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The importance of a clear understanding of Britain's work in India : an inaugural lecture delivered before the University of Oxford on November 4, 1920 online

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The Importance of a clear

understanding of
Britain's Work in India

Inaugural Lecture
^delivered before the University of Oxford
on November 4, 1920


Reader in Indian History in the
University of Oxford



The Importance of a clear

understanding of
Britain's Work in India

Inaugural Lecture
delivered before the University of Oxford
on November 4, 1920



Reader in Indian History in the
University of Oxford









Importance of a clear understanding
of Britain's H^ork in India

IT is a great honour that it should have fallen to me
to lecture here on Britain's work in India. These are
times when governments are anxious all the world over,
and a month ago I received a letter from an Indian
friend, two sentences of which ran : ' Things have been
moving very fast here ; and the spirit of unrest which
followed the war is showing no sign of abatement. It is
difficult to know what a certain nation or country wants.
Perhaps they do not know themselves/ India is not
the only country which is suffering from vague unrest ;
and in India Government is not alone in regarding the
future with anxiety. I think I am right in saying that
all sections of sober opinion there, British or Indian,
share this anxiety. At such a time it is incumbent on
us in England to make some effort to understand a com-
plex situatic n and to learn what the problems before the
Government of India really are. We can only do this
if we make some study not only of India's present but
of India's past. Since I returned to England I have
sometimes read authoritative statements regarding our
affairs in India, our prospects in India, our mistakes in
India, which disposed in the easiest fashion of problems
which are in fact extremely difficult. It was clear that
the authors of these productions were largely ignorant

4 .'/;';/: '-Britain's Work in India

of.'thf. facts bn 1 . which they pronounced judgement. I will
endeavour in my 'lectures to stimulate acquaintance with
facts and, at the very beginning, would deprecate a ten-
dency, which is common enough, of fastening on some
particular facts or incidents and declining to learn more.
If we are judging of a man's life, we take it, or should
take it, as a whole, even though it may have been marked
by some actions which we deplore ; and if we wish
to appreciate a nation's record throughout a difficult and
remarkable phase of its history, we should adopt the
same principle.

My course of lectures will be directed to elucidating
the story of the rise, growth, and organization of
the British power in India. But this organization has
varied from time to time in order to keep pace with
changing circumstances, increasing territories, political
developments in India and in England. All endeavours
to cast it in a mould which should endure were addressed
to conditions which were bound to alter gradually from
the natural operation of western currents of thought
in eastern surroundings, and from a wonderful expan-
sion of political ideas in Asia, due more to the achieve-
ments of Japan than to any other circumstance. There
have, too, lately been additional forces operating in
India. Since my predecessor Dean Hutton delivered
his inaugural address, in January 1914, momentous and
extraordina^ events have occurred and produced extra-
ordinary changes in the thoughts of many, both in India
and in this country. Yet there, as here, certain basic
principles of government can still only be disregarded
with unhappy results. Moreover, the broad facts of
India are still the same. In that great continent there
is to-day an enormous population of divers races, re-
ligions, and languages, in various stages of intellectual

Britain s Work in India 5

and moral growth, for the most part still absorbed in
the customs, occupations, and beliefs of long centuries.
There is still a land-frontier thousands of miles in
length peopled by fierce, predatory, and warlike tribes.
Beyond this are Asiatic countries more or less dis-
tracted by the aftermath of the war. In India there
is still an enormous sea-board which requires protection.
There are great resources which throughout the ages
have attracted waves of invasion. There are western
ideas seething among certain sections of highly complex
communities, blending or conflicting with eastern ideas,
and here and there penetrating beyond, in vague be-
wildering shape, to the illiterate gullible millions. When
we talk of them we touch on the great problem which
India has presented to British statesmanship, how to
meet fully aspirations which our own history and tra-
ditions teach us to respect and favour, and at the same
time to constitute a form of government in India which
shall fit all the varying conditions of that huge continent.
This problem has until quite lately been held, even
by one great apostle of Liberalism, to present insuper-
able difficulties. But in 1917 the Gordian knot was cut.
To respond to the Nationalist demand that government
in India should conform to the fashion prevailing else-
where within the British Empire, Parliament has
launched India's hundreds of millions on a course which
is designed to lead by definite stages of transition to
a democratic parliamentary system. The way to this
proclaimed goal will not be easy, for those who tread it
will encounter institutions, ideas, and prejudices deeply
rooted in the popular mind. They will, too, be hustled
and disturbed by mischief-makers and impatient idealists,
men who either wish things to go wrong or, in pursuit
of abstract theories, discard all consideration of concrete

6 Britain's Work in India

facts. Throughout these critical years order must be
maintained, for without order real progress will be
impracticable. India and her governors will need all
the help, all the intelligent sympathy, that we can give
them ; and if we are to make our assistance effective we
must both understand and be able to explain to others
the history of India's past, the course of events that has
led up to this present time.

The key-note of my predecessor's inaugural address
was a remarkable saying of a great Viceroy ; I will quote
that saying with the whole inspiring passage in which it
occurs. ' I am not ', said Lord Curzon, ' one of those who
think that we have built a mere fragile plank between the
East and West which the roaring tides of Asia will
presently sweep away. I do not think that our work is
over or that it is drawing to an end. On the contrary,
as the years roll by, the call seems to me more clear, the
duty more imperative, the work more majestic, the goal
more sublime. I believe that we have it in our power
to weld the people of India to a unity greater than any
they have hitherto dreamed of, and to give them blessings
beyond any that they now enjoy. Let no one admit the
craven fear that those who have won India cannot hold
it, or that we have only made India to our own or to its
unmaking. That is not the true reading of history.
That is not my forecast of the future. To me the
message is carved in granite it is hewn out of the rock
of doom that our work is righteous and that it shall
endure/ These words breathe a spirit of assurance
that the interaction of the British and Indian peoples is
good for both, that their interdependence is for all
measurable time. There has been much in the history
of the past six years to encourage this confidence, even
though that history has its melancholy side. In news-

Britain's Work in India 7

paper paragraphs the latter is prominent just now. It
may be cheering if, avoiding discourse on controversial
points, I briefly recite the main narrative.

The outbreak of the war was a supreme test of
British work in India. Both foes and friends regarded
it in this light. Our enemies had counted on catas-
trophe for us should such a crisis arise. An Indian
revolutionary periodical, published in America, pro-
phesied in November 1913 that when war broke out
between Germany and England fortune would smile on
nations now ruined by British oppression. The aus-
picious hour must nof pass without a rising in India.
On March 6, 1914, the Berliner Tageblatt published
an article on ' England's Indian trouble ', predicting that
the day of reckoning for England would come far sooner
than official negligence supposed. The, writer took the
gloomiest possible view of our position in India, where,
he said, secret societies of revolutionaries were being
assisted from outside. Our own official forecast was of
a different complexion and was justified by events,
although it hardly visualized the vivid enthusiasm of the
early days of that wonderful time or the prolonged and
searching character of the subsequent strain. Some of
you may have seen a very interesting book, Mr. William
Archer's India and the Future. Readers thereof know
that, after much travelling and investigation, the author
placed this book in the hands of his literary agent on
August 4, 1914. In view, however, of the great event
of that momentous day, he decided not to publish until
the end of the war. But when the war showed no
signs of ending in May 1917, he gave his book to the
public just as it was, frankly confessing that in uttering
the prediction, ' the moment England gets into serious
trouble elsewhere, India in her present temper would

8 Britain's Work in India

burst into a blaze of rebellion ', he had been mistaken.
In fact, when the war began, India, as we all know,
showed remarkable loyalty to Great Britain. I need
not describe the activities of certain bands of revolu-
tionaries, for these were met and thwarted by the good
will of the people at large guided by the foresight and
determined energy of some faithful and courageous
servants of the Crown. I prefer rather to dwell on the
general spirit, which needs to be remembered just now,
when we frequently read in the papers saddening para-
graphs about affairs in India. I prefer to tell you of such
incidents as the following.

In September 1914 the non-official members of the
Imperial Legislative Council passed with one voice
a resolution of ' unswerving loyalty and enthusiastic
devotion to their King-Emperor, as well as of unflinch-
ing support to the British Government'. They asked
to be allowed to share in the financial burdens of the
war. 'We know', said a prominent Hindu member,
'that our present condition is due to the peace we have
enjoyed under British rule, that our very existence
depends on the continuance of that rule. We cannot,
on this occasion, be mere onlookers. Along with our
devotion and sympathy the general idea is to make
any contribution that may be required of us' On
February 24, 1915, a resolution was passed with ac-
clamation, a resolution of 'gratitude, devotion, and
loyalty to His Majesty the King', gratitude attracted
by his 'personal attention to Indian soldiers in the
theatre of war and in hospitals '. Moreover, while at
the headquarters of the Government the attitude of
public men refreshed the hearts of all servants of the
Crown, in many far-away villages, as I myself saw,
the demeanour of the people had never been more

Britain s Work in India 9

friendly. I remember a visit from an old pensioned
soldier who came to see me in my tent when our
prospects in Europe were far from bright, and said
that he was grieved to hear that the struggle was going
against us. Was this true ? he asked in a voice broken by
emotion. Were things really not well with the Sarkar ?

I need only mention the gallant behaviour of Indian
troops on many battle-fields, the financial contributions,
the untiring efforts of government servants of all classes
which combined with public response to produce results
in the shape of labour, munitions, food-stuffs, manu-
factured goods, railway transport, and other supplies,
which surpassed all expectations. I will sum up by
saying that for long after the beginning of the war
a common purpose united the majority of thinking men
of all races in India as nothing else till then had ever
united them. Their imagination was stirred. They
realized more or less clearly their citizenship in a great
Empire fighting on the right side in the mightiest war
that was ever fought in this world.

But the war lasted too long. The Irish rebellion of
1916, other events and influences, encouraged agitation
and stimulated impatience among the political classes.
A growing current of disturbance was stemmed in
some measure by the Declaration of August 20, 1917,
which promised responsible parliamentary government
to be reached by measured stages. Then came the
visit of the Secretary of State, the numerous addresses
and general stir, and, later, the issue of the Reforms
Report. No constitutional Reforms can be achieved
without a rise of temperature, especially when they
involve, as these Reforms did involve, large racial issues.
Twice in India have I witnessed the incubation of
Reforms. On the first occasion tempers were inclined

io Britain's Work in India

to rise ; and on the second occasion, where all parties
considered that much was at stake, tempers rose very
considerably. If any one of my audience aspires to
reform a constitution in circumstances at all similar
to circumstances in India, let him note that if ' the way
of the transgressors is hard ', the way of the reformers
is even harder. The problems were most difficult in any
case ; and while vigorous and often heated discussions
were still proceeding, the situation was overshadowed
by deeply tragic events and their consequences. The
latter are apparently active still. Those who wish to
exploit them are hard at work. Their efforts have
in some measure failed ; but we must await further

Two questions of a general nature irresistibly suggest
themselves. The first is, why did so many people err
widely in forecasting the attitude of India on the out-
break of a great European war ? The answer is plain.
They were misled by anti-British effusions on plat-
forms and in the press, in India and in other countries.
Mr. Gladstone once spoke of two journals which had
never found, so far as he was aware, ' anything but
guilt or folly ' in any one of his actions. Such prejudiced
and undiscriminating criticism is checked and met in this
country. It is generally taken for what it is worth. But
in India conditions are widely different; there is no
rival political party to oppose actively the 'outs' who
ascribe all ills to the guilt or folly of the ' ins '. There
is a sober informed opinion, but it often fears greatly the
energetic tactics of the party of perpetual discontent. Out-
side both parties is the great bulk of the people who for
centuries have accepted one government after another,
looking to each government to defend its own reputa-
tion and fight its foes of all kinds. The British Govern-

Britain's Work in India n

ment has known how to meet its enemies in the field,
but has found its enemies in the press more difficult to
combat. Contrary to frequently received opinion, it has
submitted to be constantly slandered and maligned,
trusting to facts for vindication, retaliating now and
then when palpably serious mischief has occurred or is
imminent. Before the war and throughout its course
wild statements and outpourings combined with propa-
ganda in other countries to produce an impression which
did injustice to the real views of the general Indian
public. In spite of all that had been said and written
to our discredit, when the war broke out the people
generally decided that, whatever its defects and omissions
might be, the British Government had deserved well of
India. With few exceptions they turned to it instinctively,
confounding alike the calculations of its foes and the
apprehensions of some of its friends.

Then you will ask what of the downward curve
since that first period of the war? Are the high
lights now behind? On what foundations can we
base our hopes for the future?

To discuss the downward curve would be to plunge
into controversial subjects. Leaving it therefore behind,
I will say that we may found our hopes for the future on
deep-seated Indian loyalty to His Majesty the King-
Emperor, on memories of a past which goes back far
beyond all recent troubles, on the prospective entry
into politics of the landed classes, on the generally
sensible and orderly character of the people, and on
a consciousness of need on their side and on ours.
Whatever dangers, too, the time of transition may entail,
it certainly will give ample scope for the development
of reasoning patriotism, for solid and notable Indian
service to India. It will invest ministers chosen from

12 Britain s Work in India

popular assemblies with grave, separate, indefeasible
responsibility. It will thus tend to instil practical
appreciation of difficulties of administration which are
in fact thoroughly solid. The British servants of the
Crown, too, should now know where they are. They
have a definite policy to carry out. There should be no
more of those injurious oscillations which result from
a vague or uncertain mandate at the seat of supreme
power. There is no longer before men in India the
'haunting question', once put by a Viceroy, 'Whither
are we leading all these millions, what is it all to come
to, where is the goal? 1 A goal which, we have often
been assured by the political classes, will satisfy all
their cravings for self-respect, has been accepted by the
Imperial Parliament, and a step of a definite and solid
a kind as was at all consonant with any sense of
responsibility has been taken towards it. The salient
fact of the present is put in the words of Lord Sinha,
'A bridge has been provided whereby Indians may pass
from an autocratic and bureaucratic form of government,
which guides her destinies ab extra, to a form of govern-
ment whereby she will control her own destinies '. The
bridge seems to some over-cautiously constructed. Such
persons hardly realize spme marked features of the

Genuine progress toward successful parliamentary
government in India is conditional on a great educational
and industrial advance. Chapter IV of the official
Report on the progress and condition of India during
the year 1917-18 shows clearly and concisely how
secondary education, which is now largely of a purely
literary type, has been so far almost monopolized by one
class of a community of many millions. It also shows
that although that class pursues learning with en-

Britain's Work in India 13

thusiasm, the masses of the people are illiterate with-
out any marked desire to change their conditions, but
with strong ideas regarding increases of taxation. Yet
it is impossible that there should be a great extension
of education without very considerable pecuniary outlay.
Under the coming dispensation it will fall on popular
ministers, who will naturally be reluctant to face fresh
taxation, to solve the difficult problems which the educa-
tional situation presents. They will appreciate these
problems vividly, for they are to be chosen because
they are men who possess the confidence of the Councils
to which they belong and can lead those bodies effectively.
It is manifest that if their leadership is to be successful,
beneficial, and deserving of extension of functions, it
must be supported by educated and well-informed

Progress toward a sound parliamentary system is
also largely dependent on industrial advance : India
is rich in raw materials and possibilities, but poor in
manufacturing accomplishment. She relies in great
measure on outside sources for supervisors and fore-
men. Her stores of money are largely inert. A wide
extension of commercial and industrial employment is
needed by her middle or professional classes. The
Government has made a great effort to seize the present
opportunity. A very strong committee has fully investi-
gated the whole subject of Indian industries, and has
prepared a most instructive report abounding in useful
proposals. Every effort is being made to carry out
these proposals ; but unfortunately an epidemic of
strikes seems to threaten a fair prospect. We may
earnestly hope that this epidemic will pass, but mis-
chievous efforts are being made to prolong it.

I think I have said enough to show that the bridge

14 Britain's Work in India

from the present to the future India required careful
building. I might have said more ; but the particular
bridge which was devised and has been constructed
is now ready and waiting to be opened. Its strong and
weak parts will be demonstrated ; its workmanship will
be tested by practical experience. We may earnestly
hope that it will bear the test well and thus reward the
infinite labours of the builders. Just now we read of
attempts to wreck it before it comes into use by methods
selected with suicidal and malignant care. Few in
England realize the disgust which these efforts excite in
many Indians who understand fully all that is at stake,
but are unwilling to encounter newspaper abuse. There
are, of course, others who are like-minded and less
timorous, but perhaps hardly realize the strenuous
efforts that the occasion demands of them.

I read the other day a report of a speech by the
Viceroy who before long is laying down his heavy
burden. Lord Chelmsford expressed confidence that
as the foundations of the new constitution settled, old
quarrels would wear away and malignant attacks on
the Government would spend themselves in vain. He
has faith in the Reforms of which he is part-author,
and while he recognizes the perils of the present and
the future, he believes that the officers of Government
will overcome all the difficulties which they will en-
counter. Into the length and breadth of our history
in India are built the lives and labours of many of
these officers, British and Indian. Who that knows
and realizes all that they have done can believe that
it will not bear good fruit through all the coming years ?
Perhaps I may say a word about our own countrymen
who with loyal Indian support are now bearing the
burden and heat of the day. By the cause which they

' Britain's Work in India 15

serve little known, they are giving their best to India
and their best to England. They are the men who will
have to face the labours of the future. I am thinking
particularly of the workers in the plains who through
many a long Indian day apply to real concrete conditions
whatever marching orders they receive. They do the
spade-work. They deal directly with all the sections of
an enormous population, with all the congeries of people,
marching, as Lord Morley said, in uneven stages through
all the centuries from the fifth to the twentieth. A distin-
guished Viceroy remarked that they reminded him of
the stokers in the engine-room of a man-of-war. ' There
they are/ he added, 'stoking the furnaces while the
great ship is being manoeuvred and the big guns are
thundering overhead. Sometimes they go down with
the vessel without ever having seen the battle and the
fighting ; but if their commander wins the victory up
they come, begrimed with smoke, to take their share in
the rejoicing.' ' These ', he said, ' are the real or-
ganizers of victory.' These, I may add, will face with
a stout heart whatever obstacles lie before them. But
they will need support and sympathy from home. If
they get it here they will get it from India. What can
we do to help them and their Indian coadjutors ? Here,
in England, is the key of their position. Here, too,
is the key of the position of all patriotic Indians who
desire the orderly progress of their country toward the
appointed goal. Let us realize these facts.

Affairs in India deserve our keenest interest. But
we shall not be able to follow them or to assist all who
in these arduous times seek to build truly for the future
there, if we make no effort to gain some knowledge
of the history of the past. I need not emphasize the
interest of this history to those among you who are

16 Britain's Work in India

either Indian or are going to India. But we may note
that some of the greatest British administrators of the
past have loved India, have found India well worth
serving. On the last day of his life Warren Hastings


Online LibraryVerney LovettThe importance of a clear understanding of Britain's work in India : an inaugural lecture delivered before the University of Oxford on November 4, 1920 → online text (page 1 of 2)