HC Deb 12 May 1930 vol 238 cc1423-8

asked the Secretary of State for India whether, with a view to relieving anxiety respecting conditions in India, he will cause to be issued a full official statement as to recent events there, and an appreciation of the present position?


asked the Secretary of State for India whether he will give the House the latest information he has as to the position of affairs in India?


asked the Secretary of State for India if his official advices from the Viceroy indicate that there is any serious disaffection in the purely rural districts of India, or whether the trouble is mostly confined to the towns; and, if so, what towns?


In reply to these questions, I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a telegram from the Government of India containing an appreciation of the general situation as they saw it yesterday. I am, however, able to supplement this general review with some later information. The Bombay Government have reported to me that at Sholapur, the scene of the terrible outbreak last week, the situation has somewhat deteriorated since Saturday evening. A crowd surrounded one of the two patrols of troops in lorries which had broken down and refused to disperse when ordered to do so. No violence, however, was done to the troops, and eventually the lorry was towed back. During the day the contents of a city police station were turned out into the road and burned and the nationalist flag was hoisted above it. Another police station, about eight miles from Sholapur, from which police had been evacuated, was burned by the villagers. Another company of Indian infantry has been sent to supplement the company already there, and was expected yesterday morning, further troops being also held in readiness.

On Saturday, the Haji of Turangzai and his followers, who some weeks ago approached within about 20 miles of Peshawar, and constituted a serious menace to public order, were definitely warned to depart. This warning they met by blocking the high road with felled trees. Accordingly, a raid on them was carried out by aircraft yesterday. The results are not known.

I am glad to say that, so far as I have heard, the celebrations connected with the Moslem festival of Bakr 'Id on the 10th have passed off everywhere without disturbance. My reports on this point cover specifically Delhi, the Punjab, the Bombay Presidency, the province of Bihar and Orissa, Calcutta and the rest of Bengal, and Peshawar City.

In conclusion, I should like to add that I have the authority of the Commander-in-Chief in India, who during his recent tours has seen very large numbers of Indian officers, and has long and intimate experience of the Indian Army, to say that he is entirely satisfied that the Indian Army is completely loyal, and is convinced that when inquiry is complete the Garhwali incident will be shown to have been an isolated one.


Arising out of that very interesting reply, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, when the time comes—as it probably will—for the issue of a report upon the Sholapur incident and upon the Peshawar incident, to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred, he will consider whether he cannot bring those reports in due course before the attention of the House?


It always has been my intention to give to the House the fullest and promptest information available of every event.


In view of the fact that there seems to be some difference in the maintenance of law and order at Sholapur, and the circumstances which have prevailed in other centres in India where there have been disturbances, can the right hon. Gentleman ascertain from the Government of India whether any single individual at this moment is responsible for the police control of the city, that is to say whether the responsibility for keeping order in the most serious situation which has arisen is divided between the military and police authorities, or whether one person is in charge?


I will make inquiry if the Noble Lord desires, but he will forgive me if I postpone it until the immediate difficulties are over.


Has the question of the employment of tear gas or some substance of that sort been considered, in dealing with riotous mobs?


A question is on the Paper concerning that matter, and it is to be answered.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL

Has the right hon. Gentleman any information as to the alleged atrocities upon the police? Is there any truth in the terrible reports that we have heard, have any arrests been made, and what steps are being taken to deal with those who are responsible?


The fullest information about the events at Sholapur has been put at the disposal of the House, and I refer the hon. Baronet to those reports.

Following is the telegram:

Telegram from the Government of India dated 11th May.

"In our appreciation of the 24th April we said that salt campaign showed signs of languishing in many places and that it was uncertain whether it would remain the chief plank in the Congress programme much longer. It has now been definitely abandoned in some provinces, and elsewhere continues except perhaps in Bombay Presidency, in desultory manner only. The results on the Government revenues have been negligible; the real effect achieved has been to arouse spirit of lawlessness and defiance of authority and to give an impetus to forces of disorder which its organisers are unable to restrain. As was anticipated, decline of the Salt campaign is accompanied by efforts to strengthen the boycott of liquor shops and foreign goods, especially cloth. It must be understood that all these activities are incidental to the general movement to stir up unrest and hostility to the Government.

2. We have previously referred to ease with which excitement can be aroused in the towns. The activities of Congress have succeeded in producing in many of the large towns an atmosphere which easily leads to outbreaks of violence on such occasions as the arrest of important leaders. Prompt measures have in all cases been taken to deal with such local disorders; they have been brought rapidly under control and the local effects have usually been transient. The arrests of Gandhi, partly in consequence of careful precautions taken by the local authorities, has produced less disorder than might have been anticipated and probably less than would have taken place some weeks earlier. Sporadic riots followed his arrest, but were serious only at Calcutta, Delhi and Sholapur. In Calcutta they were of short duration and the authorities had little difficulty in exercising effective control. In Delhi they were more serious, but control of the situation was never lost and conditions are fast returning to normal. We have not yet received full details regarding shocking outrage at Sholapur where it is reported that three policemen were murdered under circumstances of extreme brutality, and the immediate occasion of the mob's outbreak is not yet known. The situation, however, was reported to have been brought under control same day. A company of troops were moved in rapidly from Ahmednagar, and on the 9th the town was quiet. On the 10th, however, there were further mob demonstrations and additional troops are being despatched. A feature of demonstrations following arrest of Gandhi was the hostility shown towards the Police and Government officers. The hollowness of claiming that movement is non-violent is becoming increasingly apparent. The military authorities have given most valuable assistance throughout, and the spirit shown by the troops and the police has been excellent.

3. In regard to North-West Frontier Province there is little to add to communique published on 5th May. No rioting has occurred in Peshawar since 23rd April and no opposition has been offered to arrest of per- sons required by police, most of whom have been apprehended. Conditions in the Bannu and Kohat districts are disturbed and the Seditious Meetings Act which is already in force in the Peshawar District is being extended to them. The Haji of Turanzai still remains near border of Peshawar District. The tribes generally are watching with interest the course of events in India and there are definite signs of unrest among some of the tribesmen of the Tochi Agency. Several tribal chiefs, however, have made loyal offers of service. Measures are being taken to stop dissemination of subversive propaganda in the villages. The local administration is prepared to deal fully with the situation.

4. The civil disobedience movement has obtained little success in rural areas except in Gujarat where the personal influence of Gandhi is strong. Activities there have been largely directed towards boycott of Government servants and the resignation of village officials. The non-payment of land revenue is also being encouraged. It is hoped that an improvement in the situation in this area will result from Gandhi's arrest.

5. Previous to the issue of the Press Ordinance a prominent feature of the civil disobedience and allied movements was the use of a portion of the Press for the vilification of Government and its officers, incitement to violence and revolutionary crime, and encouragement to defiance of the law. The Ordinance, while placing no restriction on the just liberties of the Press, is intended to prevent its abuse for the above purposes and has already had a salutary effect. Organised attempts are now being made to spread malicious and alarmist rumours and until the public have learnt by experience that they are totally unworthy of credence, their currency tends to maintain a state of excitement in the towns. Many of the reports appear to be circulated with the definite intention of encouraging violent revolution. Measures are being taken to deal with this development.

6. Despite the efforts made by deliberate misrepresentations and otherwise to involve the Muhammadans in the movement, the community as a whole has refused to join it and prefers to rely for political advance and the protection of its own interests on constitutional methods. The Council of the All India Muslim Federation has just passed a resolution disapproving of the civil disobedience movement as detrimental and injurious to the best interests of the Muslim community and advising Muslims to keep themselves aloof. Labour as a whole has remained comparatively unaffected and although sections of it have at times taken part in hartals and demonstrations, there has so far been no strike in sympathy with the civil disobedience movement which still draws great majority of its supporters from the Hindus of the towns.

7. While it is not possible to foresee all possible developments in a situation which naturally has elements of instability, general situation at present is well under control and the resources of Government are fully organised to resist the forces of lawlessness and disorder."