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THE RULERS OF INDIA
THIS short chapter contains nothing new or original. It is merely abstracted from books within the reach of everybody, and inserted here to save you the trouble of reaching them. In India you get a chance of seeing the actual work of Government being carried on — such a chance as is hardly possible at home. What is done in England in the offices of county councils or town councils, boards of guardians or school boards, or often of private companies, is usually done in India by one man sitting in a tent. But the actual instrument of Government works, of course, under a superstructure of higher authority. He, to most observers, is the most interesting wheel in the machine; but to understand the nature and extent of his functions it is necessary to have an idea of the higher authorities also.
The ultimate power in the Government of India is yourself. You, the British elector — subject to the usual formality of getting enough of the other electors to agree with you — can do with India exactly what you please. You control Parliament; Parliament controls the Cabinet; the Cabinet controls the Secretary of State for India, and the Secretary of State controls the Viceroy. And in India the Viceroy is supreme. He controls the Lieutenant-Governors of provinces, and they control the Commissioners of Divisions, and they control the District Officers, who control the people of India.
There is a good long ladder, you observe, between you and the natives of India. In the last resort, if a question of very vital interest arose, you would dispose of their destiny. In the meantime, this House-that-Jack-built of control is only occasionally and partially effective — which is just as well for India. As it is, the Secretary of State, the Cabinet, and Parliament probably have far too much to say about Indian administration. So, at least, thinks everybody in India; for where they have anything to say they are more likely than not — most naturally, seeing that they know next to nothing about it — to say the wrong thing. It is one of the unthinking commonplaces of the day to say that Parliament and the electorate are shamefully apathetic about India; that the thin attendance on an Indian Budget night shows a disgraceful insensibility to the plain duty of a legislator; that our political men should all visit India; and so on, to infinity and to nausea. Doubtless a visit to India might be a useful part of a political education, if the visitor had the prudence to spend most of his time collecting and collating the views of experts, and made no attempt to form independent opinions on subjects where a lifetime's observation still leaves you ignorant. But as for Indian Budgets and Indian questions, it wants only a moment of common-sense to see that those who know nothing of India show their best wisdom in leaving such to those who do.
However, let that pass for the present. Keeping this exposition to the authorities within India, the Viceroy is assisted by a Council, which practically constitutes his Cabinet. Lord Curzon represents the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary; the Financial member is Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Military member Secretary for War; two members of the Civil Service take charge respectively of the Home Department and of Public Works; while the Legal member, who must be a barrister of five years' standing, exists for the purpose of drafting bills. Each of these Cabinet Ministers has a permanent secretary under him and an office, as in Whitehall. The Commander-in-chief in India is an extraordinary member of this Council.
For purposes of law-making, the Viceroy's Council is increased by additional members, who are not to be less than ten nor more than sixteen. The duties of these are purely consultative: they have no hand in the actual work of government. Six of these are officials, and about half are natives. Of the non-official members four are nominated by the nonofficial members of subordinate provincial councils, and a fifth by the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce. This you might call the Parliament of India. It meets round a long table in Government House — portraits of past Viceroys on the wall, a row of dining-room chairs for the public, members sitting down to speak. Altogether, it looks much more like a board of directors than a legislative assembly. The proceedings are not exciting, nor even audible; there is hardly ever a division. No measure can be introduced unless the proposal is first approved in the Executive, or Cabinet, Council. The Legislative Council itself gets through most of its work in Select Committees, which amend or recast bills, after they have been brought in and published, in the light of reports made upon them by the officials in the provinces concerned.
You must bear in mind, though, that the analogy with the Cabinet or the House of Commons is a false one in this particular: the Viceroy, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State at home, can override even the unanimous opinion of either Council. He is merely obliged, in that case, to give his reasons for so doing in writing. But in practice the members of the Council are bound to know so much more of the details of the business than the Viceroy does, that this power is very seldom, if ever, used.
Under the Government of India are the Provincial Governments, which miniature the central authority. There are eight provinces — Madras, Bombay, Bengal, North-West Provinces, Punjab, Burma, Central Provinces, and Assam. The first two are still called presidencies, and get their Governors from home, instead of from the Civil Service; but the distinction is an obsolete and insignificant one. The next four are ruled by Lieutenant-Governors, and the others by Chief Commissioners; but here, too, the distinction is more nominal than essential. The Governors of Madras and Bombay, and the Lieutenant-Governors of Bengal and the North-West Provinces, are assisted by bodies similar to the Viceroy's Legislative Council. Each provincial Governor has a small staff of civil servants at his headquarters. Civil servants are also at the head of the divisions of each province and the districts of each division, while there is a large staff of what is called the Provincial Civil Service. These officers are not members of the Indian Civil Service, properly so-called, which is recruited by examinations in England, and which, in virtue more of superior ability and force of character than of any privilege, fills most of the higher posts in the public service. The members of the provincial services are almost entirely native. Below them comes the subordinate civil service — clerks, messengers, and the like — who are wholly native.
The institution of the Provincial Civil Service has proved a fairly satisfactory solution of a difficult problem: how far is it wise or possible to employ natives in civil administration? A few years ago the House of Commons passed a resolution ordering that examinations for the Indian Civil Service proper should be held in India as well as in London. There could hardly be a more childish misconception of the true reason of competitive examination. We do not want scholars to govern India so much as men and gentlemen of good physique, unimpeachable integrity, unbending strength of will, abundant common-sense and tact. Only, as there are more candidates of this kind than there are vacancies, we examine them in Greek iambics and quaternions as the most convenient way of discriminating among them. The more necessary qualities we assume them — and rightly, as experience shows — to possess in roughly equal measure. But we cannot assume that such natives of India as would be likely to succeed in competitive examinations would possess these qualities — rather the opposite. To allow them to compete in such examinations, whether in India or in London, is about as reasonable as to allow the passengers on a liner to draw lots for the privilege of navigating the ship. In the provincial services, on the other hand, promotion is by approved merit, and a native official who has shown his capacity can be advanced to any of the positions usually held by members of the Civil Service itself.
Under the provincial Governors — except in Madras, which does without the grade — are the Commissioners. Each rule a group of districts called a division. Under them are the district officers — variously designated in various provinces — who are the real working members of the Government. A district is the administrative unit of India; it is complete in itself, and its head is responsible for every branch of its working, almost for everything that happens in it. This is the case throughout India.
If, therefore, you want to see the Government of India at its daily work, dealing with the people, raising its taxes and spending them, toiling — as it is always unselfishly toiling — for the benefit of the natives, and them alone, you must seek out the district officer. In a larger unit you will not see the actual work; in a smaller, you will not see it all. The district officer has usually two or three members of the civil service under him. But, as a rule, not more than one of these is a very efficient helper; the younger have yet to learn the vernacular languages and dialects — which are innumerable and infinitely various — and their duties generally. The district officer is the backbone of administrative India.