§ 3.50 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for India (Sir Hugh O'Neill)
I beg to move,That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under. Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Madras on 30th October, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 28th November.I rise to submit the first of the series of Motions which stand on the Order Paper in my name, but I shall, of course, deal with the subject matter relating to them all. Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, provides that if at any time the Governor of a Province is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the government of the Province cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Act, he may, by Proclamation, assume to himself all or any of the powers exercised by any provincial body or authority. In other words, he may govern the Province himself without the advice of Ministers responsible to the Legislature and without the Legislature. Proclamations under this Section were issued at various dates between 30th October and 10th November, 1939, by the Governors of seven Provinces, namely, Madras, Bombay, the United Provinces, the Central Provinces, Bihar, Orissa and the North-West Frontier Province. Section 93 further provides that every such Proclamation shall cease to operate at the expiration of six months unless a resolution approving its continuance in force is passed by both Houses of Parliament. Unless, therefore, before the end of this month the necessary resolutions are carried in both Houses of Parliament, the Proclamations will cease to have effect within the next few weeks, and there will be no legal powers in existence for carrying on the government of the Provinces concerned.
The reason why it became necessary to issue Proclamations under the Act was because the responsible Ministries in those Provinces had resigned, and it was impossible to find any other alternative Government which could command a majority in the Legislature. In the case of one Province—Assam—a Government of another complexion has since been formed and has taken office, and so far it 1166 is carrying on successfully with the support of the Legislature. The Ministries which resigned belonged in each case to the Congress Party. I should like-specially to remind the House that the resignation of these Congress Ministries was not due to any lack of support in their Legislatures, or to any spontaneous action within those Legislatures. They were all effected as a result of orders received from an outside body known colloquially as the Congress "High Command," and I suspect that most of these Ministries, if left to their own resources, would have much preferred to carry on.
The position to-day is, therefore, that in four Provinces, namely, Bengal, the Punjab, Assam and Sind, responsible government is being maintained successfully, and the House would greatly misunderstand the position if it was thought that what has happened has meant the breakdown of responsible provincial government throughout India. It has meant nothing of the sort, and the Provinces where responsible government is still functioning, including two of the largest and most important in India, comprise between them one-third of British India, occupying over 300,000 square miles, and with a population of nearly 90,000,000 persons. I think a word of appreciation is due to the leaders and members of the Governments in these Provinces for the steadfastness with which they have preserved the ideal of responsible government, and for the success with which they have carried on when India has been passing through times of great political difficulty and trouble.
On 10th January of this year the Viceroy made a speech in Bombay. In the course of that speech he emphasised the desire of His Majesty's Government that India should attain Dominion status at the earliest possible moment and their anxiety to facilitate that object by all means in their power; he drew attention to the fact that while the Federal scheme of the Act afforded the swiftest stepping stone towards Dominion status, His Majesty's Government were only too willing when the time came to examine the whole field in consultation with all parties and interests in India; and he further explained that His Majesty's Government were prepared, in the meantime, to expand the Executive Council of the Governor-General on the lines in- 1167 dicated in November last by the inclusion of a small number of political leaders, and that they were always ready and anxious to give every help they could towards overcoming the difficulties confronting India to-day. That speech was looked upon in India as a political pronouncement of the first magnitude and evoked an immediate response from Mr. Gandhi, who used these words with regard to it:I have not lost faith in Britain. I like that latest pronouncement of Lord Linlithgow. I believe in his sincerity. There are undoubtedly snags in that speech; many is have to be dotted, many 'it's have to be crossed, but it seems to contain the germs of a settlement honourable to both nations.Confronted by these pronouncements from the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi respectively, all India was deeply stirred, and was expecting and hoping for a settlement of the constitutional difficulties which had arisen. These hopes rose to a high point when it became known that Mr. Gandhi was going to see the Viceroy on 5th February to discuss the whole situation. The meeting between them took place on that date. It resulted in a deadlock. It would be no exaggeration to say that millions of people in India were staggered and deeply disappointed at this result. Why did this Conference fail? The explanation is surely to be found in the last paragraph of the agreed communiqué issued after the meeting, which reads as follows:Mr. Gandhi expressed his appreciation of the spirit in which these proposals were put forward, but made it clear that in his view they did not at this stage meet the full demand of the Congress Party.It is difficult to understand how insistence on the full demands of the Congress party was compatible with the first reaction of Mr. Gandhi to the Viceroy's speech, when he said that he saw in it the germs of a settlement honourable to both nations.
The breakdown of this Conference has inevitably produced a definite hardening of outlook among those large sections of Indian political opinion opposed to the Congress Party. Those sections consist of the great Moslem community, numbering some 90,000,000 persons, the rulers of the Indian States, with a population of some 80,000,000, and communities or castes such as the Depressed Classes, the Sikhs and others. Recent pronouncements of 1168 the principal parties concerned will be found in the White Paper issued a few days ago. These pronouncements are the resolution passed by Congress at Ramgarh on 20th March, the resolution passed by the All-India Moslem League at Lahore on 24th March, and the resolution passed by the Chamber of Princes on 12th March. I should like to read to the House a passage or two from the White Paper. The Congress resolution contains these words at the bottom of page 5 of the White Paper:The Congress hereby declares again that nothing short of complete independence can be accepted by the people of India. Indian freedom cannot exist within the orbit of Imperialism, and Dominion status or any other status within the Imperial structure is wholly inapplicable to India, is not in keeping with the dignity of a great nation and would bind India in many ways to British politics and economic structure. The people of India alone can properly shape their own constitution and determine their relations to the other countries of the world, through a constituent assembly elected on the basis of adult suffrage.Again, as will be seen on the middle of page 6 of the White Paper they said:The Congress withdrew the Ministries from the provinces where the Congress had a majority in order to dissociate India from the war and to enforce the Congress determination to free India from foreign domination. This preliminary step must naturally be followed by civil disobedience, to which the Congress will unhesitatingly resort as soon as the Congress organisation is considered fit enough for the purpose, or in case circumstances so shape themselves as to precipitate a crisis.If we turn now to the resolution by the All-India Moslem League on page 7 of the White Paper it will be found that this resolution emphatically repudiates the scheme of federation contained in the Act of 1935. It contains these words:Resolved that it is the considered view of this session of the All-India Moslem League that no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to the Moslems unless it is designed on the following basic principle, viz., that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary that the areas in which the Moslems are numerically in a majority, as in the north-western and eastern zones of India, should be grouped to constitute 'independent States' in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.I would like now to make one or two comments on these resolutions, portions of which I have read to the House. With regard to the Congress resolution, His Majesty's Government cannot, of course, 1169 accept the Congress demand for complete independence, and they notice with profound regret that Congress has summarily rejected Dominion status for India or any other status within the Imperial structure. Compliance with such a demand would mean, for example, the complete severance of India from all association with the rest of the Empire; it would mean the banishment of the Crown from any place in the Indian Constitution; it would mean throwing overboard our obligations to the Moslem community and other minorities, and to the Princes, all of whom have emphatically repudiated the Congress policy. With regard to the demand for a constituent assembly based on adult suffrage, I do not think I need say more than that this proposal was exhaustively examined a short time ago by Sir Maurice Gwyer, the Chief Justice of India, who pointed out that such an assembly would have to consist of at least 1,000 persons and probably many more, and by reference to historical precedents he recalled the fact that nearly every constitution in history which had been framed by constituent assemblies of this type had failed, whereas those constitutions which were evolved by consultation and discussion among small numbers of representative leaders had, generally, been successful, and were, for the most part, in operation at the present time.
I now come to the resolution of the All-India Moslem League. His Majesty's Government view with regret the proposals which are put forward for dividing India into regions where the Moslems are in the majority. Quite apart from its obvious practical difficulties, if such a project were ever to be realised it would shatter completely the whole conception of Indian unity which has been gradually and laboriously built up by the British system of government over a long period of years, and which may be said to have attained its climax in the proposals for an All-India Federation in the Act of 1935. We should view with misgiving any tendency to upset this conception of Indian unity, and we can only regard it as a counsel of despair. I should be loth to believe that this position will not be modified as a result of further negotiation between the Moslems and the Hindus. With regard to the resolution of the Chamber of Princes contained in the White Paper all I need say is that it is obvious that the rulers of the States are 1170 seriously apprehensive as to the present trend of events.
I have now traced in outline the Indian political situation as it presents itself at the moment, and I am sorry to say that it is not a picture which gives much hope for encouragement or for optimism. Is there anything which His Majesty's Government can do to try to bring about an improvement in the situation?
§ Sir H, O'Neill
It is not easy to see what can be done. The Viceroy has done all that any man could do in an effort to secure agreement, and with the concurrence of His Majesty's Government he has made a proposal of a far-reaching character which might have been put into immediate effect, namely, that Indian political leaders should become members of his Executive Council. Above all, he has emphasised again and again that the policy of His Majesty's Government is to grant to India full Dominion status at the earliest possible moment, and he has made it clear that we are only too willing to examine the whole constitutional field in consultation with all parties and interests in India. None of these advances has so far met with any response, and at the present moment the demands of the political parties are pitched higher and show less signs of any reasonable co-operation than has ever been the case before.
In these circumstances, it does not seem that there is anything further that His Majesty's Government can do. The situation is difficult, and not without danger. Hon. Members may have noticed that in the resolution passed by the Congress Party at Ramgarh it was stated that Congress would unhesitatingly resort to civil disobedience in order to gain their aim of independence as soon as their organisation was considered fit enough for the purpose. If such a course of action were, unfortunately, to be adopted, His Majesty's Government would be bound to take full measures to counteract it. Ordered government must be carried on, especially in time of war, and I cannot but believe that the Congress leaders themselves must recognise this to the full.
It seems to me that the only hope for the immediate future lies in a serious attempt on the part of the Indian com- 1171 munities to accommodate their differences. This may seem a pretty hopeless proposition, but it is fundamental and it lies at the root of the whole matter. The time is bound to come when Indians must manage their own affairs, but no British Government could, I feel sure, bring itself to hand over the management of India, except to an organism which they were really satisfied could govern so vast a country without allowing it to lapse into a chaos from which it was rescued in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
§ Sir H. O'Neill
As has been stressed over and over again by the Viceroy and by the Government at home, their good offices are, and always will be, available towards agreement. I notice that in a newspaper article on 30th March Mr. Gandhi used these words with regard to the minorities:I can never be a party to the coercion of Moslems or any other minority. The constituent assembly, as conceived by me, is not intended to coerce anybody. Its sole sanction will be an agreed solution of communal questions. If there is no agreement the constituent assembly will be automatically dissolved.In the recent session of the Congress Party at Ramgarh I notice that the President of that body emphasised the importance of the minority question and recognised that it must be seriously dealt with. Such utterances may be the signs and signals of possible accommodation and, if they are seriously meant, is it too much to hope that agreement may still be possible?
There is, at any rate, one aspect of the situation with regard to which Indians of all creeds and classes are united, and that is in their veneration for freedom; their approval of the objects for which this country is now waging the war; and in their detestation of the principles of the Nazi regime in Germany. India has made a magnificent response in the war. Recruits for the Army have come forward in far greater numbers than can at present be absorbed. Large sums of money have been subscribed towards war charities, including many contributions from the humblest and the poorest. Numerous offers of service have been received from all classes in the community, 1172 and the Indian Princes, as always, have been among the first to declare their support of Britain and to offer unstintingly their services and their money in the common cause. This is the bright side of the picture and should serve to counteract to a great extent the disquieting features in the political situation, of which, sooner or later, a solution must, and will, be found. How short or how long a time it will take before India can attain the goal of self-government it is impossible to predict with certainty; but what is certain is that it cannot reach full fruition until the Indian people are able to show that spirit of statesmanship, co-operation and compromise without which a lasting settlement can never be achieved.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Manchester, Gorton)
I do not know that I have much to complain of in the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but one thing that he did not tell us, that he did not even mention, and certainly did not impress on us, was the immense importance for the House of the Motions that we are passing to-day. We are now assuming, possibly for 12 months unless the Orders are revoked, the responsibility for the government of Indian Provinces, not small Provinces, but Provinces consisting of 30,000,000 to 40,000,000 persons. Should any fault of administration take place, should injustice be done, should a strike occur and the police have to take action, we are the people who, by our own Act of Parliament, have made ourselves presently responsible for controlling the Administration. That is tremendous; it is tragic. We are not competent to do it, we have not the information, we are too far away, and we cannot possibly do the job. Yet, owing to what is in the Act, the task now falls to us, and it is a formidable and terrifying one.
The Under-Secretary spoke about the present situation and its unhopeful features. That is very important for us and for India. I should like, if it is possible, that this Debate might be used to inform the opinion of the world about the relations between ourselves and India. The war will be decided by the judgment of world opinion. We are before the bar of world opinion, as, indeed, are the Indians themselves. Anyone who has lectured across the United 1173 States or Europe, as I have done, both before and after the war, must be well aware that this question of India is not only one excuse for German untruthful propaganda, but is also a cause of serious heart-burnings among uninformed people. I find that in America very often people who have no trace of sympathy with Fascism have, at the same time, been disquieted. Theirs is the help and sympathy we need in the struggle in which we are engaged. Therefore, what we have to ask ourselves is, as the Under-Secretary said, What can we do to assist in the present situation? I would also say that the Hindus and Congress, too, have to ask themselves that question. They also are making an appeal to world opinion. The Moslems also must ask themselves that question. Understanding and good will are needed, and the belief in each other's sincerity. In passing, may I say that in the death of Mr. Andrews this week, India and this country have suffered a great loss?
Let us take the suggestions that are made. In the Congress resolution and in Mr. Gandhi's speech there is reference to civil disobedience. Mr. Gandhi's conception of passive resistance or civil disobedience is very difficult for a Western mind to understand, but I do not think we should put out of mind the possible effect of it, although we cannot understand it. The civil disobedience that may come out of this might not be Mr. Gandhi's passive kind at all. The last time our party's Government were in office we had to face civil disobedience, but the Moslems were in it then. It was a vast movement and very difficult to handle. Now the Moslems are not in it and are fiercely resisting it. What is likely to happen if Congress take this misguided step will be that what begins as a protest against British rule will finish as a fight between Moslems and Hindus. I had a bitter experience of that. There was in 1931 a movement to boycott British goods. It started with a small disturbance in Cawnpore between some pickets at shops and some demonstrators. That was intended as a demonstration against British goods, but it ended in a first-class Hindu-Moslem clash in which about 300 people were killed and 1,000 injured. Congress would do well to consider whether a movement in India that is intended to discredit us does not in fact draw the 1174 attention of the world to the fact that this deep gulf exists between Hindus and Moslems.
What of the Moslem scheme of Mr. Jinnah? I was glad to hear what the Under-Secretary said about it. At the moment when Europe is considering federation, when even America and the new world have been drawing together, when we find our own Commonwealth drawing together more tenaciously than ever, it is perfectly hopeless to come forward with a proposal to divide India into sovereign states by race and religion, and it is well that it should be said plainly in this House that it will not find any support in this country. Perhaps Congress and the Moslems think they can sit pretty in India watching the war in Europe going on and thinking that it will not affect them at all. Many people in the world are under that delusion, and many neutrals are under it. When we think of the humiliating days in 1938 when we crowded the churches to thank God that it was peace for us anyhow, when we think of the Poles who thought it was an opportunity to aggrandise themselves, when we think of many other small peoples who think, "The war will not come to us; it is being fought somewhere else," and when we think of American opinion, that it will never come to them, and then suddenly the hand is stretched out and a large tract in the new world is under the protection of the German Reich, it is as well to consider what the possibilities are. If it were to happen, as it might in a week or fortnight, that the Low Countries were invaded, the Dutch East Indies would then be under German control, technically. It has to be remembered that between Berlin and Tokyo there exists an understanding, and America might find themselves with twin aggressors, a partnership of aggressors, on their Eastern flank. Therefore, it is a mistake to suppose that anyone in the world to-day can indulge in the luxury of thinking that somebody else is going to fight the war for them.
What can we suggest? We have so often been critics of the Government, and we are critics of the Government. No one takes an interest in this Government except as a possible instrument for winning the war. Lord Linlithgow in his efforts deserves a word of praise from every well-wisher of India. His speech at the Orient Club at Bombay, if it had 1175 been delivered in 1929, would have destroyed the Labour Government. We should have been out of office then by the mere whisper of Dominion status. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the late Lord Birkenhead, the whole crowd of them would have been against us at the whisper of Dominion status. Now, 10 years later, we rejoice at it. We shall have plenty of time after the war is won to discuss these questions in a proper atmosphere of peace. I want to pay a sincere tribute to Lord Linlithgow for what he has done. He certainly spoke of the constitutional status that we propose, and he described it as Dominion status of the Western variety. It sounds like Mr. Middleton on the wireless explaining a botanical specimen. It is worthy of a better description. That was a declaration accepted by the whole responsible public opinion of this country.
The Viceroy made a suggestion of extending the Executive Council. I believe that there are four official and two unofficial members at present, consisting of three Indians and three Europeans. That proposal was rejected. I do not know whether it would be worth while, despite that, to give the unofficial Indians a majority on that Council so that the world should know that the persons surrounding the Viceroy, his equal colleagues in the Council, are not official or European, but members of the races over whom the Executive Council presides. I do not believe that any constituent assembly or anything else should hammer out a great scheme for India at this moment. It is impossible. I am sure opinion is too divided to go as far as that, but possibly there is one thing that might be done. Would it be inconceivable to say to Congress and the Moslem League, "We do not ask you to come together to agree on a constitutional scheme, but we ask you to come together to agree upon the form of some smaller body which can examine the question of constitutional advances. It is a very small step, but we are facing great obstacles." Is the thing too difficult to make it public that you have asked these people to come together, not to carry out the difficult task of making a constitution, but to construct a machine 1176 which might consider a constitutional advance?
Then, what can we agree to do on our side? We cannot agree to legislate during the progress of the war, but we could agree that if such a body were created in India, and if it produced a scheme which received substantial agreement, we would be prepared to take it as the basic of an Act to be passed through this House. That, I think, would be right. That arrangement would concede the Indian claim that the constitution is primarily a matter for the Indians, and I do not see any reason why we should not say that within a year of the termination of the war, or within some specified period, any such agreement would be embodied in a Measure to be brought before this House. That is a very humble, a trivial idea, but that comprises all the suggestions that I can make.
But before I sit down I want to say a word or two on what we are offering to India, because it has been my experience, when I have been questioned on the matter by foreigners, that they know very little indeed about our relations with India, and if this Debate, in so far as it is reported anywhere, will enlighten neutral opinion, I feel that it will have served a useful purpose. What is Dominion status? I feel that a great deal of harm has been done—let me say so plainly—by Conservative spokesmen who have been trying to whittle away the conception of Dominion status. According to them, one would be led to believe that Dominion status conferred only a particular form of limited freedom. We know the definition of it which was the basis of the Act of 1932, the Westminster Statute. It was a definition drawn up by Lord Balfour. They are:Autonomous communities within the British Empire equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs.Who was the statesman of the Empire among those who came to this country in 1926 who particularly pressed this point? It was general Hertzog. In his programme for South Africa one of the articles was "Secession from the British Empire." That was the programme of the South African Nationalists. Let us see how this formula, which is the only authentic definition of Dominion status in 1177 general terms outside the Statute, appeared to General Hertzog and his supporters who had come here as advocates of the secession of South Africa from the Commonwealth. General Hertzog said:I feel that the object which I set before myself to achieve at the Conference has been attained.Later he was even warmer in his observations:The struggle for full unbounded liberty for South Africa as a people was over.Mr. Tilman Roos, who was the chairman of the Nationalist party in the Transvaal, said:We are absolutely satisfied. There is no longer any constitutional question for South Africa. We have got the reality.General Hertzog further stated:The declaration has brought to a happy close the century old struggle for South African National freedom.That was his own description—and he was a rebel in that Conference—of what had been achieved by this same status which the Government are offering India. Apart from the approval which was given when the definition was laid down, what has been our own experience—and their experience—of the value of this status? South Africa was also divided, though not as deeply as India is divided, by races and bitter struggles about the flag. So far as they are concerned, the problem is now settled. They had their own free debate about the war, and they decided as they did decide. A century old struggle! More than a century has gone by since General Wolfe took Quebec from the French, and to-day the French Canadians are mounting guard at Buckingham Palace. There, again, there were differences of race and religion, but they have been bridged, and Canada comes freely into the war. It is not because she feels that she is menaced, because she is under the protection of the United States, and no one will attack her in the military sense, but she is sending us her men and her money because she believes that it is a real freedom which she enjoys under Dominion status.
If we want another example of the liberty which Dominion status confers, take the case of Eire. I wonder where you will find in the pages of history such an example of a great Commonwealth at war and one of its members deciding constitutionally to remain neutral. That has been done, and so far as I know there 1178 have been no complaints about it from anyone; there has been no challenge of the constitutional propriety of the action Eire has taken. I am sure that if the position is made plain to the world, it will be understood that what we are offering to India is not some niggardly form of bondage but something that is noble in conception. I am not afraid that the world should know. I was sorry that the Under-Secretary said what he did about independence. I have never been in the least moved by this talk about the danger of Indians demanding independence. When you give people liberty the effect is not to separate them but to bring them together, and I cannot see any freely elected Indian assembly demanding severance from such a constellation of nations as is now engaged in upholding the banner of freedom and giving them the material protection which they need.
The resolution of Congress speaks about this country waging a war fundamentally for Imperialist aims, and I was very sorry to see that Mr. Nehru spoke about the war against Nazi Germany being only a side event. It is sad to hear such observation from a man of the instincts, outlook and ideals of Mr. Nehru. Dr. Goebbels has said:The sole instrument with which foreign policy can be conducted is alone and exclusively the sword.That is the doctrine we are fighting. Mr. Nehru can see no distinction between our fight against that and the Nazis themselves. But let us take a catalogue, a time-table, of the period during which Hitler has been in power, and consider how the rival Imperialisms have been working. In 1933, in Germany, the trade unionists were being rounded up and concentration camps were being set up, at the moment that the Government here were issuing their White Paper showing how to extend self-government to India. In 1934 there was in Germany the round-up of Roehm and the shooting of 400 "comrades," whilst on a Joint Committee Indians were sitting here trying to settle something that would advance the cause of Indian self-government. Between 1936 and 1939 the Nazi Imperialists were entering the Rhineland, taking Memel, subjugating the Czechs. Our task during that period has been the setting-up in India of 11 Parliaments legislating for vast areas, and Parliaments armed with 1179 immense powers. Very many people abroad do not understand that the Indian people have the right to levy taxes, and when they have been told that the Indian Government can levy a tariff on British goods against the interests of our people here, they will not believe it. That is the limit to which we have gone. It is a sad thing that a body with whose ideals we have so much sympathy should have sent out to the world this message:Congress cannot in any way be a party to the war.That is not a message to us only; it is a message to the Czechs, to the Poles who have been sold into slavery, to the Danes, to the Norwegians. It is not the authentic voice of India. I prefer to take the words of another resolution of the Working Committee of Congress, in which it is said:The working committee believes that the people of the Western world are genuinely moved by the ideals of saving democracy and freedom and the Congress is in full agreement with them.It is to that authentic voice that we make our appeal.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I think I am expressing the views of all in the House when I say that the right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) has made a most eloquent contribution to the subject which we are discusing. Before I proceed to speak on the question, I should like to make an observation which I hope will not be resented. It is one with which, perhaps, some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House will not altogether agree. I think that we in the Tory party have in the past been too little inclined to recognise the force and vigour of that moderate public opinion in India which desires self-government upon terms to which, I think, we in this country could assent. I feel that many hon. Members opposite, when speaking on this subject, are too much inclined to listen only to the voices of those extremists in India who demand a form of self-government or a new constitution which is not in accord with the wishes of the great majority of the Indian people themselves. Therefore, I greatly welcome the tone and temper of the right hon. Gentleman's speech: perhaps those are not very happily-chosen phrases, and I will say the whole trend and tendency of his speech; and I think 1180 it would be as well if it were recognised in India that there is a great consensus of opinion in this country, quite irrespective of parties, which is anxious to try to find a solution of this most difficult and delicate problem in the direction of the constant devolution of power from this country to India.
I need not call attention to the immense importance of this question of India's future political status in the Empire and her relation to the other States in the Empire, because it is almost a commonplace to do so, but I think it is desirable in a Debate on India in which the whole position is under review, always to call attention to the vast importance of India in the world as a whole. India has a huge land surface, a vast diversity of religions, races, points of view, standards and, one might almost say, racial origins; but it is equally fair to say that there is running through that country a thread, a growing unity, in favour of the devolution of power from this country to India. Unfortunately, there is not at the moment a growing unity of opinion among Indians themselves as to the form the new constitution should take. We have then two things in contrast—a growing general demand for greater freedom, and, as has been conceded by the British Government, for Dominion status, and at the same time a growing difference of opinion among Indians as to the form the constitution should take.
The problem, therefore, has altered essentially. In the old days it was the problem of the resistance of parties, or at any rate some parties, and individuals, in this country to the grant of self-government to India. That day is over. With, I should imagine, the assent of every party in this House, the British Government and the Viceroy have announced that the immediate goal is Dominion status. The issue now is a different one, though I am afraid many people in this country are still very far from recognising what the real issue is. It is the difficulty of reconciling terrific conflicts of opinion among Indians. That is the motive which should run through all the speeches this afternoon. The new issue is one which, as the Under-Secretary pointed out, we in this country cannot do very much to solve.
Before saying a word on that aspect of the subject, I would like, continuing on matters where one is in agreement, 1181 to follow the line of argument used by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He spoke with great force and purpose, and I admired his happy knack. I had intended to say something of the same kind had he not spoken. He referred to the great strategic weakness from which India would suffer unless she were part of that commonwealth of nations which we call the British Empire. There is another aspect of the matter, and that is India's economic position. India has for many years been a primary producing country, exporting always a larger amount of its primary products. In recent years, and especially within the last decade, she has also become an important country in the world in regard to secondary industries. It is very probable that Anglo-French financial and economic co-operation, extending throughout all the lands over which the Union Jack and the Tricolour fly, will be continued after the war, and that India will be a very important unit in that undertaking. Extreme Indian nationalists may retort that so she would be if she were outside it, but the answer seems to be that she would be very much weakened. The reason is that, apart from India, there are vast tracts of tropical and semitropical land under the Britishand French flags which would compete with India if she were not a party to this probable post-war arrangement.
My right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman opposite agreed that it was demonstrably impossible to settle this business of determining the final form of India's constitution in the midst of the world-shaking war that is going on at present. Therefore, it is essential to carry on the government. I would make a few observations on this aspect of the case. Even if all India were united upon the form of constitution that it wants, this House and another place cannot absolve themselves of their constitutional responsibility of discussing the matter and of amending the Government of India Act accordingly. That was recognised in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and he made what he described as a small suggestion for the formation of some unofficial body in India to discuss the manner by which Dominion status should be put into operation. There was the further proposal that, if such a body were set up, and came to the conclusion that there should be a general undertaking 1182 by the Government of this country that when we came to discuss the matter we should pay particular heed to the resolution passed and should make it the basis or groundwork of any plan. That is a very sound suggestion which certainly ought to be considered. Even so, we should have to await the conclusion of the war, because it would be intensely difficult to carry a great constitutional amendment to an Act dealing with so vast a problem as the continent of India when we were in the midst of the greatest struggle in which we have ever taken part.
I want to examine, as did the Under-Secretary of State and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, some of the speeches and alternative proposals which have been put forward—or perhaps I should say the alternative standpoints which have been taken up—by Congress and by the Moslem League respectively. I must again repeat that it is really difficult to be patient with a point of view represented in some quarters in this country, and especially in newspapers like the "New Statesman" and the "News Chronicle," which advocate, sans phrase, the acceptance of Congress demands, completely ignoring the fact that Indians are fiercely, and one might say ferociously, divided on the very essence and ingredients of their future constitution. It is worth considering what a complete antithesis there is between Congress and the Moslem League on this subject.
I should be interested to hear, as no doubt we shall hear in the course of the Debate from hon. Members who, broadly speaking, accept the Congress point of view, how they would get over this difficulty. Congress admits that there is a great difference of opinion between it and the Moslem League. I would pay this tribute to Mr. Gandhi that he does not under-estimate the importance of the Moslem community in India or the extent to which it has been knit together by recent events, or the strength of public opinion, though it be minority public opinion, in such organisations as the National Liberal Federation, which, incidentally, has very considerable support in India and to which some of the most distinguished statesmen in the public life of that country belong. Many of them are personal friends of Members on both sides of this House. Then there are organisations representing the depressed 1183 classes. In other words, Mr. Gandhi himself and the more moderate leaders of Congress recognise that this difference of opinion exists and has to be resolved.
I have followed Indian Debates for over 20 years, and for more than seven years I was at the India Office. It has recently been suggested that there is no such thing in India as opposition to Congress, so far as political public opinion is concerned, and that Congress alone represents political public opinion. I am glad to say that that is a complete illusion, which no longer exists in the mind of any hon. Member in this House. It is worth while examining, for the benefit of anyone who is going to take the Congress point of view in this Debate, the manner in which Congress tries to find a by-pass for this difficulty of growing opposition to Congress proposals on the part of other parties. Congress proposes a constituent assembly, at which matters of moment to the minorities are to be settled, as far as possible in accordance with the wishes of the minorities. Where agreement on that basis proves impossible, the questions at issue are to be submitted to the arbitration of some external and disinterested authority. That is the Congress proposal for getting over the minority difficulty. We have not been informed at all what is contemplated in the event of a minority declining to accept the decision of the arbitrator, but apparently the underlying assumption is that some authority as yet unspecified would, by some means equally unspecified, bring compulsion to bear.
Really, the existence of such ideas indicates a complete failure to recognise the essential features of the problem. The device of arbitration, and the system of administration of justice of which it is only one method, presuppose, and can only exist in, a society whose affairs are already regulated by, and is itself indeed an instance of, the understandings by which that society has agreed that its affairs shall be regulated. In such circumstances, failure on the part of any individual member of the society to accept the decrees of an arbitrator or a judge, is visited with sanctions as a failure to observe the rules of the game, but the task of constitution-making is that of settling what the rules of the game shall be. It seems to indicate a strange, and one may say a maximum, confusion 1184 of mind on the part of Mr. Gandhi and other leaders of Congress to talk about enforcing the rules of the game before those rules are in existence, even if the machinery for enforcement were forthcoming.
Willing agreement alone on the part of the whole people can be the basis of a self-government constitution. When I say "the whole people," I do not suggest that there will not be some minorities, but I mean willing agreement among the main parties which are represented. To secure such willing agreement, it may well be that majorities will have to make concessions to minorities, and they may regard them as excessive. Minorities should make concessions also, where a minority scheme is regarded as unacceptable. The extent to which any give-and-take is justified must be judged when it comes to the point, in the light of full consideration of the consequences of failure to agree. I would reinforce what was said by the right hon. Gentleman opposite in very emphatic language, that failure to agree in the present circumstances will mean nothing more or less than civil strife or civil war in India.
Let this fact be fully understood: Even if there were no war and no immediate risk of invasion by sea, land or air—no one can say that no such risk exists in the present state of the world, because there is no country where there is no possibility of those things—if we were to remove all responsibility for Indian affairs from this House, the Government in this House and the Government of India, if we were to say: "We will remove British forces from India, the Fleet from her shores and our Air Force," and then were simply to say to India: "You have to. come to terms and form your own constitution," it would mean, in the present state of mind of Congress and of the Moslem League, that civil strife, revolution and civil war on a scale which has not been seen in India for hundreds of years, would most indubitably break out. The more moderate members of Congress realise that that is so. I do not believe for a moment that Mr. Gandhi would contemplate such a situation with anything but the greatest horror. Equally am I sure that an old friend and colleague of mine, Mr. Jinnah, the growing violence of whose language I rather deprecate, would not contemplate with 1185 anything but horror that state of affairs; but it would indubitably happen, if Congress and the Moslem League continued in their present state of mind.
The only useful contribution to make to the Debate in these circumstances is to press the point which has already been pressed by the Under-Secretary of State and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that we should try to find some via media between those two opposing points of view. I beg public opinion in this country, and even more so public opinion in India, not to fall into the common error of British and Indian people in relation to big issues of this kind, of supposing that wishes are realities. The perfectly legitimate wish of a vast number of politically-minded people in India, to whatever political party they belong, is to see a self-governing India, united if possible. That wish is echoed by thousands of well-wishers of India in this country, but the leaders of India are most deeply divided on this issue. Hence the present expedients for working the existing Constitution. The responsibility has now been placed upon our shoulders in a number of Provinces in India, owing to the breakdown of the form of self-government which India enjoys.
We have a great responsibility. From the point of view of the Rules of the House, we have a much greater right, if we choose to exercise it, of questioning the action of the Government of India than we have enjoyed since the Government of India Act was passed. Although I do not want to make it more difficult for the Government or to suggest that we should go back to the old days when we had 15 or 20 Questions, sometimes more, on the days when Indian Questions were down, it might perhaps be as well if, on all sides of the House, according to our different points of view, we showed an interest in the working of the machinery of Government now that we are responsible for it. Do not let it go out from the House to-day, or from anywhere in the country, that we are not deeply interested in the matter, that we are not sympathetic to the difficulties nor anxious to find a solution, nor let it be supposed in Germany, or in any Power hostile to this country, or neutral in this war, that the effect of these differences in India will make India's contribution to the war effort of the Commonwealth 1186 of British nations less than it otherwise would be. On the contrary, there is the utmost good will, and I suspect that, if the situation were examined, it would be found that many of the extremists in India privately sympathise with the Allies' efforts, and are giving support to them. Millions of people in India would be willing to join the Army. I hope on some future occasion we may be able to discuss the need for greatly extending the opportunities for service in the Army on the part of India. I remember what magnificent work was done by new Indian divisions, new in the sense that they had only recently been formed and were composed largely of young men of 19 or 20, in the general defeat of the Turks in September, 1918. Do not let our enemy, or neutrals, suppose that these differences which exist are going to affect the tremendous contribution which India can make and is making to the war and the intense and enthusiastic support which she is giving to the cause of freedom on behalf of which the Allies are fighting.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
The Debate, as it has proceeded, has opened out ways which may lead to a more hopeful aspect of affairs, and I hope, as it proceeds, we shall concentrate on the more hopeful aspects of the problem. I could not agree more than I do with the words which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) with regard to the great responsibility which has returned to the House as the result of the approval of these Proclamations. I regret profoundly, as I am sure everyone does, the fact that the Proclamations have had to be made. If the matter had been handled somewhat differently, the necessity might have been, or ought to have been, avoided. We certainty regret that after the passage of six months Parliament should again have to deal with these matters and accept this great responsibility. I also entirely agree with what has been said with regard to the immense importance of India now in the transactions which are taking place and the march of events throughout the world. It is almost impossible to exaggerate it. The somewhat sombre story which the Under-Secretary had to tell us is a challenge not only to the House but to the whole of India itself. It would be a lamentable thing, when liberty and 1187 democracy are in the utmost peril, that India, which must obviously stand upon the threshold of full self-government, should have to confess that the elements on which alone democracy can function cannot be reconciled. The situation in regard to India is that, at a time when all sections in that country must regard with horror the Nazi system, which is a denial of everything which all sections of opinion must hold dear, they cannot reach agreement in building up a system with which India might give the answer to the Nazi system and point out that democracy can function in conditions such as those which prevail in India. I do not know whether if is sufficiently realised that the peril to our liberties is no less great to theirs.
I sometimes think that, of all the iniquities with which the National Socialist system of Germany is associated—and they are many and appalling—perhaps the worst of all is that which denies to the present generation of people in India, and wherever else their yoke may fall, the accumulated experience and wisdom of the past on which alone they can hope to build a method of life and order. If there is anything which the Hindu organisations in India to-day cherish, it is their ancient civilisation. Under the Nazi system, if it should sweep over the world, there would be no Congress in India, no Moslem League and no All-India Federation. As for the depressed and scheduled castes, the whole of India would become a depressed and scheduled caste. If any words of mine could reach India, I would appeal to all men of good will to bring the discussion of the Indian constitution down from the realm of theory to the working-out of a practical scheme which would enable democracy to function.
Much has been said about actual proposals for establishing a new constitution. I find myself unable to conceive that a procedure such as suggested by Congress to-day could possibly lead to the development of a satisfactory working method of democracy. A constituent assembly presumably, if the method of representation was something on a par with what we have in this House, would necessitate a membership of 4,000 to 5,000. Such a body might conceivably act to confirm or deny a decision which had been taken or carefully worked out by a smaller body of people, but I doubt 1188 it. I think there is much to be said for the proposal made by the All-India Liberal Federation. On those lines only is progress likely to be made. In looking at the problem at the moment, one is driven to contrast the extraordinary difference between the spoken word and the actual performance of the people engaged in the controversy. If human language has any meaning, rapid progress toward a solution ought still to be possible. Mr. Gandhi himself, a man for whom I have the most profound respect and admiration, has said that a settlement between Indian and Moslem Swaraj is quite impossible. I was very much struck with a passage in a recent speech in which he used words which I should like to recall:We are all brothers—even Mr. Jinnah is my brother. I have meant all that I have said about him. Never has a frivolous word escaped my lips, and I say I want to win him over A speaker said I would not fight until I had won him over, and he was right. There was a time when there was not a Moslem whose confidence I did not enjoy. To-day I have forfeited that confidence and most of the Urdu Press pours abuse on me. But I am not sorry for it. It only confirms me in my belief that there is no Swaraj without a settlement with the Mussulman.Surely, if human language has any meaning, action should follow which makes this settlement with the Moslems a possibility. Look at the position from our own side. There was a time when it was said that Dominion status was the ultimate goal of constitutional development—something in the far distance. But contrast that with the language used by the Viceroy to-day. It is no longer the ultimate goal. The Governor-General made it clear that His Majesty's Government were only too willing to examine the whole field with representatives of all parties interested in India when the time came. I do not care for the expression "when the time came," but I am certain that neither the Governor-General nor the House of Commons would quarrel over the fixing of dates if there was the necessary rapprochement between Hindu and Moslem opinion to make it appear that there was a reasonable chance of a practical solution. The proposal of Mr. Jinnah and the Moslem League has been called a policy of despair, and I think a truer word was never spoken. The idea of organising an independent Moslem community is a direct negation of what I have always understood were the aspira- 1189 tions not only of Hindus but of Moslems as well. I am quite confident that, given that necessary approach, the establishment of sufficient common ground on which a conference could stand, the Government of India would be ready to join in such a conference, remembering that, we have no wish to remain in India now as a dominant race. We are in the position of trustees. The question which has to be decided is the construction of a workable scheme for the establishment of self-government in India. These are the lines on which we should try to conduct our relations with India in the future.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Sir George Schuster (Walsall)
This is not an occasion for many words, but I believe there are many of us in the House to-day who feel nevertheless that this Motion which is before us should not go through as a matter of mere formality, because it is one of supreme importance. As we have already been reminded, it is essentially a matter for Parliament; it is a reminder to us all of our responsibility here. I would add that it is a reminder that this is a matter which lies essentially between the British people and the Indian people, and that therefore this is not merely a Debate on a Motion but an occasion for sending some message to the Indian people from the representatives of the British people. For those reasons, although I feel that almost everything that could be usefully said on this matter has been said, and said supremely well, nevertheless those of us who have passed a great portion of our lives in India feel that we are entitled to add something in order to testify our own faith on this matter and, perhaps I might add, our own hope and charity.
I propose to deal with this matter in very simple terms. If we look back to 1935, when the Government of India Act was passed and when so many hopes seemed to be opened for a straight advance on a clear and continuous path to freedom of government for India, and then if we consider the situation to-day, we must ask ourselves, Why has it been impossible to advance further? That question forces us to realise that two great difficulties have emerged. One is the point which has already been so well emphasised and explained, the difficulty of agreement between the different sections of the Indian people. Those have un- 1190 doubtedly increased. The second point is that the Nazi threat, not only to the freedom of this country and the British Commonwealth, but to the freedom of the whole world, has burst out into ruthless action and has made a profound difference to the practical realities of the situation.
As to the first point, the differences between the various communities in India, those differences have been dealt with fully and with sympathy to-day, but there is one aspect of the matter which I should like to emphasise. A good deal has been said about the impossibility of the proposal for a constituent assembly. Much has been said by way of appealing to the Indians to come together and to reach agreement. I join myself to that appeal, but in making it we must realise the peculiar difficulty of what we are asking them to do. We should realise with what a problem the various communities in India are confronted. This demand for a constituent assembly makes a natural appeal to everyone who believes in democratic institutions, but we must remember that in India there is such a difference of communities that the ordinary system of majority rule on which we base our political life cannot really function as we know it. Rule by the majority in India would in fact mean not rule by the majority of the community but rule by the majority community in the country. If India is to develop on democratic lines, India has to find some solution to that particular problem, a problem which has been very much before all our eyes in the practical problems of Europe during the last few years. I would like to emphasise to the Indian people what a contribution they could make to the advance of civilisation and peace in the world if they themselves could find some solution to this special problem of their own.
Having said that, I want to stress one point which has already been made in the course of this Debate. That is that the essential difficulty lies in the point to which I have just referred, and it does not lie in anything between the British Government and the people of India. Much has been said about independence and Dominion status, and I think we should be extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) for the way in which he has reminded us what Dominion status 1191 means. I care very little as to whether the words used by the Indians are independence or Dominion status, because if we face realities, it must be clear that if India reaches a stage in her own development when she is strong enough to stand on the foundations of her own strength in the world then nothing can keep her bound within the British Commonwealth, if the united wish of the Indian peoples is to withdraw. What meaning has Dominion status as a barrier? I am quite prepared to face that, and more than that. I am prepared to say that we should do all we possibly can to help India to acquire the strength to stand on her own foundations in the world. That is the reality as I see it, but of course, having said that, Indians cannot expect us to say that we look forward to the independence of India as the goal, because our hope must be that, though capable of independence she should remain of her own free will a member of the British Commonwealth. We believe that will be better for her, better for us, and better for the world.
The point therefore which we should all emphasise, if we are thinking of sending a message to the Indian people, is that the essential difficulty in this matter is not the difficulty of the protection of British interests, but the difficulty of finding a way of preserving British responsibilities and finding a solution which will not put upon us the charge that we have been traitors to our own responsibility for the protection of the minorities in India who rely upon us. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton pointed out, a statement clearly demonstrating our purpose has been said recently and clearly by the Viceroy himself in his speech at the Orient Club.
We come back therefore to the essential difficulty, that it is not a united India with which we have to deal. It may be said in India, "You exaggerate these difficulties; we can find our own solution. If you allow the matter to be discussed at a constituent assembly, we shall arrive at an agreement." But surely that proposal begs the whole question, because all the difficulties will arise when one comes to consider what is to be the form of the constituent assembly, what is to be the procedure, how its constitution is to be arrived at and how the 1192 minorities are to be protected. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton made a very interesting proposal. It is as well to talk honestly and frankly upon these matters, and when one tries to follow what has been happening in India in the last few weeks, one feels that there has been an immense amount of what I would call long-range discussion, a lot of vague talk, but very little evidence of that hard intellectual effort which is necessary to find a solution to the essential difficulty to which I have referred. Before it is any use thinking of a constituent assembly or any other form of general discussion, hard thought has to be devoted to what precisely are the modifications in the 1935 Act which would satisfy Congress on the one side and the Moslems on the other. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that there might be a small meeting of a few representatives of Congress and the Moslem League, sitting down quietly together and thinking out these matters, so that if anything like a constituent assembly were set up, there would be well digested proposals to set before them. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has made an extremely useful contribution by that proposal, and if, as representatives of the British people, we are sending a message to India, we should make it clear that we think that something of that kind is what is required. I have been in correspondence with some of my Indian friends during the last few weeks and have made a similar suggestion.
I do not believe that these conversations with the Viceroy are ever likely to lead to finding a way of taking the next step. Speaking from my own practical experience in India, I feel that the method of the Viceroy engaging in conversations of this kind is not one which is likely to lead to success, because the Viceroy has laid upon him the whole time the pressing responsibility of conducting the day-today administration of India, and he can never forget that responsibility. No one who has ever lived in India and taken part in the government of India can forget that responsibility. Knowing that if the conversation breaks down one has to go back to one's job of governing and maintaining law and order in India, one cannot talk with the necessary frankness, and one must always be talking with inhibitions and reservations. This question of how to find an agreement and how 1193 to find a form of constitution which will protect minorities and preserve something like democratic structure is a matter which has to be discussed with complete frankness and should be discussed quietly behind closed doors. If Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah can get together, perhaps with a small body of people, let us say the Prime Ministers or those who have been Prime Ministers of the governments of the various Provinces, if they could get together quietly, with no advertisement of what is occurring and no great promises of what was to come of it, and if they could try to thrash out what exactly are the practical steps which should be taken and how they could be worked out in the form of precise modifications of the 1935 Act, then I believe some advance would be achieved.
If the result of a conversation of that kind were only to disclose where the difficulties were, that would be something. And I would add this. I think that at this critical stage in India, which, as my right hon. Friend so clearly pointed out, looks like a situation of almost insoluble difficulty, we—and by "we" I mean the Indians and ourselves—must not be too ambitious in our attempts. What we can hope for is not to find a solution now which will answer for all time, but to find how the next step can be taken which will save us from going over the edge of disaster. I believe that conversations on the lines suggested might be very useful. They could take place without delay. They would be essentially conversations between Indian groups, but I think their value would be enormously increased if as a sort of independent chairman the chief justice of the Federal Court, Sir Maurice Gwyer, could be brought in. He has a great knowledge of the Indian problem, and enjoys the confidence of all circles. That suggestion is only a modification of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton himself has proposed. I believe that it is along those lines that the next step—the next modest step—which may save us from disaster can be taken.
I want now to add only a few words on what I have referred to as the second difficulty. We are now engaged in this effort, which demands all our collective energy, to save the freedom and peace of the world from Nazi domination. India should remember that, and I agree with 1194 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton in what he said about those passages in Mr. Nehru's speeches and in the Congress resolutions which made charges that in this war we are fighting for Imperialistic aims. I would add this quotation from the Congress resolution:The recent pronouncements made on behalf of the British Government in regard to India demonstrate that Great Britain is carrying on the war fundamentally for Imperialistic ends, and for the preservation and strengthening of her Empire, which is based on the exploitation of the peoples of India as well as of other Asiastic and African countries.Is it possible to find words which are a more blatant travesty of the truth? I think we are entitled to say that if the Indians ask us to understand them and their difficulties, they ought to make an effort to understand our situation. As has been so well pointed out, they stand in great danger. It is on our strength that they rely to protect them from that danger. So often one has felt, when discussing these matters with them, that they do not pause to realise themselves what are the assumptions on which they argue, and on which they look forward to attaining their objectives. Always underlying everything is the assumption that, somehow or other, we are going to save them from disaster. But now we are in a crisis in which we need all our strength to save ourselves as well as them from disaster, and it is hard indeed for us to tolerate the attitude indicated in the passage that I have quoted, or to allow ourselves to be damaged by letting such statements go about the world. Before I close I want to refer to one quotation which was made in that excellent convocation address which Sir Maurice Gwyer delivered at Benares University. It is a document which I think everybody should read. He quoted this passage from Burke:Refined policy ever has been the parent of confusion and ever will be so long as the world endures. Plain good intention, which is as easily discovered at the first view as fraud is detected at last, is, let me say, of no mean force in the government of mankind. Genuine simplicity of heart is a healing and cementing principle.Those are words which, I am sure, will appeal to Mr. Gandhi. Perhaps it may seem strange for me to have quoted, for in what I have said I have specially stressed the need of detailed consideration of the problems of the new Constitution, of the problem of finding a basis for the 1195 institution of democracy in India. But we must remember that, behind it all, the one thing that really matters is that we should trust each other, and for this purpose that Indians should hear in plain and simple words what is our feeling about the Indian problem to-day. What then is the sort of message that we should send? That indeed has been well indicated in many of the speeches to-day. It is that we desire, with an intensity which cannot even be surpassed by anything that they themselves feel, that they should find a way of advancing towards their own self-government. We feel further that the one obstacle in the path of that advance is one for which they alone can find the way to surmount.
But on the other side I think we have to tell them quite clearly that we have reached a stage where we are standing on fundamentals, on principles which we cannot betray; and that no threat of force, no fear of the difficulties that civil disobedience would mean to us, even though we are engaged in the terrific task of waging this war, would push us from the foundation of those principles to which I have referred. It must remain a fundamental principle with us that we cannot agree to any scheme for India which we are compelled to believe would mean either the subjection of minorities or the disruption of India into a number of small units warring together. I think we should make that clear. But having said this there is a final word to add for ourselves. Let this Debate be not merely a prelude to putting the legal seal on a most distressing situation; let it be an occasion when the representatives of the British people show a true understanding of the Indian situation and true sympathy with India's ideals, and pass to them a message of what we mean and an expression of our hope that they will help us to find a solution.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
I wish to endorse the sentiments which have just been expressed by the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster). I, like the hon. Member, feel that much of what one might have said has been already said. I do not wish to introduce any note of contention to upset, in any way, the good disposition of the House; but I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without 1196 saying that a great measure of the suspicion which is felt towards us in India has some ground. When one throws one's mind back to the declarations of the rights of the Indians, made time after time, one remembers how often they were translated into something with an altogether different meaning. Years of such treatment as that wears off the patience and optimism of any people. India has had to go through that for a long time. Now we are faced with menacing circumstances in Europe, and it is not too much to say that in this struggle in India there is the possibility of very serious internal strife in that country. I, for one, looking at the job we have on hand at home, am not ready to take on any further military operations elsewhere if I can help it. In regard to Ireland, it used to be said that "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity." I can almost hear something of that sort being said in this case to-day. But apart from the problems of Europe, there are in this House Members who genuinely feel that India should be allowed to progress to fuller national status and the control of her own affairs.
How often in this House has one had to listen to speeches about the government of India being given to India. There is always a tendency on the part of people in this House to translate the outlook of people in other countries in terms of the outlook of people in this country. The complications in India are enormous. It is not our duty to-day to stress these complications, but one must point out that it took generations to mould opinions in India into a common complexion. The general sense of the House is that India should be asked to face the problem herself. I am glad that the House is expressing that opinion, because years ago—if I may say so, in all humility—I expressed that opinion myself. I used to see Government after Government trying to solve this Indian problem, drawing up constitution after constitution, always with a Western outlook, which was altogether out of harmony with the Eastern outlook. One could see that, whatever constitution was drawn up in this House, it would always meet with impact and severe opposition in India itself. I ought to mention the name of Major Graham Pole, who was a Member of this House for years. He and a few others always insisted that it would be better, when we were faced with complications in India 1197 in attempting to draft a constitution, to throw the responsibility of, as it were, designing the mosaic of an Indian Government largely on the Indian people.
We have to-day heard speeches of Nehru and Jinnah quoted, in contrast with the speech of the Viceroy. Here are all the makings of civil dissolution. I refuse to believe that there is a responsible Indian in India to-day who, if it came to the final decision, would give his support to any movement which tended to break up the political unity of that country at the moment. I think the Viceroy would be well advised, if there is any message to go from this House to-day, to call the ex-premiers into conference. I am only throwing this out as a suggestion. I would like to see Mr. Jinnah and Mr. Sapru, for instance, discussing in front of the Viceroy, the outstanding differences between them. Knowing something about both these men and their capacities—they are lawyers who know the whole complexion and all the intricacies of the Indian problem—I can well imagine that it is not beyond possibility that, in conjunction, if you like, with Gandhi and such a prominent person as the ex-Premier of the Punjab, they could find the solution for which this House is now looking. I frankly state here and now that the British Government have come to a point when they will have to cease attempting to create a constitution without having due regard to the full Indian opinion expressed through the various Indian communities.
Something has been said here to-day that we will not tolerate anything that may grow out of these violent statements, but we must not forget that for the last seven months, and even longer, India has been under a constant deluge of the most efficient German propaganda the world has ever known, and they certainly have not put any sympathetic view of the case to the Indian people as far as we are concerned. That has had a great effect. It has aroused strong feelings in people who hitherto were more or less passive as far as this problem is concerned. It behoves the House of Commons to-day, as never before in history, to make it clear to India that we are no longer making promises that we do not wish to fulfil, but that we are so translating our declarations here by asking the Viceroy of India to call 1198 within his counsels the responsible representatives of Indian life and to put upon them the solemn duty of finding a solution, and that if that is arrived at we shall give our promise and our pledge to fulfil it to the letter. That will be the test. I admit there is much talk about Dominion status and about independence. Do not let us enter too much into that test. We all know how the heated Indian, in his passion, sometimes quite a righteous and good passion, will say things in the open public forum, but when he speaks to you in the council or executive committee meetings he is quite another person. I am sure that this House will do something to remove a most dangerous menace in the East if to-day there is a united expression of opinion in this House, of which I think the speeches hitherto are evidence that we really mean to do all we can not to impress upon India our view or our particular design or plan for the constitution, but that we will faithfully do what we can to carry into practice a constitution devised by responsible Indians themselves.
I would appeal to Mr. Gandhi from the Floor of this House. We have come to regard this man as being something more than a politician. We have come to regard him as a man who has some deep philosophic view, not merely of this life, but of the life beyond. His attitude towards politics and social problems is something more than that of the political theorist. Can we not appeal to him to-day, when this conflict in Europe may possibly spread right across Europe to India, in the name of this deep philosophic and religious faith which he holds, to come not in any spirit of suspicion, but rather in aspirit of co-operation and link up with those of us in this country and in other countries who are willing to enter into common consultation to remove a problem which, though complex and deep-seated, is none the less a human problem and is possible of solution if men of good faith, sincerity and determination are willing to give a hand to the task?
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I have very slight competence indeed to advise the House about the Government of India, and I will endeavour not to detain Members for more than a very few minutes. I wish to approach not so much the great main constitutional question 1199 which has rightly been the subject of our discussion to-day as some comparatively subsidiary questions. I hope that on this the House will indulge with me for a very few minutes, if I remind hon. Members that I am almost unique in this respect, that I have among my constituents very many who are informed on these matters as none but two or three of us here can be directly, and a very high proportion of whom very frequently write to me and instruct me, or come to see me, about India. I would like to begin, if I may without patronising, by saying how much I admired the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn), and especially I agree with what was said by him, and by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winter-ton) about the impossibility of India or anybody else in this world now sitting still and watching the war from a distance, confident that it will have no effect upon them, and how much I agree also with what was said about the issue now being not the question of what is to be done from here about India, but really the issue of endeavouring to reconcile Indians to each other. I suggest that, if we can do from here very little directly to persuade Indians to agree with each other about the next constitutional step, we may perhaps be able to do something to persuade Indians to agree with each other about something else. On the whole, if you can get people to agree with one another on any topic, and especially upon any great topic, you have taken a very long step towards getting them to agree with one another on some other topic.
I was very glad indeed that we had to-day an official and clear turning down of what may be called the Pakistan proposal. One of the leading Liberals in India wrote to me a short time ago that he thought that things had got to such a stage of exacerbation, almost conflagration, between Moslems and Hindus in India that all we could do in that matter was that, when either side produced something which obviously would not do, we should firmly say, "You cannot expect any help for this from here." He instanced this Pakistan proposal particularly, and I am very glad indeed that that has now been done. I will suggest that something more positive might be 1200 done if we could do more to persuade Indians to agree with each other and to agree with us about the war, and I want to draw attention to some suggestions with that end. I fully understand that any Government, and perhaps particularly a Government like the Government of India, must always have very great difficulties in conducting propaganda. It is very much easier, obviously, for opposition or for people from outside to conduct propaganda than it is for Government itself. It has been suggested to me that, in spite of the difficulties, more might be done than is done in respect of what a correspondent of mine calls the village know-all. In almost every village there is someone who sits under a banyan tree, who knows everything about everything, and who is apt to have a very considerable influence. My correspondent's view was that almost everybody in India who was at all politically minded, however much to the right or the left, except actual Communists, was very anxious about Russian intentions in the East, and that Russian influence is succeeding in reaching the man under the banyan tree a great deal more than is at all commonly realised in this country. I can quite see that that is a very difficult problem for the Central or Provincial Government to deal with, but I suggest that it might be considered whether something could be done to counteract that position.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) referred to the German radio. My information is that there is a great deal of listening to German broadcasts in India but that on the whole the German radio does not have very much influence, although it is a good deal listened to. I get complaints about its technical superiority to ours, and I would like to ask the right hon. Baronet whether he could not use his influence with the B.B.C. and whoever else may be concerned in that respect. It may be that the thing is impossible with the wavelengths available and so on: I do not understand the technique of these things, but I am told that it is much easier to hear German broadcasts in India than it is to hear the British broadcasts, and I hope that the India Office may think it worth while to inquire into that with the officials concerned.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
We are discussing rather widely 1201 the Motion before the House, but I cannot see what broadcasts have to do with it.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I bow to your Ruling. The point I was trying to suggest was this. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton reminded us, the House is now, by approving these Proclamations, taking into its hands the responsibility not merely for the constitution of India, but for the provincial Government of India. We are becoming the Parliament which stands behind the Government of India in a sense in which we were for long in the past and have not been in recent years and months. Therefore, it seemed to me that it was relevant, with all respect, to suggest that in endorsing these Proclamations we should consider that kind of point as deserving the attention of our Ministers now being given these powers, but I do not wish to delay the House, and I will not pursue the matter further.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
I think it will be felt that every speaker in this Debate has made a valuable and positive contribution, and that there has been a spirit of real unity underlying all differences of outlook, which, I hope, may be helpful in India, as it is here. We do need in a dark hour to look at the hopeful aspect of this immense national and international problem, and the hopeful signs are there. I see them in some of the words that have fallen from the Under-Secretary of State for India. He necessarily, with his big cares of office upon him, has to dwell on the graver aspects of the great problem he is facing, but he left it not without hope. I think it is significant that he dealt with quotations from Mr. Gandhi which showed the remarkable character of a man whose personality may give hope for a solution which might otherwise not be possible to obtain. I think there was hope, too, in the way that he obviously wishes to safeguard the rights of the religious and cultural minorities. He made it quite clear that the present demand made by Mr. Jinnah, in the name of the Moslem League, for autonomous sovereign States formed on a religious and cultural basis could be no solution. There is, too, ground for hope because it clears away from the horizon something which would lead us astray in 1202 our search for a solution. There is also great room for hopefulness in the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn), in his remarkable speech, and which was taken up on all sides of the House. Surely it is a landmark that the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) gave his general endorsement to that suggestion and that it was further developed by the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), who also made a noteworthy speech.
As a result of this Debate it has been made clear, I think, that there would be a welcome on the part of Parliament for the coming together of a small group of representative Indians, representing not only Congress but the Moslem League and any other important minority, with Mr. Gandhi as the leading figure. If they could work out the next steps by general agreement, the British Government would welcome, I believe, the adoption of any necessary legislative Measures to carry out that agreement. I think it is an important thing that there should be so much unity on that suggestion. If we can once get that step taken, and a spirit of trust established, a great thing will have been done. But it cannot be established by a mere paper constitution. I believe that here, tonight, we have had a spirit of good will shown clearly on all sides of the House, and I believe it is there in India in spite of some of the wild words that have been passed in various-resolutions by Congress. Some of the differences are really due to the misunderstanding of words. The Under-Secretary quoted one significant phrase from a Congress resolution which repudiated "the orbit of Imperialism." Imperialism is to Indians a hideous word, and we can understand that. It is hideous to many of us here; we want people to understand that the British Empire to-day is not an Empire in the old Roman sense at all. It is a great co-operative Commonwealth, bound together by ties of mutual service and common loyalty. It is not the possession of any one State; it is a commonwealth and it is that commonwealth which we want India to share.
It has been pointed out that there are many grave reasons why Indians would not wish to leave such an association, but there is also another. Indians are scattered all over the Empire—in Fiji, 1203 the West Indies, Kenya, South Africa, Zanzibar, the Straits Settlements and Burma. Surely this great fellowship must be kept together. I do not believe for one moment that the Indians in India would wish to separate themselves from their fellow-countrymen in those other parts of the Empire, but we must be kept together by bonds of trust and good will and not by any sense of superiority or domination, still less of exploitation.
We have great services to render to one another—England to India and India to other parts of the great Commonwealth. I am not thinking merely of material assistance which we can give to one another, but of the cultural help that each can bring to the other. India, with its glorious memories of the great teachings of the Buddha, the noble achievements of Asoka, and the great days of Akbar, through its teachers and mystics, like Tukaram, the Mahratta poet saint, and, in our day, through Rabindranath Tagore and Mr. Gandhi himself, has contributions to make to us. We, too, have our contribution to make to India. I am not thinking of the material help that has come through railroads and irrigation, or of the great structure of justice and ordered life that has been given to generations, but of the spiritual heritage of Western civilisation and the birth of freedom and political ideas in the sense that we understand them to-day. Much has already come about as the result of contacts of Indian with English thought and with democratic institutions worked in close collaboration. Indian ideas of political liberty have been nurtured on the writings of Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill. Something, too, that Indians may remember some day with gratitude is that all over their country there are graves of Englishmen who have given their lives in the service of the people. Over those graves there might in many cases have been written with equal truth the epitaph that Lawrence chose for himself:Here lies John Lawrence, who tried to do his duty.That has been the great thing that has been given to India, but greater than all have been the teachings of one whose life has influenced Mr. Gandhi himself, devout Hindu though he is, and whose work has been represented in India through the 1204 lives of thousands of quiet, humble missionaries, who have striven for the uplift of the oppressed in following the teachings and spirit of their Master. It is these things that bind us together in one great Commonwealth.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I shall not intrude on the patience of the House for more than a few minutes; but I would like to try and bring back this discussion from the extraordinary generalities to which we have just listened to the particular problem we have to face in the Motion before us. I think we are all intensely glad that in this discussion no word has been said which will add to the enormous difficulties of the Viceroy, or of the political leaders whose path to-day is not an easy one to tread. But, frankly, for the first time in nearly 40 years' connection with India in facing the problem before the House I find myself baffled. I have rarely encountered an occasion when I could not see clearly the path before us; but on this particular issue it has become so overwhelmed with racial and communal issues that it is difficult to see precisely how we can move with advantage. Nobody is satisfied with the position where we have to pass orders which lead to a suspension, we hope temporary, of responsible government in India. We listened with appreciation to what the right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) said when he reminded us of the special responsibility these conditions impose on this House. As we look round this House at the moment, we can appreciate the sense of responsibility with which it regards this new burden. My right hon. Friend will not mind my reminding him that this same responsibility was borne by this House up to 1919, and it is only since that date that it has devolved any part of it on Indian shoulders.
The House should mark, too, that since the resignation of the Congress Ministries there has been no relaxation or resiling from the general policies pursued when the responsible Ministries were actually in office, although some of those policies aroused strong opposition. The policy of prohibition was being maintained: even the errors in the law had been corrected. True, the Salis Tax in Bombay had been dropped, with general approval and the Act was unworkable; and Hindi 1205 had been made optional instead of compulsory. But, broadly, the policies of the responsible Ministries were being followed by the new administrations established.
It is to me, and I think to those who follow Indian affairs, a real tragedy that a great step forward—the greatest step—in the direction of further self-government in India has brought us to a condition where we have inevitably to sanction these special measures. The Act of 1935 was a great Act worthy of a great Parliament. It was the most striking devolution of authority from the Mother country to a Dominion ever made in our history. Yet the fact remains that so far from inducing that higher unity in India which was the hope and intention of Parliament, that Act has left the major communities more widely asunder. While this House must withhold any support to what has come to be called the Pakistak movement, having for its object the creation of a chain of independent Moslem States, stretching from the North West to the East, surely it is wise to analyse the causes which lie behind it. It is not a movement of to-day or yesterday; it goes back at least 20 years and has continued right up to this date. It springs from a real sense of uneasiness in the Mohammedan mind at the situation created by what they call Hindu Raj.
As many hon. Members know, the Moslem League demanded a Royal Commission of inquiry into the injustices they had experienced in the working of the Act of 1935. I am confident that if that Royal Commission had been appointed, it would have found no substantial grievances. But a distinguished Governor of the United Provinces had placed on record that while there was no major grievance, and while it was not true to say that Governors had neglected their responsibility for the protection of minorities, it was true that there had grown up among the Mohammedan community a feeling that they were under alien rule; that they had no part in the administration; and that in the small places others with the ear of Ministers were able to obtain advantages which were denied to them. This had made Moslems more united and resolute than ever before. That, I think, is one of the things we must recognise if we are going to work for a greater sense of unity in India as time goes on. Surely there is one ques- 1206 tion above all others before us now! Congress Ministers resigned their office—and I hope the House will mark that these Ministers did not resign from any sense of dissatisfaction with their position under the constitution; they were functioning well and efficiently and had every scope for the development of their activities, their policies and their ideas. They were drawn away from office not from any want of confidence by Governors or the Legislative Councils but at the orders of the All-India Congress Committee. I do not say that all interventions of the All-India Congress Committee in Provincial affairs is always a bad thing. Once or twice it has been of advantage; but no doubt it took a form contrary to our own ideas of what a true democracy is.
But our main point is that which has been put so clearly by the right hon. Member for Gorton and endorsed by the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster); it is—Is there a way out of this impasse? For a period since the responsible Ministers withdrew there has been comparative calm. I hope that period will not lead us into a dangerous acquiescence in the embers which lie beneath the impasse and which may be fanned into flames. We have heard a great deal of the two parties, Congress and the Moslem League, which must be brought together. Surely there are four parties which must co-operate if we are to have a real unified constitution for India. There are the Hindus and the Moslem League. There are the scheduled classes and there are the Indian States. How can you ignore Indian States which comprise one-third of India and one-quarter of the population? That is a chimera. Then again there is the Imperial Parliament. It seems to me that however far we may go in giving responsibilities to a body in India for the framing of their own constitution, Parliament cannot entirely devolve its responsibilities; it cannot entirely slough off its share in the work, because it will have to implement by an Act whatever principles may be adopted or whatever recommendations may be agreed upon. I want to urge with all the emphasis I can that we should not be lulled into a sense of false optimism by the comparative quiescence of political feeling in the last six months, but rather seize this opportunity to press 1207 on with any conceivable scheme which will bring the parties together and lay down the principles of a constitution which can be worked.
It is essential that this House should make up its mind that this work must be done in India by an elected body, carrying the confidence of all classes and all major interests. Whether you can draw such a body from the Provincial Councils under the franchise provided for the Federal Assembly in the Act of 1935; or whether you set up a more limited body; or whether you can call the Premiers of the responsible Ministries together, are questions on which I will not dogmatise. I would urge that no stone should be left unturned to get together some body in India, representing as wide interests as possible, to sit down and grapple with this matter, not as mere hot air and throwing out ideas of independence, but to come down to concrete proposals which will compel all of us to clarify our minds and bring this issue to a head. I think this Parliament might send out a message in most definite terms that it accepts to the full the implications of the declaration of the Viceroy at Bombay, that we aim at Dominion status with the full implications of the Statute of Westminster. I think we should say that we are not in the least frightened by the bogy of independence, although we ask Indian politicians to look East and West and North and say what that "independence" would be worth without association with the Commonwealth, and to give the definite assurance that if there is a substantial measure of agreement in India on the basic changes in the constitution, this Parliament will not hesitate, even amid the preoccupations of the war, or with a time limit of not more than 12 months after the termination of the war, to implement these conclusions in an Act in full confidence and with the earnest hope that it will lead, as we believe it will, to the greater prosperity and contentment of that land.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)
I think hon. Members on this side of the House will be thoroughly gratified with the reasonable approach to this problem expressed by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed). But the hon. Member is not alone, and I listened also 1208 with great appreciation to the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster). If these two speeches represent the position of those who support the Government, then there is far more hope for an ultimate solution of this problem than was the case 10 or 15 years ago. But I am afraid that the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State rather cuts across what has been said or implied by the two speeches to which I have referred. The Under-Secretary of State said quite categorically that India could never expect independence. That must be put in striking contrast to the implied considerations of the two hon. Members. I am sorry indeed that the Under-Secretary of State made that statement. It will go out to India, and I am sure will not help matters at the present time. From the standpoint of those who declare that the ultimate goal of India is Dominion status, precisely what is meant by it? If the interpretation of Dominion status is the interpretation which Ireland makes at the present time, it will go very far towards an interpretation of complete independence which some Indians hope to get.
I am not a lawyer, but I rather understand that from the days when the Statute of Westminster was passed it has been possible for some of our Dominions to claim such sovereign rights that they can entirely secede from organic connection with the rest of the Empire. If there is that possibility under the Statute of Westminster will the Under-Secretary of State say so? If he does, it will converge very much on the position taken up by the two hon. Members to whom I have referred. I quite agree that words can be used to mean anything or nothing. That applies, of course, to India and to this country. Some people use the word "independence" in a far less rigid sense than others, and "Dominion status" is so ambiguous that it may mean something in this House and something else to people outside. I think it should be frankly recognised that Indians will insist on securing independence according to their own interpretation, and surely we wish for nothing else. If we wish for anything else we are acting wholly inconsistent with our professions in this war.
Reference has been made by one or two hon. Members to the splendid help 1209 we are getting from India, but some reflection has been cast on what are called the extremists in India. It seems to me to be strange that there should be a predilection for the despotic section of India and a slur cast on extremists, while only recently eight out of the 11 Provinces in India were acknowledged in this House as being in fact administered by the most powerful body expressing the political conscience of India, that is, the Indian National Congress. The 2,000 delegates of the Indian Congress represent the vast mass of politically conscious Indians, and one cannot get over that fact simply by saying that they are extremists. It must be recognised that there are some people who area little over-eager to seize on the admitted communal difficulties in India as an excuse either for refusing any further development towards Indian self-government, or for justifying their claim that independence can never be granted to India because of internal disruption and other dangers.
As far as the Moslem League is concerned, let us recognise that, although it represents a very considerable portion of Moslem India, it is not to be identified with the whole of Moslem India. I regret there has been no statement this afternoon drawing attention to the fact that the present president of the Indian Congress is a Moslem. We have heard less to-day than on the occasion of the last Debate on India regarding the assertion that 80,000,000 or 90,000,000 Moslemsin India are to be found inside the Moslem League. That is not the case. As I have said, this year's president of the Indian Congress is a Moslem of high standing and great scholarship, and he is recognised as having behind him a very considerable following. There are many organisations of Moslems standing apart from the Moslem League, and, if you like, from the Congress as well. I mention these and other facts—such as the fact that the North-West Frontier, although overwhelmingly Moslem, had a Congress majority—in order that it may be appreciated that Moslem India is not necessarily identified with the Moslem League.
What I want to emphasise is that, although we in the British Parliament may conscientiously and legitimately think a continuance of these Proclamations is necessary, we should also not only recognise, but openly admit they are 1210 necessary only relative to a subject people. If it were not so, we should not be discussing them here this evening. We are discussing a continuation of these Proclamations in the light of the fact that the teeming millions of India are subject to British rule. I mention this so that we may fully appreciate yet another fact, that whatever may be our British approach to this problem, however sincere and genuine it may be, it is not necessarily the approach of the people of India. We frequently speak in this House as though what we think is also what the Indians think, or what they should think. The truth is that the majority of politically conscious Indians, those in the eight Provinces that have Congress majorities and large sections in the remaining three Provinces, bitterly resent the continuation of these Proclamations. While they unequivocally denounce Nazi aggression, they also repudiate, with strength and determination, the right of the British Government to involve India in war without her consent and free co-operation.
I emphasise this because I can understand how hon. Members may feel, within their hearts, a deep sense of regret that at the present time India is following a course which they think may embarrass this country. Being British, we have that feeling. But our task is not only to think of our own reactions to the situation, but to realise that the Indian people do not think of themselves as British, but as a distinct nation. They have their own approach to the situation, and however embarrassing and difficult it may be, we must face the fact that many of them think otherwise and demand mutual respect and not patronage and superiority. I should like to read to the House a passage from the speech of this year's president of the Indian Congress, because it may help hon. Members to appreciate a little more what I have tried feebly to express. He said:As far as the war is concerned, India has clearly condemned Nazi Germany.I hope that if any malicious and mendacious person in Germany takes up some of the statements made in this House to-day, he will at least include that one. The president of the Congress went on to say:Our sympathies are with the democratic nations. In such circumstances it was natural to expect that if the British Government had 1211 changed its old Imperialistic mentality, it would change its old methods at this juncture and afford an opportunity to India to feel that she was breathing in a changed atmosphere. But we all know how the British Government behaved in this matter. It decided its course of action and without India being afforded, in any manner, and the slightest degree, an opportunity to declare freely her opinion, her participation in the war was announced.As an illustration of the sense of burning indignity which Indians feel at not being consulted on so grave a matter, I will quote also his point of view and the point of view of 2,000 delegates:The whole world knows, and so do we, how all Empire countries were given freedom of decision. The representative assemblies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland all arrived at an independent decision in regard to their participation in the war without the least outside interference.That is true. It is a thousand pities that there was not at least nominal consultation with the people of India at the beginning of the war. Even if there was no democratic Central Government, there could have been a recognition that in the Provinces of India there was some attempt to establish democratic representation. But those Provinces were not consulted. That is one factor in the present situation which explains in a large measure the bitter determination which Indians feel, as a result of that humiliation, not to accept co-operation in this struggle. I should like to quote from the resolution of the Congress, which was passed by 2,000 delegates to 10, including Moslems, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Hindus and others:This Congress, having considered the grave and critical situation resulting from the war in Europe and British policy in regard to it, approve of and endorse the resolutions passed and the action taken on the war situation by the All-Indian Congress Committee and the Working Committee. The Congress consider the declaration, by the British Government, of India as a belligerent country, without any reference to the people of India, and the exploitation of India's resources in this war, as an affront to them which no self-respecting and freedom-loving people can accept or tolerate.That is the decision of the most representative body in India. Whatever may be our views, and even though we may have profound regret that India is not acting in the way we would like her to do, that is not the point. The point is that India is a free people in her own mind, if not legally. Rightly or wrongly, she has come to the conclusion that she was not 1212 consulted at the beginning of the war and yet was involved in it, and that whatever may be the lip service we pay to freedom in India, we do not intend to treat India as a sovereign nation able by her own volition to decide, as other Dominions do, her own course of action in the future. It may be said that India ought not to resent these Proclamations in view of the war and the embarrassment which that resentment may cause us but the fact remains that that is India's standpoint. We have to go a long way yet in order to appreciate what that standpoint means. It is natural for us, because we are British and not Indian, to feel that India should not have taken this course, but if we brush Indian opinion on one side merely because it is not our opinion, virtually we do the same thing as has been done to Denmark, Norway, Finland, Poland and Czecho-Slovakia. Those countries have been dominated by an alien will and have been told that they must accept the position for their own good, or because it is a natural necessity of the situation. Those countries resent that.
The Indians are in the same position. They say that whatever the English may feel about the matter and whatever plausible or genuine explanations the English may advance, the fact remains that the Indians are under an alien will, and the British are determined that they shall remain under it. Judging from certain statements made by the Under-Secretary this afternoon, it would seem as if we are going to say to the Indian people, "You shall be free provided you agree with us, and as long as you do not claim the right to secede from the British Empire; when you do, or intend to do, that you shall not be free." We would not tolerate such action by Germany towards Denmark. I have a natural interest in Denmark, as my name indicates. Denmark will never tolerate, and we will never tolerate, Germany saying ultimately, "You shall be free provided you do not wish to break away from our domination over you." That is precisely the position in India, and the more we appreciate it the better.
In recent weeks little reference has been made to these matters in the Press. I do not know whether it is assumed there should be no reference to them in the Press because it would be embarrassing. 1213 I think it is a pity there have not been more references in the Press, for a very grave situation has developed behind the scenes in India. Few people realise the arrests, imprisonments, strikes and agitation that have been going on, and have involved the imprisonment of numbers of eminent Indian leaders. The leader of the Congress Socialist party and formerly the acting secretary of the Congress, Mr. Jacprakash Narain, is in prison at the present time. The ex-Parliamentary Secretary to the Department of Agriculture in the United Provinces, Mr. Ajit Prasad Jain, is in prison, as are two other equally prominent men, who were arrested while picketing. The general secretary of the Central Indian States People's Congress, Mr. K. K. Vaidya, was served with a deportation order. I could give many names of conscientious, intelligent, patriots in India who are in prison at the present time, have been served with deportation orders, or are under arrest. There have been strikes in the countryside. There has been a vast strike in Bombay involving 160,000 textile workers. The three leaders have been arrested. There has been discontent on the part of the peasant sugar-cane growers.
I do not state these facts with any glee or satisfaction. It may be said I ought not to say these things because they will be used by the enemy. But surely we have not come to the stage where, through fear of our voice being misinterpreted or maliciously used by the Germans, we should not let it be heard in the rest of the world. We have to-day to raise our voice on behalf of democracy more vigorously than ever before. The Germans will misrepresent us and laugh at us; that is their evil job. We have to ignore that, and say to the world what we know and what we believe, even though it may sometimes mean the exposure of our weakness. In the long run, honesty is the best political policy. It must be recognised that in the eight Congress Provinces, if I may so call them, there has been, until recently excellent administration. I was glad to hear the testimony of the Under-Secretary to the fact that there had been no persecution of minorities, and that this Congress administration had acted efficiently and well. No one can deny that. They are now, for good or ill, out of office, and the result is that this Government, miles 1214 away from that vast land, has to give the lamentable picture to the world of a form of autocratic government. That, I am sure, most of us deplore, because it undermines our stand for freedom and democracy.
The Congress has declared that it is preparing for civil disobedience and non-co-operation. I hope with all my soul that it will not come to that, and that methods of conciliation and co-operation will be used to a large degree. But it remains a fact that these people are Indians, and so strong is their national conviction that they are willing to carry it to civil disobedience and non-co-operation. It is useless for the Under-Secretary to say that we shall not be deterred by threats of that description, for India can also say they too will not be deterred by threats. People with high principles are prepared to go through unlimited suffering for what they believe to be true. As I have said before, we have overstressed the great difficulty of communal diversity, and one reply to that has been already mentioned in the fact that to-day we have a Moslem as the first President of Congress. One factor in the Moslem League's resistance to the demands and proposals of Congress, is that it is or might be a political tactic on the part of the League. Whether that is so or not, are we or are we not going to say definitely at this stage that when we are struggling for freedom in the West, India shall have her freedom and independence in the East, interpreting it in the way she thinks fit? I hope this will be interpreted as voluntary co-operation with this country, even as Canada, New Zealand and Australia interpret their own powers in the form of free co-operation with this country. Equally, as these other Dominions make it quite clear that if they wish to do so they will interpret their powers otherwise, so India wishes to know whether we shall treat her in the same way. Admittedly, communal difficulties do exist, and it may be for the Indians, no less than for ourselves, a long and difficult problem. But if at this time when democracy is challenged we are prepared to implement our promise and establish freedom and independence in India, we shall be doing more than anything within imagination to win India and awaken the peoples of the world to the realities of democracy and freedom.
1215 Involved as we are in this struggle for democracy and freedom to nations and peoples, we must of necessity demonstrate our consistency. Our enemy makes a great deal of our inconsistency, but surely the best answer is not to evade what he says or to abuse him, but to remove the inconsistency and at least make it quite clear that as soon as this tragic episode in the life of man has come to an end, we shall be prepared to implement to the full the demand India makes, and that she shall be recognised, as we recognise other powers in the Western world, as a free sovereign State, willing and able to work out her own salvation. We should see to it that India at the very earliest possible opportunity shall no longer be treated as subordinate to this country, but as a free nation, freely co-operating with us. Then, however lamentable as it may now be to continue these Proclamations and impose this autocratic Government on India, I am sure the people in India will realise that we have turned away from the old conception of Imperialist domination, and that we are sincere in our claim for free co-operation between nations, one with the other, on the basis of human respect.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Miss Wilkinson (Jarrow)
As the previous speaker has said, what is important is not so much the number of Members attending these Debates on India, but the fact that everyone who speaks, as all of us who have been to India know, is in fact speaking to India. We know with what close attention the Indians follow the Debates in this House, and how every little vernacular carries a long verbatim report of what has been said in regard to it. We congratulate ourselves on belonging to this British Empire, but it might not seem such a co-operative commonwealth if we were Trinidad oil workers instead of white men in London. Therefore, it is rather important that we should try to see what we look like to the Indians. The Proclamations we are passing to-day mean that the India Act is dead. Whatever else happens, that Act will not work now in India. That milestone has been passed, and something new will come out of it. It means that we are going to assume enormous powers. The Hindu might smile a little cynically when he reads the 1216 lecture the present Under-Secretary gave of the necessity of minorities coming together on an agreed solution. The Indians do have a sense of humour, and they know quite a lot about our history. That coming from an Ulsterman, after the history of the last hundred years or so, seems quite typical of our present system. It is an instance of the insensitiveness of this Government for the people governed.
The hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) quoted the Ram garb, resolution, which speaks of this as an Imperialist war, and said it was a blatant travesty of the truth. Mr. Nehru is one of my personal friends, and I saw a good deal of him when he was in England. He was in Prague at the time of Munich, and he went to Czecho-Slovakia aflame with anger against what the Nazis stood for. Then he came back and listened to the Prime Minister's speech, that Britain's forces could only be used in Britain's interests, so could you expect him to believe the right hon. Gentleman when he now talks about this being a war for democracy. For one who went through the Spanish campaign, sympathising ardently for the cause of democracy in Spain, and came back and saw how often we condoned Nazi and Fascist intervention, it is clear that you cannot expect the Indians to accept all we say about this war for democracy on its face value. It is really a blatant travesty to an Indian who has been in this country and seen our reactions to the struggle in Europe until our interests were—
§ Miss Wilkinson
It means forgiving this Government a lot; but we know, in spite of the British Government, that we have to win this war for the sake of decent relations between nations, and for the sake of the things in which we believe. I would remind the hon. Member that we on these benches, as Labour Members of Parliament, have our work cut out to convince our own people in this country that a Government like this can fight for democracy, and that a Government like this means what it says about democracy. At meetings of my own trade union members I am often asked whether I believe that these men are fighting for democracy when they say they are, when the Government has 1217 done so much to back up the leaders of Fascism and Nazism. We have had to tell the great industrial areas to forget the Government and to think about the country and realise we are fighting for our very lives and the lives of a great many others too. I assure the hon. Member for Walsall that we have to do that, and if he does not know it, then he is only meeting Walsall society when it has meetings for the Red Cross or the National Savings Association. He will not have to convince them of that fact, but if he goes to the Walsall workers he will meet the same questions which are put to us. If we find it difficult to explain to our own people these facts, imagine how difficult it is to get it across to the Indians. We are not doing anything like enough to explain our cause to the Indian people, or indeed to Europe or America, and such queer people we send to do it.
The important thing for the Indian just now is deeds not words. If I were an Indian, I would not believe one word of what the Prime Minister or the Government said about India. I would ask them, "What are you going to do about it? If you do something about it we will at least examine it." What are the deeds? Some of the names that were quoted by previous speakers are the names of personal friends of mine. Let me take the case of Mr. Jaiprakash Narain. It is a long name and it means extraordinarily little to people of this country. He is a superb man; he is a graduate of an American university and he has a trained scientific mind. He is really the sort of person wanted in any country to help run any kind of administrative machine. He is not one of those hot-air merchants of which every country has plenty, but he is of the good scientific type. When I went on a journey with him in India he had just come out of prison, and he was taken from the train and arrested for another offence. What he had done was no different from what I am doing in politics every day in this country. I have here one of his speeches which I want to quote. It shows that he has some sense of humour. He said:As for the charge of endangering the defence of British India, I think the irony of it cannot be lost upon us. A slave has no obligation to defend his slavery. His only obligation is to destroy his bondage. I hope we shall know how to defend ourselves when we have achieved our freedom.1218 Men who talk like that in this country are quoted 100 or 150 years afterwards in our history books as heroes. He goes on to say what I think is important:I should like to add that, lest as an Englishman you should misunderstand me, I should like to make it clear that in impeding the prosecution of the war, I have no desire to help Germany or to see Germany victorious. I desire the victory neither of Imperialism nor of Naziism. Yet, as a Congressman and a Socialist, I have nothing but good will for the British and German people. If India's opposition to Britain's Imperialist war ensures a Nazi victory, it is for the British people to decide whether they would have a Nazi hegemony or victory with real democracy at home and in India.The interesting thing about that speech is that it shows the influence of Russian propaganda. "Britain's Imperialist war" has run through India like wildfire wherever the Communist contacts are. I know enough about the situation to recognise the language when I see it. It would not have had that effect if Nehru had gone back from Europe believing that the Government which is putting these Proclamations before us to-day was really fighting for democracy in Europe and not for British interests alone. I believe that this country is fighting for decent things in Europe, but I understand what it means when a man like Narain says thinks like that. I have a cable here from the Under-Secretary for Agriculture in the United Provinces:Myself in gaol peaceful labour strike authoritative version being communicated from outside no legislatures here raise question Parliament and Press.When Mr. Jain was last in England he was my guest. He is a moderate, very gentle Indian Labour leader, very concerned about his job in the agricultural department. He spent a lot of time here, not in collecting propaganda, but in seeing how we were doing certain agricultural work. He is again the sort of man whom we want to run the show in India. As it is, he is in gaol.
I want to warn the House, and I think the Under-Secretary needs warning also, that these powers in all probability—I will not say certainty—mean civil disobedience in India. It depends to some extent on how they are used. Our record has not been very good in India since the war started. I would like the Under-Secretary to make some inquiries on how the administration is carried on in India. It is no use coming here and talking 1219 generalities about the British Commonwealth of Nations. We have the Army administration in India and we sweep men and materials into the war just as we wish. It might have been a great nuisance and it might have wasted some time to get the Provinical Ministers and responsible Indians together in order to discuss the matter with them, but in the long run it would have saved an enormity of time and trouble. I do not know whether it is in the Under-Secretary's power, or whether he counts for much in the India Office, but he might see that some ordinary politenesses are used by the military administration in India. Probably, however, the time has gone by now. It is one of those things which the right hon. Gentleman's class does badly; they do not take the people into consideration.
It is no use political spokesmen of that kind getting up and talking about constitutionalism. It does not sound real. It is what you do in India that counts. If we get civil disobedience we must remember what will be the effect in America of every lathi charge against the civil disobedience people. I have seen those charges and they are the beastliest things. You see men and women, mostly men, unarmed by order and utterly defenceless, offering no resistance of any kind, and then the policemen come with their huge bamboo lathis with heavy ends and beat the people on their heads and shoulders. I have seen the results in hospital afterwards. I hope that whatever happens we shall not have that sort of thing repeated, because every blow that goes on a defenceless Indian's head is echoed in America and it will not lose anything by telling. I lectured in America after the civil disobedience movement of 1929–32, and I know what the Indian propagandists will make of everything we do. I appeal to the Under-Secretary for his own British interests to realise that that sort of thing simply cannot happen again. It is not necessary.
I am coming to a part of my speech which will not be appreciated in India, but in honesty it has to be said. We here tend to think of the civil disobedience movement of the 1929–32 period as a purely political movement. I saw India pretty well from end to end; I was the guest of Congress and was living with Congress people nearly the whole time. 1220 I was fortunate enough through introductions given by Lord Lothian to see a good deal of the English administration. I came to the conclusion, which was not the conclusion which my Congress hosts wanted me to draw, that it was much more an economic than a political movement, that the real strength behind it was derived from the fact that the world depression had reached India even before it reached this country and had hit India hard. The hon. Member for Walsall knows far more about this than I do, but when I went into the Indian villages and saw the conditions there, talked to people who were being "sold up" and saw the appalling poverty and unemployment in the towns, I did feel that it was the economic conditions which were giving the dynamic drive and unity to that civil disobedence movement.
The position now is that certain parts of India are doing very well out of the war, in particular the Punjab. They are getting enormous Army contracts. If I may be for a moment a little cynical about India, as I have been cynical about my own people, I would say that it might be wise for the Indian administration to see that not all the Army contracts necessarily go to the Moslems on the ground that they are regarded as being loyal. It would be very unwise to have an economic struggle going on as well as a political struggle. Also, I doubt very much whether, in a time of rising prices, there would be the same bitterness against the Government of the day among a community which is largely agricultural as one gets in a time of falling prices. So it may be—and, there, I think, is the hope in the situation for both sides—that there will not be the same general response to a Congress demand for civil disobedience that there was in 1929. Still, it would be tragic if the Indian administration, which is, of course, well aware of these facts, were to assume that it need not take the threat of Congress too seriously. If it does it will make a frightful miscalculation.
What I think would be a really constructive way of dealing with the matter would be to get into touch with some of the Congress leaders, men like Mr. Nehru and Mr. Narain and with that very shrewd man of the world Mr. Rajagopalachariar, the Premier of Madras, to see whether this was not the 1221 moment when we could really get a solution, even though we might feel the Indians would think that we only take that line because we are in a tight corner. We are not as lacking in friends in India as the younger Congress leaders may seem to think. I was the recipient of much Congress hospitality and among the oddest experiences I recall the number of occasions on which the older men in the movement, men who had been to gaol, some of them just out of gaol, took me on one side and explained that really the English were being too awful for words but that even this treatment was better than anything they would be likely to get from any other quarter. That was why I was very glad to hear the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton),whom I always regard as being the last drip of water from the Tory tap, say that the time had come for that moderate opinion in India to be recognised. Men like Nehru and Gandhi and others whom we have imprisoned are really great human beings, and they do not want to have an Asiatic haggle about things as dear to them as the future of India. They know as well as we do what are the issues which are at stake.
If only we had people in this country who were more flexible to deal with this situation, if only we had men whose actions in the past would make the Indians believe that they meant what they said when they said they were working for freedom and democracy, there might be some hope. When I look at the present holders of office in the present Administration, then I realise that the trouble is that Lord Linlithgow and Mr. Nehru, though they both speak Oxford English, do not speak the same language. That is the tragedy of this situation. What is to be done about it? I know that in this House one is always supposed to turn up with a constructive proposal. We get round that by saying that we have a constructive proposal and then indulge in generalities about the British Empire. I do not wish to indulge in generalities, but I would rather have men like Edward Thompson or the hon. Member for Walsall, whose reputation in India I heard so much about, or some-both with some sensitiveness—anybody except the present Under-Secretary and the present Viceroy and the present Secretary of State—to deal with Mr. 1222 Nehru at the present time. That is the only constructive solution for the present difficulties which I can offer at the moment.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
There are many subjects on which this Government could be condemned and for which it should be removed, and its treatment of this question of India is one of the foremost. I cannot understand how anyone who claims to be a political leader, who claims to be a representative of the people and who has made a study of historical processes, can avoid facing the fact that India is going to be free. It may take some time or it may come about very soon, but the die is definitely cast and all that the leaders of Imperialism in this country can do will never change the trend that history has taken or stop the forces that are making for the freedom of India from the British Empire.
I want to see India independent and free, but I also want to see the Indian people closely associated in the bonds of friendship with the people of this country. The policy which is being pursued by this Government, however, has every chance of destroying the possibility of future friendly relations between the two peoples. The Under-Secretary said to-day that there had been talk in Congress of civil disobedience when their forces were sufficiently organised and I am certain that when the forces are ready, civil disobedience will take place. The Indian people are entitled to take whatever measures are necessary in order to advance the campaign for their own freedom. When the Under-Secretary mentioned that civil disobedience would take place when the forces were strong enough, he followed it with a threat that, if such a situation developed, the necessary action would be taken to carry on the Government. We all know what that means, but it expresses the complete political bankruptcy of the Government.
This political bankruptcy was further expressed in the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). Instead of dealing with the issue which stands before us in connection with India he tried to represent independence as not so important at the moment, and to get us to believe that the communal issue was the important one 1223 which had to be solved, that it could be solved only with the greatest difficulty and that until the communal problem was solved, there could be no question of independence for India. He forgot to mention what earlier speakers mentioned, that this matter was dealt with by the President of Congress in his presidential address in a way which answered in advance the arguments of the Noble Lord. This Moslem President of Congress, Maulana Kalam Azad, said:This untrue picture of a divided India has been deliberately fostered by British officialism to create the idea of two communities so that no demand could be made in the name of a United India.It is the same argument that produced a terrible situation in Ireland 20 years ago and which has since led to partition in Ireland. If the real issue in Ireland had been faced long ago there would be now a free and independent Ireland. We had the tale of two communities, now divided by a partition which does not solve any of the problems but has accentuated all the problems associated with Ireland. In the same way, the attempt is made to leave aside the question of independence in India on the ground that there is a community problem, but once the Indian people had independence and their own Legislative Assembly they would very soon sort out the communal problem. As a matter of fact, communal problems could easily be developed in this country, and in different parts of the country at different times, the communal issue has been worked up by interested parties in order to set sections of the working class fighting against each other. The same is true in Palestine; if Palestine had independence and a Legislative Assembly the communal problem between Jews and Arabs would soon be settled.
The Minister dealt with Congress and the Moslems, but he said nothing whatever about the economic condition of India and how the masses of the people were reacting and would be affected by the proposed Proclamation. Yet it is a fact that according to the broadcast of Mr. Gregory, economic adviser to the Bombay Government, the cost of living has gone up 40 per cent. since the war. I invite hon. Members to visualise the poverty-stricken workers of India and the masses of impoverished peasants, who live under the most hard and difficult condi- 1224 tions, having their cost of living increased by 40 per cent. Does it need anybody to tell them that the war is not in their interests? These masses of working men and peasants, with their hungry children, without a vote or any liberties or rights, have to work and slave all the time for the merest pittance. Does it need anybody to tell them that this is an Imperialist war and not a war in their interests? Maybe the Communists are busy; I hope they are, but it does not need a Communist to tell the masses of the peasants that this is not a war in their interests. On the top of the increased cost of living and the poverty that is imposed on these people, has come the refusal of the employers and the ruling classes to make any advance to them. They have had to fight, and strike after strike has taken place. The Bombay strike was typical.
What followed? While there was a concession of a small percentage of increase for the Bombay strikers, there have been wholesale arrests and imprisonment. There has been talk about German propaganda in India, but the most active German propaganda ever poured into India, this country or any other country, does not affect the workers and the peasants. They do not absorb that propaganda, because they understand that Fascism means the centralised power of the monopoly capitalists and Imperialists for crushing the working class. You do not find the workers affected by German propaganda. In India, that propaganda may attract the Princes and the big bourgeoisie. I ask any Minister or any. Member in this House whether, if it is not the case that in every country where there has been propaganda for a German invasion that the preparations were made by the bourgeoisie. That applied in Norway, Denmark, Poland and Czecho-Slovakia. It is always the bourgeoisie, and it is clearly the bourgeoisie in this country who are shouting most about Nazi propaganda at the present time, who assisted Nazi propaganda and who now want to put other people in prison. In India the wrong' people have been put in prison—representatives of trade unions, Socialists and Communist, representatives of the toiling masses and impoverished peasants. Why did not the Under-Secretary of State say something about them?
How is it possible to suggest that the Indian people should look at the ruling 1225 classes of Britain as anything other than Imperialists who are carrying on the present administrative policy in India? The hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) spoke of Communists going about the country talking about an Imperialist war. The President of the Congress is a Moslem. I do not think it can be suggested that he is under the influence of the Communists, but, in his presidential speech he said:So far as the question of war is concerned, our position is clear. We see the face of British Imperialism as clearly now as we did in the last war and we are not prepared to assist in its triumph by participating in the war. We do not wish to see British Imperialism triumphant and stronger and thus lengthen the period of our own subjection to it.If that is the attitude of the President of Congress, how must these masses of workers and peasants feel? The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) said that one of the factors operating in India was the amount of propaganda that was going through the villages from Russian sources. No matter how manylies may be told in the Press of this country about the situation in Russia, the people of India who are close to the Eastern provinces of Russia understand that those provinces have had a new freedom and are developing a new life and expanding a great culture of their own. So, the masses of the peasants and workers of India are all the time desirous of expressing this feeling for an independent India which will give them an opportunity to live as they should live and to expand a great Indian culture of their own. Support for Congress comes from the masses of the workers and peasants. Make no mistake about that.
It would be easy for the Viceroy to come to some kind of compromise with the Princes or the leading bourgeoisie forces of India, but the masses of peasants and workers are determined to get liberty, and they are entitled to get it. They will go on fighting until they do get it. Instead of the Government suggesting threats against civil disobedience, if we had a Government which was concerned for the welfare of the people of India and the people of this country, if they wanted to save us from going from one disaster to another, they would frankly meet the representatives of the masses of the people and present them with the opportunity they desire of getting a free and 1226 independent India with a Legislative Assembly based upon the widest limits of Indian freedom. I should like to refer to a case that I should have mentioned when dealing with imprisonment to show what can happen, and to ask the Minister what effect such a case as this is going to have on the masses of the people. This is a report of what one of the judges had to say:'I must venture to protest against having to pass what appears to me a perfectly absurd sentence in the circumstances of this particular case' observed Mr. D. C. Hunter, District and Sessions Judge of Cawnpore, when convicting Mr. Jan Mahomed, a 50-year-old Communist leader of Cawnpore, under Sections 121 and 124A of the Indian Penal Code and sentencing him to transportation for life for the former charge and six months rigorous imprisonment for the latter, the two sentences to run concurrently.Transportation for life for making a speech! There is arrest after arrest for making speeches, and even for having literature which is considered to contain "undesirable reports." With that sort of thing going on, it is impossible to have anything other than a bitter feeling of hostility on the part of the masses of the Indian people towards the Government of the country. I say to the Members of this House and to the people of this country, unless we want to drift into irretrievable disaster in connection with the problem of India, the Government has to be removed and we have to get a Government which will approach the question of India with a willing desire to solve it on the terms of independence for the Indian people.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935. by the Governor of Madras on 30th October, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 28th November.
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Bombay on 4th November, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 28th November.
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of the United Provinces on 3rd November, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 1st December, 1939, copies of which were pre-
sented to this House on 28th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively.
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of the Central Provinces and Berar on 10th November, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 2nd December, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on 28th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively.
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Bihar on 3rd November, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 3rd December, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on 28th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively.
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of the North West Frontier Province on 10th November, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 2nd December, 1939, copies of which
were presented to this House on 28th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively.
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Orissa on 6th November, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 2nd December, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on 28th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively."—[Sir H. O'Neill.]
§ The Orders of the day were read, and postponed.