Original Title : Searchlight on India By Michael Carritt
During the course of the war there was sharp criticism in America and other countries concerning British policy in India as it affected the war effort, The imprisonment of the Indian leaders, the violent police repression and the stubborn adherence to a policy of deadlock seemed calculated more to crush the national movement than to mobilise India and Indian resources against Japan.
In the economic field bureaucratic rule was exposed as crudely corrupt and inefficient Fantastic inflation, soaring prices and a prosperous black market went unchecked. In close political alliance with the hoarders and the black market, the Government was either unwilling or unable to introduce rationing and price control in time to prevent a devastating faniine that has left India weakened and destitute.
Every effort was made by official propaganda to discredit the Indian leaders as pro-Japanese and to throw the blame for the famine onto Indian shoulders. But neither in America nor in Britain was the public gulled. An impressive volume of support was won for the demand for the release of the leaders and for the formation of a temporary National Government which would have been sufficiently representative and responsible to have roused India s millions for a national war effort which would have developed India s resources as part of the war potential and which would have had popular Support for all measures necessary to cope with the food situation.
Now, with the end of the war and the liberation of the Fax East from Japanese occupation, the settlement of India’s future is even more emphatically a matter of international concern. Neither peace nor prosperity can come to the Far East, nor to the world as long as India is an unwilling dependency the development of whose national economy is frustrated by foreign vested interests.
The election of a Labour Government with an overwhelming majority creates a new situation and new opportunities for a lasting solution of the Indian “problem.” Tory policy on India, (along with its chief exponent Mr. Amery) has, been rejected. The labour movement, whose Government is now in power, stands unambiguously committed by its own resolutions to a democratic solution of the political deadlock with India. An enormous therefore rests upon the Labour Government and the British people but also an unprecedented opportunity opens out for shouldering that responsibility.
The solution now required must be a democratic one and a lasting one. No makeshift provisional settlement will fit the bill. And in such a settlement the central issue is the demand for a genuinely democratic Constituent Assembly which will enable India freely to frame her own constitution in a way that is compatible with her national aspirations and her claim to sovereignty.
Unfortunately, the proposals made by Mr. Attlee on September 19 are not of this character and in India, they have not met with any enthusiastic welcome. Based upon the proposals made by Cripps in the entirely different international situation of 1941 and then rejected by all Indian parties, the Government plan represents neither a decisive break with the policies of the National Government nor an imaginative attempt to seize the opportunities afforded by Labour s popular victory They do not succeed in suggesting the machinery by which India could freely and democratically proceed to frame her own Constitution The proposals are hesitant and vague and, the most that can be said for them is that they do not entirely close the door to alternative suggestions for better and more democratic machinery for the proposed constitution-making body.
Consequently, an urgent responsibility falls upon the British people, to press in every possible way for new proposals which will contain a Constituent Assembly is really acceptable to Indians as a practical means of deciding their own future.
Such a Constituent Assembly must conform to the following requirements
(1) It must be elected by adult franchise. Even if in to order to avoid delay, the coming provincial elections are to be held on the present narrowly restricted franchise, the is no reason why new electoral lists should not be put into preparation at once for the Constituent Assembly. (2) Election must be direct. The proposal to use the Provincial Assemblies as electoral colleges would result, not in securing a reflection of the will of the people but in producing a complicated balance of different vested interests. (3) Election of representatives from the Indian States must be no less democratic than in the provinces of British India. The undemocratic anachronism of the feudal Princes’ nominating representatives must be eliminated once and for all. (4) The Assembly must be a real Constituent Assembly and not just a “constitution-making body” whose job is to make recommendations for the British Government to reject or modify. One of the responsibilities of a sovereign Constituent Assembly would be free to enter into a Treaty with Britain. At present there is a deep-seated fear in India lest during the period prior to the establishment of a new constitution, economic or fiscal decisions may be taken or embodied in a Treaty, which would seriously prejudice India’s future economic independence. Current suggestions in the British Press that India’s sterling balances may have be repudiated or scaled-down serve to show how far these fears are justified.
In the meantime and until the Constituent Assembly convened something more has to be done to break the political deadlock than is at present proposed by the Government. The provincial elections must go forward but they must be free elections. And that is only possible, if, as a start, all political prisoners, whether convicted in a Court of, Law or detained without trial, are released. All bans on meetings, on the movement and association of individuals and restrictions on the Press must be withdrawn. What justification is there for us in Britain to be less emphatic in our insistence on an atmosphere of democracy and freedom for elections, than we are for certain central European countries?
Further, it is of vital importance as experience in Europe shows, that during the critical pre-election period provisional popular governments, both in the provinces and at the Centre, should control the administration. There is no ground for confidence that the bureaucracy in India steeped in a tradition of repression and contempt for political parties, is competent either fairly to supervise the checking of the electoral lists or, in the light of past experience, to cope with the grave threat of renewed famine and inflation in this coming winter. It is only after the elections that it is proposed (and that, too, in the vaguest possible terms) to reconstitute the Viceroy’s Executive Council “with the support of the main parties?” This is simply to shelve the crucial problem of the procedure without showing how for the new Council is representative or responsible. In the meantime, it leaves the deadlock unsolved in a rapidly deteriorating political situation.
Clearly, the basis for forming a temporary National Government at the Centre will have to be found in a return to the formula of Congress-Moslem League parity which was agreed upon by the two parliamentary leaders (the Desai-Liaquat agreement) and unofficially approved by Gandhi
One appreciates the cunning with which Mr Amery, on the eve of his departure from office, bedevilled the issues at stake and threw a spanner in the works of growing Congress-Moslem League unity. By substituting the provocative formula of Hindu-Moslem Parity he laid the basis for the breakdown of the Simla talks. Both Congress and Moslem League leaders fell headlong into the trap. They accepted the new formula and abandoned the basis of their own agreement. Instead of a joint front to press unitedly for India demands both parties sought to win the Viceroy as champion of their own case with the result that the initiative was left with the bureaucracy. Today the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that the leaders on both sides, to judge from their public statements, seem intent on provoking an internecine conflict.
Nobody but the imperialists can benefit from these recent developments in India. It is the result of a policy they have consistently promoted and it is the legacy they, have skilfully bequeathed to the Labour Government. On their behalf, the bureaucracy in India, steeped in an anti-democratic tradition will faithfully continue to carry out this policy. In such a situation it is disastrous if the Government’s plan is no more than a politely worded continuation of its predecessors’ policies. If the Attlee-Wavell proposals are allowed to stand as our last word on Indian affairs the future is beset with dangers of the first magnitude. The Indian parties, frustrated, embittered and without the power to tackle their own domestic problems, will be driven along the barren road of communal dissension, whilst in this country, the Press will continue to wash its hands of a deadlock which it claims to be of Indian concern only.
It is perfectly true that the satisfaction of the demands of the minorities and a settlement of the issue of Pakistan are matters which must be solved by Indians themselves, but so far from holding up political and constitutional progress, until an agreement is reached, but the fact is a solution can only be reached in an atmosphere of democracy and freedom and when there is no longer any Viceroy to lend a ready ear to the sectarian axe-grinding of various groups and vested interests.
In this difficult situation, the Communist Party of India has striven in the forefront to achieve national unity in India and to persuade the two main national organisations, the Congress and the Moslem League, to reach an agreement as to the way in which the desire of Moslems for self-determination can be satisfied.
An unfortunate measure of the disunity and sense of frustration that to-day prevails in India today owing to the continued repression is the campaign of abuse and heresy hunting now being developed by the Congress leadership against Communists on the grounds, of their opposition to the wave of “struggle” and sabotage which was provoked by the Government in 1942.
Once again nobody but the imperialist will stand to gain from this disunity within the national movement of India. And the responsibility rests all the more heavily upon the Labour Government to cut away sharply from the policies that have led to this situation of disunity and frustration. A really democratic Constituent Assembly convened on the lines already suggested would guarantee to the working masses of India a voice in the determination of their own future that would ensure their protection from exploitation from Indian as well as foreign vested interests. It would, moreover, convey to the world that the British people’s interest in democracy is a genuine interest and not just a smoke screen behind which to cast aspersions upon the new freedom which the peoples of Central Europe and the Balkans have won.
Source: Labour Monthly November 1945, p.342 345