Sundays with The Modern Review

(Note: The Modern Review archives run from 1907, when it was founded by Ramananda Babu, to the 1960s. Since this volume was intended to commemorate Ramananda Chatterjee, we looked only at volumes published between 1907 to 1943, the year of his death, and included a few articles from the August 1947 issue as well. Patriots, Poets & Prisoners was published in 2016 and edited by two of Ramananda Chatterjee’s descendants, Devangshu Datta and Anikendra Sen, and me.

By bringing out this volume and sharing excerpts from Patriots, Poets & Prisoners on this blog, we hope to draw attention to the fact that much of India’s true, and often stirring, history lies in the archives of little magazines and turn-of-the-century journals. These periodicals, if curated and reissued, allow readers today to listen in to history as it was being made, with few filters between them and the leaders or brightest minds from the past. It is a heritage that belongs, properly, to the next generation of Indians, but it cannot be so easily claimed until it is brought out of our archives and libraries.)




by Ramachandra Guha



Journals of opinion have played a disproportionate impact in shaping the public discourse of the modern world. Think, for example, of Les Temps Moderne in France, National Interest and The Nation in the United States, the New Statesman and the Spectator in the United Kingdom. These magazines sold far fewer copies than daily newspapers, yet had a far greater influence on politicians, civil servants, social activists, and scholars.

The first Indian equivalent of Les Temps Moderne, the New Statesman, etc. was The Modern Review. Founded in 1907 by Ramananda Chatterjee, The Modern Review quickly emerged as a vital forum for the nationalist intelligentsia. It carried essays on politics, economics and society, but also, being run by a Bengali, poems, stories, travelogues and sketches.

Modern Review was the stable-mate of Prabasi, which was published in Bengali and catered exclusively to one linguistic group. As a vehicle for bilinguals from all parts of the subcontinent, the monthly Modern Review appeared, naturally, in English. While being broadly nationalistic it did not hold a brief for any particular political party. The first feature meant that it could act as a genuinely all-India forum; the second that it stood apart from party journals concurrently run by the Congress, the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Communists, and the Scheduled Castes Federation.

In a fine scholarly essay on the history of the Modern Review, the literary historian Margery Sabin explores the questions that most preoccupied the journal’s editor. Ramananda Chatterjee, she writes, ‘sustained in his own voice and sponsored in the voices of his contributors fundamental and continuing questions about India’s past, present, and future: What constitutes the authentic Indian past? What foreign influences in the present should India welcome or shun? What directions for the future would allow India to become “modern” without betraying its own identity?’

Sabin also analyses how Chatterjee skilfully negotiated his way through the mire of repressive colonial laws restricting press freedom. Since outright calls for Indian independence could attract prosecution on grounds of ‘sedition’, Chatterjee often quoted British statesmen in praise of liberty and national emancipation. Drawing on a well-stocked library and his own wide learning, ‘a plenitude of English voices from the past could be summoned to indict British rule without the editor risking a sentence of his own.’

Among the most famous articles published in the Modern Review was ‘The Call of Truth’, by Rabindranath Tagore, which appeared in the issue of October 1921. Tagore had recently returned from a long trip abroad, where he had gone to raise money for his new university in Santiniketan. While he was away, Mahatma Gandhi launched his Non-co-operation movement, urging Indians to boycott state-run schools, colleges, and law courts, organize bonfires of foreign cloth, and court arrest in doing so. Reading the news from India, Tagore was dismayed. As he wrote to C. F. Andrews from Chicago in 5th March, 1921: ‘What irony of fate is this that I should be preaching co-operation of cultures between East and West on this side of the sea just at the moment when the doctrine of non-co-operation is preached on the other side?’

Later that year, Tagore returned to India, had long conversations with Gandhi in Calcutta, but remained unpersuaded about non-co-operation and its methods. When he decided to go public with his criticisms, he chose the Modern Review as his outlet. In his recent travels in the West, said Tagore, he had met many people who sought ‘to achieve the unity of man, by destroying the bondage of nationalism’. He had ‘watched the faces of European students all aglow with the hope of a united mankind…’. Then he returned home, to be confronted with a political movement suffused with negativity. Are ‘we alone to be content with telling the beads of negation’, asked Tagore, ‘harping on other’s faults and proceeding with the erection of Swaraj on a foundation of quarrelsomeness?’

Gandhi replied in equally spirited tones, albeit in his own journal, Young India. The non-co-operation movement, he said, was a refusal to co-operate with the English administrators on their own terms. We say to them, “Come and co-operate with us on our terms, and it will be well for us, for you and the world”. … A drowning man cannot save others. In order to be fit to save others, we must try to save ourselves. Indian nationalism is not exclusive, nor aggressive, nor destructive. It is health-giving, religious and therefore humanitarian. India must learn to live before she can aspire to die for humanity. The mice which helplessly find themselves between the cat’s teeth acquire no merit from their enforced’.

(Some years later, Tagore wrote another critique of Gandhi in the Modern Review, this time deploring the cult of the charkha. The debates between Tagore and Gandhi in their entirety have been published in The Mahatma and the Poet, edited by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, who has also provided a useful introduction. This is a book that every thinking Indian should possess. It is published by the National Book Trust, which means that every Indian can afford it, but few would know where to find it.)

Another celebrated essay published in Ramananda Chatterjee’s journal was an auto-critique. In its issue for November 1937, The Modern Review carried a profile of the Congress President, Jawaharlal Nehru. The profile was not wholly flattering; it spoke, for example, of Nehru’s ‘intolerance of others and a certain contempt for the weak and inefficient’. It noted that his conceit was ‘already formidable’, and worried that soon ‘Jawaharlal might fancy himself as a Caesar’.

The essay was written under the pen-name of ‘Chanakya’. There was much speculation as to who the author might have been. It appeared to be a critic of the Congress President, possibly a critic of the Congress Party as well. Then it was revealed that the author was none other than Jawaharlal Nehru himself.

That Tagore would criticize Gandhi in its pages, or that Nehru would anonymously criticize himself here, were marks of how significant Modern Review was to public discourse in late colonial India. The magazine was vital to intellectual debates as well. It was in the Modern Review that the sociologist Radhakamal Mukerjee published his early, pioneering essays on environmental degradation in India; and it was to the Modern Review that the anthropologist Verrier Elwin sent his first reports from the Gond country. Among the magazine’s other contributors was the distinguished historian Jadunath Sarkar.

As a platform for debate and discussion among India’s finest minds and its most public figures, the Modern Review played a major part in the process of national awakening. Education, the rights of women, the relations between religions and castes, India’s place in the world–these extremely important subjects were all intensively discussed in its pages. Significantly, the coming of political independence dealt a body blow to the journals. For its perspective was forward-looking, the nurturing of reforming sensibilities among the men and women who would one day come to rule India. When the former freedom fighters slipped comfortably into the chairs in the secretariat, the magazine seemed to have lost its bearing.

That its founder, Ramananda Chatterjee, had died in 1943 also contributed to its decline. Although the Modern Review limped along until 1965, its place had been taken by two new journals of opinion that more actively captured the trials of an independent (as distinct from colonized) nation. These were the Economic and Political Weekly, published out of Bombay; and Seminar, which was published out of New Delhi. More recently, we have seen the reinvented Caravan magazine, which, like Ramananda Chatterjee’s own journal, pays as much attention to culture and literature as to economics and politics.

The decline and disappearance of the Modern Review was symptomatic of the decline of the city where it was housed. Kolkata was no longer where the most interesting debates about India’s past and future took place.

It is a pleasure to introduce this anthology of essays from the Modern Review, which brings the richness and intensity of those times, those debates, to a modern audience. I hope this book will stimulate greater interest in this remarkable journal, perhaps leading to further (and thematically focused) anthologies from its files.

Chapter 1

Patriots and Prisoners

The Modern Review published its first issue in 1907, and plunged straightaway into the debate over self-rule and home rule for Indians. In 1917, Ramananda Chatterjee collected his strongest editorials and pieces by others in a pamphlet, Towards Home Rule. It was part of his strategy to include British writers on this subject as well as Indian experts, who were often also contributors of original research to the Review.


He and his contributors skilfully rebutted the arguments of the day against granting Indians a measure of independence — that Indians were not fit to govern their own country, that the Orient had no history of self-government, that India could not be compared to Ireland or other colonies that had gained autonomy, for example. Some key articles and a long excerpt from his main essay, Towards Home Rule, which laid down the foundation for the demands made for self-rule, are presented here. In 1917, few Indians imagined a time when the English would leave India — but they could, and did, imagine a time when Indians ruled their own country.





Ramananda Chatterjee, 1917





Practical Unanimity as regards the goal and ideal.


That India should one day become self- ruling’, either within or outside the British Empire, is a political ideal which was not absent from the minds of all British statesmen. Some of them have left it on record that that was in their opinion India’s destiny. For instance, the Marquess of Hastings wrote in his Private Journal (May 17th, 1818) :


“A time not very remote will arrive when England will, on sound principles of policy, wish to relinquish the domination which she has gradually and unintentionally assumed over this country, and from which she cannot at present recede. In that hour it would be the proudest boast and most delightful reflection that she had used her sovereignty towards enlightening her temporary subjects, so as to enable the native communities to walk alone in the paths of justice, and to maintain with probity towards their benefactors that commercial intercourse in which we should then find a solid interest.” (P. 361-362, Panini Office Edition).


That self-government is our goal is admitted by all. Even British officials in India have in some recent utterances admitted that self-rule is the ideal towards which India should move. Among the latest is that of His Excellency Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy of India, who, in the course of his reply to the address of the Indian Association of Calcutta, said (December, 1916) : “I hope some day to see India hold a position of equality among the sister nations of which the British Empire is composed.”


Self-government has found place among the subjects discussed approvingly by members of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League parties. Both these representative bodies have in their latest sessions demanded self-government. It is the declared object of the Home Rule League.


While all agree that self-rule is our goal and ideal, there are widely divergent opinions as to the time needed for the realization of this ideal. Lord Morley, the radical statesman, could not imagine a time when India would cease to be under personal rule. Others, gifted with a little more political imagination, place the time of the fulfilment of our hopes in the very remote future. Others, again, say that though the time is distant, it is not very distant. Some are of opinion that Indians ought at once to have some powers of control over the administration given them ; while some others think that a complete scheme of self-rule should be immediately prepared, and powers should at once begin to be given to the representatives of the people in accordance with that scheme, full control over the administration, civil and military, being vested in them in the course of the next 10, or at the most, 20 years, thus taking an effective step towards the perfect nationalisation of the government within a decade or so following. Under the circumstances it may be of some use to try to understand what is implied in fitness for self-rule.


What Self-rule implies.


What is the work that a self-ruling nation does or is expected to do ? Or, in other words, what is meant by managing the affairs of a country? The principal duties of a government are to defend the country from foreign aggression, to maintain peace and order within its borders by preventing or suppressing rebellion, revolution and robberies, to raise a sufficient revenue by means of taxation of various kinds, to spend this revenue in the most economical and beneficial way, to make and enforce laws, to administer justice, and to make arrangements for education and sanitation, to maintain communications throughout the country by means of Waterways, roads and railways for facilitating travelling and commerce, to make the country rich by helping and encouraging the people to develop its agriculture, industries and commerce, to help the growth and expansion of a mercantile marine for the purposes of international commerce and intercourse, to encourage the growth of its literature and fine arts, &c.


Government with Foreign and National Personnel.


These duties can never be performed satisfactorily by any foreign government. They can be so performed only where the government is national. For the foreigners, constituting a foreign government, having a duty to perform both to their own country and the subject country they govern, cannot pay undivided and single-minded attention to the welfare of the latter, and, in case of a conflict of interests between the two countries, cannot prefer those of the subject country, as it is natural for men to be more anxious for the welfare of their own country than for that of other countries.


What the British Government has and has not done.


In India, during the last century and a half, the British Government has been doing almost all the duties of a government, some energetically, some in a lukewarm manner, and some with indifference. To some duties it has not yet set its hands. For instance, there is no Indian navy, and Government has not helped or encouraged the building up of a fleet of mercantile vessels. On the contrary, it is during the British period of Indian history that the indigenous shipping and ship-building industry have declined and almost entirely disappeared. The Indian army is not manned in all its arms by Indians, there is no aerial fleet, and the commissioned officers are all non-Indians. But this is a digression.


Our Fitness in British and pre-British Periods.


Those State duties which the British Government in India performs, are performed more or less with the help of the people of India. They were performed by Hindus and Musalmans in the age immediately preceding the British period, and in still more ancient times by Hindus and Buddhists alone. But whether Hindus, Buddhists, or Musalmans, those who managed the affairs of the country in the pre-British period were Indians. Englishmen did not come to a country of savages, but to one where the art of Government had in previous ages made great progress.


In the British period, too, Indians have, on the whole, proved their fitness for any kind of work, civil or military, which they have been allowed to do. So it cannot be said that they are totally unfit for the performance of all kinds of civil and military work.


Subordinate and independent duties.


It may be objected, that it is in subordinate capacities that Indians have done their work and proved their capacity. That is true in the main. But in those cases also in which Indians have held independent charges, they have proved their capacity. Moreover, as they have not been given opportunities

to prove their power of initiative and their fitness for independent work in most departments, logically it can only be said that in these departments neither the fitness nor the unfitness of Indians has been demonstrated. It should be borne in mind that this applies only to the British period. In the pre-British period Indians could and did do all kinds of work. Should it be said that there had been a deterioration since then, Indians alone could not be logically held responsible for such a result.


Proof of worth and its recognition.


Government may say, “We would have given you high posts if you had proved your worth.” But that is begging the question. How can fitness for a particular kind of work be proved unless one gets an opportunity to do that sort of work? It is like saying, prove that you can swim and then you will be allowed to plunge into water. Moreover, it is not true that Indians get those appointments to which their qualifications entitle them. Take the educational department. Here the rule is to appoint even raw British and Colonial graduates to the higher service to the exclusion of Indians of superior, and often tried merit.


In executive and administrative work, too, we find that men like Romesh Chunder Dutt and Krishna Govinda Gupta could not get a lieutenant-governor-ship or even a chief-commissionership, though it cannot be said that they were inferior in ability to the general run of those British officers who have filled these posts. There are many Deputy Collectors who can teach many Magistrates their duties. But the former always occupy a subordinate position. In the army even Indian winners of the Victoria Cross cannot hope even to be lieutenants.


There is, no doubt, a natural reluctance on the part of Englishmen to acknowledge our fitness. For if our fitness were admitted, there would be only two courses open. One would be to give us all the posts for which we were declared fit ; but that would mean the exclusion of Englishmen from many lucrative careers. The other would be to declare practically that, though Indians might be fit, Englishmen, for selfish reasons, were resolved by the exercise of political power to prevent them from getting their due. But the rulers of India could not naturally make such a brutal declaration.


The following observations of the Philippine Review (May, 1916) may be quoted in this connection :


Dependent peoples are always looked upon by westerners as short of qualifications ; and, whatever their actual merits may be, they (their merits) are lost sight of under cover of such advisably prevailing belief that they (said people) are short of qualifications.


Their failures are magnified, and their successes minimized. Their failures are theirs, and their successes not theirs, and the latter are necessarily the work of their masters.


The mistakes of independent peoples are not mistakes to them; but the same mistakes, if made by dependent peoples even the minimum degree, are considered mistakes in the maximum degree, deserving the most spirited condemnation, — the result of their alleged lack of qualifications, character or what not.


Besides, dependent peoples are not in a position to act for themselves ; for others act for them — those who, for one reason or another, in one way or another, have assumed responsibility for their tutelage — and are always discriminated against, and subject to the pleasure of their masters, whose convenience must obtain.


On the other hand, an independent people are tree from outside prejudices, none cares to waste time searching for their virtues and vices, and they are per se considered as fully qualified people, particularly if before and behind them big modern guns can deafeningly roar defensively and offensively.


Present-Day Indian Achievement: Correlation of Capacities.


The successful management of the affairs of a country is neither so mysterious nor so intricate and complicated a matter as to be beyond the powers of Indians to tackle and master. The historian Lecky says :–


“Statesmanship is not like poetry, or some of the other forms of higher literature, which can only be brought to perfection by men endowed with extraordinary natural gifts. The art of management, whether applied to public business or to assemblies, lies strictly within the limits of education, and what is required is much less transcendental abilities than early practice, tact, courage, good temper, courtesy, and industry.


“In the immense majority of cases the function of statesmen is not creative, and its excellence lies much more in execution than in conception. In politics possible combinations are usually few, and the course that should be pursued is sufficiently obvious. It is the management of details, the necessity of surmounting difficulties, that chiefly taxes the abilities of statesmen, and those things can to a very large degree be acquired by practice.”


Different kinds of genius, talent and capacity are not separate and independent entities ; they are organically connected and correlated. If a nation gives evidence of genius, talent and ability in some spheres of human activity it is safe to presume that it possesses the power to shine in other spheres of activity too, if only it be allowed the opportunity to do so. We shall not speak of ancient times, even in these so-called degenerate days, the Indian is found among the world’s great spiritual teachers and thinkers, the world’s great literatteurs, the world’s great artists, the world’s great statesmen, and the world’s great captains of industry’.


Even under the depressing circumstances of subjection, the Indian has fought his way to the British Parliament, to the highest Councils of the Indian Empire in London and Delhi-Simla, and won the Victoria Cross by conspicuous valour in the field of battle. It will not do to say that the small number of men to whom we refer are exceptions. The biggest trees are found, not in the midst of treeless deserts, but in tracts where there are other trees no less big than themselves. Take any age in any country and you will find that the most famous poet, scientist, statesman, general, etc., were not solitary individuals, but only the greatest among great men. Shakespeare, Darwin, Gladstone, Wellington, Nelson, were not freaks of nature, but had contemporaries who were almost their equals. What is true of England or of any other country, is true of India, too. We have many men almost as gifted as those who have made a name, many probably equally gifted, and some possibly more gifted. Given the opportunity, and there is bound to be a greater manifestation of ability of a high order in all spheres of human life.


The getting and making of opportunity.


We have used the word opportunity more than once. It may be said that nations like men make their own opportunity, nobody gives them opportunity. This is but partially true. The Negroes of America have got some opportunity and are consequently showing what stuff they are made of. In their native countries they never got the opportunity. But the objection has been raised, “Why could they not make their opportunity in their own country ? The fact that the white European ancestors of the white Americans became civilised earlier than the Negroes shows the superiority of the white men ; for the white men made their opportunity, the Negro had to be given the opportunity.”


It may similarly be said to us : “Why ask for opportunity ? Make your own opportunity. If obstacles are put in your way, overcome them.” So we will, so far as it lies in man to mould his destiny. But may we here remind all so-called “superior” races of one fact? Human history is not limited by the few centuries of occidental ascendency. The Hindus, the Egyptians, the Chinese were civilised, they got and made their opportunity, before all or at least the majority of European races. Why could not the Europeans make their opportunity when the Egyptians made theirs? Does that fact show the inferiority of the European races? The Japanese got and made their opportunity only half a century ago. There have been ups and downs in the history of all countries. Let none arrogantly assume that they have been the makers of their own destiny. Let none, also, weakly assume that they are entirely powerless to mould their present and their future. Let all who have

the power give the requisite opportunity to those who need it ; — the time may come for the givers of opportunity to be its seekers. Let all who seek opportunity make it as far as in them lies, and it does lie in them to a very great extent. Fate or destiny is not a fixed but an indefinitely elastic boundary which nations can push further and further outwards by their strength and perseverance.


Past, present and future forms of government of a country.


Some people seem to think that the present and future forms of government of a country cannot be different from the forms of government which prevailed in it in former days. This belief or fancy has no foundation in historical fact ; for in every one of the countries where at present there are either constitutional monarchies or republics, there was at some period of their history absolute monarchy. But should it be taken for granted that the past forms of government of a country qualify or disqualify its people for representative government at present or in the future, Indians would not stand utterly disqualified.


Democracy in Pre-British India.


The earliest republics known to Europeans were those of ancient Greece and Italy. In India there were republics in ancient times in regions wider in extent than Greece aijd Italy combined, and for a longer period of time than the entire period of duration of those old European republics. College students who read Prof. Rhys Davids’ “Buddhist India” and Mr. Vincent A. Smith’s “Early History of India” know this fact. In the ancient Indian monarchies there were effective checks upon the powers of kings, though these were not exactly of the kind known to Europeans as constitutional. The Sanskrit word “raja,” Rhys Davids says, originally signified something like the Greek archon or the Roman consul.


In his article on “Constitutional Aspects of Rituals at Hindu Coronation,” published in the Modern Review for January, 1912, Mr. K. P. Jaswal has shown that Hindu Kings used to be elected, or in any case their ascension to the throne required popular ratification. This view finds support from the Hindu epics, the Ramayan and the Mahabharat. In the Ramayan we know what King Dasarath did to ascertain the desire of the people as to who should be his heir-apparent, and also how the discontent of the people found expression when their favourite Ramchandra was exiled. In the Mahabharat similar evidence is found in what happened when the blind king Dhritarastra tried to make his own son Duryodhan king instead of the Pandavas, the rightful heirs. In the history of the Pal dynasty of Bengal we find the people electing a king after a revolution. In Southern India, there were the “five great assemblies which checked the autocracy of Tamil kings, and which consisted of the people, priests, astrologers, physicians, and ministers.” That village communities in India were so many little republics is well-known. This is true both of Northern and Southern India. Mr. Vincent Smith says : —


“Certain long inscriptions of Parantaka are of especial interest to the students of village institutions by reason of the full details which they give of the manner in which local affairs were administered by well-organized local committees, or panchayats, exercising their extensive administrative and judicial powers under royal sanction. It is a pity that this apparently excellent system of local self-government, really popular in origin, should have died out ages ago. Modern governments would be happier if they could command equallv effective local agency.” (Early History of India, 2nd Ed., p. 418.)


The Art of Government in India of the Past.


To what a pitch of efficiency the art of imperial and local government was carried in ancient India is clear from such works as Chanakya’s Arthasastra, &c,, the epics Ramayan and Mahabharat (particularly the Santiparva of the latter), the Samhita of Manu and other Sambitas (codes), many epigraphic records such as those on which Sir Sankaran Nair wrote his article on “Village Government in Southern India” in The Modern Review for March 1914, the Greek accounts of Chandra Gupta’s administration, and the achievements of Emperors Asoka, Samudra Gupta, Dharmapala, &c. In the Musalman and Maratha periods there were great statesmen and administrators like Sher Shah, Akbar, Aurangzeb, Shivaji and others. The statesmanship and administrative capacity of the Peshwas deserve to be better known than they are. An excellent idea of Akbar’s administrative

system can be had from Abul Fazl’s Ain-i-Akbar. The revenue system of his minister Todar Mal has been followed by the British Government.


Islam is democratic, and Musalman traditions favour the representative system. Before Ranjit Singh became the autocrat of the Puniab, the affairs of the Sikhs were managed according to democratic methods. The remains of ancient monuments of various descriptions, old land communications, water-ways, irrigation works, etc., bear witness to the high civilization and civic capacity of the people and rulers of India in pre-British days.


Our history, therefore, does not disqualify us for self-rule.


Conquest, and Loss of Capacity for and Right of Self-Rule


Englishmen generally think and many Indians also seem to hold that our unfitness for self-rule has been demonstrated once for all by the British conquest of India. They seem to ask: “If Indians are fit to manage the affairs of their own country, why were they conquered at all ?” Conquest would seem, therefore, to be a justification for deprivation and self- rule. We need not here discuss historically whether British India as a whole or its major portion was conquered by the English. Let it be granted that we are a conquered people and let us examine this doctrine in the light of history.


Examples from British Empire History.


The French Canadians were conquered by the English in 1763, but the whole colony became self- governing in 1791. After that date the French Canadians revolted more than once and were defeated and conquered as often. But they continue to be self-ruling. Some seventeen years ago the Boers of South Africa were conquered, but

were granted self-government almost immediately afterwards. Ireland was conquered centuries ago. But before the Union with Great Britain in 1801, Ireland had its own Parliament, and since the Union the Irish have enjoyed representation in the British Parliament in a larger proportion than their numerical strength wou’d entitle them to.


….Wales is a conquered country, but enjoys parliamentary representation and has local self-government. England was conquered by the Romans, the Angles and Saxons, the Danes and the Normans. But it is now among the freest countries in the world. Every country, in fact, which is now free and independent, was conquered at some period or other of its history. The British Colony of New Zealand has its own parliament. The aboriginal inhabitants of this colony, the Maori, now number only 50,000. But they return four members to the New Zealand parliament. This right was granted to them in 1871, immediately after their conquest by the white colonists. ….


The truth is, all nations have been conquered; and all peoples have submitted to tyrannies which would provoke sheep or spaniels to insurrection. I know nothing in the history of India that cannot be paralleled from the histories of Europe. The Pole, whitest, handsomest, most operatically heroic of Europeans, has eaten dirt in the East as the equally romantic Irishman has in the West. Germany has given such exhibitions of helpless political disintegration accompanied by every atrocity or internecine warfare as India at her worst can never hope to surpass. If India is incapable of self-government, all nations are incapable of it ; for the evidence of history is the same everywhere.


There is something to be said for the stranger as a judge. In the Middle Ages, when the Italian cities had a dispute, they called in a stranger to settle it, because the stranger, as such, was impartial. And when an Indian has a dispute with another Indian and feels surer of justice with an English magistrate than with a native one, he may be just as shrewd in his preference as the medieval Italian, knowing that indifference, even when it is contemptuous, is not a bad working substitute for conscientious impartiality But the days are past when the judge was also the lawgiver and ruler. Nations may have as many foreign judges as they like for the sake of the foreigner’s impartiality; but they must govern themselves; and the fact that they doit so badly that no nation is at present either free or healthy or prosperous only makes it additionally absurd for any of them to pretend to do for others what it cannot do decently for itself.


India’s size and her many languages, creeds, races and castes.


Home Rule has been thought unsuitable for India, because of its being like a large continent, where there exist many languages, creeds, races, and castes. But the Russian Empire is very extensive and is inhabited by a variety of races and religious sects, and by peoples speaking many different languages. Yet it enjoys local self-government, and a large measure of imperial self-rule. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, too, is characterized by diversity of races, sects and languages. It is a constitutional monarchy and the form of government is largely representative. The United States of America is a republic populated by various races, speaking different tongues and having different creeds.


The number of languages, as distinguished from dialects or local patois, spoken in India, has been exaggerated. In the census of 1901 they were stated to number 147 ; by 1911 they had increased to 220! In real fact one or other of a dozen principal languages would be found to be understood, whatever the province that might be chosen to test this statement. Besides, whatever force the multiplicity of Indian languages might be supposed to have against the exercise of self-rule by India as a whole in pan-Indian

affairs, it can have none whatever against our enjoyment of provincial autonomy. In the United Provinces, Maharastra, Behar, Orissa, Bengal, Andhra, Gujarat, Sindh, &c., the people of the province all understand one main language. As for our many sects and creeds, the people of India professing them are, to say the least, really not more intolerant of one another’s beliefs and practices than the Christian sects inhabiting any Western country.


Despotism and the Orient.


It is sometimes observed that as orientals have always been used to despotic government, they appreciate only autocracy ; they can neither appreciate nor are fit for self-rule. In the first place, it is not a fact that despotism has been the prevailing form of government in oriental countries in all ages. We have already given some idea of the different kinds of government which prevailed in India of the past, — which were more or less democratic in character. It would not, however, have mattered much, if we had been accustomed only to absolutism in the past.


Western peoples who now have republics or limited monarchies in their country had been at some time or other of their history governed despotically. As for oriental countries, Japan has had representative government for the last fifty years, growing very powerful and prosperous in consequence. China, though not out of the woods yet, is a republic. The insurrections caused by the attempt to convert it into a monarchy show how deep-rooted and widespread the republican feeling is in China. Even under Manchu rule and earlier still, the Chinese had always enjoyed a large measure of local autonomy. A constitutional monarchy, with a parliament, has been established in Persia also ; but the conflicting interests and intrigues of some European powers have prevented the Persians from showing their capacity for self-rule. Self-rule in Afghanistan will be dealt with in another article in this booklet. The success of Japan alone, however, demonstrates that oriental peoples may be capable of self-government.


[Ramananda Chatterjee dealt with a number of objections in the remainder of this essay, from the fitness of Indians for self-rule to the argument that a high number of illiterates made Indians unsuited for self-rule, to the fear of internal troubles erupting if the British left. “We are not a particularly quarrelsome people,” he argued, “if we fought, the state of disorder would not be everlasting; peace and order would return in exactly the same way as in other countries.”]


Fitness to win Self-rule.


There are two kinds of fitness : the fitness to have and exercise a right, and the fitness to win it. The first kind of fitness can be proved by facts and arguments. This we have done. The second kind can be proved only by the logic of achievement, that is, by winning Home Rule. Let us prepare ourselves to

prove our fitness in this way, too ; let us win self-rule by constitutional means. But we should bear in mind that constitutional agitation is not all plain sailing. It involves sacrifice and suffering. In an article on “Indian Nationality” contributed to The Modern Review for March, 1908, by the late Rev. John Page Hopps, editor of The Coming Day (London) he wrote : —


“They say India has learnt from English history something of its longing to possess itself”, to find her soul. Well, then, let her also learn from England something of our ability and our willingness to pay the price for freedom. She must oppose a brave and stubborn front to the browbeating of the strong. She must rise above mere personal advantages, and throw everything into the common stock for the good of all. She must call nothing ‘common and unclean.’ She must by courage and capacity earn her right to rule in her own house. She must, on the side of affairs, put science and education and work in the forefront of her struggle, and, on the side of religion, she must make communion with God mean the Brotherhood of Man.”


These words all Indians should lay to heart.




We are not unfriendly to the English, nor anxious that they should leave our shores. There is no race which has a fully developed and all-sided manhood. International contact and intercourse are advantageous to all. What we want is room, opportunity, freedom, to grow in all directions. We do not want to be repressed, suppressed, or exploited.


Our aim is self-development, self-realization, self-expression, and the giving to the world what we are peculiarly fitted to give. We know our aspirations are just, legitimate, and righteous, and therefore we should not be afraid of consequences. We know it is to the interest of Englishmen not to withdraw from India. But if they do, we should not be anxious. For it is not Englishmen, it is not Europeans, it is not Westerners, who made us or who guide our destiny. A Power superior to all made us and is moulding our lives. Our destiny is in His hands, and next to His, in ours, and then in those of other races.


We are not perfectly fit for self-rule; — no nation is. We are not entirely unfit for self-rule; — no nation is. Fitness grows by practice and exercise. We want to grow more and more fit in that way, which is the only way.



Patriots, Poets & Prisoners on Amazon:

Copyright: Ramachandra Guha holds the copyright to his introduction. The Modern Review is out of copyright and in the public domain; however, the editors request that articles should be reproduced in their entirety wherever possible.






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