New Digital Library of India.
Council of State, March 16, 1927
Deliberations on the Hindu-Muslim problem.
These were referred to in arriving at what are called the Delhi Muslim proposals.
1. Sir Sankaran Nair's resolution.
2. Sir Alexander Muddiman's reply on behalf of the government.
3. Mr Suhrawardy's amendment.
4. Sardar Jaidev Singh's amendment.
5. Mr. Ramadas Pantalu, on behalf of the Congress.
6. Sir Sankaran Nair's reply.
7. Amendment withdrawn.
The Hindu-Muslim Problem.
On the 16TH MARCH, after a week's recess, the Council of State held an important sitting with a non-official resolution and amendments of a contentious character.
Sir Sankaran Nair moved a resolution recommending to the Government that the number of members of Legislative Councils in India be not increased, that no additional powers be conferred on them expressly or by implication and that no further step towards responsible Government be taken until Hindus and Mahomedans agree to dispense with the election of members to those Councils by separate electorates composed only of Hindus or Mahomedans.
Sir Alexander Muddiman, speaking on behalf of the Government, paid a tribute to the remarkable manner in which Sir Sankaran Nair had moved his resolution. He had no hesitation in saying that it was a remarkable resolution of a remarkable personality and not a backbencher. In the opinion of some, it would mean that if effect were given to Sir Sankaran Nair's motion the Reforms should be put off indefinitely until and unless the differences referred to were composed.
Continuing, the Home Member said that the authors of the Montagu Chelmsford report clearly recognised that separate representation would perpetuate class division and stereotype the existing relations, but they were convinced that the present system must be maintained until conditions altered
even at the price of slower progress towards the realisation of common citizenship. The same was the view of the Franchise Committee. After mentioning the names of the Councils where separate representation was given to minorities like Mahomedans, Christians, Anglo-Indians, Non-Brahmins and Europeans, the Home Member referred to the evidence given by Sir Sankaran Nair before the Southborough Committee where he was in favour of separate representation for Non-Brahmins because he could not help giving it.
Sir Sankaran's later evidence showed that he proposed the method of reservation of seats and not communal electorate. He (the Home Member) knew what it was to suffer from the tyranny of the majority. He was undergoing that tyranny for the last three years in the Assembly. He was not surprised at the feeling of apprehension among minority communities in a country where universal conception of relations between majority and minority as existing in England and advanced countries had not been fully attained. He knew the short-lived Bengal pact, but there were also resolutions of the Muslim League which were not helpful.
The majority of the Muddiman Committee was not prepared to recommend the substitution of reservation of seats for separate electorates. The views of the minority on the committee were in direct opposition to Sir Sankaran Nair's resolution. The Government of India, therefore, had not and could not change its attitude in regard to this question as the demand for separate representation of minorities instead of diminishing had continually been on the increase. The reforms were in some measure responsible for this position. Power had been graually handed over to representatives of the people and the exercise of that power had become a source of strife between the two great communities in this country.
Mr Jinnah had said that nationalism could not be created by having mixed electorates, but Sir Sankaran Nair said that it was not possible to have nationalism with separate electorates. As Lord Irwin said at Poona, communal representation promoted division. The situation demanded a wide measure of
mutual toleration and until that stage was reached any substantial modification of the existing system would largely depend upon the general consent of all communities.
The Government, said the Home Member, were primarily convinced that the relations between Hindus and Mahomedans would have been more bitter than what they were now if they had attempted to force on the people in 1919 reforms without some form of communal representation. Of course, so long as the British Government was in India, they would see that the two communities did not break their heads but let the western conception of relations between majority and minority be developed.
Whatever the result of the debate, he hoped that it would proceed in such a manner as to leave some room for further progress on the path of reforms.
Mr. Suhrawardy, in moving his amendment, favouring the institution of separate electorates without reducing the majority into a minority or even to equality, deplored that Sir Sankaran Nair with his quarter of a century's distinguished public life behind him should have brought forward the resolution. Mussalmans were in a minority and their educational facilities were not many. Sir Sankaran was mistaken if he thought that muslims were opposed to further extension of constitutional reforms. On behalf of Bengal, he would ask Parliament to grant reforms, but he was bound to say that consistent with their position in the country they could not agree to Sir Sankaran's motion.
To his mind the joint electorate was the ideal end in view. (Cheers), but in the meanwhile mass psychology had to be changed. It might be argued that seats might be reserved for Mussulmans. He did not call it altogether a bitter pill, but he would say that Sir Sankaran Nair instead of telling Mussalmaas to give up what little they had should tell the Hindus to observe the spirit of the adage "Live and let live".
Sirdar Jaidev Singh Uberoi explained that Sir Sankaran's motive was not to retard progress towards Swaraj but to apply indirect means of bringing about the much desired unity between the communities. To the extent, therefore, his resolution deserved welcome, but at the same time they should not forget that the authorities of the Montford scheme had distinctly recognised the necessity for communal representation. He would say that the communal electorate was certainly an impediment. He, therefore, removed what he called a media amendment favouring separate representation of important minorities,
but he was sure that joint electorates would serve the very purpose of communal electorates. As a Sikh, he would be only too glad to find his community in a joint electorate.
The position of the Congress Party in the Central Legislature on communal representation was explained by Mr. Ramadas Pantulu. He observed : The Congress stands for national unity on a footing of inter-communal harmony. Its scheme of responsible Government is broad-based on what may comprehensively be described as national as opposed to sectional or communal ideals. We believe that our salvation lies in clear conception and practical realisation of a united India nation.
The Congress never accepted the political heresy that co-existence in India of communities, cultures, castes and languages is a real impediment to the attainment of full nationhood and freedom by the people of this country, but we are alive to the fact that nationhood and freedom cannot be attained without our developing a full and practical sense of justice to all communities and creeds which is in no way inconsistent with nationalism and which alone can safeguard the legitimate rights of minorities in any schemes of political reconstruction of India. It is an inevitable feature at present.
This position was made perfectly clear in the National Demand placed before the central legislature in September 1925 wherein we insisted upon Government taking steps to constitute a suitable agency adequately representative of all Indian, European and Anglo-Indian interests to frame with due regard to the interests of minorities a detailed scheme of Self-Government based on the principles enumerated in that demand.
Representation of communities in India in just and adequate proportions in various spheres of national life and activity with safeguards to automatically ensure in time full nationalism and complete obliteration of communalism is but a corollary to the practical application of these principles to the solution of the communal problem. The Congress undoubtedly stands for securing such just representation through the medium of joint electorates and joint action on the part of all communities. Undoubtedly, all patriotic and intelligent Hindus and Mahomedans recognise the value of joint electorates as great unifying factors in national upbuilding. They are also alive to disputing and disintegrating tendencies of separate electorates and are conscious of their being serious obstacles to the attainment of Self-Government. There is, therefore, a desire on their part to arrive at an honourable understanding in the matter which will be for the lasting benefit of their common motherland.
It is true that in the attempt to effect a satisfactory settlement, some Moslems and Hindus advocate retention of separate electorates for some time longer, but they confess they do so merely with a view to help to obliterate all traces of mutual distrust which unfortunately mars the relations of the two communities at present. They concede that separate electorates are a necessary evil and are temporary expedients to tide over the difficulties of the present situation which is hoped to be a passing phase of our national struggle for freedom. This sentiment in itself is an ample vindication of the policy and principles of the Indian National Congress. The Congress is doing all it can to remove distrust and to bring the two communities together. The question is now engaging the serious attention of all right-thinking Hindus and Moslem leaders and no avenue likely to lead to a settlement will be left unexplored. The report of the Working Committee of the Congress will be presented very soon to the A. I. C. C.
I believe that Sir Sankaran Nair worded his resolution in the extreme form he did in order to draw pointed attention of the Council to the manifest danger of communalism and he could not have expected either community to accept his proposal to stop all further constitutional advance even in the contingency contemplated by him. The matter is essentially one for negotiation and settlement between the two communities. It is, therefore, impossible for Congressmen to agree to any commitments in anticipation of such a settlement. While we hold fast to our ideals of nationalism and have an abiding faith in their ultimate realisation, we recognise that there are no short cuts to that goal such as the one suggested in the resolution. That way lies unwisdom, for we shall play thereby into the hands of vested interests whose one aim is to delay progress and perpetuate their domination.
There is also another reason for our inability to support the resolution. Sir Sankaran Nair overlooked an important consideration in seeking to apply his deterrent remedy to the whole of India. In many provinces the Hindu-Moslem problem does not exist for all practical purposes. If simultaneous and uniform progress is not practicable or attainable in all provinces in India owing to communal disharmony in some provinces, that is no conceivable reason for denying further advance to provinces in which Hindus and Mahomedans are able to co-operate in putting their shoulders to the wheel of progress. Such provinces may perhaps serve as object lessons and demonstrate to other provinces the benefits of mutual trust and communal harmony as leading to speedier progress.
Mr. Suhrawardy's amendment which seeks to install separate communal electorates as the basic and fundamental principle of the Indian constitution is undoubtedly a most retrograde proposal. I beg of the advocates of separate electorates, be they Hindus or Moslems—there are such advocates in both the communities—to pause and give a calm thought to the implications of their demand. If the aim of my Hon'ble friend who moved the amendment is to secure the return of strong Moslem representatives through separate electorates, is it not likely that Hindus who are in a majority in many provinces will also return aggressively communal Hindus to the elected bodies ? How will this process help the Moslem minorities to secure their rights?
If representatives of both communities come through the same electorates, are there not more changes for larger manifestation of good feeling and co-operation among them?
Again, my Hon'ble friend speaks of effective representation. May I know how a minority can ever be effectively represented even on a communal basis in a province like Madras where the Moslems form about 7 per cent of the population ? If they are given 15 per cent of the elected seats, can they have effective representation? How can 15 Moslems enforce their views against 85 non- moslems? No minority can become effective unless it is converted into a majority or an equality. It is through the compelling forces of nationalism and patriotism that the good sense of the majority is developed not to override the rights of minorities. It is this conviction that led Indian, Christian and Parsi communities to favour all along joint electorates.
If, however, extraneous safeguards are desired for preventing majorities from treading upon the corns of minorities, then we shall have to resort to one or two expedients. We must either invest the executive with large residuary powers of interference to protect minorities or secure statutory safeguards by enacting suitable provisions in the fundamental laws of the constitution against infringement by majority communities of religious and social rights of minorities.
My Moslem brethren will not stand to gain anything by vesting in the executive large residuary powers. If the executive Government functions as a responsible Government, it must necessarily yield to the popular will which is synonymous with the will of the Non-Moslem majority and will be impotent to protect the interests of Moslem minorities. If the executive on the other hand, continues to be irresponsible to the legislatures, neither the Moslems nor the Hindus will ever get self-government.
The alternative which is the proper course, therefore, for all minorities is to ask for enacting safeguards in fundamental laws of the constitution. This was already recognised and expressly provided for in the National Demand in which representatives of all parties in the central legislature have joined. Let us not, therefore, commit political suicide by perpetuating communal electorates. Notwithstanding most extreme forms imaginable in which the honourable movers of the original resolution and the amendment clothed their respective proposals, I trust that this debate will not add to the existing tension but will on the other hand, serve as as opportunity for frank and free discussion of a vital problem with a view to its satisfactory solution.
I hope at all events that it will bring home to the minds of the people the truth that if India is privileged to have even a distant vision of the promised land, it should see with both its eyes, and if India is to breathe the air of freedom eventually it should also do so with both its lungs, the Hindu and Moslem communities.
Mr. G. S. Khaparde having reserved his amendment limiting communal representation to the terms of the Lucknow pact, Sir Sankaran Nair replied to the debate. He said his idea of the word minority had been much misunderstood. Mahomedans in Bengal were not a minority community. Similarly Madras Non-Brahmins were in a majority and still all these claimed communal representation. Was it being contested, asked Sir Sankaran Nair, that even if there should be only five persons of a particular community in any one province, as for instance Sikhs in Madras, they should have a separate electorate ? Continuing he instanced the case of Europeans who, though returned to the Council in small numbers, stated their case well and briefly and trusted to the common sense of the house. If the decision was perverse, they looked to the executive Government to override the council's decision in their favour. That ought to be, in his opinion, the attitude of the minority communities.
All amendments having been lost without division, Sir Sankaran Nair withdrew the resolution.