NEW POLITICAL IDEAS
“There are many nations
of the Indians, and they do not speak
the same language.”
[Sidenote: The ideas of citizenship and public questions.]
With modern education and the awakening of the Indian mind have come entirely new political ideas. That there are public questions has in fact been discovered; for in India the idea of citizenship, the consciousness of being a political unit, was itself a new idea. We may say that it was made possible in 1835, when an Act of Legislature was passed declaring the press free. In 1823 an English editor had been deported from Calcutta for free criticism of the authorities, but after 1835 it was legal not merely to think but to speak on public questions. Before we pass on, we note the strange inverted sequence of events which may attend on fostered liberty. The right to criticise was bestowed before any right to be represented in the Legislature or Executive was enjoyed. In this freedom to criticise the acts of Government, the India of to-day is far ahead of countries like Germany and Russia.
[Sidenote: Government exists for the good of the governed.]
The new idea of citizenship, thus made possible by a free press, is largely the outcome of three great influences. Christian philanthropic ideas, disseminated both by precept and example, could not but be producing some sense of brotherhood, and what Burke calls a “civil society.” Then again, the free and often democratic spirit of English literature was being imbibed by thousands; and in the third place, through the newspapers, English and vernacular, the people were being brought into actual contact with the political life of Great Britain. Due particularly to the first of these influences, the noblest of the new Indian political ideas is that tacitly assumed in many of the native criticisms of the British Government in India—high tribute as well as criticism—that Government exists for the good of the governed, and indeed responsible for the welfare of the masses. The British Government is indeed an amazing network covering the whole continent, ministering life, like the network of the blood-vessels in our frame. At least, its apologists declare it to be doing so, and its native critics declare that it ought to. The native press, for example, is prompt to direct the attention of the Government to famine and to summon the Government to its duty. In India a noble idea of the Commonwealth and its proper government has thus come into being. Likewise, it ought to be added, except in times of political excitement, and in the case of professional politicians, it is generally acknowledged that the conception of the British Government in India is noble, and that many officers of Government are truly the servants of the people. It is not suggested that the policy or the methods should be radically altered. The politician’s theme is that the Government is more expensive and less sympathetic than it might be, because of the employment of alien Europeans where natives might be employed.