Mr. Gandhi's New Policy
BRITISH Governments have often faced a situation in a provisionally dependent country as confusing and as discouraging as that which we now see in India, and if the present Goverrunent should not deal wisely with India it certainly will not be because they lack a great legacy of experience. Great Britain must,. of course, behave " firmly " ; but we use that word not in its earlier bad sense of suppression as a sufficient policy in itself, but in the sense of consistency in keeping the real objective in view. The real objective is that the peoples of India shall be brought without unnecessary delay to the state in which they shall be recognized as a community, in all respects equal to the great self-governing Dominions of the British Common- wealth.
From this policy no British Government, whatever their party label, ought to be in the least deflected by passing follies or terrorism. The British promise must hold good because it is a promise. "Be just and fear not" is the right motto. That is to say, that just as no sensible British Government would yield what they felt they ought not to yield in answer to threats, so they would not reduce by one jot the helpfulness and concessions which they feel are due to India merely because some extremists, in the ascendant for the moment, may say that Great Britain has surrendered through weakness or fear. Those Englishmen who look for "gratitude," and are always amazed and resentful when they do not receive it, know nothing of the record of Great Britain in building up self-governing commu- nities. If Great Britain has herself conferred the hope of freedom she has also conferred at the same time a disposition to impatient and often wild agitation. We who are constitutional democrats believe that these distressing portents will pass, as they have passed before, because we hold to the faith that constitutional methods will triumph on their merits. Even in this country after the War men turned to exotic revolutionary proposals, as though an evolutionary process could really be cut short and the summit reached at unprecedented speed. The reaction has since come ; most of those who were the extremists of a few years ago are now watching their steps as carefully as any convinced Constitutionalist could desire.
We said recently that there is a present feeling among Indian politicians comparable with what is called " face " in China. There is a strong desire to win a position of high national dignity and honour for India—a desire which ought to have full British sympathy, and which we shall discountenance at our peril—but it is probably true that if the ambition is carefully respected by Great Britain the vast majority of sensible Indians will not dream of insisting on being left alone to run before they can walk. Only madmen suppose that a transference of power from the strong and benevolent Central Govern- ment to Indians themselves can be accomplished in a hurry. Even for people of the Western world, steeped in the traditions and practice of self-government, the task would be one of years. If we look at affairs in India in this light we shall not be dismayed by the folly of the Indian Nationalist Congress which has gone back on its recent past—on its talk about Dominion status and on the all-Parties scheme for self-government—and has declared nakedly for "complete independence." This impossible plan, which would reduce India to chaos if it could be put into effect at a stroke, is to be supported, according to the programme of Congress, by every kind of civil disobedience, boycott of the Legislative Assembly and the Provincial Councils, boycott of elections, and refusal to pay taxes. The suffering which would be brought upon millions of innocent people who do not know the difference between self-government and the rule of the British Raj would be terrible.
The one thing which could make the Congress policy of complete independence take on a look of feasibility would be the existence of a single Indian scheme for the governing of an independent, or even a semi-indepen- dent country. There is no such scheme. The Indian Liberals, at their meeting in Madras, have been denounc- ing the madness of the Congress. And if we want a more perfect illustration of the inability of Indians to produce a policy of self-government upon which they can all agree, we have it in the Report published last week of the Indian Central Committee. It will be remembered that this Committee, partly elected from the Legislative Council and partly nominated from the Legislative Assembly, was created to hold joint sessions with the Simon Commission. It had been supposed that the Committee would publish its Report simultaneously with the Simon Report, but the publication has been accelerated, perhaps because the Committee wished to influence the Congress. The main idea of the Committee, so far as a main idea can be disentangled, is that there should be full Provincial autonomy under a strong Central Government, and that the element of diarchy which has tentatively, and not altogether successfully, been used in Provincial administration, should be implanted in the Central Government. Thus it is hoped that there would be a gradual transference of authority from British to Indian hands at the centre.
It will be noted that this relatively moderate scheme is totally at variance with the new Congress idea of complete independence. Nor is that all. The individual reser- vations by the members of the Committee are so numerous that by the time one reaches the end of the document one finds little of the original scheme left. One's chief impression is that all the moderately-minded Indians are desperately afraid of anarchy appearing if the Central Government should develop any weakness. That is why the members treat changes at the centre with such remarkable caution, and why many of them demand that even in the Provinces the Governor should retain a veto. As for the Moslem members, they use very strong language when they contemplate the possibility of their subordination to a "Hindu democracy."
It was a bad day for Indian democratic development when, under the influence of Mr. Gandhi, the Nationalist Congress decided that, as complete independence was to be demanded, there could be no question of taking part in the Round Table Conference with the British Government. The British offer of consultation with every variety of Indian opinion before the Reform Bill is presented ;to Parliament has the whole weight of British sympathy behind it, and it was made to the Indian peoples themselves in generous and graceful language by Lord Irwin. Our disappointment that so hopeful a suggestion has been spurned by the Nationalist extremists is very keen. We cannot help fearing that Mr. Gandhi may be letting loose forces which may pass entirely out of his control. We know his hatred of violence, and give him full credit for pure intentions, but the tone of the Congress—its misguided tolerance of law breakers and violence—must be noted.
The law will have to be maintained;. India must be kept safe for innocent people to go on their lawful ways ; but at such a juncture it is above all important to remem- ber that the administration of the law must never lapse into •restrictions and repressions which become vexatious and provocative. Freedom to express political opinions must be distinguished from freedom to do evil deeds. Otherwise the moderate elements will be driven, as always happens in such circumstances, into the arms of revolu- tionaries. If the British Government hold on their course temperately, justly and fearlessly, they will be rewarded. The legislative bodies in India will at least be freed from much obstruction. - The moderates and Liberals will have a fairer field. The great influence of Lord Irwin, for whom there is general admiration and liking in India, will be felt.
The merits of Constitutional evolution will at length be acknowledged. The truth will be recognized that democracy cannot be a series of violent upheavals. And we shall be surprised if it is not discovered in good time that the only way to reach a status of independence within the British Commonwealth is for Indians to co-operate with Great Britain in that 'great adventure of nation-building, which is after the hearts of English- men, but which requires at least an equal effort and a corresponding good will from those who are to be raised to the heights of their desires.