What is India’s future? The problem is rapidly assuming a significance which no one could have foreseen at the commencement of the war. The foundations of India’s political structure have been so shaken by the events of the last twenty months that it seems unlikely they can ever regain their old stability. A prompt and generous fulfilment of the promises made by Britain during the last war would have seen India—as an equal partner with the other Dominions in the Commonwealth—willing and prepared in 1939 to shoulder her responsibilities in the fight against Nazism. But the period from Versailles to Munich was marked in India by two main characteristics: a phenomenal mass awakening under Gandhi’s leadership; and a sense of acute frustration on the part of the political intelligentsia as a result of the cynical disregard for past commitments by successive Conservative Cabinets in Britain.

Two major political parties in the country, the Congress and the Moslem League, are committed to the goal of complete independence. There have been discussions among political leaders whether independence necessarily means a severance of the British connection, or is compatible with the status of a self-governing Dominion, especially since the adoption of the Statute of Westminster. It is significant that Mahatma Gandhi and the older politicians in the Congress have preferred the Indian term purna swaraj, the precise meaning of which is full self-government, or freedom. Mr. Gandhi has never concealed his personal view that if Britain and India could remain together as equal partners, without any coercion being implied in such association, these two would form the nucleus of a real League of Nations of the future. There is no political party in India which would accept anything less than full Dominion Status.

Stripped of superficialities, the Indian problem has two aspects: an external one in relation to the British Commonwealth and the rest of the world; and an internal one concerning the details of a new administrative and political structure.

Until the spring of 1940, before the dramatic collapse of Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France, the almost universally accepted view in India was that despite the inevitable vicissitudes of war, the ultimate result would undoubtedly be a British victory. This assumption was rudely shaken by France’s surrender and again after the Nazi victories in the Balkans and North Africa. The British position is now viewed with considerable anxiety in India, while Germany’s moves in the Near East and those of Japan in the Far East are regarded as threats to India’s own security. This uncertainty has had a curious but noticeable effect on the outlook and tactics of the different political parties in India.

It is significant that the bitterest criticisms against Britain (particularly since the war began) concentrate on her shortsighted policy of refusing Indians adequate opportunities for taking their legitimate part in the defense of the country. There is deep resentment against the normal peacetime policy of excluding Indians from the officer ranks of the defense forces (except in grossly inadequate numbers) and against the unpreparedness of the country for any major attack. This feeling is shared by all classes, including even a large section of the Congress which was willing to cooperate actively in strengthening the defenses of India through a National Government. The significance of such an offer was missed by the British Cabinet. The offer represented a great sacrifice for the Congress, for it meant a breaking away from Gandhi’s leadership by pledging active assistance in a united stand against the totalitarian Powers.

Though the Congress still adheres to the demand for independence, and the application to India of the principle of self-determination at the end of the war, its emphasis, since the summer of 1940, has been on the immediate present. Many of its leaders do not rule out the possibility that the British Empire will so change its basic structure in the process of fighting the war that it will be beyond recognition afterwards.

Pandit Nehru committed the Congress to the creed of complete independence in 1927. Today he cherishes the conviction that unless the present conflict has a revolutionary aim of ending the present order and substituting one based on freedom and cooperation, it will merely lead to more wars and violence and destruction. He has lately been giving much thought to the new world order that will follow the war. His ideal is world-wide international cooperation, political and economic. But “a world federation,” he has said, “seems a far-off ideal in this world of war today.” An intermediate stage may well be the rise of several groups of nations, regional or otherwise. The British Empire, in Nehru’s view, is bound to disappear at the end of the war. He thinks that Britain herself, and some of the units of the Commonwealth (Canada and Australia in particular), may be absorbed into the United States, or seek a loose type of federation with it. Continental Europe, without Soviet Russia, may form yet another group.

Regarding India and the East, Nehru is emphatic that they could not “be just hangers-on or dependent entities of these major groups.” In common with other Congress leaders, he has been bitterly disappointed with the persistent refusal of British Cabinet Ministers to look beyond Europe in their definition of Britain’s war aims. “Do the advocates of a European Federation,” he recently asked, “imagine that Asia and Africa will continue as they are, more or less under the leadership of Europe? So far as we are concerned, we will oppose all these attempts to federate the Western world to the exclusion of the Eastern. A federated Europe, or Europe and America taken together, will exploit Eastern nations and delay their freedom.” Therefore, he argues, “we must look forward for the present, and till such time as a real world union takes place, to an Asiatic Federation of Nations.” Regarding the constitution of this Federation, India and China will, in his view, take the initiative in inviting Burma, Ceylon, Afghanistan, Nepal, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies to enter the Federation. But he sees no reason why Iran, ‘Iraq and Thailand also should not consider the desirability of joining it. This Eastern Federation would have the friendliest relations with the Anglo-American federation and the Soviet Union.

There are, as yet, few indications as to the views held by other Asiatic countries on this interesting theme. Nehru was at Chung-king in August 1939, and his visit helped bring India and China closer together. In the last two years there have been good-will missions to India from China, Thailand and Ceylon. The suggestion of an Asiatic federation (without Japan) is a new conception in the modern world. Much propaganda will be necessary, especially in the Moslem bloc of countries to the west of India, to win sympathy and support for it. India so far has had singularly little contact with even her next-door neighbors—if an exception be made of Amanullah, who had an enthusiastic reception at several places in India while he was still King of Afghanistan. Even India’s relations with Ceylon, Burma and the Malay States are not encouraging for those seeking an Asiatic Federation.

No other Indian party has applied its mind so seriously to the question of the country’s external relationships as the Congress. Like the Congress, the Moslem League has accepted the creed of independence, but more as a sentimental concession to its younger and more radical elements than out of any conviction that Indian interests demand a severance of the connection with Britain. Other organizations have been content with the offer of Dominion status, their only criticism being on the score of its vagueness and because Britain has taken no measures that would impress India with her sincerity.

The Moslems and the Princes have shown considerable anxiety in regard to their respective positions in a free and possibly independent India. Step by step, the Moslems in several parts of India have committed themselves to the “Pakistan Movement.” Though at first it was not taken seriously by other elements, skillful and energetic propaganda under Mr. Jinnah’s leadership has now made it prominent and provided it with a slogan which is proving attractive to Moslems and to the rural masses.

Briefly, Pakistan implies the creation of a Moslem-controlled state comprising the provinces of Sind, the Punjab and the North-Western Frontier, the Indian State of Kashmir and (though it has never been definitely mentioned) Afghanistan. Such a state would possess the seaport of Karachi and control the entire Indus basin (including such vital strategic points on the Indo-Afghan border as the Khyber Pass). The creation of such a state would not mark an innovation in India’s checkered history. More than once the regions in question have been controlled by a single authority—under the Buddhist Empire, which spread the new gospel of the Lord Gautama Buddha far to the west and northwest of India, and later in the early days of Moghul rule.

Mr. Jinnah’s main concern in borrowing this plan has been to refute the charge that he has no positive solution to offer for the Hindu-Moslem problem. His psychological approach is simple. Moslems in India number approximately 90 million out of a total population of about 400 million. A minority even of this size cannot logically hold up all progress, but must be content with safeguards for its protection in an all-India structure. The only escape from the dilemma lies, therefore, in a division of the country into two regions; one in which the Hindus would be the predominant party, and the other under Moslem control.

But Mr. Jinnah, seeking a formula which would enable him to avoid the logical consequences of a minority position for the Moslems, has roused fierce antagonisms among the Hindus and the Sikhs, the latter a martial race with a strong pro-Hindu affinity. The Hindus have condemned the proposal for “the vivisection of India” on sentimental and political grounds. To the Nationalist movement the suggestion of breaking up the country into two regions has naturally come as a profound shock.

But sentiment is not the only factor. There is a growing fear that the creation of Pakistan might endanger the security of the rest of India. All through the ages, before the advent of the European Powers, foreign conquerors poured into India through the passes on the northwest. The transfer of those regions to a state not controlled from Delhi would increase many-fold the vulnerability of the Ganges plains. Commending his scheme to a Moslem audience nearly three years ago, Mr. Jinnah referred to the action of the Sudeten Germans in seeking the aid of the Reich against Czech excesses. But the analogy has a lurid significance for India. The loss of the Khyber Pass, the Northwest Frontier Province and the Punjab would place the rest of India at the mercy of an aggressor even more decisively than the loss of the Sudetenland put Czech territory at the mercy of the Nazis.

The Sikhs’ point of view is very different. They are a minority in the Punjab, constituting less than a fifth of the population. Yet before the British conquest of the Punjab less than a hundred years ago, the Sikhs ruled the greater part of the area now included in Pakistan. They knew the art of enforcing their authority on the frontier and among the trans-frontier tribes with a firmness that has not been emulated by their successors. The “Khalistan Movement”—the Khalsa being the symbol of Sikh power—is based on the idea that the Punjab, should it pass out of British hands, must revert to the control of the Sikhs. It has rapidly achieved formidable proportions. The fear of a major clash between the Moslems and the Sikhs and the Hindus has had a sobering effect on the more practical Moslem leaders of the province like Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, the present Premier. He has learned that the division of India on the basis of Pakistan must involve the Punjab in a civil war which would threaten the security of the entire country. Nor is he alone in opposing Mr. Jinnah’s movement. The Shias, who form an influential minority among the Moslems, to the number of between 25 to 30 million, do not subscribe to the two-nations theory and would prefer a friendly settlement with the Hindus.

What are the Princes thinking about? Here it is more difficult to be precise. The last ten years have seen some startling changes. At first, the Princes seemed keen about an all-India federation and at the Round Table Conferences ten years ago they demanded only Dominion status as the condition of their entry into it. But subsequent discussions, which showed that a number of their privileges and treaty rights would be abridged, cooled their enthusiasm. Later still, the Congress movement in favor of democratic forms of government—in itself a direct result of the federal idea—created a revulsion against federation, particularly in the more backward of the so-called “Native” States. The British Government, after having laid down the dictum in 1928 that its “paramountcy must remain paramount” (in other words, that the States could not claim treaty “rights” but only concessions), suddenly became ardent supporters of the Princely Order. And by a process of reasoning natural enough under the circumstances, the Princes convinced themselves that the Viceroy could be better trusted to safeguard their interests than the members of his executive drawn from British India. Every constitutional precaution was adopted in advance, therefore, to prevent the democratic upsurge in British India from swamping the States. The British frankly intended that the nominees of the States would act as checks on the radical tendencies of the Congress, the best organized party in British India. They therefore fashioned the federal scheme in a manner that would have prevented the formation of any radical or even progressive Cabinet.

The general elections in India early in 1937 proved, however, that the hold of the Congress on the 35 million newly enfranchised voters far surpassed the estimates of its opponents, or even those of its own leaders. The Princes were alarmed that the numerous safeguards provided in the Constitution might prove insufficient to protect their treaty rights. The conduct of the provincial Governors between 1937 and 1939, and their failure (from the Princes’ standpoint) to interfere with the policies of the Congress Ministries, confirmed the Princes’ apprehensions as to what methods the Viceroy might follow on the inauguration of federation. They feared that appeasement of the Congress might be the Indian counterpart of the Chamberlain Government’s foreign policy.

The commencement of the war saw the sudden suspension of federation, to the immediate relief of everyone—the Congress, the Moslem League, the Princes, and (one cannot help suspecting) the British as well. But more recent developments have modified in some degree these first reactions on the part of at least two parties. Among a number of Congress leaders there is a growing realization that, with all its obvious limitations, federation would, at any rate, have guaranteed the basic conception of all-India unity and brought all the divergent elements under a single administration. The more farsighted Princes now know that the terms for entering federation, which they rejected before the war in the hope of securing further concessions, will never be renewed. The Moslems alone have shown little proof of regret.

In the early stages of the internal crisis that took place during the closing months of 1939, a settlement with the Congress seemed possible along somewhat the following lines: (1) a declaration by the British Government that at the end of the war India’s elected representatives would be free to draft their own Constitution on the basis of complete self-government, subject to certain transitional conditions covering defense, British commercial and financial interests and the Indian States; (2) these conditions to be embodied in a prior agreement (or a treaty) between the representatives of the two countries; (3) safeguards for minority interests, acceptable to the minorities themselves. Gandhi was willing to accept this program and in April 1940 even suggested a joint Committee of Indians and Britons to evolve a suitable formula and to outline the procedure.

Such a declaration would have enabled the Congress to resume office in the seven provinces where it had withdrawn its Ministries a few weeks after the declaration of war, and it would have permitted the country to offer its full cooperation in the prosecution of the war. Gandhi’s personal support would have been only moral. But, as he explained to me in an interview, he would have wished Britain success—“a Britain which has played the game by India.” Other Congress leaders would go still further than Gandhi. For instance, Pandit Nehru has denied with vehemence the suggestion that the Congress Party’s attitude towards the war is helpful to Hitler. He claims that few persons in India have so consistently raised their voices against Fascism and Nazism as he has done; and indeed his severest critics cannot deny that ever since the invasion of Manchuria, and during subsequent events in Ethiopia, Central Europe, Spain and China, he has been a determined opponent of the policy of appeasement.

The tragic irony of the present conflict in India is that the radical elements in the Congress, now in prison, are sincerely and uncompromisingly anti-totalitarian. In fact, their complaint is that the British, while fighting Hitlerism in Europe, are seeking alliances in India with the autocratic Princes and those Moslem leaders who not only denounce democracy as unsuitable to India but have no faith in democracy anywhere.

The situation has deteriorated with Mr. Gandhi’s decision to embark on civil disobedience on a limited scale. But even after six months of the struggle, he refuses to be hustled by his followers into converting it into a mass movement, or to relax the conditions for enrolling volunteers. There is, in consequence, a certain amount of discontent in the Congress Party, because while Gandhi receives no credit from the British for his restraining influence, the movement cannot profit from the spectacle of prisons filled to overflowing. The question is how long the British will allow the deadlock to continue. Significantly, all parties with any influence in the country, including the Congress and the Moslem League, have charged Britain with “unwillingness to part with power.” Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, one of the most constructive statesmen in India, recently declared that he has never known in his forty years of political life a Government of India so isolated from the main currents of public opinion.

As for the Princes, they are busily occupied with the war effort. Since the suspension of federation, questions like the safeguarding of their treaty rights have been relegated to the background. But it would be a mistake to assume that they do not concern themselves with the future. A significant movement has lately sprung up in favor of returning large slices of British India to the premier Moslem State of Hyderabad. In other words, the Princes are wondering whether they should not claim back the territories that until 100 or 150 years ago belonged to them but which now form parts of British India.

In effect, the last two years have witnessed a process of general dismantling of India’s political superstructure. Provincial autonomy has been withdrawn from over the greater part of India because of the refusal of the Congress majorities in the legislatures to accept the responsibility of administration. All-India Federation is in suspense, for the duration of the war, and may never again be revived. The country is being governed under a system which, in the majority of the provinces, was in vogue about forty years ago; and at the center by an autocratic Viceroy with an out-of-date executive council dominated by the permanent officials.

What, then, remains of the Constitution enacted in 1935 after eight years of elaborate discussions in India and in London? Statements recently made by Mr. Amery, the Secretary of State for India, suggest that the Churchill Cabinet does not regard even the underlying principles of that Constitution as beyond challenge after the war. He has given tacit but powerful support to the idea, always popular and now gaining ground among the Moslems and the Princes, that even in an all-India federation (should a revival of the scheme seem practicable after the war) the list of federal subjects may be cut to a minimum in order to give provinces and States the fullest freedom from central control. Such a scheme already has the active support of the Moslem Premier of the Punjab and some of the leading Princes.

Other suggestions of Mr. Amery’s have had an unsettling effect on India—those for an irremovable executive and for the substitution of functional for territorial representation. Both proposals, seemingly constructive in their nature, are regarded by a large section of the Indian people as inspired by a desire to prevent democracy and parliamentary institutions, as understood in Britain, from functioning in India. The Nationalists, whether in the Congress Party or outside, have been educated to look upon British forms of government as those most suitable for India; and any departure from them is resented as derogatory to their claim to full self-government.

Indian tension is now attaining formidable proportions and can be relieved only by a far-reaching settlement in which each principal political element makes a positive contribution. The British must decide in favor of an immediate transfer of control to the Indian people on the basis of complete Dominion status. And in doing so, they must resist the temptation of using the Princes, the Moslems and the other minorities as arguments for loading the new Constitution with reservations and anomalies which would compromise the democratic principle.

Once the British have irrevocably made this decision, the various parties in India will settle down to discuss the constitution in an atmosphere free from prejudice and suspicion. The approach will be positive instead of, as hitherto, negative. All but the extreme left-wingers in the Congress will accept a firm offer of full Dominion status, while the number of Moslems who insist with Mr. Jinnah on a division of India into two regions will be found to be in a minority. The Princes, too, will cease to raise impossible conundrums about treaty rights which have no relation to the realities of the modern world.

What is the alternative? So long as the British refuse to come to terms, the maneuvering for position will continue. The Congress will demand independence, Mr. Jinnah will clamor for Pakistan, the Sikhs for Khalistan, and the other elements for their partisan rights and privileges. The sooner these tendencies are discouraged, the better for India’s security. The National movement is virile and idealistic. But its main strength is derived from opposition to British domination rather than from any positive realization of an identity of interests among the various elements in the country.

The entire complex of Indo-British relationships is moving in a terribly vicious circle. It must be broken if disaster is to be averted. Nationalist India will not cooperate in the war effort until Britain includes India’s freedom in her war aims; Britain refuses to move forward until India’s assistance is wholehearted and full. Mr. Churchill, the most determined opponent of the Baldwin Government’s India policy until 1935, is silent in regard to India. Generous recognition of India’s equality with Britain and the self-governing Dominions would transform the situation. Many thoughtful observers have asked why the British Prime Minister should feel unable to offer India an Anglo-Indian union of the same sort he offered France on the eve of her capitulation.

Furthermore, the immediate recognition of India as a Dominion would guarantee her representation at the Peace Conference through a delegation of her own choice. At Versailles there were two delegates from India, Lord Sinha and the Maharaja of Bikaner; but they were there only as members of the British Empire team. At the next peace conference India expects independent representation, so that her leaders may make their own contribution to the building of a new world order and thus prevent the formation of regional federations based on distinctions of race and color.

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  • B. SHIVA RAO, Vice-President of the National Trades Union Federation of India; Indian correspondent of the Manchester Guardian; author of "The Industrial Worker in India"
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