BRITAIN HAS NO FEAR OF THE VERDICT
By LORD HALIFAX, British Ambassador to the United States
Delivered Before the National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C., January 28, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 341-345.
I FEEL it a great privilege to be here tonight, on the invitation of the National Geographic Society, with its large and distinguished membership and an interest that ranges over all the lands and peoples of the world. And for many reasons I am glad that the subject on which you have asked me to address you is India. For all who have had the honor of serving India hold in their hearts forever the love of that historic land, which is the cradle of so large a part of the entire human race, and where the hand of nature has worked a pattern of such infinite variety.
I am glad, too, for another reason. During the past two years, public opinion in the United States has followed events in India with a new attention.
And this is natural, because India, like Britain or any of the Dominions of the British Commonwealth, is your partner in a great and exacting enterprise, and when peopleare in a big job together, they rightly want to know all they can about their partners.
As regards the war effort, I scarcely think that what India has put into the pool has always been fully apprehended. Yet it is quite remarkable. The Indian Services—Army, Navy, and Air Force—have grown to more than ten times their peacetime size; all by voluntary recruitment; and wherever they have met the enemy in Africa or Asia, have taught him to respect the quality of Indian fighting men. Equally impressive is the achievement of India's industry, which is now producing at a rate and on a scale undreamed of in India's history. Ships, tanks, armored vehicles, guns, rifles, uniforms, boots—the list amounts to a total of some 20,000 different products needed in a modern war.
When the formidable problems of supply and communications have been overcome, as they will be, and India marches, as she will, to the reconquest of captive Burma, and the Japanese are thrown out, as they surely will be from the lands they have invaded, none will decry the worth and dimensions of India's contribution.
Of this record India, then, has no cause to be ashamed. It certainly is not the record of a people disinterested in the war, or fermenting with rebellious discontent. And that brings me to a third reason why I am glad to have the opportunity tonight of speaking about India.
Misunderstanding of the Indian Situation
As I have travelled through this great country, I have found, side by side with a genuine interest in India and her problems, a not less genuine misunderstanding of the situation. It would indeed be surprising were it otherwise; for, when we reflect how easily we misjudge our nearest neigh- j bors, it is scarcely to be expected that all your people should judge fairly of Indian problems from which they are removed by vast spaces of land and sea.
The farther away you are from India, the easier her problems seem; and I shall certainly feel that I have not wholly wasted your time, if I may to any extent succeed in giving you a picture of India as she is, and conveying to you some impression of her complexities.
I suppose that if you were to ask the average American who had not given particular study to Indian affairs what was the rock-bottom of the trouble, he would reply that Britain had deprived India of freedom and was reluctant to restore it. It is always attractive to find a short, simple view which appears to dispense us from the necessity of further mental effort. And in different ways we are all prone to yield to this temptation. But such a view of the Indian riddle leaves too much out to stand up against the facts. The whole course of Indo-British relations since 1600 is against it—and if you will bear with me for a few moments I will remind you of what these were.
The Beginnings of Indo-British Relations
Traders from Britain first went to India about 1600. The Mogul Empire, which ruled over the North and Center and stretched its tentacles out West, East and South, was then at the zenith of its power. We have many accounts of the splendor of that Empire; and we can recapture something of its glory from its buildings, which display more vividly than words the wonders of that by-gone age.
Most famous among these buildings is the Taj Mahal, the supreme example of its kind, whose architecture, it has been said, reflects the touch of sadness inseparable from all perfect beauty. Its builder was Shah Jehan, who erected it in memory of his wife, and you may recall the tradition that, when it was completed, he put out the eyes of the architect so that nothing like it should ever be built again. Years later, so the tradition goes, when he had lost his throne and was imprisoned in the Fort of Agra, he was allowed to look through a small window at the exquisite memorial created at his command.
Perhaps that story was a parable of the Mogul Empire, which was to fade so completely from the human scene, but which in its day of splendor held such sway in India.
But, even then, vast areas of the country survived as independent States. In the course of the seventeenth century and in the first part of the eighteenth century, Mogul Emperors, in an endeavor to extend their frontiers, embarked on an exhausting series of wars, which in turn provoked a military renaissance among their Hindu subjects. The rise of the Mahratta Confederacy was not only a leading factor in the disintegration of the Mogul Empire, but led to the appearance of numerous sovereign princes and to the pattern of the Indian States, which in many respects survives unchanged to this day.
The important point to note is that no thought of conquest was in the minds of the Englishmen who began to trade in India in the seventeenth century. They formed themselves into the East India Company and sought from the Mogul Emperor permission to carry on their business. They asked merely for the protection of Mogul law and order for their caravans and factories, and only applied for leave to fortify their trading stations when they found that, in fact, the Emperor was unable to protect them.
From 1600 to about the middle of the eighteenth century, the policy of the British in India was inspired by the famous despatch of Sir Thomas Roe, the Ambassador of King James I, who arrived at the Court of the Emperor Jehangir in 1615. "Do not waste money," he urged, "on military adventures, on acquiring territories and maintaining garrisons, as do the Portuguese and the Dutch, who seek plantation by the sword. Let this be received as a rule, that if you will profit, seek it at sea and in a quiet trade." So for some 150 years, Britain's relations with India were confined to trade, and were similar to those of the United States today with South America or Australia.
In the middle of the eighteenth century, however, the warring States of India began to realize the superiority of European weapons and to compete for the help of European gunners and trained soldiers.
In consequence, the French and British, as the two principal trade rivals, were drawn into conflict with each other as allies of one or other of these warring States. Through several wars between 1746 and 1761 this rivalry was settled in favor of the British, but with the result that we found ourselves inextricably involved in politics where hitherto our only interest and occupation had been trade.
Disintegration of the Mogul Empire
The principal date that the schoolbooks mark in this period is 1757. In that year, the English Company's clerk, Clive, with 3,000 troops defeated at the Battle of Plassey an army of 50,000 men under Siraj-ud-Dauia, the man who nominally ruled Bengal for the Mogul Empire. With his defeat, the whole administration of Bengal collapsed—a result, incidentally, received with complete indifference by the entire population. The proof that even as late as this British had no formulated plan of conquest is the fact that, instead of openly sensing the Province for the Crown, they were content to secure for the East India Company the rights of a landholder from the Emperor.
Throughout the eighteenth century, the Company's directors in London were reiterating plaintive instructions to their representatives in India to stick to trade and avoid entanglement in Indian politics. This was easy enough to say in London, but in India it was a counsel of perfection. You might as well give permission to some one to bathe provided he did not get wet. What neither the directors nor the representatives on the spot realized was that the steady disintegration of the Mogul Empire was bound to make it quite impossible for the instructions to be carried out. With political control and the stable conditions it ensured, trade would flourish; without such control, and therefore without any security or order, no trade could be maintained.
Thus British traders found themselves more and more deeply committed to the tasks of the Government.
Warren Hastings, one of the greatest Governor-Generals Britain has ever sent to India, came and went.
Growing Sense of Responsibility in Britain
It is significant of the growing interest which people in Britain had begun to take in India, and the sense of responsibility felt by Parliament to see fair-dealing between Briton and Indian, that Hastings, on his return, for ail the greatness of his achievements, was not greeted with public acclamation. On the contrary, as we all know, he was put on trial, and among his prosecutors were Burke, Fox and Sheridan, names famous in our political history, and not perhaps unknown to yours. The trial lasted for seven years; and, though in the end Hastings was acquitted, the moral was there for all to see. India was not to be a mere field for exploitation.
The arrival of Lord Wellesley as Governor-General of Bengal in 1798, accompanied by his more famous younger brother, who later became Duke of Wellington and wrote history at Waterloo, introduced a period of more conscious and deliberate expansion. Wellington's letters show that he was fired, not only by a vision of Empire, but just as much by an almost missionary zeal to spread the benefits of law, order and justice in a continent given over to destructive anarchy. It is also to be remembered that when the Wellesley brothers went to India, Napoleon was making plans to bring it under the flag of France.
Wellesley's policy of India alliances and annexations, directed to the immediate purpose of making the British the supreme power in India, did not therefore spring solely or mainly from the local situation; it was part of the larger struggle against the last attempt before present days to establish a world supremacy. As a result of this forward movement, by 1823 the East India Company's influence, either by direct control or through treaties with the Indian States, extended over most of India.
Meanwhile, the Company's original Charter had been repeatedly revised, the Company itself being gradually transformed from an unofficial group of traders to an agent of Parliament responsible for the good government of India. At the same time, the ferment of the Liberal movement in Europe was affecting the outlook of the Company's servants and creating a new sense of responsibility. As early as 1824, Sir Thomas Munro, the Governor of Madras, foresaw the possibility of a united and self-governing India. "Whenever, he added, "such a time shall arrive, it will probably be best for both countries that the British control over India should be gradually withdrawn."
Profit-Making Declared Incompatible with Government
When, therefore, the Company's Charter came up for renewal by Parliament in 1833, the report of a Parliamentary Committee laid down the principle that "the interests of the native population are to be consulted in preference to those of Europeans, whenever the two come into competition." So great was the change of mind from the early years that profit-making was declared incompatible with the function of government, and the East India Company that had been established for the sole purpose of trade, was now forbidden to engage in trade at all. At the same time, the Charter Act provided that no native of India or other subject of the British Sovereign should be debarred by race, color, or religion from holding any office whatsoever under the British rule. Speaking in defense of the measure in the House of Commons, Macaulay recurred to the suggestion of a future self-governing India.
"It may be," he said, "that the public mind of India may extend under our system till it has outgrown that system; that by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government; that, having become instructed in European knowledge they may in some future age demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or retard it. Whenever it comes it will be the proudest day in English history."
Meanwhile, two important steps were taken in the field of administration. In 1813, a start was made with the spending of public money on education by an annual grant of $30,000—no large endowment of a great service, it is true; but it happened some fifty years before the British had spent a penny of public money to educate themselves.
English Language Unifies India
In 1834, English was adopted as the official language of government and business. Ambitious young Indians anxious to get on in commerce or government service, were now learning English and reading in their schools the works of Locke, Burke and John Stuart Mill. For the first time in Indian history, the Tamil-speaking men of the south, the Gujarati-speaking men of the west, the Bengali-speaking men of the east, and the Pushtu-speaking men of the north, could travel and trade in safety along the thousands of miles of new roads and railways that were being built, and, in so doing, could understand one another.
And something else soon began to happen. Steadily growing numbers of Punjabis and Rajputs, Biharis, Oriyas, and Sindhis, began to think of themselves less as Punjabis, Rajputs, and the rest, and more as Indians.
By the early years of the present century, a nationalist movement had begun to stir in a continent speaking some ninety languages, and previously only conscious of its different States. If the British had done nothing else in India, they had done this. Without their unifying rule, India might well have continued, as in her past, to see the rise and fall of empires, the tragic and wasteful round of war and conquest. Her experience, in fact, could hardly have been different from that of Europe in the 1,500 years that followed the fall of Rome.
How did the British meet the slowly emerging nationalist demands? If it be suggested that they have given India too little, too slowly and too late, I would ask you to look at the actual record of the facts.
Reforms to Meet Demands of New Nationalism
It is in the nature of democratic government that an agitation should resolve itself into a demand, which must then be discussed and threshed out in toe legislature. Thus statutory shape was given to the Morley-Minto Reforms in1910, and the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms of 1921. Ai the time they were passed, they went a long way towards meeting the demands formulated prior to their enactment.
The next large landmark, before the offer carried by Sir Stafford Cripps, was the Government of India Act of 1935. That Act gave self-government to the eleven provinces of British India, with a population close on 300,000,000. It established popular Indian ministries responsible to Indian-elected legislatures and enjoying much the same powers as a State in this country.
In all those matters in which one of your States governs itself—law and order, finance, education, public health, and so on,—300,000,000 Indians now came under the rule of popularly elected ministries. Only the federal subjects of foreign relations, defense, income tax, customs and, broadly speaking, those matters covered by your inter-State commerce laws, were reserved to the Central Government. The Governors of the Provinces appointed by the British Crown are enjoined to sign all bills passed by the Legislature with three exceptions. A Governor can refuse to sign a bill if, in his opinion, it victimizes minority communities, or threatens the financial credit of the province, or impinges on the Federal sphere of legislation.
In order to preserve the unity of India, the second part of the 1935 Act provided for the federation of the eleven British provinces mat compose British India, with the Indian States, whose people are not British subjects.
Problems of Representation with a Permanent Majority
At this point, we meet the higher mathematics of the Indian problem. The leading groups in India include some 206,000,000 caste Hindus; 49,000,000 Depressed Classes, often called Untouchables; 92,000,000 Moslems; and nearly 6,000,000 Sikhs.
The framers of the Act, among whom were many representative Indians, thought that the best way of safeguarding the interests of these several groups would be by coalition in the Federal Government, and accordingly a proportionate number of seats was reserved for each group in the Central Legislature.
This plan quickly ran into stormy weather. The Hindus, as the biggest single group, would have secured the largest single group of seats, and therefore the largest share in any coalition government But their leaders objected to this arrangement on the ground that in parliamentary democracy of the British type the party which wins the most seats forms the Government The Moslems for their part maintained that they were inadequately protected; and the Indian States for many different reasons were apprehensive of the new and unknown order involved in Federation.
While debate on this part of the Act was still proceeding, the war came and it was impossible to deal with a great controversial measure when more pressing needs claimed all our nought and energy.
Offer of Constitution Drafted by Indians Rejected
Accordingly, on August 8,1940, the Viceroy reaffirmed the purpose of the British Government that India should exercise the same rights of control of her own affairs as Canada or any other of the Great Dominions. With the authority of His Majesty's Government, he announced that after the war the Act of 1935 could be replaced by a new Constitution drafted by Indians, provided that the result was not rejected by large elements in India's national life.
This was at once denounced by the Congress Party, whose leaders said in effect that the Moslem League could always be relied upon to object; that the British could always be relied upon to point out that the Moslem League represented a "large and powerful element in India's national life"; and that therefore the offer was intended to enable the British for all time to stay in India. They therefore demanded a constituent assembly to frame a postwar constitution.
This was the background of the offer carried by Sir Stafford Cripps to India in April, 1942.
While repeating the Viceroy's undertaking, Sir Stafford Cripps met the objection that the Moslem minority would be in a position permanently to impede India's independence. For his proposals provided that rejection of the Constitution by any province need not impede self-government, because the objecting Province might have separate autonomy. And, secondly, the Cripps offer conceded the demand for a constituent assembly.
It was, however, a condition that the business of Constitution-making should be postponed until victory was won, and that India should meanwhile join in organizing that victory, without which self-government for India, or anyone else, must remain a dream. In the actual conditions of the tune, with the Japanese hammering at the gates of India, no other course was possible; but hope of agreement was destroyed mainly by the Congress Party's insistence on immediate "responsible" government by the Party leaders in India and the control of the War Department by an Indian Minister.
This demand raised just those thorny constitutional questions which Cripps had rightly urged should be shelved for the duration of the war. If, under well-intentioned but uninformed pressure, Britain were to support a political settlement which was denounced as a betrayal by Moslems, or by Sikhs, or by Hindus, this could only too easily be followed by serious bloodshed, and create grave conflict of loyalty in the minds of the Indian Army.
Certainly I cannot doubt that for the British to have allowed issues to be raised which, if unsolved, must disrupt India and totally paralyze her war effort, would have been folly, for which we should have been rightly condemned by all the United Nations. And when I see criticism in the Press of Britain's attitude on this matter, I wonder what would have been felt or said, had she weakly allowed to be neutralized one of the great bases for the war against Japan.
So the Cripps offer failed; but as Mr. Churchill said on September 10, 1942, "The broad principles of the Declaration . . . must be taken as representing the settled policy of the British Crown and Parliament. These principles stand in their full scope and integrity."
No Stability Through Compulsion of Minorities
We hope that India, in what we believe to be her own highest interests, will wish to remain within the British Commonwealth; but if, after the war, her people can establish an agreed constitution and then desire to sever their partnership with us, we have undertaken not to overrule such decision. The constitution must be agreed, for even after peace has come we are not going to hand India over to anarchy and civil war. At the same time, if a constitution should be found acceptable to the great part of India, but unacceptable to certain provinces where for example the Moslems are preponderant, this need not of itself present an insuperable obstacle.
If India cannot yet agree to move forward as a single whole, we are prepared to see her large component elements move forward separately. We recognize all the objections
to a rupture of Indian unity, but we also believe that stability cannot be found through compulsion of the great minorities.
As Mr. Amery, the Secretary of State for India, has pointed out, this attitude is in complete conformity with the principles of the Atlantic Charter. I have never been able to understand why it should ever have been suggested that it wasn't. For we were in fact applying the Atlantic Charter to India—and indeed to the whole of our Commonwealth—long before the President and Mr. Churchill had their historic meeting; and no more faithful interpretation of it could be conceived than the declaration expounded by Sir Stafford Cripps.
Perhaps I have said enough to correct the idea, so far as it may exist, that Britain has deprived India of her freedom and is unwilling to restore stolen goods.
Nor is it true, which is to state the same thing in other words, that Britain is in possession of India and finds her position there too pleasant or too profitable to abandon.
Indians in the Majority on the Viceroy's Council
It might be supposed that all the highest offices are held by Britons, and that the Viceroy, Provincial Governors, and Civil Servants govern despotically without reference to India's wishes. What are the facts? The Viceroy has an Executive Council, only four of whose fourteen members are not Indian. The Indian Members are fully representative of powerful elements in India. They govern the country. They took the decision on August 9, 1942, to fight the civil disobedience movement; and it so happened that on that day only one British Member was present at the Council Meeting.
Sir Firoz Khan Noon, Defense Member of the Council said on August 4, 1942:
"It is sometimes suggested that . . . the present members of the Executive Council are mere puppets in the hands of the Viceroy . . . in other words, that the whole administrative machinery is run by the Viceroy, and we have no voice in it.
"Let me tell you straight away that there is not one of us who would be willing to serve in these circumstances. I have been in office since October 3, 1941, and I can say this without fear of contradiction that on not a single occasion has the Viceroy ever overruled me or rejected my advice. . . . The experience of everyone of us is exactly the same."
What is true of the Viceroy applies with equal force to the British Provincial Governors, who, like any other Constitutional rulers, must take the advice of their popularly elected ministries; and to the British Civil Servants, numbering less than half of a total of approximately 1200 in the Indian Civil Service. In this Service, rank depends not upon race, but upon efficiency, British and Indians being inextricably mixed at every level.
No Conflict Between British and Indian Commercial Interests
Then there is that question of the profit Britain is supposed to draw from India. It is true that we have carried out there large material developments. We have capital invested in India which is recently estimated at $960,000,000, a substantial sum, but less than half our investments in Argentina.
In time of war, India is a source of manpower and supply. Her geographical position makes her an important link between the different parts of the British Commonwealth.
But none of these British interests conflicts with the interests of India. On the contrary, she has derived marked advantage from this association. She has been able to borrow in London at an average rate of about 4 1/2 per cent, which is certainly far lower than what she would have had to pay had she not formed part of the British Commonwealth.
Her railroads, roads and millions of acres, brought to fertility by artificial irrigation, have certainly in the past earned profit for British investors, but they have even more directly benefitted India.
Moreover, since the war India has been able to repay virtually the whole of her foreign debt. She has become the owner of these vast utilities, and India, not Great Britain, is now the creditor. Not only does India pay no taxes or subsidy of any kind to Britain, but the British taxpayer is today finding some four-fifths of India's military expenditure.
When it is recalled that the total pre-war budget of the Government of India averaged about $360,000,000, it may well be doubted whether India would have been able to support a modern army, navy and air force to defend herself alone in a dictator-ridden world.
In trade, as in finance, she has moved rapidly towards autonomy. In 1922, a Fiscal Convention gave the Government of India, in conjunction with the Indian Legislature, full power to frame its own tariff policy.
This fiscal autonomy has been freely exercised, sometimes greatly to the detriment of British interests, and particularly to those of the cotton industry of Lancashire.
No Fear of the Verdict on Britain
I have therefore no fear of the verdict when in future years the whole story of Britain's association with India is weighed and judged. I think we may fairly claim to have given her peace in place of war; unity in place of division; order in place of anarchy; law in place of the irresponsible working of despotic wills. We have sown in her people the seeds of self-government and, so far from trying to uproot the plant, have tended it carefully through the years. By great public works we have laid the foundation of a prosperous economic future. Those achievements stand and we are not ashamed of them.
One of the greatest of modern Viceroys, Lord Curzon, on taking leave of India forty years ago, spoke his faith in words which we may still remember:
"A hundred times in India have I said to myself, Oh that to every Englishman in this country, as he ends his work, might be truthfully applied the phrase 'Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity.' No man has, I believe, ever served India faithfully of whom that could not be said. All other triumphs are tinsel and sham. Perhaps there are few of us who make anything but a poor approximation to that ideal. But let it be our ideal all the same—to fight for the right, to abhor the imperfect, the unjust or the mean, to swerve neither to the right hand nor to the left, to care nothing for flattery or applause, or odium or abuse—it is so easy to have any of them in India—never to let your enthusiasm be soured or your courage grow dim, but to remember that the Almighty has placed your hand on the greatest of his ploughs, in whose furrow the nations of the future are germinating and taking shape, to drive the blade a little forward in your time, and to feel that somewhere among these mi Hons you have left a little justice or happiness or prosperity, a sense of manliness or moral dignity, a spring of patriotism, a dawn of intellectual enlightenment or a stirring of duty where it did not exist before—that is enough, that is the Englishman's justification in India. It is good enough for his watchword while he is here, for his epitaph when he is gone."