Benjamin G. Horniman

Britain and India

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 2, March, 1922, No. 3, pp. 232-237 (2,100 words)
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[In the last issue of the LABOUR MONTHLY we printed a Socialist analysis of Gandhi’s movement by Evelyn Roy. In the following article we present a Nationalist view from the pen of Mr. B.G. Horniman (the former editor of the “Bombay Chronicle,” who was deported by the British Government in 1919) in the form of a review of Sir Valentine Chirol’s latest book on “India, Old and New.”1 This review gives the opportunity of observing two types of British opinion, that of the official reformer supporting Mr. Montagu’s policy, represented by Sir Valentine Chirol, and that of the whole-hearted sympathiser with the Nationalist movement, who nevertheless hopes to retain India within the Empire, represented by Mr. Horniman. In our next issue we hope, in pursuance of our task of ventilating the various aspects of the Indian question for British readers, to print a special statement direct from Mr. Gandhi.]

SIR VALENTINE CHIROL has paid seventeen visits to India during a period of some forty years. Naturally enough he has become an “authority” on Indian problems in this country, though in India—Indian India—his name provokes resentment and ridicule as the supreme example of the constitutional inability of the Britisher to understand and appreciate them in a sympathetic spirit. At one time he had two obsessions about India; the virtue of British rule and the crime of “Indian unrest,” which, as with many of his contemporaries, occupied more of his attention as an investigator than the larger question of its causes.

The harshness and narrowness of his outlook in former days, however, has not been unaffected by the influence of the great world changes of the last few years, and has given place to an almost genial recognition of India’s claim to the benefit of the ideals for which she was called upon to fight in the war. In “India, Old and New,” he has collected everything he has picked up about India during the past forty years. The result is a somewhat sketchy historical retrospect, of the old Anglo-Indian type, covering all the centuries, and a discussion of the present situation and the future outlook, from the “new angle of vision” created by the war and the Montagu Chelmsford reforms.

But the new angle of vision has not helped Sir Valentine Chirol to a much better grasp of the Indian problem, although he admits that he has modified many of the views he expressed ten years ago in “Indian Unrest.” In August last, when he sent his book to the press, he wrote of the reform scheme of Mr. Montagu as “a great constitutional experiment,” which “promises to rally as seldom before in active support of the British connection those classes that British rule brought within the orbit of Western civilisation by the introduction of English education, just about a century ago.”


The events of the past few months have proved this to be an entirely fallacious supposition. But it is amazing that anyone professing to be in close touch with India, and having just returned from witnessing the uninspiring circumstances of the inauguration of the reforms, could have written such amazing nonsense even eight months ago. It was open to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear even a year ago, when the author of “India, Old and New” was in India, to learn, if his mind was open, too, that this great constitutional experiment was not going to rally even the Moderates; and those who had scientifically studied the provisions and machinery of the Government of India Act, 1920, foresaw that the half-hearted enthusiasts who went into the Councils would quickly realise the extent to which they were being “taken in and done for” as they are already showing signs of doing. But the Indian problem has been persistently mishandled by people who insist on believing in the incredible and pooh-poohing the obvious. And Great Britain will never get rid of it until she realises that Indians are, after all, ordinary human beings like ourselves, with minor psychological differences, who want to manage their own affairs; and want it the more because others have made such a shocking mess of the business.

There is no excuse for Sir Valentine Chirol. He has been to India often enough; he was there soon after the birth of the Non-Co-operation movement. He talked to Mr. Gandhi and must have seen everything there was to be seen. Moreover, to do him justice, he fully realises and gives a very proper reckoning of the crimes committed against the Indian people in 1919, which have so accentuated their determination to rid themselves of British rule; and he admits the gravity of the failure adequately to punish the criminals. He is quite astray on the Mahomedan question, which seems to be the result of association with a pernicious type of person known as the “loyal” or “conservative” Mahomedan, who is always thrown into the arms of investigators by the officials, combined with a certain amount of preconception about the spiritual relation of Mahomedan India to the Sultan of Turkey as the Caliph of Islam. That is a question about which no non-Mussulman is competent to argue. Even if it were true that the recognition of the Sultan as Caliph by Indian Mahomedans is of quite recent origin—and it is not true—it would be quite beside the point. The fact to be faced by people in this country is that all Mahomedan India is united on this point, and its aid in the war was bought by the most solemn pledges ever made by a British Minister, that their religious scruples in this regard would be respected when the settlement with Turkey was made. Sir Valentine Chirol is quite wrong when he makes the amazing statement that “not till towards the conclusion of the war did the Mahomedan extremists discover a special grievance for their own community in the peace terms likely to be imposed upon a beaten Turkey.” The question caused the most intense anxiety to, and agitation among, the whole Mahomedan community from the earliest stages of the war. In 1915 the proposal was mooted of an All-India deputation to the Viceroy for the purpose of impressing upon the Government the resentment that would be engendered by any attempt to interfere with the temporal authority of the Sultan-Caliph, or in any way to disturb the integrity of the Caliphate as represented in his person. Then and afterwards this unrest in the Mahomedan community was only held in check by a policy of repression and internments and the profuse assurances offered by the central and provincial governments, which were finally sealed by the specific pledges of the Prime Minister. Sir Valentine Chirol suggests that the whole Caliphate agitation has been engineered and fostered by unscrupulous extremists for purely political purposes. He presents such a travesty of the history of this question as to deprive him of any claim to write on it as an authority.

His scepticism of the genuineness and disbelief in the permanence of Hindu-Mussulman unity, again, shows that, despite his apparently sincere effort to adjust his angle of vision to a changed India, his observation has been no less superficial than it used to be. There is no less reason that Hindus and Mussulmans should not find unity in their common nationhood as Indians, than that Protestants and Roman Catholics or Englishmen, Scotsmen and Welshmen should not be able to live and act together in unity, as in fact they do. If Mahomedans had not been deliberately and persistently encouraged by British officialdom to believe that their political interests lay in an alliance with the bureaucracy against the “Hindu Congress,” it is doubtful whether there would ever have been political disunity as there was in the past. Religious strife, it is true, there has been from time to time. But most religious riots can be traced to the bungling interference of officials and often to deliberate favouritism, and it is noteworthy that the sort of outbreaks that occur in British India are very rare in the Native States. People who have lived in India and really entered into the lives of the people, who have seen how closely and amicably interwoven are the two communities, the closeness of their social intercourse and the thorough friendliness of their every-day relations, are able to possess a firm belief in Hindu-Mussulman national unity, once the sense of nationhood and realisation of common interests has been aroused. Nor could anyone who has been associated with, or a keen and sympathetic observer of, the movement and the events of the past few years doubt the genuineness of the great rapprochement which brought Hindus into the mosques and Mahomedans into the temples, a phenomenon the sincerity of which Sir Valentine Chirol refuses to admit.


Sir Valentine Chirol is impressed by the mesmeric influence of Mr. Gandhi’s extraordinary personality, but, like most of the latter’s English critics, the combination of religion and political leadership is more than he can stomach. There are no limits, he says, to the disastrous lengths to which a people may not be carried by one who combines such qualities or functions. Equally, one may say, there are no limits to the beneficent results that may be achieved by a man who brings to a political struggle an almost unexampled saintliness of character and a rigid determination to adhere to truth and proclaim the gospel of love. Our sordid politics are so steeped in materialism and selfishness that, like Mr. Massingham, who refuses to believe that a journalist can be a saint—which is natural enough after so long an experience of English journalism—Sir Valentine Chirol cannot bring himself to believe even in the possibility of Mahatma Gandhi’s programme producing a better India than Mr. Montagu’s dyarchic Government. Must we always deny Christ?

But Mahatma Gandhi is not altogether the difficult and impossible person that his critics would have us believe. Honestly convinced that an alien Government that produces Amritsars and will not be persuaded to do penance for them by adequately repudiating and punishing the officers responsible for the misdeeds done in its name is “satanic”; equally convinced of the steady deterioration and demoralisation undergone by a people subjected to foreign domination, he believes it to be essential to the recovery of their self-respect and the natural and healthy development of their national state that they should rid themselves of the alien yoke and regain control of their own destiny. In the case of India there is only one way to the speedy realisation of the goal, which is, not by learning the art of self-government at the hands of Mr. Montagu, through a long period of humiliating and demoralising tutelage, but by refusing co-operation with the unwanted alien administration. Being a sincerely religious man, he is unable to divorce his religion from his politics, and the Indian people, being for the most part a sincerely religious people, have found in him just the sort of leader they wanted.

But let it not be supposed that his mesmeric personality and his association of religion with what we regard as a political movement is the sole secret of his tremendous power and influence and the rapid growth of the Non-Co-operation movement to gigantic proportions in the face of prophecies to the contrary by such authorities on India as Lord Chelmsford, who declared, over a year ago, that the movement would shortly die of its own inanity. Take away Gandhi to-morrow and the movement will still be there, for the secret of his emergence to power and a popular worship, that is akin almost to idolatry, is because the people have been waiting for him. It has been patent to those who know the mind of India for years past, that the first man who came out to show them the road to freedom, without compromise, would sweep the country. That is what makes the futility of people like Sir Valentine Chirol, who talk about rallying the educated classes by illusory constitutional reform; so tragic. The only wise course to pursue with India, at this juncture, is to invite her leaders, as the Sinn Fein leaders were invited, to sit down and discuss how the fullest reasonable measure of self-government and national independence can be reconciled with association with the British Commonwealth, combining the recognition of freedom with the interests of both sides.



1.  “India, Old and New.” By Sir Valentine Chirol. Macmillan and Co., Ltd. 10s.