|BRITISH FRIENDS OF INDIA|
The mutual impact of Britain and India is a subject of absorbing interest. Some studies have been made of its varied aspects-art, literature, philosophy, religion, science and education. No attempt has, however, been made to evaluate the contribution made by the liberal English statesman-A.O. Hume, W.S. Blunt, Henry Cotton, Henry Yule, Charles Bradlaugh, Wedderburn, H.M. Hyndman, John Bright, H.J. Laski, C.F. Andrews and many others-to India's struggle for freedom. Indian scholars have written excellent biographies of Indian leaders-Gokhale, Tilak, Gandhi, Jawaharlal, Dadabhai Naoroji, Badruddin Tyabji and others. No Indian scholar has, however, yet attempted the task of writing the biographies of A.O. Hume, Charles Bradlaugh and others. The history of India's struggle for freedom cannot be studied in its true perspective if this important aspect of the nationalist struggle is neglected. It is, therefore, only fair that the services rendered to India by these liberal Englishmen should be properly evaluated. It may, however, be mentioned that none of these English statesmen ever visualised a completely independent India having full sovereign rights. Even the most ardent advocates of the freedom of this country-Henry Cotton, W.S. Blunt, Mrs. Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh-thought only of self-Government or Home Rule for India. It will be too much to expect that they should have agitated for complete independence to India especially when our own leaders such as Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866-1915), Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917), Surendranath Banerjee (1848-1925), W.C. Bonnerjee (1844-1906) and Pherozeshah Mehta (1845-1915) desired for their country only the status of a self-governing country.
This paper is a broad survey of the role played by some of the important liberal English statesmen in our freedom struggle.
Throughout the 19th century, a number of noble Englishmen, inspired by the liberal and democratic spirit of England, advocated courageously the cause of India. Their "passionate eloquence" while pleading for justice and fair play to the Indians and focussing attention on their grievances made a profound impression upon the people of India. Since the time of Edmund Burke scarcely a voice had been heard in England in favour of the voiceless millions of India until John Britain sounded his warning note against the injustices systematically being done to the people of India. From 1847 to 1880 "he worked for India as none had worked before him". In the other famous debate on Sir Charles Wood's India Bill of 1853, Bright drew the attention of the House to the "solemn and sacred trust" of the administration of India and held that there was no settled policy with regard to India. He referred to the abject poverty of the Indian people, the total neglect of the Government to the employment of Indians in offices of trust and responsibility and the unjust taxes. So great was his genuine sympathy for India that, when on a certain occasion, a responsible member in the House of Commons made unparliamentary observations regarding the people of India, Bright indigenantly observed: "I would not permit any man in my presence without rebuke to indulge in the calumnies and expression of contempt which I have recently heard poured fourth without measure upon the whole population of India". In one of his last great speeches which he made in the House of Commons on India, he pleaded for "mercy and justice" to the great Indian people. "Is is not possible", he said, "to touch a chord in the hearts of Englishmen to raise them to a sense of the miseries inflicted on that unhappy country by the crimes and blunders of our rulers here? If you have steeled your hearts against the natives, if nothing can stir you to sympathy with their, miseries, at least have pity upon your own countrymen", Two years before the establishment of the Indian National Congress he was able to formulate plans for the formation of an informal Indian Committee of the Members of the British Parliment. About 50 M.P.s had agreed to serve on this Committee which after a short interval was revived in 1889.
Next to John Bright, "Henry Fawcett was one of the greatest and truest friends of India in England". After he became a Member of Parliment in 1865, his whole attention was directed to the welfare of the people of India. His unremitting attention to the Indian affairs earned for him the sobriquet of "Member for India". Fawcett always maintained that "natives of India should be given a fair share in the administration of their country" and that the abler among them should be provided with honourable careers in the public services. In fact, he moved a resolution in the House of Commons in 1868 for holding the Civil Service examinations simultaneously in India and London. Many years later, Herbert Paul was able to get through precisely the same resolution Fawcett fought for India's cause single-handed with a resoluteness of purpose, a sense of justice and with such a mastery over facts that it won the admiration of even his critics. In 1872, a huge public meeting was held in Calcutta to express India's deep gratitude to him. When he was defeated at the General Elections in 1874, a subscription was raised in India and a sum of £750 in two instalments was remitted to England to enable him to contest another seat at the earliest opportunity. Soon after this Fawcett was returned to Parliament as a Member for Hackney.
In addition to Bright and Fawcett, mention should also be made among these early pioneers to the services of Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891), who supported the Ilbert Bill for and advocated the cause of India thoughout his life. He was a member of Paliamentary Reforms League in 1866 and was elected Member of Parliament in 1880. He was a great sympathiser of the Congress and, in fact, drafted a bill on the reform of the legislative council in India. He visited India and attended the session of the Indian National Congress in 1890. Pherozeshah Mehta, Chairman of the Reception Committee welcomed Charless Bradlaugh for on him had descended the mantle of John Bright and Prof. Fawcett. In his reply to the address of welcome, Bradlaugh said in his characteristic style, "for whom should I work, if not for the people? Born of the people, trusted by the people, I will die for the people. And I know no geographical or race limitations." It was at this session that he was requested to draft a skeleton scheme for the enlargement of the council and the extension of its functions and introduce it in the House of Commons. This Bill, however, was dropped after the first meeting in 1890. He introduced another Bill in the House of Commons. It was, perhaps, because of Bradlaugh's initiative that Lord Cross, the Secretary of State for India, introduced a Government measure in the Parliament which was ultimately passed as the Indian Council's Act of 1892. Bradlaugh's death in January, 1891 was regarded as a terrible loss in India for during the last three years of his life he had been really a spokesman of the Indian National Congress in the British Parliament. Mrs. Annie Besant refers to his services in her autobiography: "His services to India in the latest years of his life were no suddenly accepted tasks. He had spoken for her, pleaded for her, for many a long year, through press and on platform and his spurs as member for India were won long ere he was member of Parliament."
Mrs. Annie Besant
Particular mention may be made of the services rendered by Mrs. Annie Besant to India's struggle for freedom. She was an "extraordinary English woman who having passed through different phases of her life and undergone persecutions of no ordinary character", had at last made India her home and special interest. She was a dynamic force in Indian politics and rendered valuable services to the cause of national regeneration in India both from political and cultural points of view. She worked with zeal and energy to make the idea of Home Rule popular in a large part of India. She was the first President of the Indian National Congress who showed by action that the Presidency "was not a passing show or a three-day festivity" but involved shouldering of responsibility throughout its succeeding year. She made a significant contribution to the growth of Indian nationalism by ardent advocacy of the ancient Indian culture.
Allan Octavian Hume
The contribution of Allan Ocravian Hume (1829-1912) is too well-known to need any detailed reference. On retiring from Civil Service, he refused the post of Lieutenant Governorship and devoted himself to the founding of the Indian National Congress which "would form the germ of a native Parliament if properly conducted, will constitute in a few years an unanswerable reply to the assertion that India is still wholly unfit for any form of representative institutions." He was the founder of the Indian National Congress and Gokhale rightly said in 1913: "No Indian could have started the Indian National Congress. Apart from the fact that anyone putting his hand to such a gigantic task had need to have Mr. Hume's commanding personality, even if any Indian has possessed such a personality and had come forward to start such a movement embracing all India, the officials would not have allowed it to come into existence. If the founder of the Congress had not been a great Englishmen, and a distinguished ex-official such was the distrust of political agitation in those days that the authorities would have at once found some way or the other of suppressing the movement." With zeal and devotion Hume worked ceaselessly till the end of his life to keep alive the great orgarisation he had founded. His soul-inspiring letter to the graduates of the Calcutta University (March 1, 1883) inviting them to come forward and dedicate themselves to the service of the country will ever remain a monument to his organising ability and deep sympathy. "If you, the picked men, the most highly educated of the nation, cannot, scorning personal ease and selfish objects, make a resolute struggle to secure greater freedom for yourselves and your country, a more impartial administration, a larger share in the management of your own affairs, then we, your friends, are wrong and our adversaries right; then are Lord Ripon's noble aspirations for your good fruitless and visionary; then, at present at any rate all hopes of progress are at an end, and India truly neither lacks nor deserves any better Government than she now enjoys." He reminded them that "whether in the case of individuals or nations, self-sacrifice and unselfishness are the only unfailing guides to freedom and happiness." He was in despair when the Government refused to heed to their friendly demands and instead resorted to suppressing the movement (1888-1894). "It will now be for us", he declared, "to instruct the nations, the great English nation in its island home and the far greater nation of this vast continent; so that every Indian that breathes upon the sacred soil of this, our motherland, may become our comrade and coadjutor, our supporter and if needs be, our soldier in the great war that we, like Cobden and his noble band, will wage for justice for our liberties and rights." It was mainly because of his efforts that the Indian National Congress survived in the earlier days in spite of all the repressive measures adopted by the Government.
Sir William Wedderburn (1838-1918) was closely associated with Hume in the great task of strengthening the Congress Organisation. Hume and Wedderburn often had to spend money from their own pockets in order to carry on the Congress propaganda in England. It was William Wedderburn who was able, with the help of other supporters of the Congress, in getting through a resolution in the House of Commons for holding simultaneously Civil Service examinations in England and India. It encouraged Wedderburn and he invited some of the leading independent members of the House of Commons to a dinner in order to discuss the formation of an Indian Parliamentary Committee "for the purpose of promoting combined and well-directed action among those particularly interested in Indian affairs." He was elected President of the Indian National Congress in 1889 and 1910. In 1903, when there was demoralisation among the Indian people, due to the repressive measures of Lord Curzon, William Wedderburn took the initiative and published a series of articles entitled, "A Call to Arms." These articles were meant to encourage the supporters and friends of the Congress. He advised his friends not to give up the struggle but to close their ranks and wait for the change of the ministry in England which was soon expected. "With a fresh Parliament and a awakened national consciousness, the cause of India would have a just hearing." For seven years since his return to the House of Commons in 1893 he was a spokesman of the Congress in the British Parliament. There was hardly any important Indian question on which he did not speak. Though his success in the Parliament was far from encouraging, Wedderburn remained undaunted. Hamilton's letter shows how greatly the Secretary of State for India was annoyed at the "criticism of the Government's policy by these friends of India." He was so bitter that he declined to meet Wedderburn when the latter expressed a desire to see him with a view to clearing up misunderstandings. Hamilton use to call him and his friends contemptuously as "Wedderburn and Company," The Indian National Congress paid a Handsome tribute to Hume and Wedderburn at its session held in 1908 under the chairmanship of Rash Behari Ghosh. The Resolution which was moved by Gokhale said: "As the Reforms announced by Morley were a partial fruitation of the efforts made by the Congress during the last 23 years, they must be a source of great satisfaction to Hume, the father and Founder of the Congress. William Wedderburn has laboured for the Indian cause during the last 20 years and along with other members of the British Committee deserves the thanks of the Congress on this happy occasion."
Sir Henry Cotton
Sir Henry Cotton (1845-1915) and William Digby (1849-1904) were also ardent supporters of India's cause. Sir Henry Cotton wrote his book "New India" or "India in Transition" while he was in Civil Service in 1885. In this book he strongly stressed the need for a change in policy and called upon Englishmen to prepare themselves for "the exercise of higher function than those of mere administration". Sir Henry Cotton was also the Chairman of the Indian Parliamentary Committee (1905) which had about 200 M.P.s as its members. The resignation of Sir Bompfylde Fuller, Lt. Governor of the newly created province of Assam and Eastern Bengal (1905-6) was in no small measure due to the agitation carried out by Sir Henry Cotton Again, in the controversy regarding the singing of the Vande Matram, he took an active part and wrote an article in the Daily News with an English translation of the poem and tried to prove that it did not contain anything seditious. It was under his Presidentship in 1904 that the Congress resolved that atleast two persons should be sent to the House of Commons from India; both the Supreme and Legislative Councils should be enlarged and given a non-official majority. Cotton strongly disapproved Sir Ramsey Macdonald's grant of separate electorates to please the minorities in India. He called it trickery and divide et impera.
William Digby (1849-1904) was a journalist and Editor of The Madras Times. He also became Editor of India (1890-92). He was a strong supporter of the Indian National Congress and kept the British electorate informed of the Indian grivances-economic, administrative and personal. His book-Prosperous British India-Revelation- tried to prove that as India was under foreign domination, her wealth was being drained every year and that was a grave injustice.
Rev. Charles Freer Andrews (1871-1940) a great friend of Gandhiji devoted his life to the service of the Congress. He was perhaps the first Britisher who held the British Government in India responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy and described the O' Dver's act as "a cold and calculated massacre." He contributed articles frequently to the Manchester Guardian, The Hindu, The Modem Review, The Natal Advertiser and The Toronto Star regarding India's struggle for freedom. He, however, refused to join the Khilafat Agitation on the ground that to agree to it was to agree to the Ottoman Empire and to agree to any kind of Empire was to "cut the ground under the Indian demand for independence".
Keir Hardie (1856-1915) and Eardley Norton also deserve mention. The former was the Chairman of the Independent Labour Party and a Member of Parliament. He visited India in 1907 to see for himself the extent of the agitation being carried out for the annulment of the partition of Bengal. His analysis was that "the partition was the root cause of all mischief and that offical repression had increased the unrest." The official opposition to swedeshi and patronage of Muslims was, according to Hardie, the main cause of the agitation.
Eardley Norton of the Madras Bar was an enthusiastic supporter of the Congress. In fact, he was dubbed by his countrymen as a veiled seditionist for his participation in the Congress, to which he replied:
"If it be sedition, gentlemen, to rebel against all wrong, if it be sedition to insist that the people should have a fair share in the administration of their own country and affairs, if it be sedition to resist class tyranny, to raise my voice against oppression, to mutiny against injustice, to insist upon a hearing before sentence, to uphold the liberties of the individual, to vindicate our common right to gradual but ever advancing reform-if this be sedition. I am right glad to be called a seditionist; and doubly, aye trebly, glad when I look around me today to know and feel I am ranked as one among such a magnificent array of seditionists."
H.M. Hyndman, Editor of the Justice took an active interest in the Indian affairs and supported the Indian National movement. A man of wide and deep reading, wielding most ably a singularly fascinating pen, he devoted himself to India's cause. Love for the people and sympathy for the downtrodden remained the motto of his life. He wrote articles entitled "Modern Pirates and their victims" criticising the British Government for their repressive policy in India. He published a book The Truth about India in 1921 in which, he condemned the Muslim demand for separate representation. He alleged that the Simla Deputation had been officially engineered. He severely criticised the British Government for the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy in 1919.
Wedgewood Benn was another statesman who took a sympathetic interest in Indian affairs. As Secretary of State in the Labour Government, he had tried to impress upon the Viceroy the necessity of reconciliation with the Congress. The die-hard British bureaucrats, however, foiled all his efforts. He supported the Congress demand for a Constituent Assembly in 1939 which was not acceptable to the Muslim League.
Josiah Wedgewood (1872-1943), Labour M.P. criticised Ramsay Macdonald's introduction of separate electorates in India. The Hindu-Muslim communal riots from 1921-1926, which resulted in much bloodshed were regarded by Col. Wedgewood as "cutting of wisdom teeth." About the Simon Commission he wrote to Lala Lajpat Rai describing the official policy as 'deadly and stupid.' He hoped that the Commission would be boycotted and expressed pleasure at this prospect. He said: "There is no need to stand in the witness box and be cross-examined by persons of no great importance who had not shown any interest in your views and feelings."
Wilfred Scawen Blunt (1840-1922) took deep interest in Indian affairs and wrote three works on India, viz. Ideas about India; India under Ripon; and My Diaries. He visited India twice in 1879 and again 1883. "A man of wealth and connections, a minor poet, a horse-breeder, a passionate orientalist and an anti-imperialist, he was indeed a remarkable man." His visit to India convinced him that the Indians were capable of governing themselves far better than the British. One of the chief defects of the British Indian Administration was in Blunt's view the growth of race prejudices. "The ill feeling now existing in India", he wrote "if it be not allayed by a more generous treatment will in a few years make continued connection between England and India altogether impossible." He declared: "The huge mammal, India's symbol, is a docile beast and may be ridden by a child. He is sensible, temperate and easily attached. But ill-treatment he will not bear for ever and when he is angered in earnest, his vast bulk alone makes him dangerous and puts it beyond the strength of the strongest to guide him or control him." He criticized Syed Ahmad, the Aligarh leader for his hostility to the Congress and his advice to the Muslims was that "the policy of abstention recommended in opposition of my advice by late Syed Ahmad of Aligarh and so long followed, should cease. Much ground has been lost, I fear, by this long period of inaction but it is a ground that can be recovered and I trust now to see the Mohammedan body taking its full-share in the movement for self-government." It will be interesting to note that when Madan Lal Dhingra shot dead Sir Wyllie Curzon in London in 1909, Blunt defended this young man whom he called a Mazzini. He admired his courage and signed for 500 equally fearless men who could achieve freedom for India. He was grateful to the authorities for having chosen his own birthday, August 17 for Dhingra's execution. After Dhingra was hanged, Blunt praised his great fortitude and severely criticized the British public for its besotted refusal to acknowledge his greatness and warned that "the day of reckoning was not far off". When he died on September 12, 1922, the Manchester Guardian praised his campaign against the British Empire and wrote, "at most periods in history, there have been English men who have been ready to defend unpopular causes, Blunt belonged to that noble line and added honour to its fine records."
The National Movement in India found its most ardent supporters in the Labour Party. The great thinker and philosopher Harold Laski (1893-1950) was an ardent friend of India. He was the member and Chairman of the Labour Party Executive Comittee and author of many books: He criticized the Simon Commission Report as it did not include proposals for establishing India as a self-governing Unit in the Commonwealth of a permanent basis. Laski asked for a fixed date about three years after the end of the war for giving India Dominion Status and declared that the Indians would work out their Constitution within this period. He was sure that Jinnah and his friends would come to terms with the Congress. He was always sympathetic to the Congress cause and when the Round Table Conference failed in 1931 he put the blame for the failure on the communal Muslims. He cursed religion as a social disease and blamed Ramsay MacDonald's weakness, vanity and indecisiveness for not compelling an agreement.
The role played by Sir Ramsay MacDonald (1886-1927) in India's struggle for freedom is still to be analysed. He was Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1924 and again from 1929-35 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1911-1914. Such was his popularity in India in the earlier stages of his career that he was invited to preside over the 1911 Session of the Indian National Congress but was unable to do so on account of his wife's death. He was foremost among those who condemned the Partition of Bengal. Later on he declared that the British Government was prepared to recognize the all important principle of executive responsibility to the legislature, except for certain safeguards, notably Defence, External Affairs, the maintenance of tranquillity in the realm and the guarantee of financial stability. He was, however, responsible for the introduction of separate electorates. Gandhiji undertook a fast unto death in disapproval of separate electorates given by MacDonald's 'Communal Award' to the depressed classes. MacDonald however, lamented that the "hope of united India, an India conscious of a unity of purpose and destiny seems to be the vainest of the vain dreams". He played a notable part in the appointment of the Simon Commission. It was measures like these that prompted Stanley Baldwin to congratulate him for his adoption of Conservatism. Winston Churchill tauntingly promised him "his cordial cooperation in the Government's self-imposed task of carrying out the conservative policy of making the world wiser if not safer for capitalism". Lloyd George called the MacDonald "the last of the conservatives". Even Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru was convinced that the British Labour Government under MacDonald would not be of any special benefit to the Indian National Movement.
H. N. Brailsford, a labour journalist and an M. P. was another important supporter of the Indian National Movement. He wrote frequently about Indian affairs and "condemned partition of Bengal as an autocratic act and clumsy one." He was against the creation of Pakistan which he thought was "wicked and a crime against civilization." In 1936 he favoured the handing over of all powers to the Congress who would then win support of the Muslims by offering the presidency of the Constituent Assembly to "the ageing and ambitious Jinnah." The creation of Pakistan was to him a "reactionary step implying a reversion to some medieval conception of theocracy."
Among those who helped to further the Indian cause the names of Fenner Brockway, John Bracket, Sir Henry Polik, Reginald Sorenson, and Miss Madeleina Slade popularly known as Mira Behn may also be mentioned. This list is however far from complete and many names wil1 have to be added when an exhaustive work is undertaken on this important project.
- Dr. PN. Chopra