India (Political Situation).

Oral Answers to Questions — Military Service. – in the House of Commons on 23 May 1940.

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Photo of Captain William Benn Captain William Benn , Manchester, Gorton

asked the Secretary of State for India whether he can indicate the attitude of His Majesty's present Government towards the problems facing them in India?

Photo of Mr Thomas Harvey Mr Thomas Harvey , Combined English Universities

asked the Secretary of State for India whether, in view of the recent encouraging pronouncements of Mr. Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, he is able to make any statement about the political situation in India; and whether any measures have yet been taken to promote a small conference of representative India leaders of all parties to agree upon the next steps towards a solution of the constitutional deadlock?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I am glad to have this opportunity of explaining, so far as I can within the limits of an answer to a Question, the attitude of the Government to the present regrettable political deadlock in India. The attainment by India of free and equal partnership in the British Commonwealth is the goal of our policy as it was that of the late Government. We recognise, as my predecessor made clear in his speech of 18th April, that it is for Indians themselves to play a vital part in devising the form of constitution best adapted to India's conditions and to India's outlook. The promise already given that the present scheme of the Act of 1935 and the policy and plans on which it is based are to be open to re-examination at the end of the war, necessarily implies discussion and negotiation and not dictation. We have no desire to delay any of the steps that may pave the way towards an agreed settlement that will take account of the legitimate claims of all communities and interests. On the contrary we have been and are only too anxious to make bur contribution towards such a settlement. The difficulty at this moment lies in the acute cleavage of opinion which has developed in India itself effecting issues fundamental to the character of her future Constitution and even to the approach to the problem.

I refuse to regard that cleavage as unbridgable. Even if no final agreement on the major issue is immediately in sight I cannot think that it is beyond the resources of Indian statesmanship to find at any rate such a provisional accommodation as would admit of the resumption of office with general consent by Ministers in the Provinces and the appointment to the Governor-General's Executive Council of representative public men on the basis already offered. I believe that such a solution of the present deadlock, provisional no doubt, but still easing the way to eventual agreement, would be eagerly welcomed by the overwhelming body of Indian public opinion. India has from the outset of the war made manifest her sympathy and support for the Allied cause and her anxiety to lend to that cause all the aid in her power. It is the sincere and earnest hope of His Majesty's Government that in the situation which faces the whole civilised world to-day, existing differences may be put aside and that the leaders of the great political parties in India will come together in agreement in support of the common effort.

The Viceroy, with the approval of His Majesty's Government, has spared no effort to bring the parties together and to endeavour to find a basis for progress which would be generally acceptable. His own readiness to help in any way he can remains unabated.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton West

May I ask the Minister whether he will confirm the report that Mr. Nehru has declared that under the existing circumstances in Europe civil disobedience is to be suspended, and whether he will take steps to confirm it and, if it is true, express appreciation of his action? May I also ask whether the right hon. Gentleman intends to make at an early date a personal visit to India to see those who are responsible?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The latter question can only be considered when circumstances make it feasible. As to the first part of the question I do not understand that civil disobedience has been suspended by Mr. Nehru, but he has declared that he would not take advantage of our difficulties in order to change the rate at which he is proposing to deal with this particular question, and we appreciate that.

Photo of Mr Thomas Harvey Mr Thomas Harvey , Combined English Universities

In thanking the Secretary of State for his reply may I ask whether any further step has been taken to call together a small informal conference representing Indian leaders?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I think that is covered by the full answer I have given.