Speeches & Writings
The House of Commons and Indian Grievances
IN supporting the following resolution of the fifth Indian National Congress held at Bombay in 1889 Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya said:
That this Congress respectfully expresses the earnest hope that, in the interests of the people of India, the House of Commons will forthwith restore the right, formerly possessed by members of that Honourable House of stating to Parliament any matter of grievance of the notices of India before Mr. Speaker leave the Chair for the presentation in Committee of the Indian Budget statement, and earnestly trusts that the House of Commons will, in future, take into consideration the Annual Indian Budget statement at such a date as will ensure its full and adequate discussion, and further authorizes the President, Sir William Wedderburn, Bart., to sign a petition in the name and on behalf of this Congress for presentation to the House of Commons in accordance with the terms of this Resolution.
Mr. PRESIDENT, LADIES GENTLEMEN:-
I have very great pleasure in supporting this Resolution, and I hope you will listen with kind patience to the few remarks that I have to address to you on this important subject. You will remember that two years ago when we met at Madras, we expressed our deep regret at the fact that the English Parliament did not devote that attention to our affairs which we had a right to expect of it. But now we regret still more to find that during the period that has since elapsed, matters have gone from bad to worse. Till recently when the Indian Budget was laid before the House of Commons such of the members as felt any interest in our affairs, were given an opportunity of saying whatever they thought necessary to say on our behalf. We complained that the opportunity thus afforded was very inadequate for anything like a fair consideration of the affairs of this vast country, and we prayed that more time might be given to the consideration of those affairs. (Hear, hear..) But so far from that reasonable request being granted we find, gentlemen, that even the little opportunity that had hitherto been allowed for the discussion of Indian questions has been circumscribed within still narrower bounds. The new rules of the House have, in a way, practically shut out all discussion bearing on the welfare of the 250 millions of Her Majesty's subjects in India. (Shame, shame.) 1 cannot properly express the regret and disappointment which this has created amongst us. Mr. Banerjee has very ably pointed out how injuriously to us this new rule of the House of Commons operates. The British Parliament, as representing the British people, is the one power to whom we look for the redress of our grievances. They, it is, who are really responsible for the good or bad government of this country. (Hear, hear.) And if they refuse or neglect to pay proper attention to our affairs, the result must be entirely injurious to the interests of our people. (Cheers.) The importance and necessity of Parliamentary control over the Indian administration, especially in matters of finance has always been recognised. But it is even more important and necessary now than perhaps it ever was before; for our finances are unfortunately getting more and more embarrassed day by day. And yet it is at this very critical time that Parliament has partly withdrawn even that little attention which it hitherto has been wont to bestow upon Indian questions. The evil results of this diminution of control are already visible. Hitherto when complaints were made of the excessive increase of expenditure in India the member of the Government in charge has grudgingly admitted that there was room for economy and retrenchment. In the year 1883, the House of Commons passed a resolution to the effect that in the opinion of that House it is necessary that early steps be taken to reduce the expenditure of India. Lord Kimberley, our then Secretary of State, in his despatch, dated the 8th of June 1883, urged the Government of India to take the subject of the reduction of expenditure into their earliest consideration. Lord Randolph Churchill, our next Secretary of State, later on, said that "the financial position of India was very grave indeed, and required the most careful consideration, and the exercise of the most rigid economy was necessary, in his opinion, in order to avoid bankruptcy." But the withdrawal of Parliamentary control seems to have emboldened the present Under Secretary to take up a very different attitude. When complaints were made on the occasion of the last' debate on the Indian Budget in the House of Commons, of the ever-growing increase of expenditure in India, Sir John Gorst met them boldly by saying that "expenditure has increased, it ought to increase, and it ought not to be diminished."
(Shame, shame) And he tried to justify this view by asserting that the wealth and prosperity of the country was increasing. Now, gentlemen, no one would be more delighted than ourselves to know that the country was really growing in wealth and prosperity. (Cheers.) But unhappily, the stern reality of facts forbids us from consoling ourselves with such pleasing fancies. We look wistfully in all directions: we go deep into the Mofussil, we see our brethren in their homes and huts as they actually live; and far from seeing any indications of that increasing prosperity which Sir J. Gorstsaid he discerned at that distance, we find the people growing poorer and less and less able to maintain themselves, their wives and children, than they were before. (Hear, hear and cheers.) And we therefore say, gentlemen, that the increase of expenditure is, under existing circumstances, not only unjustifiable but positively sinful. (Prolonged cheers.) The increase of public expenditure would undoubtedly be welcome if it followed upon an increase of wealth and prosperity among the people. There has been a large increase of revenue in England during the past quarter of a century. But it has followed an enormous growth of wealth and commerce in England and no one complains much of it. But in India public expenditure goes on increasing while the condition of the people is. deteriorating day by day. (Hear, hear.) One simple but incontrovertible proof of this lies in the fact that almost all the recent additions to the revenue of the Government have been screwed out of the first necessities of the Indian people. To take only the most recent instances, increased expenditure has been met by enhancing the duty on salt, a thing necessary alike to man and cattle; by taxing the poor man's oil, as petroleum has rightly been called, by imposing a double tax on the famishing riots of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, and by misappropriating the Famine Insurance Fund (shame !), a fund especially created and promised by three Viceroys to be religiously set apart for meeting difficulties scarcity and famine. (Shame!)
This ceaseless growth of expenditure is, gentlemen, an evil of alarming magnitude and deserves the most earnest consideration of Parliament, (Cheers) Look only to your military expenditure, In 1857, with an army numbering about 254,000, men, the total military expenditure amounted to 11½ millions a year. But now with an army smaller by not less than 40,000 men, your military expenditure stands at the high figure of 20 million sterling a year. And you know how it is met! It is met, as I have told you, by making salt and petroleum clear to the masses and by making men starve and die in times of scarcity and famine. (Cries of shame!)
I have no wish, gentlemen, to take up much more of your time. But allow me just a moment more to enable me to point out how dreadfully serious the financial situation in India has become, and how urgently necessary it is, in consequence: to check and curtail this overgrown military expenditure. Taxation has reached its utmost limit in India. There is no margin left for the Government to fall back upon in the hour of necessity. Sir E. Baring, our former Finance Minister, said in his evidence before the Royal Commission, in July last, that when Finance Minister in India he "was very much struck with the weakness of the financial position by reason of the absence of any financial reserve." He said he had publicly declared in his Budget Statement of 1882 that the duty on salt was lowered with the view to constituting a financial reserve, and that he had intended to bring down the duty, in the course of years, to a rupee a maund, in order that it might constitute a real reserve. But far from that wise course being persisted in the duty on salt has, as you know, been again raised to Rs. 2-8 a maund, and the financial position is weaker than it ever was before. If unfortunately a war breaks out to-marrow, which Gael forbid, Government have no means of raising the necessary amount of money except by borrowing. ("Question !") I do not know what the gentlemen behind means by the word "Question." If he questions the validity of my statement I am willing to quote official authorities in support of what I say. But, I don't wish to detain you any longer. All that I say, I say, to show the necessity of Parliament exercising a constant control over the Indian expenditure, and by cutting down all that is unnecessary or extravagant in it, to rescue the finances of India from that sorrowful embarrassment into which they are at present plunged. (Cheers.)
It is sad and strange, gentlemen, that the new rules of the House of which we are complaining have been brought into force during the Premiership of the Marquis of Salisbury. His Lordship, when Secretary of State for India, very emphatically expressed the opinion in his evidence before the Parliamentary Committee on Indian finance, that the most effectual way of securing financial justice for India was for the House of Commons to be constantly watchful on our behalf. His Lordship said that in order to save India from being oppressed, the House of Commons should keep a sufficiently sharp eye over matters concerning India. And yet it is in his time that these new rules have been passed, whereby the House is precluded from exercising even that little watchfulness over Indian matters which it hitherto used to do. But, gentlemen, as has been explained to you, this has been an unforeseen result of the rules, I hope with confidence that the rules will soon be amended, and that not only will our old privilege be restored to us, but that the, Hon'ble House will fix such a date for the consideration of the Indian Budget as will allow of a fair and full discussion of questions affecting the welfare of the 200 millions of people entrusted by Providence to their care. (Cheers and loud cries of Vote.)