- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 9 Mar 1922, p. 68-82
- Wadia, Bahman Pestonji, Speaker
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- Item Type
- Greetings from the ancient civilization and land of India. The present condition in India giving serious cause for thought to all who have the interests of that country at heart. Two great epochs which have marked, in recent times, the political development of the country: one which opened with the outbreak of the war in 1914; the second which opened with the establishment, for the first time in the history of British India, of a legislative assembly made up of elected representatives of the Indian people, who are trying to handle the very complex and very delicate situation of today. Indian on the way to a Dominion status. Reports from India of riots, of bloodshed, of the non-co-operation movement. Remembering that there is a harmonious and steady evolution also taking lace which is not reported. The need for every part of the British Commonwealth to have its own position clearly understood in other parts. Tracing the political developments that have taken place since 1914, and which are taking place now, starting with India at the outbreak of the war when it was a benevolent autocracy. The disappearing of respect for British traditions of England by Indian politicians. Reasons for the beginning of the movement for home rule for India. Steps towards home rule. Controversy over the Mesopotamian Report. Mr. Montagu's visit to India as Secretary of State for India and his consultations during that visit. Mr. Montagu's bill which indicated a transfer of power into the hands of the elected representatives of the Indian people. The tragedy of Amritsar. Satisfying the Indian populace on the rancor that is remaining from this incident. The position of Moslems and of Mohammedans with regard to the position of the Caliph, the Sultan of Turkey. Mr. Gandhi's dissatisfaction with the reforms. Measures introduced and passed by the Indian Legislative Chamber during this time. The Indian Government composed, half and half, of Indians and Europeans. Trusting that the discrimination of the Government of India will lead them to a more harmonious method of development. Following the despatch that came over the wires today, the speaker urges us to take the position of the Government of India in that despatch in relationship to the events that are precipitating in India. A cleavage of opinion between the Government of India and the British Cabinet which may open a third epoch. The speaker's belief that the Government of India is right. Responsibilities and tasks of the Government of India. The sentiment and feeling of the Indian populace in reference to the British connection. The readiness of India for self-government Dominion status. The essential need for India to recognize its position as things move at a fast pace. Who will fight the battles of India. The need for the British Commonwealth to begin to take a genuine interests in the affairs of India, and why they should do so.
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- CONDITIONS IN INDIA TODAY
AN ADDRESS BY BARMAN PESTONJI WADIA, DELEGATE OF THE INDIAN GOVERNMENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL LABOUR CONFERENCE, GENEVA.
Before the Empire Club o f Canada, Toronto,
March 9, 1922.
THE PRESIDENT, Sir William Hearst, introduced
Mr. Wadia, who was received with loud applause.BARMAN PESTONJI WADIA.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,--It is a great pleasure indeed to address this great Club of the Canadians who belong to the British Commonwealth, and to bring to them the greetings from the ancient civilization and land of India. The present condition in India, to which your President just referred, gives serious cause for thought to all who have the interests of that country at heart.
So far, two great epochs have marked, in recent times, the political development of the country. The despatch that has been made public today may mark another important epoch in the march of events; and I want to speak to you of those two great important epochs--one which opened with the outbreak of the war in 1914; the second which opened with the establishment, for the first time in the history of British India, of a legislative assembly made up of elected representatives of the Indian people,
Mr. Bahman P. Wadia is a Parsee who represents the Moderate Party in the movement for governmental reform in India. A well-informed journalist, intimate with the extremists on both sides, and a recognized leader of the Indian Labour Party, he supported the Montagu proposals. He represented the Indian Government at the International Labour Conference in Geneva, 1921.
who are sitting there and legislating for their own country and are trying to handle the very complex and very delicate situation.
Today the government of India is manned to a great extent, if not mainly, by Indians. Not only in the administrative machinery but in the moulding of the policy, Indian politicians and statesmen are taking their legitimate part and share. We are on the way to a Dominion status, and if things move harmoniously-and I hope things will so move-we may find ourselves enjoying the Dominion status as part of the British Commonwealth, in the same position as you are here in Canada.
Gentlemen, you have read, during the last few months, cables that have come telling you of riots, of bloodshed, of the non-co-operation movement, of troubles, troubles everywhere. It is but right that when events take place, information is cabled forth to distant parts of the Empire and the world; but you must not forget that there is a harmonious and steady evolution also taking place which is never reported, and of which you ought to know somewhat, especially as you are part of that great British Commonwealth, having your interests there, not only political and economic, but moral and ethical and spiritual. If it is true that the British Commonwealth stands for great and high principles of International policy, not for the policy that grabs, but the policy of fair-play and justice everywhere, it may become a very important factor in the moulding of the civilization of the future, in the building of the new reconstructed policies of the world. But for that purpose every part of the British Commonwealth will have to have its own position clearly understood in other parts; and my task this afternoon is to trace for you the political developments that have taken place since 1914, and which are taking place today.
India at the outbreak of the war was well nigh an autocracy, though a benevolent autocracy. We had, as Indians, well nigh given up all hope of becoming in the near future the masters of the political situation in our own households. It is a sad, but all the same a well-known fact, that in the minds and hearts of the Indian politicians most of the respect for British traditions of England had disappeared, and we had come to make a distinction between Englishmen in England and Englishmen in India. But our faith still persisted in Englishmen in England. The Englishmen in England were not very zealous about looking after the interests of 350,000,000 of their own fellow subjects in India. An Irishman once said that Providence gave the reins of the best of India into the hands of the British House of Commons, and the British House of Commons threw it back to God. (Laughter.) That was the position in 1914; but when England declared that she went to the war for the sake of its treaty word, its pledge, its faith, that Britain unsheathed its sword for the protection of the small nationality of Belgium, we took courage. It came to us as an inspiration, and naturally the educated Indians began to ask, "If England can afford to go and unsheath its sword for the sake of the small nationality of Belgium, what about one-fifth of the human race that lives under the same British flag, the Union Jack?" We said, "If England thinks it well and proper to declare war against. Germany because Germany regarded her treaty as a scrap of paper, what about our past scraps of paper-the pledged word of monarchs, statesmen, of the British Houses of Parliament, who had declared over and over again that equality of citizenship in the British Empire was to be the lot and part of every Indian man, woman or child born on Indian soil?" And so began the movement for home rule for India, the movement to gain for India the same position in the British Commonwealth that Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa occupied at the outbreak of the war.
The speeches of illustrious statesmen in the Houses of Parliament gave us courage month after month. When President Wilson issued his magnificent speech with its fourteen points, and said that the world was to be made safe for democracy, we said, "Well, we must come into a share of this democracy." There arose a somewhat peculiar situation; for some British administrators, limited in their vision, circumscribed in their application of the new political facts which were arising, had the hardihood to say democracy was a western institution, it could not be applied to India; and so the struggle, which was political, grew intense. The press, the platform, were freely utilized, for you must not forget, Gentlemen, that the same British Government was turning out every year from the Indian universities men and women who were trained in Shelley and Burke, in Macaulay, in Shakespeare, and read the wonderful works of Milton. What had gone into the heads and hearts of the people. The British administrator called it "strong wine that had gone into the young heads." Well, the young heads persisted, and, to make a long story short, hundreds of them got interned or imprisoned for political struggles. I happened to be one of them.
Education grew, and as a result something happened in the British House of Commons. One of our greatest politicians, one who was once a member of the greatest of the parliaments, the House of Commons itself, my own countryman and co-religionist, Mr. Nauriji Dabdhobhi, had found out that you can always put faith in the British House of Commons. It was a difficult thing to get underneath the hard skull of John Bull, he said, (laughter) but if you can hammer away, once you punctured it, you are going to get nothing but justice and fair play.
We stuck to the idealism that was taught to us by the father of Indian politicians. We were always complaining in response to the statement that was made by the British administrators regarding the civil service--that it was the most efficient service in the world. We retorted by saying that certainly it was the costliest. Strange coincidences take place in the history of nations from time to time, and when we were in a struggle of this nature in the year 1917 a strange coincidence took place in the British House of Commons. All of you remember that memorable report that came out on the Mesopotamian trouble. The Mesopotamia Report showed that the Indian Government in India can be inefficient. This was a God-send for our fighting, and we challenged the British House of Commons to appoint other commissions to make enquiry not only into military matters but into matters of industry, into maters of education, into matters of sanitation; and we said that we would undertake to prove that the most efficient civil service in the world was not so efficient; that they had blundered; that something had gone wrong everywhere in the Indian Government.
Well, one Secretary of State, Mr. Austen Chamberlain, resigned over that Mesopotamian Report; and, thanks to the good sense of the Prime Minister, and the good luck, shall I say, of India, a man of foresighted vision came to the Indian office as its head--Mr. Montagu. Gentlemen, in the early days, before Mr. Montagu came out, when he was writing his report, and after the publication of the report, he was very much attacked. Once again, I was one of those who attacked him severely; but in the events, in the developments that have taken place, it is but right and fair that I should put on record, and you should take note of it, that there are few men at the present moment in the British House of Commons who have served their country and their Empire so well and faithfully, with farsightedness and honesty of purpose, as the Rt. Hon. Mr. Montagu, the Secretary of State for India. People all over the world in the British Commonwealth do not know the value of that man. He had a vision, and in the midst of obstacles, in the face of opposition of the entire civil service of India, in the face of the opposition of very influential people in England, he pursued his policy, introducing his reforms, carrying them through the two Houses of Parliament, and thereby averting a revolution which would have separated India from the British Commonwealth by this time.
For what was the position? Indian soldiers were returning from the various fronts. Economic distress was deep. There was an unrest that had penetrated to the very hearts of the masses. In such a moment Mr. Montagu came out to India for the first time that a Secretary of State for India came out to that country. India was governed from 8,000 miles across the waters, from Whitehall. The Viceroy was a subordinate official to the Secretary of State in legislation. The Secretary of State was responsible to parliament, and to parliament alone, and he produced his Indian budgets or his Indian speeches to great empty benches. Thus the Secretary of State was an autocrat; he was rightly spoken of as the greatest Nabob of India who lived in London; he had never visited the Indian continent before. But Mr. Montagu himself left his office and came to the spot; to do what? To consult Indian public opinion; to consult and talk over matters with Indian politicians; and he visited the whole of the continent of India, aided by a committee, assisted by the Viceroy; he consulted the opinion of the educated classes who were interested in their own political evolution; he returned to England, produced his report, and made ready his bill for political reform.
All these years there was a Legislative Council that was sitting in the Provinces as well as in the Central Government at Delhi; but the power of the Indian representatives, who were always kept in the minority by legislation, was the power of recommendation; we could only recommend; we could bring in a resolution; we could ask a question provided the officials of the Government permitted us to do so. Suppose, even, that we brought in a resolution, the standing majority was always in a position to throw out our bills and resolutions. Suppose that by some coincidence or chance an influential member was able to put through a resolution or even a bill, the Government was always free to act exactly as it pleased in the matters of all those resolutions and bills. That was the position-a few Indians who were in the Legislative Assemblies had the power of recommendation, and no more.
Mr. Montagu's bill for the first time indicated a transfer of power into the hands of the elected representatives of the Indian people. This was a tremendous move, though when he originally planned that move it seemed to us very little. Mr. Montagu was a cautious man, and when the joint committee of the House of Lords and the House of Commons was appointed to revise that bill, Mr. Montagu gave the Indian politicians a chance to go over to England and give their evidence before the joint committee, to say their say. Some of us took opportunity of this, came to England, gave our evidence, and got the bill improved. Satisfied with the improvement, my countrymen returned to India to see that the bill came into force. The two Houses of Parliament passed the bill, and the Montagu reforms were an accomplished fact.
When this was going on, we came to a new epoch. Unfortunate incidents had taken place in the Punjab. You are aware of that terrible tragedy of Amritsar. Something else had happened. The peace treaty in reference to the Sultan of Turkey and the domination of Turkey was forged. The Punjab tragedy had left a rancour in the hearts and minds of the Indian populace. As a result of what was precipitated at Amritsar great unrest was created among the young men, and especially Indian women. It is a sad tale; it is a tragedy that one wants to forget; but one wants also to take note of this fact that certain things yet remain to be done, and I sincerely trust the Indian Government will soon ratify their intention to satisfy the Indian populace on this rancour that is remaining.
But a much more serious problem is the position of 20,000,000 of Moslems, of Mohammedans, among the population of 350,000,000, regarding the position of the Caliph, the Sultan of Turkey. Those are the two outstanding grievances that were taken hold of by certain people.
Mr. Gandhi, whose name you have heard, was not satisfied with the reforms. He thought they were unsatisfactory, and did not give what the Indians wanted. So arose a new movement. Mr. Ghandi I know personally as a man, as a saintly man; he is a Christ-like figure, and he means to carry out his policy of non-violence. He is a follower of Tolstoi; he practises his strange philosophy in life. But his political programme is bound to bring nothing but grief to the country which he wants to serve. Some of us saw this at the very start, for while we were prepared to admit that Mr. Gandhi was for nonviolence, we were not prepared to accept his view of his countrymen. Non-co-operation on a nonviolence basis can only succeed if the entire population of India who are trying to practise non-cooperation were ready-made saints and the people of India are no more ready-made saints than the people of any other part of the British Empire.
Some of us argued and particularly persuaded Mr. Gandhi. Mr. Gandhi is spoken of by his followers as a very strong-minded man; some of us regard him as highly obstinate, but that is the same opinion expressed in two forms of political and diplomatic language. (Laughter) But that is Mr. Gandhi, with his strange programme. Mr. Gandhi's programme in its political reality has never been understood, and will not be understood; but Mr. Gandhi is a saint. Mr. Gandhi is regarded well nigh as a great god; he has captured the imagination of the masses; and his non-violence is a word that goes around on the lips, but fails to manifest itself in life on every occasion. For instance, when the Prince of Wales came to Bombay, you found there were riots. When he came to Madras the cablegrams reported riots. Each time there is bloodshed; the military has to be called out to disperse the crowds; so non-violence, as it is politically called, has singularly failed. There is a general opinion in the mind of the world at large that tremendously large numbers, if not the entire population of India, are part of the following of Mr. Gandhi. Gentlemen, that is not so. What do you find in Bombay? When the Prince came there were thousands of thousands of people who went to give him an ovation and receive him, in spite of the order of Mr. Gandhi that there should be a total boycott along the line of the reception of the Prilice. Why did riots break out? Because about 8,000 people who followed Mr. Gandhi were against 50,000 or 60,000 people who did not follow him; and the result has been, hundreds wounded and some fourteen killed. Mr. Gandhi in his sincerity came out and said he would fast for several days; but how does that help the Government? I tell you this because I do believe that Mr. Gandhi is a sincere man, but he is obsessed by an idea; he thinks, but he is not the master of his thoughts; his thoughts have possessed him. The moral influence that he exerts is a wonderful influence. I sincerely hope that he will leave behind in the minds and hearts of the people that moral influence for good; but his political programme can bring nothing but disaster to the country.
When this has been going on, the Indian Legislative Chamber has been sitting. He tried to boycott the election, but he did not succeed, and the elected representatives of the people have begun to work. Many important measures have been introduced and passed. The new Viceroy has tried to pour oil on troubled waters, but I am afraid without success. This has been going on for some time, till matters have been passing out of the grip and hands of the Government of India, because Mr. Gandhi's influence, especially in the camp of the Mohammedans, over the troubles of the Caliphate, the Sultan of Turkey, have fanned a flame in the hearts of the fanatical population of Mohammedans. But already there is a cleavage. The Mohammedan leaders have claimed entire independence of India from Great Britain. Mr. Gandhi does not know what to do. I see, from the latest papers that have come to hand, that his position last December, at Christmas time, was that he was opposed at the present moment to taking up the propaganda of entire independence; but if he does not take that up I am afraid he is going .to lose his Mohammedan following; because some of the Mohammedan leaders, and following them many young Hindoos, have made strong, violent, seditious speeches inviting the breaking of law and order, and necessarily, therefore, the law had to be put into operation. You have read and heard of repressive acts and policies of the Government of India.
This is very unfortunate; but I do not want you to forget this fact that at the present moment the Indian Government is composed, half and half, of Indians and Europeans. The cabinet of the Viceroy has three Indian Nationalists, two of them my own personal friends, and they would not go in for oppression; they would not drag those people to court; they would not let their countrymen go to jail; but having come into power, they also realize that it is their solemn duty and obligation to the country to maintain law and to maintain order. An unfortunate policy it is, but what are the officials of the Government to do? What are the moulders of the political future of the country to do, in the face, of open statements for the breaking of law and order?
I earnestly and sincerely trust, however, that the discrimination of the Government of India will lead them to a more harmonious method of development, and in reading the despatch that has come over the wires today I want you to take the position of the Government of India in that despatch in relationship to the events that are precipitating in India. There is a cleavage of opinion between the Government of India and the British Cabinet. It may open a third and a new epoch.
I believe that the Government of India is right. It will be necessary, at the forthcoming conference of the Allies in Paris on the 22nd of March, to revise this treaty, to reconsider the position of Turkey, and to reconsider it from the point of view of the 70,000,000 of Moslem subjects of His Majesty the King-Emperor. Mohammedan soldiers have fought in the war; their religious susceptibilities are keen and strong; it is no use saying that the diplomatic or political positions in Europe must be considered entirely irrespective of the feelings of the Moslems of Egypt or of India. You cannot do it. Egypt and India are parts of the British Commonwealth; and members of the British Commonwealth, your good selves included, have put the question, "Do you want India, do you want Egypt, in the British Commonwealth; or do you not?"
I will grant that the demands, perhaps, of the Moslems of India are not altogether reasonable; that there is a certain amount of religious enthusiasm, or even fanaticism, expressing itself in them; but in making the position clear for the community which we know as the British Commonwealth you cannot any longer fail to discover the feelings and sentiment of the subjects who belong to the coloured races of the Empire. That is an important factor; and in considering the political position of India you want to take into account that the Indian Government is becoming more and more autonomous. According to the legislation which has come out from the British Houses of Parliament, according to the declared policy of His Majesty's Government, India must come in course of time to the Dominion status of self-government, and become an equal co-partner with the other Dominions of the Commonwealth. India's position internationally has been recognized by the British Cabinet, for India, like Canada, is a rightful member of the League of Nations; its representatives are sitting in international affairs, in international conferences, and India has to mould and shape her future foreign policy according to the needs and requirements of the Indian people.
It may be that on this particular topic Lord Reading and his cabinet at Delhi are trying to express an opinion based on the feelings and sentiments of the subjects with which they are related; it may be that they may come in conflict with the views of the British Government; but what is taking place in India today may take place in Ottawa tomorrow. You may, at one or other points, come in conflict with the British Cabinet's views and opinions. You are not altogether unfamiliar with such situations in the past and I want you to appreciate the feeling that has actuated the Government of India; for the Government of India has to manage a vast continent of the size of the whole of Europe if you take Russia away. It has to manage 350,000,000 people. It has to develop gradually and slowly many political institutions. Its hands are full. It must lay down its policies firmly, and independently of the sentiments and feelings of the British Cabinet or any other cabinet in the British Commonwealth. While there is mutual reciprocal feeling of good-will, while we want to go on hand in hand with Britain, we have our own problems, just as you have your own problems in Canada. The Indian Government is trying to solve that problem along its own lines of harmonious development.
That brings me to the last and important point. You may ask, "What is the sentiment and the feeling of the Indian populace in reference to British connection?" At the present moment the vast majority of the population of India are entirely in favour of British connection, but that connection must be one of equal co-partnership, exactly as Canada is an equal co-partner in the British Commonwealth. We want to be masters in our own house, to guide our own policies, to shape our own policies, to shape our own future exactly as we please. We are willing--nay, more than willing, We are proud to be under the Union Jack; but no longer can India put up with the idea that it is to continue as a dependency for a long term of years yet. We say we are already on the way towards self-government. The difference between our view in India and the view of some Liberal statesmen in England is: "Oh yes, India shall become a self-governing Dominion in fifty years' time." We say, "No, five years' time." Well, we might agree on a compromise. But I do believe this, Gentlemen, at the present moment the hand of the clock is rather moving fast; events of years are pressed together in months; and I am sure that India will reach the self-governing Dominion status within the next five years. I have no doubt about it.
The question is sometimes asked, "Is India ready?" We answer, "Yes." But suppose for a moment, for argument's sake, that we were not ready, that we would perhaps make a mess of things in that old country. We answer, "Well, it is our own country, and we would rather make a mess of it, and if we are going to be ruled over by a despotism, however benevolent, we would rather have the despotism of our own countrymen than that of officials living 8,000 miles away, in Whitehall." That is the feeling, that is the sentiment. But there is no doubt about this-the British public is in favour of India attaining a Dominion self-governing status. Outside of a few extravagant Tories, not even ordinary, but extravagant Tories, there is no one who says anything else.
Things are moving so fast that I believe it will be essential to get India to recognize its position. But who is going to fight the battles of India? The Indian legislators constitutionally elected by the Indian populace, and I am sure that the present Viceroy, Lord Reading, and the present Secretary of State, Mr. Montagu--if he is not thrown out of office over this thing--are the champions of the cause of India; and there are enough friends of India in Great Britain, at Westminster, who will mould a policy so that India may evolve harmoniously along constitutional lines, and not come to enter the troubled waters of independence.
We recognize fully that economically, from the point of view of armies and navies and aircraft, it would be a hazardous move. Nobody is blind to that in India, and so India will remain part of the British Commonwealth; but it is essential for the British Commonwealth to begin to take a genuine interest in the affairs of India; because we believe that when we have developed our own political institutions, when we have manifested the powers of our own inherent social polity, we may have some contribution to offer for the common welfare of the British Commonwealth.
We in India are very eager to learn from Great Britain and her self-governing Dominions; but we also believe we are capable of teaching a thing or two, and it is for that purpose that we ask your interest, your eager and sincere interest, in the affairs, and your study of the problems of India as they are shaping themselves, so that together we may evolve a policy for an international world and an international state which is emerging, and in which peace is necessary-peace which we may be able to impose as the one great beneficent unitthe British Commonwealth. (Loud applause)
SIR WILLIAM HEARST voiced the hearty thanks of the audience to Mr. Wadia for his illuminating and able address.