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INDIA: Sword For Pen

8 minute read

About 270,000,000 people, nearly six times the population of the British Isles, live in British India and last week they were given an entirely new setup of their provincial governments. The province called “Bombay Presidency” is by itself two-and-a-half times the size of England and five times more populous than Scotland. Thus a change of greatest magnitude was performed last week at New Delhi by the Viceroy & Governor General of India, an able Scottish banker, His Excellency the Most Hon. the Marquess of Linlithgow. Instead of saying presto-chango, the Viceroy caused his weekly Gazette to swell up for the occasion into a big book.

By a few choice pages the huge province of Burma, nearly seven times the size of England, was detached from India alto gether and set up as a separate British realm. Its ruler was appointed last week by the Emperor, George VI, his choice for Governor of Burma lighting upon Sir Archibald Cochrane, Knight Commander of the Star of India, D. S. O. Also de tached from India and set up last week as a Crown Colony was small, highly strategic Aden, only 80 sq. mi. in area.

Long in advance His Majesty’s Government chose to make this epochal change on April Fools’ Day. Not thousands but millions of the Indian people rose that morning last week to don black armbands and break out black flags and bunting.

They thus went into nation-wide mourning to emphasize the Indian view of what has been taking place since the Mother of Parliaments enacted in London a new Constitution for India (TIME, Aug. 12, 1935). The most recent key event was for the Indian National Congress Party, long headed by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, to win elections giving it a majority in the legislatures of Bombay Presidency, Madras, Bihar and Orissa, the Central Provinces and the United Provinces (TIME, March 8). Together these make up three quarters of the population of British India. Taking returns from all provinces into account, the Party of Gandhi won a nation-wide majority as impressive as that won last autumn by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.* This popular mandate went to a party which had gone to the polls with a platform of opposing the new Constitution.

In Indian eyes the feature of this document which permits the white British Governor of any province to act not only with the advice of the local native cabinet but also without their advice or against their advice, is the feature most open to question. In British eyes it means that each white Governor can be trusted to allow each native cabinet all proper latitude and scope toward development in India for the first time of representative democracy, while vigilantly curbing any cabinet activities of an unfortunate or subversive nature.

To most dwellers in Great Britain this translation of “Mother Knows Best” into a system of government for the Indian Empire is just about the most admirable achievement of modern times, if indeed His Majesty’s Government have not been too generous with the Indian people, those “Lesser Breeds” as Poet Kipling dubbed them in Queen Victoria’s day.

In 1937 passive Mr. Gandhi, as the guiding spirit of the Indian National Congress and active, socialistic Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, its operative President, consulted with Congress leaders promptly after the provincial elections. Adopted was a nation-wide policy that no Indian National Congress partyman will accept office in one of the new provincial cabinets unless the British Governor of that province gives and keeps a formal pledge to act only on the advice of the province cabinet—just as the Emperor himself may act only on the advice of the British Cabinet. Last week every British Governor of an Indian province in which the Gandhi Party has a majority refused to give the required pledge. Therefore, in provinces comprising over two-thirds of British India, no Governor was able to assemble a cabinet commanding a majority. The new legislatures do not meet until summer, but at their first meetings the logical thing will be for the Gandhi majority to vote down the minority cabinet of the Governor. This will lead, as “The only real alternative,” to “violence and revolution” and to its “repression,” according last week to the Marquess of Lothian, onetime Undersecretary of State for India and prominent in drafting the new Constitution.

Said the Mahatma last week at Madras: “India is now not to be ruled by the pen, or by an indisputable majority of the population, but ruled by the sword. I am the sole author of the ‘office acceptance clause’ and I am the originator of the idea of attaching conditions to the acceptance of office. Acceptance of my formula might have prevented the present crisis and resulted in a natural, orderly and peaceful transference of power from the British Indian Civil Service bureaucracy to the largest and fullest democracy in the world. The British Government has now abolished that provincial autonomy which it asserted the new Constitution had given. It seems to me that the British Government has once more broken a pledge it had given to India.” After passive Mr. Gandhi, active President Nehru repeated his hot charge that it is “fascist” to invest provincial governors with the overriding powers they have been given: “We will fight this Constitution to the end! The democratic veil is rent and the reality stands exposed in all its ugliness.” This was not what Londoners wished to read last week and they found crumbs of comfort reading the proclamation cabled on April Fools’ Eve from Buckingham Palace to New Delhi: “Today the first part of those constitutional reforms upon which Indians and Britons alike have bestowed so much thought and work comes into operation. I cannot let the day pass without assuring my Indian subjects that my thoughts and good wishes are with them on this occasion. A new chapter is thus opening and it is my fervent hope and prayer that the opportunities now available to them will be used wisely and generously for the lasting benefit of all my Indian people.” Signed GEORGE, I (for Imperator, Emperor) As His Majesty went to bed the sun was around on the other side of the world, about to rise on India. It came up on a nation-wide one-day hartal or “passive halting of work” ordered by the Indian National Congress. Nearly every shop in New Delhi failed to open that day. Bombay business transactions ceased, although some shops and markets opened “not for business.” Stoppage was complete at Ahmedabad, partial at Poona, Lucknow. Lahore. In Calcutta myriads of Indians in mourning jammed the business district, carrying the tricolor flag of the Indian National Congress, chanting “Boycott the Constitution! Boycott the Constitution!”

Since the Congress is largely Hindu, its hartal was of course not joined by many Moslems. In provinces where the Congress does not have an absolute majority no other party has one, but coalition cabinets were formed last week which have a chance of not being voted down in the provinces of Bengal, the Punjab, Sind. Assam and the North-West Frontier. Meanwhile at the India Office in London and up and down Whitehall, correspondents gleaned the feelings of His Majesty’s Government this week. Cabled Ferdinand Kuhn Jr. of the New York Times: “At the moment when Britain is engrossed in Rearmament and is grappling with dangerous international problems in Europe her imperial policy has just suffered in far-away India what may be a setback of the first magnitude.

“No government ever gave so much time and thought to a single problem as Britain gave to India during the three Round-table Conferences, the sittings of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament and the interminable debates in the House of Commons that preceded passage of the India Bill in its final form. The controversy shook the Conservative Party to its foundations; Stanley Baldwin staked his political future upon pushing the new Constitution through.

“Now, unless some miracle of persuasion occurs, officials here fear that their efforts of the past ten years may be wasted and that their hopes of a peaceful, contented India will be shattered.”

The “miracle of persuasion,” to which dignitaries of His Majesty’s Government looked this week to bulwark the prestige of Stanley Baldwin on the eve of his slated retirement from the post of Prime Minister next month, must now be worked by Viceroy the Marquess of Linlithgow, and great should be His Excellency’s reward for quick success.

*Of votes cast in the U. S. about two-thirds were for Roosevelt & Garner; of votes cast in India about two-thirds were for the party of Gandhi & Nehru.

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