America’s New Realism in the Middle East
Biden’s Saudi Trip Reflects an Acceptance of the Region as It Is
WORLD peace and security demand that there be reconciliation in India on a stable basis. But what kind of reconciliation? The Indian people cannot be reconciled to foreign rule. It is Britain that has to be reconciled to a free India. But there must be a spirit of accommodation on both sides and there must be a concrete program, based on that spirit, for the interim period while the war is still being carried on. India needs a national government which will work to establish democracy in India as early as possible and which also will coöperate fully in the war. It is to that end that British statesmen have to be advised, and advised pretty firmly, by their friends abroad.
The continued incarceration of the leaders of the Indian National Congress makes it exceedingly difficult to recommend any proposal contrary to the ideal for which these leaders are suffering imprisonment or which modifies it materially. The intelligentsia who shape the feelings of the people of India are very sensitive. They may even be described as hypersensitive. They would prefer to stick to the ideal, however forlorn it appears, than venture on a compromise in their leaders' absence. This is a fact which cannot be set aside by argument.
The British authorities should examine the policy which keeps the Congress leaders in prison and makes it difficult for anyone to put forward a scheme of reconciliation. The policy is dictated by fear, not by a spirit of vengeance. Fear is a bad word also, but it is true that, except for a few individuals, British statesmen of all shades of opinion seem unable to get over the distrust that was generated in 1942 and are unwilling to take the risk of a popular government in India during wartime. That the fear is unfounded does not alter the reality. Governments everywhere in the world give themselves the benefit of the doubt on questions which they believe affect their security during wartime. Even if the people in India who can speak on behalf of the national leaders suggest a settlement which definitely commits the leaders and the Congress to coöperation in war measures, the risk of a breach of faith looms large in the eyes of the British authorities so long as military operations require the exploitation of Indian resources. Hence no scheme of settlement in India, however reasonable, gets the genuine support of the Governors of the provinces or of the Governor-General of India. And without their firm support the distant British Cabinet cannot summon up the confidence to order any change. The result is a complete deadlock in India.
International statesmen seem to have decided to be content with the British policy. Nevertheless, the effort at reconciliation should not be postponed until the war is over. To think of reconciliation simply as a part of the problem of postwar reconstruction is dangerous. I say this in spite of what Lord Wavell and even many friends in America may be inclined to think. It should be remembered that distrust tends to harden into hatred. Whenever one talks in India of reconciliation -- whether to a literate city man or to an illiterate peasant, to a university undergraduate or to an official off his guard -- one is asked, "Do you really trust Britain? Do you think that Britain will ever set up a constitution amounting to real independence?" The grim implication of this doubt is that men are shifting their thoughts to anarchy and to revolution based on force. One notes a loss of faith in non-violence and in constitutional methods of change. I repeat: it is dangerous to abandon plans for remedying the present situation and to be content with the idea of postwar reform.
Recent developments have made it fairly obvious that the war will not solve world conflicts. Asia, in which India occupies an important position in every respect, is likely to be the principal contributing factor to another world war and to be the principal scene of it. Size of population is one of the ultimate decisive factors in world politics. The risk offered by an India which remained in a state of ferment would be far greater than any that could be created by friction between an interim national government and the Allied Eastern Command. A program for the exploitation of Burma and India by the Great Powers in the name of world reorganization ought not to be tempting to those who really want world peace.
It is not wise to assume that the war will be over so soon that not much will be lost in India by waiting. British imperialists will not be inclined to consider the war in the East ended simply because the war position has eased. As far as India is concerned, the war in the East will continue for a good many years, and political considerations will continue to be subordinated to military exigencies. There will be a strong temptation to continue all war controls in India, to maintain the present authoritarian régime and to be dilatory with constitutional changes.
This should not happen. The Indian issue is not a domestic one which concerns Great Britain alone. The world has shrunk, and everyone has a vital interest in India and in her political and economic condition whether aware of it or not. To make India a center of stability in Asia, consciously working for Asiatic peace and progress, is a task in world policy for the statesmen of all civilized nations.
Let us shut our eyes for a moment to questions of world peace and consider only India's specific problems. The Indian Government, at the center, is responsible to no one in India. The Governor-General acts under the direction of the British Cabinet and has no responsibility, under statute or convention, to the Indian legislature. The Viceroy's Council is responsible only to the Governor-General, who appoints and summons its members at his pleasure, and there is not the slightest bond between them and Indian public opinion. In Madras, Bombay, Bihar, the United Provinces and the Central Provinces the constitution is suspended and all powers of the ministers and the legislatures under the Government of India Act are exercised by the British Governor, who has advisers of his choice to assist him, mostly tired Britishers who are members of the senior grades of the permanent civil service. Each Governor acts under the private guidance of the Governor-General in matters of all-India importance, but otherwise is as powerful in his province as the Tsar was in Russia a century ago. This state of things in big and important provinces affects the others. Legislatures and ministers which are still functioning are losing power, so to say, by infection. The authoritarian régimes in neighboring provinces set the standard. Even in provinces where the Government of India Act is not suspended the British Governors are the actual rulers, enjoying unlimited authority.
Such administrations cannot be anxious to undertake a program of economic or social reconstruction which demands the close coöperation of the people. There will be make-believe programs, of course, but they can serve no purpose. Millions who have been recruited for the various war services will be rewarded, but that alone will not be real reconstruction. In every other country in the world the immediate postwar period will be a time of intense national activity. If India continues in her present unsettled state she will lose most valuable time in political controversy during the crucial postwar period, and her relative backwardness in industry and agriculture will be aggravated.
Indian national aspirations have not been and can never be extinguished or reduced by the imprisonment of leaders or by other repressive measures. The people of India demand the freedom that other nations enjoy, neither more nor less. As a result of this war, all the free nations of the world will be more interdependent than they are independent, and India would be content to accept such conditions for sovereignty as other free nations accept. But she resents being asked to reconcile herself to a position of inferiority. Indian national leaders have made demonstrable mistakes and are paying for them. But in spite of all that may happen in the immediate future, the quality and the numerical strength of the Indian people are bound to bring India freedom and to make her a leader in Asia.
I have been appealing to the Indian people on the basis of this faith. I want them to believe that under any decent settlement, whatever its shortcomings at the outset -- provided it does not commit them to a course that takes them away from the goal -- they can achieve their desire. I have ceaselessly appealed to the Congress to abandon the policy of abstention, to seize opportunities for exercising power as and when they come, and to use it to heal the diseases developed by subjection to external rule. I have stood out during recent times for accepting a settlement and for using the opportunities obtained under it to form the habit of a common purpose which will cut across clans, creeds and communities and establish social and economic conditions that will free India from the delusions generated by foreign rule and help her to become a strong and united people. I have faced the odium of repeatedly urging this policy of apparent surrender when the air was surcharged with rebellion and resentment against Britain.
I have done this because duty and honesty demanded it; to remain in the wilderness and allow full rein to reaction could not help the people. But my appeals for a practical course of action could have a chance only if a spirit of reconciliation animated the British authorities also. Such suggestions as I made were taken by these authorities as symptomatic of a general breakdown of Congress resistance. They made no move toward reconciliation, but on the contrary waited for a more complete collapse. And when they found that instead of a collapse of the National Congress there was a hardening of hearts and increased bitterness all around, they adopted the philosophy of drift and the slogan of "reconstruction after the war." For propaganda purposes meanwhile they found that the Moslems and the princes offered handy complications, and they used the issues which they provided to divert any attack on Britain's good faith.
When war broke out in 1939 and threatened to spread over the world the Indian National Congress desired that the people of India be declared free and fully self-governing so that they might be enabled to play their part in it. The Congress made clear in repeated resolutions that it did not adopt a pacifist attitude toward this war. It declared itself ready and willing for the fullest association with the Allied Powers, provided India's claim to independence and equality with the other free peoples of the world were admitted. The Indian National Congress stressed this positive aspect of its policy no less than it emphasized its protest against being coerced into belligerency. The issue was not properly handled by the British Government, and mutual distrust developed until it became so chronic that even the Government's declaration on the floor of the House of Commons on March 11, 1942, to which no exception could be taken, made hardly any impression on the people of India.
Even so, had more patience been shown by the British Mission in the negotiations that took place in Delhi in April 1942, and had more earnest coöperation been forthcoming from the Viceroy, the gulf might have been bridged. As everyone now knows, less attention was directed to settling the issue itself than to preparing propaganda to show who was to blame for the failure to settle it. I do not claim that the Indian leaders made no mistakes. And it is true that faults on one side can never bring disaster if compensating tact and statesmanship are developed on the other side. India could have saved the situation in spite of Viceregal non-coöperation if the Indian National Congress had displayed these qualities in more than ordinary measure. In any event, the British Government was not prepared to take risks to appease Indian nationalism nor did it display the Christian virtue of trusting those who showed distrust. It contented itself with such coöperation as it could get on its own terms, and banked on the resources it could commandeer in India by the exercise of its own physical authority. It decided to fight Indian nationalism as well as the Axis. It met every symptom of discontent with repression and offered passive resistance to all proposals for solving the deadlock. This policy still continues.
A friend in Canada recently sent me a marked copy of a Canadian magazine containing an article by the British High Commissioner in Canada, the Right Honorable Malcolm MacDonald. Mr. MacDonald says that even among the primitive races in Africa the primary purpose of British administration has been and will be to train colonial peoples to stand firmly on their own feet, socially and politically. No one can predict, he says, when any particular colony will reach the goal of self-government, but so far as the British Government and the British people can determine, the time for its arrival in India has been fixed. But certain practical difficulties prevent fulfillment, he continues, and the source of these difficulties lies not in British policy but in the people of India. We are told that the princes complicate the issue and that the Hindu and Moslem communities have not yet been able to compose their political differences and to agree upon a constitution for a self-governing India. The British High Commissioner in Canada is certain that if the people of India can agree among themselves, their complete national freedom is assured at the end of the war, as a dominion or as an independent nation outside the Commonwealth. He points out that the British Government has agreed to implement this policy "in the letter and the spirit" as soon as the war has ended.
While I admit that these promises have been made and that the British people are morally bound to see that their Government fulfills them, I must say that judged by present conduct what the British High Commissioner in Canada has written and British propagandists are saying is not the whole truth; and a half truth is often worse than a complete fabrication.
Does Britain wish to present these two points about the princes and the Moslems as mere excuses for a policy of drift? Or does Britain feel unhappy over these two difficulties and wish to overcome them? If the latter, what prevents her from setting up a court of arbitration to settle these two difficulties? India is prepared at once to accept any just and fair award that will end them. Why should she wait for the end of the war in the Far East as well as in the West? Will the establishment of a representative government in India be a greater distraction than, for example, the presidential election in America? Surely there are compensating advantages even if India did have to suffer a temporary distraction of that kind.
The Moslem League's demand is contained in the following resolution which it adopted at Lahore in 1940: "It is the considered view of this session of the All-India Moslem League that no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to the Moslems unless it is designed on the following basic principle, viz. that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary that the areas in which the Moslems are numerically in a majority, as in the northwestern and eastern zones of India, should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign."
Mr. Jinnah was approached by Mr. Gandhi in September 1944 with the following terms, which go by the name of the "C. R. formula:"
"Basis for terms of settlement between the Indian National Congress and the All-India Moslem League to which Gandhiji and Mr. Jinnah agree and which they will endeavor respectively to get the Congress and the League to approve: (1) Subject to the terms set out below as regards the constitution for Free India, the Moslem League endorses the Indian demand for independence and will coöperate with the Congress in the formation of a provisional interim government for the transitional period. (2) After the termination of the war, a commission shall be appointed to demarcate contiguous districts in the northwest and east of India, wherein the Moslem population is in absolute majority. In the areas thus demarcated, a plebiscite of all the inhabitants held on the basis of adult suffrage or other practicable franchise shall ultimately decide the issue of separation from Hindustan. If the majority decide in favor of forming a sovereign state separate from Hindustan, such decision shall be given effect, without prejudice to the right of districts on the border to choose to join either state. (3) It will be open to all parties to advocate their points of view before the plebiscite is held. (4) In the event of separation, mutual agreements shall be entered into for safeguarding defense, for commerce and communications and for other essential purposes. (5) Any transfer of population shall only be on an absolutely voluntary basis. (6) These terms shall be binding only in case of transfer by Britain of full power and responsibility for the governance of India."
Mr. Jinnah refused to accept these terms and demanded that partition should be agreed to without any plebiscite and that the areas to be demarcated into a new state should include the whole of Bengal, the whole of Assam and the whole of Punjab as the administrative boundaries now stand. This is a demand which if accepted would force the eastern half of the Punjab and the western half of Bengal (which have no Moslem majorities) into a Moslem state. As for Assam, all but one of the districts in that province contain a vastly preponderant majority of Hindus. The Pakistan conceded in the "C. R. formula" -- viz. the provinces of Sind, the Northwest Frontier and Baluchistan, those districts of the Punjab and Bengal which contain a Moslem majority, and Sylhet in Assam -- would consist of two contiguous areas in the northwest and east, as described in the Moslem League resolution, which in size, population and resources would be comparable to most free states in the world and would be larger than many European states of established importance. The population would be more than 60,000,000, occupying more than 150,000 square miles with splendid river basins and a great port.
Mr. Jinnah's refusal of this offer, his demand for partition without ascertaining the wishes of the people in the areas concerned, and his demand for the inclusion of definitely Hindu areas, indicate that he has for some reason lost confidence in the soundness of the policy of separation for which he ostensibly stands. The demand for separation made by the Moslem League in 1940 was a bold adventure; but it is ever the case that we show more courage when demanding something which the other party will not give than when what we demanded arrives and we have to accept it and take responsibility for it. The difficulties of sustaining a separate sovereign state become more obvious when the claim to the state is granted. To overcome these difficulties additional claims are made. Not the champions of a unitary Indian Government but the Moslem League itself dealt a severe blow to the Pakistan scheme in September last. If the League's contention is that Pakistan cannot maintain itself without the inclusion of non-Moslem areas within its boundaries, any international tribunal would deem the admission fatal to the case for separation.
The breakdown of the Gandhi-Jinnah talks last September gives everyone an opportunity to think about Pakistan in more clarified terms. If the Moslems can reconcile themselves to a united and federated India, they can have it and even enjoy a privileged place in it. Many responsible Moslems in provinces throughout India in which they are in a minority accept this solution. If Moslems want a halfway house in the shape of a confederation of free units in voluntary combination, without prejudice to the potential sovereignty of the units, they can have such an arrangement. If they do not want to be a unit in any federation or confederation, but desire to form the separate sovereign state outlined at Lahore in 1940, they can have that. Just, fair and feasible conditions under which they can have it have been stated, and it is not easy to see how they could be improved. The Indian National Congress has definitely committed itself to recognizing the right of regional self-determination; but it cannot agree to partition without ascertaining the wishes of the people concerned, for to do so would be inconsistent with modern notions of constitution-making.
Sir Frederick Puckle has given the readers of FOREIGN AFFAIRS a study of the Gandhi-Jinnah talks.[i] He seeks to extract from their breakdown the largest possible amount of material to justify the British policy of drift. He says that the issues responsible for the breakdown are: (1) Mr. Jinnah insists that the Moslems and the Hindus are two different "nations." (2) Mr. Jinnah desires partition before Britain retires from India and hands over responsibility to a provisional government.
It is remarkable how gently British critics have dealt with Mr. Jinnah since the episode of last September. Plainly they are pleased. In no other case would obvious intransigence be so generously analyzed and so readily excused. The great fact that Mr. Gandhi has agreed to the partition which the Moslem League demanded -- on conditions framed so as to satisfy any impartial tribunal -- is brushed aside, and attention is diverted to the theory on which the claim for partition is said to be founded. The Lahore resolution of the League makes no reference to the "two-nations" theory. Let us assume, however, that the League's demand is based on the notion that the Moslems of Bengal, Punjab, Sind, the Frontier and Baluchistan (who speak the four different languages of those four areas and belong to four or more ethnic stocks) have coalesced into a nationhood which is distinct from that of the Hindus of those areas (who speak these same languages and come from these same stocks). Let us assume further that as a result of the religion professed and the political events and controversies of the last few years there is a subjective necessity, associated with group-identity, which makes the Moslems of these areas demand a separate existence, whatever name we might give it. It still does not stand to reason that when the demand for partition is accepted, the particular theory propounded for justifying the demand must likewise be accepted. Mr. Gandhi could not accept the theory; but he did not for that reason refuse to agree to the partition, provided the people to be separated voted for it.
Nor is there more in the second reason for the breakdown put forward by Sir Frederick Puckle. Mr. Jinnah does not imagine that the British will leave an army in India to maintain the partition when they retire. It is idle to imagine that the order in which the two constitutional events take place -- withdrawal of British domination and partition in terms of the Moslem League demand -- makes any material difference in the situation. The power to sustain a separate state must come from within, not from without, whether the actual partition is prior to the transfer of responsibility or subsequent to it. Mr. Gandhi's proposal was that a definite agreement be reached now, when the British are ruling from Delhi, and that Mr. Jinnah himself should appeal to all the people of India to accept that settlement. There was no question of one party being bound when the other was not. With great respect I must say that Sir Frederick Puckle's analysis evades the point.
We come to the seemingly greater constitutional obstacle to Indian democracy -- the treaty-protected Indian princes whose territories sprawl all over India. These princes and their ministers claim the privilege of creating difficulties for democracy without opposing it. They rely for this on the terms of treaties entered into with the British East India Company and with the Governor-General acting on behalf of the British Crown. Against the claim of Indian nationalism they claim alliance with the King of Great Britain, and therefore sovereign status. They claim as a corollary the right of non-accession to any Indian federation based on democracy to which they do not individually and specifically give their approval. They claim the right to lay down conditions for joining such a federation, one of which is that their representatives on the Federal legislature shall be persons they nominate and not persons elected by their subjects. In internal administration they refuse to march with the times and to give to their own people the political rights that the people of the provinces in British India enjoy under the Government of India Act; there is, however, no difference whatever in the condition, education and culture of the people of the two intermingled areas. They talk of the genius and tradition of their areas and propose that they be developed along these lines, not along the line of constitutional reform followed in British India. All this is just dust thrown in the eyes of the foreign critic.
They use the phrase "internal autonomy," meaning thereby the maintenance of their own personal rule as against the movement for democracy percolating into their domain. They actually claim under the treaties that British military forces should uphold their authority against their own subjects. Any effective movement for constitutional reform, however non-violent, is given the name of revolt. The legislative assemblies functioning in some of these Indian states are mere durbars, as Professor Coupland has stated in his recent book.[ii] The princes try to create the illusion of democracy with the help of large blocks of members who are not elected by the people but appointed by the executive. Some of the Indian states can point to economic prosperity and industrial progress; but that does not mean that they have made political progress. In some fields autocratic rule can quickly achieve results that take considerable time and troublesome work in democracies. For instance, in the province of Madras the provincial government had to pass difficult legislation and struggle through endless litigation in order to throw open the temples to the so-called untouchables, whereas the Government of Travancore merely issued and enforced a proclamation to that same end. In matters that do not affect the personal authority of the princes and their ministers much can be done in some of the advanced states; and much has been done. But good government is no substitute for self-government.
Princely India cannot complicate the issue if Britain makes up her mind not to permit it. British Governors-General have dealt firmly with the princes in the past and are still dealing with them without much difficulty. Minority problems present themselves wherever democracy is established. In the modern world, where racially and religiously homogeneous populations are a thing of the past, we may and should conciliate every minority. But even the most powerful minorities cannot be allowed to veto for all time the lawful aspirations of the majority. The majority in India has never objected to an equitable distribution of power and responsibility or to the most careful and particular protection of the civic, economic and political rights of minorities.
If the British Government makes up its mind to find a solution for the present deadlock in India more than one can be found and more than one method could be adopted to form a satisfactory central authority based on popular support. The simplest solution would be for the British Government to restore the autonomous provincial governments under the Government of India Act of 1935 -- ordering fresh elections if it wishes to do so -- and to ask each of the 11 provinces to send a representative to the Viceroy's Council. The British Government would then invest that Council with full authority to coöpt a few other members and to run the interim Government of India for the duration. It is wholly wrong to maintain the present absolutist government -- wrong because to foster bitterness and hatred in a vast population is most unwise. In 1935 the British Parliament after great deliberation passed a statute, the Government of India Act. Part of it was put in operation in 1937; the other part, dealing with the Federal Government of India, was not then brought into force. Either an ad hoc government or a federal government formed according to the plan in the Government of India Act of 1935 should be brought into existence at once.
Only then can the demand of British statesmen for an agreed constitution be accepted as genuine. Further, only this will promote a reasonable attitude on the part of minorities who are now unwilling to give the majorities what must be given under any form of working democracy. There can be a definite understanding that as soon as fresh terms are agreed to as a result of mutual adjustment or arbitration, such terms will replace the relevant provisions of the federal constitution laid down in the present Government of India Act (1935). There is no reason why a constitution approved by Parliament after great deliberation should lie in the archives without being put into effect.
At the end of the war the British Government's declaration of March 1942, relating to the granting of dominion status to India with the right of secession conceded to other dominions, should be brought into full effect. In the interim period all the safeguards needed to make sure that the war effort is carried on in full strength and without friction can be applied. The Indian National Congress has never questioned the propriety of keeping military affairs in the hands of the British Cabinet during the war period, whatever arrangements were made to transfer sovereignty to the people of India. This was made perfectly clear in 1942 and it was reiterated by Mr. Gandhi after his release in 1944. Where complicated group-motives which work against democracy have been generated, a sanction is required to quicken the urge for mutual accommodation. That sanction, I suggest, can be found in the interim enforcement of the statute already adopted by Parliament and assented to by His Majesty the King of Great Britain in accordance with the British Constitution. A move forward, and a threat to stragglers that they will be left behind, are the conditions necessary to create the will to agreement.
After this war the doctrine of non-interference by the state in economic fields, as well as the political doctrine of individualism, will have to give way to the need for state-planned civil life. We cannot go back to the old order without courting disaster. Unless a popular government takes charge in India there will be no possibility of moving effectively toward a harmonious development of planned civil life. Even measures which are in themselves good will appear to be wrong if taken on the initiative of a government like that now in charge. The forces of reaction and corruption are not slow in organizing pseudo-patriotic opposition to any plan for reconstruction or reorganization that threatens to hurt private capital. Propaganda in India is not all done in the newspapers. Without going into details, one would be correct in saying, in general, that unless there is a popular government in India it will be impossible to save proposals for national planning from becoming suspect.
If India is put right she will play a great part in the advance of Asia as a whole. As things now stand she is entitled to leadership in Asia by every test except that of self-government. It is the moral responsibility of Britain to perform the double function of putting things right in India and of retiring in favor of a stable democracy. To see that this double task is performed has become the moral responsibility of the Allied nations also, for they have helped Britain to hold her position. They must see to it that their rôle does not degenerate into merely helping maintain British imperialism.
[i] Cf. Sir Frederick Puckle, "The Gandhi-Jinnah Conversations," FOREIGN AFFAIRS, January 1945.
[ii] Reginald Coupland, "The Indian Problem." New York: Oxford University Press, 1944.