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Recent Books on India

ISSUE:  Winter 1944

Subject India. By Henry Noel Brailsford. The John Day Company. $2.50. The Problem of India. By R. Palme Dutt. International Publishers. $2.00. Indian Crisis: The Background. By John S. Hoy land. The Macmillan Company. $2.50. India’s Problem Can Be Solved. By Dewitt Mackenzie. Double-day, Doran and Company. $3.00.

With American soldiers fighting on the far-flung fronts of the world, the American people are beginning to ask healthy questions—about colonialism and imperialism, freedom and democracy, and the aims and ideals for which thousands of American soldiers are daily spilling their blood. Hence a spate of books on India, for she stands today as a challenge to the westerners, imperialists and Christians. India has become the crux of the world problem of freedom and self-determination versus slavery and imperialism. And yet no problem is being discussed today with so much prejudice and bias as India. The books under discussion should be welcomed, for they attempt to throw light, although sometimes distorted, on India and help the American to understand the Indian struggle for political freedom and economic self-determination.

No book by a British writer in recent months gives so accurate, intimate, and unbiased a picture of the aspirations and the struggle of the Indian people for freedom as “Subject India” by Henry Noel Brailsford. He is a well-known British writer and socialist, a sensitive and honest writer, whose work is familiar to the Indian people. Brailsford visited India in the 1930’s when India was in the throes of a Civil Disobedience Movement and much of what he says is drawn from personal knowledge.

He begins with a running commentary on Indian history, vivid vignettes of Gandhi and his leadership and the British bureaucrats whom he has been fighting for some decades now. Then he offers perhaps the best account of the Cripps Mission, and the real reasons for its failure. He has done a service to the American reader by going into the constitutional tangle of the pre-Cripps-offer days, the three Round Table Conferences, Churchill’s determined opposition to Indian freedom, and the 1935 Government of India Act. He asks the pertinent, if poignant question, “Had there ever been an offer of independence to India?”

Brailsford takes up the usual bogeys about Indian freedom. The Moslems, the Princes, and the Untouchables— all these come in for their proper treatment. The Moslem minority problem was created by the British when they forced the separate communal electorates in 1909. Brailsford has demonstrated how impractical Jinnah’s “Pakistan” (a separate state for Indian Moslems) is, and wonders whether Jinnah is really earnest about this vivisection of India, and whether he is not using it as a bargain counter. As for the Princes, the British always argue about their obligations to them. Why is it, Brailsford asks, that the British never argue about their obligations to a hundred million people, the subjects of these Maharajas? Are the Indian soldiers fighting now to make this autocracy safe? As for the “untouchables,” Brailsford says they have always been and are free men and can travel and get positions under non-Jim Crow conditions, though an unthinking religion has laid on them the stains of degradation and uncleanliness. “It cannot be said that the British government has done much for these unfortunates.” It was Gandhi who took up their cause and not the British.

The best chapter is on “Why India Is Poor.” Here, flattering British statistics and distressing Indian realities are portrayed in painful contrast. What is the true cause of Indian poverty? Not an imaginary overpopulation, but the excessive concentration on agriculture and the deliberate destruction of Indian handicraft industry by the East India Company, The early policy of exploiting India’s raw materials and dumping British manufactured commodities on her market has not yet been completely discarded. The result is that after two centuries of this “benign” rule, the people of India are steeped in incredible poverty.

Brailsford has a simple solution—the key to all Indian problems. Give India complete freedom, he says, either as a Dominion within the British Commonwealth or outside it, as the Indian people may choose. Despite Churchill’s declaration, he points out that the Empire is being liquidated. Predicating his belief on complete freedom for India, he proceeds to offer a ten-point program, beginning with the formulation of a Pacific Charter and ending with the realization of an Indian Union, either within or without the orbit of the British empire. “Subject India” is a timely book which should be read by every thinking American.

R. Palme Dutt’s “The Problem of India” is an abridged edition of the author’s well known and widely acclaimed book, “India Today,” published in England at the beginning of the war. Dutt has been for long associated with the British leftist and progressive circles, and has been the editor of the “Labor Monthly” since its foundation in 1921. He knows his India and his England as no one else does.

This is probably the only book published in recent months which gives, not opinions, but facts and figures from unimpeachable official and expert sources. The string of valuable quotations from Indian and British authorities substantiates his statements, and no one, not even an outspoken imperialist like Churchill, can take any exception to what he says. A rapid and brilliant summary of the background of the Indian struggle for political emancipation is given. There is an admirable analysis of India’s latent and potential wealth, as contrasted with the incredible poverty of the masses. The highly enlightening and documented balance-sheet of British rule in India, he offers, must silence the good-hearted critics who sing incessantly the benefits of British rule in India. The book also discusses the growth of national consciousness, the reactionary role of the Princes, the dominant and representative Indian National Congress, and other minor political divisions, and includes a critical estimate of the role of the Mahatma in the political regeneration of India. The present crisis is analysed and the importance of solving the Indian problem is emphasized in the interests of holding unity among the United Nations. Dutt makes quite clear that we might lose this war in India, despite our continued military successes, if we do not demonstrate to the Indian people that there is a vital difference between the Axis and the Allies, as far as Indian freedom is concerned.

John S. Hoyland’s “Indian Crisis” offers an excellent background to the understanding of the Indian struggle for freedom. The author is a Cambridge-educated British educator who spent some fifteen years in India, most of them as a lecturer in a college. As such, he has obtained a deep insight into Indian problems, and what he has written exhibits sympathy, objectivity, and understanding. The book is both valuable as a source of information and readable. It begins with a description of India and gives glimpses of Indian history. The next three chapters on the Indian village, the city and the industrial worker are excellent, as is his account of the so-called four high castes and the so-called “low and fifth caste”—the untouchables. He rightly takes the orthodox Hindus to task for their shameless attitude toward these depressed millions.

Hoyland’s analysis of the Indian political crisis is fair and objective. After reviewing the three dominant political personalities in present-day India—Gandhi, Nehru, and Azad (the Moslem president of the Indian National Congress), he offers some sensible suggestions on how to meet the Indian problem, beginning with mass education and ending with the termination of British Imperialism in India. At the end of the book he raises an honest if somewhat pathetic question, “Could confession of failure after two centuries of imperialism be more abjectly complete, quite apart from all considerations of an ever-deepening poverty and ever more rapacious competition of money lenders, landlords, and industrial magnates?”

DeWitt Mackenzie sounds an optimistic note in his “India’s Problem Can Be Solved.” Mackenzie is an American Associated Press news analyst who recently covered India. In some twenty short and readable chapters he presents India —facts and figures, the leading political parties and leaders, and what they stand for, the Moslems and the other minorities. Though he was in India recently, he could not meet the real leaders of India like Gandhi and Nehru, for they were behind prison bars. Nor did Mackenzie make any attempt to interview them in prison. He did, however, meet Jinnah and the retiring Viceroy Linlithgow.

Mackenzie does offer a solution, though there is nothing new or novel about it. It is that Indian leaders must be released from prison (several thousands of the rank and file are languishing in jail today in this strange war for freedom), negotiations must be opened between the Congress and the British Government in India, and a national coalition Government must be formed at the Centre. The one sensible suggestion he makes about the Indian Princes is that most of them should be pensioned off and their territory should be annexed to provincial India—the future free India. But as long as Churchill is at the head of the British Government, no attempt at a solution is likely to be made. It is not that India defies a solution but that the Tories are unwilling to part with power.

In all these books, there is much useful material on India with as many interpretations and solutions as there are authors. The American reader can get a reliable picture of India if he will read them with care.


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