The Nationalist Movement in India may well interest Americans. Lovers of progress and humanity cannot become acquainted with it without discovering that it has large significance, not only to India and Great Britain, but to the world. That the movement is attracting much attention in England (as well as awakening some anxiety there, because of England's connection with India) is well known to all who read the British periodical press, or follow the debates of Parliament, or note the public utterances from time to time of Mr. John Morley (now Lord Morley), the British Secretary of State for India.
What is this new Indian movement? What has brought it into existence? What is its justification, if it has a justification? What does it portend as to the future of India, and the future relations between India and Great Britain?
In order to find answers to these questions we must first of all get clearly in mind the fact that India is a subject land. She is a dependency of Great Britain, not a colony. Britain has both colonies and dependencies. Many persons suppose them to be identical; but they are not. Britain's free colonies, like Canada and Australia, though nominally governed by the mother country, are really self-ruling in everything except their relations to foreign powers. Not so with dependencies like India. These are granted no self-government, no representation; they are ruled absolutely by Great Britain, which is not their "mother" country, but their conqueror and master.
As the result of a pretty wide acquaintance in England, and a residence of some years in Canada, I am disposed to believe that nowhere in the world can be found governments that are more free, that better embody the intelligent will of their people, or that better serve their people's many-sided interests and wants, than those of the self-ruling colonies of Great Britain. I do not see but that these colonies are in every essential way as free as if they were full republics. Probably they are not any more free than the people of the United States, but it is no exaggeration to say that they are as free. Their connection with England, their mother country, is not one of coercion; it is one of choice; it is one of reverence and affection. That the British Government insures such liberty in its colonies, is a matter for congratulation and honorable pride. In this respect it stands on a moral elevation certainly equal to that of any government in the world.
Turn now from Britain's colonies to her dependencies. Here we find something for which there does not seem to be a natural place among British political institutions. Britons call their flag the flag of freedom. They speak of the British Constitution, largely unwritten though it is, as a constitution which guarantees freedom to every British subject in the world. Magna Charta meant self-government for the English people. Cromwell wrote on the statute books of the English Parliament, "All just powers under God are derived from the consent of the people." Since Cromwell's day this principle has been fundamental, central, undisputed, in British home politics. It took a little longer to get it recognized in colonial matters. The American Colonies in 1776 took their stand upon it. "Just government must be based on the consent of the governed." "There should be no taxation without representation." These were their affirmations. Burke and Pitt and Fox and the broaderminded leaders of public opinion in England were in sympathy with their American brethren. If Britain had been true to her principle of freedom and self-rule she would have kept her American colonies. But she was not true to it, and so she lost them. Later she came very near losing Canada in the same way. But her eyes were opened in time, and she gave Canada freedom and self-government. This prevented revolt, and fastened Canada to her with hooks of steel. Since this experience with Canada it has been a settled principle in connection with British colonial as well as home politics, that there is no just power except that which is based upon the consent of the governed.
But what are we to do with this principle when we come to dependencies? Is another and different principle to be adopted here? Are there peoples whom it is just to rule without their consent? Is justice one thing in England and Canada,and another in India? It was the belief that what is justice in England and Canada is justice everywhere that made Froude declare, "Free nations cannot govern subject provinces."
Why is England in India at all? Why did she go there at first, and why does she remain? If India had been a comparatively empty land, as America was when it was discovered, so that Englishmen had wanted to settle there and make homes, the reason would have been plain. But it was a full land; and, as a fact, no British emigrants have ever gone to India to settle and make homes. If the Indian people had been savages or barbarians, there might have seemed more reason for England's conquering and ruling them. But they were peoples with highly organized governments far older than that of Great Britain, and with a civilization that had risen to a splendid height before England's was born. Said Lord Curzon, the late Viceroy of India, in an address delivered at the great Delhi Durbar in 1901: "Powerful Empires existed and flourished here [in India] while Englishmen were still wandering painted in the woods, and while the British Colonies were a wilderness and a jungle. India has left a deeper mark upon the history, the philosophy, and the religion of mankind, than any other terrestrial unit in the universe." It is such a land that England has conquered and is holding as a dependency. It is such a people that she is ruling without giving them any voice whatever in the shaping of their own destiny. The honored Canadian Premier, Sir Wilfred Laurier, at the Colonial Conference held in London in connection with the coronation of King Edward, declared, "The Empire of Rome was composed of slave states; the British Empire is a galaxy of free nations." But is India a free nation? At that London Colonial Conference which was called together for consultation about the interests of the entire Empire, was any representative invited to be present from India ? Not one. Yet Lord Curzon declared in his Durbar address in Delhi, that the "principal condition of the strength of the British throne is the possession of the Indian Empire, and the faithful attachment and service of the Indian people." British statesmen never tire of boasting of "our Indian Empire," and of speaking of India as "the brightest jewel in the British crown." Do they reflect that it is virtually a slave empire of which they are so proud; and that this so-called brightest jewel reflects no light of political freedom?