Dominion Status



It is unfortunate that so soon after the momentous session of the All-Parties Conference at Lucknow, there should have been a cleavage in the ranks of our public men over the question of India's political goal. The decisions reached at Lucknow had obtained all but universal approbation, and the tallest of our leaders had resolved to work in harmony for Dominion status, which was agreed upon as the immediate objective. Neither Pandit Motilal nor his colleagues on the Drafting Committee imagined that a great country like India could, for all time, be content to be linked to Britain. They were working for the immediate future. They realised that wisdom lay in bringing together the various political parties and the warring communities of India. They in no way sought to fetter the liberty of the younger and more ardent section of Congressmen to carryon an effective propaganda for popularising the ideal of Independence. At the same time, Pandit Jawaharlal and the other advocates of Independence deliberately refrained from dividing the House on this issue. They made a statement of their political faith and reserved freedom to themselves to organise an Independence for India League. In fact, the Madras Congress had resolved that Independence was the Nation's goal, and there was no intention on anybody's part to go back on that resolution. Persons like Dr. Besant and Pandit Malaviya were satisfied with the Lucknow settlement, and all politically-minded Indians sighed a sigh of relief that, at long last, we were settling down to an active programme of work for India's freedom. There was absolute unanimity on the question of the boycott of the Simon Commission. Nearly every political party that counted was represented at Lucknow. Veterans grown grey in the country's service were pledged to carryon an intensive and ceaseless fight on India's behalf. What more could be desired? Was not this, indeed, the dawning of a new and glorious era in Indian history?


But soon there was a rift in the lute. The Lucknow settlement was interpreted in different ways by different parties. The advocates of Dominion status proceeded forthwith to organise Provincial and District All-Parties Conferences, and in their excessive zeal, they restricted admission to those that pledged themselves to support Dominion status. This was interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as a move to restrict the liberty of advanced Congressmen, who pinned their faith to Independence, and to give the All-parties Conference, a mere child of the Working Committee of the Congress, a position more exalted than that of the Congress itself. It was also imagined that a deliberate attempt was being made to lower the Congress ideal of Independence. Here was a casus belli. There was a call to arms. Drums were beaten, trumpets were sounded. The faithful were commanded to rally round the flag of Independence at Imperial Delhi. But the All-India Congress Committee's resolution, like the All Parties Conference resolution at Lucknow, means all things to all men. So long as the Congress creed as laid down at Nagpur stands unaltered, and is capable of accommodating within the Congress fold both schools of thought–the one for Dominion status and the other for Independence–the assertion of the A. I. C. C that there can be no Swaraj in India unless the connection with Britain is severed, is in the nature of a mere obiter. The rival organisations of the All-Parties Conference and the League for Independence will continue to carry on propaganda in opposition to each other, and divide the allegiance of the country. And meanwhile, the Nation will be deprived of the immense advantage of that united lead which was in sight at Lucknow.


It will not do to brush aside the whole controversy as ‘academic.’ What ideal the Nation shall set unto itself, what it shall strive for and die for, is a question of vital importance. No useful purpose is served by each party twitting the other on the absence of sanctions for their respective ideals. If shouting for Independence will not bring it any the nearer, neither will the introduction of a Bill in Parliament and reliance on the good offices of the Labour Party hasten the advent of Dominion status. May they not be right who aver that if sacrifices are made and precious lives laid down, it is far better to do so for the greater and nobler ideal of Independence? What have we in common with Canada or Australia or South Africa that we should enthuse over the prospect of a "Commonwealth of Nations," Anglo-Saxon in speech and predominantly Anglo-Saxon in blood? Are we now sitting at a Round Table Conference with the representatives of the British Government, as the Irishmen did some years ago, to agree upon the terms of a settlement? If we are merely educating the Nation and organising it for resistance to foreign rule, why should we look upon the British connection as sacrosanct? Are we to be perpetually involved in the unholy wars of Britain and in her more unholy alliances–called upon from time to time to enslave other Nations and sing paens of glory to the ever-advancing monster of British Imperialism?

These are the thoughts that well up in the breasts of our friends of the Independence school. But not one of them is intent upon proclaiming Indian Independence at the present moment. Lawyers practising in British Law Courts, legislators sitting in Councils and taking the oath of allegiance, politicians waiting in the ante-chambers of Ministers for the favour of nominations to local bodies, and journalists coolly recommending the acceptance of Government grants by National educational institutions, cannot with any show of grace or consistency be parties to such a proclamation. It inevitably follows that Independence is to remain but the goal of our National aspirations. It is absolutely the proper goal for any self-respecting Nation. The main contribution of the League of Independence to Indian Nationalism will be the changing of our ‘angle of vision’ in this respect.


Not a whit less fervid in their love for the Motherland, nor less conscious of her ultimate destiny, the advocates of Dominion status have a firmer grasp of the needs of the immediate present. They do not dismiss all talk of Independence as mere moonshine, nor do they belittle the importance of holding aloft an inspiring ideal. But they certainly fail to see the wisdom of breaking up the Nationalist ranks over a difference which is more temperamental than fundamental. If the advocates of .Dominion status are prepared to accept Independence as the National goal, why should not the advocates of Independence, on their side, agree to work along with them for the achievement of Dominion status for the present? In their view, Dominion status may be a half-way house to Independence, and why, they ask, should the better turn out to be the enemy of the good?

In the ultimate analysis, therefore, the difference between the opposing points of view narrows itself down to this: Is Dominion status a half-way house or will it militate against the achievement of ultimate Independence? Now, what are the incidents of Dominion status? Does it in actual practice connote all that Independence does, with the single difference that it involves allegiance to the Emperor? Complete freedom as regards all internal affairs including Tariffs and Immigration; representation on equal terms on a Council of the Commonwealth having charge of all inter-statal and foreign affairs; the right to be consulted before the declaration of war or conclusion of peace with a foreign Power; and lastly, the right to secede when the membership of the Commonwealth is found to be detrimental to National interests; these are believed to be the incidents of Dominion status. In the coming years, the very term ‘Empire’ might disappear. England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and India might each have its own Parliament devoting itself to purely domestic problems. The centre of gravity of such an Indo-British Federation might shift from the West to the East, from London to Delhi. To the Federal Parliament sitting at Delhi, the various units of the Federation might send their representatives. This Federation might be represented at foreign capitals by Indian as well as Canadian or Irish ambassadors, and at International Conferences by Indian or Australian plenipotentiaries. The armies and navies of the Federation might be led by Indian Field-Marshals and High Admirals in comradeship with officers from other units of the Federation. Indian Governors might rule at London and Edinburgh and Indian Premiers sit at the head of the Federal Cabinets. We are visualising the position merely to point out that the very conception of Dominion status may be so enlarged as to justify the hopes of valiant fighters for India's rights like Dr. Besant. Their vision of

"Britain and India hand in hand,

But an India free as is her right"

doubtless implies all this and more. Have we the right to shut out dreamers of this type from a great National institution like the Congress by defining Swaraj to mean only Independence?


It is our firm conviction that the acceptance of Independence as the goal of the Nation in terms of the Madras Congress resolution does not preclude Congressmen from joining hands with other political parties for the attainment of Dominion status. It is true that the same sanctions devised for the achievement of Dominion status ought to bring us Independence also. But is it not a great advantage to fight shoulder to shoulder with others who have the same faith and the same patriotism as ourselves? A good deal of heat and acrimony has been imported into this controversy amongst the leaders, while the rank and file are left without a clear lead. It is up to the wise men that gather at Calcutta next month to put an end to this position of stalemate and agree upon a common plan of action calculated to hasten the advent of freedom.