11 JULY 1931, Page 13


Independence v. Dominion Status

THE Lahore Congress, which met in December, 1929, altered the creed of the Congress, which was till then, attainment of "Swaraj," to that of "Puma Swaraj "—that is complete independence. This was understood to mean "complete severance of British connexion." Since the Gandhi-Irwin truce, however, there has been an expression of opinion from some very eminent and responsible Congressmen that Puma Swaraj is not consistent with the voluntary association of India with Britain as a full, free, and willing partner in the British Commonwealth of Nations. The Karachi Congress has definitely resolved that the creed of Puma Swaraj remains intact.

Having regard to the circumstances and the previous history leading to the change of creed at Lahore, it is difficult to agree with the expression of opinion on the meaning of the phrase "Puma Swaraj" recently pronounced by these eminent Congressmen ; but the fact remains that the adherents of the Congress consist of both schools of thought.

Be that as it may—the Karachi Congress, by its Mandate to the Delegates to the Round Table Conference to demand, inter alit:4 India's right to secede at will, has unequivocally Accepted "Dominion Status" as a step towards its goal of "Puma Swaraj." If, therefore, Mahatma Gandhi attends the Round Table Conference in London and returns to India with a Constitution of full-fledged Dominion Status in his pocket, it will not be altogether easy for him to persuade the country to accept that Constitution. If the Congress does accept it on the advice of Mahatma Gandhi, it will be another miracle to his credit. In any ease, and even then, the following General Elections will be fought on the issue of Dominion Status v. Complete Independence.

I have been criticized in some quarters and blamed for being a pessimist. It has been argued that my public utterances, enumerating and emphasizing the problems involved, are calculated to hinder rather than help the creation of peace mentality so necessary at this juncture.

I am clearly of opinion that this is a mistaken view. I think both parties to the Conference must have a vivid realization of the grave issues involved and the terrible consequences likely to ensue in case of a breakdown. Britain must know that the masses in India have been stirred and are prepared for any sacrifices in the cause of freedom. The trouble in India must and will continue till India is com- pletely free. Force and repression will no longer help Britain to hold down the India of to-day. She will not accept any Constitution which savours of inequality in any shape or form with any other free nation of the world. Her demands are clear and emphatic. Nothing short of complete trans- ference of power from the British people to the people of India will meet the requirements of the situation. Any endeavour to put limitations or restrictions on such power under the colour of safeguards during the transition period will not be tolerated by her.

Is Britain prepared for all this ? Is she in a mood to-day to divest herself of all responsibility for the government of India ? I am afraid she is not. She still thinks in terms of stages, safeguards, guarantees, assurances, and so on. India thinks in terms of complete freedom without any reservation. In these circumstances I feel that the time is not yet ripe for a final settlement. The gulf is too wide to be bridged by vague and unmeaning formulas. The time will no doubt come when both countries can meet on the basis of perfect equality—one free country negotiating with another free country and formulating terms of treaty. But that time is not yet. I was the other day asked by a friend a definite question—what in my opinion were the prospects of an agreement between Britain and India at the ensuing sitting of the Round Table Conference. My answer to my friend was somewhat to the following effect :

" If the Delegates of both countries enter the Conference with the full realisation of the dangers involved in a breakdown there is

some hope of settlement. I know Mahatma Gandhi will 40010 with a determination to reach an agreement. He wants PEACE. He is essentially a man of peace. He does not want to subject his countrymen to further sufferings and sacrifices if he can help it. Be knows more than anyone else that breakdown means a revival of the Civil Disobedience Movement in a much more vigorous and intensive form, and greater suffering, miseries and hardships to millions in India. He knows that Government would come down upon the people with still more savage repression. If Britain on her part has fully realised that the revival of the Civil Disobedience Movement, with its counterpart—the boycott of British goods and institutions which is bound to be carried on in a more systematic and intensive scale than hitherto—means the total destruction of British trade for all time to come : if she has realised that whatever happens, our people are determined, in the event of a breakdown, to make India a terrible burden for England to carry much longer without breaking her own back : and if she has realised that repres- sion and force can only aggravate the situation—then both parties will leave no stone unturned to come to a settlement. Mahatma Gandhi will stand by the Mandate of the Congress. Britain must be prepared to cease to think in terms of safeguards, etc., and accept the resolutions of the Karachi Congress in their entirety. I, personally, think from what I have observed during my stay in England that Britain has not yet realised the dangers involved in a breakdown and, therefore, I am not at all hopeful of the result."

Mahatma Gandhi will, at the Conference, demand inclusion of a clause in the Constitution expressly providing for the right of India to secede at will from the Union. The Congress view is that the right of every nation constituting the British Commonwealth of Nations has an undoubted right to secede. In fact, the Commonwealth ceases to be a voluntary associa- tion of free nations if this right is denied to them ; but as the right has been doubted in some quarters, the Congress de- mands that it should be made " express " in the Constitution itself. It is difficult to understand how Britain can resist this demand. It is, after all, for the people of India to decide whether India shall remain as a free, full, and willing partner in the Union, or go out and join or form other Unions. No one can say with any degree of certainty what view the people of India might take a few years hence. It might be that Britain herself might find the arrangement unsatisfactory from her own point of view. It all depends upon how far either country makes it worth the other's while to continue as a partner.

I have been told by several friends in this country that the insertion of the clause the Congress has in mind is wholly unnecessary, for they argue that if to-day, for instance, Canada or Australia desires to secede from the Empire, nothing in the world could prevent them from doing so. No Acts could prevent the dismemberment of the British Common- wealth : but the Dominions remain in the Union of their own free will, because experience has shown that it is to their mutual advantage to do so. Similarly, if India is satisfied that the arrangement works to the mutual good of all members con- cerned, and it is worth her while to continue, she will do so, or else she will secede. I am inclined to agree with this view, and perhaps Mahatma Gandhi might be persuaded to view the whole question in this light.

I should like to say a word to His Majesty's Government in England. The least that the peasants and workers of India expect of you, as a Socialist Government, is to see that these comrades of yours do not start with a handicap in the new order of things. This can be done to some extent, at any rate, by the extension of franchise to them. You will, therefore, stand up for universal franchise in the new Constitution. You will, they trust, make no compromise on this question with any party in India or England. Otherwise their appre- hension is that the new order of things will mean, so far as they are concerned, merely a change of masters.

The second point on which I would like to say a word to the Socialist Government is this : By all means make every endeavour to get the support of other parties, but if you fail, make no compromise with. them, but—standing by your princi- ples which you have so often advocated in the past—prepare a Constitution embodying the full demands of the Indian National Congress, and submit it to Parliament. Go to the country on that issue if need be.