THE DEBATE ON BURILLH.
IT is a great pity that the few English philanthropists who take up India as "a cause," and who, if they only knew it, might accomplish so much good, are so rarely politicians. Mr. S. Smith, for example, who raised the debate of Monday night on Upper Burnish, is probably as sincere as any Member ever was, but his action is that of a vaguely benevolent student rather than of a statesman. Having little experience of any world outside We.:tern Europe, and seeing that in Europe wealth and civilisation go together, he is horrified at the chronic poverty of the Indian masses, and feels that resistance to new expenditure is a moral duty. He has travelled in India, has seen that the people are poor beyond European precedent, and feels as if, in sanctioning any avoidable outlay, he were guilty of oppression. That is a side of the Indian Question which needs to be studied ; and if Mr. Smith and a dozen more like him would study it, and compel the House of Commons occasionally to interfere to prevent waste, he would not only benefit India, but greatly strengthen the hands of her Government, which is constantly forced into extravagant outlays against its own better judgment. But when Mr. Smith, instead of resisting waste, demands that the waste should be paid for by the British taxpayer, he is only destroy- ing his own means of usefulness. Whatever the merits or demerits of the conquest of Burmah, it is perfectly certain that the operation was carried out in the interest of India alone. The Government of Simla had become aware, upon evidence which it is inconvenient to publish, but which is conclusive, that the French Foreign Office intended to turn Upper Burmah into a dependent State, and from that basis, whenever convenient,
to threaten Bengal Proper. The plan, which was probably originally Gambetta's, was exceedingly able, and would have involved great suffering to the people of Bengal. That splendid Province, incomparably the greatest possession of the British Crown, is supposed to be beyond attack, is hardly garrisoned, and probably costs less for military defence than any Province within the Empire. If the French plan had succeeded, the South-Eastern frontier would have been thrown open to an invading force, a European corps (ramie's must have been raised to protect a boundary which would then have been in more danger than the Nerth-Western one, and the cost must ultimately have been paid for by the Indian population. The Government thought it cheaper, as well as wiser, to annex, and, of course, the cost of that measure of precaution must be borne by the country to be defended. It must have been borne, even if it were to be severe ; but it is not to be severe. India owes Burmah already some twenty millions sterling, the amount of surplus revenue drawn by the general Treasury from the Burmese Provinces since 1853, and the "war" will not cost a sixth of that sum, will, indeed, be paid for in the end out of the profits of the new acquisition, which has turned out, as already ascertained, far more valualA than the India Office ever dreamed. A native Emperor of India would have taken precisely the course taken by Lord Dufferin, and would have exulted because he had relieved, not increased, the pressure on his central Treasury. A " war " costing £5,000,000 imposes on India a tax of £200,000 a year ; but a fresh garrison of five thousand Europeans would have cost at least four times that sum, and would then have been utterly inadequate. If India is not to pay for her defence, she cannot be defended ; and if, as Mr. Smith in the course of his speech advised, Burmah is to be treated as a separate Dependency, India would lose very heavily. We do not say the latter plan would be either un- wise or immoral. We never feel quite sure that India has a right to take as she does the surplus revenue of Burmah, which is entirely outside her borders; but still, if that is given up, it is India, not Great Britain, that will lose. Mr. Smith, in making that alternative suggestion may be quite in the right; but he is acting wholly against the interest of his own clients, the poverty-stricken masses of India Proper.
The remainder of the debate was really one upon the alleged mismanagement of the new conquest, and would have been far more effective if those who assailed the Indian Government had known their facts a little better. Deceived by statements sent by a correspondent who, whether from dislike of the officers emp'oyed or a pessimist turn of mind, reports nothing but disaster, and exaggerates every disaster beyond all reason, a section of the public believe that the people of Burmah have risen upon their invaders. They have done nothing of the kind, or we should be out of Upper Burmah by this time. The majority of Burmese neither like nor dislike our rule, but accept it, go on with their daily work, and pay their revenue with surprising, as well as gratifying, regularity. There exists in Burmab, however, as everywhere else in Asia, a large class of men who prefer to live by violence, who have been accustomed to enjoy small raids upon their neighbours, and who found in the change of Govern- ment a splendid opportunity. The disbanded soldiers, the ruffians from whom their ranks were supplied, and the regular brigands all made common cause, and dashed as with one consent upon all undefended villages within their reach. The villagers, of course, screamed to the British Government for protection, and the authorities at Mandelay protected them by sending small detachments to their aid. Unluckily, those detachments did not always succeed. The country is absolutely without roads, is cut up by endless streams, and is covered in parts with a thick—and most valuable—forest, in which nothing but a bloodhound could track a retreating deceit. Moreover, the Burmese, who, though not exactly brave men, have an easy-going contempt of death, are like Maoris, accustomed to .construct stockades, and if artillery is not used, defend them exceedingly well. We all know how difficult it was to take such stockades in New Zealand, and it is even more difficult in Burmah, owing to the means of escape provided . by the forest, and the entire absence of officers accustomed to deal with a guerilla war. The difficulty of thorough repression is, therefore, great, and has been increased indefinitely by British virtue. Finding a host of persons detained in prisons as descendants of Alompra, the Chief Commissioner released instead of banishing them ; and every one at once set up a claim to reign, appealed to the soldiery, the Shans, the deceits, anybody ready to fight, and so gave them not only a leader, but a kind of justification in their own eyes. If a Prince ordered brigandage, why should they not become brigands ? Three or four of these leaders have attracted large parties, and it will be necessary, in the judgment of the Viceroy, to suppress them in the cold weather by a regular campaign. Once suppressed, brigandage will remain the only evil to be dealt with ; and this will be reduced or extirpated slowly, partly by the regular action of the police, as it was in Bengal, partly, let us hope, by the indignation of the peasantry, who will be taught to defend themselves.
We by no means defend everything that has been done in Burmah. The sudden disbandment of the native army can- not have been a wise step, and we do not underetand why it was deemed impossible to reform the native police, instead of relying so exclusively upon men imported from Northern India, and necessarily unacclimatised and ill-informed. There must be a Burmese police some day, and it ought to have been organised from the.beginning. Sir Charles Bernard is a man of capacity, devoted to his work, and terribly industrious, but he seems to us to lack that combination of qualities which maker a man successful in dealing with a new country and a society in which old bonds have gone to pieces. He would be a better Governor for an older Province ; but still, be has done his civil work admirably ; he is contending with an evil which has baffled native Kings and British Governors, and all his acts are reflected in England through a hostile medium. A more successful organiser might possibly be found ; but to say that his rule is as bad as that of King Theebau is pure absurdity. We might as well say that London before the time of the new police was worse governed than Naples under the Bourbons, We have to put down an extensive system of brigandage ; but when that has been done, Burmah will be as orderly and as profitable as Bengal. Whether it would not have preferred to be disorderly unier its own Princes is another matter, which we shall not discuss at the fag-end of an article, more especially as it involves the whole queetion whether the English have any right in Asia at all. We think they have, though we can understand and respect the opposite opinion ; and if they have, they have a right to maintain themselves in Mandelay.