Karl Marx in the New-York Tribune 1857

The Indian Question

Source: New-York Daily Tribune, August 14, 1857;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

London, July, 28 1857

The three hours’ speech delivered last night in “The Dead House,” by Mr. Disraeli, will gain rather than lose by being read instead of being listened to. For some time, Mr. Disraeli affects an awful solemnity of speech, an elaborate slowness of utterance and a passionless method of formality, which, however consistent they may be with his peculiar notions of the dignity becoming a Minister in expectance, are really distressing to his tortured audience. Once he succeeded in giving even commonplaces the pointed appearance of epigrams. Now he contrives to bury even epigrams in the conventional dullness of respectability. An orator who, like Mr. Disraeli, excels in handling the dagger rather than in wielding the sword, should have been the last to forget Voltaire’s warning, that “Tous les genres sont bons excepté le genre ennuyeux.”

Beside these technical peculiarities which characterize Mr. Disraeli’s present manner of eloquence, he, since Palmerston’s accession to power, has taken good care to deprive his parliamentary exhibitions of every possible interest of actuality. His speeches are not intended to carry his motions, but his motions are intended to prepare for his speeches. They might be called self-denying motions, since they are so constructed as neither to harm the adversary, if carried, nor to damage the proposer, if lost. They mean, in fact, to be neither carried nor lost, but simply to be dropped. They belong neither to the acids nor to the alkalis, but are born neutrals. The speech is not the vehicle of action, but the hypocrisy of action affords the opportunity for a speech. Such, indeed, may be the classical and final form of parliamentary eloquence; but then, at all events, the final form of parliamentary eloquence must not demur to sharing the fate of all final forms of parliamentarism — that of being ranged under the category of nuisances. Action, as Aristotle said, is the ruling law of the drama. So it is of political oratory. Mr. Disraeli’s speech on the Indian revolt might be published in the tracts of the Society for the Propagation of Useful Knowledge, or it might be delivered to a mechanics’ institution, or tendered as a prize essay to the Academy of Berlin. This curious impartiality of his speech as to the place where, and the time when, and the occasion on which it was delivered, goes far to prove that it fitted neither place, time, nor occasion. A chapter on the decline of the Roman Empire which might read exceedingly well in Montesquieu or Gibbon would prove an enormous blunder if put in the mouth of a Roman Senator, whose peculiar business it was to stop that very decline. It is true that in our modern parliaments, a part lacking neither dignity nor interest might be imagined of an independent orator who, while despairing of influencing the actual course of events, should content himself to assume a position of ironical neutrality. Such a part was more or less successfully played by the laic M. Garnier Pages — not the Garnier Pages of Provisional Government memory in Louis Philippe’s Chamber of Deputies; but Mt.. Disraeli, the avowed leader of an obsolete faction, would consider even success in this line as a supreme failure. The revolt of the Indian army afforded certainly a magnificent opportunity for oratorical display. But, apart front his dreary manner of treating the subject, what was the gist of the motion which he made the pretext for his speech? It was no motion at all. He feigned to be anxious for becoming acquainted with two official papers, the one of which he was not quite sure to exist, and the other of which he was sure not immediately to bear on the subject in question. Consequently his speech and his motion lacked any point of contact save this, that the motion heralded a speech without an object, and that the object confessed itself not worth a speech. Still, as the highly elaborated opinion of the most distinguished out-of-office statesman of England, Mr. Disraeli’s speech ought to attract the attention of foreign countries. I shall content myself with giving in his ipsissima verba a short analysis of his “considerations on the decline of the Anglo-Indian Empire.”

“Does the disturbance ill India indicate a military mutiny, or is it a national revolt? Is the conduct of the troops the consequence of a sudden impulse, or is it tile result of an organized conspiracy?”

Upon these points Mr. Disraeli asserts the whole question to hinge. Until the last ten years, he affirmed, the British empire in India was founded on the old principle of divide et impera — but that principle was put into action by respecting the different nationalities of which India consisted, by avoiding to tamper with their religion, and by protecting their landed property. The Sepoy army served as a safety-valve to absorb the turbulent spirits of the country. But of late years a new principle has been adopted in the government of India — the principle of destroying nationality. The principle has been realized by the forcible destruction of native princes, the disturbance of the settlement of property, and the tampering with the religion of the people. In 1848 the financial difficulties of the East India Company had reached that point that it became necessary to augment its revenues one way or the other. Then a minute in Council was published, in which was laid down the principle, almost without disguise, that the only mode by which an increased revenue could be obtained was by enlarging the British territories at the expense of the native princes. Accordingly, on the death of the Rajah of Sattara, his adoptive heir was not acknowledged by the East India Company, but the Raj absorbed in its own dominions. From that moment the system of annexation was acted upon whenever a native prince died without natural heirs. The principle of adoption – the very corner-stone of Indian society-was systematically set aside by the Government. Thus were forcibly annexed to the British Empire the Rajs of more than a dozen independent princes from 1848-54. In 1854 the Raj of Berar, which comprised 80,000 square miles of land, a population from 4,000,000 to 5,000,000, and enormous treasures, was forcibly seized. Mr. Disraeli ends the list of forcible annexations with Oude, which brought the East India Government in collision not only with the Hindoos, but also with the Mohammedans. Mr. Disraeli then goes on showing how the settlement of property in India was disturbed by the new system of government during the last ten years.

“The principle of the law of adoption,” he says, “is not the prerogative of princes and principalities in India, it applies to every man in Hindostan who has landed property, and who professes the Hindoo religion.”

I quote a passage:

“The great feudatory, or jaguedar, who holds his lands by public service to his lord ; and the enamdar, who holds his land free of all land-tax, who corresponds, if not precisely, in a popular sense, at least, with our freeholder — both of these classes – classes most numerous in India – always, on the failure of their natural heirs, find in this principle the means of obtaining successors to their estates. These classes were all touched by the annexation of Sattara, they were touched by the annexation of the territories of the ten inferior but independent princes to whom I have already alluded, and they were more than touched, they were terrified to the last degree, when the annexation of the Raj of Berar took place. What man was safe? What feudatory, what freeholder who had not a child of his own loins was safe throughout India? [Hear, hear]. These were not idle fears; they were extensively acted upon and reduced to practice. The resumption of jagheers and of inams commenced for the first time in India. There have been, no doubt, impolitic moments when attempts have been made to inquire into titles but no one had ever dreamt of abolishing the law of adoption; therefore no authority, no Government had ever been in a position to resume jagheers and inams the holders of which had left no natural heirs. Here was a new source of revenue; but while all these things were acting upon the minds of these classes of Hindoos, the Government took another step to disturb the settlement of property, to which I must now call the attention of the House. The House is aware, no doubt, from reading the evidence taken before the Committee of 1853, that there are great portions of the land of India which are exempt from the land-tax. Being free from land-tax in India is far more than equivalent to freedom from the land-tax in this country, for, speaking generally and popularly, the land-tax in India is. the whole taxation of the State.

“The origin of these grants is difficult to penetrate, but they are undoubtedly of great antiquity. They are of different kinds. Beside the private freeholds, which are very extensive, there are large grants of land free from the land-tax with which mosques and temples have been endowed.”

On the pretext of fraudulent claims of exemption, the British Governor General took upon himself to examine the titles of the Indian landed estates. Under the new system, established in 1848,

“That plan of investigating titles was at once embraced, as a proof of a powerful Government, vigorous Executive, and most fruitful source of public revenue. Therefore commissions were issued to inquire into titles to landed estates in the Presidency of Bengal and adjoining country. They were also issued in the Presidency of Bombay, and surveys were ordered to be made in the newly-settled provinces, in order that these commissions might be conducted, when the surveys were completed, with due efficiency. Now there is no doubt that, during the last nine years, the action of these commissions of Inquiry into the freehold property of landed estates in India has been going on at air enormous rate, and immense results have been obtained.”

Mr. Disraeli computes that the resumption of estates from their proprietors is not less than £500,000 a year in the Presidency of Bengal; £370,000 in the Presidency of Bombay; £200,000 in the Punjaub, &c. Not content with this one method of seizing upon the property of the natives, the British Government discontinued the pensions to the native grandees, to pay which it was bound by treaty.

“This,” says Mr. Disraeli, “is confiscation by a new means, but upon a most extensive, startling and shocking scale.”

Mr. Disraeli then treats the tampering with the religion of the natives, a point upon which we need not dwell. From all his premises he arrives at the conclusion that the present Indian disturbance is not a military mutiny, but a national revolt, of which the Sepoys are the acting instruments only. He ends his harangue by advising the Government to turn their attention to the internal improvement of India, instead of pursuing its present course of aggression.