I was venturing to suggest, as an instance of our unreadiness for this Debate, that if the hon. Member for Bridgeton had had time to refresh his memory by a study of the relevant facts, he would not have made the speech he made to-day. He said he had pondered over this question for 37 years. I have pondered over this question for 45 years and for 40 of those 45 years I have been a convinced and unrepentant advocate of Home Rule for India. As an instance to show how a Member of transparent sincerity can lead this House hopelessly astray, why not, he asked, call together and bring into functioning operation the Provincial Governments where there are Congress majorities? Why are these Governments not functioning today? They were constituted under the 1935 Act. They were working with the full responsibility of Ministers drawn from a legislative body elected on a wide franchise. Many of them were doing excellent work. Why are they not functioning to-day? Because they were called cut by the caucus which calls itself the All-India Congress Committee. Those Governments were responsible to the legislative body. They never consulted it. They were responsible to the electorate. They never consulted it. They threw up office in obedience to the orders of a junta. If that is democracy, then the word "democracy" has a meaning in India which is totally different from its implication in any other part of the world. Now this episode illustrates a point which I have made to my Indian friends many times but on which they do not altogether agree with me. They very often talk in terms of democracy, when they mean by that a transferred autocracy, and that is the issue that is raised in this case.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton, I am sure, quite sincerely put a sinister interpretation on the date when the Government of India took action against the civil disobedience movement. Does he not see that the Government of India must have known not only what was in contemplation, but what was being planned when they came in possession of the secret documents found at the headquarters of the Congress Committee? What were the Government of India to do? Where they to stand and gaze whilst the revolutionary forces deliberately matured their plans and completed their preparations? Were they, responsible for the peace and order of 388,000,000 people, to remain quiescent, knowing that civil disobedience had always produced, as it had in recent weeks produced, attacks on Indians and burning of property? We are told that members of the Congress Committee never really intended these results to happen and did not organise them. What has been the history of the civil disobedience movement for 15 years whenever it was attempted? What is the history of Malegaon, of Sholapur where arson was rampant and policemen were burnt to death? What is the history of a dozen, if not more, centres of civil disobedience in the past? It is one of attacks on Indian life and Indian property. It is one of attacks on Indian officers and Indian interests far more than on English officers or English interests. Those who fomented civil disobedience did so therefore with full knowledge that, as certain as night follows day, the tragic outrages which have followed the movement in the last fortnight were bound to happen, because they had the whole teachings of experience and history for the last 15 years since this fatal conception—that you can have civil disobedience without disorder—was advanced.
I share the hon. Member's point of view that these things were not deliberately contemplated by the leaders of the Congress Movement, but, if he consults the pages of Hansard he will find that 30 years or so ago one who was neither a sun-dried bureaucrat, nor a case-hardened Imperialist warned this House what those responsible for peace and order in India must do in such an emergency. It was Lord Morley who said, "If I see a man preparing to set the prairie on fire, am I not to take the match from his hand?" The Government of India saw these men preparing to set the prairie on fire, and they had no option, in the discharge of their supreme responsiblity, but to use every instrument they could to prevent this revolutionary movement gathering force at a time like the present when India stands in such very fearful peril from the enemy who is at her gates. The hon. Member developed the theory dear to my own heart, that we should always keep before us the goal of complete freedom and independence for India as the crown and glory of our work. But what is the actual case to-day? It is not a question of a gleam of light nor a chink in the door; it is the door standing wide open ready for India to walk through it the moment her publicists can make up their minds as to the actual conditions of Government which are to be set up.
The hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley), in a speech whose clarity I cannot equal, but which I will try to imitate, spoke of the magnitude of the offer which the Lord Privy Seal took to India. The only slight alteration that I would make in his presentation of the case is this: He spoke as if this House was then embarking on a new orientation in our policy. No; that orientation of our policy flowed from 7th August, 1917, when the Government of the day for the first time defined the goal of our policy in India as increasing responsibility and the association of Indians in the government leading inevitably to Dominion status. The crucial word "responsibility" was approved by George Nathaniel Curzon. It is painfully true, as the hon. Member said, that a large proportion of people in this country and in the United States—I will go further and say a large number of Members of this House—do not realise the magnitude of the offer which the Lord Privy Seal took to India. The Act of 1935 was one of the greatest renunciations of power in history. I do not think anyone could produce a parallel instance of a Government conscious of its power to administer wisely and well offering so great a devolution of authority to the people of the country concerned. The right hon. Gentleman took to India something far more pregnant than that. How many know exactly the meaning of his message?
The object is the creation of a new Indian Union, which shall constitute a Dominion, associated with the United Kingdom and the
other Dominions by a common allegiance to the Crown, but equal to them in every respect, and in no way subordinate in any aspect of its domestic or external affairs.
It was in effect the offer of complete independence within the Commonwealth, we all hoped, outside the Commonwealth, for there was the right of secession if India so preferred that. The offer went far beyond that. It carried complete machinery for the expression of this policy the moment the war was over and we could sit down and thrash out the details. I do not believe more than a fraction of the people of this country realises, and I know there is quite a considerable body of opinion in the House which does not to-day realise the tremendous magnitude and completeness of the offer so put forward and with the utmost patience and the utmost knowledge, yet it was rejected. Why? Now if this had simply been a question of a definition of the powers of the Indian Minister of Defence, I personally would have gone beyond what the right hon. and learned Gentleman was prepared to offer. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would not, could not and dare not agree to the proposition that in the most critical stage of the war the whole responsibility for the Government of India should forthwith pass over to a non-existent organisation, to a body which was at a later stage to be created, its machinery undefined, its powers undetermined in a form totally nebulous and without any concrete existence whatever. So far therefore from demanding even a chink in the door to responsible Government in India, the door is wide open for India to enter any day, but the responsibility rests with her. India, and India alone, has to make up her mind to pass through that door to the freedom and substantial independence which my hon. Friend and I regard as the crown and glory of our connection with the land
Now we have to deal with the immediate present. We have to deal with a movement which is openly revolutionary. There is no disguising that. The movement is led by Mr. Gandhi, armed with dictatorial powers by the Congress Committee, and Mr. Gandhi has said clearly and distinctly that his probable purpose was the moment power was secured to open negotiations with Japan, after which he was prepared to go to Japan and ask the Japanese to be kind to the Chinese people! Kind to the Chinese people after the massacre of Nanking! Kind to the Chinese people after five years of brutal and bloody aggression! Can anybody in this House, speaking with a sense of responsibility, suggest for a moment that that was a plan of campaign in which the Government of India can meet in any way but by using all the resources within their power to prevent this devastating revolutionary movement from spreading? We sometimes speak of British interests in India, and sometimes it is thought that in taking preventive action we are protecting British interests. That is not so. For every British interest that is affected in India 1,000 Indian interests are affected. For every British life in danger 1,000 or 10,000 Indian lives are in danger.
It is our clear responsibility to India and to 388,000,000 Indians to secure by every means in our power that the slender crust between law and order is not penetrated. Many Members, looking with apprehension upon these apparently drastic measures for the maintenance of law and order, do not appreciate one basic fact. If we go over the border-line in this country, with our high sense of discipline and our traditions, it may mean at worst a police baton charge and a few broken heads. I do not believe there has been a more serious operation to maintain law and order in this country than a police charge since Featherstone riots many, many years ago. What is the case in India and the East? The ordinary Indian people are so peaceful and law-abiding that quite a small and not ultra efficient police force is sufficient to maintain law and order, but once the borderline is crossed, what does it mean? It is not a broken head or a baton charge; it is murder, arson and very often rape. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton that if he were, as I have been more than a score of times, called out in support of the civil power in order to prevent breaches of the peace, he would see how in the twinkling of an eye a crowd can pass from comparative placidity to arson and murder. He would realise what a tremendous responsibility is laid on the Government of India at a time like this to defend the lives, property and security of those myriads. I am sure that he would, and I am sure that he will if the Debate is resumed, express profound admiration and sympathy for those who are shouldering this task at the present time and bearing the burden of this responsibility—for the Viceroy in his overworked isolation; for his 15 colleagues in the Council, 11 of whom are Indians, drawn from the very salt of her public life and who are approving and supporting this policy; for the Indian civil servants and the police.
I should like some of those who are very glib in their condemnation of Indian policy and the Indian Government to place themselves in the position of a district magistrate at a time of difficulty like the present. He is often hundreds of miles from any form of assistance; has the responsibility of the district on his shoulders with not a highly efficient armed support behind him. More than half of the district magistrates are Indians drawn from the Indian Civil Service, and they deserve our heartfelt sympathy and support in their duties at this time. I would go further and more than endorse those words which the Prime Minister spoke about the gallantry and courage of the Indian police. We have a high regard for our own police and have a high appreciation of the part they play in the preservation of our own law and order in our own land, but they do not run one tithe of the risk of the Indian police. They run little or no risk in this country of murder by an overwhelming mob. In the face of that risk the Indian police to-day are doing their duty with a calm resolution and courage which demands and should obtain from this House its whole-hearted sympathy, admiration and support.
These are hard and bitter days for many people. They are hard and bitter days for those who have worked and lived in India; who have friends up and down the country in every section of society; who have received the warm-hearted and generous friendship of so many of the Indian people; and who have looked forward so confidently and so hopefully to the development of the land they Jove to her full status. They have viewed with much dismay the approach of war to her borders in circumstances which cause us no small heart-burnings, To see energies turned to the inevitable and necessary suppression of revolution at a time like this is a hard and bitter thing. Some of us feel very acutely that all we have lived for, all we have striven for is now in the melting pot. But that must not close our eyes to the plainest facts, The Government of India now is in this limited field faced by a definitely revolutionary movement, directed against the existence of the Government which is responsible for the peace and order of the Indian people, and for their defence against an enemy so ruthless that those in Burma who were at first prone to acquiesce in the arrival of the Japanese are now refugees in India from harshness and brutality.
From this responsibility we dare not resile. From the Indians who are facing this responsibility we dare not withdraw our support, sympathy and generous appreciation. Nevertheless even in these circumstances we must not and will not abandon our determination to seize every opportunity so soon as Congress abandons civil disobedience, and drops the pistol which it is holding at the heads of the Government, the Moslems and Other great bodies in the population, to complete our work and will welcome with open arms without any arrière pensée, without any reservation, any opportunity to heal the breach now open and press on with the task we are in. May I therefore express the ardent hope that from these trials and troubles a glorious state of full Dominion status, or independence, whichever she prefers, will finally emerge, a consummation which will set the seal to our victory in the field.
I am sure that whether or not we agree entirely with all that was said by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed), we do appreciate his approach to this difficult problem, and cannot help noting the contrast between his mood and the mood of the Prime Minister yesterday. It was also interesting to note the emphasis in his speech more than once on the fact that we have now offered not merely Dominion status but independence to India. Let that be put on record, for whether we agree or disagree with the Indian National Congress and with other bodies who have the same aspirations, it is well for us now to realise that apparently by common consent we have offered to India independence. We cannot therefore blame Indian politicians for asking how that principle of independence can be implemented. I am sure, too, that all of us here agree with the hon. Member in his condemnation of cruelties and atrocities in India. We deplore them. We trust indeed that fewer of them will occur, and that in the course of the great struggle there will be an increasing appreciation of the fact that human life above all things should be the first consideration. But I would point out that the criticism of events in India made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury and by other speakers could have been applied to the cataclysmic events that precipitated the American War of Independence, and also to the events in Ireland that culminated in the virtual independence in Ireland.
Everybody knows about the Boston tea party, but that was the occasion and not the actual cause of the events. In any case my point was that, unfortunately, in every emergence of a new nation there are these deplorable associations. That was my point. Not that I condone them or support them; I was simply stating a fact. Therefore, we must go more deeply than merely looking at the surface of the great oceanic events taking place at the present time. I agree with the spirit of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) in its appeal for conciliation, but I must express my very great regret that he did not direct his appeal towards the Prime Minister, for who can deny that the Prime Minister's speech yesterday was hardly a conciliatory one? I venture to suggest, indeed, that it was provocative, and I will go further, if it is not too uncharitable, and suggest that it was meant to be provocative. It is certainly provoking me very seriously indeed, provoking me to suggest that in his speech one heard more than an echo of that rather blindly arrogant opposition current at the time of the great Debates on the Government of India Bill in 1935. One thought that the right hon. Gentleman was still living within the shadow of that "naked Indian fakir" to whom he referred some years ago, and that he had failed to understand Gandhi, Nehru and those other figures who, whether we agree with them or not, represent a new world movement deserving far greater appreciation than was evident in the unfortunate speech of the Prime Minister yesterday.
I was coming to that. If the hon. and gallant Member had possessed his soul in patience, he would have found that I was coming to it systematically. I will say, first of all, that the Prime Minister got most of his facts wrong. Either he knew those facts were wrong, which I hardly like to suggest, or he showed himself appallingly ignorant, and in that respect alone I believe and contend that he was provocative: Let me give one or two instances. He said, "Congress does not represent India." What does he mean by that? Does he mean that Congress is an insignificant body having no support at all? If he does not mean that, what does he mean? No one suggests that Congress represents everyone in India, any more than anyone suggests that the Prime Minister represents everyone in England.
If we are to judge by the registered membership of Congress, which in pre-war days was about 5,000,000, I understand, and which it is said has now sunk to 1,500,000, it might appear at first that it represents a fraction of the total population of India; but I should like to know what is the numerical membership of the Conservative party and whether we are to take that as a guide to the contention of most of its Members in this House that they represent this country? I would apply the same principle to my own party. The individual membership of my own party is incommensurate with the very large number of people who are supporting it in the country. The only way in which one can test the strength of the Congress party is to turn up election results. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) has already pointed out that when the last Provincial elections took place Congress won substantial majorities in seven out of the 11 Provincial Governments and secured a pro-Congress majority in the eighth, and a number of others who are not recognised to be Congress representatives nevertheless agree, on the whole, with the Congress Party and Congress aims.
That point was also in my mind, and the eagerness of the hon. Gentleman for information will be satisfied before I finish. Meanwhile, let me take one other provocative point. The statement was deliberately made yesterday by the Prime Minister that Congress is really dominated and financed by certain manufacturing and financial interests. He said:
The Indian Congress Party does not represent all India. It does not represent the majority of the people of India. It does not even represent the Hindu masses. It is a political organisation built around a party machine and sustained by certain manufacturing and financial interests."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th September, 1942; col. 302, Vol. 383.]
What audacity on the part of the Prime Minister, as the leader not only of this House but of the Conservative Party, to mention domination by commercial and financial interests. No wonder that hon. Members behind him who had been cheering him up to then suddenly became silent, because they began to realise—
The hon. Member talked about the Prime Minister, but may I remind him that the Prime Minister also said:
I can do so by saying that up to a very late hour last night my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and I were at work on the actual words of this statement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th September, 1942; col. 307, Vol. 383.]
That statement shows that the hon. Gentleman's leader approved the statement of the Prime Minister.
All I can say is that it disturbs some Members of the Front Bench even more than I had assumed. I will leave it to their very troubled souls. I am sure their souls are troubled, but I will not disturb them any further. I will not rub salt into their wounds. It is audacity on the part of the Prime Minister to twit the Congress Party with having wealthy men in its ranks. Hon. Members opposite want it both ways; they want to criticise the Congress Party with being representative of large numbers of illiterate Indians and at the same time to criticise the party because wealthy members subscribe to its funds.
What criticism has been offered of the Princes, those hardy democratic gentlemen who are more the equivalent in some respects of certain despots in Europe whom we are trying to overthrow? What is being said about those millionaires, who, from time to time, heavily support in this country the national war effort or, on the other hand, causes which are hostile to Congress and all that Congress represents? It seems to me verging almost upon the hypocritical to suggest that because there may be wealthy merchants supporting the Congress Party, the Congress Party should therefore be condemned, while the wealthy Princes who support contrary movements are applauded and taken as models of all that an Indian should be.
Still further, it is suggested that the Moslems are opposed to the Indian Congress. The Prime Minister should have known, and probably did know, when he stated that 90,000,000 Moslems were opposed to Congress, that that again was completely misleading. When members of this House or of the Government make such a statement over the wireless or in other ways leave such an impression, they are again deliberately misleading the general public. The facts are these: Of the four Moslem Provinces, one, the North-West Province of India, is overwhelmingly pro-Congress, the present President of Congress is a great Moslem scholar; there are large communities like the Momins, who, whether they number 45,000,000 as they contend, or only 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 as the Secretary of State for India contends, at least represent another large section. Beyond all that, the final factor to be considered is that out of the total number of votes cast for the Moslem seats and reserved for Moslems in India, only 4.6 were for members of the Moslem League. Those facts should be known by the Prime Minister. If they are not, they ought to be known to him, and he would not have made a misleading, provocative and tendentious speech of that character if he had fortified himself with the facts.
Reference was made just now by an evasive hon. Gentleman to the depressed classes in India. What is the fact about them? There is an energetic man representing a section of the scheduled classes, but he cannot be identified with all the depressed classes. There are representatives of the depressed classes in the Indian National Congress. Let us face facts again: the number of seats reserved for the depressed classes was 151. Dr. Ambedkar's organisation secured only 13, and of the total number of votes—
There are differences of opinion in India as there are here, but those parties all agree upon independence for India. When we get shaken up one day into our respective groups again, we shall be surprised at the underlying differences there are in this House. I notice in to-day's Debate a considerable difference of outlook and approach between the hon. Gentleman who sits for Aylesbury and the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), There are those differences of opinion, but there are other groups besides Congress who all agree on the same purpose. That being so, I am persuaded that Congress will be able to make an accommodation with them which will secure their support.
Apparently I am being assailed from right and left. I did not know the hon. Lady who is sitting on my left had appeared as an ardent anti-Congress supporter. It is misleading and unfair to suggest that the depressed classes of 50,000,000 or 60,000,000, whatever it might be, opposed Congress. I ask for nothing more than that it should be realised that while a section of the depressed classes was separately organised, for the most part the depressed classes are either in Congress or are supporters of Congress. The facts are contained in the figures which anyone can find out for himself, and if those facts mean anything at all, they mean that whether or not a majority of the depressed classes support the organisation led by Dr. Ambedkar, at least they support Congress and its purpose. There are many other points of a provocative nature which were mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, but I will not discuss them to-day.
I do not mind doing so, but it may be unfair to other hon. Members who want to speak. So, although there are several other matters, I will content myself by not responding to those provocative statements of the right hon. Gentleman. I will leave them, but I would only say that when it is suggested that the Congress movement is pro-Japanese and is a fifth column movement, such statements are a travesty of the facts. One may or may not agree with Mr. Gandhi's views on non-violence, but at least the Lord Privy Seal could assure the House, if he were to speak, that the motive in Mr. Gandhi's mind was not that of condoning Fascist or Japanese aggression. Rightly or wrongly, not merely regarding the Japanese but regarding the rest of the world, Gandhi, as a minority influence in Congress, believes in non-violence. I deplore, with the rest of my hon. Friends, I hope, the attempt to try and mislead the world by publishing some two weeks ago that a raid made on the. Congress office disclosed sinister notes of private conversations. These were suddenly displayed to the world as if they were the final decisions of the Congress movement. What happened was that Gandhi himself proposed to the Working Committee a certain course of action regarding Japanese aggression, and the Working Committee of the Congress turned it down. That did not matter. It was sufficient to take these documents and publish them to the world and leave the impression that the Congress movement was pro-Japanese.
May I assure hon. Members that I am quite prepared to discuss the matter objectively. If I do not give way, it is not because I am afraid of any disclosure, but because I am looking at the clock, and I realise that other Members wish to speak. I wish to abbreviate my remarks and assure Members it is not discourtesy on my part or any indication of paucity of material. I must add that I am trying to explain, as I understand it, the attitude of Mr. Gandhi and the actual facts of the situation. Be that as it may, I leave it there in the hope that we shall not think it right to publish documents to the world without giving their full context. I am sure that if I could burgle the archives of the Cabinet, I should discover minutes of discussions that have taken place in recent weeks and that I should be able, by the careful selection of text without context to publish some very impressive revelations, but I do not intend even to try.
I hope I have said enough to suggest that Congress is not the impotent body that some people make out. Equally, I hope I have made it clear that I do not personally pretend to be identified with Congress. I am a British citizen, and because I am British I deplore the present circumstances in India, and I would that they were otherwise. Because I am British I do not want to see my country in difficulties. But the Indians are not British, and because they are not they approach this matter in a very different way from ourselves, which is what we should appreciate. If we did, we might be less prone to lecture Indians, even as we ourselves would resent the Indians lecturing us as to the best way to pursue our own policy in this country. It is one of those difficult problems in world history when two apparent rights clash. As a British person I deplore the circumstances and wish they had been otherwise, but they are not otherwise. I presume that many British people at the time of the American war of independance would have had circumstances other than they were. But there they were, and we have to face these facts.
That is why I say that we must realise that what is happening now is something far more than the agitation of a few politicians. It is a world upheaval, something in the soul of man is stirring, great masses of the Indian people are on the march, as they were in Russia after the last war, as they are in China, as they were in Turkey. In the process of that march many deplorable things take place, and many mistakes are made, but if we have eyes that are more than purely nationalist, if we have eyes that can see the race as a whole, can look back on the long story of mankind and pierce beneath its travail and tribulation, then we shall realise that the present war is only one aspect of the eruption now taking place. When victory comes it will not be the beginning of the new world, but merely an incident in the demolition of the old. In the demolition of that old world, Imperialism will undoubtedly crumble. That is why I understand the vigour and the vehemence of so many hon. Members on the other side of the House in supporting the Prime Minister. They see the passing of their world, they are earnest and sincere about it I know, and their apprehension is genuine, but I do not share their apprehension. Quite frankly, for me Imperialism, though it may have fulfilled a purpose, is not only going but must go, because it contains within itself the idea of domination by one race over another. Whether that domination happens to be within the confines of the British Empire or elsewhere, I know it will not last. Some time it will pass away, and all we can do meanwhile is to do our best to see that the transition is as painless and speedly as it possibly can be.
Reference has been made to the outrages that have taken place, such as the burning of policemen, which I deplore more than words can tell. But on the other hand, I would like to ask the Secretary of State for India why, in the Dacca Prison ten days ago 34 security prisoners were killed and 137 were wounded? Can he tell me why in the Bhagalpur prison 28 were killed and 100 wounded, and why in Allahabad prison others were killed and wounded, of which I do not possess the exact figures? Surely this must reveal something very wrong, and very distubing to all who are here, and surely also it should remind us that, tragic as is the death of an Indian policeman, it is equally tragic when security and other prisoners are also slain, whatever may be the actual cause thereof? I would further like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, who may reply before the Debate is finished, whether he has given any word of encouragement to non-Congress representatives, to Sir Tej Sapru, to Joshi, the leader of the Trade Union Congress of India and Burma, to Rajagopalachariar and to such men as the president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce of Madras, who only a few days ago was appealing to the Government to resume negotiations? If he is going to ignore those who axe now languishing in prison, surely at least he should consider the position of those who may be hostile to Congress in some measure, or who stand apart from Congress but who also demand independence and self-government and who are looking for some response. I would bid him at least consider the significance of their concern and thus make for good-will and co-operation if not now then in the future.
I would add a word concerning the unfortunate whipping order recently re-instituted. I know that yesterday the right hon. Gentleman said that as yet it had not been applied, and that in any case it would only be applied to those guilty of robbery with violence, arson and so forth. On the other hand the re-introduction of this order has not been without a purpose; it will be applied, no doubt, in course of time. I hope not, but it may be. I ask him, what should we have said in this country, during the 1926 coal lock-out, if a whipping order had been instituted which stated that if any of the miners or railwaymen or others had been guilty of rioting they would be flogged or whipped by order of the British Government? There would have been an outcry on the part of hon. Members of this House, who although they wanted restraint of criminality nevertheless also wanted to avoid that spiritual deterioration which the infliction of flogging inevitably involves. I would therefore ask him to reconsider the whole question of the whipping order, to see whether after all it is really necessary to adopt this degrading method of punishment and whether, if in this country we have not introduced whipping as a penalty in times of civil or industrial strife, he could not at least apply in India the same criterion regarding penalties.
I hope that what I have said to-day, though it may itself have been provocative, will be accepted as mainly an attempt to reply to the surely unnecessary and bleak provocative statement by the Prime Minister yesterday. But above that I can assure the House that as far as I am concerned my chief desire is to nourish the new spirit arising in India and in this country out of the turmoil of to-day and which will enable our country and India in the end to five together in free co-operation, social justice and good will. I believe that the Indians on the whole want that to happen; I believe that the Indian peoples have no intense dislike or hatred of us although they resent exploitation. Many of their leaders and others have been to this country, they know us personally, as I know them personally, although I have never had the fortune or the money to go to India myself. Therefore, at this time, when a head-on collision seems to be inevitable, at least we can appreciate, above the tragic battle and strife, that the mass of Indian people, not only Nehru, Gandhi and Azad, as well as Jinnah and others, for that matter, but the Indian masses, do not want to live in a world in which they are hostile to the British people. They know the British people are human beings, very much like human beings elsewhere, with much the same basic needs, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman opposite not to exasperate Indian opinion but, while taking what measures he from his standpoint feels necessary for the securing of order, the maintenance of law and the restriction of violence, yet above all to appreciate that the men who are trying to guide Indian hopes and aspirations are men at least as earnest as he is himself, and who have as high a patriotism regarding their own country as he has regarding Britain. If we can appreciate that, though we may suffer much in this tragic episode in the world's history before it is finished, we shall at last find in the end the best in both countries rising out of the turmoil and uniting for the re-creation of a new world, in which a free India and a free Britain will take foremost place.
The last two very eloquent and sincere speeches by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) and the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), differing as they do somewhat in their expression, do indicate nevertheless a genuine desire on the part of a large number of Members of this House on both sides that India may be free to order her own destiny. There is some comfort in the knowledge that hon. Gentlemen like the hon. Member for Aylesbury and the hon. Member for West Leyton, although they may approach it from different angles, are equally sincere in their endeavours, and are striving to work out some method of approach. References have been made on one or two occasions to the speech made yesterday by the Prime Minister. For my part, whatever might be the intrinsic merits of the statement and the actual language used—and other Members on all sides of the House have expressed it—it was the manner of its expression, its truculent, swashbuckling "damn-your-eyes" sort of thing which took us back to the Debates on the old India Bill. It was, to say the least, unfortunate, apart altogether from the merits of this speech, which have been analysed by my hon. Friend who has just spoken and I am bound to say rather borne out by the very tepid commendation in "The Times" leading article today. They point out quite reasonably that while it might be true, as the Prime Minister said, that Congress does not represent the majority of the people of India, that while they cannot be in a position to arrive at a settlement, nevertheless it will be impossible to arrive at a settlement without the consent and assistance of the Congress Party.
We have to find, if we can, a via media whereby India can be brought together in order to arrive at some measure of agreement. After all, though Congress, as is said, does not represent the majority of Indians, it is as well to remember that 89 per cent. of the population of India are peasants in the villages, having no concern with the larger political parties, and it is to satisfy them and in order that a larger measure of freedom might be brought to them which is our principal concern. My hon. Friend the Member for West Leyton in his concluding remarks touched upon the particular point to which I wish to refer. I suppose that no missionary ever went out from this country with higher hopes and with more fervent prayers for the success of his mission than was the case when the Lord Privy Seal went to India, and there was no greater sorrow than when he came back in April not having succeeded as we had hoped he might do.
It seems to me that since then the policy of the Government has been rather as though they had got sulky simply because they did not achieve all they wanted. They have made up their minds that nothing more shall be done to bridge this gulf, to break down this impasse, in order that there may be some other approach to the problem. Many attempts have been made by independent men in India itself, such as Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and Mr. Rajagopalachariar and others who have made endeavours in order to bring together Congress and the other parties to arrive at a decision. The Government have done nothing whatever in order to encourage, assist and help these people. Why have they not? After all, is not a little loss of face worth while if that is necessary? Is it not worth while making some little concessions to bring these parties together and bring the question to a satisfactory conclusion with such great issues at stake?
Turning to the war considerations, of course it is impossible to do as Mr. Gandhi suggests, hope to hold off the Japanese by conversation, reason and argument. In the face of what has happened in Formosa, Korea and in China itself, that is impossible. We accept all that. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Labour party has said, the Labour party have admitted that under present circumstances the Government could have taken no other action than they did take at that moment. That does not mean that we should not endeavour to use every possible means in order that we might have another and fresh approach to see whether some reasonable agreement cannot be arrived at. With the leaders of a great party in prison, with their Press suppressed and no longer allowed to be issued, can there be any hope? If we are to rely on that sort of thing, we cannot possibly get any agreement whatever. We must try, if we can, to push the door wider by some other means. The Prime Minister said yesterday that more than 140,000 new volunteers for the Army had come forward since this approach had been made. Really, to talk about 140,000 out of 400,000,000 is infinitesimal and rather absurd. One wonders that the Prime Minister would dare to mention such a figure. A little while ago, in a former Debate, the Secretary of State said that about 1,500,000 Indians had enlisted. That number has been challenged very seriously since then. Suppose it were true, 1,500,000 out of 400,000,000 does not sound as though there is very great burning enthusiasm for the British cause, and that there is a rallying to the standard in the manner we would hope.
In spite of all that, I believe that basically the Indian people are loyal and desirous of remaining more or less in touch with this nation, and that somehow or other we have missed, and are still missing, the opportunity to bring them along the right lines. We have the knack somewhow of always doing the right thing in the wrong way in a manner that alienates rather than brings people to our support. Again and again we have pleaded here that we might set up means of providing the manufacture of munitions and arms in India in order that India might be a great arsenal of democracy. It took a long time to get that done. Again and again for a year or two I urged that certain people be permitted to set up factories there for the manufacture of certain vehicles. That is now being done under American finance and influence. It is rather a pity we could not have encouraged and helped those people rather than, as we have, allowed vested interests from Europe to have more or less moulded the industrial development of India. Every day in the present crisis we are now paying for that.
It is worth while that we have had what I might term this exploratory Debate to-day. I think every one of us, with the possible exception of the Prime Minister, if we might judge by his manner, desires that we should help India to a measure of freedom as soon as possible. We regret very much that she has not been able to see her way to fall into line with us at the present time. I do beg the right hon. Gentleman not to be too sticky and stand on his dignity by taking up the position that "There is our offer. We make no more. When you like to come and say, 'We will sit around with you,' we will listen to you." Surely we might give more encouragement than we have done to those prominent Indians, some of whom have often risked their position and standing among their compatriots out there to find some way in which they might be brought together to find a settlement. It is on that point alone I beg the right hon. Gentleman that he will not get up in his usual dry manner and say that we have done all we can and it is up to them to come again as and when they will. Rather I urge him to say that we shall give all the support we can to those who have any influence and any desire to break down subversive elements in order that we might arrive at a measure of agreement and try to settle this thing at a time when it is so essential that those who love freedom of liberty, thought and expression should be united in the great struggle in which the world is now involved.
I think most of us can agree with the remark which fell just now from the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), to the effect that this exploratory Debate has been worth while. If there is one thing, a relatively small matter, which I would deprecate, it is the somewhat heavy weather which the hon. Member and even my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in his thoughtful and most helpful speech, indulged in, in their criticism of the Prime Minister's statement, as being in some sense provocative, truculent, not helpful, shocking to millions, as the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) said yesterday. Let us really look at that statement, and ask, where does the justification for those comments come in? The statement began by putting in the very forefront the basic policy on which the whole of this House is agreed, and which has won the approval of the whole world: the policy, if I may quote the language of my right hon. Friend, by which India's destiny is to be determined at the end of hostilities by Indians themselves. He added, very truly, that "never in human history has such an offer been made."
The hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley), in what certainly struck me as a most statesmanlike speech, laid emphasis upon the desirability of that admirable declaration being made as prominently public as possible. I and my right hon. Friend here and others have endeavoured to emphasise the implications of that statement everywhere that our voices have reached. At any rate, the Prime Minister put it in the forefront of his statement yesterday. What is provocative in that? The Prime Minister followed up that by certain figures, drawn from that entirely unprovocative source, the interim report for 1941 on the Census of India, to show that the Congress could not claim to command a majority of all India.
The census authorities. It is a quite unprovocative, and certainly not a partisan, report. The Prime Minister, perfectly legitimately, used those figures as indicating broadly the attitude of the main elements of the community in India. It is perfectly true that at elections held some six years ago a considerable number of Moslems voted with Congress. After experience of Congress Governments, in the following years the whole position of the Moslem communities changed entirely. There are members of the Depressed Classes with the Congress party. But there are Hindus in other parties; and I venture to say that the proportion of Moslems and of the Depressed Classes who are with Congress is smaller than the proportion of Hindus who are with Mahasabha and other parties, who are not with Congress, and who deplore Congress policy at the present moment. Those figures gave a broad picture, and a true picture, which, no doubt, has come as a surprise to many people, not only in this country but in the United States. They were well worth quoting in order to refute the claim so persistently put forward that Congress is India, that to give to Congress what the Congress party demands is giving to India what she demands. The whole problem is that India contains many elements, among which Congress is not even a clear majority, which are not agreed as to what India demands.
What else was in the statement? Was the Prime Minister's account of what took place, of the actual disturbances, inaccurate? I could draw a much more lurid picture. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed), very rightly, from his experience, said what a breakdown of law and order in India could mean, and what it has been meaning in the last month. There was no exaggeration in the Prime Minister's statement on that. Was it provocative to pay a tribute to the Executive Government in India, or to the Civil Service, or to that admirable body of brave men of the Indian police, or to the valour of the Indian troops, or their loyalty. I am glad that yesterday a Member who has just come back from the Middle East paid his tribute to the Indian troops. I am glad to see among us as a representative of India in the War Cabinet an Indian Prince who in his time served in an Indian regiment, the Rajputana Rifles, which have had an unequalled record for gallantry in this war.
We are told that it was not the facts themselves, it was the tone—so truculent, so swashbuckling, so provocative. Does this House really expect the Prime Minister, at a moment when not only India alone but our whole position in the Middle East, our loyal Ally China, the whole Allied cause, has been saved from peril by the successfully firm attitude of the Government of India, to exchange that ringing confident note which has so often sustained this House in dark hours for a muffled apology in a minor key? I venture to say that even the hon. Member for Seaham, if he had been through what His Majesty's Government and the Government of India have been through in the last weeks, and had emerged successfully, might have allowed some ray of tempered satisfaction to penetrate the querulous gloom that usually hangs over his speeches.
As the right hon. Gentleman has attacked me, quite unnecessarily—for I am a most unoffending victim of his attack—might I ask him, since he is now defending the tone, apart from the substance, of the Prime Minister's statement yesterday, whether the tone and substance were approved by every Member of the War Cabinet?
The Prime Minister has answered for himself. If I may turn to the real storm which is blowing through the world to-day, to the danger through which India is passing, to the danger through which the whole cause of freedom is passing, I suggest that we must judge the action of Congress and the action of the Government of India in the light of that situation, and primarily and mainly in the light of that situation.
I may have to say something in a moment about the political motives underlying the action of Congress, but I would like the House, first of all, to put that question entirely on one side and, judging simply by the issue of our existence in this war, to ask, What was the duty of the Government of India when it was confronted by the situation which did confront it during the summer months of the present year? Very soon after my right hon. Friend left India it became clear that under Mr. Gandhi's inspiration Congress was steadily swinging towards a policy of direct defiance aimed at the paralysis of the existing Government of India. We have had experience of some of these movements before but Mr. Gandhi made it clear that this was going to be something more serious than any of his previous movements. He said in July:
This will be the bitterest struggle in my life.
He spoke of it as a struggle to be made as short and swift as possible. He is reported by his secretary Desai in June as saying:
My attitude has undergone a change. I cannot afford to wait. I must, even at certain obvious risks, ask people to resist slavery.
Similarly, Mr. Prasad said,
In this last decisive struggle by Mr. Gandhi for national independence, they might have to face bombs, bullets and shells.
Does this look a purely non-violent movement? Indeed, I may point out that when, on 10th July, the Congress Working Committee issued a resolution urging the people of India to resist the ordinary compensated requisitioning of boats or vehicles or lands, Mr. Gandhi added as to the method of resistance:
No doubt the non-violent way is always the best, but where that does not come naturally "—
it does not always come naturally to most people—
the violent way is both necessary and honourable, and inaction here is rank cowardice and unmanly.
Increasing information was coming in all the time as to the nature of the movement.
Yes, and the resolution passed by the Working Committee of Congress on 10th July would in itself have been ample justification for the Government of India for there and then interning the members of the Congress Working Committee. Subsequently, in the course of July, among much other evidence, which is naturally not suitable for publication, the Government of Madras came across instructions that were being issued by Provincial Committees in that Province. I need not read the whole of these instructions, but I would point out some of the things they recommended—urging Government officers to resign their jobs; arranging labour strikes; picketing of shops; stopping trains by pulling communication cords; travelling without tickets; cutting telegraph and telephone wires. At that moment there was a little injunction to say that rails should not be removed and no danger to life should be incurred—that certainly has not been followed since. And finally, the picketing of troops.
The Andhra Provincial Committee which was one of the committees of Madras Province. There was enough evidence confronting the Government of India to make action highly necessary at an early time. The Government of India showed remarkable patience all through. They delayed taking any action so long as there was a possibility of the All-India Congress Committee not endorsing the sinister designs of the Working Committee announced by Mr. Gandhi. On 8th August the All-India Working Committee, by an overwhelming majority, endorsed those designs and thereupon the Government of India, on its own initiative, without reference to this country, by unanimous decision of a body which at that moment consisted of 11 Indian members and one European member, took the only action which a self-respecting Government could take in these circumstances. There is absolutely no justification whatever for the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) that this action was deliberately postponed until the House of Commons adjourned for its Recess, which it did on 7th August. The matter was entirely determined by the action of the All-India Congress Committee and by the Government of India.
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he had no previous warning, no intimation at all that this action was in contemplation, that it came as much a surprise to him as it did to me?
No, Sir, I do not say that. Naturally, the Government of India and His Majesty's Government are in communication on the general situation, but in a matter directly affecting the primary responsibility of the Government of India for peace and order within its own confines, the Government of India took immediate action without waiting to consult with or asking the permission of the Government of this country, and the tribute which the Prime Minister paid yesterday—
I think that the right hon. Gentleman should give way as most Ministers do on important matters. I want us to press the right hon. Gentleman on this point. It seems to be a most extraordinary state of affairs that the Indian Government on their own, without consultation with the Home Government, should take action which was not merely a local administrative action but a big reversal of previous policy without having the authority from here to do it, the specific authority apart from the ordinary responsibilities.
No, Sir. The Government of India knew quite well that in maintaining the peace of India it could reckon confidently upon the support of His Majesty's Government. But on a matter which required instant action to prevent a policy of sabotage which was decided upon on 8th August the Government of India rightly did its duty by acting immediately. I think that that disposes entirely of the suggestion that the action of the Government of India was carefully timed for the moment when Parliament here would not be sitting.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Labour party referred to the view of organised labour, namely, that the action taken was a "timely and inevitable precaution." It might be put in more simple language, as Mr. Jinnah put it when he said that the Government "instead of waiting to be hit, hit first," and in doing so, I venture to say, saved India from grave disaster.
The immediate reaction to the news of the arrests was undoubtedly a series of noisy, hooligan demonstrations of a very widespread character. They were very rapidly disposed of but what was much worse was the concentration of effort at sabotage in certain directions and in certain parts of India, a concentrated attack upon the whole system of communications, on the postal services, telephone and telegraph services, upon railway communications, the interruption of railway tracks, the destruction of railway stations and rolling stock and attack upon aerodromes. I might point out to the House that the attention specially paid to the destruction of controls, the destruction of signalling apparatus, damaging of bridges and roads, all indicated a carefully planned scheme of attack not only upon the daily life of India but on the safety of India. The attack was mainly concentrated on the vital strategic area now exposed to Japanese attack lying between Eastern India and the main area of India and India's armed strength, as well as the area which would most prejudice the carrying of coal from the mines to the factories of India.
If the charge against Congress is so vital as this, why have their leaders been safely locked up in a pleasant concentration house? Why not put them out of existence if the charge is so serious?
The charge is that this attack was substantially planned in accordance with general directions given by Congress and in accordance with those directives of a particular provincial committee, which I have already read out. Something like 300 stations were attacked and at least 24 cases of derailment of trains have been reported. Disturbance was particularly violent in Behar, a vital strategic area. Something like 65 police stations were attacked. At another place, Chimar, in the Central Province, a magistrate and police officers were done to death after refusing the offer of their lives if they joined Congress and resigned from Government service. At Ashti, in the same Province, two constables were burned alive with kerosene. A police officer suffered a similar fate in Behar. It is perfectly clear that we were confronted with a movement which was something a good deal more than an ordinary student and hooligan riot. We were confronted with something very serious. Had the organisation of that movement been allowed to develop for several weeks while the smoke-screen of resolutions and discussions about how and under what conditions the British Government was to clear out of India was being discussed, the result might well have been disastrous.
As it is, I venture to say that the vigorous and firm action taken by the Government of India and by the Governments of the self-governing Provinces—because in five Provinces with a population of 110,000,000 the whole action of dealing with this problem has been taken by Indian Ministers, responsible to Indian legislatures—has alone prevented a situation which would have paralysed the Indian war effort and which would have made it impossible to defend India or to relieve China by our occupation of Burma. It is impossible to resist the conclusion that this movement was, in its main outline, deliberately organised and intended by those who, unfortunately, had succeeded in establishing control over the Congress movement. All the evidence which has come to us makes it clear that this whole campaign of disorder and revolt is the outcome of the application locally by local leaders of the general guidance which the Congress leaders have inspired.
Several Questions have been asked during the Debate. The hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) referred to what he called whipping, which is, in fact, caning with a light rattan cane of half-an-inch diameter. It is employed, as in this country, against crimes of brutal violence, and on that I gave him a full answer yesterday or the day before. He also raised the question of the prison riots in Dacca and Baghalpur. In each case it was a prison mutiny. In the case of Dacca it was within the purview of the authority of the Bengal Ministry and in the case of Baghalpur it was entirely confined to habitual convicts and was not concerned with the present movement except in so far as the present state in India may have encouraged these convicts, to riot and revolt. Broadly speaking, I think we can say, with the Prime Minister, that we have emerged from a situation of great danger into one upon which we can look with a reasonable amount of confidence. At the same time the disturbances are by no means wholly over and we should be well not to suggest that we are out of the wood yet.
From that situation, the actual situation of security, on which there was no option for the Government of India but to act as they did, whatever may have been the political issues underlying the Congress decision to take unlawful and criminal action, I would like to turn for a moment to the political issues that underlie this problem. We are, in this matter, confronted by a fundamental divergence of policy and outlook. The whole policy of Congress—it may have grown up naturally over the years—the policy of the little co-opted body which dominates Congress, is based on the assumption that Congress is entitled to step into the shoes of the British Government and take over control of the whole of India. That is the fundamental assumption on which all their policy is based. The policy of His Majesty's Government as set forward first of all in August, 1940, and again far more specifically, clearly and amply by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal on his mission to India, is that India shall obtain, with a minimum of delay after the war, the same freedom as is enjoyed by the great Dominions or, for that matter, as is enjoyed by ourselves, the same freedom of control of her own destiny among the nations of the Commonwealth and the world. But the basis on which that constitution can be arrived at is by agreement and compromise between the different elements within India. On no other basis is it possible for a constitutional settlement, if initiated, to last. Nowhere in the world whether it is the United States, the British Dominions or any other country can a composite structure embracing many elements of great divergence—and nowhere is fundamental divergence so great as in India—endure unless the Constitution itself reflects in a substantial measure a wide agreement based upon discussion and compromise between the elements which have to live together within a single political framework. That condition inevitably led to another—that, as an inevitable consequence, an inescapable consequence, of the conclusion that India's future could only be settled by Indians by agreement among themselves, nothing should be done to-day which would prejudge that settlement, which would throw the control of the future into the hands of a dozen or so wholly irresponsible people, responsible to no constitution here or in India, with nobody to call them to account.
On purely military considerations there is an immensely powerful case, whilst the war is on, for retaining the ultimate control of Indian policy in the hands of His Majesty's Government, for the very fact that the defence of India, the defence of Ceylon, the Middle East and Burma, are all inseparably connected, and that every Department in the Government of India bears upon that defence. But quite apart from that practical consideration, there is the constitutional consideration inescapable from the fact that we are pledged to a Constitution by agreement, that we cannot to-day, in the complete absence of agreement, hand over unqualified and unlimited power to any particular group of individuals. His Majesty's Government were prepared, through my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal who, as was said by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Palmer), interpreted the policy of His Majesty's Government not only with the utmost patience and ability but also in the very widest and most generous spirit—always subject to that one consideration that the measure of power, however wide, given now to a Government of Indian political leaders must be subject in the last resort to ultimate control by this Parliament. In practice, we know how very real is the power enjoyed by Indian Members of the Viceroy's Executive. Sir Firozkhan Noon, the Defence Member, in a speech the other day, drew attention to the fact that in the 11 months during which he had been a Member of the Viceroy's Council, he had not known one case in which the Viceroy had over-ridden the views of the majority of his Executive. All the same, to have given way to the demand which Congress put forward at the last moment that the Viceroy's power should be definitely obliterated and the whole power given to a self-constituted group of individuals, responsible to nobody, would at once have precipitated chaos and confusion in India. It could not have been accepted by His Majesty's Government and would not have been accepted by India as a whole.
In this connection, I should like to take the opportunity of dealing with rumours which have had widespread currency in this country, and I believe even more in the United States, that. my right hon. and learned Friend in the course of his mission, either went or could have gone beyond the definite instructions of the Cabinet in this matter—they were not only instructions, they were an inherent part of our policy—or that, having done so, he was suddenly pulled back and prevented from achieving a settlement by last moment instructions from the War Cabinet or from the Prime Minister. I venture to give a categorical denial to those rumours in whichever form they have been put forward. My right hon. and learned Friend faithfully carried out his mission, interpreting in the most generous sense the instructions which he was given, the policy which he had wholeheartedly accepted, but in no respect departing from the essentials of that policy.
Cannot we at long last get the inner history about what the right hon. Gentleman has just referred to? Who was, then, responsible for the unexpected, the totally unlooked for, collapse of these conversations in India on or about 8th April? Can we get the whole truth at last? We have not had it yet.
Was that the resolution passed by Congress on 2nd April which they did not divulge to the public until 10th April? That was the only resolution that existed on the part of Congress so far as those negotiations or conversations were concerned.
The hon. Member asked me what happened and why there was a change. I am not suggesting the first resolution was published or bound Congress, or anything else. It constantly happens in the course of negotiations, with trade unions or anybody else, that you get a resolution and after further' consideration it is reversed, when there is a narrow majority one way or another. That is what happened.
But the leaders of Congress, Dr. Azad and Mr. Nehru, stated in public on 10th April, when that resolution was made public, that they stood by that resolution, and that nothing has been known until now about Mr. Gandhi intervening and in some way or another sabotaging or destroying that resolution. It is extraordinary that, in the last letter sent to the Lord Privy Seal, no reference whatsoever was made to the fact as stated to the House just now.
My right hon. and learned Friend has thrown a light, from his direct knowledge, upon the inner history of this matter, but I think I have already made it clear that, whatever the inner history may have been, what wrecked the negotiations was the fact that at the last moment Congress put up a demand which was fundamentally inconsistent with the whole principle of the offer made by His Majesty's Government, namely, the demand that without qualification or limitation the whole Government of India should be put into their hands. That is the real reason why the negotiations broke down, and having broken down, undoubtedly there was grave disappointment not only among members of the Congress Working Committee but among all thoughtful persons in India, grave disappointent, and a grave loss of credit to Mr. Gandhi and the Congress party for the line they had taken.
In these circumstances, Mr. Gandhi and the Congress majority that then went with him determined upon a policy of mass disobedience. In circumstances of difficulty people naturally revert to the technique with which they have been most familiar, and in Mr. Gandhi's case it was the technique of mass disobedience. Only it was to be raised, on this occasion, to the Nth. That was the position to which, by his unfortunate influence over his colleagues, he in the following weeks committed the Congress party. It was to be a deliberate trial of strength. I have heard it said often, "Why indulge in repression and not in some constructive initiative?" I do think the British Government can in all fairness claim that all the constructive proposals with regard to the Indian problem of recent years have come from here. Action on the part of Mr. Gandhi, who in these matters has been the arch saboteur, has invariably been wrecking.
In this particular instance it was meant to be not only wrecking but deliberately coercive. He was encouraged no doubt by the mildness of the Government of India in the hope that in the face of a general violence campaign the Government would in one respect or another give way. It did not. That was Mr. Gandhi's answer to my right hon. and learned Friend. All the rest of the resolutions which were supposed to be considered and the failure to accept which involved civil disobedience were a pure smoke-screen. How completely they were a smoke-screen can be seen by the utter inconsistency, from week to week and almost from day to day, which the different forms of Mr. Gandhi's declarations and resolutions took. Immediately after my right hon. and learned Friend left India, Mr. Gandhi in "Harijan" said:
Why blame the British for our limitations? The attainment of independence is impossible until we have solved the communal tangle.
A few weeks later he committed himself to a resolution which stated that the moment independence was given and India handed over to Congress, the communal tangle would solve itself and an agreed provisional Government would come into existence. Similarly in the
first resolution which he drafted in May he said that on the British quitting India, India's first step would probably be to start negotiations with Japan against whom India felt no ill-will at all. When it was suggested that was not good propaganda in this country or in the United States Mr. Gandhi cheerfully turned round and said the object of immediately handing over India was to give the maximum help to the Allied cause. At one moment he asked us to quit and "leave India to God or to anarchy." The next he committed himself to the wholly unwarranted prediction that our quitting would result in the immediate setting up of a stable agreed provisional government.
I think we can be quite clear on this issue that these resolutions meant nothing in themselves and that any conversations that Mr. Gandhi might have wanted to indulge in after the resolutions were sanctioned by the All-India Working Congress Committee were merely meant to gain time for the perfecting of the organisation of the effort to sabotage the future independence and freedom of India. I think I can very well sum up that situation in the word of the Defence Member (Sir Firozkhan Noon). He said:
This lawlessness will soon subside and the Congress philosophy of force fail. Thank God and the police and the Army for that. Thereafter we have only the second alternative left to us for winning our freedom—compromise and unity.
That is the only alternative by which India can win her freedom and will win her freedom. In the immediate future we have to deal with the position as it stands. I entirely agree with those who say that a problem like the political problem in India cannot be settled merely by standing pat and enforcing law and order. But there are moments, not least in the middle of a struggle for existence, and not least when there is no beginning of a sign of the really powerful organisations coming together, when there may be no alternative for a time but to enforce ordinary law and order and good government. Settlement by negotiation is always desirable, but there can be no mistake greater—and everyone recognises it in international affairs—than to try to negotiate when there is not the slightest chance of success, or to negotiate with those who are not in a position to deliver the goods. I stated in answer to a Question earlier to-day that
His Majesty's Government will welcome every effort made by statesmen of good will in India to bring the different elements together. But good will on the part of statesmen who cannot control parties or organisations, though desirable in itself, is not sufficient; you have to bring the main elements together, or rather they have to come together and have to show at any rate a sufficient willingness to come together to enable something to be done. My right hon. and learned Friend went out in faith and hope that there was a possibility of their coming together. I am sorry to say that while he travelled many thousands of miles to meet them, the different parties in India were not prepared to cross the street to meet each other or discuss either among themselves or with him a future settlement for India.
We have to wait, so far as the Congress leaders are concerned, for that change of heart to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Nottingham (Sir F. Sykes) referred, Meanwhile we naturally welcome every proposal which, within the broad general framework of our considered policy, is practical. As I pointed out, it was not a bargaining policy which my right hon. and learned Friend took with him; it was a considered policy, and it is the only policy under which a final and permanent solution of the Indian problem can be achieved. Within that broad framework we are only too glad to welcome any practical proposals that are brought forward with any reasonable hope of agreement among the main parties in India. Meanwhile the immediate government of India is to-day in the hands of an Executive consisting of Members who, apart from the one issue of controlling large political organisations, are not only men of high ability—Indian Nationalists just as good as the leaders of the great organised parties—but also by their experience and by what they have done in public life are as representative as any body of men you can find in India to-day. It is to them, tried and tested by the courage they have shown in this difficult situation, that we and India must look in the main for the immediate control of India's future and for her conduct of the war. Meanwhile there is nothing in the world to prevent men of good will in India coming together and hastening on the future by seeing if some agreement can be found on the future Constitution or on the methods by which it is to be arrived at. All that is and has been throughout perfectly open, and whatever is done on those lines will certainly meet with the wholehearted approval of His Majesty's Government.
I want to close, on this undoubtedly difficult matter, with one word of optimism. The situation in India is immensely complicated and difficult. It has elements in it in some respects more difficult than those which Europe, or for instance Ireland or Palestine, have had to face. There are however elements of unity. There is not only the unity of administration and of law and of trade which Britain has created during these last two hundred years—a system of unity of which we have every reason to be proud.
There is the long peace which India has enjoyed, and the interlocking of interests throughout India from end to end. On the other hand, we have the common wish of all Indians, not only of the Congress Party and the Mussulmans but also the Princes, who must, not only by virtue of our Treaty obligations with them but also by their geographical situation and the extent of their populations, play an immensely important part in the future, to see India self-governing, free but united and not reverting to anarchy. We have substantially the same unity in this country. We are at one in wanting India to be free. We want her to take her place as a freely associated member of that wonderful partnership of nations which we call the British Commonwealth, a partnership which, I believe, is destined to play an even greater part in the world in future years than it has played in the past. That is the policy to which we are committed and to which the Prime Minister committed himself in the opening and vital sentence of his statement yesterday, a policy in which all patriotic Indians equally believe. With that substratum of unity it is not beyond reason to hope that under some constitutional form or other, at some time or other—I hope not too distant a time—Indians may be able to agree upon a constitution under which they can not only live but develop to the full the wonderful natural resources of their country and the great gifts of her people.
I believe the whole House and the whole country, and I think I may say the Empire and India, will be grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's closing words. They were words of vision, they were words which may prove themselves creative words in a moment of great need. I think they will give a hope which has been lacking hitherto to many in India. I hope they will give confidence and faith to many who need it and that, as the result of that closing message of the Secretary of State, renewed efforts will be put forth to get understanding and to achieve unity, and through that to win the freedom and independence that we all want India to enjoy. I cannot but think that one effect of the last passage of his speech may be to give that encouragement of which there is so much need. At a time like this we should be extremely careful that no word is spoken here which will exacerbate the difficulties and the bitterness already unhappily present in India to-day. I might have dealt with some of the statements that have been made during the Debate, but I do not want to do that now because instead of pouring oil upon the troubled waters, it might have the result, as is too often the case with such efforts, of putting oil upon a conflagration. But I think it may be possible that India to-day may feel that there is a message coming from the Secreary of State and from this Parliament, a message of fellowship and an appeal to forget the differences and the bitterness of the past and with it an admission on our part which we ought to make that while there is much in our past history for which we are proud and thankful there is also much for which we are bitterly sorry and for which we must ask the forgiveness of our fellow subjects, but that we ask them now to go forward with us in this great association of freedom for our mutual good.
In asking that of them, I think we can ask of our Government and the Government of India—the Indian Government of India—that every facility will be given to those who are seeking to get understanding, that they will be aided and encouraged to communicate with the leaders of the Congress Party who are now in internment with this object in view, and that no obstacle will be put in their way. Many of us, while sympathising with many of the aims of the Congress Party, regret profoundly their recent decision and the sad, deplorable events which have followed from the action of ignorant, misguided people who began that campaign of nonviolence and were led in their bitterness into acts of violence and crime. We need not dwell upon the past. We want to look to the future. We know that this party represents the largest body of organised political opinion in India and that we must hope and work for agreement with it if we are to get that unity which is needed for the achievement of our aims. Therefore, I hope we may have this assurance, that full facilities will be granted for all these efforts for peacemaking and unity which have already been begun by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, and by Mr. Rajagopalachariar, and which have been called for by the venerable Metropolitan of India, a man who stands outside politics, but who is honestly concerned that the Government policy should not just be one which is negative—not one simply of repression. I am sure he will be gladdened by the thought that the Secretary of State recognises that truth, that he does not want this policy, though he has to maintain order, to be one that is negative. Therefore we have the duty laid upon us to express our fullest agreement with the ideal which has been set before us to-day and to send out to our fellow citizens in India a message that we want them to unite with us and with one another, to work together and to live together in a spirit of trust and understanding which alone can make freedom really practicable and really possible. India will be giving something to the whole world should she attain that freedom. It will not be a gain for herself alone. It will be a gain for the whole human race.
I would like to endorse what has been said by the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey). I hope that the message to which he has given expression with so much eloquence and sincerity will be conveyed to India. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State whether he will take some means to convey without loss of time to the Indian Government and the Indian people that the vast majority of feeling in this House is in favour of the policy to which the Prime Minister gave expression in his statement yesterday; and also that the Prime Minister has the support of the vast majority of the people of the country in the difficult situation with which he has to deal in relation to Indian administration. Many speeches have been made which are calculated to cause unfavourable repercussions in India, and in view of the delicacy of the situation, the difficulties with which my right hon. Friend has to contend and the situation with which the Prime Minister is confronted in dealing with a totalitarian war—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bridge-ton (Mr. Maxton) is always making such constructive contributions—we ought to tell the people of India that the country supports the policy defined by the Prime Minister yesterday.
I would not have got up if I could have derived the slightest hope from the long and, may I say, the very tedious speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State has inflicted on the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am entitled to state my own personal reactions to it. The right hon. Gentleman spent a great deal of time in defending that most irresponsible and disastrous statement of the Prime Minister yesterday. He said the same thing but with greater finesse, and he did not withdraw a single word from the attack that the Prime Minister made. Nor did he in any way try to correct the long list of deliberately misleading statements of the Prime Minister. The Secretary of State knows very well what is the strength of the Indian National Congress. The Government have revealed it by the rush with which they imprisoned practically all the leaders of Congress. Not all of them are Hindus. If Congress has not got tremendous support in India, why was there this panicky imprisonment? India is one of our bases for our struggle in the Far East. Before we leave the House doped by the soothing tones of the right hon. Gentleman, let us consider what is the exact position facing the country and the world in India today. The right hon. Gentleman claims that the Government have prevented anarchy breaking out all over India. Has there been as much anarchy in India since the Mutiny as exists at this moment? Can the Government depend upon any representative section of the Indian population to-day? They know they cannot. That is why the Secretary of State and the Lord Privy Seal have worked so hard in pretending that Congress have no influence in India.
Did not the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that every one of the 90,000,000 Moslems in India were against Congress and were supporting him and his Government here?
The Lord Privy Seal must be getting into a very difficult situation over this Indian business. I used to know him when he held a great respect for facts and truth. He knows that that statement is incorrect and that Congress represents far more Moslems than the Moslem League ever has represented. Those with the most elementary knowledge of India know that. What criterion, does the right hon. and learned Gentle-man use in coming to his conclusion? The best criterion as to the extent of the influence of Congress was the 1937 elections. The talk of the Secretary of State for India will impress no one who knows the facts. The Lord Privy Seal knows very well that in those elections only 4.6 per cent. of the Moslem electorate voted for the Moslem League. It is a fact of simple arithmetic.
Then on what ground can the right hon. and learned Gentleman contend for a moment that Congress was not supported by the Moslems when the party had Congress Ministries in Provinces, particularly the North-West Frontier Province, which was overwhelmingly Moslem? The Lord Privy Seal has forgotten another fact. It is no use pretending that Congress is not the instrument that makes articulate the mass aspirations of the Indian people. He knows that very well. Has he so conveniently forgotten that every representative section of Indian opinion turned down his own miserable proposals? He has never explained that. The Moslem League turned them down, and so did the Hindu masses and the depressed classes.
I have explained the matter often. The Moslem League waited until they saw what Congress would do. They passed a unanimous resolution accepting the proposals in the Moslem League, but after they found that Congress had turned them down they passed another resolution which did not accept them.
That is a new explanation. It is several months since the right hon. and learned Gentleman was in India, and that is the last explanation I have heard. The one immediately previous was that Gandhi had upset the negotiations of Congress representatives with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. When the Secretary of State for India tried to-day to present Congress in such a shabby light, how was it that he did not give the House the last resolution passed by Congress before his minions were ordered to arrest the members of Congress? Why did he indulge for 25 minutes in nothing but innuendo, and in casting aspersions, without producing any evidence to justify them? I have here the last resolution. For passing it all the popular leaders of the Indian masses are in prison at this moment.
The resolution certainly demanded the withdrawal of British power and the transference of the powers of government to a provisional Government. There is nothing new in that. In the same resolution Congress guaranteed the rights of all minorities, as they always have done. Further, they committed the manpower and the resources of India to the fight against the Axis Powers. That does not seem to have impressed this Government at all—no more than it could have been impressed before it handed over Burma to the Japs. I mean what I say. What was the attitude of the Government towards Burma, where every popular leader and the extremely popular Premier of the Burmese people were placed in prison or concentration camps? I asked in this House many months ago, when Malaya and Burma were not, apparently, in immediate danger, whether this Government would prefer handing over the people of Burma and of India to the tender mercies of Fascist Imperialist Japan to granting them the necessary freedom to fight for the countries that are theirs. At the time I was jeered at from the benches opposite. The Government did hand over Burma to Japan. They knew they had not the remotest chance of defending that country unless the masses there were behind any forces we could place there. The same observation applies to India to-day. I want to tell both right hon. Gentlemen that I am confident—and I thank them for this conviction which they have forced upon me—that they would far prefer the whole of India to go under the heel of Nazi or Fascist Japan rather than grant freedom to the Indian people to fight to develop their own resources and to defend their own country; and I regret more than words of mine can express that the Lord Privy Seal is now a party to that attitude.
Let us look at India for a moment—but not in the light of the honeyed, misleading words of the Secretary of State for India. What is the picture there to-day? Anarchy more than has existed there since the Mutiny. That is the result of British rule, by the way. A great deal of Nazi technique applied in keeping down the masses of India—collective fines, whippings, the shooting of unarmed people, martyrisation. That is the technique in India. There sits a one-time Socialist who travelled with such terrific speed from obscurity on the Right, through the Left and back again to the Right, in anticipation of again passing into obscurity. We shall see about it. We have had many experiences of that kind in my movement. I regret to say that very much. What else is there? If India is attacked by Japan on a large scale—and we all must anticipate it, as we should—how many of the Allied troops there will be immobilised because of the resentful, embittered population? To what extent will the forces we have there now, Allied forces drawn from many quarters of the world, be preoccupied with the Indian people who have been so embittered by the stupid rule to which they have been subjected? How many millions of those forces will not be able to turn their attention to what ought to be our only enemy in the struggle?
Further, to what extent has the policy of the Government immobilised the productive powers of India to-day? It is a country which is immeasurably rich, but there is not a willing population there. They are making one demand—that we should clear out. They have had experience for 150 to 200 years of that British Imperialism which no one has condemned more eloquently than the Lord Privy Seal. How much of India's vast labour-power will the Government of India have to support the Allied forces in the fight against Japan? I am not surprised that neither right hon. Gentlemen cares to answer that question. May I say that I am satisfied that this Government have not the remotest intention of granting any measure of freedom or independence to India, notwithstanding all their speeches and protestations. As one Member of this House I refuse to believe that the Government are sincere. It is no use telling me, or telling those who who memories of the last war, that certain promises are being made to India, India was promised Dominion status in the last war, 25 years ago, but has not got it yet.
Let me refer to other parts of the last resolution of Congress. I stated that the Indian National Congress committed the man-power and resources of India to the fight against the Axis. The resolution denied emphatically that India had any desire to remain neutral or to appease the Axis. The resolution was an emphatic anti-Fascist declaration, and, what is so conveniently forgotten, it called upon the British Government to reopen negotiations with a view to trying to come to a settlement in India. It is known very well that, before Gandhi would issue any kind of instruction or make any declaration, he was going to communicate with the Viceroy of India, The answer to those resolutions was these imprisonments. I repeat that I am sorry about the right hon. and learned Gentleman, from whom I and others expected so much when he left this country, not, we thought, with an absolutely impracticable formula but with one which gave some basis for negotiation, and with the great sympathy which we thought he had with the Indian people. We thought he had courage and vision to appreciate the position of world affairs today and what India must mean to us in our struggle against Fascism in the Far East. No, the explanation given this afternoon is no explanation at all.
I want to tell the two right hon. Gentlemen that the problem of India will be resolved. I have no doubt at all. The Indian people will get their freedom. Their independence will come to them, not as a result of anything that this Government will do but because world forces are in existence far beyond the control of the Secretary of State for India and of this Government. They are at work today, and out of the play and interplay of those forces India will get her long-looked-for freedom. But the tragedy will be that India will be resentful and embittered towards this country. Inevitably, freedom will come to those 400,000,000 people. We cannot stay it, although this country has tried for years. Now the world is taking up India's problem. There are world forces greater than those of any Government. I ask the two right hon. Gentlemen: Why not take the step now, and gain the lasting friendship of those 400,000,00c people? Get them into the comity of nations who are out to establish freedom all over the world. If that is not done, I ask the two right hon. Gentlemen to stop prattling about participating in a war of liberation. I regret intensely that so many right hon. Gentlemen fail when facing that test.
India will get her freedom. Have not this Government the vision and the sense to do the obvious just now? Let them re-open negotiations with the representatives of the Indian people. There can be no difficulty in establishing a provisional government. Those representatives have agreed that the Allied Commander-in-Chief of the Far East Forces must be left untouched. The Lord Privy Seal need not smile. Some of us know that India passionately desires freedom to-day and are prepared to make a reasonable accommodation in the circumstances. The Indians will get their freedom and the obloquy will fall upon the Lord Privy Seal and a few others. Why can they not do the obvious thing and re-open negotiations? Get these men out of their prison. Let them understand and believe that you have one desire towards them, which is freeing the 400,000,000 Indians to join the other 400,000,000 people of China so that, with the help and inspiration of this country, freedom can be established in the Far East among 1,000,000,000 people. Axe you big enough to rise to that? Unfortunately, I am afraid that you are not.
I am sorry, and I hope, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you and the right hon. Gentlemen will accept my apology, I have said what I wanted to say; that is, no doubt, the reason why I violated one of the courtesies of the House, and I regret it. I hope that whatever may be said here to-day, a new start will be made somewhere within the Government in order to solve this problem, and to solve it to the benefit and to the glory of the British people as well as of the Indian people.
I have listened to every speech made to-day in this Debate, and I listened with particular interest to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which did not seem to me at all tedious but rather exceedingly able and indeed persuasive on many points. With particular reference to Mr. Gandhi, I find it difficult to disagree with some of what he said. I regard Mr. Gandhi as a wrong-headed saint who has still—and it cannot be denied—an immense mystical influence among the masses of the Indian people. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman did not refer-he rather pointedly omitted to refer—to a man whom I regard as Mr. Gandhi's intellectual superior at any rate, the Pandit Nehru, a far more balanced man of greater political advancement than Mr. Gandhi.
At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman's speech did not leave me with any great feeling of hope for the future, as far as he dealt with it. He defended the air of militant exuberance in the Prime Minister's statement, and indeed that is quite comprehensible. The Government have had a victory over Congress, they have pulled off a successful coup; but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister that one of the Prime Minister's own mottoes is, "In victory, magnanimity." They have shown that they can be strong. Can they show now that they can continue to be generous? We cannot stress too much—it has already been stressed in various ways on both sides of the House—that a mere condition of deadlock is fatal, and cannot be allowed to continue. For no reasons of pride, imperial or national, can we assent to a situation in which both parties to a dispute sit back and say that the next move must come from the other side.
We have been reminded repeatedly that the Japanese are at the very gates of India. It seems to me that the granting to India of some measure of the freedom which so many Indian Leaders have been demanding is not merely an idealistic measure tied up with the Four Freedoms, the Atlantic Charter and so on; it is not merely something to be looked forward to in the distant future after the cessation of hostilities, but, it seems to me, an indispensable part of the programme for the successful cessation of hostilities. It is an inevitable preliminary to victory in the Far East that we should enlist the masses of the Indian people on our side. But you cannot impose enthusiasm for our cause by whippings or even canings, by terrorism or by the imprisonment of men who, however wrong-headed they may be, are regarded by millions of Indian people as their leaders.
It is a condition of victory there that we should somehow enlist the masses of the Indian people on our side. We have been told again and again, and it has been shown in this country and in other countries, that this is a total, all-in war, in which civilians are involved as intimately as fighting men. We could never have got through the blitz period, probably, had it not been for the inflexible spirit and morale of our people. If that is so, and I am sure it is, we are putting our own men—including those reinforcements —in India in an impossible position and giving them an impossible task to do, unless we can mobilise alongside and around them the spirit of the Indian people. I suggest that we cannot do that by this policy of oppression, however necessary in the immediate crisis it might have seemed a few weeks ago.
The Government must make a further generous gesture. They must by some means reopen negotiations, and I suggest that the only way in which negotiations can be reopened without too much mutual suspicion is by enlisting the advice and co-operation of the United Nations, and especially the advice and co-operation of China and of Russia. In the Soviet Union they have succeeded to a remarkable degree, to a total degree, I might say, in solving their problems of race and nationality and communal problems. We cannot doubt that China is watching the situation in India with concern and anxiety. Call in the representative of Chiang Kai-shek. Call in the representative of Stalin. Let them meet and talk with the Indian leaders on the basis of good will and on the basis of the admission of a free India to membership and partnership in the United Nations now, not on the cessation of hostilities. I beg the Prime Minister to start thinking of India in terms of partnership and not of dominion. I urge him to remember the inscription often found on old sundials, "It is later than you think."