Origins of India’s Constitutional Politics: Bengal 1913

This is a 1913 photograph of the Indian members of the  first Bengal Legislative Council elected (in 1912)  after the 1909 Morley-Minto reforms; the members apparently were being greeted by gentlemen of the sub-urban areas south of Calcutta.  The Englishman sitting at the centre  seems to be Sir Henry Cotton (1845-1915), the 1904 President of the Indian National Congress and a  great political friend of India.   To his right sits Surendranath Roy, who may have been the Council’s first President.

 

Academic studies include notably those by JH Broomfield, “The Vote and the Transfer of Power: A Study of the Bengal Election 1912-1913” Journal of Asian Studies, Feb 1962, his book Elite Conflict in a   Plural Society: 20th Century Bengal (Berkeley 1968); and Rajat Kanta Ray, Social Conflict and Political Unrest in Bengal 1875-1927 (Oxford 1984).  Professor Ray writes about the 1912 election: “Only  a few candidates of the “Popular Party” — Surendranath Banerjea, Abul Kasim, Byomkesh Chakravarti and Surendranath Ray — scraped through…. (A) sympathetic moderate wrote in 1919: ‘The Popular Party is a bundle of disjoined units which cannot resist the slightest pressure from without.’  This charge was eventually disproved by the stand taken by (the Popular Party) in the Bengal Legislative Council.  It showed no sign of wilting under the pressure exerted by the European group…”

 

Other studies of the period include John R McLane, Indian Nationalism and the Early Congress (Princeton 1977), Anil Seal, The Emergence of Indian Nationalism (Cambridge 1971),  Gordon Johnson, Provincial Politics and Indian Nationalism (Cambridge 1973) etc.

By way of incidental reference, the young Jawaharlal Nehru had returned from his studies in England in 1912; MK Gandhi was still in South Africa and would not be returning until 1915.  The Tilak-Gokhale clash though had been in full swing since 1907.

 

 

Subroto Roy

Nota Bene: The text and photograph in this post may be considered in the public domain and may be freely used for purposes of a Wikipedia article or any other publication in the common interest.

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Lessons from the 1962 War: there are distinct Tibetan, Chinese and Indian points of view that need to be mutually comprehended

Prefatory Note: This is part of a series of articles published in The Statesman since October 2007 and republished here, viz., Understanding China, India-USA Interests, China’s India Aggression, Surrender or Fight?, China’s Commonwealth, Nixon & Mao vs India, China’s India Example and China’s Force and Diplomacy. See https://independentindian.com/2009/09/19/my-ten-articles-on-china-tibet-xinjiang-taiwan-in-relation-to-india/

Lessons from the 1962 War

 

 

Beginnings of a solution to the long-standing border problem: there are distinct Tibetan, Chinese and Indian points of view that need to be mutually comprehended.

 

 

SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Sunday Statesman, January 13 2008,  Editorial Page Special Article

 

 

WAR is an existential experience from which nations emerge altered, reflective and sometimes more mature. Germany tried to purge anti-Jewish hatred, Japan to adopt pacifism, Britain to break class-structures, Russia to explode Stalin’s cult. America learnt little from its Vietnam debacle, creating new tactics and technologies to reduce American casualties in war but not showing any improved capacity to comprehend the world beyond its shores and borders.

 

 

India after the 1962 defeat by Mao’s China learnt less than was possible and necessary to do. The Government’s official history concluded: “In a fundamental sense, the origins of the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict lay in Chinese expansionism and occupation of Tibet. The issue got further aggravated due to failure of the Chinese to win over the Tibetans. Indian asylum to the Dalai Lama raised Chinese suspicions about ultimate Indian intentions. On the other hand, India, while tacitly accepting the Chinese occupation of Tibet through a treaty in 1954, failed to obtain any quid pro quo on the border issue.” This is true enough but a deeper probe is also possible.

 

 

India’s 20th Century political and intellectual leadership may have grossly failed to comprehend critical world events in a realistic manner, specifically Vladimir Ulyanov’s German-assisted Bolshevik coup d’etat, the Kuomintang and Maoist takeovers in China, as well as India’s own struggle for Independence. After BG Tilak, Annie Besant, GK Gokhale and other founders of Indian nationalism passed from the scene, leaders arose like MK Gandhi, MA Jinnah, SC Bose and J Nehru who tended to be consumed, to lesser or greater extent, by their own hubris and were less able to see India’s fortunes and capacities in context of a larger world. None had military, administrative or public finance experience needed for practical government; instead there arose almost a new hereditary caste of the “professional politician” who has no other vocation or anything better to do in life. Nazi-admirers like Mashriqi and Rahmat Ali among Muslims and the Mahasabha and RSS among Hindus also lent mainstream Indian nationalism a harsh distasteful colouration.

 

 

Czechoslovakia’s great nationalist Masaryk (who famously denounced Austro-Hungary as a “corrupt, pretentious, senseless relic”) was said to be “a leader who planned further ahead than his contemporaries, understood the corroding effects of power, the vital need of restraint in the ruler, and above all the need for taking the nation into his confidence, educating it in the sense of drawing out all its innate qualities and sharing its manifold aspirations” (Seton-Watson). India’s clear-headed statesmen of that calibre were not among its most visible or ambitious. Vallabhbhai Patel, MAK Azad, C Rajagopalachari and others were left on the sidelines of free India’s politics ~ as Plato predicted, the genuine pilot of the ship of state will be hardly invited to take its wheel nor even want to do so.

 

 

Nehru alone, as chosen by Gandhi, came to wield actual power in the 1950s, having maneuvered Rajendra Prasad to being President. And Nehru, besotted in middle age with a married British woman, seemed awestruck by appearance of a victorious Maoist communism in China just as he had been adoring of Stalin’s Russia two decades earlier. The Congress’s friends among India’s official Communists and fellow-travelers never had much original indigenous grassroots support and always looked abroad for guidance. Non-alignment needed to be made of sterner stuff.

 

 

Nehru’s flawed management of the relationship with Communist China included not merely choosing a favourite like Krishna Menon to head India’s military, but also imagining himself a competent world diplomatist. Girja Shankar Bajpai would have been far superior as India’s first Foreign Minister. In 1952, Bajpai, then Governor of Bombay, wrote to Nehru saying India should inform Zhou Enlai the McMahon Line was firm in law and non-negotiable.

 

 

Was the McMahon Line firm and just? Nehru was no Curzon but it was as a Curzonian imperialist that Mao and Zhou saw him. All Chinese, whether Communist or Nationalist, chafed at the way the Manchu-dynasty’s Empire had been carved up. “China is our India” was Czarist Russia’s intent towards China itself. China had an awful political and military history from when foreign depredations began in the 1840s all the way until the Mao-Zhou era ended in the 1970s. Indeed China’s polity between the 1840s and 1940s suffered far greater chaos and anarchy than India’s in the same period.

 

 

From a Chinese standpoint, Younghusband’s diplomatic and military invasion of Gyantze and Lhasa in 1903-1904 was an insult they had been unable to militarily confront. Curzon sent Younghusband’s expedition because there appeared to be Russian intrigues with the Dalai Lama via the Russian/Mongolian agent Dorjiev who had transmitted Russian ideas of extending its new Siberian railway to Lhasa and posting Cossack soldiers there. The Russians seemed to want to adopt the Dalai Lama given his religious influence over Mongolia. The British were alarmed and determined to annihilate the influence of Dorjiev which they did. Thence came the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1907 which specified British and Russian spheres of influence in Iran and Afghanistan, and stated Tibet would be dealt with internationally only through the Chinese Empire. The McMahon Line, as a recognition of the traditional boundary, flowed naturally from the legitimacy of the Anglo-Russian Treaty. As for Sinkiang, though a Chinese province since 1884 it came to be ruled by warlords under Russian influence.

 

 

The Mao-Zhou war machine was determined to take over and militarily hold both Sinkiang and Tibet as an assertion of new China’s self-definition against Russia and Britain; hence their denunciation of Nehru as a pawn first of Britain and then of Russia. China building a road surreptitiously between Sinkiang and Tibet through Aksai Chin was reminiscent of Russia’s coercive behaviour against China in building the Trans-Siberian Railway through Chinese territory to Vladivostok. At worst, the Indians would have to admit that erstwhile J&K State since October 1947 had become an ownerless entity whose unclaimed territory had been carved up by force by the new Pakistan, new India and new China.

 

 

From an Indian standpoint, the traditional recognised boundary placed Aksai Chin clearly in Ladakh and not Tibet. Aksai Chain is a salt pit without “a blade of grass” but for all anyone knows, it could be rich in minerals. Karakorum Pass is also newly valuable to the Chinese as they seek to develop a land-route from Baluchistan’s Gwadar Port through Pakistan to China. If India has lost Aksai Chin and Karakorum Pass by force of arms without compensation, force of arms may be the only means of retrieval. Due compensation from China could be Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan, and China seems once to have mentioned mutual perpetual lease of Aksai Chin and Chumbi Valley.

 

 

From a Tibetan point of view, the Amban representing the Chinese Emperor was driven out of Lhasa in 1912 and Tibet was independent of China for 38 years. Tibet has as much of a claim to be independent of China as Poland or Ukraine have had to be of Russia. As for the McMahon Line, it is indeed legally non-negotiable between China and India as it flowed directly out of the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1907, and it was under that Treaty that China received international recognition of its formal suzerainty over Tibet since 1720 until that time. Mao once likened Tibet to the palm of a hand with Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Assam as five fingers. Modern China must decide between such a metaphor of Maoist expansionism (which India would have to militarily resist) and joining the world of international law created since Grotius. Democratic conditions in Tibet would also have to be insisted upon so the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans may return home from India in peace and freedom.

 

 

Home Team Advantage

Home Team Advantage

On US-Iran talks and Sunni-Shia subtleties: Tehran must transcend its revolution and endorse the principle that the House of Islam has many mansions

First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page, Special Article, June 3 2007


By SUBROTO ROY

On Monday 28 May in Baghdad,the American and Iranian Governments held their first official face-to-face talks in some 26 or 27 years. This sheer fact is a good thing. For more than two years there has been incessant sabre-rattling and gunboat diplomacy by the USA against Iran, as well as provocative words and deeds by Iran’s President against America’s Israeli ally (though it is apparently false his words included saying he wished Israel “wiped off the map”). Palmerston said there are no permanent allies among nations. The last unofficial transactions had to do with the notorious “Iran-contra” affair which blighted Ronald Reagan’s second term as President. Iran was sold American weapons from Israel (yes, the same Iran and same Israel) for use against Iraq (the same Saddam’s Iraq which had been Rumsfeld’s friend and which apparently received American intelligence and logistics help against yes, the same Iran); the moneys the Americans received were then used to pay for anti-Sandinista “contra” forces in Nicaragua (so they could, for example, buy American weapons too). Apart from that unofficial and embarrassing “Iran-contra” affair, the American and Iranian Governments had not had face-to-face discussion since diplomatic relations broke in 1980 during the “hostage crisis”.

Arthur Millspaugh, an American invited by the Iranians to help their public finances, once wrote: “Persia cannot be left to herself, even if the Russians were to keep their hands off politically.… Persia has never yet proved its capacity for independent self-government.” The title of his 1925 book America’s Task in Persia reflected the old paternalist attitude that an imperialist power must necessarily know better than local people what happens to be in their interest in the way a parent knows better than a child. Even that otherwise great libertarian JS Mill himself once suggested that contact with a “superior people” allowed rapid advancement. India’s “Lenin Peace Prize” winner and Soviet sympathiser KPS Menon Sr (grandfather of our present top diplomat) said the same after the 1979 invasion and occupation by the USSR of Afghanistan. Nationalists of all colours and times ~ from Tom Paine, Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty or give me death”) and George Washington to Bal Gangadhar Tilak (“Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it”), Ho Chi Minh and Ayatollah Khomeini ~ would disagree.

Indeed, in the Iranian case, the Khomeini Revolution was the antithesis of the imperialist doctrine. But Iranian revolutionaries then seized the American Embassy on 4 November 1979 and took 66 hostages. Thirteen women and black Americans were released two weeks later; one man was released due to ill-health in July 1980. In a failed attempt to rescue the remaining 52, eight American military personnel died on 25 April 1980. The 52 hostages, including two women and one black, were released on 20 January 1981 under the “Algiers Accord”, a day before Reagan became President. Even if the US Embassy in Tehran had been a den of spies, as the Iranians claimed, the Revolutionary Government could have ordered them all to leave and ended diplomatic relations.

Instead hostages were taken in deliberate violation of international law. The United States Government under duress on 19 January 1981 had to sign the “Algiers Accord”, the first point of which stated: “Non-Intervention in Iranian Affairs: The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.” That was the “blowback” from the coup d’etat against Iran’s democratic government under Mossadeq in 1953 which the CIA had engineered. Modern US-Iran relations have been about two wrongs ~ indeed multiple wrongs ~ not making a right.

From Algiers until the Baghdad meeting there was no official interaction between the USA and Iran (besides the Iran-contra affair and American relief supplies during an Iranian earthquake). The present US-Iran talks had to do with the catastrophic mess in Iraq, and were held via the current Al-Maliki Government of Iraq which is beholden to both as patrons.

Saddam’s Iraq had been officially secular not an “Islamic Republic”. But its Baathist national-socialism (with yes, a few silly Nazi aspects) had been populated mostly by Saddam’s fellow Sunnis, and there was some vicious anti-Shia persecution.
Doctrinally, the Sunni-Shia conflict may have originated during Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime. “In the words of al-Baghdadi, a Sunni is one who believes in the creation of the universe, the unity and pre-existence of its Maker, the apostolate of Muhammad, recognizes and observes the duties of the five prayers, fast of Ramazan, poor-rate and pilgrimage, and does not adulterate his faith with an abominable innovation which leads to heresy.” (Imtiaz Ahmad in Grewal ed. Religious Movements and Institutions in Medieval India, p.277). Shias claim that exegetical authorities, both Sunni and Shia, record the Prophet on 10 March 632 AD at the pool of Ghadir “while returning from his last pilgrimage to Mecca… delivered his farewell address” in which he declared Ali ibn Abi Talib his successor (S. Ali Nadeem Rezavi, ibid., p. 281). No logical contradiction between Sunnis and Shias seems obvious from this.

But there also have been racial and cultural aspects to the division. Arabs, though not Iraqi Arabs, are mostly Sunni while Iranians are mostly Shia. At the same time, Persian culture and history has had incorrigibly Zoroastrian roots just as Egypt was the land of the Pharoahs and Arabia of Meccan paganism. Mesopotamian culture has had Sumerian and Babylonian roots, and Indian Islam has grown among the cultures of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. Intra-Muslim conflict will be reduced only when it becomes generally recognised that the House of Islam has had many mansions.

Saddam’s war against Khomeini’s Iran was not a religious war but one between two putative nation-states. In Iraqi junior schools during the war, a class of 40 pupils could be divided by academic merit such that the top 20 would play brave Iraqis in the school-play ~ the hapless bottom 20 had to play the wicked Persians, leaving them in tears as well as in simulated defeat.

What the current US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq has quite deliberately accomplished is the destruction of Iraq as a putative nation-state and the fanning of mostly suppressed Shia-Sunni differences instead. The idea of “regime-change” in Teheran in the old way of the CIA coup against Mossadeq also has not been far from Anglo-American thinking in the current confrontation with Iran. “Who lost Iran?” was an American political slogan in the 1980s, and there are day-dreamers in Washington think-tanks today who have fantasies of Iran being run by compliant “Iranian-American” émigrés from Los Angeles. But instead the destruction of Saddam’s regime inevitably has led to Iran’s strengthening, as all Iraqi Shia forces made dominant as a result are, at least from a doctrinal standpoint within Islam, united with Tehran to greater or lesser degree. A new Iraq-Iran war is hard to imagine as along as Shias dominate Baghdad’s Government. Iran for its part needs to demonstrate that it has transcended its revolution and that it unequivocally endorses the principle that the House of Islam has many mansions.

The British and Americans are great lovers of sports and inventors of many modern games played on fields around the world, from cricket and soccer to basketball. Their Governments seem to have forgotten in their foreign policy theorising that there is such a thing as “home-team advantage”. Imperialists ultimately can never defeat nationalists, because, at the end of the day, imperialists have to either go home or (as Conrad and Coppola knew) “go native”. In the new Iran-USA talks, both sides may have sensed Iran has the home-team advantage. The most the United States can do to Iran is bomb it and leave.


On Indian Nationhood

On Indian Nationhood
From Tamils To Kashmiris And Assamese And Mizos To Sikhs And Goans

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page

May 25 2007

By Subroto Roy

In the decades before 1947, imperialist critics of Indian nationalism accused the movement of being less about creating Indian nationhood than about supplanting British rule with local Indian oligarchies. Sydenham, for example, in the upper house of Britain’s Parliament in August 1918, gleefully quoted from the “Madras Dravidian Hindu Association” (forerunners of today’s DMK etc): “We shall fight to the last drop of our blood any attempt to transfer the seat of authority in this country from British hands to so-called high-caste Hindus, who have ill-treated us in the past and will do so again but for the protection of British laws.” Also quoted were “Namasudras of Bengal”, allegedly numbering “ten million men”, protesting “gross misrepresentation” by “so-called high-caste leaders” of the desirability of “Home Rule or self-government”. Besides caste and class there was always religion too by which India’s inhabitants could be classified and divided, and it must have delighted Sydenham to quote the “South Indian Islamic League” saying “Nothing should be done which will weaken British authority in any manner whatsoever, and hand over the destinies of the Moslem community to a class which has no regard for their interests and no respect for their sentiments”.

Home Rule League

Sydenham was attacking the Montagu-Chelmsford Report which had stated that India had “a core of earnest men who believe sincerely and strive for political progress; around them a ring of less educated people to whom a phrase or a sentiment appeals; and an outside fringe of those who have been described as attracted by curiosity to this new thing, or who find diversions in attacking a big and very solemn Government as urchins might take a perilous joy at casting toy darts at an elephant.”

Annie Besant, herself an Englishwoman, was, along with BG Tilak and MA Jinnah, a pioneer of Indian nationalism at the time and headed the new Indian Home Rule League on the Irish pattern. The League stated its membership at 52,000. Sydenham multiplied that by five and asked if a quarter million could purport to rule 244 millions in an Indian democracy. Where, he demanded, was the “voice that cannot yet be heard, the voice of the peoples of India”? The imperialist jibe was that the British Raj would be replaced at best by a “Vakil Raj” of “high-caste” Hindus and at worst by anarchy and bloodshed.

Thirty years later India’s was partitioned and independent under Attlee’s Labour Party. Churchill took over the imperialist mantle and found solace in the new India agreeing to remain in Britain’s “Commonwealth”, saying that India doing so as a Republic did not impair “the majesty of the Crown or the personal dignity of the King”.

The ghosts of Churchill and Sydenham today would heartily cheer our Republic’s current President APJ Abdul Kalam agreeing to receive the “King Charles II Medal” from the Royal Society, and our current PM Manmohan Singh accepting honorary British degrees also while in office. Britain’s Crown Prince has proposed a cricket match between India and Pakistan to mark the 60th anniversary of 1947, and what, after all, could be less inappropriate to mark the event in British eyes? All that Indian nationalism would have been firmly put in its place.

Now Pakistan mostly goes unmentioned in the history of Indian nationalism because the new Pakistanis as of 14 August 1947 hardly felt or even wished to be independent of the British. Instead they longed only to acquire control over any kind of Muslim-majority Government that they could, and as much of the resources and joint military assets of the old India they could get their hands on.

The Kashmir dispute and India-Pakistan conflict have not been ones between Hindus and Muslims, regardless of what the BBC, CNN etc make themselves believe. As much as for any other reason, Kashmir escalated out of control because of British irresponsibility during the process of disintegration of the old Indian Army between the two new Dominions. Newly demobilised Mirpuri soldiers who had formed loyal British battalions were drawn into the cycle of Partition-related communal violence and reprisals in Punjab, which inevitably spilt over into Jammu and culminated in the attack on J&K State that commenced from Pakistan’s NWFP in October 1947 ~ plunging J&K into civil war with Sheikh Abdullah and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s National Conference allied to the new secular India and Sardar Ibrahim’s Muslim Conference allied to the new and soon to be Islamic Pakistan. Field Marshal Auchinlek, the Supreme Commander of both Indian and Pakistani Armed Forces, had the decency to resign and abolish the so-called “Supreme Command” as soon as he realised his own forces were at war with one another.

It would not be too inaccurate to say Pakistan and Britain continued in a neo-colonial relationship throughout the 1950s and 1960s ~ all the way until Ayub Khan (who had been warmly entertained at Chequers during the Christine Keeler-Profumo matter), overplayed his hand by attacking India in 1965. That war followed by the East Pakistan cyclone in 1969 brought to a head the inherent political contradictions of the Pakistani state accumulated until that time, and soon led to Bangladesh’s creation in 1971. Britain has had no real interest in Bangladesh but as Pakistan had allowed dual nationality with Britain, Britain found itself with a lot of Bangladeshi immigrants whose “Indian” restaurants give modern Britons today something to look forward to every weekend.

Britain and its American ally continued to have deep interests in Pakistan, mostly because of the geopolitical importance of Pakistani real estate and the generally obsequious and compliant nature of the Pakistani military and diplomatic elite. All that began to change fundamentally when the real declaration of Pakistani independence occurred in the world with the AQ Khan nuclear bombs exploding in 1998 followed by the September 11 2001 attacks upon the USA.

Nationalism today

As for ourselves in India, we have developed some coherent and recognisable design of a modern political economy with a Union Government and more than two dozen State Governments, and we have abolished the imperialist lackeys known as the “princes”. Our Governments at Union and State levels change peacefully by periodic elections under the 1950 Constitution. This in itself would be seen as an astonishing democratic achievement relative to where we were one hundred years ago at the time of the Morley-Minto policies. Thanks to Jawaharlal Nehru, we have had universal franchise since 1952 (at a time when the USA still had its Jim Crow laws against black citizens) ~ yet the imperialist jibe of an infinitesimally small elite purporting to represent hundreds of millions of India’s people remains to be addressed.

It would be interesting to know how many descendants of the 52,000 members of Annie Besant’s Home Rule League remain in India and how many have emigrated to the USA, Britain, Australia etc. The children of our top military, bureaucratic, business, professional and academic elite have cheerfully led an exodus out of the country. E.g. the son of a former commanding general of the Indian Army’s Artillery Regiment is now a British businessman and member of Tony Blair’s new House of Lords. Indian Nationhood in the 21st Century no longer has to include Bangladeshis and Pakistanis who have ended up seeking to develop their own nationalisms, but it remains hard enough to try to include everyone else ~ from Tamils to Kashmiris and from Assamese and Mizos to Sikhs and Goans. Cleaning up our government accounting and sorting out our public finances nationwide so as to establish a sound money for everyone to use for the first time in sixty or seventy years, is among the first steps in defining our common goals as an independent nation.

(Postscript: The original text stated Independence and Paritition came “forty years” after the only date mentioned until that point in the text, which is of the 1918 Montagu-Chelmsford period.   Unconsciously, I was counting from the Morley-Minto period of 1906-1908 which was the constitutional precedent to Montagu-Chelmsford.)