Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

And now about India

According to their practice of having no interest in international affairs, the Congress leaders seem to be without a policy on this all important question. True, there has been a large volume of sympathy for Abyssinia among the public at large-but this sympathy was immediately exploited by the British Government instead of being harnessed by the leaders of the people. As a result, Indian troops were rushed to Addis Ababa. Why was this done? When questioned in the Council of State about this, the Political Secretary to the Government of India replied that 'troops had been sent to Addis Ababa with a view to protect Indians and other British subjects.' Are the Indian people really so naive that they can be taken in by such a statement? Abyssinia, still being an independent country, neither Indian nor British troops can go there to protect Indians. The fact is-as stated in England-that as a result of a special representation-the Abyssinian Government allowed an extra guard for the British Legation as a special concession (ordinarily this guard should be provided by the Abyssinian Government). The question now is why this extra guard was taken all the way from India. There were British troops near at hand across the frontier of Abyssinia, e.g., in Kenya, in Sudan, in Egypt and in British Somaliland. Why were they not sent to Addis Ababa? The reason is clear. Indian troops were sent with the idea of committing Indian support to British policy in Abyssinia and on the other hand, to remind Italy that the vast resources of India are behind Great Britain.

It is now an open secret that during the months of August and September we were within an inch of a European war. And but for the menace of a rearmed Germany, the war would have broken out and India would have been dragged into it as in 1914, before Indian leaders realized where they stood. The only difference would have been that Italy would have taken the place of Germany and Abyssinia of Belgium. Only a fool would accept the statement of the Commander-in-Chief before the Central Legislature that before India gets entangled in a war, we shall be given sufficient notice of it. In the present case, if war had broken out in Europe, Great Britain would have emerged victorious-thanks to the resources of India-but Abyssinia would have shared the fate of Palestine and India would have continued enslaved as before. It is to be greatly regretted that the spokesman of Great Britain at Geneva, with an unabashed impudence, mentioned Britain's treatment of India as an argument to prove her (Britain's) moral superiority over Italy- not withstanding the fact that while he spoke, bombs were raining over the heads of women and children of the frontier province and the Indian Government was forging fresh fetters for the Indian people in the shape of the Criminal Law Amendment Act.
It is strange that Italy has been conducting a virulent and persistent campaign against the other imperialist powers hoping thereby to secure mitigation of the wrong that she is doing to Abyssinia. Her semi-official spokesman Signor Gayada writes for example, in the Italian Press:
'The Committee of Thirteen is wrong when affirming that the Abyssinian aggression cannot be taken into consideration by the League because Italy has not denounced them at Geneva before. France has not denounced the actions which provoked her campaign in Morocco; nor has England informed Geneva of the obscure situation which has been created on the North-Western Frontier of India where British troops have fought against free populations not subject to her rule.' (The Times, 7th October).

This persistent campaign is now finding an echo in some European countries, e.g. the official organ of the Polish Government, The Gazetta Polska, wrote the other day:
'Why does Great Britain herself, always ruthless in the use of force against the colored races, so energetically oppose Italian plans in connection with Abyssinia?'
Among the Governments of Europe, Austria and Hungary, who come under the Italian orbit of influence, have openly announced at Geneva that they are opposed to sanctions against Italy. Germany, being out of the League, has not yet declared her attitude towards the question of sanctions, but will probably follow the policy most conducive to her own national interests-present and future. Even in countries that are officially supporting the League in the matter of sanctions against Italy, there is a great deal of scepticism about
the much-vaunted disinterestedness of Great Britain, as is evident from the tone of the Press. For instance, I read in the Continental Press the other day that Abyssinia has placed a very large order for clothing with Lancashire firms-the biggest order that Lancashire has received from abroad for years. Likewise, I read that the British are consolidating and extending their colonial possessions near Aden as a counterblast to the growth of Italian power and influence on the other side of the Red Sea.

Now What about the Future

Since French policy is dominating Continental politics, including the League of Nations, it appears pretty certain, that two things will happen. Firstly, in order to maintain outwardly the prestige of the League of Nations which means in actual practice, the prestige of the big powers, France and England, some collective move will be taken in the form of economic sanctions. Mussolini himself has prepared the way for this by stating openly in his speech on the 2nd October, that he will put up with economic sanctions, however inconvenient. Secondly, no military measures will be adopted against Italy, nor will such effective sanctions be adopted as will frustrate Italian objectives in Abyssinia. Mussolini has said in so may words that such a move will be treated by him as a casus belli. Moreover, Italy has openly hinted that if she is thwarted in Abyssinia, she will by way of retaliation, withdraw from Central Europe and give Germany a free hand there. Nevertheless, one would be too optimistic to say that the war-danger is off. The British Navy remains concentrated in the Mediterranean and Britain has so far refused to comply with Italy's request for its withdrawal. Besides this, it is asserted by radical newspapers in Britain that the despatch of troops and war material to the potential war-zone is going on. It is clear that Great Britain has climbed down with great reluctance and has not yet given up the war-spirit. She is, however, trying to cloak her retreat with the slogan of'collective action.'

They say that every dark cloud has its silver lining. So it is in the case of Abyssinia. Abyssinia will go down fighting but she will stir the conscience of the world. On the one hand, throughout the world ot colored races there will be a new consciousness. The consciousness will herald the dawn of a new life among the suppressed nations. All imperialists are feeling uneasy about this phenomenon and General Smuts gave expression to it in one of his recent speeches. On the other hand, thinking men in the imperialist countries have begun to ask themselves if the system of colonisation is at all a justifiable one. Professor Harold Laski once in a letter to the Manchester Guardian suggested, for example, that all the African colonies of Great Britain should be handed over to the League of Nations. Of late, Mr Lansbury has done the same. So even the imperialist 'haves' have begun to feel a prick of conscience. There are two ways in which Imperialism may come to an end-either through an overthrow by an anti-imperialist agency or through an internecine struggle among imperialists themselves. If the second course is furthered by the growth of Italian Imperialism, then Abyssinia will not have suffered in vain.