Open Letters to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan by Lala Lajpat Rai (1888)
Would you excuse me if I encroach upon your valuable time for a short while? Before I address you on the subject matter of discussion I think it advisable to state for your information that I have been a constant reader and admirer of your writings. From childhood, I was taught to respect the opinions and the teachings of the white-bearded Syed of Aligarh. Your Social Reformer [the Urdu journal Tahzib ul-Ikhlaq] was constantly read to me by my fond father, who looked upon you as no less than a prophet of the nineteenth century. Your writings in the [English-language journal] Aligarh Institute Gazette and your speeches in Council and other public meetings, were constantly studied by me and preserved as a sacred trust by my revered parent.
It was thus that I came to know that you once approved of the contents of John Stuart Mill’s book on “Liberty,” and it was thus that I came to know (if my memory does not deceive me) that the present Chief Justice of Hyderabad [Mehdi Hasan Khan], a staunch opponent of the National Movement, once translated Jeremy Bentham’s book on “Utility” for the readers of your Social Reformer. Is it strange then that I have been astonished to read what you now speak and write about the “National Congress”?
Any person, in my circumstances, would shout out. Times have changed; and with them, convictions! Flattery and official cajoleries have blinded the eyes of the most far-seeing; cowardice has depressed the souls of the foremost of seekers after truth, and high-sounding titles and the favours of worldly governors have extinguished the fire of truth burning in many a noble heart. Is it not a sad spectacle to [see] the men whose days are numbered, whose feet are almost in the grave, trying to root out all the trees planted with their own hands!
Under these circumstances, Syed Sahib, it is, surely, not strange if I ask what has been true cause of this lamentable change in you. Old age and exhaustion of faculties may, perhaps, have some share in causing you to forget what you once wrote and spoke. Has your memory lost its retentiveness, or is it the blindness of dotage which has permitted you to stray into your present unhappy position? If the former, I from amongst your old admirers will take upon myself the duty of reminding you of what, in moments of wisdom, was recorded and published by your pen and tongue, and this duty, I promise, I will fulfil with the utmost pleasure and with feelings of the highest satisfaction.
I will begin with your book on the “Causes of the Indian Revolt,” which was written in 1858, though only translated and published in English in the year 1873. It may be worth while to note here that the translators of this were no others than Sir Auckland Colvin, the present Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Provinces, and Lieutenant-Colonel Graham, the writer of your biography [The Life and Works of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, 1885]. In this book, after having tried to prove that the Mutiny of 1857 was no “religious war,” nor the result of a preconcerted conspiracy, you say that “most men, I believe, agree in thinking that it is highly conducive to the welfare and prosperity of Government — indeed, that it is essential to its stability — that the people should have a voice in its Councils. It is from the voice of the people that Government can learn whether its projects are likely to be well received. The voice of the people can alone check errors in the bud, and warn us of dangers before they burst upon and destroy us.”
To make the matter more clear you go on saying that “this voice, however, can never be heard, and this security never acquired, unless the people are allowed a share in the consultations of Government. The security of a government, it will be remembered, is founded on its knowledge of the character of the governed as well as on its careful observance of their rights and privileges.” These are noble words, nobly spoken; words of sterling honesty and independence of spirit. Can they bear any other meaning than that which attaches to that resolution of the National Congress which prays for the introduction of a representative element into the constitution of our Legislative Councils? Pray, tell me how can the people have a voice in the Councils of a Government if not by representation? How can the people of a country have their voice constantly heard if not through representatives?
But, to leave no doubt on the subject, I will go on giving quotations in proof of my assertion that you have yourself in former times strongly advocated the introduction of a representative element into the Legislative Councils of India. After laying much stress upon the necessity of a Government respecting the opinions of the people it governs, you say: “The evils which resulted to India from the non-admission of natives into the Legislative Councils of India were various…. It (i.e. the Government) could never hear, as it ought to have heard, the voice of the people on the laws and regulations which it passed.” Again you say: “But the greatest mischief lay in this, that the people misunderstood the views and the intentions of the Government. They misapprehended every act.” After this you proceed to say that “if Hindustanis had been in the Legislative Councils, they would have explained everything to their countrymen, and thus these evils which have happened to us would have been averted.”
In your opinion, as expressed there, this non-representation of the voice of the governed in the Legislative Council of the realm was “the one great cause” and the “origin of all smaller causes of dissatisfaction,” Nay, further, not to leave any doubts in the matter, and to prove that in your book you even go to the length of saying that your countrymen should be selected to form an assembly like the English Parliament (which demand, at the time you advanced it, was certainly more premature than it now is, though the National Congress, with all the advantages that the country has had in the way of education and enlightenment since that miserable year of 1858, only advocates the partial introduction of a representative element in the Legislative Councils), I shall give some more extracts from the same work.
There you say: “I do not wish to enter here into the question asto how the ignorant and uneducated natives of Hindustan could be allowed a share in the deliberations of the Legislative Council, or as to how they should be selected to form an assembly like the English Parliament. These are knotty points. All I wish to prove is that such a step is not only advisable but absolutely necessary, and that the disturbances are due to the neglect of such a measure.”
Could clearer words be used than what have been quoted above? Is there any doubt as to their meaning? Because if so, I shall be obliged to quote the exact Hindustani words used by you to express the ideas propounded in the above lines. But no, I do not suppose you can feel any doubt on that point, because the English rendering was undertaken by no others than Sir Auckland Colvin and Lieutenant-Colonel Graham, the former of whom, at least, is. now being proclaimed (whether rightly or wrongly, God knows) as an opponent of the National Congress.
Sir Syed, does it not sound strange that the writer of the words above quoted should put himself forward as the leader of the antiCongress movement? Is it not one more proof of India’s misfortune, that the writer of the above words should impute bad motives to the supporters of the National Congress, mainly because they advocate the introduction of some sort of representation in the Legislative Councils of India? Is not your charge of sedition against the promoters of the Congress, in the face of these, a mere mockery, a contradiction in terms?
Thirty years ago, you advocated the institution of a Parliament, and yet you chide us saying that we want an Indian Parliament, notwithstanding that we protest that for the present, and for a long time to come, we do not claim any such thing? Mark the difference. India is no longer what it was thirty years ago. In the course of this period it has made a marked advance towards a higher civilization. The natives of India are no longer, with very few exceptions, ignorant or uneducated. The rays of education are penetrating and shedding their wholesome light inside most Indian homes; hundreds of thousands of Indians are as well educated as any average English gentleman, and we see scores of our countrymen every year crossing the “black waters” to witness. with their own eyes the proceedings of the great British Parliament, and personally familiarize themselves with the political institutions of the English nation.
Can you in face of these facts still call us “seditious”? According to your writings, we are the most loyal subjects of the Government, and if, notwithstanding what you have written, you still deserve to be called “the ablest of our loyal Mahomedan gentlemen,” why do we not deserve to be styled as “the ablest of the most loyal subjects of the English Government”?
To give a still more clear idea of what you thought about the fitness of India for this sort of Government, I give one more extract to the point, and then I will have done with your old writings for the present. After giving many arguments in proof of your position that the law which allowed the sales of land for “arrears of Government revenue” was also a cause of the outbreak of disturbances in 1858, you say: “A landed estate in Hindustan is very like a kingdom. It has always been the practice to elect one man as the head over all. By him matters requiring discussion are ‘brought forward’ (mind, not decided –LLR), and every shareholder, in proportion to his holding, has the power of speaking out his mind on the point.”
You are wrong when you say “in proportion to his holding.” However, let it remain as it is. You proceed and say: “The cultivators and the choudhries of the villages attend on such an occasion and say whatever they have to say. You have here, in great perfection, a miniature kingdom and parliament.” How is it that now you have changed your mind, and have come to opine that these kingdoms, as you called them, should have no voice in the making of laws which materially affect the person, the property, and the reputation of the people?
Some persons insinuate that these writings which I have quoted came from an honest, uncorrupted mind, at a time when the writer had no prospect of being raised to the Legislative Council by mere favour. No, Sir Syed, no! I, on my own part, do not want to make such an insinuation against the fearless writer of those noble words which have been quoted above. Then the problem to be solved remains the same, viz., why this change, why this inconsistency”?
I pause for a reply, with a promise of more in my next; and in the meanwhile beg to be allowed to subscribe myself,
The Son of an old Follower of Yours
27th October 1888
It is more than two weeks now since my first letter was published, and I think I have waited long enough for the reply which, it seems, you have no mind to send. However, in fulfilment of my promise, I am bound to go on giving quotation after quotation, bringing home to you your own former political teachings, and I hope I shall be able clearly to prove that you once believed in all the principles upon which the different Resolutions of the National Congress are based. This will leave you no alternative but either an open and unreserved confession of your apostasy, or an unreserved retreat from politics.
Do not think, Sir Syed, that I shall rest satisfied with the publication of these letters in India. No, they will be duly published and distributed in free England, side by side with the pamphlets of your own pet [United Indian Patriotic] Association of yesterday [August 1888]. In the book already so often referred to, i.e. “The Causes of the Indian Revolt,” you say: “Government were but slightly acquainted with the unhappy state of the people. How could it well be otherwise? There was no real communication between the Government and the governed, no living together or near one another, as has always been the custom of Mahomedans in countries which they subjected to their rule. Government and its officials have never adopted the course without which no real knowledge of the people can be gained.” Further on you say that “this cannot be expected from the English, as they almost all look forward to retirement in their land, and seldom settle for good amongst the natives of India.”
Now I take the liberty of asking, has there been any improvement of late in this direction? Have the majority, or even one per cent, of the retired English officers, permanently settled in India? On the contrary, we find that they are birds-of-passage just as much now as, or perhaps more than, they were when the above sentences were written. Then, have the Englishmen and the natives taken to living together, or near one another? Do you ever see Englishmen living in the Mahallas [=neighborhoods] of your towns, however large the towns or however respectable the Mahallas may be? None of the Englishmen have ever been seen doing that. In fact, their mode of living is so peculiar that they cannot.
Or, do you think that the point has been gained by a few Anglicised natives like yourself having taken to living in bungalows? If that is what you argue, I assure you you are sadly mistaken. Your living in Europeanized houses cannot be said to be a gain to native society. It is rather, if I may be allowed to say so, a very severe and deplorable loss. In the sentence quoted above, you admit that living together or near one another enhances our sympathies and gives us more occasions of seeing, mixing with, and obtaining a more intimate knowledge of, each other. It is thus clear that Europeans can only really know us if they see us in our native homes, in our small thatched huts full of misery and sickness. How poor and miserable India is, they can feel only if they live amongst or near the houses of our agriculturists, and there see with their own eyes respectable native families sleeping in rooms into which an English beggar would scorn to step.
Why is this? Is it because we Indians do not know how to live? Now, if you say that, go to those Indian residences which are occupied by our few rich or even well-to-do countrymen, and there you will find that our mode of living is quite on a par with that of Europeans. Does anyone then ask how it is that I say that repectable natives live, everywhere, in buildings which can only properly be called hovels? The answer is, because they are miserably poor and cannot afford to build comfortable houses. Taxation is so high that they never feel themselves secure of their respectability. In fact, that is always in danger. The poor fellows are daily and nightly engaged in making the two ends meet.
What I mean to say is that the fact of you or a few other natives having to live in bungalows and imitating the English customs of eating and drinking and dressing cannot do any good either to India or to England. In fact, this will never help the English to realize the unhappy state of the people. Then the question is, how can the Government know the wants and wishes of its subjects? They cannot know them through official reports, because these reports are almost all prepared by persons who seldom see the real state of the people whom the reports concern. You yourself said: “But even these officials themselves were ignorant of the real thoughts and opinions of the people, because they had no means of getting at them” (vide your Biography by Colonel Graham, p. 49.)
Then, can the Government get this knowledge through the petitions of their subjects? I say, as you said, no. You said that these petitions “were,” and I say they are, “seldom if ever attended to and sometimes never heard” (vide the same page of your Biography). I add to this that even if they are ever attended to, enquiry into the aIlegations made in them is often entrusted to the same officials whose conduct forms the subject of complaint. Their reports are taken to be gospel truth and the petitions are thrown out.
Then, can the Government know the real opinion of the people through the Native press? No, because the Government officials have always been hostile to it, and have even asserted that these papers represented nobody but themselves.
Public meetings even are not effectual, because these are invariably declared to be the work of professional agitators, stump orators and wire-pullers.
The question then is that, admitting as you do that it is essential for the purpose of good adminstration that the people should have a voice in the consultations of the Government, how should that voice reach the Council Chambers, and how should the people be consulted before laws are passed? You once said that “laws affecting the subjects should be made after consultation with the representatives of the people” (videSocial Reformer of the 15th Shawwal 1290, Hijri, equivalent to the 6th December, 1873, p. 163), and there cannot be any other answer to this question. Further on you said: “I am very sorry that this is not being done in India, and in not doing so Government is in error to a certain degree, but in a larger measure it is owing to the incompetency of the subjects, but I am confident that after a certain period sufficient education will remove both” (vide the same Journal, same page).
It is fifteen years now, Sir, since the above lines were written, and it is surely time to ask, or at least to consider, whether that period, or chand roz [some days], to speak in your own words, has not expired yet. I am ready to concede, though it may be for argument’s sake only, that the period has not expired, but are we now making steady progress towards the desired end? Your objections, unfortunately, are not based upon considerations of time, but are put forward as matters of principle.
Then admitting, as you do, that this voice can only reach the Council Chamber through the representatives of the people, the only question to be solved is — who should be those representatives, or in other words, how should they acquire that position? Can men like Raja Shiva Prashad and yourself, be properly considered as representatives of the people, and can the method of selection by which you were sent to the Council Chamber, be accepted as of any value? I think no reasonable man would contend that it would have been possible, if Raja Shiva Prashad had been an elected representative of the people of India, for him to have libelled the whole Indian nation, as he did in his notorious speech on the Ilbert Bill . Could Raja Peary Mohan Mukerjee and other native members have consented to the raising of the Salt tax , if they had thought that their seats depended on the voices of the people, whose throats were, so to speak, to be cut by that abnoxious and inhumane measure?
Then the correct solution is this and no other, that the people must be represented by delegates elected by themselves; and subject of course to the restrictions to be imposed by the Government. Co-sharers in the business of governing or legislating, these representatives must be such as to be totally independent of official favour or disfavour. If the selection of members for the Legislative Council is to be entrusted to officials, I say it is a downright farce, and there can be no representation.
The majority of the quotations given above come from a book which was written about thirty years ago, and you may find an excuse by saying that the state of people has since then undergone a mighty change, and that in consequence of this, the remedies then suggested are no longer suitable. My dear Sir, this reply cannot stand a moment’s examination. I am going to show that in 1881, which is only seven years ago, you held the same views and felt rather proud of them. When it was proposed to raise the old Punjab University College to the status of a University, you were one of the foremost opponents of the proposal. You, [and] your admirers and followers, should not have forgotten that you wrote certain articles under the heading “Our Vernacular,” and got them published and circulated in a pamphlet form. These articles were published in almost all the leading vernacular papers of Northern India, and the educated community of the Punjab, who were strongly opposed to the establishment of a University on the [traditionalist] lines suggested by Dr. Leitner, obtained effective support from these writings of “the ablest of the loyal Mahomedan gentlemen.”
In one of them (paper 2nd perhaps), which was published in your Social Reformer for 1297-98 Hijri (equivalent to 1881), at p.135, you say: “National progress and National Government are both sisters born of the same mother. When a nation loses its independence, its progress only depends upon its learning the language and sciences of the conquerors and thus taking a part in the Government of the country. By way of flattery whatever may be said, and as a matter of policy whatever may be stated, the fact is that in reality the relations of Hindustanis to their rulers are no better than those of slaves to their master.” The italics are mine. I have tried to give a faithful translation of your Urdu sentences. If I have erred, I hope to be excused, and that my mistake may be pointed out.
However, to satisfy the scruples of sceptical readers, I prefer to give the last portion of the sentence in Roman characters and leave them to judge for themselves whether the rendering is correct or not. The original words are: Khushamad ki baten jo chahe kah le, aur ‘political’ tariq men jo kuchh bayan karna ho, kiya jawe, magar Hindostaniyon ka hal apni fatahmand qaum ke sath gulami ke halat se kuchh ziyada nahin hai. In the same article, further on, you said that the “University College was being raised to the status of a University with the object of throwing obstacles in the way of our National advancement, and that the result of the clamour after Oriental studies could be nothing but that of keeping ourselves in the state of serfdom.”
Sir Syed, would you still call us “seditious”? Remember that we are the product of that education which you so strongly recommended and which you have never been known to condemn. Our English education, the study of eminent European minds and European sciences — alas! that you cannot feel this — has expanded our souls, and we can no longer be selfish “Sat Bachnia” prodigies of your Oriental language. Sir, your fall seems to remind me of the fall of Adam. Just as Satan is said to be the cause of the fall of that progenitor of our race, this seeking after worldly honours seems to be real explanation of your decline. It is nothing to you, because your term in this world must at no very distant period expire; but to us, who are yet, we hope, to live long and to fight out the bloodless battle of liberty, it is destined to remain a permanent disgrace. The line of argument against us would be that the races which produce such inconsistent philosphers are not fit to receive the boon of Local SelfGovernment.
Sir Syed, if you have changed your political opinions, the sooner you announce it the better it will be, both for yourself and for us. It is simply childish to persist in your claim to consistency in the face of the above quotations. Better announce this change, and explain why and how this took place. Again pausing. for a reply, with a promise of more in my next, I beg to subscribe myself,
The Son of an old Follower of Yours
15th November 1888
Well may we apply the opening sentence of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities to the present times in India. Well may we say that it is “the best of times” as well as “the worst of times.” Best as the country is on the point of having a nation, worst as a particular section of the community wants to check the progress of the country; and unfortunately is headed, or at least is said to be headed, by a man who has been a frequent advocate of representative Government in India. It is “the age of wisdom” as the country has risen from its deep lethargy and made up its mind to assist the Government by wise counsels. It is “the age of foolishness” as a particular party has the audacity to believe that their opposition will cause the national movement to die in its infancy. It is “the epoch of belief” because the different sectional interests have begun to believe in each other’s sincerity; it is “the epoch of incredulity” because you, Sir, are said to be nowadays against the introduction of a representative element into the Legislative Councils of India. It is the “spring of hope” when we see eminent English statesmen advocating the rights of the dumb millions of India. It is the “winter of despair” when we see her own sons deserting the cause of awakened India.
Sir Syed, I must remind you that it is the same India for the welfare of whose sons you established “The Siddor’s Union Club” at Aligarh. Do you remember, Sir, that in that Club the alumni of the Mahomedan College were trained in the art of discussing public matters in public councils? I ask you, Sir, why you established that Club? Why did you formulate those rules of discussion which predict the establishment of representative institutions in the country? Oh, if we had only known that it was to end in this! I feel that I have gone astray, and must look to those extracts from your writings and sayings so dear to me, which foretold the establishment of representative Councils in India.
Will you please turn to page 49 of your Biography by Lieutenant-Colonel Graham, where you are described as saying: “The people were isolated, they had no champion to stand up for their rights and to see justice done them, and they were constrained to weep in silence.” Can you in the face of these words still say that the people never needed such champions, and that the Government has been doing and will go on doing, without demand, what it has thought and what it will think necessary for the welfare of the people? That it never needed the voice of such champions for the redress of grievances and the attainment of rights?
Having pointed out what the Government ought to have done to make itself popular (quotations as to which have been given in letters Nos. I and II), you said in the end of the same book, “The Causes of Indian Revolt,” that “it was necessary for the Government to win the friendship and the good feeling of its subjects.” Further on you said: “As yet, truth compels me to state, Government has not cultivated the friendship of its people as was its duty to do: the father loves his child before the
child loves him. If a man of low degree tries to win the esteem of one in high position he is liable to be styled a flatterer and not a friend. It was, therefore, for Government to try and win the friendship of its subjects, not for the subjects to try and win that of the Government. If Government say that what I say is untrue — that they have tried to cultivate friendship and have only been repaid with enmity — I can only say that if it had gone the right way to work, its subjects would most undoubtedly have been its friends and supporters instead of, as in many instances, rising up in arms against it. Now, friendship is a feeling which springs from the heart and which cannot be kindled by ‘admonitions’. Government has hitherto kept itself as isolated from the people of India as if it had been the fire and they the dry grass — as if it thought that, were the two brought in contact the latter would be burnt up.”
I have given this large quotation to recall to your mind some of the reasons upon which you formed the opinions which I have already quoted in my letters Nos. I and II. These reasons may also go to prove that the prayers of the National Congress as to the concession of volunteering to be allowed to the native subjects of Her Majesty, are nothing but reasonable and consistent with the noble principles involved in the above lines. Now I have done with your book on “The Causes of Indian Revolt” so far as it concerned that resolution of the National Congress which prays for the introduction of a representative element in the Legislative Councils of India. Most of these extracts, except one or two here and there, were abstract, and perhaps you may, with your usual calmness, have the boldness to say that there is nothing in these quotations which goes to prove that you ever meant to say that these representatives to the Council of India should be elected by the subjects.
Very good, I will search out quotations which will leave nothing doubtful. You may not have forgotten that months after the opening of your Scientific Society you delivered “a vigorous speech” at the laying of the foundation stone of the New Ghahipore, now the Victoria College. In the course of that address you said: “Bear in mind, gentlemen, that Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria has had proclaimed in this country that her servants and subjects, European and native, are to be considered as being on an equal footing; and this assurance, gentlemen, is not a mere matter of form, but a reality.” The italics are mine. Now, Sir Syed Ahmed, will you still laugh at us because we believe this — this very proclamation — to be our Magna Carta?
Further on in the course of the same address you said: “The appointment of Natives to the Supreme Council was a memorable incident in the History of India. The day is not far distant, I trust, and when it does come you will remember my words, when that Council will be composed of representatives from every division or district, and that thus the Laws which it will pass will be laws enacted by the feelings of the entire country.”
“You will see that this cannot come to pass unless we strive to educate ourselves thoroughly. I once had a conversation with one in high authority on this very subject, and he said that Government would be only too glad if a scheme such as I havesketched above were practicable, but he felt doubtful; if it were stated that there were qualified men in every District, Government would gladly avail itself of their knowledge and give them seats in Council. I knew this only too well, and felt ashamed that such was the case. What I have above stated is only to inculcate on your minds the great fact that Her Most Gracious Majesty wishes all her subjects to be treated alike; and let their religion, tribe, or colour be what it may, the only way to avail ourselves of the many roads to fame and usefulness is to cultivate our intellects and to conform ourselves to the age.”
Sir Syed, have the happiness to know that the day which you in 1864 said was not far distant, is coming nearer, and that you need no longer feel so much ashamed of your countrymen for not conforming to the age. Your prophecy is not fulfilled yet, but we are certain that sometime or other it is sure to be fulfilled, and then you will have the satisfaction of feeling that you did not prophesy in vain. Sir Syed, do you wish to withdraw this prophesy of yours, and if so why? Please explain - I and others like me are waiting in suspense. Only say that with the return of sobriety and the calmness of old age you have come to know your own errors, and we will no more trouble you with these prophecies. Sir Syed, would you please point out what else could be the meaning of the above sentence except that — that India would some (in 1864, not far distant) day be governned by Councils composed of members elected by the people themselves? If not this, how can the laws be said to be “enacted by the feelings of the entire country”?
Two months before you spoke the words quoted above, you, on the 9th January 1864, started a Translation Society now known as the Scientific Society of Aligarh; and in the course of a speech then delivered, pointing out the ignorance of your countrymen, you said: “From their ignorance of the events of the past, and also of the events of the present; from their not being acquainted with the manner and means by which infant nations have grown into powerful and flourishing ones, and by which the present most advanced ones have beaten their competitors in the race for position among the magnates of the world — they are unable to take lessons and profit by their experience.” Sir, we took your advice, and your countrymen have learnt the means and the manner by which they can advance the growth of their “infant nation” to the position of a “powerful” and a “flourishing” one.
How is it that this growth which you so much desired in 1864 is an eyesore to you now? How is it that now at this period you cannot feel any pleasure in seeing a combination of all the different races and sects towards the accomplishment of the great end for which you have been until recently struggling so hard? How is it that you are going to prove that you did not deserve the distinctions so deservedly, as we thought, bestowed upon you? By your present attitude, by your present utterances, you mean to prove that all that you once said, all that you once did, for which you were rightly honoured both by the Government and the people, and for which you were said to be deserving of being “awarded a conspicuous place on the list of benefactors” of India, was, after all, but utter nonsense — because that is the phrase you now apply to the repetition of those same principles — which you once so strenuously advocated — by the supporters of the National Congress.
On the 10th of May, 1886, you addressed a large and influential meeting of the European and native residents of Aligarh on the necessity of Indian affairs being more prominently brought before Parliament, and of forming an association for this purpose (at .least so says your biographer on pp. 88 and 89). In the course of this speech you compared the British rule with that of the “former emperors and Rajas” of India. You said “it” (i.e. the rule of the latter) “was based upon nothing but tyranny and oppression; the law of might was that of right; the voice of the people was not listened to; the strong and the turbulent oppressed the feeble and the poor, and usurped all their privileges with impunity for their own selfish ends. It is only therefore by such usurpers and turbulent spirits that a despotism such as flourished in Hindustan for many long centuries, is at all to be desired.”
Know, sir, that the National Congress wants nothing but that [the] voice of the people be listened to, and that “the strong and turbulent” may not oppress “the feeble and the poor.” The National Congress wants to achieve these ends by peaceful means, and in fact by prayers; while it can only be the usurpers and the turbulent who desire to threaten, as you now do, the use of arms. It can only be the self-assumed “strong” who can threaten “the poor” with the use of the arms by “the followers of the prophet.” Further on you regretted the indifference with which the affairs of India were treated in the Parliament, and laid the blame of it to a great extent upon the shoulders of your own countrymen. You said: “India, with that slowness to avail herself of that which would benefit her so characteristic of Eastern nations, has hitherto looked on Parliament with a dreamy apathetic eye, content to have her affairs, in the shape of her Budget, brought before it in an annual and generally inaudible speech by Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for India.”
You entreated your countrymen to discontinue this apathy, and you asked them to exert themselves towards securing the proper representation of their interest in the governing body of the British Nation. You appealed to the “entire native community” to “co-operate” with the London Association established for the purpose. To your countrymen you continued to say: “You will have only yourselves to reproach when in after years you see the European section of the community enjoying their well-earned concessions, whilst your wants remain still unmet.” Sir Syed, the country then responded to your call, though imperfectly, and it is now that the country has felt the value of your words and begun to throw away the deep indifference which you so forcibly lamented.
Pray will you tell me whether, prior to the movement of National Congress, there was no agitation for the redress of the grievances of the Indians in India? If so what was all this which you were doing? Why did you establish and support all these: associations? Why did you call upon the entire country to “cooperate” with these associations, if the Government had of its own accord been doing all that was needed for the welfare of India? In your criticism upon the Lucknow speech of the Hon’ble pandit Ajudhia Nath of Allahabad you meant to ask (if I did not err in understanding and reproducing it from memory) the Congress-wallahs if any of their agitations had been existing when the Government granted all the boons which we enjoy. I have quoted largely from your own writings to show that such an agitation did exist, and that you yourself were one of the most prominent agitators.
You even went to the length of saying that no fear need be entertained of your (i.e., of those who meant to take part in such associations, &c.) being called discontented by the Government. To quote your own words, you said: “I am afraid that a feeling of fear — fear that the Government or the district authorities would esteem you factious and discontented, were you to inaugurate a measure like this — deters you from coming forward for your country’s good…. Believe me that this moral cowardice is wrong — the apprehension unfounded; and that there: is not an Englishman of a liberal turn of mind in India who would regard with feelings other than those of pleasure and hope, such a healthy sign of increased civilization on the part of its inhabitants. The natives have at present little or no voice in the management of the affairs of their country, and should any measure of Government prove obnoxious to them, they brood over it, appearing outwardly satisfied and happy while discontent is rankling in their mind.”
Further on you said that the natives were in the habit of inveighing against such measures in their homes, but to the Europeans they represented that they were satisfied with the justice and wisdom of these very measures. You loudly proclaimed “that such a state of affairs is inimical to the welfare of the country. Far better would it be for India were her people openly and honestly to express their opinions as to the justice or otherwise of the acts of Government.” Would you pray tell me, Sir, why we are sedition-mongers; is it because we speak “honestly” as to the justice or otherwise of the acts of the Government; is it because we have overcome the moral cowardice with which you charged us? Are we seditious because we do not want to keep “discontent rankling” within our hearts? Are we disloyal because we, according to your own teachings, have come forward to speak up for our country’s good?
If we deserve all these epithets on account of all these I must say, Sir, that you are the father of all this. You taught us to do exactly what we have begun doing now. You not only taught but encouraged us by your own example. Why do you now deprecate “this healthy sign of civilization,” as you once called it, on the part of Indians? If we, the followers of your old principles, have exceeded the proper dimension — which, I humbly maintain, we have not — it is surely not advisable to root out these instincts from within us, but rather to point out the place and the occasion where we have exceeded. How have you come to oppose the principles themselves, the principles so lovingly promulgated by you?
Say that the principles are not to be discarded, but the men abusing these principles are to be despised. We will then know how to love the principles and not the men. We loved you because you held these principles, because we thought you loved your country above everything, because we considered you to be one of the fathers of the present India; and if we have erred, we must say we think that you should have pointed out our error in time. Truly has a poet said: Khwab tha, jo kuchh kih dekha tha; afsanah tha, jo kuchh kih suna tha; i.e., “What I saw was but a dream; what I heard, an idle tale.” Ah! human delusions are then destined to delude the human eye for ever!
Again with a pause, with a promise of more in my next.
I am yours, &c.,
The Son of an old Follower of Yours
22nd November 1888
The fourth meeting of the Indian National Congress is soon to be held at Allahabad, and so I think I must hasten to give some more of the most important quotations in this letter of mine. The less important ones I leave for some future occasion.
When this letter reaches you, you will be, possibly, smiling over [Lord Dufferin] the ex-Viceroy’s [anti-Congress] speech delivered at the St. Andrew’s Dinner, Calcutta. If you will only take the trouble of reading that speech with your eyes open, you will find that your uproar against the introduction of some representative element in the Legislative Councils of India is not liked even by those whom you have undertaken to flatter, and whose national traditions you try to belie. Sir Syed, for God’s sake, reconsider your position, and do not disappoint us just when the morning of hope has begun to dawn over us and our mother-land.
Now to proceed with your old writings and sayings; please turn to pages 207 and 208 of your Social Reformer for 1298 Hijri, equivalent to the year 1881 A.D. There, while giving an account of your voyage to London, you said that on the way you happened to see Mr. D. Fitzpatrick, the former Deputy Commissioner of Delhi, with whom you talked about “goodness or badness of the Punjab administration.” Therein you profess to have said that the Government of the Punjab was a despotic one, though a thousand times better than that of the Sikhs. Further on you say “the people of the Punjab may be happy and perhaps may like it because they have been just taken out of fire and made to sit in the sun. But we cannot like it. The goodness or badness of the Punjab Government, i.e. of the Government of the non-Regulation Provinces, should be asked of the inhabitants of Delhi, Panipat, Rohtak, Hissar, and Sirsa districts, which once used to belong to Regulation Provinces and have now been subjected to a non-Regulation (or beqanuni) Punjab Administration. As far as I know, people think that of many other punishments which had been awarded to the inhabitants of Delhi and its adjacent districts in the Mutiny, this was also one: that they were made over to the Government of the Punjab and thus made the subjects of non-Regulation Provinces.”
These lines were written at a time when the North-Western Provinces did not enjoy the blessing of having a Provincial Legislature of its own, and so the only superiority in the administration of the N.W.P. over that of the Punjab then, was the existence of a High Court instead of the Chief Court in the Punjab, and the constitution of a Board of Revenue instead of a Financial Commissionership here. The word “despotic” is your own, and is used in your Urdu style, and thus you cannot say that the word has been unwittingly thrust upon you by the translator. Even at the risk of unidiomatic English I have tried to give a literal translation of your Urdu sentences. If you think that this translation is incorrect, I trust you will not, for the sake of your own reputation, fail to publish a true translation of the sentences quoted.
Now, will you please explain on what principles you designated the Government of the Punjab as despotic, and how you distinguished it in that respect from the Government of India or that of N.W.P.? I can venture to say that the Government of the Punjab was never more despotic than the Governments of other sister Provinces. No doubt the merit of each Government to a considerable degree depends upon the personal character of its head. The Governments of Montgomery, Aitchison, and even that of Sir James Lyall cannot be said to be more despotic than that of any of the Governors of other Provinces. Can you, Sir, in the face of this broad accusation of yours, still designate us as reckless accusers of Government and its policy?
Further on in the same article you go on saying: “In fact the present time is not one in which people may like a despotic Government, nor are those virtues (which in ancient times used to be mixed with a thousand vices) of a despotic Government, and by which the influence of the former were an antidote for the latter, to be found in these days. Nowadays it is not possible for those virtues to exist in any despotic Government, and the people who think that in India a despotic Government, such as it used to be in bygone times, would be more appropriate and useful than the constitutional form of Government, are greatly mistaken. They are just like one who judges a garden by its state in the autumn, without caring to think what it will be in the spring.” The word “despotic” throughout this quotation is your own, Sir.
At another place, on page 132 of the same journal for the same year, under the heading of “The Eastern Arts and Sciences,” you exhort us not to devote ourselves to them but to the study of Western ones. You ask us even “to forget our mother-tongue” (an impossibility in itself), because you said our national advancement only “depended upon the spread of Western Sciences.” You said, “Let us by all means remain loyal to the Government, let us always regard it to be our patron and well-wisher, and let us at the same time try to extricate ourselves from that servile and savage state in which we are.” Nobly and truly did you say that thus, and thus only, should be the subject of a generous kind-hearted Government who rules over a nation for the good of the latter, or, say, for the good of the human race.
In the course of the same article on the same page of your Tahzib ul-Ikhlaq you say, “No nation can ever advance in parallel lines, all travelling from one point to another. Nations always advance in the shape of a triangle, whose one corner projects in advance of the others. To think that we may be divided in different sects is to pray that we may not be enlightened by the light of Western ideas.” In contrast to this, please reconsider your Meerut speech [of 1888], in which in fact you wanted to express that the whole nation must remain in the background because you think that the Mahomedan community has not sufficiently advanced to fully reap the benefits to be enjoyed by the granting of the boons prayed for by the National Congress. (I do not admit that the Mahomedan community is not sufficiently advanced.)
On page 136 of the same Journal you say, “I sincerely believe and wish to assure the Government that the same discontented educated critics” (meaning those educated gentlemen who severely criticize the Government measures and who are blamed for it) “yield to none in their appreciation of the British rule; hence it is not just to effect the ruin of our education on account of any apprehension of such criticism.” These are the words which you addressed to those politicians who advocate the closing of Government Colleges and schools, and who are of opinion that education in Western ideas and sciences has made the Indians disloyal.
You would, I suppose, like to re-read those words also, by which you encourage your own educated countrymen to fight out the battle of their national advancement bravely and without fear. You say, “Without doubt, there are many difficulties in the way of our doing so” (i.e., promulgating those blessings of education, instruction and enlightenment which we acquire in those civilized countries to which we go on completing our education). “On one side we are to contend against the prejudices and ignorance of our own countrymen, and on the other side we are to bear the opposition of those narrow-minded men of the conquering nice to whom our social and political advancement is an eyesore, and who dislike us because we have adopted English life, English politics, and the manners of an English gentleman; and change of dress even infuriates them to such a degree that they look at us with angry eyes as a pious man looks at a great criminal. But we should keep the good of our nation at heart, and should bear all the difficulties and troubles which beset our way with the greatest possible forbearance and perseverance. I do not wish to conceal that Time, the Great Reformer, will let all these things be, and no opposition or discontent will be able to keep them back. But still there is no doubt that this narrow-mindedness is kindling the feelings of discontent ,and is surely calculated to cause all sympathy and love between the governors and the governed to be banished.”
Sir Syed, have the happiness to learn that your countrymen took you to be a true prophet, that they are going to stick to every word which you wrote — are not to be daunted or baffled by any opposition, no, not even by yours. How is it that you preached to us to persevere, and yourself could not do this? We have persevered, but the old man has fallen: what a pitiable spectacle of human weakness!
Next I will give an extract upon the great question of native volunteers with which one of the Resolutions of the National Congress deals. On page 332 of your Biography, says your Biographer, that in March, 1883, when Mr. A. O. Hume (the beloved General Secretary of the National Congress) advocated the cause of native volunteers in India, and stated that in the Mutiny he had a brigade of infantry, cavalry, and artillery in the Etawah yeomanry levy — all Volunteers — he (i.e. Lieutenant-Colonel Graham) addressed a letter to the Editor of the Pioneer in which he tried to rebut many of the arguments advanced by Mr. Hume, which letter he says brought you (Sir Syed Ahmed) down upon him in a letter which you wrote to him. He gives an extract from that letter on page 334, which runs thus: “I have perused your reply to Mr. Hume’s letter advocating the volunteering of the Natives of India. In not allowing the natives to become Volunteers, the Government mean to say that they do not trust the Natives of India. Its consequences should be judged from the saying: ‘If you want us to trust you, you should also trust us.’ There yet exists a wide gulf between the Europeans and the Natives of India, and unless it be filled up nothing can secure and improve the prosperity of the country.” The italics are mine.
This you wrote in the middle of 1883, and now in 1887 and 1888 you say Indians do not want anything. On the same page Lieutenant-Colonel Graham wntes as follows: “What I would advocate would be the selection by the local authorities in all large stations in India of a certain number of picked Native Volunteers — men of good family and wellknown for their loyalty — to be placed under the command of the officer commanding the European Volunteers. I would let them select their own company officers, and once started I would also permit them to select their own recruits as vacancies occurred.”
I say “give us this much and we will be satisfied for a long time to come.”
A few important extracts more and I will have done with your old writings and sayings for the present. Contrast the meanings attached to the words “Nation” and “National” by you in your Meerut speech with those promulgated by yourself at Gurdaspur on the 27th of January, 1884. At Gurdaspur you said that “we (i.e., the Hindus and Mahomedans) should try to become one heart and soul and act in unison; if united we can support each other. If not, the effect of one against the other would tend to the destruction and downfall of both. In old historical books and traditions you will have read and heard, and we see it even now, that all the people inhabiting one country are designated by the term one nation. The different tribes of Afghanistan are termed as one nation, and so are the miscellaneous hordes peopling Iran distinguished by the term. Europeans, though abounding in variety of thoughts and religions, are still known as members of one nation, though people of other countries also do come and settle with them, but being mixed together they are called members of one and the same nation. So that from the oldest times the word Nation is applied to the inhabitants of one country, though they differ in some peculiarities which are characteristics of their own. Hindu and Mahomedan brethren, do you people any country other than Hindustan? do you not inhabit the same land? are you not burned and buried on the same soil? do you not tread the same ground and live upon the same soil? Remember that the words Hindu and Mahomedan are only meant for religious distinction — otherwise all persons, whether Hindu or Mahomedan, even the Christians who reside in this country, are all in this particular respect belonging to one and the same nation. Then all these different sects can only be described as one nation; they must each and all unite for the good of the country which is common to all.”
Again in your Lahore speech, which was delivered in reply to the address of the Indian Association of Lahore, you, on the 3rd of February, 1884, said as follows: “Even granting that the majority of those composing this Association are Hindus, still I say that this light has been diffused by the same whom I call by the epithet of Bengalees. I assure you that Bengalees are the only people in our country whom we can properly be proud of; and it is only due to them that knowledge, liberty and patriotism have progressed in our country. I can truly say that really they are the head and crown of all the different communities of Hindustan. I myself was fully cognizant of all those difficulties which obstructed my way, but notwithstanding these I heartily wished to serve my country and my nation faithfully. In the word Nation I include both Hindus and Mahomedans, because that is the only meaning which I can attach to it (i.e. Nation or qaum).” Here in the end, the word nation is originally used by yourself. (See the account of your trip to the Punjab by Maulvi Iqbal Ali, p.167, line 18th).
To resume: “With me it is not so much worth considering what is their religious faith, because we do not see anything of it. What we do see is that we inhabit the same land, are subject to the rule of the same Governors; the fountains of benefits for all are the same, and the pangs of famine also we suffer equally. These are the different grounds upon which I call both those races which inhabit India by one word, i.e. Hindu, meaning to say that they are the inhabitants of Hindustan. While in the Legislative Council, I was always anxious for the prosperity of this nation.” This letter of mine has already exceeded its proper dimensions, and therefore I think I must not give more extracts, and must leave the rest to be commented upon by abler hands than mine.
Anybody reading these extracts will be once for all convinced of the former loftiness and present lowness of your position. Foreigners reading these extracts will not believe that your now famous Meerut and Lucknow speeches were in reality delivered by the same Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who was once proud (whether rightly or wrongly, God knows) of his broadmindedness. This much seems certain: either you were not the author of those ideas reproduced in the above quotations, or your recent utterances were inspired by some mind other than your own./*/ Poor Sir Syed, you must feel sorry for all this inconsistency, though you may not have the boldness to say so.
Sir, I assure you that you should not despair; a small sacrifice at the altar of your country, a renewed profession of the faith that was once in you, will suffice to regain for you the confidence of your countrymen. If you are not prepared to do so, I must think myself justified in impeaching you in the name of consistency, in the name of honesty and fair play, in the name of the great Mahomed whose descendant and follower you profess to be, in the name of Mahdi Ali, your old devoted friend who once felt proud of showing to the world that the original Mahomedan rule was based upon democratic principles (see your Social Reformer for 1290 Hijri, p.136, lines 8 to 23); and lastly in the name of the pupils of your own Mahomedan Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh, whom you trained in the principles which you now affect to detest.
It is a year since you actually engaged yourself in creating and keeping up an opposition to the National Congress, but up to this time your countrymen have not been clearly enlightened as to what it is that you object to in the proceedings of the National Congress. You say we are not fit for a republic, and so do we say. You say we are not yet fit for a Parliament, and so do we say.
If you say that the introduction of some representative element even into the Government would be injurious to our community, we ask why and how, and pray when did you receive that revelation — because up to 1884 you yourself acknowledged the necessity of these Legislative Councils being reconstituted upon some representative basis. Then, again, when were you inspired with the idea that the Hindu and the Mahomedan interests are sure to clash at least in this respect? Because up to 1884 you believed in the doctrine of Hindus and Mahomedans having one and the same political interests, and being members of one and the same nation.
To your friends Maulvis Mahdi Ali and Mahdi Hussain, whose tergiversation is not less amazing than your own, I have only a few words to say. To the former, that he had better now suppress his lecture published in the Social Reformer for 1290 Hijri on pp.136, and those preceding and following it. To the latter, that he should now publicly recant the views set forth in his article under the heading of “Liberty” published in your Social Reformer for 1298 Hijri, 1881, from pp.23l to 341. Until they do this I will ask them to abstain, if they desire any human being to credit them with common honesty, from abusing us and denouncing our principles; and to my other countrymen as well as to our rulers, I have only to say further —
“I know a maiden fair to see,
She can both false and friendly be,
Trust her not,
She is fooling thee.
She has two eyes so soft and brown,
She gives a side-glance and looks down,
Trust her not
She is fooling thee!
And she has hair of a golden hue,
And what she says is not true,
Trust her not,
She is fooling thee,
She has a bosom as white as snow,
She knows how much it is best to show.
Trust her not,
She is fooling thee.”
With a promise to begin afresh in the year 1889,
I beg to subscribe myself, Sir,
Yours, &c., &c.,
The Son of an Old Follower of Yours
20th December 1888
N.B.-The extracts from your Social Reformer and the account of your trip to the Punjab by Maulvi Iqbal Ali have been translated into English for the purposes of these letters by myself. –L.R.
/*/ Can it be that your once massive, manly intellect has succumbed to the feeble, schoolgirl-like sophistries of your shallow-pated employer? That Merlin-like, the great heart that once beat true for India is now pulseless, and that you lie bound, inextricably, by the treacherous spells of a modern Vivien, even more despicable than his female prototype?
front page › Forums › Open Letters to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan by Lala Lajpat Rai (1888)
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