The New Nationalist Movement in India

Four decades before Indian independence, a writer raises the question, "Why is England in India at all?"
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Fifty years ago the people were consulted and conciliated in ways that would not now be thought of. Then the government did not hesitate to hold before the people the ideal of increasing political privileges, responsibilities, and advantages. It was freely given out that the purpose of the government was to prepare the people for self-rule. Now no promise or intimation of anything of the kind is ever heard from any one in authority. Everywhere in India one finds Englishmen—officials and others—with few exceptions—regarding this kind of talk as little better than treason. The Civil Service of India is reasonably efficient, and to a gratifying degree free from peculation and corruption. But the government is as complete a bureaucracy as that of Russia. Indeed it is no exaggeration to say that, as a bureaucracy, it is as autocratic, as arbitrary in its methods, as reactionary in its spirit, as far removed from sympathy with the people, as determined to keep all power in its own hands, as unwilling to consult the popular wishes, or to listen to the voice of the most enlightened portion of the nation, even when expressed through the great and widely representative Indian National Congress, as is the Russian bureaucracy. Proof of this can be furnished to any amount.

It is said that India is incapable of ruling herself. If so, what an indictment is this against England! She was not incapable of ruling herself before England came. Have one hundred and fifty years of English tutelage produced in her such deterioration? As we have seen, she was possessed of a high civilization and of developed governments long before England or any part of Europe had emerged from barbarism. For three thousand years before England's arrival, Indian kingdoms and empires had held leading places in Asia. Some of the ablest rulers, statesmen, and financiers of the world have been of India's production. How is it, then, that she loses her ability to govern herself as soon as England appears upon the scene? To be sure, at that time she was in a peculiarly disorganized and unsettled state; for it should be remembered that the Mogul Empire was just breaking up, and new political adjustments were everywhere just being made,—a fact which accounts for England's being able to gain a political foothold in India. But everything indicates that if India had not been interfered with by European powers, she would soon have been under competent governments of her own again.

A further answer to the assertion that India cannot govern herself—and surely one that should be conclusive—is the fact that, in parts, she is governing herself now, and governing herself well. It is notorious that the very best government in India to-day is not that carried on by the British, but that of several of the native states, notably Baroda and Mysore. In these states, particularly Baroda, the people are more free, more prosperous, more contented, and are making more progress, than in any other part of India. Note the superiority of both these states in the important matter of popular education. Mysore is spending on education more than three times as much per capita as is British India, while Baroda has made her education free and compulsory. Both of these states, but especially Baroda, which has thus placed herself in line with the leading nations of Europe and America by making provision for the education of all her children, may well be contrasted with British India, which provides education, even of the poorest kind, for only one boy in ten and one girl in one hundred and forty-four.

The truth is, not one single fact can be cited that goes to show that India cannot govern herself,—reasonably well at first, excellently well later,—if only given a chance. It would not be difficult to form an Indian Parliament to-day, composed of men as able and of as high character as those that constitute the fine Parliament of Japan, or as those that will be certain to constitute the not less able national Parliament of China when the new constitutional government of that nation comes into operation. This is only another way of saying that among the leaders in the various states and provinces of India there is abundance of material to form an Indian National Parliament not inferior in intellectual ability or in moral worth to the parliaments of the Western world.

We have now before us the data for understanding, at least in a measure, the meaning of the "New National Movement in India." It is the awakening and the protest of a subject people. It is the effort of a nation, once illustrious, and still conscious of its inherent superiority, to rise from the dust, to stand once more on its feet, to shake off fetters which have become unendurable. It is the effort of the Indian people to get for themselves again a country which shall be in some true sense their own, instead of remaining, as for a century and a half it has been, a mere preserve of a foreign power,—in John Stuart Mill's words, England's "cattle farm." The people of India want the freedom which is their right,—freedom to shape their own institutions, their own industries, their own national life. This does not necessarily mean separation from Great Britain; but it does mean, if retaining a connection with the British Empire, becoming citizens,and not remaining forever helpless subjectsin the hands of irresponsible masters. It does mean a demand that India shall be given a place in the Empire essentially like that of Canada or Australia,with such autonomy and home rule as are enjoyed by these free, self-governing colonies. Is not this demand just? Not only the people of India, but many of the best Englishmen, answer unequivocally, Yes! In the arduous struggle upon which India has entered to attain this end (arduous indeed her struggle must be, for holders of autocratic and irresponsible power seldom in this world surrender their power without being compelled) surely she should have the sympathy of the enlightened and liberty-loving men and women of all nations.

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