I still recall the good old days, when my father post-afternoon meal would sit with his cigar lit, on the wooden rocking chair and narrate me stories about India. A man whose family had witnessed the perils of partition and who had and still possess the vast expanse of knowledge that nobody could ever possibly match; used to sail me across the ocean by turning the ship back in time in an attempt to portray me what my nation went through and gained out of those turbulent times since the eighties.
Listening to him, I could visualize the then India as nothing less of a football between the two political factions of England, a nation giving its all without enjoying any of the advantages of the party government. She had no voice in the elections of the members of parliament, and the motives, therefore of English statesmen administering the affairs of India were simply those of justice and humanity. In the midst of the responsibilities which the vast empire of Britain with her numerous colonies imposed on her statesmen, the attention that the latter could spare for India was comparatively nil.
The British Empire was simply colossal. It included the whole island continent of Australia, South Africa, Canada and others of various sizes, amounting in all to more than forty in number. Each of these colonies was in itself sufficient in extent and importance, to tax the whole energy of the ablest statesmen. England couldn’t do without them as these colonies were everyday increasing in importance. With an area equal to a few Indian districts put together and with a population of 40 million increase in wealth every year, colonies formed the very life of the English nation. They indeed justly boasted of a noble peasantry but that had either been sent away to foreign colonies or had been superseded by machines and even the remaining agricultural population showed a tendency to die down soon. To sum up, England, in 1881, had emerged as a country of cities, each of which was an important manufacturing center.
However, the absence of a considerable population having interest in land gradually portrayed itself as a great source of weakness in the country. The industrial population, too, wasn’t flourishing then and led a life in misery. To add to it all, the poor law was becoming more and more important as it was being availed of by the economically deprived. This, at the same time, posed as a blessing to the destitute and the lazy, and thereby a curse to the more honorable portion of the low-class. Wages were unsteady and strikes and trade unions were, therefore, more and more resorted to. The Hindu, then, had beautifully presented this situation in one of their editorials as, “The contest between labor and property is becoming harder every day in England”. Meanwhile, the industrial hands were replaced by machinery, and the cotton bales of Lancashire were increasing in gigantic proportions. Thus both the decreasing room for manual labor and the increasing manufactures by machinery rendered the colonies more and more important to England. The independence accorded to the then local governments of the colonies enabled them to resent any justice from the imperial government. The colonies and the mother country were thus bound by mutual obligations.
INDIA was in no such position. She could be used in any way the imperial Government wished to, her industries could be suppressed in the interests of those of England; her exchequer could be appropriated for the party purposes of English Politicians. Her mouth could be gagged and her complaints not catered to. The truth was England didn’t have a breath to spare for India then. With Ireland poking her in her side, she was divided between embarrassment and rage. But in India, things had to be set right. It was an extremely critical period. A thousand of the Nation’s questions was stored as inventory for the later period when the British Government would find leisure to consider them. But the day to come seemed very receding. Many of these Indian questions had been in a state of postponement for the past thirty years or so and there seemed no end to arrive soon.
With all these problems in mind, India began its journey to realize its potential and began the attempt to speak up….speak up the language of Independence.
This is the First instalment in ‘Raj to Republic’ series being published on the occasion of the Republic Day. The second part of the series can be accessed here.