HC Deb 10 December 1934 vol 296 cc168-78

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]

11.2 p.m.


May I express to the Under-Secretary of State for India my regret that he should be called upon to undertake another task at the end of a strenuous day? There is a great deal to be said and little time in which to say it. My hon. Friend wishes for 12 minutes at the end of my statement and he ought to have it. The question is one which concerns two British communities and two important Indian States. The communities are the small settlement of Tangasseri, in the south-west corner of India, contiguous to Travancore, and the other is a much larger community, that of Bangalore, which is an enclave in the State of Mysore. Let me make this general observation: Although the government of Indian States may be good and often is—the Government of Mysore is a good government—still it is autocratic and depends very largely on the character of the ruling Prince. These communities, both of them, express a preference to remain under the stable government of the British Raj rather than be transferred to the government of Indian Princes.

Take the small settlement of Tangasseri. It is a settlement of 2,000 families, all Roman Catholics except one, and they have been under European government for 500 years, first under the Portuguese, then under the Dutch, and for the last 139 years under the British. Recently they have heard that they were to be transferred to the native State of Tranvancore, and immediately with one voice they protested. I have here their petition to His Excellency the Viceroy. These two States of Travancore and Mysore are two of the most important States in India in point of area, occupation and revenue, and the House will readily appreciate that my right hon. Friend is anxious to obtain the adherence of these States to the scheme of Federation. The petition to the Governor-General says: It was quite unexpectedly that we were informed that there was a proposal to transfer our historic small territory to the adjoining State of Travancore. At once the whole of us with one voice protested against the idea, and wrote to the Deputy Collector, who brought the news to us, that the proposed transfer was not at all acceptable to the people of Tangasseri. It also mentioned that there was a small counter-petition got up at the instance of some servants of the Travancore Government who were residing there. The petition goes on to say: The inhabitants of Tangasseri are not in favour of the idea of transferring their direct allegiance from His Majesty the King-Emperor to the Maharajah of Travancore. They consider it a grave and undeserved punishment to be thus forced to exchange citizenship under the enlightened British Empire for that of a small subsidiary State. Then they go on to explain how education, their political position and matters of justice will be affected.

I turn to the question of Bangalore. I cannot go into the history of Mysore, but it is a story of the age-long struggle between Hindu and Moslem. It is a Hindu state ruled by a Hindu Prince. Its government in the beginning of last century was bad and corrupt and had to be taken over by the Indian Government. For 50 years it was administered by British officers who introduced British modes and succeeded in producing an excellent government. In 1881, "the year of rendition" as it is called, the father of the present Maharaja, then a boy of 18, was placed on the throne and a treaty was made with Mysore. One of the articles of the treaty was that a tract of land for a civil and military station was conceded to the Government of India or rather, I should say, to the Secretary of State for India and, in return, Mysore received the island of Seringapatam. Provision was made that if at any time the military were withdrawn from that station, the tract would revert to Mysore.

The present proposal is not that the military station should be closed but that the civil station should be handed over to Mysore. What does that mean? It means handing over 135,000 British citizens to native rule. When the treaty is made this ground was sparsely occupied by a collection of mud huts. It is now a garden city of 135,000 inhabitants. Thousands of Anglo-Indians and other Europeans have settled there because the climate is admirable—it is between 2,000 and 3,000 feet up. Now it is proposed to hand over to the native state of Mysore, those people and the land which they have bought and which they got freehold from the Secretary of State of India. The Government of a native State may be good and often is, but it depends upon autocratic rule and cannot have the same permanence and stability as government under the British Raj. It is con- tended that the land is Mysore territory. Lord Reading said so in 1923, but with due deference to so great an authority I think he was mistaken. In the first place there is the condition in the treaty that the land was not to revert unless the military station was removed but it is not going to be removed. We have also this testimony. I have here the indenture under which the inhabitants of Bangalore have the freehold of the land on which they have built their houses, and it states: Whereas the hereditaments hereinafter described in the schedule were acquired by the collector of the civil and military station at Bangalore for and on behalf of the Secretary of State for India in Council. One reads that as meaning that the land belonged to the Government of India and was dealt with by the Secretary of State for India. The indenture is signed by the President of the Municipal Commission of the civil and military station at Bangalore and the municipal commissioner. There are two Bangalores. There is the Mysore Bangalore, which is contiguous to the garden city of which I spoke and is of much the same size. The deputation of the business men of Bangalore asked for an interview with the Prime Minister of Mysore, and they asked, "Is the question of retrocession definitely settled?" He replied to the effect that partial retrocession had been decided upon, and there were certain details connected with it that needed further discussion with the Government of India, and he added—and I am quoting from a reproduction of a long interview in a Bangalore paper which reported it: You can tell the mercantile community of Bangalore Cantonment that they need have no fears about their future as citizens of the Mysore State. They would become citizens of Mysore State. The deputation thanked him for their reception, and said they would place the matter before the general body of the citizens, with the result that they presented this petition to the Governor-General from the four leading bodies representative of all interests in Bangalore—the Bangalore Trades Association, the Bangalore Ratepayers Association, the Southern Division Ratepayers Association, and the Anglo-Indian and Domiciled European Association. This is a strenuous protest against the proposed cession, and they say: Are we being sold for a consideration?…There surely must be some reason, and whatever this may be, we have a moral and a legal right to demand that we may be frankly informed what it is. Although we have never been told, it is common knowledge that Mysore, who has so far declined to enter the federation, has now consented to do so, provided the annual subsidy is abolished and the c. and m. station handed over to her. This we know is what she has been urging for some time past, culminating with a definite stipulation as the price of her participation in the new federal scheme.


A vulgar bribe.


They give the grounds on which they protest against becoming citizens of Mysore State, and they end by saying: We have been asked by the Government of India through the British Resident to submit such safeguards as we may deem necessary in the event of retrocession becoming a fait accompli. We however consider that the question of safeguards does not arise as yet and should therefore find no place in this memorandum, the sole purpose of which is to protest, by every means at our disposal, against retrocession. We feel the people of the Civil State should have been given a full and fair opportunity of entering into the discussions and expressing their views on a matter of such vital importance to them. To hand us over to Mysore without rhyme or reason, is to force a measure upon an enlightened and loyal people which would not be applied to uncivilised races or tolerated anywhere else in the British Empire. But that is not all. The Mussulmans in Bangalore to the number of 30,000 sent in a petition against cession to Mysore, protesting against it on the grounds of religion, culture, justice and special position, and they say: Thirty thousand Mussulmans unanimously urge against the indisputable right of subjects with regard to their inherent free choice in this respect and declare in no uncertain manner that they do not wish to transfer their allegiance from the British to the Hindu Raj.…Finally they assert with all the emphasis at their command that they do not for a moment wish to exchange their rights so far granted to them as full-fledged British subjects for those of a dependent State. If Federation is to come, they honestly prefer to be linked to Madras rather than to Mysore, or submit themselves to any other Government that would guarantee the rights hitherto enjoyaed by them as full British subjects for all practical purposes. I will only add that it seems a strange thing that British communities under British rule should, against their will, be forced to become subjects of a native State. I would plead that before a decision is arrived at such communities should have the right of appeal to the Imperial Parliament.

11.16 p.m.

Duchess of ATHOLL

I only wish briefly to add two things to what my hon. Friend has said. The first is that it should be known that this question has occasionally been raised in former years by the Mysore Government but without obtaining any response whatever from the Government of India. The second thing that it is important to know is that because the main conditions precedent of Federation is not the adherence of a majority of the States, but of States including not less than 50 per cent. of the whole population of the States, it is actually the fact that the nine largest States in India can bring about Federation, whatever the rest of the hundreds of States may desire. When we realise that Mysore, to whom it is proposed to transfer Bangalore, comes second on the list of nine, and that Travancore, to whom it is proposed to transfer Tangasseri, is third, we cannot but believe that there is only one reason for these transfers, namely, to bring about Federation whatever the majority may wish.

11.18 p.m.


A great deal of information has been given by hon. Members on these subjects. I cannot help feeling that, if they had listened to some of the answers which may right hon. Friend has given to questions, they would be more fully in possession of the facts than they have illustrated themselves to be. There have, I think, been more questions on these subjects than on any other matter that I can remember in recent years. I can understand the legitimate anxiety of hon. Members in such matters and it is for that reason that I am ready to answer the points that have been raised. We are all seized of the importance of the problem of the future federation of India and other questions such as this. The Noble Lady has shown an interest in this subject on many previous occasions and we have tried to satisfy her with voluminous material, but I fear with very little success from what she has said to-night. She has carried on the imputation of motives which my hon. Friend who raised the subject included in his remarks. From my experience, which does not equal that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), I have learnt not to impute motives to my adversaries.

When hon. Members hear some of the arguments which I hope to adduce in answer to those raised, it will be seen that there is absolutely nothing in the baseless charge that has been made to-night against the Government. The question of Bangalore was raised on several previous occasions. It was raised in 1912, in 1924, and again in 1932. The question of Tangasseri was raised in 1860, in 1882, and again in 1884 over some problem of a reservoir, and again in 1927. On these many occasions it will be seen that these two subjects were raised on their own merits, and I fail to see why hon. Members should consider that just because they are being raised in this particular year they are being raised in order that the Government may have an opportunity of bribing these particular States into an Indian Federation.

It is perfectly natural that at so great a moment in India's history as this there should be certain subjects raised for settlement. It is certainly natural that any subjects that have been raised on previous occasions should be raised by the States on such an occasion as this. These two subjects have been raised by the States of Mysore and Travancore, and it is in response to submissions from them that we are attempting to investigate the request made to us.

The contrast between the cases of Bangalore and Tangasseri is rather striking. In Bangalore it is a question of an assigned tract, assigned by the Mysore Durbar in the year 1881 for military purposes. In answer to my hon. Friend who raised the matter, I would reply that there is no doubt that this assigned tract is Mysore territory. My hon. Friend said that 135,000 British citizens were, under our proposals, to be transferred to native rule. That is a typical example of the inexactitude with which hon. Members are approaching this subject and on which they base most of their arguments. The hon. Member must have realised from the answers which my right hon. Friend has frequently given, that in reality there are 125,000 persons, approximately, in the assigned tract, and the House has been told on repeated occasions that over 100,000 of these are actually considered and believed to be subjects of the State of Mysore. I wish to be perfectly straight with the House. I confess that at Question Time to-day, when attempting to answer this very confusing question—[Interruption]They are on the outskirts of a very large city, and while I cannot give the House the exact figures I believe that in saying that 100,000 out of the 125,000 are Mysore State subjects that is as nearly exact a figure as I can in all honesty give. That, I think, disposes of the claim of my hon. Friend that 135,000 British subjects are to be transferred to Mysore rule.

As regards the anxiety which hon. Members feel about this question of British subjects, as my right hon. Friend has told the House on many occasions, what picks out this question from the question of Tangasseri is that this assigned tract is Mysore territory. If a retrocession is decided on these British subjects cannot, as far as we can see, lose their British citizenship or British nationality. As regards Mysore State subjects they will be transferred to the jurisdiction of the Mysore State, and in reality would not alter their position very much. In fact they would slightly improve it, because according to the undertakings which have been given they would be given representation in the Mysore State legislature.

As regards titles to property, about which hon. Members have felt some anxiety, I am authorised to say that if there is any doubt about the validity of the titles, and if the question of retrocession is decided, the validity of these titles should be placed beyond any question or possibility of doubt. The present state of negotiations is that the Government of India are still considering terms on which, subject to suitable safeguards for the civil inhabitants, as well as for the occupation by the military authority of the land required for troops, it might be possible to meet the request of the Mysore Government for retrocession of a part of the present assigned tract.

I think it would be advisable if in the next few minutes I paid attention to the other question of Tangasseri which has been raised. That differs from the ques- tion of the assigned tract in Bangalore by the fact that this small area of 99 acres in the vast bulk of India is actually British territory. Naturally, although it be only 99 acres and though it has only 1,733 inhabitants we should, in the Imperial Parliament, pay as much attention to this small enclave as we would to a larger body of British citizens in any part of the world.

Certain parts of the administration of Tangasseri, such as the liquor trade and one or two other matters, have been administered by the State of Travancore, and it, has been a perpetual subject of dissension between the Governments of Travancore and of Madras for several years, owing to the difficulties of administering this small British territory from a district headquarters some 70 miles away. There are other small enclaves in this district. There are 50 pattams, which are even smaller areas of land and which have caused considerable difficulty in the details of administration. The House can well understand the difficulties of administering such a small area from 75 miles away—the district headquarters—and that they are liable in administration to be extremely embarrassing. This is one of the reasons why the subject has been so frequently raised.

Of these 1,733 inhabitants the majority I believe are Christians. I do not think the House should take it for certain that, when these Christians realise that a third of the inhabitants of Travancore are Christians, they would be so averse as they appear to be to being transferred to Travancore. I think that ought to relieve the anxiety of hon. Members about these British citizens. His Majesty's Government have not the views of the Government of Madras or of the Government of India, and I feel that at the present stage of the negotiations I have very little more to say on the subject of Tangasseri until I receive, or my right hon. Friend receives, the representations of the two Governments involved.


Did the hon. Gentleman in answer to a question not say that he would consult the people of the areas concerned?


I am coming to that point. I have spent some time to-day, in the intervals of other activities on so important a day in connection with India in Parliament, in investigating the past history of this district of Tangasseri, and I find that on previous occasions when this question has been raised great attention has always been paid to the wishes of the inhabitants; and I think the House may take it for granted that there will be no attempt on the part of the Government to go against the ineradicable opposition of those inhabitants. That has been the past history of the case, and I have no reason to suppose that it will not be its future history. His Majesty's Government have already informed the House, through my right hon. Friend, that the final decision will certainly come to them, and therefore I think that hon. Members need not be so anxious on this subject as, certainly at first, appeared from the very alarming nature of some of the speeches made.

In conclusion, may I say that I do not bear any ill will that these subjects should have been raised. I consider that the Imperial Parliament is perfectly right to pay every attention to them, and I or my right hon. Friend will be willing to come to this House at any time and answer the legitimate doubts of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who raised these subjects and of hon. Members who are very right to take an interest in such important districts. I do not doubt that, if there should be any proposal that would be offensive to hon. Members, or would cause anxiety to hon. Members, an opportunity would always be given in this Parliament to state their views and express their anxieties to the House, and in any case, when any decision is taken, I feel sure that Parliament will always be informed. I hope that with these few words I have done something to allay the anxiety of hon. Members, which I wish could have been couched in terms which imputed less motive to those of us in His Majesty's Government who feel that we have as high motives in approaching the Indian problem as hon. Members have themselves.

It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.