Legislature Inauguration

Indian Legislature Inauguration

H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught’s Address to the Indian Assembly on its Inauguration, 9 February 1921

Your Excellency and Gentlemen of the Indian Legislature,

I am the bearer of a message from His Majesty the King-Emperor. It is this:

As you know, it had been the intention of His Majesty to send the Prince of Wales, the heir to the throne, with His greetings and His authority to open the chambers of the new Indian Legislature. Events did not permit of his coming, and I received His Majesty’s commands to perform these functions on His behalf. In me the King selected the eldest member of the Royal house, and the only surviving son of Queen Victoria, whose love and care for India will ever live in its people’s memory. I have myself a deep affection for India, having served it for, years and made many friends among its Princes and leaders. It is thus with no common pleasure that I am here, to receive you on this memorable occasion.

Throughout the centuries Delhi has witnessed the pomp and ceremony of many historic assemblages. Two at least of these are remembered by most of you. Twenty years ago I took part in that brilliant concourse which celebrated the accession of my late brother, King Edward the Seventh. Nine, years later, amid circumstances of unforgettable splendour, King George the Fifth and his Queen received in person the homage of the Princes and people of India. Our ceremony to-day may lack the colour and romance of the gatherings I have mentioned though it does not yield to them in the sincerity of its loyalty. But it strikes a new and a different note; it marks the awakening of a great nation to the power of its nationhood.

In the annals of the world there is not, so far as I know, an exact parallel for the constitutional change which this function initiates; there is certainly no parallel for the method of that change. Political freedom has often been won by revolution, by tumult, by civil war, as the price of peace and public safety. How rarely has it been the free gift of one people to another, in response to a growing wish for greater liberty, and to growing evidence of fitness for its enjoyment. Such, however, is the position of India to-day; and I congratulate most warmly those of you, old in the service of your motherland, who have striven, through good report and ill, for the first installment of that gift, and to prove India worthy of it. I trust that you, and those who take up your mantles after you will move faithfully and steadfastly along the road which is opened to-day.

When India became a Dependency of the British Crown she passed under British guardianship, which has laboured with glorious results to protect India from the consequences of her own history at home, and from the complications of international pressure abroad. Autocratic, however, as was the Government then inaugurated, it was based on principles laid down by Her late Majesty Queen Victoria in that proclamation of 1858, of which the keynote is contained in the following passage: ‘In their prosperity will be our strength; in their contentment our security, and in their gratitude our best reward.’ And, though there have been occasions on which the tranquillity of this great country has been endangered by disturbances and disorders, which have necessitated the use of military force, speaking on behalf of His Majesty and with the assent of His Government, I repudiate in the most emphatic manner the idea that the administration of India has been, or ever can be, based on principles of force or terrorism.

All governments are liable to be confronted with situations which can be dealt with only by measures outside the ordinary law; but the employment of such measures is subject to clear and definite limitations; and His Majesty’s Government have always insisted, and will always insist, on the observance of these limitations as jealously in the case of India as in that of England herself.

As His Excellency the Viceroy has observed, the principle of autocracy has been abandoned. Its retention would have been incompatible with that contentment which had been declared by Her late Majesty Queen Victoria to be the aim of British rule, and would have been inconsistent with the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Indian people, and the stage of political development which they have attained. Henceforward, in an ever-increasing degree, India will have to bear her own burdens. They are not light. The times which have seen the conception and birth of the new constitution are full of trouble. The war which ended two years ago has done more than alter the boundaries of nations. The confusion which it brought in its train will abate in time; but the world has not passed unchanged through the fire. New aspirations have awakened, new problems been created, and old ones invested with a stinging urgency.

India has escaped the worst ravages of the war and its sequels, and is thus in some respects better-fitted than many other countries to confront the future. Her material resources are unimpaired, her financial system is sound, and her industries are ready for rapid expansion. But she cannot hope to escape altogether the consequences of the world-wide struggle. The countries of the earth are linked together as never before. A contagious ferment of scepticism and unrest is seething everywhere in the minds of men, and its workings are plainly visible in India. She has other problems peculiarly her own. Inexperience in political methods will be irksome at times. The electorates will have to be taught their powers and responsibilities. And difficulties which are negligible in smaller and homogeneous countries will arise in handling questions of religion and race and custom.

Gentlemen of the Indian Legislature, such are the labours which await you. They will have to be carried on under the eyes of a watching world, interested but not uncritical, of the sister nations who welcome you into their partnership in the British Empire, of that wider Council of Nations which look to India as the future guide of the unknown forces of Asia. Your individual responsibility is great. You may perhaps be apprehensive that the arena for practical issues of immediate moment will be rather the provincial councils than the central legislature. You may feel that the ministers in the provinces will be in closer touch with popular causes and have larger opportunities of public service. But this is true only in a very limited sense.

It is the clear intention of the Act of 1919 that the policy and decisions of the Government of India should be influenced to an extent incomparably greater than they have been in the past by the views of the Indian Legislature; and the Government will give the fullest possible effect, consistent with their own responsibilities to Parliament, to this principle of the new constitution. From now onwards your influence will extend to every sphere of the central government. It will be felt in every part of its administration. You are concerned not with one province, but with all British India, and statesmanship could not ask for a nobler field of exercise. Upon the manner in which your influence is exerted, upon the wisdom and foresight displayed in your deliberations, upon the spirit in which you approach your great task, will depend the progress of India towards the goal of complete self-government.

To ensure, so far as political machinery can ensure, that the legislature is fitly equipped for those lofty duties, two chambers have been constituted. In the council of State it has been the intention of Parliament to create a true Senate, a body of ‘elder statesmen’ endowed with mature knowledge, experience of the world, and the consequent sobriety of judgement. Its functions will be to exercise a revising but not an overriding influence for caution and moderation, and to review and adjust the acts of the larger chamber. To the Assembly it will fall to voice more directly the needs of the people. Soldier and trader, owners of land and dwellers in cities, Hindu and Mahomedan, Sikh, and Christian, all classes and communities will have in it their share of representation. Each class and each community can bring its own contribution, its own special knowledge, to the common deliberations.

And may I say in passing that help will be expected from the representatives of the British non-official community. They have done great service to the trade and industry of India in the past; will they now, with their special experience of representative institutions in their own land, lend their powerful aid in building up India’s political life and practice?

In a legislature thus composed it is both inevitable and right that strong differences of opinion and aims should manifest themselves. Struggle is a condition of progress in the political as in the natural world. Politics is in fact the process of the clash of wills, sympathies, and interests, striving for adjustment in the sphere of legislation and government. But it is the great virtue of representative institutions that they tend to replace the blind encounter of conflicting interests by reasoned discussion, compromise, toleration, and the mutual respect of honourable opponents. The extent to which a body of law-makers shows itself capable, of controlling passion and prejudice is the measure of its capacity for enduring success.

For these reflections I make no apology. They must already have been present to your minds; but they constitute the strongest plea for what all friends of India most desire to see–a greater unity of purpose among her varying communities. In all your deliberations let there be a conscious striving for unity in essentials, that unity which has been lacking in India in the past, but may yet become, if steadfastly nurtured, her greatest strength.

Gentlemen of the Indian Legislature, hitherto I have spoken of your duties. Let me close with a word on your privileges. On you, who have been elected the first members of the two chambers, a signal honour has fallen. Your names will go down to history as those whom India chose to lead the van of her march towards constitutional liberty. I pray that success will attend you, and that the result of your labours will be worthy of the trust that India has reposed in you.

Your Excellency, you are approaching the end of your Viceroyalty. In almost every country of the world the years just passed have been critical and anxious, in India no less, and I know well the vast and well-nigh overwhelming anxieties which you have been called upon to face.

I know well the high sense of duty which has always prompted you, the single purpose which has possessed you, the never-failing courage which has sustained you.

From the first moment you held one special object in view. You determined, God willing, to lead India to a definite stage in her constitutional advancement. Through all distractions and difficulties you held to that determination, and to-day, when your thoughts are turning to the Homeland, and to the hour when your mantle will pass to other shoulders, when you think regretfully, as all men must in such an hour, of all the things you would have wished to do had fortune been more kind, still as you look round this assembly, your Excellency must surely feel ‘for this I have striven and in this I have won’.

I wish to offer my warm congratulations to you on the translation to-day into life and reality of that far-seeing scheme of political progress of which you and the Secretary of State were the authors. It must be no small pride to a statesman who had been directing the destinies of India during these difficult years, that he sees, while still in office, the foundations securely laid of that edifice which he helped to plan with infinite care, in face of much misunderstanding, and yet with the full assurance of a nation’s future gratitude. I trust that your Excellency’s successor and the devoted public servants who will be his agents and advisers, will find in the new Indian Legislature an alleviation of labour, a faithful mirror of India’s needs and wishes, and a trusty link between themselves and the vast millions under their care.

And now I declare duly open the Council of State and the Legislative Assembly constituted under the Government of India Act, 1919.

Gentlemen, I have finished my part in to-day’s official proceedings. May I claim your patience and forbearance while I say a few words of a personal nature? Since I landed, I have felt around me bitterness and estrangement between those who have been and should be friends. The shadow of Amritsar has lengthened over the fair face of India. I know how deep is the concern felt by His Majesty the King-Emperor at the terrible chapter of events in the Punjab. No one can deplore those events more intensely than I do myself.

I have reached a time of life when I most desire to heal wounds, and to reunite those who have been disunited. In what must be, I fear, my last visit to the India I love so well, here in the new capital inaugurating a new Constitution, I am moved to make you a personal appeal, put in simple words that come from my heart, not to be coldly and critically interpreted.

My experience tells me that misunderstandings usually mean mistakes on either side. As an old friend of India, I appeal to you all, British and Indians, to bury along with the dead past the mistakes and misunderstandings of the past, to forgive where you have to forgive, and to join hands and to work together to realize the hopes that arise from to-day.

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