Clemens Dutt

Book Review

The Outsider’s India

Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. 11, May 1929, No. 5, pp. 313-316 (1,860 words).
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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Moral and Material Progress and Condition of India
(H.M. Stationery Office, 4s. 6d.)

An Indian Commentary.
By C. T. Garratt (I. C. S. Retd.).
(Jonathan Cape, 1928, 7s. 6d.)

Living India. By Savel Zimand.
(Longmans, Green. & Co., 1928., 10s. 6d.)

Shiva or the Future of India.
By R. J. Minney.
(Kegan Paul, 1929, 2s. 6d.)

These four recent books on India all attempting to treat of India as a whole, and all of them from different view-points, are at once an indication of the increased interest that is being taken in the subject of India and a measure of the sort of judgments that are being arrived at by non-Indian observers.

The Government publication is the easiest to dispose of. It is a bulky volume of four hundred pages of Government propaganda, compiled by Mr. J. Coatman, who enjoys the office of Director of Public Information in India, and who recently earned some notoriety in the Legislative Assembly, where he is a nominated member, by an anti-bolshevik tirade in the debate on the Public Safety Bill, and by handing round a large scrap-book of cuttings from the Indian Press to show its pernicious bolshevik character. It is sufficient to note the opinion passed on his volume by a non-official British journal, the Pioneer Mail, of Allahabad. This British paper describes it in its editorial notes as a:—

collection of platitudes, misrepresentations and one-sided generalisations. Except for occasional pages of statistics and passages of plain straightforward history of events, the volume is valueless. The chapter on politics during the year—46 pages—would be amusing if it were not such a tragic revelation of the incapacity of Mr. Coatman to understand the real political situation in the country.—Pioneer Mail, Feb. 15, 1929.

The Pioneer Mail indulges in this frank speaking, not because Mr. Coatman has departed in any way from the correct imperialist opinions of the British rulers of India, or because the Mail has itself “gone native,” but because Mr. Coatman is such a careless spokesman for his caste, and because his official optimism and self-satisfaction makes more difficult the reconciliation with the upper class Indian nationalists that the Mail would like to see brought about.

As an instance of Mr. Coatman’s treatment of events it is just worth noting that he goes so far in his efforts to show the utter insignificance of the opposition to the Simon Commission as to declare “with the exception of Mr. Jinnah, no Mohammedan politician of any standing denounced the Commission.” He has, of course, also a section on the “Communist plotters.” In the course of this, he is not above writing such ridiculous nonsense as that the Labour Research Department, London, is an “organisation under the control of the Central Council of Trade Unions in Moscow.” This is the sort of stuff printed at the public expense in India.

Mr. Garratt would perhaps claim his to be the most serious study of the four. It is written by a man with a wide knowledge, a liberal outlook and a capacity for writing clear readable English. He is a retired official of the Indian Civil Service, but although he has discarded the blinkers of the official view-point he still retains more than a few relics of the British administrator about him. In spite of his endeavours to have regard to the whole structure of Indian society, he remains nothing more than an old-fashioned liberal, blind to the basic character of British imperialism in India and to the class forces at work there.

He starts off by telling us that the whole tragedy of modern India is that “the educated classes of England and India remained hopelessly estranged.” His first section, on the structure of Indian society, is not inadequate as far as it goes, though, of course, there is no hint of exploitation, and. the account of the working class is reactionary and out of date. He notes that the new influences to which the industrial workers are exposed “may in time produce a class-consciousness” among them. He makes ignorant assertions as to strikes and working-class organisation, declaring, for example, “only in the railway workshops and at Ahmedabad have unions been organised on anything approaching European lines (p. 61). Ahmedabad, it will be remembered, is the scene of Mr. Gandhi’s experiments in yellow unionism.

In the next section, on the relations of Indians and English, we have the old story of the unfortunate development of unfriendly relations because of British aloofness and arrogance, not a word about British domination as such or the nature of British imperialist exploitation.

Mr. Garratt’s description of the National Congress is almost a travesty Speaking of the Congress after the Lucknow session of 1916, he says:—

From this time forward no politician however extreme his views has found the Congress too moderate for him to attend, and no Moderate has cared to place his demands from the British Government lower than complete political independence. (pp. 143-4)

The problem of self-government and democracy he approaches purely from the standpoint of a Civil Service official. He notes that:—

the war did much to solve the question whether Indians could be entrusted to administer the bureaucratic machine from within. (p. 157.)

He reports that the Reforms Scheme was a failure because:—

when Mr. Montagu brought in his scheme the tide was running strongly against the Europeans and he introduced into a country afflicted almost with xenophobia a complicated and delicate piece of constitutional machinery. (p. 145)

And finally he comes to his root criticism that:—

the British are not steering for some definite objective, but drifting vaguely along and thankful when the weather is calm. (p. 205.)

This cheap “Dilly-Dally” accusation is actually the final word of Mr. Garratt’s wisdom. In his last conclusions on Indian nationalism, he declares:—

Probably most people who can claim any knowledge of Indian nationalism would agree that the exasperation of the educated classes is due more to the lack of any settled policy than to the dilatory manner in which the reforms are introduced. (p. 315.)

And he ends by saying:—

any reforms which are introduced should be of such a nature that an Indian can visualise the type of Government which will be in existence five, ten or fifteen years ahead.

It is hardly necessary to quote any more of Mr. Garratt. We will note only that, in his study of “The Future,” he refers politically only to the likely outcome of the Simon Commission and similar possible reforms, his own opinion being that “it will be difficult to avoid something approaching dyarchy in the central administration”; he repeats the common view that “the real problems of modern India are social and economic,” as opposed to political, in speaking of industrial development; and he ignores the agrarian question altogether, talking only of the usual trifling reforms. Mr. Garratt may be worth reading for what information he has, but his understanding is that of the typical British petty-bourgeois Labourite.

Mr. Zimand’s book is of a different kind. It is at once more superficial and yet closer to reality and less affected by British national prejudices. This is not surprising, for Mr. Zimand is an American. The book is frankly the work of a journalist based on a single visit to the country, plus a catholic study of books about India, but his very eagerness to give all the facts, his vivid pictures of personal impressions, his evident sympathy with Indian nationalism and his sensitiveness to the warning portents of coming “trouble” takes it out of the usual run of European books on India and makes it worth studying.

Perhaps because he is an American, Mr. Zimand cannot fail to see, and is not concerned to conceal, the economic basis of British imperialism in India, In a sketch of the history of British rule and of the chain of “Caesars” who have represented British power there, he is by no means complimentary to the methods by which they made “economic penetration” secure and “safeguarded” British investments. Yet he ends this section with the lame conclusion that “the spirit of political unrest has reached a stage when real reforms can no longer be denied.”

The greater part of the book is occupied by his studies of the “social fabric,” devoted rather at undue length to such aspects as the all-powerful grip of the Hindu religion, the walls of caste, child marriage, sacred cows and holy mosques and the Indian princes. All this is devoted to pictures rather than problems and the same applies to the small chapter on the “masses.”

The last part of the book is called “seething India” and contains sketches of the nationalist movement and ends with the usual examination of the question of “reforms.” His view of nationalism is too much obsessed with the personality of Gandhi, and this, together with his pre-occupation with religious aspects of social life, no doubt gives the basis for the remark of “AE,” in a short and empty foreword to the book, that “almost all the evils spoken of by this latest writer on India have a religious root.” Incidentally, it probably goes with this sort of vague twaddle about “Mendelian dominants” of “culture” to include such inaccuracies as to refer to Sir Flinders Petrie as Sir Hendon Petrie.

The final observations of Mr. Zimand are disappointing. After all his keen observation of “seething” forces, he sees no further than that:—

Great Britain has to her credit real achievements in India. But her greatest opportunity still lies ahead . . . On the type of constitution which the Parliament of 1930 decides to grant greatly depends whether India will, within the next generation, be incorporated as a loyal member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. (p. 272.)

One is irresistibly reminded of the kind of prophecies that were made of the future of “reforms” in Russia, in Turkestan and in China before the war. Close observers always come to the bold conclusion that gradual “progress” was inevitable. In the same way Mr. Zimand considers:—

Universal suffrage may not be conceivable in India for perhaps another half-a-century. (p.268.)

Mr. Minney’s pamphlet on the Future of India is dear at half a crown from every point of view. The series of books to which it belongs started well, with some thought-provoking essays by eminent writers, but it has evidently degenerated to printing sheer trash. The wrapper of Mr. Minney’s work advertises that it has been banned in India. One would imagine that the reason is, not because it is an indictment of British rule, but because it contains all the stupidities and grossnesses of Miss Mayo without her facts, and its circulation in India could only have the effect of bringing the Britisher into contempt.

Mr. Minney’s main title to fame is, apparently, that as a journalist on the Englishman in Calcutta he once wrote a series of highly-coloured articles on “night-life” in that city. They attracted no attention and he has now made them the basis of his picture of all India. His remarks, whether for or against British rule, are not to be taken seriously.

C. P. D.