(Carbon copy of a typed original. The title was added by hand. Cf. 2/50b.)
I salute the future of India
By Rt. Hon. F. W. Pethick-Lawrence, M.P.,
Life is change.
However much we may cling to a belief that at its Centre there is changelessness, we cannot refuse to recognise that at the circumference, where it comes into contact with all our senses, life is action, movement, growth.
Nothing living remains the same for a single moment. But because we do not ‘see it move’ we sometimes forget that life is a dynamic process and not a static state. Only when we look back over a period of months or years or centuries do we become aware of what vast changes have taken place.
This universal law applies not merely to the external world but to our own bodies and minds. Above all it is true of the kaleidoscope of politics whose pieces are the complex changing personalities of living human beings.
People who live together in one place gradually accustom themselves to the changes which are going on in one another all the time. People who live apart continue to hold in their memory the image of days gone by; and they are astonished when they meet after an interval of years to see what alterations time has wrought.
So is it with nations. Those that are neighbours may recognise and appreciate the changes that are continually proceeding in habits and outlook. But for those who are separated by thousands of miles of land and sea, there is nothing to go on but the reports of others. Old words written long ago continue to be believed long after whatever truth was originally in them has ceased to hold.
“The Unchanging East”. So it was once said. It was a poet’s challenging phrase with a wealth of meaning for those who would contrast Eastern and Western conceptions of life. But it may become a deadly drug which will poison future relations if it be allowed to dominate the minds of British Statesmen in their dealings with India.
And is there not some counterpart of this dangerous belief to be found in Asia regarding the British people? Not perhaps “The Unchanging West”, because the restless spirit of western life is known to find expression in all sorts of material ways. But a belief that, after all, underneath the various disguises of constitutional change the central idea of the Englishman is to remain the ruler of India, to exploit its territories for his own advantage, to divide its peoples the better to keep them subject.
It is not for me to express an opinion as to what is going on inside India. It is a country which I have not visited for many years. But I do know what is going on in Britain. As a Member of Parliament I learn the opinions of my constituents, and I am in close contact with my colleagues in the House of Commons of all parties. I assert without fear of contradiction that a great change has taken place in the attitude of my countrymen towards India. The vast majority to-day want India to be self-governing. This is not only the case among the rank and file. It is true also of those in high places from the Prime Minister downwards. There may be a few on the extreme right of politics who do not share in this desire but even they recognise that self-government has been promised and they accept that decision as irrevocable.
Self government means of course full Dominion status with the right to secede from the British Commonwealth altogether if that be really the desire of the Indian peoples. I do not believe that there will be any boggling about the date. It is recognised that it should be as early as possible after the end of the war. The only stipulation is that there should be some stable Government possible in India to which power can be safely handed over. I beg my Indian friends not to think that this proviso is maliciously and craftily introduced by Britain to delay and even to defeat self government. If they will put themselves in our place they will recognise that we should be inflicting a great wrong on India if we were to withdraw without being first assured on this point.
A stable Indian Government implies a measure of agreement and acceptance by all sections in India. Perhaps there might be formed some purely Indian Round Table Conference in India where the matter might be threshed out. I was a member of the Round Table Conference held in London in 1931 and I can testify to how near we came to an agreed solution. But a real conference of all sections in India is unthinkable without the Congress leaders. Sooner or later they will have to be invited to take their share in the discussions. Sooner or later therefore they will have to be released from detention for this purpose. In my view the sooner the better. The release must of course be unconditional, otherwise it will not be accepted.
My eyes are firmly fixed on the future, not on the past. I have no patience with those who are constantly raking over the still smouldering embers of past mistakes on whatever side they may have been committed. Let us bury the past and get on with the one task that is to-day entrusted to us. It is a very great one. It is no less than to help to lay the foundations of enduring prosperity for peoples numbering between them one-fifth of the whole population of the world.
There are many encouraging signs. First and foremost I would put the reawakening of the soul of India which has lain dormant for centuries and is only now becoming aware of its own powers and potentialities. Next the great change that has come over India’s economic position. Only recently a country heavily indebted to outside bondholders it is now a creditor country with immense sterling balances which it can utilise to develop its rural, industrial and social life. Not far across its northern borders stretches the great territory of Siberia which is also springing to life, educating its people, connecting up its villages with roads and other communications, expanding its industries out of all knowledge. Some of the means for doing this have been found from European Russia. Cannot India be helped to follow this great example by the outside resources which now for the first time it possesses?
With new powers come new responsibilities. The world is a much smaller place than it was and India occupies a geographic position in Asia which is a strategic bastion. The only hope for the preservation of world peace is such a union of peace-loving powers as will safeguard all the continents from aggression. A self-governing India will have an honoured and essential place in this union. Her sons have demonstrated their courage in war. Her history contains the record of many men and women wise in the arts of peace and government. To-day it is in the true interests of Britain that there shall be a free strong prosperous India confident of her own destiny determined to play a leading part in the future of human civilisation.
Britain and India are sister nations. Fate has decreed that their paths should meet. Will they now go their separate ways? I am one of those who devoutly hope that this will not be the case. India has so much to give us; she has a noble culture, a deep learning, a profound spiritual insight. Already we have gained much from our association with her. It will be an irreparable loss to us if we now part company.
But what of the other side of the relationship? I am not unmindful of the many wounds that India has sustained in her contact with the West. But the generous heart of India will also not forget the benefits we have conferred, the reawakening of her spirit, the example of our liberal traditions, the vitality of our economic development. And perhaps on the balance she will count the gain greater than the loss. If so I hope that Britain & India may go forward together, co-equal in their status, co-partners in their own developments, co-workers for the peace & prosperity of the world.