HL Deb 07 July 1921 vol 45 cc1017-28

LORD SYDENHAM rose to ask the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he can state what steps the Government of India is taking to protect the lives and property of Europeans and loyal Indians in country districts where anxiety prevails. The noble Lord said: My Lords the Council of the European Association at Calcutta has lately addressed the Government of Bengal, drawing attention to what it calls the "feeling of insecurity existing among Europeans," and it has begged the Government of Bengal that "steps be taken to protect the lives and property of law-abiding Europeans and loyal Indians, and so establish law and order that boycott by intimidation may become impossible." The immediate cause of that very strong appeal was that Gandhi's agents were travelling all over the division of Chittagong and endeavouring to incite hatred and contempt of Europeans among Indians. The European Association stated its belief that this propaganda work has taken place with the knowledge of the Government and that the Government was reluctant to do anything which might be misrepresented as repression, for fear of prejudicing the success of the recent reforms.

The European Association is certainly not an alarmist body. On the contrary, I think it was extraordinarily slow in realising what the inevitable effects of the policy and the methods of the Secretary of State must be, of the results of which this House received plain warnings, but which have developed much more rapidly than even the greatest pessimist among us expected at the time. I therefore beg your Lordships to believe that the Association did not make this strong appeal without more than adequate reasons, and it is those reasons which induced me to put down the Question which I ask this afternoon.

India is so vast that you cannot possibly form a really true opinion of the situation in India as a whole at any time, and the public here never hears a fraction of what is happening in the country districts. In the large towns, when a riot occurs, we are immediately informed of it, and also of the number of casualties. We have two such reports, and very serious reports, to-day, from Aligarh and Madras, but in some of the country districts there has been quite a considerable loss of Indian lives, and we in this country have never known that it had occurred. The unhappy residents of Chittagong have lately described the position in which they now find themselves, and they say this:— The trade of the place has come to a standstill, and foodstuffs are selling in the bazaar at famine prices. The banks are doing no business, and co-operators with the Government live in daily terror of assaults. The town is picketed with non-co-operators, and law-abiding citizens are prevented from attending to their daily work by constant abuse, intimidation, and threats of violence to their womenfolk. This is called nonviolent non-co-operation. That is a picture of flagrant lawlessness, and the residents ask: "When will Chittagong be reconquered by the British Government?"

And precisely the same conditions as those prevail in other parts of India. A European writes from Tippera:— Not a bungalow here has a servant, and we are having to cook our own food. The bazaar people 'sill not sell us food unless we pay double the price a native pays. For an Englishwoman to have to cook in the heat of India is really a most serious hardship. Your Lordships are aware of what has happened in many of the tea gardens of Assam and Bihar, where the poor, ignorant coolies have been induced to trek to the railway stations, abandoning or selling at absurd prices all their small possessions. At the stations they squatted without any food, and at length the Government provided them with passes to their native villages, where, of course, they will find themselves absolutely stranded. Cholera broke out among them, and between 300 and 400 of them have already died, while the survivors will spread the disease to the villages where they have already gone. The idea of these senseless and cruel proceedings—which are exactly the same as those which Gandhi tried and carried out in Natal some years ago—is, of course, to destroy the tea industry, which we have built up to the very great advantage of India.

One object of Gandhi's movement is to obtain control of the domestic servants, so as to be able to withdraw them whenever he chooses. In some cases this has been accomplished, and the position of our countrymen and countrywomen is becoming almost impossible. The European in India, as any of your Lordships who have been there must know, is absolutely dependent upon his servants, and during the Mutiny there were numerous touching instances of the lives of our people being saved by the devotion of their servants at the risk of their own lives. Gandhi is making great efforts to induce the domestic servants to hate their employers, and to leave them helpless whenever he chooses to give the word of command.

There are also parts of India now where the position of Europeans is becoming almost intolerable. Our women dare not go out without escorts, and they are obliged to have arms constantly by their side. Most officials and non-officials are liable in many eases to insult in open day, while in parts, where a few years ago you could go in perfect freedom, life is no longer safe. Almost the only places in which the European now enjoys freedom from insult are the Native States, where the chiefs have declined to give up their authority. In some parts of India the district officers can no longer tour because they are deprived of supplies, and they are therefore cut off from their people, with the object of rendering them contemptible in the eyes of their people, whom they have been helping to rule. In Rangoon, as a result of the Caliphate agitation, the municipal engineer was dragged out of his car, and his face was smeared with mud. The Burmans have no more to do with the Caliphate question than the Tibetans have to do with Irish Home Rule, but the great artificial agitation which has been set up in Burma, being carried there from India, has so much alarmed the Government of India that, as I said the other day, it suddenly changed its mind and demanded the instant application of the Government of India Act to Burma.

The recent outbreak at Rajshahi gaol was preceded by reports that Gandhi was going to pay- a visit, and that British rule had ceased. The Government of Bengal reported on this very serious incident, and they said the situation was saved by the European district officers, who displayed "conspicuous energy, resource and activity." Within a very few years there will be no fearless British officers to deal in that way with situations, which will then be far more serious. The Government of Bengal went on to say that this outbreak was the outcome of the unrest and want of respect for established authority which have been so widely spread by Mr. Gandhi's propaganda. But all that is the result really of a Government which has ceased to rule. And that is a condition which, all through the East, very quickly brings its own nemesis.

The predecessor of the noble Earl had a specific for dealing with Gandhi's Satyagraha movement, which has developed since into the non-co-operation movement. Speaking, on behalf of the Government, in this House on July 19 of last year, he said:— Do not interfere too hastily or too violently with an agitation of this nature. Let it kill itself as, in time, it will. The noble Earl must have learned since then that this movement has developed into far greater dimensions than it had at that time, and that the agitation now seems as if it might before long pass beyond the control of the Government. The fact is that this movement of Gandhi's is a new feature in our experience in India. It is an experience which the Government of India have never quite had before, and the Government of India may have underrated it, or they may have regarded it as too serious and too dangerous to resist.

We have never yet had an Indian leader who was accepted as of Divine origin, and now there are Many millions of Indians who believe that Gandhi can raise men from the dead by a few words, and that he is already the ruler of India. I MU afraid that the Viceroy's five interviews with him will greatly strengthen that belief among the ignorant masses of India. The success of those interviews may be judged by the statement which Gandhi subsequently sent to the Press. In it he said:— The Ali brothers, like me, continue wilfully to break the law of sedition, and therefore to court arrest. Sooner or later, and that during this year, if we can carry the country with us, we must bring about a situation when the Government must arrest us or grant the people's demands. That means that Gandhi believes that if be and the Ali brothers are arrested, there will. be risings all over India, and that he will be able to say that that is entirely the fault of the repressive measures of the Government. On the other hand, if they are not arrested and are allowed to carry on their present propaganda in the way in which it is now being conducted, the time will come when our position in India will become practically impossible.

In our time I know of no parallel to the Gandhi movement, except the remarkable career of the Mahdi in the Sudan, and the Mahdi's career cost the Sudan tens of thousands of lives. Already Gandhi is responsible for the loss of many more Indian lives than was caused in suppressing the most dangerous rebellion that India has ever seen.

I must warn your Lordships that our authority in India is steadily waning at the present time, and that there is no other authority which can possibly stand in its place. Gandhi's plan of making life impossible to Europeans in India is much more dangerous than a rising, which can always be met face to face and put down, I could give your Lordships numerous instances to show what white men and women have to endure in India, where the object is to reduce their position to that of a beleaguered garrison cut off from necessary supplies and services.

The European Association has made four specific suggestions which, as the noble Earl has seen them, I will not quote. I do not for a moment expect him to give any details of the steps which are taken or to be taken, but I hope he will be able to say that the Government of. India realises the growing gravity' f the situation, understands where the stirring up of race hatred among the ignorant and fanatical masses must lead us, and is preparing to take steps to save the situation before it is too late. In parts of India now crime and corruption are steadily growing, and intimidation is rampant, as it is in different degrees in Ireland, in Egypt, and in Palestine, where also minorities are doing their best to attack the British Empire. We have even seen lately an attempt to produce a sort of terror in this country.

Before long the masses of India will acutely feel the effects of the lapse of the authority which has given them security and order in the past, and will also feel the growing inefficiency of Government in many of its Departments. Believe me my Lords, they will unhesitatingly throw the whole blame of this upon us, and then they will demand, as the extremists are now doing, that British rule in India should be brought to an end. Then, as has happened in all the long centuries of Indian history where rule has lapsed, there will come a chaos which, in my opinion, will be deeper and darker than the chaos which followed the collapse of the Mogul Empire. I beg to ask my Question.


My Lords, when I first saw my noble friend's Question upon the Paper I was in sonic doubt as to what his motive could have been in asking it, because the suppression of disorder and the protection of life and property is the duty of the executive Government of India, as of the Government in every country in the world. And I feel that I might, perhaps, have answered my noble friend in a sentence by saying that in order to protect the lives and property of Europeans and loyal Indians the Government will take Whatever steps appear to them to be necessary in any situation which may develop from day to day.

Parliament is entitled to assume that the executive 'Government will fulfil this elementary duty of every Government, at any rate until it has evidence to the contrary. It is not the function of Parliament to tell the. Executive how to carry out such a duty as this, though, of course, it is the right and proper function of Parliament to criticise the Executive for any error for which they may be responsible in fulfilling this particular function. When the noble Lord's Question appeared on the Paper I was not sure whether his object was to state that the Government had failed in any respect in the past in its duty of protecting the lives and property of the citizens of India. I am not quite sure now, having heard the noble Lord's speech, whether that is really his motive. He has drawn a very gloomy picture of the state of affairs in India, and one to which, I can assure him, I am not prepared to subscribe. I cannot for a moment agree with him when he says that the only place where a European is not insulted in the streets is in the Native Indian States. Even so, I did not gather from his speech that he wished to hold the Government responsible for the picture which he had drawn, supposing it had been a true one. But I may say to him that if he will formulate a charge against the executive Government in India, so far as the Secretary of State is responsible for it, I am prepared at any moment to meet him and defend it against any criticism which he may raise.

I was rather disposed, on the whole, to believe, at any rate until I heard the noble Lord's speech, that his object in placing his Question on the Paper was to give me an opportunity of correcting somewhat the picture of the state of affairs in India which has been drawn recently in the newspapers, and of assuring your Lordships of the confidence which His Majesty's Government feel in those who are now responsible for the executive Government in India. Anyhow, with your Lordships' permission, I wish to take this opportunity of saying a few words in that sense. I can find no justification for the statements which have been recently made in the Press and for the picture which the noble Lord has just presented to the House. It is true that from time to time messages are sent by the Calcutta correspondent of the Morning Post describing in very lurid terms the situation in India; but your Lordships can judge what value to attach to this informant when I remind the House that a few weeks ago this same correspondent was responsible for circulating a story that there had been a mutiny in a Sikh regiment which had resulted in the disbanding of the unit after eighteen men had been shot. I have no doubt that report was widely believed in this country. But we found, on investigation, that there was no shadow of truth of any kind in the statement, and I can only believe that it was circulated with the direct purpose and object of discrediting the Government in India at the present time.

Then my noble friend has referred to the European Association. He says that this Association is not an alarmist body. I am afraid I find it very difficult to agree with him in that matter. But whatever may be the views of the Association itself, he will hardly, I think, deny that the paid agent and lecturer of that Association in this country at this moment is most certainly an alarmist source of information. The Rev. P. Sanderson, who is, I understand, the representative, agent, and lecturer of the European Association in this country, is now going about lecturing to the people, and inserting articles in the newspapers, to the effect that the lives of Englishmen in India are in danger, and that officials of the Civil Service are so hampered by the India Office that it is impossible for them to do their duty or to enforce the law.

Lately he has been writing to Members of Parliament to tell them that the Government are expecting a rising in Bihar this month; that inadequate protection had been provided; and that all English women whom sickness has prevented from leaving at once will certainly be murdered with every circumstance of outrage and horror. These are the words used by the European Association which, my noble friend says, is not an alarmist body. I can conceive of nothing more mischievous, and of no greater disservice, either to the Government or to the welfare of the people of India, than that the people of this country should be given a picture of that kind at the present time. Surely, it is the duty of any man who receives information which entitles him to believe that there is a critical situation in India, calling for prompt protective measures, to place the evidence upon which he relied for those statements before the Government, in order that they might take the opportunity of providing the necessary protection. The very persons from whom this gentleman withholds his information are the only people who can take the necessary steps to deal with it, if it is true.

On receipt of letters from Members of Parliament to whom Mr. Sanderson has been writing, we telegraphed to the Government of India to find out what truth there was in his statements, and we received a reply from the Viceroy to the effect that those statements had been grossly exaggerated, and that the situation, which in May was creating a great deal of anxiety, had by now been considerably relieved. We were assured that so far as the Government were concerned no rising is anticipated. Moreover, we were told that at no time did the Government, or any official on behalf of the Government, state that a rising was expected in Bihar, though such a statement was made by an officer of the Bihar Light Horse to his men. This statement, which Mr. Sanderson has been circulating with improvement of his own, owes its origin really to the fear of the planters themselves, because this Bihar Light Horse is a body composed, I understand, largely of planters. Their anxiety is very intelligible, and is an anxiety with which I greatly sympathise, but the statement did not originate, as Mr. Sanderson has been saving, from any official source. The telegram concludes by saying that, according to the latest reports, the agitation has now declined in bitterness; that the feeling against Europeans is less evident; and that the planters themselves are less apprehensive of trouble.

I do not want to err on the other side, in rebutting what I think are the grave exaggerations of my noble friend, by drawing a fanciful or in any way rosy picture of the state of affairs in India. The situation there is quite serious enough, and the anxieties of those upon whom the responsibilities of Government rest are grave enough without these calculated misrepresentations. As your Lordships are aware, the whole world at this moment is filled with a dangerous, and, I think, unprecedented spirit of unrest and disorder. There is hardly a country in the world in which the Government has not ample cause for anxiety, and where methods of agitation quite unprecedented are not proceeding.

India certainly has not escaped this epidemic. We are often told that there are 300,000,000 in India, most of whom are ignorant, uneducated, excitable and superstitious people, and the noble Lord has again reminded your Lordships this evening that there has been carried on amongst that population an intensive campaign of anti-Government and anti-British sentiment by a man who is not only a popular figure, not only revered and respected for his private life, but is, as the noble Lord has said, believed to possess supernatural powers, and, by some, to have divine origin. I think it says very much for the good sense of the people of India, awl for the wisdom and discretion of the Executive authorities in that country that, given those circumstances, the situation is not very much worse than it is.

The noble Lord has referred to what Lord Sinha said two years ago. The non-co-operation campaign has, it is true, been carried on with the greatest intensity, and with every effort which Mr. Gandhi and his followers can summon to their aid. So far as it has gone at present it has conspicuously failed in its object. Its appeal to the educated classes failed lamentably. It is true that there was a temporary success when it turned from the educated classes to the young students. Even that phase has passed by. A temporary success has been gained by helping to harness the non-co-operation movement to the labour disturbances which exist in India as in all other countries. The noble Lord has referred to the success —if it may be so described—achieved amongst the coolie tea planters in Assam. The campaign, having failed in all other directions, is at the present moment making a special effort among the ignorant and excitable masses in India. I do not deny, for a moment, that that means a very much more dangerous phase in the campaign, a phase which must occasion the gravest anxiety to the Governments who are responsible for preserving order when such a thing is going on.

I think that the worst features at the present moment are the attempts to boycott individuals, and to endeavour to withdraw from service the domestic servants upon whom, as my noble friend says, Europeans in India are specially dependent. But when my noble friend says that the interviews which Mr. Gandhi recently had with the Viceroy have only tended to increase his importance and the belief in his divine origin, I must disagree with him. I think the opposite is proved out of Mr. Gandhi's own mouth. The mere fact that he found it necessary to explain and excuse himself to his followers for having met the Viceroy to discuss the situation is a proof that the result is not, as the noble Lord said, to increase the power and popularity of Mr. Gandhi, but to make it necessary for him to defend his action.

The present phase of the campaign in India is a very dangerous and anxious one, and to ask, at such a time, whether the Government is alive to the danger seems to me to be really asking a superfluous question. There is not a single Provincial Government in India at this moment which is not fully alive to the danger, and if it is suggested that the Government are not to be relied upon to take what steps are necessary I again venture to disagree entirely from the noble Lord. If he will bring any specific charges against the Government I shall be prepared to defend their action. So far as the Earl of Reading is concerned, he certainly needs no words of mine for his defence. He has only- recently gone to India. He left this country with the complete confidence not only of your Lordships' House but of almost every section of opinion in the country, and since he has been there he has done nothing whatever to forfeit that confidence, but a great deal to enhance the reputation he took to India.

The very incident of the exodus of the coolies from Assam to Eastern Bengal is a matter which, but for the discretion, wisdom and promptitude of Lord Ronald-shay's Government, might have proved very much more serious than it was. The noble Lord has spoken of from 300 to 400 cases of death from cholera amongst the coolies. I have no official information which will substantiate those figures. We were informed of 150 deaths front cholera at the end of May. It may be that by now the figures have increased to something like double the number, hut I am unable to confirm the figures. I have no hesitation in saying that but for the prompt and effective action taken by Lord Ronald-shay's Government the situation and the casualties would have been much worse.

It may be said with regard to Bihar, where trouble has been recently anticipated, that because we have an Indian Governor we have less cause to feel confidence in his efficiency. I feel it is only right and due to Lord Sinha to say that His Majesty's Government have absolute and complete confidence in the efficiency, courage and wisdom of his administration. He has recently shown all these qualities in a circular which he issued to the officers in his Province setting forth the official attitude of his Government towards the non-co-operation movement. That document lacked nothing in the way of precision or courage, and it called forth at once very vigorous protests, criticisms and abuse, from the vernacular Press. Lord Sinha is in a very difficult position, and I think he may be trusted to deal with it with courage and discretion.

I have tried to correct in sonic respects, from information supplied to us in answer to direct questions from the Viceroy himself, the picture drawn by the noble Earl. I hope he will take some comfort from my assurance. Let me say that if he feels any anxiety with regard to the situation in India and desires specific information, I shall be always at his service. I hope Ire will seek to obtain his information from that source and will not be led astray by what I cannot help regarding as certainly the alarmist and exaggerated, and in many cases deliberately exaggerated, accounts of what is taking place in India, which appear in the Press. I beg him also not to lose confidence in those who are holding the positions of Viceroy and Governors of Provinces in India; at any rate, until they have done something to deserve it. He himself has held with great distinction such a post, and, therefore, knows what are the difficulties and the responsibilities of the Governor of an Indian Province. Those difficulties and anxieties are greatly increased at the present time. The men on the spot, in these circumstances, are entitled to the support of the people at home, and in spite of the exaggerated opinions in the Press I can assure your Lordships that, so far as the Government are concerned, they have their full and unabated confidence.


May I thank the noble Earl for his very complete reply to my Question? I cannot help saying that he has attacked me for things I never said. I never spoke of the danger of a rising. I spoke of a rising as being a less dangerous thing than non-co-operation in its effect upon the lives of our countrymen. He spoke as though I had attacked some one. I was not attacking any one, still less was I making any sort of reflection on Lord Sinha in Bihar, whose recent circular I know of and who has been attacked by his fellow countrymen in consequence of it. I am glad to know that the noble Earl looks upon this non-co-operation movement, as I do, as a very serious danger. I am glad to learn that he agrees with me absolutely on that point. Therefore, I do not think I have done any harm in raising this matter this afternoon.

House adjourned at seven a clock.