Sundays with The Modern Review: Annie Besant, Home Rule and Indians in Natal

(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.)

Instead of a regular letter from the editor, it was The Modern Review’s policy to carry several sections where the paper’s editorial views were strongly and firmly put forward. These were the editorial notes, the news from India and the foreign news, and were written chiefly by Ramananda Chatterjee and his son, Kedar Nath Chatterjee, who stepped in as editor when his father was jailed in 1928 on sedition charges and ran the paper after Ramananda Babu’s death in 1943. This is how the journal covered the growth of the national freedom movement, the Bengal Famine, the two World Wars, Partition, Independence, the Great Calcutta Riots and other major events.

Here is a representative selection from 1917; Annie Besant had been arrested, the country was in ferment over the demand for Home Rule, world war loomed,
and Mr Gandhi, a lawyer from South Africa, had been back in India since 1914,
bringing news of Indians in Natal.

225px-Annie_Besant_1895.gif

 

Notes, July 1917

 

The Recent Madras Internments

 

We have no hesitation in condemning in an unqualified manner the internment of Mrs. Besant, Mr. Arundale and Mr. B. P.Wadia by the Government of Madras. It is unjust and unstatesmanlike, and an infringement of the right to endeavour by all lawful means to bring about “constitutional changes. It is a conspicuous example of a wrong use of the provisions of the Defence of India Act.

 

Neither Mrs. Besant nor her associates had done anything which could justly bring them even in an indirect manner under the operations of that Act. They had not conspired with the enemy, nor had they done anything else to subvert the British Government in India. They had not put any obstacles in the way of the vigorous prosecution of the war or done anything to make the position of India or Indians unsafe. On the contrary, Mrs. Besant’s denunciation of the barbarities of the Germans was among the fiercest in India, her appeals to young Indians to enlist in the regular army or to join the Defence Force were most earnest, forcible and telling, she had enlisted the largest number of recruits to the Defence Force in the Madras Presidency, and her exhortations to the people to subscribe to the War Loan are well-known. She had always insisted on political agitation being carried on in a perfectly constitutional manner. The Government of Madras have not told her for what offence she has been interned. Anglo-Indian papers say that her writings and speeches brought the Government into contempt. It that was her offence, she could be prosecuted under the ordinary penal and press laws of the country; she herself had more than once challenged the bureaucracy to proceed against her in that way.

 

Why was this not done ? It was suggested in Lord Pentland’s speech in Ootacamund that officials had been calumniated by some persons, among whom Mrs. Besant was no doubt meant to be included. If that was her offence, they had the remedy of the ordinary penal laws of the country at hand. But the Madras Government and its officials did not avail themselves of these laws. Perhaps they were not sure of the result of a prosecution and also wanted to avoid the publicity and prevent the public excitement which are always the concomitants of such trials. But judicial tribunals arc not to be resorted to, because they do not always see eye to eye with the executive, laws and law courts need not exist. Let the will of the executive be the only law of the land. As for the prevention of excitement, there is not less but more of it now than if there had been a public trial.

 

Perhaps, the executive do not realise that their ukases cannot produce the same conviction in the minds of the people that an open and fair trial does , or probably they do not care much for public opinion.

 

Our clear opinion is that neither Mrs. Besant nor her associates have done anything wrong. Some people find fault with her strong and passionate language. But the question is not whether her language was strong, but whether it was truthful.

 

We think it was. When one feels strongly one must use language which is proportionately forcible and charged with feeling. And the political condition of India is such and many things which are done and happen in India are also such that it is natural tor all just and liberty-loving persons to feel deeply and strongly. Mrs. Besant is a free-born woman, brought up in the bracing free political atmosphere of an independent and free country. Unlike ourselves, she has never been accustomed to speak with bated breath and in whispering humbleness, and therefore never minced her words. And she was right. It may be natural or easy for a certain class of our countrymen to mistake servility for courtesy, sobriety or moderation, and, therefore, to condemn strong language even when it truly indicates the strength of a person’s justly roused feelings; but British statesmen, holding high office in India, who were accustomed to the atmosphere of free and fearless criticism at “home”, ought not to find anything strange in the use of such language. There is nothing in the Indian press to compare with the rabid language to be found in many British party papers. Perhaps their autocratic and bureaucratic surroundings and the fact of their not being responsible to the people of India, make the rulers of India thin-skinned and impatient of criticism. And we, too, are to blame. We seem, either expressly or by implication, to consider all Englishmen immeasurably superior to us and to worship them as if they were so many gods or godlings. The principle of reciprocity ought to guide us in our dealings with them. We ought certainly to be courteous, but the degree of our courtesy should be the same as theirs towards us.

 

As we have never been among the associates or followers of Mrs. Besant in any of her many fields of activity, as we have occasionally criticised her sharply, as we are not formally connected with any Home Rule League or Congress Committee, we feel it all the more incumbent upon us to say that we feel sincerely grateful to and admire Mrs. Besant for the invaluable political services she has rendered to India. Since the day of her active participation in Indian politics, she has been the most active, strenuous, fearless, and hopeful worker in the cause of India’s political regeneration. She has brought new hope, courage and inspiration to many other workers in the same field.

 

These internments will not serve the purpose which Government may have in view. In the course of Mrs. Besant’s interview with Lord Pentland, as reported in the Hindu, His Lordship said : “You must understand, Mrs. Besant, that we shall stop all your activities.’ That is true, but only literally. Mrs. Besant will, no doubt, not be able to act in her own person, but her spirit will walk abroad, and the Home Rule or Self-government propaganda promises to be carried on all over the country in spite of her internment. In fact, that unwise and arbitrary step has brought a new accession of strength to the movement. Many influential and intelligent leading men and zealous other persons have joined the Home Rule League; and that, whatever Anglo-Indian papers may tauntingly say, means much.

 

“A United Front Performance”?

 

The Madras Mail writes :–

 

“What significance can possibly attach to their action? Either Home Rule for India in the immediate future is desirable and practicable, or it is not. If it is, why have not those patriots joined the movement before? If it is not, how can the internment of any individual affect the unfitness of India’s millions to govern themselves? Are we to infer that if the Government cancelled the order against Mrs Besant, Messrs Jinnah and Jehangir Pent would discover that India was once more unfit for Home Rule and leave the League they have just joined? The fact of the matter is that this is but one more illustration of a ‘United Front’ performance. Adherents joining in this manner may swell the numbers of the Home Rule League, but they cannot add the weight of sincere and reasoned conviction to it.

 

Some other papers of the sojourners have written in the same strain. The taunts of the Anglo-Indian journals are utterly nonsensical. They say, if the persons who now join the Home Rule League are convinced that India is fit for Home Rule, why did they not join before ? Was India unfit before, and has Mrs. Besant’s internment made it fit ? Our reply simply is that it is natural for MEN to declare their adherence to a cause when it is threatened, though they may not have done so before, for some reason or other. In the course of the present European war, has not enlistment in the British armv been particularly brisk as often as England has seemed to be in great danger owing to some event or other, or when British feeling has been roused by some outrage, which we need not specify ? Shall we, therefore, foolishly call in question the sincerity of the patriotism of those British soldiers who joined late, or shall we stupidly ask whether these soldiers did not formerly consider England fit to fight for and die for ? Or shall we describe their enlistment as a “performance,” as the Madras Moil foolishly describes the joining of the Home Rule League by some of our leaders ? Before the present war there were many political parties in the United Kingdom at loggerheads with one another. But the crisis in their nation’s history has led them to close up their ranks and present a united front to the enemy. Is it a “performance” or are the parties in dead earnest ? Hate us, if you will, but don’t be foolish.

 

Fighting for Freedom and Democracy.

 

In the present crisis both the bureaucracy and the people of India have their duties to perform. The leaders of the people, as we shall see are not unmindful of their duty. The bureaucrats do not yet appear to understand what duty and statesmanship require of them. Of course, their duty has always been to prepare the people of India for self-government and to grant it before it is too late; History will record how they have performed that duty. It would have been an act of consummate statesmanship if at the present time the rulers of India had granted to the people of India at least the first instalment of responsible self-government. Thereby they could have done not only an act of long-deterred justice, but would also have been able to enlist the active co-operation of India in the prosecution of the war to a much greater extent than they have been able to secure.

 

But far from promoting the cause of self-government in India, some of them have chosen to act in a directly contrary manner. At the same time we have been hearing for some time past, from the lips ol British, Coloni.il and American statesmen, that this war is, so far as Great Britain and her Allies are concerned, a war tor safeguarding democracy and freedom all over the world. And it is true, in theory at least, that the rulers ot India here are responsible for what they do to the British Parliament andCabinet. Therefore, either our rulers should of their own accord see that their acts are in accordance with the declarations of British, Colonial, and American statesmen regarding the nature and objects of the war, or British statesmen, from the Premier downwards, should take steps to ensure that their principles are followed in practice in India. Otherwise, the aforesaid declarations in favour of freedom and democracy are bound to stink in our nostrils.

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The Object of Repression.

 

We have said above that Lord Pentland’s object will not be gained, for though Mrs. Besant and her two associates have been deprived of liberty of speech and action, others will take up the work which they have been hitherto doing. His Excellency’s object was also, no doubt, to wean men from thoughts of Home Rule; but the cause of Home Rule has already gained and will continue to gain new adherents.

 

And a far larger number of persons will now sympathise with Mrs. Besant and the cause for which she stood than was the case before, though they may not all formally join the Home Rule League.

 

It is always a loss to the cause of law and order when that which is legitimate comes to occupy thc same level with that which is not. Hitherto, ostensibly at any rate, men had been interned tor alleged conspiracy or indirect connection with conspiracy. But here we have three persons, whose loyalty cannot be impugned, deprived of their liberty apparently for no other reason than that they were active promoters of a vigorous constitutional propaganda. It is not, of course, the object of the bureaucracy to lead men to think that sedition is as good as constitutional agitation; but people may infer that the bureaucracy want to frighten them by practically showing chat in official estimation constitutional agitation is as bad as sedition. This inference, too, may lie entirely unwarranted. But, in any case, one of the objects of repression is to deter men from a certain course of conduct by frightening them. Now, if the object of repression be to prevent both sedition and constitutional agitation, what it are we to do ? Are we to go on singing the praises of the bureaucracy and burning incense at their altar from year’s end to year’s end and wait on their good pleasure? That. is plainly to expect the impossible. What are we then to do ? Perhaps, the bureaucracy would not object, if we simply played at constitutional agitation, never venturing to make it a reality.

 

As for fright, people cannot always be frightened. Familiarity generates courage, as it may also breed contempt.

 

Repression then and now-

 

When the Swadeshi agitation was at its height, nine Bengali gentlemen were deported, including such well-known leaders as Babus Aswini Kumar Datta and Krishna Kumar Mitra. We know the consternation which, these deportations produced at that time. None of the big political

leaders being available, Pandit Sivnath Sastri, who is not a politician but a missionary, consented to talcs the chair at our protest meeting. There was a feeling of great insecurity in the public mind, nobody knowing whose turn it would next be to be deported. Lists of the next batch of deportees passed from month to month. House searches also added to the vague feeling of terror of the people of Bengal. Month after month, swadeshi meetings in Calcutta had not the benefit of being presided over by some of the most prominent leaders who were still enjoying their liberty. All workers were not, of course, frightened away from the swadeshi platform, but some were. We write all this from personal knowledge and experience.

 

What is the state of things now? During the war hundreds ol men have been interned and otherwise deprived of their liberty for reasons not known to the public. A few of them are reported either to have died in jail or become insane. And there has been no end of house-searches. But, though the relatives and intimate friends of the men deprived of their liberty keenly feel tor their bufferings, there is not the same feeling of consternation, vague fear and insecurity in the public mind as there was in the days ot the swadeshi agitation. Evidently, then, repression cannot now have the same deterrent effect as it had in those days.

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Good Signs.

 

On the contrary, good signs are clearly perceptible. There is nothing to show that the leading men of India have been frightened. At the first intimation of the coming repression, the oldest living Congressman, after the venerable Dadabhai Naoroji, declared in simple and dignified language his determination not to desert his post of duty. In answer to the appeal of the Governor ot Madras, contained in his closing speech at the Ootacamund session of the provincial legislative council, for the support by influential persons of the measures, then intended to be taken, to suppress the Home Rule agitation, Sir S. Subramania Iyer, K.C.I.E., LL D., retired Acting Chief Justice ot the Madras High Court, issued the following weighty and courageous pronouncement :–

 

To My Countrymen

 

We have all read the speech of H. E. the Governor of Madras to his Legislative Council, in which he foreshadows measures for the supression of the Home Rule propaganda, aud asks for the support, in the measures taken, of all those who have personal or hereditary influence. I answer that appeal, being a responsible public man, having held high judicial office in the State, having been recognised and rewarded by the Crown and honoured by my University, and being an old man, of trained caution in coming to a derision, and of mature judgment I therefore think it my duty to the Government to state my position.

 

Before I was raised to the Bench, I was a Congressman and to me Self-Government, or Home Rule, is no new thing. I believe, and have long believed, that its early establishment is vital for the welfare of the country and the stability of the Empire, and that it is therefore necessary to carry on a constitutional and educative agitation for it, as ordered by the Congress at its last session. Believing thus,I gladly accepted the Honorary Presidentship of the Home Rule fur India League, Honorary only because my health forbids active and strenuous work. I cannot retrace my steps, I will not resign my office, even if the League be declared unlawful. I am ready to face any penalties which may follow on my decision, for I believe that the time has come when God, in whose hands are all earthly Governments, calls on India to assert that right to Freedom which He has given, and to claim Self-Rule — in the words of the Congress — in the Reconstruction of the Empire after the War. To defend Home Rule is to me a religious as well as a civic duty, and this duty I will discharge. I call on you, my countrymen, to do the same.

 

S Subramaniam KCIE LLD

Retired Acting Chief Justice of the Madras High Court.

 

Sir P. Subramaniam was not the only man in Madras to make a kind of response to the appeal of the Goverment which must have been disappointing and unpalatable to his lordship. Mr K V Rangaswami Aiyangar, representing the landed aristocracy of Madras in the Supreme Legislative Council, wrote a very outspoken rejoinder to Lord Pentland’s appeal, in the course of which he said —

 

The Legislative Councils, as they are at present, serve no purpose but to present an illusion to the civilised world that India is governed through representative assemblies. Even without these Councils, the Autocracy would be better off as they will be then solely held responsible. So the Congress, the Muslim League and the Indian elected representatives of the Viceroy’s Council have all come to the one conclusion, and that, Self-Government.

 

We stand by it at all risks. How could such a worthy goal be obtained without an effort and a struggle? Conviction of the righteousness and the necessity of this goal would certainly make us slight the threats and actual harassment. As has been boldly and lucidly stated by our revered and clearsighted countryman, Sir S Subramaniam Aiyar, KCIE, I hold the the conviction that Home Rule is the goal and the methods of attaining it are legitimate and constitutional, and I am prepared to brave any penalty or humiliation for holding that conviction, or for transgressing any mandate that may illegalise my holding such beliefs, or my hoping for a better state of affairs, or for expressing to others what my convictions and hopes are. Repression is ever the reviver of the National conscience, and if the present time does not teach us methods of organisation and work, what else is going to do it ?

 

Some members of the Madras Legislative Council also protested against and expressed their disapproval of the policy foreshadowed in LordPentland’s speech.

 

In the United Provinces, theHon Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and the Hon. Dr. Tej Bahadur Sapru wrote weighty letters to the press on the official policy of repression. At the time they wrote these letters they did not know that orders of internment had been served upon Mrs Besant and two of her co-workers.

 

It is not our intention to give a chronological 01 exhaustive account of all that has happened in this connection. We mention only a few items just to give an idea of the temper of the country. The following petition to H.E the Viceroy has been drawn up on the subject of the measures foreshadowed in Lord Pentland’s speech for the suppression of the Home Rule propaganda —

 

We, the undersigned loyal and law abiding citizens of this country, who have all attained majority, having read with surprise and pain the menace of measures of repression to check the expression of the legitimate desire of Indians for Self Government, or Home Rule, made by HE The Governor of Madras in his speech at the closing session of his Legislative Council in May last, desire to submit to your Excellency our earnest hope that Your Excellency will refuse your sanction to all attempts to stop political agitation for the gaining of reform which will, in the words of the Premier of Great Britain, save the Indians Irom continuing to be a subject race and will bestow Self-Government, or Home Rule, on the people of India. We view with alarm this proposed annulment of a constitutional right, never before denied by the Government to subjects of the Crown, and believe that it will cause widespread discontent and will place a weapon in the hands of the Kin’s enemies.

 

It has been numerously signed.

 

Mr S R Bomanji, a prominent citizen of Bombay and a member of its Home Rule League, has written to the Hon. Mr Jinnah, saying, “I am prepared to place the sum of a lakh of rupees at the disposal of our League for its future activities.”

New India says .–

 

A Fund called the Besant Home Rule Fund has been started by some members of the Home Rule League. The following gentlemen are appointed Trustees: Messrs C Jivarajadasa, C P. Ramaswami Aiyar, Ratansi D Morarji and Jamnadas Dwarkadas. The donations hitherto received are:

 

“A Friend,” Rs 20,000 • Mr. Ratansi D Morarii, Rs 5000

 

An Associated Press telegram from Bombay informs the public that Miss Hawabai Petit has given five thousand rupees to the Mrs. Annie Besant fund started in Madras by Sir Subramaniam Iyer. Other contributions also have been received. Miss Petit, it is understood, has also paid a sum of twenty thousand rupees to the Home Rule League, Bombay.

 

In Bombay, UP, and elsewhere many prominent men, including members of Council, have jojned the Home Rule League. Less prominent additions to the ranks of the Home Rulers have been simply numerous. In Allahabad some leading gentlemen, who wanted to form a Committee for obtaining recruits for the Defence Force, have cancelled the notice of the meeting at which it was to have been formed, by way of protest against the policy of repression.

 

Numerous public meetings of angry and strong protest have been already held all over the country, and more are to be held in the immediate future. Ladies also have met in public to protest against Lord Pentland’s policy and to express sympathy with Mrs. Besant. Demands for the recall of Lord Pentland and the repudiation of his policy by the British Government have been made in the press and on the platform. Many persons have expressed their determination to carry on the Home Rule propaganda in an open and constitutional manner, braving all risks. A manifesto, embodying a similar resolve, is to be issued in Bengal, signed by all leading public men.

 

A correspondent has written to the Lahore Tribune suggesting that Hon. Members of councils should resign by way of protest and that paper does not disapprove of the idea.

 

All this is very encouraging and hope-inspiring. The most difficult part of the business, however, is not to make resolves or to hurl defiance at the bureaucracy, but to carry out the resolve. Let us be true to our determination to do our best to make the demand for Home Rule as intelligent and wide-spread as is possible under the present circumstances of India.

 

We must give to our people both general education and political education.

 

It is very encouraging to be able to record that both the organs of Mrs. Besant, New India and the Commonweal, are to go on. Competent men have volunteered to do this part of her work. It is to be hoped that others who have taken the Home Rule vow will do their duty with equal courage and sacrifice. ….

 

 

Our Contribution.

 

Tbe Modern Review has preached and advocated Home Rule or something better than Home Rule from 1907, the year of its birth. It will continue to do so according to its ability and resources.

 

Should the use of the words “Home Rule” be forbidden, we would not hesitate to obey. We would give up the use of those words, and use “self-government” or “self-rule,” within the Empire, “internal autonomy,” and the like. Should these be also interdicted, and the idea of self- government within the Empire be declared unlawful, it might not be possible for us to climb down. But we might consider whether it would not be possible for us to climb up in a right legal and constitutional manner, and discuss, within the limits of the law, the ideal of a more perfect citizenship and the legitimate means for its attainment.

 

In the meantime we are content to live in the region of more immediately practical politics, which occupies a lower plane than that of those highcr political speculations, and offer to the public, besides the monthly issues of the Prabasi and the Modern Review, the second part Of “Towards Home Rule.” The first part was sent for review to all our contemporaries with whom we are in exchange. The second part has been sent only to those Indian journals which were kind enough to notice the first.

 

 

 

“Renegades.”

 

The Indian Daily News, we regret to find, has called Mrs. Besant and Mr. Arundale a couple of European renegades.

 

We are of opinion that this word of reproach ought rather to be applied to those who can neither takes part in nor appreciate a struggle for freedom.

 

Mrs. Besant’s Interview with Lord Pentland.

 

The Hindu of Madras and other papers have published a report of Mrs. Besant’s interview with Lord Pentland, which makes interesting and instructive reading. Here it is.

 

Immediately after the interview with His Excellency, the Governor of Madras, on June 16th, 1917, before returning to the office where the order was served about an hour later, Mrs Besant described to Home friends the interview with him at follows.

 

At the beginning H E. said, “I have come down from Ooty, Mrs Besant, in order to show my great consideration for you, and to speak to you myself and give you opportunity to reconsider.”

 

I said, “What am I to consider?” He said, “That is for you to decide, Mrs Besant.” He added, “You may ask me for time to consider and see me again tomorrow. You might like to consult your friends.”

 

I answered, “The only two people I shall consult would be Sir Subramaniam and C. P Ramaswamy Aiyar and, as we know each other’s opinions, I don’t see what would be gained by consulting.” He said, “If you would like to ask for consideration I will give it to you.”

 

I asked H E for what reason I was about to be interned. He said, “I cannot discuss that, Mrs Besant.” I said, “In the Supreme Council, Sir Reginald Cruddock stated that no one was interned without a full statement of the offence for which he was interned, and without being given a full opportunity for explanation or defence. I did not think at the time that it was true, because some of my own friends had gone and I knew they had no such opportunity. But I am very grateful to Your Excellency for proving it to be false.” H E. answered, “I cannot discuss it, Mrs Besant.”

 

I said, “I can only act according to my conscience, and leave the rest to God.” He replied, “We must all do that.”

 

I added, “I have nothing to regret in anything I have written or in anything that I have said and unless Your Excellency tells me what you wish me to consider, I am at a loss to know what to suggest.” He replied, “That is for you to consider, Mrs. Besant.”

 

I said, “I have heard it said that Your Excellency was going to offer me the alternative of going to England.” He answered, “For the period of the War I will give you a safe conduct to England to take you through.” I replied, “I do not intend to go to England.”

 

Again I said, “We all understand from Your Excellency’s speech that you object to the Congress programme, and that is identical with the programme of the Home Rule League.” He replied, “I cannot reopen the subject, Mrs Besant.” I added, “I think I should say to Your Excellency that the Home Rule League is simply supporting the Congress programme.” (Here I read from the Congress programme.) H. E. said, “I don’t know what that is.” I replied, “It is the Reform Resolution passed by the Congress.” He said, “I have not seen it.” I answered, “Your Excellency this is the Indian National Congress.”

 

After a pause I said, “In Your Excellency’s Press Communique just issued, you hare stated that deliberate appeal had been made to the young to join in an active political agitation. People consider that that is aimed at me, but it is the exact opposite of my printed and spoken statements.” He answered, “I don’t know anything about that, Mrs Besant; it applies to whomsoever it would suit. You must understand, Mrs Besant, that we shall stop all your activities.” I said, “I suppose so. I think I ought to say to Your Excellency that at the present time the Madras Presidency is absolutely quiet and untroubled. Your proposed action will turn it into n condition of turmoil like that of Bengal.”

 

He answered, “I cannot discuss that, Mrs. Besant.”

 

I said, “It seems to me that as Your Excellency has no proposals to make and I have none, that I am wasting Your Excellency’s time. Will you permit me to take leave?” I arose and he walked with me to the door and, on bis way, he said, “I wish you to consider, Mrs Besant, that we cannot discriminate and the whole of your activities will be stopped.” I said, “You have all the power and I am helpless, and must do what you like. There is just one thing I should like to say to Your Excellency and that is that I believe you are striking the deadliest blow against the British Empire in India.” Then, as we neared the door, I said, “You will pardon my saying to Your Excellency that, as you are acting as the Governor, I have no personal feeling against Your Excellency.”

 

The impression which the report of the interview produces is that Lord Portland came down from the heights of Ootacamund to receive the humble prayers and most respectful submissions ot Mrs. Besant. But as she was not in the mood to pray, his lordship could not say anything that was of any use or had much meaning; he was evidently not prepared for such impenitence. He could not discuss this or that, or “reopen the subject”.

 

His Excellency’s statement that he did not possess any knowledge of the Congress programme may appear to the followers of the bureaucratic cult supremely Olympic in manner and matter, but to us such ignorance of and indifference to merely mundane affairs cannot but appear as a most lamentable and reprehensible disqualification in the ruler of a province. The only articulate class of people in the country are those who have received education. The Indian National Congress and the Moslem League give expression to their views. A man who after five years of stay in the country does not know the joint reform programme of the progressives and yet on the strength of his ignorance can think of depriving law-abiding and earnest workers for the public good of their liberty us certainly not a tower of strength to the Empire, but is rather one who is unconsciously undermining its foundations. Mrs. Besant spoke only the bare truth when she said to Lord Pentland: “I believe you arc striking the deadliest blow against the British Empire in India.” Will the blow be allowed to strike home, or will it be intercepted midway by the British Cabinet, Parliament or Democracy?

 

Mrs. Besant has very neatly proved to His Excellency’s face that the official statement that those who are interned are informed of their offence and given an opportunity for an explanation or defence, is false.

 

Entire Pre-occupation with the War.

 

Reform of the House of Lords

 

A COMMITTEE TO BE APPOINTED

 

(Reuter’s Telegram)

 

London, June 23.

Received 1-20 p. m., June 22.

In the House of Lords, Lord Curzon announced that the Government had decided to appoint a committee to deal with the question of reform of the House of Lords as promptly as possible.

 

This is a fresh proof of the correctness of the assertion of the Viceroy and some other rulers of India that the attention and energies of the British Government at “home” are exclusively concentrated on the immediate task of winning the war, and that this pre-occupation makes it impossible for them to pay any attention to any other, and particularly any Indian, problem.

 

“The World’s Freedom.”

 

Speaking at a luncheon given by the Empire Parliamentary Association in his honour, Mr. Balfour said in part that in America, “he had been deeply impressed by the spontaneous exhibition of enthusiasm for the common cause of the world’ freedom.” Is it the freedom of the world or of the world minus India?

 

He also said :–

 

The American nation welcomed the opportunity offered by the Mission to manifest their deep moral and spiritual agreement with the policy of the Allies.

 

I believe Anglo-American co-operation in this war It hosed not upon the fact that each has something to get out of it but upon the deep congruity and harmony of moral feelings and moral ideals. Therefore we may be certain that the United States will never leave us till the great aims for which we are fighting have been accomplished. (Cheers) They are not going to refuse any sacriificc, any more than we are, to bring to happy fruition the policy on which the Whole trend of international civilised evolution depends as far as human eyes and human powers of foresight can venture to penetrate into the future.

(Cheers)

 

Lord Pentland and Mr. Chamberlain have deprived us, Mr. Balfour, of the power to understand this “deep moral and spiritual agreement,” this “deep congruity and harmony of moral feeling and moral ideals,” these “great aims,” and “the policy on which the whole trend of international civilised evolution depends.”

 

Lord Pentland’s Apologia.

 

In the communique which the Private Secretary to H. E. the Governor of Madras wired to the press last month it is said that “there is much evidence of the practical sympathy of the Government with the natural aspirations oi Indians to bear a larger part of the burdens of public administration.” The Government has certainly never objected to our bearing the ever-increasing burdens of administration in the shape of paying more taxes, to our carrying out in subordinate capacities the orders of the heads of administrations, departments and offices, and in similar ways. But we do not find much evidence of a desire to allow us any power of initiative or any controlling voice or hand in public administration. It is also said : “Against Self-government within the British Empire, as the political ideal for India, or against ‘constitutional and educative efforts’ tor that ideal, they have offered no opposition. The legitimacy of that ideal and of such efforts is not disputed by them.” We find, however, that Government have in Bombay, Panjab, the Central Provinces and Madras recently offered practical opposition to the ideal of self-government within the British Empire, as soon as we have begun to make serious efforts to realise that ideal. And in what respect were the efforts’ of Mrs. Besant and other workers other than constitutional and educative ? The communique proceeds :–

 

Holding as they do, however, that the ultimate ideal of full and responsible Self-Government can be reached in time only by successive stages, as education extends, as elements of disunion diminish, and as larger numbers of the vast inarticulate populations of India acquire some measure of political status and experience, they must condemn strongly the advocacy of the establishment of complete autonomy for India at the close of the War in terms which deny or wholly ignore the possibility ot successive, steps in the development ot that ideal. Differences of opinion may fairly, no doubt, exist as to the stages which must precede the attainment of the ultimate goal, the number and the nature of those starts, the periods of time ‘required to effect them, and generally as to the details of the aims of the movement for Self-Government. Upon the examination of such differences, the Madras Government do not now enter.

 

Their immediate concern is with the methods employed by some of the advocates ot political change and with the results of such methods. In justification of their demands, it would seem to be the considered practice of some speakers and writers to resort to unscrupulous attacks and insidious calumnies upon the existing Administration, to disregard altogether the principles of fair and honest criticism and to attempt to persuade the ignorant and the credulous that, for all the ills , many hardships of life, the obvious and easily attainable remedy is to sweep away the present system of Government.

 

Will Lord Pentland definitely mention the name of any responsible public man, public association, organisation or journal in his province or elsewhere in India who or which has advocated “the establishment of complete autonomy tor India at the close of the war”? The resolution passed on this object at the thirty-first session of the Indian National Congress at Lucknow, December, 1916, runs as follows :–

 

“That this Congress demands that a definite step should be taken towards Sell-government by granting the reforms contained in the scheme prepared by the All-India Congress Committee in concert with the Reforms Committee appointed by the All-India Moslem League.”

 

This scheme, which was printed in our last February number, is far from being one of complete autonomy.

 

But should any person, society, or newspaper consider that India ought to have complete internal autonomy at the close of the war, and demand and agitate for it in a constitutional manner, what justification would there be for penalising such action ? One essential point of disagreement between the man in power and the reformer has always been that what the former has pronounced an impossible dream the latter has considered practicable.

 

As the Madras Government have made a wrong statement on the chief point at issue, namely, the alleged demand of complete autonomy at the close of the War, we also do not care to discuss the question of stages, their number, the intervals between them, etc. But it may be pointed out that it is only because of the people’s agitation for self-government, that any Government now mentions such things as stages, etc. Has the Imperial or any Provincial Government ever told us even vaguely what the stages are, what their number is, the periods of time required to effect them, &c. ? The Filipinos passed through certain definite stages before the attainment of fully responsible government; and the whole process occupied only some 18 years. May we hope to reach that goal at the cud of 180 years ‘from the establishment of British rule ?

 

As for the extension of education, the diminution of the elements of disunion, etc., we are far better fitted for self-government in these respects than many British colonies and independent countries at the time they first began to exercise the franchise and “other civic rights. Details are ‘given in our pamphlet “Towards Home Rule” of which a copy was presented to Lord Pentland some months ago. In England itself national education did not precede but followed the extension of the franchise. The leaders of the people have urged the adoption of measures for more rapid and extensive spread of education, but the bureaucracy have stood in the way. For our educational backwardness the Government arc mainly responsible. For them to bring forward that backwardness as an argument against the early grant of self-government has not even the merit of cleverness. The establishment of mixed committees or boards for the settlement or adjustment of Hindu- Moslem disputes or differences have been asked for; but Government have not complied with the request. And our differences have been greatly exaggerated. Such differences have existed and still exist in many self-governing countries, as described in “Towards Home Rule,” part I.

 

Our methods are constitutional. But if anybody adopted any objectionable methods, the ordinary laws of the country were quite sufficient to bring them under control or punish them. “Unscrupulous attacks and insidious calumnies,” if any, could have been similarly dealt with.

 

What man in authority has ever objected to “fair and honest criticism” ? But the pity is that Sir Oracles always insist on monopolising the right to fix the standard of “fair and honest criticism”. It must be such as not to inconvenience them. It would have been good if the communique had given us the names of those charlatans who say that “for till the ills and hardships of life, the obvious and easily attainable remedy is to sweep away the present system of Government.” What responsible leaders and organs of public opinion have said is different. They have urged that unless the present system of Government is changed, the political, sanitary and economic ills of India cannot lie cured. They have never said that Home Rule alone would suffice to cure them. ….

 

 

Freedom and Democracy in South Africa.

 

Indian Opinion writes :–

 

“A public meeting under the auspices of the Transvaal British Indian Association, was held on Sunday, 6th inst., at Goldberg’s Bioscope. Fully five hundred British Indians representing all sections and affiliated Associations, were present. The Hall was much too small to hold the gathering and the proceedings were marked by feelings of considerable indignation and resolve.

 

The Chairman of the Transvaal British Indian Association presided, and said :-

“Gentlemen, we have met firstly to express our sorrow at the death of a respected young brother, the latest victim to the contempt in which the British Indian of this Province is held, and the cruelty to which such unbridled contempt can be carried. Bhula Bhowan was a young Indian gentleman of education, who, a few days back, was travelling on one of the Municipal Tram-cars running to Vrededorp, and forcibly thrown off the car while it was in motion by a European who resented bis presence thereon. Our young brother was left in the road unconscious while the train moved on. He never recovered consciousness and shortly afterwards died. The individual responsible for this act of brutality is still at large, and this community is going to know no rest until be is brought to justice. This is not because we are seeking revenge or because to an Indian death’ is felt to be a great calamity. We intend to nip in the bud the tendency we observe to be growing to regard Indian life and Indian rights as matters of small account.”

 

There is at least one European in the British Empire who does not believe in fighting for the freedom and equality of all men, and has the courage of his conviction. General Smuts need not despair of finding his audience, though few, for his lectures on the true mission of the British Empire and its traditions of liberty, equality and democracy.

 

Wc learn from Indian Opinion that the Draft Natal Local Government Ordinance attacks the right of Indians to vote at municipal elections and become Councillors. This, too, shows that General Smuts will find fit audience.

 

What have Indians in Natal done that they should be deprived of the Municipal vote? It is they who made Natal the “Garden of South Africa.” Many European businesses depend very largely upon Indian support and assistance. Indians contribute liberally to war funds and take their place alongside Europeans on the battlefield. It is not right that any intelligent section of the people should have no say regarding the spending of the rates they pay. Apart from the achievements of Indians in the higher regions of human endeavour, in the lower sphere of politics they have done good work as members of the British Parliament, members of the Imperial War Conference and Cabinet, members of the Secretary of State’s council, Prime Ministers of Indian States, Members of the Executive Councils and Legislative Councils of the Viceroy and Provincial Governors, &c. It would be supremely foolish to say that men of the same race are unfit to exercise the municipal franchise. There are Indians in Natal who have been municipal voters and even councillors in India.

 

Indians are compelled to ride on a specially-reserved tram-car, separate cars having been secretly and illegally established for Europeans on certain routes. Indians are, moreover, segregated and compelled to reside in special areas. These facts also show that General Smuts ought to have fit audience when he returns to his native land. Those who object to the establishment of self-government in India until the abolition of caste, are requested to reflect on the state of things prevailing in the self-governing dominion of the South African Union. ….

 

 

 

 

 

mr-covers

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