Shapurji Saklatvala

The Indian Round-Table Conference

A Danger to World Peace and Socialism

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 13, February 1931, No. 2, pp. 86-92, (3,278 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

In the December issue of the LABOUR MONTHLY I was able to give a brief account of the origin and purpose of the Round Table Conference between British “Statesmen” and Indian “Leaders.” Since then, this great conspiracy against the liberty of India’s masses, on the one hand, and for the development of strategy for Britain’s next Imperialist War, has been at work. As I write this, there is still the last day’s work unfinished, but that will merely be declarations of foregone conclusions, so we need not wait.

The Conference opened with a pretence, which hardly deceived any sane person, that it was starting on the job of giving to the people of India their inherent and inalienable right to govern their own country.

“Now then, my children,” MacDonald said, in effect, to the bunch of Indian knaves and fools in front of him, “there are two kinds of Parliaments, one unitary elected by the people, and another Federal which will be selected for the people. It is now for you to discuss the merits of both and make your choice, but as we of infinite wisdom think that the first is no good to you on account of the imperialist interests of Britain in India, you start by accepting the second, viz., the Federal form, and let us make a song of it.”

Then a few Indian ruling princes jump up to startle the world with their political generosity and agree to join in a Federal organisation that shall hereafter rule India wherein 250 millions of workers and peasant shall continue to dwell and to obey and to pay. The solitary voice of Dr. Ambedkar alone, who asked for an adult franchise and a freely elected unitary parliament, was easily stifled, as he was speaking for the Depressed Class only! Ramsay MacDonald, the British democrat, and the head and leader of a British Labour Government, declared in these plain words: “The declaration of the Princes has revolutionised the situation. . . . The Princes saying what they have said has at once not only opened our vision, not only cheered our hearts, not only let us lift up our eyes and see a glowing horizon, but has simplified our duties.” He was supported and assisted in this artful dodge by the spokesman of the Liberals, no other than. Lord Reading, who said: “This federation of All India, this great and mighty conception, may be reached with the assistance of the Princes and yourselves. In the end we may look back to the days of the Conference and realise that this Conference has done one great thing that it has accomplished this principle of federalism.” Lord Peel and every British “Statesman” said more or less the same thing.

On the last day when the Conference met in Committee (16th January) the Maharajah of Kashmir (the famous Mr. “A”) feeling his conscience pricking him on the subject, confessed that, “Others, rather uncharitably, attribute unworthy motives to the readiness with which we (the Princes) have grasped the idea of an All-India Federation.” But one Col. Haksar, who occupies a leading position in the Indian Chamber of Princes, and who has come here as the official spokesman for the Princes, as only 10 out of 600 have attended personally, seems to be an outspoken gentleman, more of the Colonel type who stands no nonsense, than a sleek Maharajah. He was brutally clear about the treacherous motives of the Indian princes in joining an All-India Federation. In the first week of the Conference he said: “They (the Princes) do so not to gain any exclusive advantage for themselves, but with the object of keeping the Empire whole and entire. They do so out of their loyalty to the King-Emperor. They are once again doing for England what they did in 1857, viz., coming to England’s rescue. In just that lies the true inwardness of the attitude which the States are taking to-day.” Here are self-confessed traitors, children of the traitors of 1857, who can well be compared with those Belgians who tried their best to help the German Kaiser to retain possession of Belgium. The same Col. Haksar spoke again on 16th January, and here are his choice sentences:—

“Now, as regards the Viceroy’s emergency and certain other reserved powers, it is possible to comment that they constitute such a truncation of the body of Responsibility as to reduce it to a grotesque farce, and, therefore, what the proposed constitution sets up is ultimately a camouflaged despotic Government. . . . No one can pretend that the constitution, only the bare outlines of which we have worked out in this Conference, can withstand the onslaught of the political logician or constitutional purist. . . . We can therefore safely leave aside the objections of the logically minded and of those impressed by the necessity of approximating constitutions to recognised theories.”

This, then, is the outrageous and barefaced game of the Labour Government with its ever increasing tendency towards fascist methods!

Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, an ex-official Lawyer, and a particular personal friend of Mr. MacDonald, also had to confess as follows: “It may be that the Responsibility which we have been able to recommend at the Centre does not come up to the standard which some people would prescribe for themselves, but I would earnestly beg the House to remember . . . that we were called upon to absorb in a constitution which we were trying to frame not only British India but the Indian States, and for that reason we had to adjust our ideas.”

So it is clear that the citizens of India have to play with dice loaded in favour of British Imperialism and the packing used is antiquated princes all tottering on their thrones, and whom the peasantry of their States would sweep away in no long distance of time.

On the Federal Structure Committee, an Indian member, Mr. Jinnah, wanted to be assured that the Federal Parliament scheme would go on for British India alone if for some reason the Princes decided to stand aloof on account of any disagreement. Lord Sankey immediately reprimanded such “pessimism.” The spokesmen for the European community in India and of different parties in Great Britain showed an unconcealed nervousness, and they all explained that whatever power they were ready to transfer to an Indian Legislature would be for a joint Legislature including the Princes, and not at all otherwise.

In their arguments these puppet princes always use the name of 72,000,000 Indian subjects who are in their States. But not one of these is granted any rights of any kind inside the Federal Parliament or even inside the States, where they are all notoriously oppressed and overtaxed. Because these 500 and odd Princes rule 72,000,000 people, therefore they are so important, that they personally will have the right of representing themselves, and that too in both the Houses, the Upper as well as the lower! On the basis of fair play and justice to themselves, their importance, and their dignity, they expect 50 per cent. representation in each House, even though the subjects whom they oppress and misrule are 22 per cent. of India’s population, and they themselves are two in a million of the population! In their generous spirit of give and take, they might make up their minds to have 40 per cent. in the Upper Chamber and 33 per cent. in the Lower Chamber, and this appeals to the British Labour Government. The Upper Chamber is expected to be 150, and the Lower Chamber will be at the outside 250 (an equivalent of 88 Members in the British House of Commons in ratio of population). One of the “Safeguards” will be that the Viceroy will appoint Ministers, who will not resign unless, the two Houses sitting together, cast a two-thirds majority vote against them. So that between the Viceroy and 600 Princes of India the 320,000,000 people of India will never be able to secure the withdrawal of unwanted Ministers.

These two Chambers will not be elected on a political basis by political parties. There will be fixed numbers allotted to persons according to religion and castes, and also with vested interests in land, commerce, industry, &c.

But even this is not enough, and though there will be puppet Ministers and 75 per cent. loyalist Members in the legislature, the British rulers like all murderous tyrants must feel uneasy and remain nervous. Besides, the British Rulers know that the 280,000,000 peasants and workers who will have no entry into legislatures or Ministries will all the same have a power of their own, and a power superior to that of the gilded hirelings who shall sit in a foreign Usurper’s Chamber. So there will be a measure of autocratic power to enable the British Viceroy to revert to one-man’s rule.

The British Viceroy will be the sole protector and controller of India’s armies, of all International intrigues and espionage, of the unlimited right as in the past to create immense debts for militarist and imperialist ambitions and to misname them in the finance markets as India’s debts, and to fix and to pay fabulous salaries, pensions and bonuses to European friends, contractors, and second-rate British geniuses who stand poor chance in open competition at home. He shall also be the sole supervisor of rights of exploitation and slave labour, under the euphemistic phrase of giving fair-play to British enterprise on an equal basis with the Indian. Above all, he shall retain the right of ordering the shooting and batoning of workers and peasants whenever “Provincial disturbances may acquire the dignity of a Federal subject,” and—Lord Reading actually used the words—when Indian Ministers might prove “human after all”!

To fulfil his great duty this autocratic ruler must have unlimited funds, and so the Viceroy will have the right to call upon the Finance Minister to pay or to reserve funds as the Viceroy commands without anybody’s votes or sanction. Lord Peel has estimated that under normal circumstances the Viceroy will require to commandeer about four-fifths of the present budgetry income of India, and whenever there are military expeditions, excursions, and little wars or big wars conducted by His Excellency, there will be extra demands. Education, sanitation, insurance, pensions, &c., for the people will have to wait as now.

Is that all? Oh no, there comes a huge militarist conspiracy. The South of China, despite all the murderous attacks of Chiang-Kai-Shek assisted by the British Labour Government, is coming under the rule of the peasants, and Communist Soviets are casting roots at last. The economic advancement of Soviet Russia is putting to everlasting shame the Government of Labour Traitors in Britain with their policy of wholesale unemployment and wage-cuts.

A murderous war on South China and a war of wanton devastation against U.S.S.R. has become a greater need of the British Labour Government than of Baldwin’s. The workers in Britain may oppose and even obstruct such wars. An autocratic Viceroy in India with a huge army under his sole control, with unlimited right to call for finance without any votes in the beginning from the Parliament at Westminster, will be a good instrument of war for Imperialist Britain. Burmah and the North-West Frontier Provinces are to be the Eastern and Western Gates from which troops can pour out against China and U.S.S.R. For this and this purpose solely, these two Provinces are to be alienated from India and placed in such a subordinate position as to be under more direct military control than an ordinary Indian Province, with some semblance of provincial autonomy, can be. Sindh is also of immense military importance. Karachi seaport is the landing place for armies and munitions going northwards, and the military air-base there is the largest in India. So Sindh must be placed under Mahomedan influence that is more helpful to British militarism.

Punjab and Bengal are held out as great prizes to the Indian Moslems. Punjab has a great military value. At the Round Table Conference Raja Sher Muhammad Khan, who is a frontier soldier himself, openly-claimed these provinces of military importance to be under “Muslim endeavour, Muslim energy, and Muslim capacity.” He explained: “The Punjab is the shield, spearhead and sword-hand of India, and it has won this proud title by its association with the flower of the British Army in every campaign in Asia. . . . It was the Punjabi soldier with his simple life and sturdy spirit who saved India during the confusion and anarchy of the Mutiny.” This martial lad further demanded that India’s army “must be kept free from the ebb and flow of Assembly-politics,” i.e., parliamentary control!

The British working class must note what all this means. The Labour Government is creating a machinery, ostensibly in India, which will place the British War Office above the control of Parliament for at least starting upon a world-war. The Viceroy and his military officers, with the excuse of some forged document or false charges, may invade Southern China and Southern Russia without going to Parliament at all. They will have 500,000 soldiers, mountain-loads of munitions, and arbitrary money-grants in India, and once the War is commenced, it will of course become a British War, and the resources of the Empire will be called out as a patriotic duty to assist the armies locked up in Central Asia.

The unity of India will be destroyed, and like post-war Europe, India will be broken up into rival communities and small provincial countries at the mercy of some big protective military power, which of course will be the benevolent British Viceroy.

Such are the schemes of mice and men who sat for 10 weeks in a gilded chamber at St. James’ Palace in London with nocturnal banquets and diurnal oratory of self-adulation. These schemes would not affect the workers and peasants of India, who are in fact to be ignored. It will be up to the Communist Party in India to set to work to organise the peasantry and the industrial workers in factories and services for their own liberation and victory. If proof was at all needed, the Round Table Conference has supplied it that colour of skin does not make fighters for mass liberty. There are three white comrades held by the British Labour Government in the gaol at Meerut under a scandalous form of trial now lasting for nearly two years, and there are brown Princes and dark politicians who are feasting and drinking and dancing in London halls with MacDonald and Henderson. The great test has proved to India’s proletariat that your princes, landlords and merchants are agents of tyrants, foreign or home-grown, and your fight against the tyrant must be against the tyrants’ agents, as well as the tyrants themselves.

There is still of course the great middle-class movement for independence under the Congress flag. Who can deny that so far it has demonstrated great solidarity and determination? Having for the moment captured the imagination of the people in cities and towns and selected rural areas, it is under the Congress flag that many militant elements are fighting in a way which is not of the orthodox Congress direction. The Red-shirts of Peshawar, the heroes of the Garwhal regiment, the militant champions at Sholapur and Chittagong, and the armed foresters of Burmah are fighting in their own way for that ideal of independence which the Lahore Congress resolution has set before them. Old men and coy maidens from well-to-do middle-class families and youths of different types are mobilising themselves by hundreds of thousands as they never did before to share in the day-to-day events and detached programmes of demonstrations or processions. Their spirit and determination are admirable and wonderful and neither prison-cells nor batons, nor to many even the bullets become any deterrent. I have seen a picture of the members of the Belgaum (south of Poona) Rifle Association at practice. There are young men with Gandhi caps and uniforms of “non-violence” volunteers handling and firing their rifles on the practice range, and in another picture are Hindu girls doing the same with all the potentialities of Red Army girls that one sees among the Russian factory workers. How long this spirit of legitimate militancy and the discipline of non-violence will be sheltered under one common political roof is problematic.

The Round Table Conference proceedings in London are counted upon by some to be the dividing knife. We need not be unjust to men and women whose liberties are deprived and who are in an oppressor’s prison for an ideal of their own, but too much is said in and around the Round Table Conference to be completely ignored.

Mr. Jayakar, who had been the tool of the Viceroy to induce Congress leaders in prison to desert the Congress Resolution for complete independence separate from the British Empire and to come to London, has openly announced in one of his speeches that the Congress leaders whom he saw in prison do not mean to fight for or to secure independence, that they merely used the language of the bargainer and asked for 16 annas and meant to receive only 14, and with some form of responsible government, with “safeguards” attached, these leaders would accept and work the scheme and the cry of Independence would not be heard. This is either Jayakar’s meanness or his information. The London Branch of the Congress has challenged him in vain. It is for these leaders and other Congress officials in India to deal with this very serious allegation.

Mr. Jayakar’s colleague, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, has spoken similarly. He is prepared to have the Federal scheme accepted and worked by the Congress leaders and by all the “sane elements” inside the Congress, and then he is confident of fighting all the Congress Extremists and Communists. This is another prophecy or another wicked allegation. Which is it? And now once again Lord Irwin himself has turned very, very respectful to his prisoner, “Mr.” Gandhi, to whom he sends forth a new appeal for a change of heart and for acknowledging the saintly services of the British Imperialist when he goes abroad, such as recent shootings in Tharrawaddy, the executions in. Sholapur and the batons and bullets in Bombay. Will the Congress budge?

Two speakers—both ex-officials and never enthusiastic Congressmen themselves—have openly said that the present Congress movement depends for its plentiful supply of money on merchants and tradespeople who are disappointed with the present policy of partiality towards the British mercantile community in India. They are hopeful that these traders will now find their ambitions largely satisfied in the new arrangement and proposed constitution, and their falling away with their purses would weaken a good many of Congress demonstrations, and its influence.

So far Mr. Gandhi has urged an attitude of very benevolent neutrality towards Indian princes; now these princes are breaking their neutrality and are becoming a part of the governance of India within and for the British Empire. This in itself forms a new challenge for action to the Congress leaders. The vigorous youth movement, the loosely associated factory workers, the militant peasantry, and all fighting elements, can hardly wait and complacently watch new conversations and new groupings or revisions of policy and methods. Also a discriminatory amnesty by the Viceroy will create a new tendency. All this is bound to bring about some changes in the genuinely anti-imperialist sections of the middle-class and the way for a Communist organisation working towards a Soviet India will become clearer and clearer.