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II: INDIA—II - John Bright, Selected Speeches of the Rt. Hon. John Bright M.P. On Public Questions 
Selected Speeches of the Rt. Hon. John Bright M.P. On Public Questions, introduction by Joseph Sturge (London: J.M. Dent and Co., 1907).
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House of Commons, August 1, 1859.
[On August 1 Sir Charles Wood made his financial statement on India to the House of Commons. One of his proposals was that the Government should be empowered to raise 5,000,000l. in the United Kingdom in order to meet the demands of the present year. The Loan Bill passed through both Houses.]
But there is another course that may fairly be recommended. It is to take India as it is, the empire with all your annexations as it stands, and to see if it is not possible to do something better with it than you have done before, and to give it a chance in future years of redeeming not only the character of the Government but its financial and legislative position. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) says there cannot be any great diminution in the expenditure for the Civil Service of India; but I do not in the least agree with the Secretary for India when he says that the gentlemen of the Civil Service in that country are not overpaid. Every one knows that they are overpaid; except some very high-salaried Bishops of whom we have heard, no men are so grossly overpaid as the officials of the Civil Service in India. The proof of this may be found everywhere. Look at the Island of Ceylon; there the duties are as arduous and the climate as unfavourable as in India; yet the Government does not pay its officials there more than one-half or two-thirds of the salaries they are paid in India. There are in India itself many hundreds of Europeans, the officers of the Indian army, all the Indian clergy, and missionaries; there are also English merchants, carrying on their business at rates of profit not much exceeding the profits made in this country. But the Civil Service of the Indian Government, like everything privileged and exclusive, is a pampered body; and, notwithstanding it has produced some few able men who have worthily done their duty, I do not think the Civil Service of India deserves the loud praise we have so frequently heard awarded to it by speakers in this House. Now if you could reduce the expense of the Civil Service by any considerable amount, the best thing you could do with the money would be to increase the establishment by sending a greater number of competent persons as magistrates, collectors, and officials into the distant provinces, and thereby double the facilities for good government in those districts. If you could reduce the income of the Civil Service one-half, you could for the same money have a more efficient Service throughout India than at present. You might not save money, but you would get a more complete Service for it.
But the military question the House of Commons will certainly have to take in hand; though Secretaries for India are afraid to grapple with it. I am not astonished that they feel some hesitation in doing so, for from every one connected with the Military Service they would hear the strongest objections to reducing the number of the troops. But let me ask the Committee to consider what it has just heard. Before the Revolt the European troops in India numbered 45,000 and the Native troops 250,000; now the 45,000 European troops are 110,000, and the 250,000 Native soldiers are raised to 300,000. What was it that we heard during the Indian Mutiny; what was the cause of all the letters that appeared in the newspapers? Every man said that the great evil was having a Native army far larger than was required. That has been the source of peril, and that was the real cause of the mutiny. Now we have been a larger portion of this most perilous element than we had before. The authorities of India do not appear to have learnt anything from the mutiny, or they have learnt that all that was said in this House and in this country was untrue, because they have 50,000 more Native troops than they had before the mutiny. Therefore, the mode of argument appears to be this: A Native army was the cause of the mutiny, the cause of all our perils, and now it is necessary to have more of it; and, as that is the perilous element, of course 45,000 troops are not sufficient to keep them in check; therefore, you have at present 110,000; and certain officers who were examined, and the Commissioners who reported, recommended that you should always have at least 80,000 Europeans there. If we are only to have one body of troops to watch another, it seems to me there can be no hope of any diminution of our military force, nor any real reduction in our expenditure. Why is it that you require all this army? Let me ask the Committee to look at the matter as sensible men of business. The Revolt, which has been such a terrible affair, has been suppressed. It was suppressed mainly by the 45,000 men in India, and not by the 110,000 you have succeeded in placing there at a later period. More than that, there is not at the present moment any alarming amount of dissatisfaction in India, or at least the dissatisfied are dispirited, and have lost all hope of resisting the power of England, and must for a long period, I think, remain wholly dispirited. At the same time, you have disarmed the people over a vast province. There are millions of people in India, a great number of whom were previously in possession of arms, who do not now possess a single weapon. I have seen in the last accounts, only a day or two since, a statement that not less than 1,400 forts in the kingdom of Oude alone have been destroyed, and we know that many more have been destroyed in other parts. There is at this moment no power for combined organized armed resistance against you, except that which is in the Native army, which the Indian Government has been building up of late to a greater extent than ever.
The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) spoke of one point—the great importance of which I admit—the want of confidence and sympathy that must have arisen between the two races in consequence of the transactions of the last two years. The shock of revolt must have created great suspicion and hatred and fear, and there is nothing out of which panic grows so easily as out of those conditions. I believe that is the case in India, and perhaps there are indications of something of the kind at home. There is a panic, therefore, and neither the Governor-General nor the Civil Service nor military officers can make up their minds that they are safe, recollecting the transactions of the past two years, in having a less military force than we now have in India. But if you ask those gentlemen they will never say they have enough. There are Admirals here, as we know, who are perfectly wild about ships, with whom arithmetic on such a question goes for nothing. They would show you in the clearest possible manner that you have not ships enough. So also, although I am glad to find not to the same extent, as to troops. Some one said the other night, in answer to an hon. Gentleman, about an increased force of a particular kind, “There is nothing like leather,” and it is so. I say naval officers and military officers are not the men to whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer should depute the great and solemn duty of determining what amount shall be expended for military purposes. There is not a country in the world that would not have been bankrupt long since, and plunged into irretrievable ruin, if the military authorities had been allowed to determine the amount of military force to be kept up, and the amount of revenue to be devoted to that purpose.
I have another objection to this great army, and I now come to the question of policy, which, I am sorry to say for India, has not been touched upon. I do not think this is a question to be merely settled by a very clever manner of giving the figures of the case. Those figures depend upon the course you intend to pursue, upon the policy which the Government intends to adopt, in that country. With this great army two things are certain—we can have no reform of any kind in the Government of India, nor an improved conduct on the part of the English in India towards the Natives of India. With a power like this—110,000 English troops, with an English regiment within an hour’s reach of each civil servant, you will find that the supremacy of the conquering race will be displayed in the most offensive manner.
Everybody connected with India—the hon. Member for Devonport (Sir Erskine Perry), the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Colonel Sykes)—all who are connected with India, know well that when the English were feeble in India, when they had not a great army in the field or a great revenue to support it, every Englishman treated the Natives by whom he was surrounded rather with the feeling that he was an intruder in the country, and that it was not only proper but absolutely necessary to deal in a conciliatory and just manner with the great body of the Natives in India; but precisely as our power increased the conduct of our countrymen changed, and I find in the excellent book of Mr. Shore that thirty years ago he describes this as the very source of the growing ill-feeling between the races in India. It has grown from that time to this, until we have an irritation and animosity which in our time, it may be, we shall see very little removed, and which may perhaps never be wholly allayed. A Government, then, with this vast army, must always be in a difficulty. Lord Canning—Lord anybody else—cannot turn his attention to anything but this wearing, exasperating question of how money is to be got for the next quarter to pay this army. He cannot turn his attention in any way to reforms, and I am convinced that this House must insist upon the Government reducing its army, whatever be the risk. A large army will render it impossible for you to hold the country, for you will have a constantly increasing debt, and anarchy must inevitably overwhelm you in the end. A small army, a moderate, conciliatory, and just Government, with the finances in a prosperous condition;—and I know not but that this country may possess for generations and centuries a share, and a large share, in the government of those vast territories which it has conquered.
As to measures of reduction, I admit that it is of little use attempting them unless they are accompanied by other changes. Here I have a charge to bring against the Indian Government. I did hope when the noble Lord spoke to-night that he would have told us something which I am sure he must have known; that there is no such thing as a real Government in India at all; that there is no responsibility either to a public opinion there, or to a public opinion at home; and that therefore we cannot expect a better policy or happier results. Let hon. Gentlemen imagine a Government like that in India, over which the payers of the taxes have not he slightest control; for the great body of the people in India have, as we all know, no control in any way over the Government. Neither is there any independent English opinion that has any control over the Government, the only opinions being those of the Government itself, or those of the Military and Civil Services, and chiefly of the latter. They are not the payers of taxes; they are the spenders and the enjoyers of the taxes, and therefore the Government in India is in the most unfortunate position possible for the fulfilment of the great duties that must devolve upon every wise and just Government. The Civil Service, being privileged, is arrogant, and I had almost said tyrannous, as any one may see who reads the Indian papers, which mainly represent the opinion of that Service and the Military Service, which, as everywhere else where it is not checked by the resolution of the taxpayers and civilians, is clamorous and insatiable for greater expenditure. The Governor-General himself—and I do not make any attack upon Lord Canning, although I could conceive a Governor-General more suited to his great and difficult position—he is a creature of these very Services.
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The noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) did an excellent thing. He did honour to himself by appointing a man of a new sort as Governor of Madras. I have not much acquaintance with Sir C. Trevelyan, but I believe him to be a very intelligent man and very earnest for the good of India. But he finds that at Madras he is like a man who is manacled, as all the Governors are. He is able to do almost nothing. But he has a spirit above being the passive instrument for doing nothing in the hands of the Governor-General, and he has been disposed to make several changes which have looked exceedingly heterodox to those who are connected with the old Government of India, and which have shocked the nerves of the fifteen old gentlemen who meet in Leadenhall Street, and their brethren in India. I find that among the changes endeavoured to be effected by Sir C. Trevelyan, the following are enumerated: He has endeavoured to conciliate the Natives by abolishing certain ceremonial distinctions which were supposed to degrade them when visiting the Government House; he has shown that personal courtesy to them which appears to be too much neglected in India; he has conspicuously rewarded those who have rendered services to the State; he has made one of the Natives his aide-de-camp; he has endeavoured to improve the land tenure, to effect a settlement of the Enam, and to abolish the impress of cattle and carts. He has also abolished three-fourths, or perhaps more, of the paper work of the public servants. He also began the great task of judicial reform, than which none is more urgently pressing. But what is said of Sir C. Trevelyan for instituting these reforms? He has raised a hornets’ nest about him. Those who surround the Governor-General at Calcutta say, “We might as well have the Governors of the Presidencies independent, if they are to do as they like without consulting the Governor-General as has been done in past times.” The Friend of India is a journal not particularly scrupulous in supporting the Calcutta Government, but it has a horror of any Government of India except that of the Governor-General and the few individuals who surround him. A writer in the Friend of India says:
“Sir C. Trevelyan relies doubtless on Lord Stanley, and we do not dream of denying that the Secretary of State has provocation enough to excuse the unusual course he seems obliged to pursue. To send a reform to Calcutta is, at present, simply to lay it aside. It will probably not even be answered for two years, certainly not carried in five. Even when sanctioned, it will have to pass through a crucible through which no plan can escape entire. That weary waiting for Calcutta, of which all men, from Lord Stanley to the people of Singapore, now bitterly complain, may well tempt the Secretary to carry on his plans by the first mode offered to his hand.”
Here are only a dozen lines from a long article, and there are other articles in the same paper to the same purport. I think, then, that I am justified in condemning any Secretary for India who contents himself with giving us the figures necessary to show the state of the finances, which any clerk in the office could have done, and abstains from going into the questions of the government of India and that policy upon which alone you can base any solid hope of an improvement in the condition of that country.
There is another point I would mention. The Governor-General of India goes out knowing little or nothing of India. I know exactly what he does when he is appointed. He shuts himself up to study the first volumes of Mr. Mill’s “History of India,” and he reads through this laborious work without nearly so much effect in making him a good Governor-General as a man might ignorantly suppose. He goes to India, a country of twenty nations, speaking twenty languages. He knows none of those nations, and he has not a glimmer of the grammar and pronunciation or meaning of those languages. He is surrounded by half-a-dozen or a dozen gentlemen who have been from fifteen to forty years in that country, and who have scrambled from the moderate but sure allowance with which they began in the Service to the positions they now occupy. He knows nothing of the country or the people, and they are really unknown to the Government of India. To this hour the present Governor-General has not travelled through any considerable portion of the territory of India. If he did, he would have to pay an increased insurance upon his life for travelling through a country in which there are very few roads and no bridges at all. Observe the position, then, in which the Governor-General is placed. He is surrounded by an official circle, he breathes an official air, and everything is dim or dark beyond it. You lay duties upon him which are utterly beyond the mental or bodily strength of any man who ever existed, and which he cannot therefore adequately perform.
Turning from the Governor-General to the Civil Service, see how short the period is in which your servants in that country remain in any particular office. You are constantly criticizing the bad customs of the United States, where every postmaster and many other officers lose their situations, and where others are appointed whenever a new President is elected. You never make blunders like the United States, and you will therefore be surprised at a statement given in evidence by Mr. Underhill, the Secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society. He says that in certain districts in Bengal there are three or four Englishmen to 1,000,000 inhabitants, and that the magistrates are perpetually moving about. I have here the names of several gentlemen cited. Mr. Henry Lushington went to India in 1821, and remained till 1842. During these twenty-one years he filled twenty-one different offices; he went to Europe twice, being absent from India not less than four and a quarter years. Upon an average, therefore, he held his twenty-one offices not more than nine months each. Mr. J. P. Grant was Governor of Bengal. That was so good a place that he remained stationary in it. But he went to India in 1828 and remained there until 1841. In those thirteen years he held twenty-four different situations, being an average of less than six months for each. Mr. Charles Grant—and I may say that Grant is a name which for three or four generations has been found everywhere in India—he was in India from 1829 to 1842, and in those thirteen years he filled seventeen offices, being an average of only eight months for each office. Mr. Halliday, Governor of Bengal, went to India in 1825, and remained until 1843. In those eighteen years he held twenty-one offices, and he did not become stationary until he was accredited to the lucrative and great office of Governor of Bengal.
I think these facts show that there is something in the arrangements of the Indian Government which makes it no Government at all, except for the purpose of raising money and spending taxes. It is no Government for watching over the people and conferring upon them those blessings which we try to silence our consciences by believing the British Government is established in India to promote. What can a Governor-General do with such a Council, and with servants who are ever changing in all the departments? I am not stating my own opinion, but what is proved by the blue-books. Mr. Halliday stated that the police of Bengal were more feared than the thieves and dacoits. But how is this Government, so occupied and so embarrassed, to be expected to put the police on a satisfactory footing? With regard to justice, I might appeal to any gentleman who has been in India whether, for the most part, the Judges in the Company’s Courts are not without training, and if they are without training, whether they will not probably be without law. The delay is something of which we can have no conception, even with our experience of the Court of Chancery in this country. Perjury and wrong are universal wherever the Courts of the Company’s Service have been established in India. Of their taxation we hear enough to-night. It is clumsy and unscientific. In their finance there is such confusion that the Government proposes to send out somebody, not to raise revenue, not to spend it, but somebody who will be able to tell you how it is raised and spent, for that is what you want to know. They have no system of book-keeping whatever. The Secretary of State gives us a statement of revenue and expenditure up to the 30th of April, 1858, sixteen months back, and even for the year preceding he can only furnish what he calls an “estimate.” Would any other Legislative Assembly in the whole world, except this, tolerate such a state of things? I did try myself several years ago to get a statement of the accounts up to a later period; but I found it was of no use. They ought to be brought up to a later period; the thing is quite within the range of possibility; it is simply not done because there is no proper system of book-keeping, and no one responsible for doing it.
You have no Government in India; you have no financial statement; you have no system of book-keeping; no responsibility; and everything goes to confusion and ruin because there is such a Government, or no Government, and the English House of Commons has not taken the pains to reform these things. The Secretary of State to-night points to the increase in the English trade. In that trade I am myself interested, and I am delighted to see that increase; but it should be borne in mind that just now it is not a natural increase, and therefore not certain to be permanent. If you are spending so many millions in railroads and in carrying on war—that is, 22,000,000l. for your armaments in India instead of 12,000,000l.—is not that likely to make a great difference in your power to import more largely from this country? Do not we know that when the Government of the day was pouring English treasure into the Crimea the trade with the Levant was most materially increased? And, therefore, I say it will be a delusion for the right hon. Gentleman to expect that the extraordinary increase which has taken place within the last three years will go on in future in the same proportion.
Now, the point which I wish to bring before the Committee and the Government is this, because it is on this that I rely mainly—I think I may say almost entirely—for any improvement in the future of India. It would be impertinent to take up the time of the Committee by merely cavilling at what other people have said, and pointing out their errors and blunders, if I had no hope of being able to suggest any improvement in the existing state of things. I believe a great improvement may be made, and by a gradual progress that will dislocate nothing. I dare say it may disappoint some individuals, but where it will disappoint one man in India it will please a thousand. What you want is to decentralize your Government. I hold it to be manifestly impossible to govern 150,000,000 of persons, composing twenty different nations, speaking as many different languages, by a man who knows nothing of India, assisted by half a dozen councillors belonging to a privileged order, many of whom have had very little experience in India, except within narrow limits, and whose experience never involved the consideration and settlement of great questions of statesmanship. If you could have an independent Government in India for every 20,000,000 of its people, I do not hesitate to say, though we are so many thousand miles away, that there are Englishmen who, settling down among those 20,000,000 of people, would be able to conduct the Government of that particular province on conditions wholly different and immeasureably better than anything in the way of administration which we have ever seen in India.
If I were Secretary of State for India,—but as I am not, I will recommend the right hon. Gentleman to do that which I would do myself, or I would not hold his office for one month; because, to hold office and come before the House Session after Session with a gloomy statement, and with no kind of case to show that you are doing anything for India, or that you are justified in holding possession of it at all, is nothing but to receive a salary and to hold a dignity without any adequate notion of the high responsibility attaching to them. I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman in particular; he is only doing what all his predecessors before him have done. There has been no real improvement since I have sat in Parliament in the government of India, and I believe the Bill of last year is not one whit better for purposes of administration than any that has gone before. But I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, whether it would not be a good thing to bring in a Bill to extend and define the powers of the Governors of the various Presidencies in India? I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to turn out the fifteen gentlemen who assist him in Leadenhall Street to vegetate on their pensions, but I ask him to go to India and to take the Presidency of Madras for an instance. Let arrangements be made by which that Presidency shall be in a position to correspond directly with him in this country, and let every one connected with that Government of Madras feel that, with regard to the interests and the people of that Presidency, they will be responsible for their protection. At present there is no sort of tie between the governors and the governed. Why is it that we should not do for Madras what has been done for the Island of Ceylon? I am not about to set up the Council of Ceylon as a model institution—it is far from that; but I will tell you what it is, and you will see that it would not be a difficult thing to make the change I propose. The other day I asked a gentleman holding an office in the Government, and who had lived some years in Ceylon, what was the state of the Council? He said it was composed of sixteen members, of whom six were non-official and independent, and the Governor had always a majority. He added that at the present moment in that Council there was one gentleman, a pure Cingalese by birth and blood, another a Brahmin, another a half-caste, whose father was a Dutchman and whose mother was a Native, and three others who were either English merchants or planters. The Council has not much prestige and therefore it is not easy to induce merchants in the interior to be members and to undertake its moderate duties; but the result is that this Cingalese, this Brahmin, this half-caste, and these three Englishmen, although they cannot out-vote Sir H. Ward, the Governor, are able to discuss questions of public interest in the eye and the ear of the public, and to tell what the independent population want, and so to form a representation of public opinion in the Council, which I will undertake to say, although so inefficient, is yet of high importance in the satisfactory government of that island. Why is it that we can have nothing like this in the Councils of Madras or Bombay? It would be an easy thing to do, and I believe that an Act of Parliament which would do it would lay the foundation of the greatest reform that has yet taken place in India. At present all the Governors are in fetters; and I see that blame has been imputed to Sir Charles Trevelyan for endeavouring to break through those fetters. No doubt an attempt will be made to have him recalled, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, while he moderates the ardour of the Governor so far as to prevent a rebellion among the civilians, will support him honestly and faithfully in all those changes which the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do are essential to the improvement of the government of that country.
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In speaking on this subject I have nothing new to offer to the attention of the House. I have propounded the very same theories and remedies years ago. They are not my remedies and theories. I am not the inventor of local government for India; but the more I have considered the subject—the more I have discussed it with the Members of this House and with gentlemen connected with India—the more I am convinced that you will not make a single step towards the improvement of India unless you change your whole system of government—unless you give to each Presidency a government with more independent powers than are now possessed by it. What would be thought if the whole of Europe was under one governor, who knew only the language of the Feejee Islands, and that his subordinates were like himself, only more intelligent than the inhabitants of the Feejee Islands are supposed to be? You set a governor over 150,000,000 of human beings, in a climate where the European cannot do the work he has to do so well as here, where neither the moral nor physical strength of the individual is equal to what it is at home—and you do not even always furnish the most powerful men for the office;—you seem to think that the atmosphere will be always calm and the sea always smooth. And so the government of India goes on; there are promises without number of beneficial changes, but we never hear that India is much better or worse than before. Now, that is not the way to do justice to a great empire like India. If there had been a better government in India, the late disturbances among your own troops would not have happened; and I own I tremble when I reflect that every post may bring us, in the present temper of the European troops in India, some dire intelligence of acts which they may have committed, because they may think that this is a convenient opportunity for pressing some great claim of their own.
I beg the Committee to consider this matter, not-withstanding that the right hon. Gentleman is not disposed to take a gloomy view of the state of India. Look at your responsibilities. India is ruled by Englishmen, but remember that in that unfortunate country you have destroyed every form of government but your own; that you have cast the thrones of the Natives to the ground. Princely families, once the rulers of India, are now either houseless wanderers in the land they once called their own, or are pensioners on the bounty of those strangers by whom their fortunes have been overthrown. They who were noble and gentle for ages are now merged in the common mass of the people. All over those vast regions there are countless millions, helpless and defenceless, deprived of their natural leaders and their ancient chiefs, looking with only some small ray of hope to that omnipresent and irresistible Power by which they have been subjected. I appeal to you on behalf of that people. I have besought your mercy and your justice for many a year past; and if I speak to you earnestly now, it is because the object for which I plead is dear to my heart. Is it not possible to touch a chord in the hearts of Englishmen, to raise them to a sense of the miseries inflicted on that unhappy country by the crimes and the blunders of our rulers here? If you have steeled your hearts against the Natives, if nothing can stir you to sympathy with their miseries, at least have pity upon your own countrymen. Rely upon it, the state of things which now exists in India must, before long, become most serious. I hope that you will not show to the world that, although your fathers conquered the country, you have not the ability to govern it. You had better disencumber yourselves of the fatal gift of empire than that the present generation should be punished for the sins of the past. I speak in condemnatory language, because I believe it to be deserved. I hope that no future historian will have to say that the arms of England in India were irresistible, and that an ancient empire fell before their victorious progress,—yet that finally India was avenged, because the power of her conqueror was broken by the intolerable burdens and evils which she cast upon her victim, and that this wrong was accomplished by a waste of human life and a waste of wealth which England, with all her power, was unable to bear.