TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE DIVISION OF THURSDAY.
WE need hardly say we rejoice in Mr. Fowler's success on Thursday. Mr. Goschen—who, in the absence of Mr. Balfour, led the Unionist party—was entirely right in giving them so unmistakable a cue, and Lord George Hamilton was entirely wrong in fighting, for once in a way, after the fashion of Lord Randolph Churchill. It would have been more than inexpedient for the Unionists to overturn the Government, as no doubt they could have done, upon such a question as the Indian Cotton-duties ; they would have seriously injured their own repute in the eyes of the whole country. The essence of their position is that they think in a broader way than their adversaries ; that they reject a measure desired by a majority in Ireland in the interest of the whole Empire, Ireland included ; and to postpone the security of India to a momentary popularity in Lancashire would have been to abandon their first claim to the confidence of the nation. And to abolish the Indian Cotton-duty because it might to a limited extent increase the depression now pervading cotton manufactures would have been to post- pone the permanent welfare of the Empire to the chance of seizing, a few months earlier than would otherwise be the case, on the reins of power at home. We do not mean that Sir H. James's proposal, which was in fact, though not in form, to repeal the Cotton-duty, would have involved, as so many of our contemporaries have said, the " bankruptcy " of the Indian Treasury. That is ex- aggeration. The Indian Treasury will not go bank- rupt while the British Treasury is full. There are ways, though they would be retrogressive ways, in which large savings could be effected in India, and we cannot admit that new and effective taxes cannot be imposed in that country. There is still a possible betel-tax, a possible copper-tax, a possible receipt-stamp, and, above all, a possible tobacco-duty on the French plan—the plan, that is, of granting an exclusive right to sell tobacco in each pergunna—by which many millions might be obtained. It is not on account of the absence of any other means of raising money that the Government, in sanctioning a tax on cottons, has acted rightly, but on account of principles of government which it is fatal to depart from. It is certain that the Indian Treasury is sorely pressed, it is certain that large reductions of expenditure are for the moment impossible, and it is certain that the taxation which is demanded by all India, by the white men who govern her, and the brown men who are governed, is a tax on cottons. The whole bureaucracy is on that side, not in the interest of their own salaries, as Sir Henry James unwisely implied, for their salaries are in no danger, but from a conviction that the tax is the one which will cause least suffering among the masses of the people ; and those masses are on the same side, not because, as is foolishly said, they love Protection, about which they know and care nothing, but because, like Australians, Canadians, and all men on the Continent, they in- tensely dislike and dread direct taxation. They have never paid it, for the Land-tax is a rent, except at momentary intervals, and they loathe it as an excuse for petty oppression by a host of small officials. The feeling for the Cotton-duties, as Mr. Fowler assured the House, is universal, and although Parliament, when fully convinced that an Indian feeling is unrighteous or silly, has a right as trustee for India to disregard it, it has no right to do so when its only motive is to protect some English traders from competition. It is nonsense to talk of the great principle of Free-trade being involved when we sanc- tion the same tax on every other article imported itita India except machinery, and worse than non- sense to declare that Lancashire is being robbed that Indian civilians may enjoy luxuries in peace. The sanc- tion to the tax has been granted, as Mr. Fowler averred in his closely reasoned speech, which mirabile dicta actually changed votes, because it was demanded by all India, because no alternative project would meet the financial emergency at once, because we should grant it in every free Colony, and because, as Mr. Goschen, in a speech of lofty statesmanship also put it, the very com- pleteness of our authority in India forbids us to crush down universal native feeling. So far as is possible, the Protective character of the impost is taken away by the countervailing Excise-duty ; but as for the impost itself, it is not unjust, it is not inexpedient for India, and it is demanded by the entire community and governing class, whose joint representative the Secretary of State for India is bound to be. We cannot conceive a solid answer to these propositions, and see with a sensation of relief that the Unionist leaders affirm them—for Mr. G-oschen spoke, as he implied, for Mr. Balfour—and that the party at large refused to sacrifice Imperial interests and their own character, even to their hope of superseding this Government by a good one. Of the debate itself there is not much to say, except that the violence of Sir Henry James, and his ignorance of any side of the question except the Lancashire one, greatly impaired his speech, which would have been twice as effective if he could have suggested alternative taxes, or would have done justice to the really remarkable Indian patriotism of the white rulers, who, even when they are engaged in a commerce which the tax may cripple, fight for the view of their native fellow - subjects. Mr. Goschen's speech was a lofty statement of the moral responsibility which ought to bind us when we legislate for India, responsibility which could hardly be better defined than in the following sentences:—" I am not one of those who believe that you can give European institutions to India,—such assemblies as we have here. I do not believe the Indian mind is constituted like ours, and hon. Members opposite might imagine that I and others who think with rue are belated in our views as to how India should be governed. But in proportion as I hold that India is not fit for such representative institu- tions, I feel strongly that we are bound in duty to listen to the voice of the Indian people on questions affecting their interests. We have on the one side powerful repre- sentations which deserve the most respectful considera- tion; and, on the other hand, we have representations from India. How ought we to treat the representation from India ? Surely not simply as those of officials In a question of this kind the voice of India must be heard." And Mr. Fowler's speech proved the fact, long, we believe, admitted by his colleagues, that he has never yet received the political appreciation he deserves. Nobody would have fancied that such an office as the Indian Secretaryship would have brought out his qualities ; but so it is. He is governing a new planet, and doing it well ; and we only wish he could take the Viceroyalty for two years, and bring the permanent trouble of India, her financial system, into order once for all. That work will never be done, and never can be done, except by a Viceroy strong enough to overrule all the stereotyped opinions of Indian financiers, who have every merit except originality. It is not, be it understood, either the logic or the knowledge visible in his speech which excites our admiration, for the department behind him might have supplied both, but the nerve and independence which he displayed. He had made up his mind ; he had resolved on a policy ; and with the fate of the Ministry quivering in the balance, he faced the House of Commons, as he has done at least twice before, with unflinching determination. The parties might vote as they pleased, but he was Minister for India, and proud of the position ; and that was the only policy he should pursue. With a little more of his manliness in all de- partments of the State we should find the Empire safer, the groups paralysed, and the Great Council, which is now a mob and now a Roman Senate, holding its true position as the flywheel in the machine. At present, as all the agitation of Wednesday and Thursday shows, nobody can tell whether the next time the axle gets a little heated, the wheel will burst or not.