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Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229

E-mail- dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net;

dr.yogendragandhi@gmail.com                                    

Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India

 

Royal Commission and Mahatma Gandhi

 

It is common knowledge that before the War the British Government used every effort possible that Law 3 of 1885 should be repealed. The condition today is changed, but we had hoped that it would change for the better, seeing that there is no foreign government to deal with, but our own Government. Unhappily, we are now in the position of strangers in what may be called our own land. We have always endeavoured to conciliate prejudice and with that view we have made suggestions which have been adopted in the selfgoverning Colonies. Failing, however, the adoption of these suggestions, we have asked that a commission of enquiry may be appointed. This is the time honoured British custom. Whenever a new step has been taken, a royal commission has preceded it. The latest instance, perhaps, is that of the Aliens Act in the United Kingdom. Before any steps were taken, a commission investigated the charges made against the aliens, and into the question of the adequacy of the existing laws, and into the question as to what new laws were necessary. We have asked for a similar commission regarding the British Indians in the Transvaal. We believe that we are entitled to this, in view of the very grave charges I have referred to. We have been asking all these years for bread, but we have received stones in the shape of this Ordinance. We have therefore every reason to hope that Your Lordship will not countenance the legislation above described. 1

With reference to the Royal Commission, what the Delegates have requested is a commission or rather a committee it may be of local, but independent and impartial men, such as the judges of the Supreme Court or the Chief Magistrate of Johannesburg to enquire into the charges made against the Indian community and which have been used as reasons for passing the Ordinance. In our humble opinion, such a committee can give its report within a month from its formation. The Delegates respectfully submit that either the veto should now be exercised, as in the case of the Native Land Tenure Ordinance, or the Royal sanction should be suspended, pending result of the investigations by the committee or the commission described above. 2

The first Indian to become a member of the British Parliament was Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji. Born on September 4th, 1825, in the city of Bombay, he was educated at the Elphinstone School and College, and was, at the age of 29, made Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy—being the first Indian to receive that honour. In 1855, Mr. Naoroji visited England as partner in the first Indian business to be established in that country. The University College, London, did him the honour of appointing him Professor of Gujarati; and one of the benefits gained for India by Mr. Naoroji was the admission of Indians to the Civil Service in 1870. He was made Prime Minister of Baroda in 1874, and a year later was elected a member of the Corporation and Municipal Council of Bombay, to which body he gave five years’ valuable service. Mr. Naoroji was a member of the Bombay Legislative Council from 1885 to 1887. The Indian National Congress honoured him by electing him President in 1886, 1893, and again in 1906. Mr. Naoroji sat in the House of Commons from 1893 to 1895 as Liberal member for Central Finsbury, London, and he did good work for his country as member of the Royal Commission on Indian Expenditure, etc., and, in 1897, gave evidence before the Welby Commission. From the very commencement of the British Committee of the Indian National Congress, he was a diligent member and hard worker. Among the publications from the pen of Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji are: England’s Duty to India, Admission of Educated Natives into the Indian Civil Service, Financial Administration of India, and what is, perhaps, the best known of his many writings, Poverty and Un-British Rule in India. In 1906, the venerable Dadabhai journeyed to the Motherland to preside over the Indian National Congress, a task which was a tremendous strain upon even his iron constitution and indomitable spirit. Since the Calcutta Congress of 1906, Mr. Dadabhai has practically retired from public life, and in 1907 he went to reside at Varsova, a small fishing village in the Bombay Presidency where he still watches with a keen interest the progress of events in India which go to make or mar its future. Truly has he earned for himself the honoured title of the Grand Old Man of India. 3 

The most important part of the cablegram, however, is the fact that the commission promised by the Union Government is to be appointed as a “concession” to “the detractors” of Indians in the Union Parliament. Unless, therefore, the Government of India take care, there is every likelihood of the commission, like the committee of the South African Assembly, proving to the British Indians a curse instead of a blessing. It is, therefore, not unnatural that the British Indian Association urges that H. E. the Viceroy should propose a Royal Commission upon which both the Union and the Indian interests are represented. Nothing can be fairer than the proposal made by Mr. Aswat. I say so becasue, as a matter of right, no commission is really needed to decide that Indian settlers are entitled to trade in South Africa where they like and hold landed property on the same terms as the European settlers. This is the minimum they can claim. But under the complex constitution of this great Empire, justice is and has often to be done in a round-about manner. A wise captain, instead of sailing against a headwind, tacks and yet reaches his destination sooner than he otherwise would have. Even so, Mr. Aswat wisely accepts the principle of a commission on a matter that is selfevident, but equally wisely wants a commission that would not prove abortive and that will dare to tell the ruling race in South Africa that, as members in an Empire which has more Coloured people than white, they may not treat their Indian fellow-subjects as helots. Whether the above proposal is accepted or some other is adopted by the Imperial Government, it must be made clear to them that public opinion in India will not tolerate confiscation of the primary rights of the British Indian settlers in South Africa. 4

His Excellency the Viceroys speech at the time of the opening of the session of the Imperial Legislative Council is naturally a very important pronouncement, coming as it does after very troublous times through which we have just passed and from whose effects we have hardly emerged. The fact of the actual appointment of the Commission gives relief, though I observe that the Indian Press is not over-enthusiastic upon the personnel or upon the fact that it is not a Royal Commission, but it is one that is to report to Delhi. In my humble opinion, a commission appointed from Delhi can be just as effective as a Royal Commission. And Royal Commissions have been known in our own times to have been perfectly abortive. Lord Morley, when he was in active service, used to say that his experience of them was so unhappy that he did not believe in them at all. He became an unwilling party to them because it was an English weakness. In a case, however, like that of the Punjab, an inquiry is the necessary sequel. We need not, therefore, complain of the inquiry not being a Royal Commission, but we have every right to examine its personnel and, though Lord Hunter does not enjoy a world-wide reputation, it need not be doubted that he has a reputation to lose.

After all, he must be pre-eminently Mr. Montagu’s choice and I would hesitate to distrust his choice or his intentions even though he has quite unjustly and unwarrantedly put in an energetic defence of some of the measures adopted or approved by the Government of India. Nor may one cavil at the appointment of the other members. We in Bombay, however, can derive the greatest satisfaction from the appointment of Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, not because he is a Bombay man but because he is an able advocate and what is more, because he is a pupil and an ardent follower of the late Sir Pherozeshah Mehta. We may trust him to act as fearlessly and as impartially as the late Sir Pherozeshah Mehta and to hold his own against odds. His appointment, moreover, furnishes perhaps an indication of the desire of the Government of India to secure impartial men who have not formed, or rather expressed, opinions one way or other. We have a right to expect Sahebzada Sultan Mehomed Khan to do no less. And I would take leave to add, too, that where Englishmen have not formed preconceived notions or where they have not gone, as all of us sometimes do go, mad over some things, they dispense fearless justice and expose wrong even though the perpetrators may be their own people.

I would, therefore, respectfully suggest suspension of judgment over the personnel of the Commission. Trust it and respond to the Viceregal appeal for a calm atmosphere. I derive, however, much greater satisfaction from the knowledge that, after all, the securing of a proper finding by the Commission is in the largest measure dependent upon our countrymen in the Punjab. If those who know the facts will come forward fearlessly to tell the truth and if there are no degraded beings in the Punjab ready enough to sell themselves for the sake of personal gain, we need have no misgivings. Our case is so excellent, the injustices that have been already brought to light are so glaring that we need not fear an abortion if the people of the Punjab will but do their duty. Why was there justice done in the case of Champaran? It was primarily and principally because the poor, ground-down ryots of Champaran dared to tell the truth. Will the free people of the Punjab do less? There can be but one answer.

But we must help them and we shall best do so, not by spilling ink over showing the weakness of the personnel of the Committee or over its not being a Royal Commission, but by concentrating ourselves upon seeing that there is no espionage either on the one side or the other, that the people of the Punjab are permitted to have a free atomoshere to work in, and there is comfort in the thought that the ever-vigilant and ubiquitous Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviyaji is there, assisted by Sannyasi Swami Shri Shraddhanandji and the indomitable Pandit Motilal Nehru. We need not fear the consequences. It is noteworthy that the Committee is to investigate not only the affairs in the Punjab, but also in this Presidency. There should be no difficulty in our being able to show the real causes of the discontent as also the happy distinction, on the whole, between the aftermath here and the Punjab. There is one more thing about the Committee before it can be dismissed from consideration. What is the meaning of the reference to the Committee? It seems to me broad enough to cover an examination of the judgments of the Punjab Special Tribunals, whether the Special Commissions or the Martial Law Courts, and to include the power for the Committee to recommend total or partial remission of sentences. But we may not leave anything understood on a matter so vital as this. We must therefore have this point satisfactorily cleared up some way or other. As regards the Indemnity Bill, though I think that it would have been graceful, even tactful, on the part of the Viceroy not to have mentioned the Indemnity Bill in the same breath as [the] Commission, I submit it is well to suspend judgment till we have seen the full text of the Bill proposed to be introduced by the Government. 5

His Excellency the Viceroy has informed us in his speech that a Commission has been appointed for the purpose. I have seen criticism regretting that this is a Committee and not a Royal Commission, and that some injustice has been done by the refusal to appoint a Royal Commission. It seems to me that there is no great difference between a Royal Commission and a Committee appointed by the Viceroy. The appointment of a Royal Commission is notified in England and the Commission submits its report to the Imperial Government. In the present case the appointment of the Committee is notified by the Government of India and it will submit its report to the Viceroy. Even so, the members of the Commission appointed in India cannot be nominated without the consent of the Secretary of State of India. We have had experience of Royal Commissions having been appointed, which proved unavailing, and of local Committees having been appointed and of justice done by them. To me, therefore, there seems to be no great difference between a Royal Commission and a Committee appointed by the local Government. The outcome of the Committee’s labours depends in some measure on the members who constitute it. Examining these names, we see that, though we cannot be enthusiastic over all the names, we cannot say, on the whole, that the members are biased men or that they are not men of independent judgment. The Chairman is Lord Hunter.

He is not a man of Imperial standing, but he was Solicitor-General of Scotland and we have, therefore, no reason to fear that he will hesitate to express independent views. As for the other members, we have a standard of reference by which to judge them, and that is Sir Chimanlal Setalvad. We have no reason to criticize his appointment; on the contrary, we would enthusiastically welcome the Committee if all the other members were of the same calibre. Sir Chimanlal Setalvad is an advocate of established reputation and, what is more, takes part in public life. He was also a follower, a supporter and a friend of an able man and lover of freedom like Sir Pherozeshah Mehta. We may, therefore, trust to his acting impartially and fearlessly in doing justice and carrying others with him as well. If, thus, from Bombay they have selected an independent-minded and capable leader, we may assume that in selecting others too a like standard has been followed more or less. Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed is a brother of Sahibzada Aftab Ahmed Khan, a member of the India Council. However, what the Committee’s report is will depend on us, that is, on our brethren in the Punjab. If they come forward to tell the truth without fear and if no Indian comes to give us false evidence to further his own base interests, we need have no fear about the Committee’s report. Though the Committee can hold secret sessions for reasons which may appear sufficient to it, it will generally take evidence in public.

It will have, thus, to base its report only on this evidence. In some of the cases in the Punjab, the injustice has been so patent that even an illiterate person can see it. What other opinion can the Committee express about them? I should admit that I entertain no fear about what its report will be. The only fear is about our ability to lead evidence properly. Personally, I do not have this fear either, and want the reader, too, not to have it. The Hon’ble Madan Mohan Malaviya, Sannyasi Swami Shri Shraddhanand and the brave Pandit Motilal Nehru have taken upon themselves to collect evidence and there is no reason, therefore, to fear that evidence would not be presented properly. Thus, instead of concerning ourselves with what kind of a Committee it is, we should really direct our attention to how we can place all the facts before it. It is also for us to see that the question whether the Committee’s terms of reference include a review of the judgements already pronounced and the sentences already passed is clarified beyond doubt. Though the Viceroy’s words seem to imply as much, any doubt on an important issue like this must be removed. The reader will remember that the Committee is not only for the Punjab, but that Bombay province is also included in the scope of its inquiry. We shall, therefore, have to prepare for it. To me it seems that we need to give our main attention to obtaining an unambiguous statement of the Committee’s terms of reference and preparing ourselves for presenting our case to it. 6

I have not much to say, because I have not studied the scope of the Royal Commission, nor have I interested myself in it. Being a confirmed Non-co-operator, I naturally take little or no interest in the doings of the many Commissions and Committees appointed by the Government. In agriculture itself, I am certainly interested, so much so that I delight in calling myself a farmer without knowing much of farming; and, if His Excellency the Acting Governor invites me to an informal discussion on matters agricultural, I shall certainly place my views before him. 7 I went to the Acting Governor at his instance. He wrote to me not as Governor nor for any purpose connected with his office as Governor. He invited me to go to Mahabaleshwar to discuss with him agricultural matters. As I explained some time ago in the pages of Navajivan, I told him that I could not be identified with the Royal Commission in any way, that I was still confirmed in my views on non-co-operation and generally had no faith in Commisions. I added further that it would suit me to see him when he descened to the plains. His Excellency therefore wrote saying it would suit him to meet me in June. But subsequently he changed his mind and sent a message that it would suit him better if I could go to Mahabaleshwar. I had no hesitation in going there. We had two very pleasant and long talks. And you are entitled to guess (and that correctly) that our talk revolved round the charkha. That was the central theme. And I could not discuss agriculture without discussing the terrific cattle problem! 8

I have myself just finished a preliminary study of the report of the Royal Commission. I confess I do not understand it as I would understand say a work on the economics of the spinning-wheel. I am in search of a teacher who would make the language of currency almost as real to me as that of the spinning-wheel. Then but not till then shall I be able to express my own opinion on the problem. Meanwhile I promise to devote to its serious study all the odd moments I can spare. 9 How the Royal Commission should be constituted is as alien a subject to me as, say, the cure for tuberculosis which falls in the province of a medical expert. I have paid no thought to the subject of Royal Commission because it is distinctly outside the sphere of my knowledge, thoughts and activities. Q. Would you accept a seat on the Royal Commission, if one was offered to you? A. What is the use of asking me that question? I had once speculated what I would do if I were appointed Viceroy of India, but those days of speculation are gone. 10

 

References:

 

  1. Memorial to Lord Elgin, November 8, 1906
  2. Letter to Private Secretary To Morley, November 24, 1906
  3. Indian Opinion, 3-9-1910  
  4. Young India, 16-8-1919 
  5. Young India, 10-9-1919
  6. Navajivan, 14-9-1919
  7. The Hindu, 23-4-1926 
  8. Young India, 27-5-1926
  9. Young India, 2-12-1926
  10. Amrita Bazar Patrika, 3-11-1927

 

 

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