Sir Chimanlal Setalvad. Free India has punished him for refusing to pray at the shrine of the Congress.
“The attitude of the British towards India’s claim for freedom has since the Mutiny of 1857 undergone a complete change. There was a time when the British government held the view which was a complete negation of India’s claim for freedom. It was proclaimed by Lawrence, whose statue in Calcutta has the motto: ‘The British conquered India by the sword and they will hold it by the sword.’ This attitude is dead and buried and it is no exaggeration to say that every Englishman today is ashamed of it. This stage was followed by another in which the argument of the British government against India’s freedom was the alleged incapacity of Indians for parliamentary institutions. It began with Lord Ripon’s regime which was followed by an attempt to give political training to Indians, first in the field of local self-government, and then under the Montague-Chelmsford reforms in the field of provincial government. We have now entered the third or the present stage. The British government is now ashamed to say that they will hold India by the sword. It no longer says that Indians have no capacity to run parliamentary institutions. The British government admits India’s right to freedom, even to independence, if Indians so desire. The British government admits the right of Indians to frame their own constitution. There can be no greater proof of this new angle of vision than the Cripps proposals . The condition precedent laid down by the British government for India’s freedom is that Indians must produce a constitution which has the concurrence of the important elements in the national life of the country. Such is the stage we have reached. The Untouchables cannot therefore understand why the Congress, instead of trying to achieve agreement among Indians, should keep on talking in terms of a ‘Fight for Freedom’ and maligning the Untouchables in not joining in it. …
“But when, instead of making an honest and sincere attempt to bring about an agreed constitution, the Congress goes on launching its campaigns for achieving freedom – not without occasional rests and retreats – the only conclusion which the Untouchables can draw is that the Congress wants to coerce the British government to transfer its power or, to use Mr Gandhi’s phrase, ‘hand over the keys to the Congress’ without being obliged to agree to the safeguards demanded by the Untouchables.”
– Dr B.R. Ambedkar
What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to The Untouchables
(Thackar & Co., Bombay, 1946; pages 177-178)
Both paragraphs from this erudite and scathing work by one of India’s most original and fearless thinkers deserve serious reflection. The first describes accurately the three stages in Britain’s response to India’s demand for independence. The second sums up the Congress’ policy on the minorities’ demand for a settlement on their demands for safeguards before independence.
As to the first paragraph, one must honestly answer which of the transitions in each of the three stages was more difficult than the rest and for which the liberals of old, rather than Gandhi, were responsible and deserve credit. The answer cannot be in doubt. The transition from the first stage, of flat denial based on brute force, to the second was the most difficult of all. It was reached in the British government’s Declaration on August 20, 1917, that its policy was to promote “gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of British Empire”. Hence the enactment of the Government of India Act, 1919. It provided for diarchy in government, with a limited role to Indians. The Congress did not work it. There come another Declaration, this time by the Viceroy Lord Irwin, on October 31, 1929, that “it is implicit in the Declaration of 1917 that the natural issue of India’s constitutional progress, as there contemplated, is the attainment of dominion status”, that is, independence.
At the round table conferences in London in the early 1930s, Indians failed to agree on safeguards for minorities and on a federation. The Government of India Act, 1935, established responsible government in the provinces, with Ministers answerable to and removable by elected provincial assemblies, but not at the Centre. The all-India federation it envisaged never came into being. The Congress formed Ministries in the provinces of Madras, Bombay, U.P. [United Provinces], Bihar, and Central Provinces. Inebriated with power, it rode roughshod over all others, as Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru bitterly complained from Allahabad to B. Shiva Rao in New Delhi. Congress Ministries resigned after the Second World War broke out. The Cripps proposals of 1942 were an effort at a settlement between the Congress and the Muslim League – a Union in which a province had the liberty to secede. It also recognised the right of a Dominion to secede from the Empire. India’s independence had ceased to be an issue. It was only a matter of time. But an all-India federation had to be worked towards.
‘Congress High Command’
Reflect on the play of political forces at each of these stages. It was the dogged, persistent struggle of the liberals that led to the first and crucial transition in 1917, from denial to responsible government. Gandhi came on the political scene after this and his policy was to support the war effort. Nor did he contribute to the working of the Act of 1919. He sponsored instead a programme of non-cooperation and civil disobedience. The Congress Ministries that were formed in 1937 did not play by the rules of the parliamentary system. That was when the concept of the “Congress High Command” came into being. It was to it, and only formally to the Assemblies, that the Ministers were accountable. Are you surprised that even in 2012 it is the High Command that decides (a) who shall be Chief Minister of a State (b) the strength of the Cabinet (c) the composition of the Cabinet (d) the resignation of Ministers and (e) the dissolution of Assemblies?
All other parties follow this pernicious and unconstitutional practice, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party, unless a powerful supremo in a State cocks a snook at it as B.S. Yeddyurappa does so efficiently. Read the correspondence between Gandhi and Nehru in 1937 on whether Purshottam Das Tandon should resign from the Congress on his election as Speaker of the U.P. Assembly. Both vehemently rejected the idea.
For different reasons both had contempt for the norms of parliamentary government. To Gandhi it was of British origin, not a swadeshi product suitable for Hind Swaraj. Nehru, the socialist, transferred his dislike of the liberals to the parliamentary system by which they swore. He swore at both. Their fans rewrote modern India’s history, and state-supported institutions, academies, universities and the rest revel in the halo of the Gandhi-Nehru consensus. There is a lot to be admired in a good many elements of that consensus. On this there can be no doubt. They moulded an outlook on national unity.
M.C. Setalvad, son of Sir Chimanlal Setalvad. In 1971, he had no hesitation in supporting his father's opinion on alienating the Muslim League. "I still firmly hold that the Congress politics should have been so moulded in those days as not to alienate the Muslims...."
The issue is that before 1947 neither Gandhi nor Nehru helped in forging a settlement on the minorities’ rights and safeguards or in promoting parliamentary democracy. The studied rewriting of history, which denies the liberals their stupendous contribution in India’s political evolution until the 1920s when the Gandhi-Nehru hegemony came to hold sway, is unworthy and demeaning. Stalinist rewriting of history denied Trotsky his fair share of credit for the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. He was made a non-person. The attitude of some Indians is no better. The liberals are mentioned condescendingly. They were more clear-headed, realistic and practical than Gandhi or Nehru and not a whit inferior in political scruples to either.
They won the 1917 Declaration from the British. The Congress made no contribution to working the reforms, to setting sound precedents, and to achieving a settlement with other parties to confront the British with a united front. On their release from prison in 1945, the Congress leaders made it plain that they would negotiate only with the British, not with the Muslim League.
A varied lot
The liberals, to be sure, were a varied lot. A Hindu Mahasabhite like M.R. Jayakar passed off as a liberal. Tej Bahadur Sapru would show deference to “Mahatmaji” and sneeringly call him “Apostle” in private. Sapru was careful not to move too far away from Nehru. One man stood head and shoulders above this lot for his sterling integrity, sturdy independence and a keen sense of realism.
He was Sir Chimanlal H. Setalvad. Free India has punished him for refusing to pray at the shrine of the Congress. Unfortunately, even his son Motilal Setalvad did him scant justice in his memoirs My Life (N.M. Tripathi; Bombay, 1970). He was strongly pro-Congress and was close to Vallabhbhai Patel. No Attorney-General of India has come anywhere near him in the qualities of independence and integrity he exemplified. His successor, C.K. Daphtary, a far better advocate, came a close second. Of the ones who followed him in the last four decades, the less said the better.
"The liberals were a varied lot. A Hindu Mahasabhite like M.R. Jayakar passed off as a liberal. Tej Bahadur Sapru (right) would show deference to `Mahatmaji' and sneeringly call him `Apostle' in private. Sapru was careful not to move too far away from Nehru."
Fortunately, Motilal Setalvad rendered his father his just dues in an interview to Hari Dev Sharma in the Oral History Project of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML) in New Delhi, to which this writer is much indebted. It was recorded on January 30, 1971, shortly after the publication of his memoirs in 1970. As with his interviews with communist leaders, Sharma’s immaturity and ineptness stand out.
Unlike his tolerant father, Sir Chimanlal, Motilal did not suffer fools gladly. Sharma was given his just deserts more than once during the interview. M.C. Setalvad resigned as Advocate-General of Bombay in 1942 once the Congress launched the Quit India campaign and there were massive arrests. Read this:
“Sharma: Then later on, on the request of the Governor, you continued till they made an alternative arrangement.
“Setalvad: Yes. I have said that in my book.
“Sharma: But why did you agree to that because it was a moral protest?
“Setalvad: Yes. Quite right, quite right. But at the same time, I was not like one of those domestic servants who could walk out as they wished. You have some responsibilities. It would have been puerile and childish to do anything else.” Very apt terms for his interviewer.
Sharma’s shortcomings did not deter M.C. Setalvad from speaking candidly on his father and on himself. He said, “The combination of a religious attitude with politics, such as was frequently to be found in what Mr Gandhi did, was clearly, according to him [Sir Chimanlal], inappropriate. He thought you could not mix religion with politics, and according to him, make a mess of both.
“Sharma: What was his attitude to Gandhi apart from his movements?
“Setalvad: Well, he was strongly of the view that but for the way in which some of the Congress leaders had dealt with matters we could have had a united India as a dominion with an independent status, part of the British Commonwealth.
“Sharma: Was he all through opposed to the Congress or was there any meeting ground?
“Setalvad: His idea was that the attitude of the Congress towards the Muslims and its demand for complete independence was not an attitude which would be beneficial to the country. That is the view which he took. With Muslims, he would have wished a more compromising attitude. In his view these compromises were prevented, for example at the Round Table Conference, by the views of Jayakar, Hindu Mahasabha, and so on. He frequently said, we were very near solution of the problem but this was prevented by the Hindu diehards. One seat more or one seat less, that was the sort of bargaining that was going on. They had lost the true perspective of the future of the whole country.”
Sharma’s repeated attempts to get M.C. Setalvad to toe the Congress line are best ignored. The liberals formed a small group, so Sharma blithely asked, “Did they think that their existence in politics was in a way useful either to the country or to society?”
“Setalvad: Notwithstanding their small number, almost microscopic, towards the later years, they thought that in many respects, the Congress was not going along the right lines and it was their duty to point out what the right lines were.” That is what is missing in India’s public life today. There is no room for independents of independent means, free from the domination of party bosses and the party funds they control.
Sharma’s question on the Hunter Committee which inquired into the Jallianwala Bagh massacre exposed his ignorance of Chimanlal Setalvad’s stellar role in shaping the minority report.
“Sharma: Were there any special reasons for his appointment on the Hunter Committee?
“Setalvad: Well, he had always commanded a great respect from most British administrators and they thought that he would not be amenable to, what the British then thought, the extreme Indian element. That was by reason of his liberal views or his views as a liberal politician.
“Sharma: Could you tell what part did he play in the Hunter Committee? Of course, he himself has set out in his book that they were not on speaking terms, rather he exchanged hot words with the Chairman.
“Setalvad: Well, whenever in later years, I went for my own purposes to the Punjab, there was hardly any person whom I met who did not remember his cross-examination of witnesses on the Hunter Committee. They always spoke so highly of the way in which he had pinned down those witnesses, including the General himself.”
Motilal admitted that his own “politics were more tinged in those days by the Congress view and I was not a believer in the liberal view at all”. In 1971 he had no hesitation in supporting his father’s opinion: “I still firmly hold that the Congress politics should have been so moulded in those days as not to alienate the Muslims, and we could have if we had acted wisely with the Muslims, prevented a truncated India and all the evils which have for 20 years or more flowed from the partition. We could have avoided it.”
Sharma sought Motilal’s opinion on whether the partition of India could have been prevented and received a frank reply. “Yes. My own view is it could have been prevented. One thing is very clear to me: when the many Congress Ministries came into power after the first elections (in 1937) — under the provincial scheme, and the Congress held the Ministries in various provinces, the Congress could, at that stage, have made arrangements with the Muslim League to take in the Muslim League as a co-partner. The League was willing. But, if I remember right, the Congress insisted – they took Muslims as Ministers – but they insisted on those Muslims becoming Congressmen, and would not have Muslim League Ministers. The whole idea was the refusal to recognise the Muslim League, which was based on the theory that the Congress represented everybody, which, in fact, it did not at that time.”
‘On Gandhi’s movements’
Sharma also sought his views on “Gandhi’s movements” and was told, “I always thought and I still think that Gandhi was more a politician than a saint or a religious reformer or a philosopher. The base of all his activities was politics, though, of course, he was a great man and had great moral qualities also and he made use of all those qualities primarily for his political purposes. That is what I feel about him.” This made the poor interviewer very uneasy.
“Sharma: Now, it is a very bold statement to make, because Gandhi himself said that primarily he was a man of religion. Now, would you elucidate this contention?
DR B.R. Ambedkar. The erudite lecture he delivered at the Gokhale Memorial Hall in Poona on January 18, 1943, was a scathing censure of the sterile politics of Gandhi and Jinnah in contrast to Mahadev Govind Ranade's liberal and constructive approach to politics.
“Setalvad: It all depends on how you feel about it. I may be quite wrong, and he is probably right because he knows more about himself than I know about him! This is what I read and what I heard about it – and the feeling, the impression one got was that the mainsprings of his actions were political – the advancement, the independence, the liberation of his country.
“Sharma: Oh, in that sense.
“Setalvad: In that sense. And, of course, even I would go this length, in his way of life, the way in which he became one of the masses was initially deliberately assumed for the purpose of making himself a person trusted by them so that he could lead them; they would follow him easier; he would become one of them and live with them, and so forth and so on.”
On two points – his father’s abilities as a lawyer and Nehru’s respect for the Attorney-General – Setalvad’s statements are interesting. “I think he was one of the ablest lawyers that we had on the Bombay (Original) side. I should say even considering all India, one of the ablest lawyers. It all came, I think, from a very very clear mind and a quick grasp. I don’t claim myself to have the same quick grasp that my father had. The tradition about him was that you could talk to him as he was going up the lift for a few minutes, and then he could present the matter straightaway effectively to the court.” He was superior to most as a lawyer as well as an advocate.
Nehru “laid down very sound principles – for example, one of the principles laid down was that whenever a question arose as to a legal matter, the Attorney-General’s opinion, whether it agreed or disagreed with that of the Minister, was to be considered as final and that should be accepted always by the government”.
Father and son had many things in common. Both were independent and clear-headed, Chimanlal being the more realistic of the two. Neither thought highly of Gandhi, and both were bad writers. Chimanlal’s Recollections and Reflections are a must read, but they are terribly dull.
M.C. Setalvad’s book War and Civil Liberties (Oxford University Press, 1946) is a collector’s prize. It deserves to be reprinted with an update by a true scholar. This slim volume records rulings by the Federal Court in support of Indian citizens. A creation of the British, its record during a near-violent revolt against British rule is vastly superior to that of the Supreme Court of free India on matters like the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Barring the first appointees, none of the judges since can hold a candle to Sir Maurice Gwyer, Chief Justice of the Federal Court, for erudition or independence.
Most neglected is his biography of his senior at the Bar, Bhulabhai Desai, in the Builders of Modern India series of the Publications Division (1968). The neglect is understandable. It exposes Gandhi’s disgraceful treatment of Bhulabhai. He was ruined once the Congress pack hounded him for the pact he initialled with Liaquat Ali Khan on January 11, 1945. Setalvad exposes the utter falsity of the charge that it was done behind Gandhi’s back. Appendix 1 at page 361 is a “Photostat of an explanatory note by Bhulabhai Desai with Gandhiji’s Alterations”. He proves fully that “Bhulabhai acted with the consent and approval of Gandhi” (page 279). Indeed “Public statements by Gandhi… completely exonerated Bhulabhai”.
But Gandhi did nothing to protect the victim of the party’s wrath. On the contrary, he collaborated actively with Patel & co. in denying Bhulabhai the Congress ticket for the Central Assembly, where he had led the party with distinction. Their action “had Gandhi’s complete support”. He called on the man he had done ill when he lay on his deathbed, studiously on a day on which he was observing silence, to Bhulabhai’s utter despair. H.M. Seervai’s comment is apt: “It is astonishing that Gandhi’s gospel of universal love did not extend to giving solace and comfort to a dying friend, on whom Gandhi had inflicted a mortal injury” ( Partition of India; page 212).
Maulana Azad alone did Bhulabhai justice. Bhulabhai went on to win national acclaim as defence counsel in the INA trials. But India has yet to do justice to Chimanlal Setalvad for his brilliant cross-examination of British officials who appeared before the Hunter Commission ( Punjab Disturbances 1919-20; Deep Publications, 1976; Volumes I and II contain the texts of the two reports. The Minority Report reproduces extracts from the cross-examination).
There is reason for this neglect. To his dying day, December 30, 1947, Chimanlal Setalvad held his head high and spoke the truth to power. His letters to The Times of India which this writer avidly read as a schoolboy deserve to be published in a collection. In an article entitled “India Divided”, he squarely blamed the Congress for sabotaging the Cabinet Mission’s Plan, the last chance for preserving India’s unity. But he also accurately predicted that Jinnah’s “personal triumph”, the establishment of Pakistan, sowed the seeds of “suffering to generations yet unborn” (The Times of India; June 15, 1947 ).
But it is the two letters he wrote on Junagadh and Kashmir which place him higher than men like Sapru or Kunzru. He faulted India for conniving and assisting in the march to Junagadh before the tribal raid from Pakistan into Kashmir and pointed out that morally and politically that march was on a par with the tribal raid (see box).
In these powerful dissents, Sir Chimanlal was only being true to the great liberal heritage. No one described it better than Dr B.R. Ambedkar did in an erudite lecture he delivered at the Gokhale Memorial Hall in Poona (now Pune) on January 18, 1943. Its theme was “Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah”. It was a scathing censure of the sterile politics of Gandhi and Jinnah in contrast to Ranade’s liberal and constructive approach to politics. I make no apology for quoting it in extenso:
“[Mahadev Govind] Ranade was a great politician of his day. He must therefore be compared with the greatest of today. We have on the horizon of India two great men, so big that they could be identified without being named – Gandhi and Jinnah. What sort of a history they will make may be a matter for posterity to tell. For us it is enough that they do indisputably make headlines for the press. They hold leading strings. One leads the Hindus, the other leads the Muslims. They are the idols and heroes of the hour. I propose to compare them with Ranade. How do they compare with Ranade?...
“The first thing that strikes me is that it would be difficult to find two persons who would rival them for their colossal egotism, to whom personal ascendancy is everything and the cause of the country a mere counter on the table. They have made Indian politics a matter of personal feud. Consequences have no terror for them; indeed they do not occur to them until they happen. When they do happen they either forget the cause, or if they remember it, they overlook it with a complacency which saves them from any remorse. They choose to stand on a pedestal of splendid isolation. They wall themselves off from their equals. They prefer to open themselves to their inferiors. They are very unhappy at and impatient of criticism, but are very happy to be fawned upon by flunkeys. Both have developed a wonderful stage-craft and arrange things in such a way that they are always in the limelight wherever they go. Each of course claims to be supreme. If supremacy was their only claim, it would be a small wonder. In addition to supremacy each claims infallibility for himself….
“This feeling of supremacy and infallibility is strengthened by the press. One cannot help saying that. The language used by Gardiner to describe the Northcliffe brand of journalism, in my opinion, quite appropriately describes the present state of journalism in India. Journalism in India was once a profession. It has now become a trade. It has no more moral function than the manufacture of soap. It does not regard itself as the responsible adviser of the public. To give the news uncoloured by any motive, to present a certain view of public policy which it believes to be for the good of the community, to correct and chastise without fear all those no matter how high, who have chosen a wrong or a barren path, is not regarded by journalism in India as its first foremost duty. To accept a hero and worship him has become its principal duty. Under it news gives place to sensation, reasoned opinion to unreasoning passion, appeal to the minds of responsible people to appeal to the emotions of the irresponsible. Lord Salisbury spoke of the Northcliffe journalism as written by office-boys for office-boys. Indian journalism is all that plus something more. It is written by drum-boys to glorify their heroes. Never has the interest of the country been sacrificed so senselessly for the propagation of hero worship. Never has hero worship become so blind as we see it in India today. There are, I am glad to say, honourable exceptions. But they are too few and their voice is never heard.”
One wonders what he would have said of our TV anchors.
Ambedkar added: “Entrenched behind the plaudits of the press, the spirit of domination exhibited by these two great men has transgressed all limits. By their domination they have demoralised politics. By their domination they have made half their followers fools and the other half hypocrites. In establishing their supremacy they have taken the aid of ‘big business’ and money magnates. For the first time in our country, money is taking the field as an organised power…. Politics has become a kind of sewage system intolerably unsavoury and insanitary. To become a politician is like going to work in the drain.
“Politics in the hands of these two great men have become a competition in extravaganza. If Mr Gandhi is known as Mahatma, Mr Jinnah must be known as Qaid-i-Azam. If Gandhi has the Congress, Mr Jinnah must have the Muslim League. If the Congress has a working committee and the All-India Congress Committee, the Muslim League must have its working committee and its council. The session of the Congress must be followed by a session of the League. If the Congress issues a statement, the League must also follow suit. If the Congress passes a resolution of 17,000 words, the Muslims League’s resolution must exceed it by at least a thousand words. If the Congress president has a press conference, the Muslim League president must have his. If the Congress must address an appeal to the United Nations, the Muslim League must not allow itself to be outbidden. When is all this to end? When is there to be a settlement? There are no near prospects. They will not meet, except on preposterous conditions. Jinnah insists that Gandhi should admit that he is a Hindu. Gandhi insists that Jinnah should admit that he is one of the leaders of the Muslims. Never has there been such a deplorable state of bankruptcy of statesmanship as one sees in these two leaders of India.” This indictment was followed by a comparison with Ranade.
Ambedkar said: "We have on the horizon of India two great men, so big that they could be identified without being named - Gandhi and Jinnah. . Politics in the hands of these two great men have become a competition in extravaganza. If Mr Gandhi is known as Mahatma, Mr Jinnah must be known as Qaid-i-Azam."
“How does Ranade strike as compared to these two?... He had not a tinge of egotism in him. His intellectual attainments could have justified any amount of pride, nay even insolence. But he was the most modest of men. Serious youths were captivated by his learning and geniality. Many, feeling completely under his sway, responded to his ennobling influence and moulded their whole lives with the passionate reverence for their adored master. He refused to be satisfied with the praises of fools, and was never afraid of moving in the company of equals and of the give and take it involves. He never claimed to be a mystic relying on the inner voice. He was a rationalist prepared to have his views tested in the light of reasons and experience. His greatness was natural. He needed no aid of the stage nor the technique of an assumed eccentricity nor the means of a subsidised press. As I said, Ranade was principally a social reformer. He was not a politician in the sense of one who trades in politics. But he has played an important part in the political advancement of India. To some of the politicians he acted as the teacher who secured such signal successes and who dazzled their critics by their brilliance. To some he acted as the guide, but to all he acted as the philosopher.”
Here follow words which are extremely relevant and helpful in our present political situation: “What was the political philosophy of Ranade? It may be summed up in three propositions. (1) We must not set up as our ideal something which is purely imaginary. An ideal must be such that it must carry the assurance that it is a practicable one. (2) In politics, sentiment and temperament of the people are more important than intellect and theory. This is particularly so in the matter of framing a constitution. A constitution is as much a matter of taste as clothes are. Both must fit; both must please. (3) In political negotiations the rule must be what is possible. That does not mean that we should be content with what is offered. No, it means that you must not refuse what is offered when you know that your sanctions are inadequate to compel your opponent to concede more.
“These are the three main doctrines of Ranade’s political philosophy. … There can be no compromise on principle, and there should not be. But once the principle is agreed upon, there can be no objection to realise it by instalments. Graduation in politics is inevitable, and when the principle is accepted it is not harmful and indeed it may in certain circumstances be quite advantageous. On this third proposition there was really no difference between him and Tilak, except this; Tilak would have the possible maximised by the application of sanctions; Ranade would look askance at sanctions. This is all. On the rest they were agreed.” Had Tilak lived Gandhi would not have gone as far as he did.
The quarter century of Gandhi’s politics exacted a heavy toll. He was truly one of the greats. He raised Indians’ pride and self-respect. His programme bred lawlessness. His policies on crucial issues affecting India’s unity were destructive. Nehru has the nation in his debt. The ideas and ideology he espoused are relevant – secularism, non-alignment, democracy and much else. Some of his policies wreaked havoc, alas. Neither of the two knew compromise.
The truth was told by a brilliant but lapsed liberal Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar. He was once mentor of the Home Rule League and a follower of Annie Besant whom he ably defended in court. He became a careerist and found transient glory as Dewan of Travancore. He was hated for his autocratic and repressive ways. That is no reason why a profound truth which he told members of the British Cabinet Mission on April 9, 1946, should be ignored. The minutes read: “He [Sir C.P.] personally regarded the three great contributions made by the British to India to be the judicial system, the idea of the unity of India which had been so long a dream and had been made effective by the British, and which he felt to be so very precious and worth safeguarding at all costs. The third contribution was the spirit of compromise which was not being manifested as much as he would like at this time.”
As he spoke, the unity of the country was under threat. The Cabinet Mission’s plan of May 16, 1946, was the last opportunity to preserve it. Gandhi mounted his attack on it the very next day and went on to propound his disingenuous – if not worse – doctrine of acceptance subject to his interpretation. The Plan collapsed. India was partitioned on August 15, 1947. The judiciary today is in a far worse state than it was in 1946. And “the spirit of compromise scorned by the Congress as soon as it tasted some power in 1937, is gone. Sordid deals for power-sharing reflect sordid compromises. It is the genuine give and take of democratic politics which reflects “the spirit of compromise”. But, to quote Ambedkar again, democratic governance can work only in a democratic society. For all our successes, such as they are, we have still a long way to go. Our success will be ensured if we hearken to the lessons which the great and erudite liberals such as Dadabhoy Naoroji and Gopal Krishna Gokhale taught us. They were men of learning given to reflection and committed to democratic politics. They did not impose their “inner voice” on blind servile followers.
(Letters to the Editor should carry the full postal address)
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