29 NOVEMBER 1940, Page 7


By T. A. RANIAN* THERE are those in India and outside, Indian and British, J. agitators as well as civil servants, who, for reasons of their own, work to prevent a settlement of the Indian problem. But far larger numbers in India and, I am convinced, in this country are intensely anxious that some workable arrangement should be reached without delay. The way to such a practical solution was clear for a brief period of eight weeks from the middle of June last. Bitterness was at its lowest, and the mixed motives which often beset the counsels of the Indian National Congress were banished. Never since the outbreak of war were the prospects brighter for a sound working compromise. Dr. Goebbels and those in this country who accuse the Congress of mean opportunism might well note that the main impulsion for this change was the fall of France, that it was in Britain's darkest hour that settlement seemed most likely.

Between June 17th and zrst the Working Committee of the Congress passed a resolution which recorded how " deeply moved it was by the tragic developments in Europe, and especi- ally by the misfortunes of the people of France." The resolu- tion reiterated the Congress demands as defined at the Ramgarh session, but its supreme significance lay elsewhere.. Reverentially but firmly the Committee declared that it could not go the whole way with Gandhi in his ideal of non-violence to complete pacifism, and publicly absolved him from re- sponsibility for Congress policy. This resolution was amplified at Delhi a fortnight later, when the Working Committee demanded " an acknowledgement by Great Britain of the com- plete independence of India, and the immediate setting up of a national Government," and declared that, if these measures were adopted, " it will enable the Congress to throw its full weight into the efforts for effective organisation of the defence of the country." This resolution was finally ratified by the All-India Congress Committee on July 28th, after a battle royal between pacifists and extremists on _one side and the most balanced and practical Congressmen on the other. The voting was 95 for and 47 against.

The implications of this move by the Congress were un- happily not sufficiently understood in this country. For the first time the forces in the Congress which desired a reasonable working arrangement with the Government were overwhelm- ingly triumphant. Extremists who actively desire conflict were put in their place. The doctrinaire outlook and the rigid idealism of some of the most eminent Congressmen was re- placed by realism and a desire to rally the country on a sound Compromise. Pacifism and the whole difficult technique of mixed motives yielded to practical politics. Who that knows India can fail to realise how big a step it is to tell Gandhi " that he must be free to pursue his great ideal in his own way? " And the lead was taken from Gandhi as well as Nehru by a man reverenced all over India for his sincerity and integrity, but who is also a practical politician, and a proved administrator—C. Rajagopalachari, the Congress Premier of Madras. He was, moreover, the man who envisaged India's task. if her demands were granted, " as no less than to make up for the defection of France."

That phrase, and hundreds of similar statements which Mr.

*The writer. is London representative of the Congress newspaper Hindustan Times. Rajagopalachari made, prove the mood of two-thirds of Con- gress leaders. And, as to the political demands, what, in hard concrete terms, did they boil down to? " Recognition of the independence of India " and " National Government " sound sweeping, but it needs little acquaintance with Indian politics to understand that what they connoted was a declaration of full self-determination for India at the end of the war, and the utmost possible transference of power at the centre forthwith.

Government's response to this offer was the famous and ill-fated Viceregal declaration of August 8th. It answered the claim to self-determination by expressing sympathy with the desire that Indians should draft the constitution of their country, and promised to set up immediately after the war a body of representative Indians for this purpose, and, as to the demand for a National Government at once, it offered to ex- pand the Viceroy's Executive Council. The promise of self- determination was further subject to the fulfilment of " Britain's obligations in the country," and a specific assurance to the minorities. The Government, it said, could not contemplate the transference of power to any system whose authority was defied by large and powerful elements in India's national life, and the Government would not be party to the coercion of such elements. It offered, besides, to welcome and promote every sincere and practical step by representative Indians to devise the methods and principles of the post-war settlement.

A few days before the publication of the statement, the President of the Congress received his copy, together with an invitation from the Viceroy to meet him. After some con- sultation with his colleagues on the Working Committee Presi- dent Azad appears to have inquired whether the Viceroy proposed to confine discussion to the " rigid framework " of the declaration, and, on being answered in the affirmative, he declared that there was no basis for discussion, and declined to meet the Viceroy. I deplore this decision, and will attempt to prove that it was a first-class tactical blunder on the part of the Congress. Nevertheless, it is understandable. Consider the atmosphere then in India. Arrests of Congressmen were going on apace. Extremists were straining at the leash. The great, healing personality of Gandhi stood aloof. What seemed clearest in the turgid language of the declaration was the assurance to the minorities, and, worst of all, the Parliamentary debate in which Mr. Amery threw further light on the inten- tions of the Government took place only a week after the declaration, when opinion had hardened and decisions been taken.

Criticism in India fastened on nearly every phrase of the declaration, but Mr. Rajagopalachari insisted that the acid test of the Government's sincerity was the proposals about the immediate readjustment of the central Government. Unani- mously Congressmen affirmed that, measured by that test, the declaration was not only inadequate, but an affront to India. Rigidly interpreted, the offer to expand the Viceroy's Execu- tive Council might mean nothing more than a few jobs to Indian political leaders, and such an offer would indeed be an insult to the nation.

Was such the Government's intention? I summarise below some of the explanations on points of vital detail which Mr. Amery gave in the House of Commons: t. The numbers of the new Executive Councillors will depend on the response, but, in any case, a very appreciable enlargement is intended; 2. The new members will hold definite and important port- folios.

3. They will undoubtedly exert considerable influence on the collective discussions of the Council—influence, in other words, on policy.

4. They will be chosen by the Viceroy, but selected to be representative of the political parties after discussion and con- sideration of names informally submitted.

5. They will not " in the strict constitutional sense " be responsible to the Legislature, but will naturally enjoy a wide measure of support in the Assembly.

These definite details, and further the whole tenor of Mr. Amery's speeches at Blackpool, in the House of Commons, and on other occasions, evidenced a sincere desire to transfer substantial power. Granted a satisfactory and representative composition, a majority for the non-official elements, and a conventional, if not constitutional, responsibility to the Legislature, only one vital element is lacking to make the enlarged Council a very close approximation to the National Government Congress demanded. Was it possible for the Viceroy to agree, as the Governors did in the Provinces, to be virtually bound by the advice of the Executive Council? On this point Mr. Amery has only said that the new Councillors would have influence over policy, but, from my own study of the situation and entirely on my responsibility, I can say that such a " gentleman's agreement " was not impossible if the Congress had agreed to negotiate on the basis of the declaration.

All these potentialities of the declaration have emerged not in India, but through the Secretary of State in this country, and not till days after the declaration was made. Congressmen had, meanwhile, come to believe that all the Viceroy wanted them to do was to thank him and submit the personnel. How tragically the position was misunderstood in India—again, I repeat, very naturally—is proved by Nehru's remarks. Writing on August loth, Nehru, an honest and sincere man if ever there was one, asserts categorically that- 1. The majority in the Council would be officials.

2. The new members would be chosen by the Viceroy in their individual capacity.

3. They would be chosen from all manner of odd groups; and finally, to crown all this misunderstanding, " this is no offer, it will be imposed on us whether we accept it or not."

The mistake had been made and the lofty hills of Simla remained unmoved. Congress passed final judgement on August 22nd in a vehemently worded resolution. Gandhi was called in again and proceeded not only to plan a new form of civil disobedience designed to cause just concern but, far more disastrous, to equate his pacifism with the political objections of two-thirds of the Congress.

What can now be done? Well-intentioned people here suggest all sorts of fancy remedies—that Mr. Amery should fly to India, that Lord Halifax should become Secretary of State, even that Gandhi should be made Viceroy! It may be a good thing if Mr. Amery, with his imagination, accessibility, and evident sincerity, does go to India, but the atmosphere must be greatly improved before such a move can be really useful. If all this poisonous suspicion is to be removed, the Govern- ment should emphasise once again all the possibilities of the Viceregal declaration, and prove that by its method a very close approximation to the demand for a National Government is possible. Anxiety in the British public mind for a just settlement must be reflected not only by Mr. Amery, but by Mr. Churchill, who is admired in India, but who has a vivid past in Indian controversy to live down. Above all, it must be made clear that the assurance to the minorities is not to degenerate into a veto on all progress.

There is a contribution which responsible Congressmen who are not confirmed pacifists could also make. It is within their power to state what understandings, assurances or " gentlemen's undertakings " are necessary if the Viceroy's declaration is to be accepted as a basis for discussion. The Hindustan Times is reported to have suggested that a fresh approach is possible if the Viceroy undertakes to function de facto as a constitutional head. Cannot responsible Con. gressmen outline their concrete suggestions, and put the posi- tion back on a clear political basis? Bluntly speaking, can they not see that Britain fighting for its life cannot afford further amplifications if Congress takes a broad pacifist attitude? And is it not worth while to strain party discipline somewhat to try to break this vicious circle of anti-war speeches and arrests which is tragic and artificial at once. Divorced from the political objective these anti-war speeches do not reflect India's real feelings on the issues of the war. Panaceas are seldom practical politics, and the age of effective " gestures " is long past in India. But somewhat on these lines could those in India and Britair who genuinely desire a settlement, help now to avoid further tragedy.