TO MY INDIAN FRIENDS
By ELEANOR RATHBONE, M.P.
THOSE of us in this country who in former years did our best to aid the Indian people in their struggle towards self-government are now deeply concerned over the deadlock in the constitutional issue and its tragic consequences. Most of my British friends are concentrating on the question of how far our own Government may be to blame for the dead- lock and what they could possibly do to end it. They may be right to do this, since that is where our responsibility lies.
But I see a risk that their attitude may mislead non-coopera- ting Indians into thinking that all progressive-minded British people are with them in throwing the whole blame on the British authorities. Hence I am moved to take the opposite course, by trying to set down as I see it the case against the non-cooperators, saying nothing about the other sidi of the case, though I know it exists. Nor do I attempt to discuss the various proposals for solution, because others more competent are doing that.
I have no claim to be an expert on India. My only claim to express any opinion on Indian affairs is that of a back- bench M.P. of no political party, who was moved to stand in 1929 for the University Constituency I represent largely by my desire to help Indian women to secure social reforms and a political status equivalent to those which British women had achieved. With this object I visited India in 1931 to confer with representatives of these movements there ; organised and led the women's side of the struggle in Parliament for Indian reforms ending with the Statute of 1935 and afterwards wrote a book on Child Marriage in India, which was generally admitted to be comprehensive, accurate and impartial.
Here, then, is my deliberately one-sided indictment. The leaders of the non-cooperating movement have condemned the Nazi and Fascist aggressors ; have expressed horror of their persecutions and cruelties and sympathy with their victims. They have condemned, also, the surrenders and concessions of the British Government to the aggressors during the pre- war period of appeasement in the matters of Manchuria, Abyssinia, Spain, Czecho-Slovakia and everywhere else where the desire to avert war influenced British policy.
Yet now that we are at war with the aggressors, these leaders and their followers are doing everything in their power to frustrate the war-effort, not only by taking no part in it, but by clogging the machinery of government through their defiance of the law. In effect, therefore, they are playing the part not of neutrals but of non-violent allies of the aggressors, increasing their chances of victory and so of prolonging the sufferings of the subjugated nations. Hating yet aiding Hitler in the supposed interests of their own country, their position is not unlike that of the Men of Vichy, without Vichy's excuse of several million hostages in Hitler's hands.
The reply may be that this is not the intention: the inten- tion is to resist participation in the war without India's con- sent. In that case, we are entitled to ask the non-cooperators : If India had been consulted, what would the answer have been, if you could have decided it? If it would have been " Yes," was the absence of formal consultation, even if a bad mistake, so inexcusable under the stress of great emergency that it should condition your whole attitude and turn you from Potential allies of ours into actual allies of the aggressors, for that is what in effect you are? If it would have been " No," then, where is the consistency of condemning appease- ment yet hindering and not helping war? If you would have replied " Yes, but on the condition of securing India's freedom and independence first," are you not guilty of just the charge you brought against the appeasers of callously sacrificing the interests of every other country to your own? Are you not refusing to forgo, for the sake of other peoples, the tactical advantage which you think Britain's emergency gives you and the satisfaction of paying off old scores against her?
I know that the non-cooperators repudiate the motive of vengeance and the desire to exploit England's emergency.
But can they really be exonerated from either motive? Why, for example, does the ablest of their younger leaders, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, refer so repeatedly in his latest writings to old and new injuries and affronts as " things we could never forget or ignore "? (Page 399, Unity of India, Lindsay Drummond, 1941.) Why, specifically in relation to the question of whether India should help in the war, does he rake up the old story of the 1919 Amritsar massacre and of martial law in the Punjab as the things that " really followed " India's help in the last Great War? (Page 358.) Amritsar was a horror of which most progressive Englishmen are deeply ashamed, though there were other Englishmen who condoned it. The General who ordered the massacre was rebuked by a Parliamentary Commission and removed from his command. But were these the only things which " really followed "? Do all the steps towards Indian self-government culminating in the Statute of 1935, the promise of Dominion status and the latest offer that the framework of India's future constitution should be drawn up by Indians themselves, really count for nothing, however much they may fall short of the full demand? And how else but as an exploitation of England's emergency can we view the revival of civil dis- obedience—abandoned throughout the years of the appease- ment-policy, revived precisely at the time of our greatet peril, after the fall of France had left us to face alone the future of blood, toil, tears and sweat held out to us by Mr. Churchill?
Was that magnanimous? And what, Pandit Nehru, are we to think of your assurance that you " have loved much that was England "? What sort of destiny are you preparing by your actions and your influence for the England you have loved? One thing is plain. You and most of the leading men and women among your followers have some cause to love, or at least to be grateful to England, for you have drunk deeply at the wells of English thought ; you owe much to Western and especially to British teachers, men of science, sociologists ; yes, and to British statesmen and politicians, too, for it is over here that the great experiment of democratic institutions and liberties has been chiefly hammered out. One might have expected that all this would have created bonds of spiritual kinship. But seemingly it avails nothing to change your overmastering obsession with your country's wrongs.
We do not blame Indians for putting India first. But in what sense are they serving her by resisting the war-effort?
Suppose their resistance were to prove the straw that turned the scale against us and gave victory to Germany, Italy and Japan, for Japan would come in in the East as Italy did in the West in time to share the expected spoils of victory. Would that mean freedom and independence for India?
We shall win through without your aid. We have the efficient aid of Indians of other ways of thinking. But we want you also, on our side. We know that among the men and women who are in prison today there are many who formerly worked with us for ideas and ideals which are not those of the Princes or of the martial tribes of the North. It is bitter to think that you have failed us in the hour of our own trial. We are walking, all of us, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Scarcely a night passes, but the morning brings its story of men, women and children who have been blown to pieces, crushed to death, buried alive, in the wreckage of one or another of our towns or villages. Every day takes its toll of the young men, our best and finest, who are carry- ing on the struggle on land, at sea and in the air.
I say this, not to excite pity, but because our war-situation and your worsening of it are part of the case against you. The mood of our people is not one of self-pity but of grim endurance. Ninety-four per cent. of the votes cast in the latest by-election were for war-candidates ; the remainder for a pacifist. The proportion of claimants for exemption from war-service on grounds of conscientious objection has steadily diminished from two to a third of one per cent. Even the least politically awakened sections of the masses realise that the only alternative to victory is slavery for ourselves and for half the world.
Those of us who are internationally-minded are, many of us, happier than we have been for years, in spite of the dangers and suffering around us. We hated the policy of appeasement, thinking it—as we think your policy—short- sighted, selfish and ungenerous. We foresaw the abyss into which it was leading us. We fought hard against it as it affected China, Abyssinia, Spain, Czecho-Slovakia. We were ashamed for our country. Now we are no longer ashamed, but passionately proud. We feel that if there is anything in the doctrine of expiation, Britain has expiated her sin.
Yet we are still critical and watchful lest the old errors should creep in. The danger of this will be greater when victory comes. In that day we shall need help and we shall be prepared to give it—those of us who survive—wherever the forces of reaction, of class-interest and racial prejudice threaten to prevail. That may happen in India. It is the more likely to happen because of the non-cooperation move- ment. Victorious allies will be in no mood to be guided by those who have hindered and not helped victory. If the war ended otherwise, not much could be expected from the grati- tude of the aggressors. Even if Stalin had a say in the matter, freedom and independence are not favourite words in his vocabulary.
Is it too late? We know many of you too well to believe that you can be happy over the part that non-cooperators are playing, even if you are among them. You cannot be satisfied with a policy for India of " Sinn Fein—ourselves alone "; nor satisfied that even for India, it is working out as you would have it. You must be searching your consciences, as we are searching ours, asking whether you and your leaders have done everything possible to end the deadlock. But are you doing this in a spirit of realism, seeking not the ideal solution which might be achievable if Englishmen and other Indians saw their duty as you see it, but considering what next best solution may be actually achievable, other men and their circumstances being what they are? Are you willing to do your share in making concessions and proposing compromises? Have you considered whether, if there has to be a surrender, the duty of at least temporary surrender may not lie on you and not on the British, since the cause for which Britain bears the main responsibility is a world-cause and there will be no freedom or independence for India if it is lost? In face of that peril can you not forget old and even present grievances, injustices, affronts; join hands with us and with other Indians to fight the common foe and afterwards present the strengthened claim of those you represent to shape the destinies of India and of the world you will have helped to save?