The British Proposals



Broadcast to the people of India from New Delhi, March 30, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 386-388.

I WANT tonight to give you a short explanation of the document, which was published this morning, and which carries the proposals of the British War Cabinet. The document was unanimously agreed upon by every member of the Cabinet.

First of all you will want to know what object we had in view. Well, we wanted to make it quite clear and beyond any possibility of doubt or question that the British Government and the British people desire the Indian peoples to have full self-government, with a constitution as free in every respect as our own in Great Britain, or as of any of the great Dominion members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

In the words of the draft declaration, India would be associated with the United Kingdom and other Dominions by a common allegiance to the Crown, and equal to them in every respect, and never a subordinate in any aspect in her domestic or external affairs.

There is, however, an existing constitution which regulates the central and provincial governments of India. And every one agrees that in these troublous times we cannot here and now set about forging a new constitution. It is far too important a matter for the future of India to be improvised in a hurried way.

New Constitution Outlined

The principle on which these provisions are based is that the new constitution should be framed by the elected representatives of the Indian people themselves. So we propose that immediately hostilities are ended a constitution-making body should be set up under the system of elected representatives from British India, and if the Indian states wish, as we hope they will, to become part of the new Indian Union, they too will be invited to send their representatives to this constitution-making body. Though if they do, that will not of itself bind them to become members of the Union.

That is the broad outline of the future. Now, what is to happen in the meantime? The British people are determined to do their utmost (several words missing) and we are confident that, in that great task, the Indian peoples of all races and religions are eager to play their full part. Let me read you what the statement says on this point:

"In the critical period which now faces India, and until the new constitution can be framed, His Majesty's Government must inevitably bear the responsibility for, and retain control and direction of, the defense of India as part of their world war effort. But the task of organizing to the full the military, moral and material resources of India must be the responsibility of the Government of India, with the cooperation of the peoples of India.

"His Majesty's Government desire and invite the immediate and effective participation of the leaders of the principal sections of the Indian people, in the councils of their country, of the Commonwealth and of the United Nations. Thus they will be enabled to give their active and constructive help in the discharge of the task which is vital and essential to the future freedom of India."

Task of Governor-General

The Governor-General, whose task it is to form the Central Government of India, has done his utmost to assist me with my mission, and I am certain that the Indian leaders can rely on him to find the best way, in consultation with them, to carry out the general principles laid down in the clause I just read you.

So much for the general framework of the proposals. But, as we all know, the most vital and difficult question is that which concerns the interests of the various communities among the Indian people. I'll not attempt to go into any of the historical origins of these difficulties. Let us instead face them as a present fact.

In the great sub-continent of India there is more thanone people—there are many peoples and races—as there are in the great sub-continent of Russia. Our object is to give to the Indian peoples full self-government, with complete freedom as to how they will devise and organize their own constitution.

There are those who claim that India should form a single united country; there are others who say it should be divided up into two, three or more separated countries. There are those who claim that provincial autonomy should be very wide, with a few centrally controlled federal services. Others stress the need for centralization, in view of the growing complexity of economic development.

These and many other various ideas are worthy to be explored and debated. But it is for the Indian people, and not any outside authority, to decide under which of these forms India will in the future govern herself.

If the Indian people ask our help it will, of course, be gladly given. But it is for you, the Indian people, to discuss and decide upon your future constitution. We shall look on with deep interest and hope that your wisdom will guide you truly in this great adventure.

We ask you, therefore, to come together, all religions and races, in a constitution-making body, as soon as hostilities are over, to form your own constitution. We have specified the form which that body will take unless—and this is an important point—the leaders of the principal factions of the Indian people agree among themselves before the end of hostilities upon some other and better form.

That constitution-making body will have as its object the framing of a single constitution for the whole of India— that is, of British India together with such of the Indian States as may decide to join in.

But we realize this very simple fact—if you want to persuade a number of people who are inclined to be antagonistic to enter the same room, it's unwise to tell them that once they go in there is no way out. They might fear being locked in together.

No Obligation Involved

It's much wiser to tell them they can go in, and if they find they cannot come to a common decision, then there is nothing to prevent those who wish from leaving again by another door. They are much more likely all to go in if they have knowledge that they can, by their free will, go out again if they cannot agree.

Well, that's what we say to the Provinces of India. Come together to frame a common constitution. If you find after all your discussion and all the give-and-take of a constitution-making assembly that you cannot overcome your differences, and that some Provinces are still not satisfied with the constitution, then such Provinces can go out and remain out if they wish, and just the same degree of self-government and freedom will be available for them as for the Union itself —that is to say, complete self-government.

We hope and expect to see an Indian Union, strong and united, because it is founded upon the free consent of all its people. But it is not for us Britishers to dictate to you, the Indian people. You will work out and decide your problem for yourselves. So we provide the means and the road by which you can attain that form of the absolute and united self-government which you desire at the earliest possible moment.

In the past we have waited for different Indian communities to come to a common decision as to how a new constitution for a self-government of India should be framed. And because there has been no agreement among the Indian leaders the British Government has been accused by some of using this fact to delay the granting of freedom to India.

We are now giving the lead that has been asked for, and it is in the hands of the Indians, and the Indians only, whether they will accept that lead and so attain their own freedom. If they fail to accept this opportunity the responsibility for that failure must rest with them. We ask you to accept this fulfillment of our pledges in the past, and it is that request that I have put before your leaders in the document which you have now seen.

Minority Communities

In regard to the position of minority communities within the new Indian Union, I am confident that the constitution-making body will make just provisions for their protection. But in view of the undertaking given to those minorities by His Majesty's Government in the past, we propose that in the treaty, which under the draft declaration will be concluded between His Majesty's Government and the constitution-making body, the new Indian Union should undertake to protect the rights of these minorities.

If there should be any non-acceding Provinces a similar treaty provision would be made in respect to minority communities within their borders.

I have already indicated to you the position as to the immediate future. I know that His Excellency the Viceroy has the greatest hope that the acceptance in principle of this document by the leaders of Indian opinion will make it possible for him to start forthwith on the consultations which will enable him to implement the principle laid down in the last paragraph of the document which I have already read over to you.

It contains one essential reservation; that in respect of the responsibility for the war. This reservation does not mean that the Governor-General and the Executive Council will, or indeed could be, excluded from taking an effective share in the council for the defense of India. In this wide-flung war defense cannot be localized in a single country and its preparation must permeate the activities of every department of government and must demand from every department the fullest cooperation.

Direction of Defense

If His Majesty's Government are to take full responsibility for the conduct of the naval, military and air defense of India, as it is their duty to do, then the defense of India must be dealt with by them as part of the world war effort on which they are now engaged, with the direction of that defense directly in the hands of the Commander-in-Chief under the War Cabinet and their highest staff officers.

But, as I have already pointed out, the Government of India must also have an effective share in the defense councils. And so we have decided that the Commander-in-Chief should retain his position as a member of the executive council.

In order, however, that India will have her full voice in this central control of strategy—defensive and offensive—not only in India herself, but in all the inter-related theatres of war, we have invited the appointment of a representative Indian to the War Cabinet and to the Pacific Council of the United Nations.

That is one of the ways in which India will have her full say in the councils of the Commonwealth and of the United Nations as an equal partner. And when it comes to the making of the peace, India will appoint her own representatives to the peace conference, side by side with those of the other free nations, and so make her contribution to the building of a new world order.

I am confident that nothing further or more complete could be done toward the immediate realization of the justterms and demands of the Indian people. Our proposals are definite and precise. If they were to be rejected by the leaders of Indian opinion, there will be neither the time nor the opportunity to reconsider this matter till after the war. And it would be a bitter blow to the friends of India all over the world.

Asks Friendship and Trust

I consider it a high honor that it has fallen to my lot to be the messenger of the War Cabinet in a matter of such vital and far-reaching importance to the future world order. I, personally, am convinced of the soundness and completeness of these proposals. And I ask your leaders to give time and ungrudging acceptance.

There will still be difficulties, perhaps, as a result of the distrust which has grown up between us in past years, but I ask you to turn your back upon that past, to accept my hand, our hand of friendship and trust, and to allow us to join with you for the time being in working to establish and to complete your freedom and your self-government.

This, as you may know, has long been a cause dear to my heart and it is with the greatest hopes that I look to the events of the last few days which may, if wisely handled, seal forever your freedom and our friendship.

Your country today is in peril from a cruel aggressor, an aggressor whose hand is soaked in blood and suffering upon China with its peaceful and democratic people, an aggressor

allied to those nations who deluge with tragedy the once-peaceful plains of Russia. Against those aggressors we of the Allied Nations will fight to victory.

Victory in War Certain

The outlook is overcast for the moment, but believe me, I have no doubt as to the final result. Russia, the United States, China and Great Britain have resources which the Axis and its allies can never defeat. We stand by our agreement remembering our past historical associations. We will give you all the protection that we can, but with your willing help and cooperation that protection can be made more effective and more vital.

Let us enter upon this primary task for defense of India with the knowledge that when we emerge from the travail of war it will be to build a free India upon foundations wrought by the Indian peoples themselves, and to cement a long, lasting and free friendship between our two peoples.

Regrets and recriminations as to the past can have no place beside the confidence and sure hopes of the future, when a free India will take her rightful place as a coworker with the other free nations in that world reconstruction which alone can make the toil and suffering of the war worth while.

Let us march together side by side through the night of high endeavor and courage to the already waking dawn of a new world of liberty for all the people.