The Political Situation in India
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The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Dec 1922, p. 340-355


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King, Principal R.A., Speaker
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The complicated situation in India today. One or two outstanding features which the speaker will address, in order that the audience can have some kind of a background from which to size up what information does come to them. A look back as far as 1885, in order to speak about the political situation in India, when the Indian National Congress was instituted. Some words about that organization. Criticism against that Congress. Two parts which grew out of that body: a Conservative party and a Liberal or Radical party, which became the Moderates and the Extremists. The issue of Home Rule for each party. The factor of Mr. Gandhi as leader of the Extremist party. Mr. Gandhi's background. A brief review of the events which have been crowding the months and the weeks of the past two or three years. Some familiar arguments. The Extremists' manifesto, with two particular grievances. Queen Victoria' proclamation and promise that India would bear responsibility for their own country, as soon as they were able. The rebellion that was precipitated in the south of India, in the south part of the Punjab. The Punjab atrocities. The issue as to whether or not those men responsible for the atrocities were dealt with properly. The lack of faith in the reforms, in the measure of self-government outlined in the Government of India Act of 1919. Some background to that Act. Events following the passage of that Act. Gandhi's lack of control of his policy of "non-violent, non co-operation." The policy of "civil disobedience." Gandhi's arrest. The situation in India now. Control of the newly-constituted provincial chambers by the Moderates. The new device of Diarchy, made up of British officials and Indian ministers. Command of the local houses by this Diarchy. The structure and makeup of the Diarchy. The position of the Extremists and the Moderates now. A summary of the political crisis in India today.
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20 Dec 1922
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THE POLITICAL SITUATION IN INDIA
AN ADDRESS By PRINCIPAL R. A. KING, OF INDORE COLLEGE, CENTRAL INDIA.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
December 20, 1922.

THE PRESIDENT, Sir William Hearst, introduced Principal King, who was received with loud applause.

PRINCIPAL KING.

Gentlemen,--Since returning to Canada in August and addressing gatherings such as this between here and the Pacific I have been gratified to find a great interest in Imperial affairs in general, and in those of India in particular. I admit that the situation in India today is somewhat complicated, yet there are one or two outstanding features which I will endeavour to lay before you so that you may have some kind of a background from which you can size up what information does come to you.

In order to speak about the political situation in India we should go back perhaps as far as 1885, when the Indian National Congress was instituted. That organization was the child of the brain not of an Indian at all, but of an Englishman named Hume, a man who before his retirement occupied a most important position in India, that of Home Secretary. He conceived that it would be an altogether good thing if this growing, educated Indian coterie had some way of expressing itself, and even of passing

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Mr. R. A. King is a Canadian engaged in educational work in India since 1903. He is principal of Indore Christian College, Indore, Central India; a Fellow of Allahabad University and a member of the University Senate and of the Advisory Board of Education under the British Government.

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judgment on government measures. In formulating this institution he had the imprimatur of the Viceroy of that day, Lord Dufferin. That Congress has often been criticized. Ridicule was poured upon it by writers like Rudyard Kipling. Perhaps that was all to the bad. You may silence a man by ridicule, but you will never win him over to your position by ridicule. True, there were many in the Congress who were very vociferous, very often their claims were extravagant; very often their criticisms of the government were unjust and ungenerous; but at the same time that Congress contained the greatest minds in India, men who in debating power were well worthy of a place in any deliberative assembly in the Empire. More than that, many of the suggestions which Congress made have long since passed into legislation.

In such a body as that it was quite natural that there should grow up two parties: a Conservative party aid a Liberal or Radical party. The unfortunate thing is that outsiders heard more from the Radical party than from the Conservative. These two parties, as years went on, crystallized and adopted names which are familiar now--the Moderates and the Extremists. The latter became more and more clamorous, and indeed revolutionary, until in 1907, I think it was, although the Moderates were in the majority, the Extremists succeeded in ousting them and seizing the machinery of the Congress, and from that time on the Congress became more and more a revolutionary body. In the early years of its history, when it was found necessary to draw up some crude statement of their aims and ideals, I don't think any moderate man could take exception to the way they expressed themselves. Surely it is a legitimate aim on the part of any intelligent man to desire a larger and still larger share in the government of his own country. When they spoke of Home Rule they were careful to define their term, and also add the phrase, which is significant, "within the Empire." But when the Extremists got things in hand they re-drafted that Constitution, and deliberately left out the qualifying words, their aim being Home Rule by all lawful means. Indeed, at that very Congress it was debated whether they would not also drop the words "by all lawful means." However, they thought better of it.

About that time the striking figure of Mr. Gandhi came upon the political horizon, and very quickly assumed the leadership of the Extremist party, although for a time he did favour the moderate position. A word with reference to Mr. Gandhi. He is a native of India, a native of Guirat; not a Brahmin, as many seem to think, but Banya by caste, that is a grain merchant. All the more credit to him if by his ability he has been able to invade the sacred precincts of the spiritual aristocracy of India. But let us remember he was educated in the schools and among the colleges of India. Then he went to London, where he studied in one of the law schools and was called to the bar. It is well to remember that; for Mr. Gandhi is constantly declaiming against Western civilization, whereas he is very much its product. Returning to India, he practised law for a time; and then the Boer War broke out, and he joined up with some ambulance corps and went to South Africa, and in that connection did very splendid organizing work, and received the thanks of the. Government of India. Then he took up the cares and trials of the Hindoo Coolie in Natal, and became their champion in the face of certain restrictions which were being imposed upon them. It is perhaps there that Mr. Gandhi learned the use and the might of a boycott, although a boycott carried out in a compact little group in another country was quite a different thing from a boycott attempted with a heterogenous mass of people scattered throughout the continent. He came back from Natal and, just because he had been a great leader of the Hindoos down there, he was very naturally looked upon as a coming leader among the Hindoos, the extremists of India.

It will be impossible to review the events which have been crowding the months and the weeks of the past two or three years. We can understand the situation from statements given by the Extremists themselves as to what they are contending for and what they intend to do. A manifesto issued about three years ago stated their particular grievances against the Indian Government. It hardly refers to the stock grievance of the grain, which is an economic question, and I think can be fairly and satisfactorily answered. The old argument that Britain was not giving them a share in the administration of their own country, I think any fair-minded student of Indian history knows to be false. At the close of the great mutiny a proclamation issued by Queen Victoria promised that, as the Indian people were able to stand it, the responsibilities of their own country would be laid upon their shoulders; and from that time until the present, by successive stages, the administration has been handed over, and I think that ought to be recognized. The only criticism which can be made with fairness is that the process of handing over has been too slow to satisfy the Extremists, and that there was too great an unwillingness or a reluctance shown by the British officials in handing over; yet even this may be questioned, because many sober-minded men who wish well to India were just a little fearful that that handing over has been too fast.

Two particular grievances were set out in the manifesto referred to. The first was mentioned as the Caliphate wrongs. It was contended that, in the Treaty of Sevres, Britain did not do the fair thing about the Caliph of Turkey, or by the Sultan of Turkey. They claimed that Lloyd George broke his promise to maintain the integrity of the Turkish Empire, and that under the Treaty of Sevres Turkey was partitioned. They very conveniently forgot that the entry of Turkey into the war very materially altered the situation. They forgot also that in patching up the treaty with Turkey the other Allies had to be considered. They also forgot, very ungraciously, that the Indian Government pleaded the cause of the Indian Mohammedan at London, and that but for that pleading Turkey would have fared even worse at that Conference. However, that contention is made, and the people are ignorant. Certain men went up and down the country, called by the people "the Aliah brothers" or "the Mohammedan brothers," and stirred up the feelings of the Mohammedan people, persuading them to believe that Britain had not only dealt unfairly with Turkey but that she had desecrated their most sacred shrines of Mecca and Medina-stories that were made up out of whole cloth; and so great an influence had those orators on the Mohammedans that I am told that old bearded men would have tears rolling down their cheeks, as they listened to those two arrant scoundrels telling what was really a pack of lies.

How much influence had they? I might refer to the rebellion that was precipitated in the south of India, in the south part of the Punjab. Most of the people down there, Mohammedan farmers, peasantry, were so wrought up that they felt that they could not with any decency longer stay within the British Empire-to use the favourite expression of Mr. Gandhi, "under a Satanic Government." They therefore sold out their possessions and looked around for another country to which they might trek. They saw a Mohammedan country, and the Ameer unfortunately at that time was not very favourably disposed towards the British Rajah. He invited them to come over; he would make it all right with them if they would only come over to his country; but he hardly reckoned on what was going to happen. No less than 18,000 people left their homes in the southern part of the Punjab for that great trek through the Khyber Pass; and when they got there the Ameer had to tell them that they were not wanted. They were a few more than he expected, and today the Khyber Pass is literally lined with the graves of young children and old people who died in that terrible journey. They came back again a little enlightened, and settled again under that "Satanic Government," which treated them like a lot of bad children, and did the best to reinstate them in their old homes, even passing special-legislation so to do. (Applause) Of course I will admit that if those fellows had got hold of the agitators after they had returned they might have had a few things to say to them; but India is a big place, and that which was done there in the southern Punjab might not become known by the ordinary people of Bengal and Madras. And so these things have gone on. Those are the Caliphate wrongs, and that is all there is in them.

The other matter is perhaps more serious, and is referred to as the Punjab atrocities. During the closing years of the war there was a great deal of unrest in the Punjab. Part of it might be traced very directly to that unfortunate instance known some years ago as the Komagata-Maru incident. In the investigation which was held in India over the return of those benighted pilgrims, it was practically proven that it was a German frame-up. Many of the men on that voyage were duped, and they honestly thought that they had not been fairly dealt with by Canada and by the British people at large. Of course the calculation was to' persuade them along those lines, to get them to that belief. They only succeeded too well. When they arrived near Calcutta, they broke up instead of taking the special train which was there to convey them back to their Punjab homes. They scattered, but eventually they did turn up in the Punjab villages, and each of those villages became a centre of dissatisfaction against British rule.

That was not perhaps the greatest trouble, but I mention it in detail here because it is of peculiar interest to us as Canadians. There were many other reasons for the unrest. There was agrarian trouble, there were economic difficulties-the rising cost of living, the general unrest that we have the world over. But it headed up in riots in Lahore and in Amritsar. In the latter there were some murders; three European bank managers were murdered, and an English lady was beaten and left as dead. The natural thing happened. The district was put under martial law, and proclamations issued that there should be no further meetings in Amritsar. In spite of that proclamation a huge concourse of people came together in Jallianwala Garden. I might say that many of the people probably had never seen the proclamation. It was market day in Amritsar and great chowds were in from the neighbouring villages; but at any rate, the general in command, hearing of this gathering, marched down with the few troops which he had, and without warning he opened fire on the crowd. He continued rapid fire until his ammunition was exhausted. He right-about-faced his troops and went back to barracks. Immediately, that thing was known the country over. In that mysterious way in which news passes from one to another in India, it got out to the other villages, and long before we had any official account in the English newspapers it was known by the great mass of the Indian people. What was even more unfortunate, when it was decided that there should be some investigation into the matter by the Home authorities, the officers concerned had been drafted off to the frontier, for an Afghan war had broken out, and six months elapsed before the Commission investigating the affair could get to work. During all those weeks and months the trouble was growing.

You know the result of that investigation. I am not going to argue the merits of the case. There is decided opinion on the matter. You will find even the missionary body divided as to the right and wrong of the matter. There is no doubt, on one side, that General Dyer's action did prevent rioting in towns in the neighbourhood in the Punjab and down as far away from the Punjab as Nagpur, which was just about on the eve of breaking out into mob rule. On the other hand, the Indian was clever enough to quote some of our condemnations of Prussianism as against ourselves. At any rate, the Commission decided that General Dyer, although he acted honestly, had exceeded his real rights, and they asked him to retire. Other officers were censured. I think some of them, the younger ones, deserved to be censured, because I think they forgot themselves as Britons when they began to invent ludicrous punishments for minor faults, as for example, when they forbade anyone passing through the street on which that lady was beaten unless they did so on hands and knees. Where they asked, as a minor punishment, for some old man to hop seven around the room, I think they were becoming a little un-British. But I am not going to argue the thing one way or another.

What I want to point out is this: that the contention of the Extremists is that those men responsible for those atrocities were not properly dealt with. That is hardly the case. When you ask a general commanding to retire, I do not know that you could mete out any heavier punishment upon him, not even by shooting him. And when you remember that the political career of those who were highest up in the Punjab was practically ended by that incident, I do say that the Government took the matter seriously, and did what they considered the right and just thing. However, the Extremist is not satisfied. I don't know what he wants. I have no doubt he wants something spectacular, something that would appeal to the popular imagination, something like, let us say, the impeachment of Warren Hastings before the House of Lords--something of that sort, and revenge too.

The matter was referred to at the very first meeting of the newly constituted "Federal House in India, but no debate was precipitated. The Indian members of that House, who were all Moderates, and the British officials agreed alike that it was a thing that had better be forgotten, and so it was decided on both sides to drop it and say no more. But the Extremist has no intention of dropping it; it is too fine a piece of propaganda; and now they say, because of the possibility of further atrocities--for they say the British people have not taken the thing seriously--they demand to have the Government control in their own hands at once.

That implies that they have no faith in the reforms, in the measure of self-government which has been given them under the Government of India Act of 1919. And perhaps here I should say a word with reference to that Act. Under Lord Morley an Act was passed which seemed very satisfactory, and which indeed gave to the Indians a larger share in the administration than they expected, because it set up in the various provinces chambers in which the Indians had a majority of votes, as opposed to the official representatives. There was this to remember, however, and the Indian knew it only too well, that while he had that majority of that House, the Executive was not yet in his hands. Indeed, Lord Morley said so. In pressing for the passage of his Bill in the House of Lords, he said plainly that it was his last thought to set up a parliamentary system of government in India for which he apparently felt that the time had not come. And so, while that was a deliberate body, an administrative body--a legislative body, if you will--the Executive was still in the hands of the British officials.

But ten years had not passed when the question was reopened. Montague, as Secretary of State, went out to India, and with the Viceroy of that day, Lord Chelmsford, they explored the country. They took evidence everywhere, and as a result of their investigations another reform bill was drafted. That was passed and became law from the British Parliament under the name "Government of India Act of 1919." It set up a new piece of machinery. In a way, I am inclined to believe that this new machinery so set up is the greatest piece of experimental politics that we have seen since the time of the French Revolution. The name which is given to it usually is Diarchy. The name does not occur in the Act itself, but that is a word which is popularly used to describe this new device. In the provincial houses the executive is divided into two sections. Certain departments are still retained by the British officials-the more difficult departments of government, the ones which naturally we would be the last to hand over, such as high finance, the Revenue, Customs, Inter-state affairs, International affairs, Military and Naval affairs, etc. The other, and by no means unimportant, departments have been handed over to Indian ministers. These ministers are responsible to the newly-constituted Chamber, and that Chamber is responsible, again, to the Electorate--not a very wide Electorate, I grant you; but remember the growth of our own constitutional history. How could we have a wide and expensive franchise in India, with such an illiterate mass? There it will have to be a gradual growth and education.

But my point is that in that Act and in that device, the Diarchy, a very considerable measure of responsible government has been handed over to the Indian people. Those local houses may vote or refuse to vote supplies to their ministers for the working of their departments: Forestry, Agriculture, Fisheries, Education, Excise, Public Works, Local Administration, Local Government, Co-operative Socities, and some others. You can see from these that they are by no means unimportant branches of government.

When that Act was passed some Moderates did say that they had hoped for a little more; they had hoped that the principle would have been carried into the federal house, it is only as yet in the provincial houses, but they said, "We accept this measure, and we will show that we are capable administrators, and we will co-operate with the Imperial Services and with the Indian Civil Service in the carrying out of these reforms." On the other hand, the Extremist would have nothing to do with it. He said it was an insult to a great nation such as he belonged to that self-government should be passed on to them in installments. He refused to recognize the history of government in other peoples, that government is an art which is not learned in a couple of weeks, but has to be learned by hard experience; and here was Britain giving them their opportunity to learn from experience in perfect safety, which was something that many of the other nations never had. However, the Extremist would have nothing to do wit hit. He said, "No, we refuse to work these reforms, and we intend to bring the present administration to an end by a process of non-co-operation."

"Non-violent non-co-operation," said Gandhi, and I believe he sincerely believed it; but he could not control his following, and it was anything but nonviolent on the part of many of his lieutenants. In his manifesto, which was drawn up at that time, they very kindly told us what they were going to do. They were going to call out all the government clerks, and practically all the government clerks in India are Indians. They were going to persuade lawyers to cease pleading at the courts. They were going to ask the students of the high schools and the colleges, at any rate, those that had any connection with government, to skip classes. They were going to ask the electorate to refuse to vote, and their own membership as Extremists to refuse to stand for those seats in those new houses. They were going to boycott British goods. Last of all, they were going to carry out the policy in certain chosen districts of what they called "civil disobedience."

On the whole, the propaganda fell down. In the first place, while it was quite a popular game on the part of the government clerks to bait the government, they were not above accepting government salaries. On the part of lawyers who were asked to lay down all their briefs, and to refuse to plead before the courts, well, you know what the lawyers would do. But they had their time with the students for the year. Just at their most impressionable age, burning with patriotism, dying almost to make cheap martyrs of themselves, with one accord in Bengal, and to a certain extent in other provinces, they came out and skipped the classes. In fact, the great University of Calcutta two years ago was almost bankrupt, because it depends very largely upon fees, and their fee income had dropped over fifty per cent. But that also passed. This was notorious. They had the greatest success with the matriculation classes of the High School; good success in the first year class; fair success with the second year class; not so good in the third; and hardly any success at all with the fourth--which shows that even an Indian education is inculcating some principles of commonsense. The result of the operation was that the poor fellows lost a year of their school work. They were promised national schools and national colleges, which of course never materialized, and they are back again to their lessons, I think wiser and sadder.

As for the boycott on British goods, there were some spectacular burnings of foreign-made goods, but it amounted to nothing. As to carrying out the policy of civil disobedience in certain chosen districts, Gandhi several times fixed the date on which this policy should come in, when everybody should sit down and refuse to pay taxes; and, as the bulk of the revenue of India comes from the land, you can see how serious a matter it would be. But before that date was reached there was always some untoward event which showed Gandhi very plainly--and he confessed it, too--that his following was out of hand. They took umbrage, for example, in February of this year, when some one had been arrested from a neighbouring town, and a couple of days later a mob of about a thousand men came out, armed with big bamboo poles, and did up the whole police force. I don't think one of them survived; they were simply beaten to death. In another place an unpopular magistrate was got rid of by the very simple devise of pouring a tin of kerosene oil over him and touching a match to it. Those things happened here and there. A British official was murdered, and at the trial it came out that the young man had been carried away by the inflammatory speeches on the part of agitators. So it became absolutely necessary for the Government to take action. It could no longer shut its eyes to the result of this non-violent propaganda, so Gandhi, as you know, was arrested and shut up--simply imprisoned; that is, his liberty of movement has been restricted, but he has still an opportunity of seeing his friends. The other day I noticed he was interviewed by a representative of the "Manchester Guardian." He has his books and papers, but he is put out of the way of doing as much mischief as he has hitherto done. Now, what is to be the upshot of the whole thing? When I left India in May I was not very certain as to what might happen, but since coming home I have had it from reliable sources that Gandhi's propaganda has been punctured, and the bubble burst. (Applause) In a way it seems very mysterious to us here in the West, but I think this is the explanation. When you remember that there is no political tradition to carry on a movement like that, once you remove the leader it is very apt to go, and the whole thing fall. But that does not mean, mark you, that extremism is down and out. Not by any manner of means if we are going to believe the despatch that appeared in the "Globe" this morning; but my time is short, and I am not going to refer to it in detail. I do not believe it myself, and I am not allowing it to unduly worry me.

Here is the situation, as I see it. At the present moment the Moderates, from whom you hear very little, have the control of the newly-constituted provincial chambers. We have this new device of Diarchy set up. We have part of it made up of British officials, part of it made up of Indian ministers. The whole secret lies just therein the ability of those two sections of the Diarchy to work together smoothly. They have not always done so in the past. Very often the British officials have seemed overbearing to the Indian. Very often the Indian has seemed unduly suspicious and ungenerous to the European. But if those two parties can be brought together, if they can work together, then I believe the future of India is secure, so long as the Moderates retain their position in those local houses.

Let me just illustrate what command they have of the local houses. Take the local house in the United Provinces, the one which I happen to know best. There are one hundred and twenty-three members in that house; one hundred are directly elected by this Indian electorate, and are therefore Indians; of the remaining twenty-three, eighteen of them only are British officials; the other five are nominated by Government to represent small minorities throughout the country which might possibly be overlooked in the general election. So that you can see that out of one hundred and twenty-three members only eighteen are official. When you come to think of it, it was a most generous offer for Britain to make to the Indian people, showing the tremendous confidence in the native people, because she has put into the hands of those Indian leaders a weapon which they might very well use against Britain herself; and which the Extremist intends to do.

I spoke about the Extremist boycotting the elections. He did. Consistently, he would not stand for election; and then he woke up to the fact, woke too late, that he had made a most tremendous political blunder; he had left himself entirely out of the houses. We have been able to keep him out of the houses-that is the point. I feared, at any rate when I left India, that had an election been taken at that time, and had the Extremist stood for election, he would have been in the majority, because he has only to play to the passions of the people, whereas the Moderate will have to appeal to their commonsense, and their reason, and their intelligence, and with such an electorate as we have in India that is a rather difficult matter to do.

The next election comes in January, 1924. If the Moderate party can get out and make good in the eyes of the Indian electorate, and come back again with their majority to the newly-elected houses in 1924, then I believe things will go on well. If, on the other hand, the Extremist comes back, well, after that the deluge. I don't know what might happen, because with his majority he can certainly tie up the administration; and that, Gentlemen, to me is the political crisis in India today. (Loud applause)

SIR WILLIAM HEARST expressed the thanks of the audience to Principal King for his instructive address, the audience rising and giving three cheers and a tiger.

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The Political Situation in India


The complicated situation in India today. One or two outstanding features which the speaker will address, in order that the audience can have some kind of a background from which to size up what information does come to them. A look back as far as 1885, in order to speak about the political situation in India, when the Indian National Congress was instituted. Some words about that organization. Criticism against that Congress. Two parts which grew out of that body: a Conservative party and a Liberal or Radical party, which became the Moderates and the Extremists. The issue of Home Rule for each party. The factor of Mr. Gandhi as leader of the Extremist party. Mr. Gandhi's background. A brief review of the events which have been crowding the months and the weeks of the past two or three years. Some familiar arguments. The Extremists' manifesto, with two particular grievances. Queen Victoria' proclamation and promise that India would bear responsibility for their own country, as soon as they were able. The rebellion that was precipitated in the south of India, in the south part of the Punjab. The Punjab atrocities. The issue as to whether or not those men responsible for the atrocities were dealt with properly. The lack of faith in the reforms, in the measure of self-government outlined in the Government of India Act of 1919. Some background to that Act. Events following the passage of that Act. Gandhi's lack of control of his policy of "non-violent, non co-operation." The policy of "civil disobedience." Gandhi's arrest. The situation in India now. Control of the newly-constituted provincial chambers by the Moderates. The new device of Diarchy, made up of British officials and Indian ministers. Command of the local houses by this Diarchy. The structure and makeup of the Diarchy. The position of the Extremists and the Moderates now. A summary of the political crisis in India today.