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THE NATIONAL INDIAN CONGRESS.
The city of Bombay was the scene of a remarkable gathering at the close of last year. On the last three days of November a National Indian Congress assembled to deliberate upon the state of India, and, after full discussion, to embody their wishes in a series of resolutions for the information of the people and Government of Great Britain. In taking to itself the designation of National' the Congress accurately described its character. Representatives were there assembled from Calcutta, Madras, Poona, Allahabad, Lahorein a word, from every part of British India. The proceedings were conducted throughout in the English language. The speeches, while clear and explicit upon the urgent need of various reforms, were characterised by a spirit of genuine loyalty to the established order of things; and the resolutions, as I hope to show presently, were remarkable not less for their practical sagacity than for their moderation. The Congress broke up with the determination to reassemble—but this time at Calcutta-on the 28th of December, 1886. Now, this Congress is, to my mind, one of the most extraordinary occurrences that are to be found during the period of British rule in India. Many may dislike it, but it would be the merest folly to underrate its profound importance. It is like the handwriting on the wall of Belshazzar's palace. It shows that the time has passed when the paternal despotism we have hitherto maintained in India could satisfy the new life and the new desires which the English language and English literature have breathed into the population. The voices which tell us of this great fact are altogether friendly. The debt of gratitude is freely admitted, and they only call upon us to worthily complete the work which has been begun. It rests with the people and their leaders in this country to determine the character of the response that shall be given to the appeal thus made from India.
The first resolution earnestly recommends that the impending inquiry into the condition of India should be entrusted to a Royal Commission, the people of India being adequately represented thereon, and evidence taken both in India and in England.' So far as the nomination of a Royal Commission is concerned, this resolution
has been anticipated by a refusal. The Ministry has decided to be guided by former precedents, and to entrust the inquiry to a parliamentary committee. There can be no question that a Royal Commission would have been the better and more efficient machinery. At the same time it is essential to point out that if the inquiries of the committee are carried on according to the practice hitherto, they will be almost useless. The evidence taken before the parliamentary committees of 1853 is contained in about a dozen bulky volumes, and was obtained almost wholly from English officials employed either in India or at the India Office, then located in Leadenhall Street. A few missionaries were also examined; but of the people of the country there were no representatives beyond three or four Parsees from Bombay. And yet, even in those days, those who make it their business to go through this voluminous evidence will find that by far the most valuable portions of it are contained in the appendices, in the form of petitions drawn up by native associations at the chief presidency towns. I would draw the especial attention of the student to one from the inhabitants of the town of Madras, giving a truly doleful picture of the fortunes of that presidency since it was privileged to enjoy the 'inestimable blessings of British rule.' The neglect of native evidence in 1853 was a serious misfortune then; to ignore it now would be a political crime.
The Indian National Congress has also expressed its desire that evidence should be taken in India as well as England ; and this is a matter of the greatest importance. The conveyance of native witnesses from India to this country will heavily increase the costs of the inquiry, and even if carried out on the most lavish scale will only inadequately achieve the object desired. There are, it is true, a great number of highly educated and representative men in India who will not be deterred by scruples of caste or other hindrances from coming to this country; but there are also many—and these witnesses of a perfectly indispensable kind—who will be so deterred. An inquiry into the condition of India will be a very imperfect and unsatisfactory affair which does not include within its scope the state of feeling in the independent native states, and their political relations with the supreme power. Those best fitted to furnish information upon these points are men like Sir Dinkur Rao, Sir Salar Jung, Sir Mahdava Rao, and others whose position and occupations render it impossible for them to come to England. In British India, also, there are scores of native gentlemen held in the highest esteem among their countrymen, distinguished for their ability, their knowledge, and their public spirit, but who, from one cause or another, could not leave India.
Resolution No. 2 records that, 'in the opinion of the Congress, the abolition of the Council of the Secretary of State for India, as at present constituted, is the necessary preliminary to all other reforms.' Personally, I cannot but rejoice at this frank expression of opinion. I believe that I may claim to be first in the field in drawing attention to the anomalous and inconvenient character of this singular body, and in advocating its dissolution. Its extreme unpopularity in India with all classes_officials, unofficial Europeans, and the people—is notorious, and the reason of it easy to divine. Either the members of the Indian Council do, or do not, exercise a prevailing authority over the Secretary of State for India. If they do not—if, as some people allege who ought to know, they are little more than very highly paid clerks—then clearly the sooner that such a costly and superfluous body is dissolved the better. If, on the other hand, they do determine the policy of the Secretary of State, on what ground is the judgment of the India Council held to be of higher authority than the judgment of instructed official opinion upon the spot ? The probability is that the former alternative is the more correct of the two. The members of the Indian Council—such of them at least as are retired Indian officials—are doubtless content, for the most part, at the close of a laborious life, to draw their twelve hundred a year, and live very much at their ease in Zion. But the world has no evidence of this.
And practically it comes to this, that the final appeal in all matters Indian is supposed by the people of Great Britain and India to rest with a secret and irresponsible conclave of fifteen retired Indian officials. No institution could be imagined more repugnant to the spirit of British politics than this, and the profound hostility with which the princes and people of India regard it is most natural and inevitable. The Parliament of Great Britain is the tribunal to which the people of India look in all cases of collision between them and the Indian bureaucracy; but by this singular device of an Indian Council we have contrived to build up a second dead wall of officialism, an inner line of defence so to speak, beyond which the petitioners for Parliamentary interposition feel that they are unable to force their way.
Resolution No. 3 states that in the opinion of the Congress it is essential that the Supreme and Provincial Councils should be rendered largely representative, that all budgets should be referred to these councils for consideration; their members being, however, empowered to interpellate the Executive in regard to all branches of the Administration. This particular change I have already advocated in a pamphlet on The Poverty in India, and its Remedies. Its expediency can hardly be denied by any one outside the charmed official circle. There are very few subjects connected with British rule in India on which we find two Indian officials in agreement; but there is one on which I believe that they are practically unanimous, and that is, that legislation in India is always legislation in the dark. It is impossible to ascertain beforehand with any degree of complete
ness or certainty either the wishes of the people or the probable consequences of the proposed legislation. And why is this? Simply because we have not called in the advice and assistance of the leaders of the people. There is no question here of the comparative ability of Englishmen and Indians. The knowledge of the Indian is altogether indispensable to the good government of the country. It is not only unjust to the people, but it is in the highest degree prejudicial to ourselves, to go on educating Indians to a knowledge of their political disabilities, to inspire them with political ambition by making them aware of their own abilities, and yet to provide no field for the intellectual activities that we have roused from sleep. The educated Indians are fully aware of the great importance of introducing a representative element into the Supreme and Provincial Councils. At the Congress, as elsewhere, they laid greater stress upon this than admission to the Covenanted Civil Service, and in so doing they exhibit true political insight. Representative government is the parent of all political reform, and, as Mr. Banerjee pointed out in a speech upon this subject, the constituencies from which to obtain fitting representatives are ready to hand. They will, to quote his words, consist of the local bodies which Lord Ripon's scheme of local self-government has called forth into existence. They will comprise the public bodies, such as the chambers of commerce, the trades associations, the British Indian Association, and other similar associations. Let these constituencies send their members to the Legislative Council. With reference to the local bodies, I would suggest that the municipalities of district towns should each send a member to the Legislative Council, or that all the municipalities of a district in conference assembled might select a member to represent them in Council. The whole country, with all its districts, would thus be represented. Local and national self-government would thus be interwoven together, and the independence of the local bodies would be secured. The office of municipal commissioner would thus be a passport to still higher distinctions. With regard to the powers and functions of the Council, I would say that they should have some control over finance, and should be invested with the right of interpellation. The right of interpellation is a valued privilege. It will be useful to the Government; it will be the safeguard of popular rights. If there are unfounded statements in the newspapers, the Government will have an opportunity of clearing them away. If there are erring magistrates, guilty of highhandedness, the right will soon enable the popular leaders in the Council to call them to account.
Resolution 4 demands that greater facilities should be granted the people of India for admission into the Covenanted Civil Service. I regret this resolution. The time seems to have arrived for the gradual extinction of this exclusive service and the breaking down of the walls of partition which divide what are called subordinate' services from the higher. The urgent need of economy, apart from all other considerations, imperatively demands that the Civil Service, as a separate body, should cease to exist, because not until this has been done will it be possible to proportion the salaries of public servants to the resources of the country which they govern. And not only in the Covenanted Civil Service do sound policy and equity require a larger introduction of the native element: the need for it is much more urgent in the subordinate services, and what may be described as the non-political' branches of the Administration. In the protest' against the Income Tax Bill, drawn up by the Indian Association of Calcutta, I find the following remarkable statements :
Lord Ripon recorded a resolution which distinctly laid down that at least onefourth of the appointments in the junior grades of the Survey Department should be held by natives of India. The Committee notice with regret that not a single appointment has yet been made in favour of a native of India under the terms of the resolution. In November 1879 Lord Lytton recorded a resolution in favour of the appointment of natives to the higher ranks of the Railway Traffic Department. It should be clearly understood (observed this resolution) that all posts in the revenue establishment of State railways are open to natives of India ; and as men in every respect qualified for the superior grades are found, the Government of India will be glad to receive from local administrations recommendations for this employment in suitable positions ;' yet to this time not a single native of India has been appointed to the office of traffic or of assistant traffic superintendent,
Attached to this protest ’ is a statement showing the proportion in which Indians and Europeans are to be found in various branches of the Administration, which is highly instructive as showing the manner in which State patronage is distributed in British India. I have not room to give the statement entire, but I select one or two typical examples. The Bengal Opium Department is one to which no political character belongs, and where Indians, one would think, could hardly fail to be more efficient than Englishmen, and yet in this department no native can be nominated to an office with a salary beyond 100 rupees a month ; and as a matter of fact, no native is in it at all. In the Postal Department the highest salary attached to the service is 2,000 rupees a month : the highest which a native of India can get is 600 rupees. In the Preventive and Salt Department the highest salary attached to the service is 1,000 rupees a month : the highest which a native of India can get is less than 100 rupees. In the Jail Department the highest salary is 2,000 rupees a month: the highest which a native of India can get is less than 100 rupees. And so on through all the departments. It is manifestly absurd to pretend that this profoundly unjust allotment of State patronage is occasioned by the lack of fit men among the children of the soil. The Indian delegates who visited this country a few months ago were, I take it, average specimens of the class to which they belong-the class, I mean, which has addressed itself with a kind of passion to the acquisition of the English language; and who that saw these men can doubt that they were fitted, both by ability and natural integrity,for the discharge of responsible public duties?
The fifth resolution runs as follows: "That in the opinion of this Congress the proposed increase in the military expenditure of the