- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 8 Dec 1966, p. 125-133
- Desai, M.J., Speaker
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- The role of India in the Commonwealth. One of the characteristics of India, and of other countries in the Commonwealth. The origin and history of the word and concept of "Empire." A review of the birth of the Commonwealth of Nations and other events after the Second World War. India's decision in 1947. The club of free independent nations situated in various parts of the world and what it might be able to do. The demand for equality within a national community. Evolution from the old order to the new and what that involves. What is needed after independence. Adopting a forward looking long-term policy. Using independence for development, as in Southern Rhodesia. The Commonwealth nations contributing constructively to the future of Southern Rhodesia by accepting the spirit of the age where there is no possibility of monopoly of power by an individual or group but where the "imperium" has to belong to the national community on the basis of equality and where progress is possible only in co-operation as equals, internally and externally, and convincing them that is the only way of survival.
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- 8 Dec 1966
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- Full Text
- DECEMBER 8,1966
India In The Commonwealth
AN ADDRESS BY M. J. Desai, FORMER SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE MINISTRY OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, INDIA
CHAIRMAN, The President, R. Bredin Stapells, Q.C.
Seven thousand years ago that part of the world we call India was as advanced as we are today. There were writers. There were thinkers. There were great cities with immense bazaars (shopping centres) in which shopkeepers cheated their customers (shades of our current enquiry into prices), and shopkeepers were in turn cheated by the merchants (how much lean do you get with your meat?). The merchants were robbed by a vast civil service and the civil service kissed the big toes of the politicians who were known as courtiers or Brahmins. The Brahmins were top dogs (or shall we say, the Establishment). The Brahmins made the laws, taught the ignorant, dictated morals, controlled the temples and terrified the King. In a word, this society was, as I have said, civilized.
India has been of constant interest to this Club in that, since R. P. McKay addressed us in 1907 on "Indian and the Far East", we have heard over 40 addresses related specifically to this country.
Today we are fortunate to have with us Mr. Desai, who has been serving his country since 1927. On tours of duty outside India, he has been Ambassador to Sweden, Finland and Denmark, Acting High Commissioner in London and the first Chairman of the International Commission for Supervision and Control in Viet Nam.
During the decade ending in 1964, Mr. Desai has been a chief advisor on foreign affairs to the government of India, retiring as Secretary-General of the Ministry of External Affairs in that year. Since then, he has been Visiting Professor at Brandeis University and is currently on a speaking tour for the Canadian Institute of International Affairs.
From four centuries of history, we Canadians believe that action is good. From seventy centuries of Indian History, praise is found for non-doing. In the Commonwealth, it may be that these two opposing philosophies can be utilized in the search for a better world in which to live. To help us understand why India chose to remain in the Commonwealth, I have great pleasure in introducing Mr, M. J. Desai, C.I.E., LL.B., B.A., who will address us on "India in the Commonwealth".
Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests and gentlemen. May I, first of all, express my appreciation to the Empire Club of Canada for its gracious invitation affording to me the privilege of being with you today. The subject I have chosen to speak on is the Role of India in the Commonwealth.
Ever since man was created, there have been three primary instincts or motives which have affected his adjustment to his environment, whether it be politically, socially, economically or even philosophically. One is the instinct of survival, what you might call satisfaction of the body. Second, desire for power, prestige, position, that is satisfaction of the mind and the intellect; third, piety, principles of religion, philosophy or what you might refer to as satisfaction of the spirit.
In the earlier societies, these three factors played and inter-played in the various institutions. The whole object of these institutions was political, social and economical, including the division of work, i.e. priests, fighters, peasants, shopkeepers, merchants, etc. At each stage and development of human society attempt was made to reconcile these three primary motivations in order to secure what might be called a state of stability combined with progress. At various stages of human development, perhaps there was too much emphasis on stability. Rigidity set in; it happened in India, it happened all over the world in various degrees.
I mention this general phenomena as an introduction as the British Empire or the Commonwealth has also been susceptible to the same patterns. I did try after I agreed to speak, to look up the Encyclopedia Britannica to find out where the word "Empire" came from. Till then, I had not done any etymological research. I found that the origin comes from a Greek word, 'Imperium'. 'Imperium' means sovereignty and in the old City States of Greece the sovereign had control over matters of land, law and order, trade, dealings with foreign government or other City States, etc. The whole community of citizens in whom the 'imperium' or sovereignty vested could not, as a group of citizens, function on its behalf both for internal administration as well as defence, external affairs, etc. It was necessary to have a spokesman or a chief or somebody as the community's agent. So the community conferred or delegated its 'imperium' on an individual who was chosen and that was the basis of the word 'Emperor'. The first Emperor known to history was the Greek Ruler who called himself Emperor Alexander the Great. At the same time, the idea within the word "empire" was quite clear; the community was sovereign and also there was equality among the members of the community of citizens in whom the 'imperium' rested. While Alexander the Great was Emperor for ten years, he fully authenticated and practised this idea of equality. That is, while he was in control over both the Asiatic community and the European community, they were both considered equal. Both had delegated the 'imperium' to him and he was the Emperor. There was no question of domination of one race over the other. This is the origin of the word "empire".
Later on, you have various empires arising. The Roman Empire with a slight deflection from the original position was the first. The superiority of Roman culture and civilisation and therefore the domination of the Romans over the AngloSaxons, Franks and others. That was the twist or if you might like, the deflection from the original, based on the history of those times. This phase of human history changed the meaning of the word "empire". It began to mean, one dominating over the other.
The Teutonic Empire of the 8th Century right up to the 19th Century came next. There again, there is another feature, the combination of philosophy, the satisfaction of the spirit, of piety with power, the combination of Church and the State: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and render unto God the things that are God's", that sort of principle of stability. Where loyalty to the faith and loyalty to the Emperor are combined, there is a common allegiance and an urge to extension of this over other territorial areas across land frontiers. It is only in the 17th Century that you come to another concept of empire, which is across the seas, thousands of miles away, where you get this new feature, an absentee ruler who is in control of a distant region. This was again partly religious, starting with Portugal and Spain when the world was divided by the Papal Bull into two spheres for each of these. Catholic Powers. It was partly motivated by the desire for power and prestige, for God and glory, and the third motive was naturally mixed: to cut off the Arab trade and to directly reach to the lucrative trade in the East. God, gold and glory all combined and helped in the expansion of the empire. The first resistance to this concept occurred in your Continent in the 1780's. The United States broke away from the Empire. That had a certain salutary effect on the other nations and I hope it does not disturb you if I say that the break up of the empire by the United States led directly to the next sequence in the story: the break-away of another overseas colony or community, or communities. Canada, Australia, New Zealand gradually and by consent broke away from the dominations of the Imperial control which was till then exercised by the home country. It took time, but by the middle of the 19th Century self-government for the dominions, the old colonies was quite clear. It took, I am afraid, another crisis, a series of calamities, the two World Wars of this Century, before further readjustment of the whole colonial position occurred. One question for decision was whether power and prestige, whether culture, philosophy, commerce, mutual profit and the links, the human bonds that were established, could be maintained without the cost of running an empire, without the actual domination of one people over the other and whether, in the context of the new, the technological era, brought about particularly during the Second World War, the old concept of empire was consistent with the new concept of a highly interdependent world which can survive only by co-operation. This examination led automatically to the reversal of certain intermediate processes. Restoration of the 'imperium' again to the communities, basing the new association as in the days of Alexander and his Empire, on the equality of communities internally, as well as externally. The Commonwealth of Nations was bom out of these tribulations and disasters of the two World Wars but it is clearly the full and complete restoration of the Greek 'imperium' in its old concept.
After all, we are all conditioned by our own experience and the experience of one's own lifetime. One does not easily learn wisdom if it is given either by history or by past philosophers or even elders. So that, even in these new pursuits which started in 1947, there were temporary interruptions, the hangovers of the old days, some traditional thinking, an attempt to go back instead of going forward. Between 1947 and 1957, for ten years, there was very little progress. After the Suez Crisis, the climate again changed, more countries obtained independence, and new sovereign countries arose from mid-1957 onwards. Now we have only one problem as far as the Commonwealth is concerned, and that is Southern Rhodesia.
In Southern Rhodesia, the conflict is really one between the two old concepts of the days of Alexander the Great, the 'imperium' and the equality of the communities delegating the 'imperium'. If not today, five years or seven years hence, this conflict is going to be inevitably settled on the basis of equality. It is a question of adjusting man's mind towards taking a long term view in the real interest of the community, of the community as a whole. If there are certain difficulties in the way, a certain amount of trouble and crisis atmosphere and suffering and perhaps even destruction may occur. This could be avoided by the adoption of discipline in the light of world trends. All we have done is restoration of the spirit and concept of 'imperium' and empire as in the days of Alexander the Great. All the intermediate distortions have been eliminated in the light of experience and the old concepts resuscitated, to suit the main purpose of the community as a whole, that is, to survive, to progress and to prosper on the basis of co-operation on basis of equality. This is where piety, prestige and preservation too can be secured through the new institutions that have been developed for the community as a whole since 1947 and not for any group or section. The question before us in India in 1947 was whether to continue in the Commonwealth or like Burma, get out. In those days, so far as past experience of the Empire is concerned, I must admit, it was not very pleasant, so far as the Indians were concerned. And yet we were not looking at the past, we were looking at the future. We had a sense of history, perhaps because of the seven thousand years of good and evil combined. Good and evil have their turns and twists in history as well. The whole purpose of man's effort should be to work towards containing the evil and towards focusing, in the individual in the community and in the world at large, on the good. This was our approach after the Second World War and what I referred to as the new technological era which came out of the two Wars. It is obvious that the survival of humanity today depends upon co-operation between communities, on getting better understanding between groups and groups, and on more and more understanding and co-operation between national societies. After all, independence is not something that you just get and sit on it. It must be used, for satisfying human wants, it should make for better life, and that development is possible only in an atmosphere of peace and international co-operation. It was on these grounds that, regardless of all our past experiences, we decided to remain in the Commonwealth because we justly felt that the Commonwealth is something that is going forward, it is an evolution which has its good points; the restoration of the 'imperium' according to its old concept, the restoration of the 'imperium' to the national community on the basis of equality and co-operation. It is, or should therefore be, a free association. If you are going to have a world community you can have nothing against having a smaller intimate club of independent nations working on the basis of equality. This sort of club of free independent nations situated in various parts of the world can help in bringing new light or views on various problems and viewpoints in various parts of the world to a common floor where each can learn from the other so that we don't get maladjusted so far as the global context is concerned. There can be no question of pressing something on England or Canada or on the other members of the Commonwealth. Views are aired freely on a common platform so that each member can have the benefit of the varying views, let it be American, European, Mediterranean, Pacific, Asian or African each looking at the problem from different angles. This helps in making better decisions, though each member has to take his own decision.
In Southern Rhodesia, for example, it is this looking forward, having a long-term view which is being neglected and that is why we have this conflict. By and large, in the context of today and the last twenty years, demand for restoration of the 'imperium' to the community, to the national community is a demand also for equality within a national community. That is true even of the international community and the U.N. This demand is irresistible. At the same time, evolution from the old order to the new, involves an appreciation of the past unfortunate entanglements which have made life so difficult already. A calm and objective attitude to unravel these entanglements in co-operation with the people, is something which is called for also on the side of those who are working towards freedom, equality and independence. After we became independent, I am referring to all newly independent countries in the Commonwealth, for our own internal development, economic development, putting up industries, extending social services, health, technological development in various ways and so on, we are training people and we have our own technologists, etc. When we need we also borrow technicians trained in the developed countries. One has to adopt a forward looking long-term policy towards what after all is inevitable. Independence must be used for development. After all, in Southern Rhodesia there is technical assistance which is built in inside the community, if only majority rule is accepted on the basis of equality. It is the question of inequality of races which is causing the main trouble and this must be eliminated by evolution over a short-term if necessary. Once this is done, this is a society which can progress, prosper in equality which the full 'imperium' restored to the national community. This society has, to my mind, all the requisites of a forward progressive future, politically, economically and socially because it is technically self-sufficient, it has technical assistance built in and equality will get full co-operation. The snag is, those who are there do not take a long-term view. If we, from various parts of the Commonwealth, can bring home to both groups the wisdom of looking forward, accepting the spirit of the age where there is no possibility of monopoly of power by an individual or group but where the 'imperium' has to belong to the national community on the basis of equality and where progress is possible only in co-operation as equals, internally and externally, and convince them that that is the only way of survival, we would have contributed constructively to the future of Southern Rhodesia.
Thanks of this meeting were expressed by Mr. Sydney Hermant.