HC Deb 13 March 1939 vol 345 cc4-6
4. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he will make a further statement respecting the circumstances of the recent dispute at Rajkot and the nature of the settlement reached?

Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead

As the answer is rather long I am arranging, with the permission of the hon. Member, for its circulation in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Sorensen

While thanking the hon. and gallant Member for doing so, may I ask him whether he would not agree that the effect of the previous statement that the Ruler had not broken his promise to Mr. Gandhi was incorrect?

Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead

No, I would not like to say that. The hon. Member will see from the statement which is being circulated that the specific question in dispute has been referred for consideration.

Following is the statement:

Since October last there has been active agitation in Rajkot State for reforms in the administration. Certain reforms had been already announced by the Ruler before, on 26th December, 1938, the Darbar issued a notification in which it was announced that, after discussion between the Congress Leader, Mr. Patel, and the Thakor Sahib' s Council, the Darbar had decided to appoint a committee of 10, consisting of seven non-officials and three officers of State to draw up a schema of reforms. It was promised therein that full amnesty would be given to all political prisoners and hope was expressed that all agitation would immediately cease. On the same day (26th December) the Ruler signed a note which was given to Mr. Patel to the effect that he was agreeable to seven non-official members being recommended by Mr. Patel and nominated by himself. On 4th January Mr. Patel sent in his recommendations. Some of the names nominated were regarded by the Thakor Sahib as unsuitable or ineligible and further correspondence ensued. On 21st January the Thakor Sahib announced the names of seven non-official members of committee appointed by himself and added that these would have to work along with three officers of the State whose names would be announced later. These seven included only three of the names recommended by Mr. Patel.

Mr. Gandhi addressed the Thakor Sahib towards the end of February, alleging that prisoners had been ill-treated by the Darbar and that the Thakor Sahib had committed a breach of faith in regard to the constitution of the committee. Not satisfied with the assurances of the Thakor Sahib, Mr. Gandhi arrived at Rajkot on 27th February. He was given all facilities to inspect prisons, and on his tour of inspection he was accompanied by two officers of the Western India States Agency who found no evidence whatever of the alleged ill-treatment. On 2nd March Mr. Gandhi sent a letter to the Ruler containing an ultimatum that he would go on fast if the alleged breach of faith was not repaired, and if the following demands which he advanced were not conceded before noon of 3rd March:

  1. (a)that the Thakor Sahib' s notification of 26th December should stand and that the notification of 21st January, 1939, which contained the names of seven non-official members appointed to the Committee by the Thakor Sahib should be cancelled;
  2. (b)that five members of the local Paris-had, or States' subjects' organisation, named by Mr. Gandhi should be appointed to the Reforms Committee with Mr. U. Dhebar, one of the five, as president;
  3. (c)that three, or less than three officials acceptable to the Parishad should be appointed to act only as guides and advisers to the Committee with no power of vote; and
  4. (d) that Satyagraha prisoners should be discharged, fines refunded, execution orders stopped and confiscations restored.

On 3rd March the Thakor Sahib replied that he was unable to agree to the above terms. On the same day, in reply, Mr. Gandhi conveyed to him his disapproval of the Thakor Sahib' s attitude and started his fast. On 4th March Mr. Gandhi addressed the Resident alleging that the conditions in Rajkot made intervention by the Paramount Power necessary.

On 6th March, His Excellency the Viceroy told Mr. Gandhi that the Thakor Sahib had applied for the loan of a Government official from outside the State to preside over the Committee in order to ensure fair play in fulfilment of the Thakor Sahib' s notification of 26th December. His Excellency invited Mr. Gandhi to discontinue his fast accordingly. On the same day Mr. Gandhi replied saying that he would break his fast and be satisfied if the substance of terms of his letter to the Thakor Sahib of 3rd March were met, and if certain arrangements which he suggested were made. On 7th March His Excellency told Mr. Gandhi that with the concurrence of the Thakor Sahib arrangements would be made for his notification of 26th December as amplified by his subsequent note to Mr. Patel to be referred to the Chief Justice of India who would give his decision as to the correct interpretation to be placed thereon; this would ensure that there would be no breach of faith. Mr. Gandhi was accordingly invited once more to break his fast. On the same day Mr. Gandhi accepted this solution, adding that the points not mentioned in His Excellency' s telegram should not be taken to have been waived by him, and he broke his fast.

My Noble Friend is informed that His Excellency the Viceroy will probably be receiving Mr. Gandhi on Wednesday this week.