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Federal System And Provincial Autonomy

The attention of our readers has already been drawn to the emphasis laid by Lord Islington to the development of the provincial system of government as the first essential of political reconstruction in India, and we have pointed out how it was impossible for the Provincial Governments to delegate powers to popular representatives without first defining their own powers. The Times, commenting on Lord Islington’s speech, says “We are convinced ourselves that the right way of enlarging the liberties of the people of India is to begin by developing the provincial system”.

TM NairThe development of the provincial system necessarily implies provincial financial autonomy. The present peculiar system of provincial contracts, with divided revenue heads, and the absolute supremacy of the Government of India over provincial finance, must give place to a more rational system. As Lord Islington says, “adequate powers of taxation must be given to the Local Government”. Not only powers of taxation, but absolute fiscal autonomy, ought to be conceded to the provinces, the Imperial Government receiving from the Provincial Governments fixed subsidies for imperial purposes. It is impossible to devise a satisfactory scheme of Self-government for India, except on the basis of federal Home Rule and in any scheme of federal Home Rule, the units of the system should be properly constituted before we can think of constructing the federal authority, In this connection, we may remark that the development of countries in modern times has taken this direction.

While we see that in old European countries like England, France and Italy, there has been no decentralisation in the Government of the country, comparatively modern countries, like America, Germany, Canada, Australia and South Africa, were all constituted on the federal basis. America, with a population of 100 millions, has 49 Governments, national and provincial; Germany with 68 millions has over 30 Governments; Canada with 8 millions has 9; Australia with 5 millions has 7 and South Africa with 6 millions has 5. From this it will be evident that the units formed for Self-government are all comparatively small.

India is favourably situated for the development of Home Rule in one sense, namely, that she has already got a system of Imperial and Provincial Governments; but as the late Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji remarked to the present writer in 1893, our provinces are too unwieldy to form units of Self Government. To construct a satisfactory scheme of Self Government for India, you will first of all have to divide India into provinces or states of reasonable dimensions. If it were possible also to make these divisions on racial, religious or language basis, much of our difficulties could have been removed, but unfortunately as this is not possible, the division must be on territorial basis, corrective measures being subsequently adopted to see that each class and community in the State received its due representation.

This reconstitution of the states or provinces in India will have to be done before India is granted complete Self-government; but we have not come to that stage yet. We have only come to the stage when the people of India are to be trained and made ready to undertake the task of complete SelfGovernment in the future. And so, what are the steps to be adopted at the present time? As the ‘Times’ remarks, “the essence of the question is the provision of facilities for the gradual cultivation of a sense of responsibility in the business of government”. To attain that, in the first instance, a number of men belonging to the different communities must first of all be trained in the methods of government.

In any given province, at the present time, the number of available men with legislative experience is very small. This undoubtedly is due to the fact that the Legislative Councils of the past, compared, to the vast population of the provinces in which they are established, were small. They had room only for a few nonofficials, and in cases where the same men remained in the councils for a number of terms, the facilities afforded for training men in legislative work were very small. Therefore, the first step in political reconstruction is to enlarge Councils. This will enable the training of a necessary number of men, and what is of equal importance, the representation of various classes and communities. To allow any one class a preponderating influence in the legislative assemblies would lead to trouble and defeat the object of SelfGovernment.

Transfer of Some Departments to Popular Control

Having secured autonomous provinces and having constituted their legislative councils in which all classes are adequately represented, the infest step is to give them mere jowls than they at present possess. The present councils are advisory bodies. The councils, when SelfGovernment is completely granted to India, will be practically parliamentary institutions, with complete control over the Government, both in administration and in legislation.

For the present, we have to find something midway between if the two. What we suggest is that certain selected branches of government and administration should be left to the control of the elected representatives, while the remaining branches of administration are left to the control of the Government as at present. We can make our meaning clear by taking a concrete example. At present, the Legislative Council may move and carry any number of resolutions, for example, regarding the Education Department.

The Government is not bound to accept and carry into effect any of those resolutions. As a step in political reform supposing it is laid down that, so far as the Department of Education is concerned, the Government shall be bound to accept any resolution passed by the Legislative Council, would be an advance on the existing state of affairs. The majority of the Council, who pass such a resolution, will naturally be responsible for its soundness.

If, under such a system, the Education Department works more satisfactorily than it does now, the elected representatives of the people will give the credit for the improvement. In the same way, if there is any thing worse they will equally get the credit for that also. Under such a system, the representatives of the people will develop a greater sense of responsibility. They will have under their control certain departments, the working of which they could shape as they please, and in doing so, in addition to the development of a sense of responsibility, they would also be gaining experience. In this way, it ought to be possible to transfer to popular control certain selected branches of administration.

What these branches of administration ought to be in the beginning, is a matter of detail. They need not be the same in all the provinces, but, so far as Madras is concerned, we should think that education and local self-government ought to be included among the first group of departments transferred to popular control, while the judicial and revenue departments ought to be among the last.

Having transferred such powers to the control of popular representatives, some changes are necessary in the working of the Legislative Councils in order to ensure that the departments transferred to popular control really come under the operation of that control. This can easily be affected by a rule that the discussion of questions connected with these transferred departments should take place in the Legislative Council, where only the elected representatives of the people are present.

The members of the Government, we mean the members of the Executive Council, must of course be permitted to attend and take part in the deliberations of the Council, but need not be given the power to vote. Thus, on all questions connected with these transferred departments, the power of voting will rest exclusively with the elected members, and the rule, that the decision of the Council on such questions must be accepted by Government, will make the power of the people’s representatives over these transferred departments complete.

It is necessary to put some restriction on the financial control of the popular representatives; otherwise, they might spend all the available revenues on the departments transferred to their control ‘and leave the Government with no money to run the remaining departments. Therefore, the expenditure on the transferred departments ought to be limited either by a fixed grant or still better by assigned revenue, that is, certain heads of revenue being set apart for the expenditure connected with the transferred departments. With this safeguard, it ought to be easy to get the popular representatives to work the transferred departments.

Whether it is sufficient to permit popular representatives to exercise control over the transferred departments with the aid of their ordinary powers as members of the Legislative Council, or whether fresh machinery has to be devised to make that control more complete, is an exceedingly interesting question, though it may be somewhat controversial. There are two possible methods of devising machinery, which will make popular control over the transferred departments more complete. One is by means of Committees and the other by means of a system similar to that of British Cabinet.

We have discussed above the proposal to have certain departments of Government administration transferred to the control of the elected representatives and suggested that so far as these transferred departments are concerned, the elected part of the Legislative Council should sit separately and act exactly like the legislature of a self governing colony. We raised the question as to whether matters could be left at that, or whether it was necessary to set up special committees to be associated with the members of the Executive Government, who have the portfolios of the transferred departments under their control, or whether the ministers, who ought to administer these departments, are to be selected from among elected members of the Legislative Council. There is a good deal to be said for and against both these proposals. We only put them forward to stimulate discussion, so that they may be prepared in a form ready to be placed before the Secretary of State when he arrives in India.

Committee System

If the committee. System is to be adopted, we think that it will be found advisable to entrust the portfolios of the transferred departments to the charge of Indian members of the Executive Council. It would be better to have separate small committees for each of the transferred departments, instead of having one big committee to look after all departments, and these small committees would work with the member of the Government, who has charge of the particular portfolio, practically in the same way as the Standing Committee of the Corporation works with the President of the Corporation. The member of the Executive Council will still be the responsible minister, but will consult the committee of his department in all matters of detail, so far as the administration is concerned.

In the case of acute difference of opinion between the committee and the minister, the question ought to be referred to the Legislative Council In this way, practically a smooth working can be ensured and a good deal of popular control over the details .of administration can be established, and, what is far more important, a number of members of the Legislative Council can be trained in the details of administration. This system of committees has an advantage over the system that prevails in the French Chambers, in that there is no possibility of the committee attempting to supersede the minister. The other alternative is the selection of ministers for the transferred departments from among the elected members of the Legislative Council, in other words, so far as the transferred departments are concerned, to establish a system of Colonial SelfGovernment.

Colonial System

A careful student of Indian politics has suggested this latter system as an experimental measure. He suggests that when the Legislative councils are constituted, the Governor should send for the members of the Council who, he thought, was the most likely to command a majority of its members, and entrust him with the task of forming a Government in respect of the transferred departments. The leader sent for would then proceed to select as many colleagues as there are transferred departments, who together with himself would form the Government. These ministers would, within a reasonable time, construct their own departments, the permanent heads of departments being members of the Indian Civil Service, and these ministers would be answerable to the Legislative Council, sitting in its special capacity, with a president of its own selection.

If the ministry loses the confidence of the Council, they would either have to resign or ask the Governor to dissolve the Council. This is practically the system of Cabinet Government followed in England, and the proposal is that, instead of following the Cabinet system for the whole Government, it is to be applied to certain selected departments, and if the experiment is successful, gradually to extend the system till a complete colonial system of SelfGovernment is established.

As we have said, a good deal can be said in favour of both these systems, but the chief difficulty with the limited Cabinet system is in securing the hearty cooperation of the permanent departments. The permanent departments, for a considerable time yet to come, should be manned by the Indian Civil Service. It is not practicable to give complete .control over the Indian Civil Service to these ministries, which may be set up to administer the selected departments. Any friction, or even want of harmonious cooperation, between the elected ministers and the members of the Indian Civil Service, would be fatal to the working of the system. Therefore, until a further stage in the evolution of Indian reforms is attained, the Cabinet system, even though of a limited character, which is proposed by a careful student of Indian public questions, will have to be postponed.

We recognise, however, that this is a matter which the Secretary of State and his councilors are far more competent to decide than private individuals, however closely they may have studied Indian questions. We consider that the mere transference of certain selected departments to the control of the elected members, in itself, without the addition of committees or cabinets, will be a tremendous advance. Nonofficial members hitherto have felt very little of the responsibility of constructing a Budget, and it will not be time wasted, if they spend a few years in acquiring this experience. It is very easy to criticism a Budget, and even to propose additional expenditure by suggesting corresponding reduction in the Civil works estimate.

We should really like to see our leading nonofficials constructing a Budget, say, for the education and local self-government departments, with the full knowledge that the funds at their disposal are limited and that any false step they take will seriously injure the working of these two departments, the welfare of which all of them have at heart. If they satisfactorily get through this ordeal, even for two or three years, we think that they will be in a much better position to make a further advance towards SelfGovernment than they are at the present time.

Official Bloc

So far we have only dealt with the transferred powers. With regard to the remaining powers, the whole Legislative Council, consisting of elected and nominated nonofficials and officials must go on, as they do now, as an advisory and legislative body. It has again been suggested that the official members should entirely be got rid of. This is quite possible when the Council is sitting, to deal with the transferred powers, but, with regard to the Legislative Council as a whole, the proposal is not practicable.

We are asked by the propose of this change “Why not empowers the Provincial Government to declare that it cannot hold itself bound by this or that particular vote?” The answer is, that is only practicable, so far as resolutions or the Budget is concerned, but it is not practicable, so far as legislation is concerned. The main function of the Legislative Council is legislation, and legal authorities in Madras have held that a meeting of the Legislative Council cannot be called, unless there is some legislative business to be transacted at that meeting. Therefore, so far as legislation is concerned, Bills can only be carried into Acts, if. there is a majority behind the movers of the Bills. For that reason official majorities cannot be got rid of. In fact, without a Government majority of some kind, legislative business of the Government cannot be carried on. When SelfGovernment is attained and majorities do not go to the Government, the Government comes to the majority.

Provincial and Imperial Subjects

We have already stated that a proper system of SelfGovernment in India can only be developed on a federal basis and that provincial autonomy is a necessary condition for the building up of a federal system of Self Government. Therefore, we assume that in the proposed reconstruction, such of ‘the powers as are vested in the Provincial Governments would be free from the general and constant control, which the Government of India now exercise over them. It is only under such a system of provincial autonomy that it will be possible for the Provincial Governments to transfer some of their powers to the elected representatives of the people. Therefore, we take it for granted that, under the proposed system, the ordinary internal administration, police, civil and criminal justice, prisons, assessment and collection of revenue, education, medical and sanitary arrangements, irrigation, buildings and roads, forests and control over municipal and rural boards will all be under the absolute control of the Provincial Governments.

We have also taken it for granted that the provinces will be given fiscal autonomy, and by fiscal autonomy we mean independence both as regards taxation and expenditure. Under this arrangement, it will be necessary to divide Imperial from Provincial sources of taxation, as has been done in the United States of America. In addition to the Imperial sources of taxation, the Imperial Government will of course have the fixed subsidies from Provincial Governments to meet the Imperial expenditure. After these arrangements are made, the Government of India will only have left under their control foreign affairs, defense of the country, Imperial taxation, currency, public debt, tariffs, communications, accounts and auditing. Out of these the signatories to the Memorandum have themselves proposed that military affairs, foreign relations, declaration of war, the making of peace, and the entering into treaties, other than commercial, should be vested in the Government of India. In other words, they should not be transferred to the Legislative Council. That leaves very little power in the hands of the Government of India of a transferable nature. 

Therefore, there is considerable force in what Lord Islington speaking about the Government of India, observed “The liberalisation of the Supreme Legislative and Executive Councils would follow the lines, which I have sketched in the case of the Provincial Councils, but, in view of the greater importance of the matters in which the Imperial authorities have to deal, progress would necessarily have to be slower and would be dependent on the success of the changes in the Provincial Government. That is perfectly true.”

Control of Customs

We notice, however, one point mentioned in the Memorandum of the nineteen, which promises to be the subject of active controversy. The nineteen want the control of customs and tariffs, whereas Lord Islington, in his speech, specially mentions customs as one of the subjects to be under the exclusive control of the Government of India. We can understand the anxiety of the popular representatives in India to gain absolute control over the customs, especially after the recent controversies regarding the cotton duties. We can also understand the difficulties that the British Government has in transferring this particular branch of administration to the popular representatives in India. This was one of the details, which gave considerable trouble in settling the form of the Irish Home Rule Bill.

In 1886, after a good deal of discussion between the Liberal and Irish leaders, Mr. Parnell himself gave up the demand for the Irish Parliament to have the control of customs. Subsequently, Mr. Parnell had considerable difficulties in persuading his own followers to accept this position. But he did persuade them and we believe unto this day, in none of the Home Rule Bills that were framed, it was proposed to hand over the customs to the Irish Parliament. But customs, so far as India is concerned, will be even a more difficult subject than in the case of Ireland, and we are afraid that the demand for the control of customs is one of those that will never be conceded. However, this is a matter of detail, which need only be discussed when complete SelfGovernment is granted to India. It does not arise now. And it certainly cannot be one of the powers that may be transferred to the control of nonofficial representatives as an experimental measure. In fact, the Government of India, as it would be under a decentralised scheme* would not have any powers, which, for some time at all events, can be transferred to the control of the nonofficials. Therefore, we do not think any drastic changes are possible in the Government of India at present. The Imperial Legislative Council, like the Local Councils, may be enlarged, in order to enable adequate representation of all classes and communities in India, as well as to afford a training ground for a large number of nonofficials; but there we will have to stop for the present.

Native States

The subject of Native States has been mentioned by Lord Islington, and some Indian critics have assumed that the Native States cannot possibly complicate the reform proposals, as the Political Department is proposed to be vested in the Government of India. That is reasonable. But if the proposals of the nineteen are carried into effect, the Government of India itself will undergo a radical alteration, and in the place of the Viceroy and his European official colleagues, you may have a Government of India constituted of a Prime Minister and his colleagues, drawn from the ranks of the Indian nonofficials, with the Viceroy only acting in the capacity of the representative of the Sovereign and having nothing to do with the Executive Government of India.

Under such a system, the question of the relation of the Native States to British India will assume a somewhat difficult character. Of course, even under such a system it is possible to devise a small Cabinet, working under the Viceroy, dealing with the subjects, which are entirely out of the jurisdiction of the Legislative Council and the Executive Government of India. Foreign relations, the Army and the Navy may well come under such a Cabinet. But whatever may be done, we quite agree with Lord Islington that these Native States must come into any scheme of political reconstruction that may be adopted in India “of their own free will”, that their treaty rights must be scrupulously respected and that nothing must be done to impair the personal link which binds them to the Crown. 

Secretary of State’s Council

Before we leave the subject of Government of India, we should like to say a word about the Council of the Secretary of State. There is a good deal of difference of opinion regarding the Council of the Secretary of State. The orthodox official opinion is that the Council is a highly useful institution, which ought to be encouraged and preserved. At the other extreme, we have the radical Indian opinion, that the Council is a source of much mischief and ought to be abolished at the earliest opportunity. To decide between these extreme views, you must first of all decide as to what is to be the position of the Secretary of State for India in the future system of Indian administration. If he is to continue, as he is at present, with power to interfere in the administration of this country, he must have a Council to help him.

You cannot expect a British statesman, with not even nodding acquaintance with India, to supervise, actively supervise, the administration of India, without somebody with Indian experience to advise him. While, on the other hand if, in future, the Secretary of State for India is to have only such powers as the Colonial Secretary has over the Colonies, then there is no necessity whatever for him to have a Council to advise him.

A Council, like that of the Secretary of State for India, will be very much what the§ Secretary of State makes it. It entirely depends on the kind of people who are selected as its members. If men are selected to that Council, simply because they have survived the Indian climate for 35 years and are drawing a pension from the Government of India, then the Council will be a sort of “pinjrapole” for retired officials. But, on the other hand, if men are picked out for their ability, experience, sympathy and character, the Council would become a highly useful body. If the council is to be retained it certainly ought to be reformed. But we ourselves hope that the active interference of the Secretary of State with the administration of India will be abolished and with it the Council of the Secretary of State.

Representation in Imperial Federation

In the Memorandum of the nineteen the signatories demanded that, in any scheme of Imperial Federation, India should be given, through her chosen representatives, a place similar to that of the self-governing Dominions. There is very little necessity to discuss this question, as the demand has already been conceded. By the selection of Sir S. P. Sinha and the Maharaja of Bikanir to represent India at the Imperial Conference, the claim of India to an equal place with the self-governing Dominions has been recognized, and we are sure that, in any further future development of Imperial Federation, India will have a permanent and honourable place.

When India does attain absolute SelfGovernment, the Indian representatives to the Imperial Federation will be selected by her parliamentary bodies, but, until such time arrives, the selection of imperial representatives from India should not be left to the unfettered choice of the so-called electorates which exist now. A great deal of dissatisfaction was expressed in certain quarters at the selection of Sir S. P. Sinha by the Government to represent India at the Imperial Conference.

The Home Rule politicians wanted the representative to be elected themselves. We are absolutely certain that, if those bodies had been permitted to elect a representative, the choice would not have fallen on Sir S. P. Sinha. One of the Home Rule agitators may possibly have been elected perhaps Mrs. Beasant in which case, we do not know if the cause of imperial unity and harmony would have received the same impetus as it did under the guidance of Sir S. P. Sinha. But however, whatever the method of selection in India may be, the fact remains that Great Britain has acknowledged the right of India to have an equal place with the self- governing Colonies in any scheme of Imperial Federation. Not knowing what the exact details of the future scheme or Imperial Federation are, we are not in a position to suggest the place that India should occupy in working out these details.

We presume that the future scheme of Imperial Federation will roughly consist in the creation of an Imperial Parliament in London, charged with purely Imperial affairs, while the component parts of the British Empire are granted their own parliaments to deal with local affairs. If such an Imperial Parliament consists of two Houses, we maintain that India should be represented in both. Under the scheme of decentralisation, which we have already sketched, the Secretary of State deprived of all his powers of direct interference with the Government of India, the question of the Imperial Parliament directly interfering with the Government of India will not arise.

The extreme Home Rulers may claim that in the Imperial Parliament India should receive representation proportionate to her population. In other words, India should rule the British Empire. The demand would be what Lord Morley once called crying for the moon. The less moonstruck of public men in India will be satisfied with a reasonable representation of India in the Imperial Parliament. We ourselves consider that the representation in the Imperial Parliament of all the component parts of the British Empire should be equal, large and small parts, irrespective of their size and population, sending the same number of representatives. These details, however, can be settled at the proper time. For the present, we have only thankfully to acknowledge the recognition granted to India as a member of the British Commonwealth equal in position to that of any Colony.

Local Self-government

From Imperial Federation we go to the opposite end of Local SelfGovernment. The nineteen demand that a full measure of Local SelfGovernment should be immediately granted. Lord Islington in his speech at Oxford, also emphaised the fact that the immediate development should begin in the Panchayats, in Municipalities and in District Boards. There is no denying the fact that in the past the governments in India have not done all that was in their power to develop Local SelfGovernment. These institutions have not been worked in the spirit in which Lord Ripon in atijguarted them.

With a little less of interference in the details of the administration of local bodies on the part of the Government, considerable advance could have been made this time. Unnecessary interference in details has had a twofold depressing effect on the development of municipal institutions. It kept away from municipal bodies capable and leading public men, who were not anxious to be members of local bodies, only to be ordered about by a Collector or a Deputy Collector. It also deprives local bodies of that sense of responsibility and power of initiative, the development of which alone would .help the successful evolution of local bodies, Even now, on the eve of fresh legislation to remodel local bodies, we are not convinced that the Government view the question from the right point of view.

The Decentralization Commission have laid down correct lines, on which local bodies in this country ought to be evolved in the future. Any departure from these lines in future legislation regarding these bodies will spell failure. The Government must bear in mind that any delay in the proper development of municipal institutions will only increase the demand for immediate Home Rule and such other impossible reforms. It is the old socialistic cry of reform delayed is revolution begun. We have ourselves no doubt that the extraordinary, delay in developing municipal institutions for, our present District Municipalities are practically the same as they were in the time of Lord Ripon has been a contributory cause of the present violent political agitation. We hope that the Government will keep this fact in view and will not persist in their tendency to obstruct the development of local bodies.

Avoid Haste

We have already observed that we are entirely at one with the signatories of the Memorandum of the nineteen in their demand for the removal of disabilities with regard to the Arms Act, Volunteering and Commissions in the army for Indians. We have only now to bring to the notice of our leaders the advice given by Lord Islington Hi& Lordship advised his audience at Oxford to avoid haste. Lord Islington said “The world today has a tragic lesson presented to it, a lesson, of which all responsible leaders in every country must take account. Russia, in her effort to extricate herself from an autocratic system, has allowed herself to be hurled headlong into anarchy by the extremists of her country. I would, therefore, earnestly and sympathetically say to those in India, who today are advocating extreme measures of reform, to be patient, to be reasonable. Limit your influence and assistance to those measures, which are practical towards the solution of the problem. The end in view can best be reached by gradual and moderate steps. It is suggested by some that nothing short of constitutional SelfGovernment should suffice and that this should be established in India at an early date. You cannot transform a highly centralised bureaucracy into a set of decentralised SelfGovernment systems in the passing of a night. If any British Government were to attempt such a task, were to allow themselves in a nervous spirit to act against their judgment and experience in the face of agitation, they would indeed betray the trust that has been imposed upon them.”

No more eloquent words could describe the present situation. A British Government, which, in a nervous spirit and in deference to an agitation, gives in to the demand of immediate Home Rule for India, will not only betray its trust to the British nation, but would also betray the many millions in India, who will be handed over to the care of a close and relentless oligarchy, and whose only fault has ^een their placing too great a confidence in the British Government. At the height of the Irish Home Rule agitation we remember the description used by leading Conservative statesmen of what would happen if Home Rule were granted to Ireland.

One very eminent Conservative statesman said that the Gladstonians were marching through blood and rapine to the disintegration of the Empire. The description may with equal force be applied to the present case. The withdrawal or weakening of British power in India at the present time must certainly destroy all the forces of civilised government that have been brought into existence in India by its British administrators. Anarchy is bound to take the place of orderly progress. We are convinced that neither the British nation nor any responsible British administrator will be a party to such a catastrophic change. We do not contemplate the possibility of such a change.

In 1886, when Mr. Gladstone suddenly made up his mind to grant Home Rule for Ireland, we are told that the British public were struck with consternation, and in spite of the great personality of Mr. Gladstone, the change that he contemplated thirty one years ago has not yet come into practical operation. There is no towering personality in British politics today like that of William Ewart Gladstone, and the attempts of puny politicians of the present day, to try a similar experiment to that tried by mighty Gladstone himself on a country, which is perhaps divided into 200 sections, instead of into 2 as in Ireland, would mean absolute disaster to their own political career.

(Justice, 1917)

- Dr.T.M. NAIR (15.2.1886 - 19.7.1919), One of the Founder of the Justice Party


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