HL Deb 12 November 1919 vol 37 cc248-52

LORD SYDENHAM rose to ask the Under-Secretary of State for India who is responsible for the selection of a Chitpavan Brahman as the representative of the Indian working classes at the Washington Conference.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I put this Question upon the Paper because of the strong protests which I have received from the People's Union and the Kamgar Hitwardhak Sabha of Bombay, which I know to be bodies really representative of the working classes. I have also received a strong expression of opinion from the Indian Liberal Federation of Trichinopoly. The People's Union has as patron the Maharaja of Kolhapur, who has courage- ously championed the cause of the non-Brahmins and depressed classes in his State, and who has been bitterly attacked by the Brahmins in consequence. The People's Union pointed out when Mr. Joshi was appointed that his connection with "bodies entirely financed by capitalists and mill-owners makes it impossible for him to represent labour in the true sense." The Kamgar Sabha stated that it "learned with alarm" the selection of Mr. Joshi, and also pointed out that it "has found him connected with bodies founded and subsidised by mill-owners, and has no confidence in him as a representative of labour."

To any one who has lived in India it seems almost like a practical joke to appoint a Brahman to represent labour, although there are exceptional Brahmins who have devoted themselves to the lower and working classes. No one who has lived in India can fail to be aware of the great ability of the Brahmins and of the very great services which they have rendered to the Government, but they are the most privileged class remaining in the world, and it is a very remarkable thing that this privileged class should have captured the Labour Party. It has been correctly said that the ascendancy of the Chitpavans over every other Brahman sept in Maharashtra is undisputed. There are historical reasons to account for the large number of them who have taken part in a great many revolutionary movements. I notice that a Home Rule paper published in London which resents this appointment for reasons quite different from my own, states that before leaving Bombay Mr. Joshi made a speech in which he said that "he was at a loss to see why the Government had selected him," and he added that "he could not claim that right, as he had never worked with the labourers. He was confident that the Government could have found a man who not only lived and worked with the labourers, but who had made a special study of Indian Labour problems." This frank statement does great credit to Mr. Joshi, but it does not help Indian labour.

My information is that the Bombay Government nominated a man whom I happen to know to be specially qualified. Therefore it is clear that strong influences must have been brought to bear upon the selecting authority, either in India or here, to appoint a Brahman, and the selection seems to have been made with the idea of propitiating what is called the Moderate Party. It is curious that just the same mistake was made before. When the Franchise Committee was appointed two Hindu members, both Brahmins, were appointed. In consequence of that, which I think was a serious blunder, the non-Brahmins, who form the vast majority of the population of Madras and who were led by the late Dr. Nair, refused to appear upon the Committee. This is not a small matter. It may be said to affect two hundred millions of people, nearly all illiterate and helpless for whose well-being we are in a special sense responsible.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I express my regret that he should have brought into the speech with which he introduced this Question any reference to the Chitpavan Brahmins. It is proverbially dangerous to indict a nation, and I should have thought it was equally dangerous to indict a community. The community with which this gentleman is connected, the Chitpavan Brahmins, are thus described by Sir Valentine Chirol, one sentence from whose book was, I think, quoted by the noble Lord. Sir Valentine Chirol says— Amongst the Chitpavans are to be found many of the most enlightened and progressive Indians of our time, and many have served the British Raj with unquestioned loyalty and integrity.'' In the Report of Mr. Justice Rowlatt's Committee this is what is stated with regard to the Chitpavans— A few words are necessary on the position of the Chitpavan Brahmins in Western India at the present time. Poona has remained their headquarters. They have continuously shown high intellectual capacity. They have furnished the Bombay Presidency with its two best political thinkers, Ranade and Gokhale, and the Poona Press with its most influential journalists, Telak and Paranjpe. They have provided Western India with most efficient teachers and officials. If a comparatively small body of impressionable young men of this community have imbibed revolutionary ideas, and carried their ideas to the point of political assassination, it must not therefore be supposed that the community as a whole is disaffected. I am sure my noble friend did not intend to make any reflection on the Chitpavan Brahmins as a class, and it is only in order that there might be no misapprehension in India that I feel obliged to express my regret that the word should have been introduced into the Question when there was no occasion for it.

Mr. Joshi no doubt is a Brahmin, but he is a member of a society well known to my noble friend, and during the time that he (Lord Sydenham) was Governor in Bombay that society—known as the Servants of India Society—enjoyed his patronage and favour. Mr. Joshi is a member of that society, and as such his chief work has been that of social service amongst the industrial classes in Bombay. It was as such that he was nominated by the Viceroy, who had before him the names of Mr. Joshi as well as the gentleman to whom Lord Sydenham referred. The nomination under the Article of the Peace Treaty relating to the election of delegates for the Labour Conference rests with the Government of India, and the Viceroy is well within his right, I submit, in nominating Mr. Joshi, who is known throughout India as one of the most indefatigable social service workers for the industrial classes. The Viceroy considers that no better selection could have been made.

The appointment of Mr. Joshi has been acclaimed in Bombay, both in the Press and on the platform, and the mill hands themselves consider that he is the best delegate that could be appointed. It was after the mill hands had expressed in a public meeting that, being unorganised, they could not elect for themselves, the Viceroy proceeded to nominate Mr. Joshi. In a letter which I have the authority of the gentleman who wrote it to read publicly, it is stated— It is impossible to find any representative workman, for unfortunately the standard of education is very low, and in these circumstances His Excellency chose Mr. Joshi, who, I believe, has the confidence of the mill hands to the full, and will prove an excellent representative. There is no doubt that Mr. Joshi himself is an extremely modest man, and he did say at a meeting in Bombay which gave him a send-off that far better men than himself could have been found by the Government if they desired to do so, but that, having been selected by the Government, he would do his best to perform the duties entrusted to him. I do not think, my Lords, that that modest disclaimer of Mr. Joshi of his own merits can be taken to prove that the Government of India has made a wrong selection, and I can assure my noble friend that his appointment was not due to any pressure exercised either here or on the Government of India by tile Moderate or any other party.


I should like to say that I had not the slightest intention of reflecting in the least upon the Chitpavans. I have known many of them and like them, and I am well aware of the very great services that they have rendered to the Government. It merely happens that I mentioned, as is historically the fact, that there are reasons which quite naturally have made Chitpavans take hostile action against the Government.

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