The Reformed Councils
THE GREAT measure which is to carry down the name of Lord Morley to distant ages as the inaugurator of a new age in India,
–so at least all the Anglo-Indian papers and not a few of the Moderates tell us,
–is now before us in all its details. The mountains have again been in labour, and the mouse they have produced this time is enormous in size and worthy of the august mountains that produced him, but not the
less ridiculous for all that. What is it that this much-trumpeted scheme gives to a people which is not inferior in education or
intellectual calibre to the Turk, the Persian and the Chinese who already enjoy or are in sight of full self-government? There are four elements which have always to be considered in a change of this kind, first, the nature of the electorate, second, the
composition of the body itself, thirdly, the freedom of election, fourthly, the scope, functions and powers of the assemblies.
There is not one of these points in which the people have really gained, there is hardly one of them in which they are not worse
off than under the old system.
What change has been made in the electorates? Except that they have been increased in number, we do not see that there has been any real change at all, and an increase in number is
of no value in itself, but only if the number of elected members represent a force sufficient to give the people its proper weight
in the legislation and administration of the country. We shall show under the third head that we have gained nothing in this
direction. On the other hand not only class, as was formerly the case, but creed has been made the basis of representation and,
therefore, unless the Hindus have the strength of mind to boycott a system which creates a distinction insulting as well as injurious
to the community, this measure, while giving us not an atom of self-government, will be a potent engine for dividing the nation
into two hostile interests and barring the way towards the unity of India. Formerly, there were only two classes in India, the superior European and the inferior Indian; now there will be three, the supreme European, the superior Mahomedan and the inferior Hindu. This is loss number one, and it is no small one, to the Mahomedan no less than the Hindu. The official of course gains.
Even if there is no democratic or even semi-democratic basis of election
–merely small established bodies which can in no sense be called the people,
–something might be gained if the Councils were so composed as to give a preponderance or powerful voice to independent elected representatives. That is what the Councils profess to do and that is why so much parade is made
of the non-official majority. What are the facts? In the Viceroy's Council there are to be thirty-five avowedly Government members, twenty-eight being officials and seven nominated. Of the twenty-five elected members eleven will be sent from the new
Councils all over India; as we shall show from the Bengal examples, these Councils will contain a predominant pro-Government
vote even among the non-official members and their representatives will be therefore pro-Government men. That makes
forty-six reliable votes for the Government. Of the remaining fourteen three will be Europeans who will naturally side with
the Government; that makes forty-nine. Of the remaining eleven five will be specially elected Mahomedan representatives and,
as under the new system the Mahomedans are a favoured class depending for the continuance of that favour on good behaviour, that means another five reliable votes for the Government, which makes fifty-four. Of the remaining six all are representatives of
the landholding class who dare not be too independent, –although they will no doubt oppose in small matters, which they can do with impunity as there is not the slightest chance of the Government being defeated. The consequence will be that on
the Viceroy's Council there is not any reasonable chance of there being a single independent member representing the people. This
startling result of the Reforms may not seem at first credible, but if our argument is carefully followed, it will establish itself. No
doubt, one or two men like Mr. Gokhale, Sir Pherozshah Mehta
or Dr. Rash Behari Ghose will be admitted by permission, but that privilege we had on better terms under the old system.
Let us pass to the Bengal Councils and establish our position. In East Bengal there will be twenty-two nominated and
two specially nominated against eighteen elected members establishing at once a standing Government majority of six. Of
the eighteen who might oppose, there will be four members who in the nature of things are bound to be Europeans and four
specially elected Mahomedan members, which at once raises the reliable Government vote to thirty-two; five representatives
of District and Local Boards, who, from the preponderance of Mahomedans on those bodies, are bound to be Mahomedans, two representatives of landholders of whom one at least is likely to be a Mahomedan and the other, being a landholder, cannot
afford to be too independent. There remain three members of Municipal bodies who are all likely to be independent, if the
elections are not interfered with by indirect pressure. Therefore, out of forty-two members only three are likely to be independent
members. It is needless to point out that the representative of the non-official members on the Viceroy's Council is sure to be
a pro-Government man.
We pass on to West Bengal where things ought to be better. Here there are twenty-two nominated against twenty-six elected members, giving at first sight a non-Government majority of
four. But we have to subtract from the apparent majority and add to the apparent minority four members from European
or predominatingly European constituencies, four Mahomedan members and the member for the University, now practically a
department of the Government. That gives a Government vote of thirty-one and a possible opposition vote of seventeen. Of these
again five are representatives of the landholders who cannot be independent to any notable extent and of whom only one or
two are likely to be independent at all. There are, therefore, only twelve votes of which we can have any hope, the representatives
of the Boards and Municipalities. Here also the independent section of the community is hopelessly ineffective in numbers. Only
four of these will be representatives of Bengal and this is one of
the most joyous results of the policy of partition and deportation plus co-operation which is the basis of the new measure. Here
again the chances of an independent representative being returned to the Viceroy's Council are small on paper, nil in reality.
When we come to the freedom of the electors in choosing their representatives, we find restrictions so astonishing as at
once to expose the spirit and purpose of these reforms. The Boards and Municipalities which alone represent in a faint
degree the people are debarred from electing anyone not a member of these bodies. Thus at one blow it is rendered impossible for a popular leader like Sj. Motilal Ghose, unless the Government choose to nominate him, to be on these amazing Councils. Farther, anyone dismissed from Government service, e.g. Sj. Surendranath, sentenced at any time to imprisonment
or transportation, e.g. Mr. Tilak, or bound down, e.g. mofussil leaders like Sj. Anath Bandhu Guha or Sj. Hardayal Nag, the leading men of Mymensingh and Chandpur respectively, or declared by the authorities to be of undesirable antecedents, e.g. Lala Lajpat Rai, Sj. Aswini Kumar Dutta, Sj. Krishna Kumar Mitra and all Nationalists and agitators generally, are ipso facto incapable of representing the people under these exquisite reforms.
After all this it may seem a waste of time to go into the question of the scope, functions and powers of the Councils. They may briefly be summed up by saying that the Councils have
no scope and no powers, and that they have also no functions except to talk, but by no means freely and no longer at large.
We certainly do not object to the rule that no member shall talk for more than fifteen minutes at a stretch; our only regret is that
the maximum could not be fifteen seconds. But since to talk inconclusively and ask questions which need not be answered
unless the Government likes, is the only activity allowed to the august councillors, it seems like adding injury to insult to hedge in this windy privilege with so many restrictions. The restrictions placed on the putting of interpellations would rule out of order
half the questions in the House of Commons. It is curious how carefully the Government has guarded itself against anything
which might inconvenience it or put it into a corner. Even to ask
any question about the conduct or character of persons except in their official or public capacity, is banned, so that, for instance,
if an official misconducts himself in a flagrant manner, so long as he can say that he has done it in his private capacity, the
Government cannot be questioned as to the truth of the matter or its intentions with regard to the peccant individual. With a little legal ingenuity we think there is hardly any question, not of the baldest and most insignificant character, which could not
be brought under the restricting clauses. And, to crown all, the President is given the power of disallowing any question on
the ground that it will inconvenience the State, in other words himself and his Government, and he may disallow any supplementary questions without any reason whatever! Any resolution may be disallowed for a similar reason or absence of reason.
When we add that Native States are held sacrosanct from discussion, the Military similarly safeguarded, and that no value need
be attached to the resolutions of the Council on the Financial Statement and no resolutions at all can be proposed or passed on
the Budget, we think we have said all that is necessary to paint in its true colours the glorious liberality of this most wonderful and unheard-of reform. We heartily congratulate Lord Morley, Lord Minto and their advisers on the skill with which the whole thing has been framed, the Moderates on the glorious price for which one or two of their leaders have sold the popular cause,
the Hindus on their humiliation and the country generally on the disillusionment, we hope the final disillusionment, which these
Councils, when they meet, will bring about far more successfully than could have been done by any Nationalist propaganda.
OTHER WRITINGS BY SRI AUROBINDO IN THIS ISSUE
The National Value of Art I
Anandamath IX, X
An Image (poem)