why I said a moment ago that the Commonwealth too had changed. But it is a curious fact that an institution often becomes stronger in moral authority, the less legal power it has: the British monarchy has often been cited as an instance of this truth, and the Commonwealth may well prove to be another. In fact, the Commonwealth may prove the most effective stabilizing factor in a world which is becoming intensely polarized.
One of the things which the new Indian constitution has borrowed from Canada--and has amplified in the process--is the machinery for the supervision of elections. All the elections in India, whether for the National Parliament or for the Provincial or State Legislatures, are to be directed from the centre by an Election Commissioner, who has the same security of tenure as a Judge of the Supreme Court, and is therefore quite independent of political parties. This is very necessary, because we are making a gigantic experiment in democracy. We have adult franchise: everybody above 21, man or woman, has a vote--which means, in a country with a population of 360 million, an Electoral Roll of about 180 million. Each constituency of the Federal Parliament will have on an average a register of something like 360,000 voters, of whom nearly 80% may be illiterate. The problem of illiteracy may not, however, prove as serious as it seems at first sight. Let me explain why.
The Editor of a well-known New York journal was recently in India and has given us a most interesting account of what he found. In a small village near Calcutta he spoke through an interpreter to a farmer of 52 whom he discovered to be a fine conversationalist, well-versed in Hindu religion and philosophy. After 40 minutes of talk, the visitor expressed the hope that upon his return to the United States, he might continue the discussion by correspondence. To his amazement he was told that the farmer could not read or write. In Madras he had a similar experience, following a lecture which he delivered at the University. A young man of about 30 got up to ask a question about political organization in America. The lecturer, in the 5 minutes allowed for each question, did his best to explain; at the end of the lecture, he sought out the questioner and offered to send him further material from America if he would write down his name and address. The young man, who spoke quite good English, said he had not yet learnt how to write in English or indeed any other language. Incidents of this kind occurred repeatedly and the visitor realized at last that people could be well-developed intellectually and yet have no contact with the written word.
There is not only this widespread illiteracy, but there is also lack of knowledge, as we count knowledge. Away from the towns--and, as you all know, the Indian population is very largely rural--even the names of Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Hitler, Truman and Attlee are unknown. Far less is there any knowledge of such things as Communism or Democracy or Atomic Energy or the Korean War or the United Nations.
All the same, the people are not backward or unintelligent. In their own way, they are quite well-informed, of the things they need for their own daily purposes. They have also a very highly developed sense of justice and moral obligation.
It would, therefore, be wrong to assume that merely because of his illiteracy, the Indian villager would be unable to form an intelligent judgment on the things that concern him or to cast an intelligent vote. In all probability, the present leadership will be returned to power in India at the next election.
I should like finally to refer to a subject which has been very much in my mind of late--that of the underdeveloped countries of South and Southeast Asia, where you have a population of about 650 million living in chronic malnutrition, with intermittent starvation. Wherever I have spoken, I have found that there is--as there must be--a great fund of sympathy and good will for this mass of humanity. I showed a film last night at the Victoria University by way of demonstrating how much can be done in a small way to help these people. Help on a government-to-government basis introduces various complications; but on a people-to-people basis, it may be much easier and not less effective. It will bring the peoples of the world nearer to each other and make it a happier place to live in.
MR. HERMANT: I will now call upon our President-elect, Mr. D. H. Gibson, C.B.E., to say a word to the members of the Club and to express our thanks to His Excellency Sir Benegal Rau. Mr. Gibson was formerly Vice-President, and is now a Director of the Robt. Simpson Co. Ltd. He is a Director of the National Life Assurance Co., and other leading industrial organizations. As Mr. Stapells has pointed out, he is the National Pres. of the Dominion Council of the Navy League of Canada, and is the National Chairman of the United Church Pension Fund. Mr. Gibson is a Past-Pres. of the Board of Trade of the City of Toronto. He is also well known in the Old Country and in Europe where he has visited regularly over a period of twenty years.
MR. GIBSON: Your Excellency, this Empire Club of Canada has a long history, and your visit and speech will be among the memorable ones we have had in recent years. We members of this Club, I am certain, believe that there reside within the Commonwealth power and minds adequate for the world's need.
As you spoke, Sir, I was reminded of the flexibility of the Commonwealth which you say is changing in form. It changed so widely and so rapidly that we had a General Smuts, an enemy in one hour, and yet in his later years no voice was probably heard across the world with more influence, more steadfastness. We believe, with all our distress of mind, with all the deep stirring of the emotions in these times, that the Commonwealth, including Canada on the one side and India with her far-reaching influence in S. E. Asia on the other, has an important place in world affairs.
Our debt to you, Sir Benegal, is very great, for your sacrifice of time and energy, in trying to solve the Korean problem.
Further, I am convinced that it would be well for us to have men from India and men from other parts of the Commonwealth in our midst, for the influence of this Empire Club in the days to come will be far-reaching. We live in serious times, we live in days when men of thoughtful minds and men in authority have a difficult time, and it is very encouraging to hear you speak of those abiding links and the devotion of your people to the Commonwealth.
I think it is proper that we honour our guest today. He carries a great dignity, and one of the highest gifts His Majesty can bestow upon any man, the honour of a knighthood. He carries that honour with dignity and grace, and when we remember that he was educated first in Madras and later in Cambridge, we are led to believe that the riches of this Commonwealth are exemplified in the great mind of His Excellency.