India: Partition And Independence
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India: Partition And Independence book
It was not only time and a hardening of the arteries,4 though both indeed played an important part, that made so many Englishmen in the twentieth century so unwilling to contemplate the act of renunciation so hopefully foreseen by their early Victorian forebears. There was also a change of circumstances. Where formerly England had held the balance of European, and therefore of world, power, now she was insecurely poised between powers greater than herself. India, which to Napoleon and Lenin alike-seemed to be the gateway to world domination, she retained; and so long as she did so, she commanded, if not as in Curzon's day the greatest, still a formidable and perhaps the most efficient land force in Asia. Renunciation of political control, therefore, meant renunciation of military power at a time when new forces and new weapons exposed Britain herself and the traditional life-line of her Empire to dangers greater than any experienced since the heyday of Napoleon's power. It was not merely instinct and dislike of change, therefore, that made the Conservative party in England reluctant to contemplate an early transfer of power to Indian hands; it was also their concern with the strength and safety of Britain
I N D I A — P A R T I T I O N A N D I N D E P E N D E N C E 199 and of the British Empire. It was no chance that the most relentless opponent, even of the partial transfer contemplated in the 1935 Government of India Act, should have been Mr. Winston Churchill, the man most preoccupied with imperial strategy and imperial defence against the ascendant power of new European dictatorships. Nor was it altogether chance that the Labour party —most of whose leaders at that time found problems of Empire, and more especially of imperial defence, irksome and uncongenial and preferred either to discount the risks of war or to repose their faith in the League of Nationsshould have disregarded such unwelcome considerations in inscribing and retaining independence for India in their party programme. Yet if in so doing they may be charged on one count with lack of foresight, on another they rendered none the less signal service to their country. One of the great English parties was irrevocably committed to independence for India after 1919. That was something Indians never forgot.