Presidential Address to the Third Session
of the Indian National Congress
by Badruddin Tyabji (1844-1906)
*Introduction* -- *1) A Representative Gathering* -- *2) Congress and Musalmans* -- *3) A Congress of Educated Natives* -- *4) Are the Educated Natives Disloyal?* -- *5) Europeans and Indian Aspirations* -- *6) Congress and Social Reform* -- *7) Subjects Before the Congress* -- *8) Tribute to the Dead* -- *9) Conclusion*
Rajah Sir T. Madhava Rao and Gentlemen, -- I thank you most sincerely for the very great honour you have done me by electing me President of this great national assembly. Gentlemen, it is impossible not to feel proud of the great distinction you have thus conferred upon me, the greatest distinction which it is in your power to confer upon any one of your countrymen. Gentlemen, I have had the honour of witnessing great public meetings both in Bombay and elsewhere, but it is quite a novel sensation for me to appear before a meeting of this description -- a meeting composed not merely of the representatives of any one city or even of one province, but of the whole of the vast Continent of India; representing not any one class or interest, but all classes and all interests of the almost innumerable different communities that constitute the people of India.
Gentlemen, I had not the good fortune to be present at the proceedings
of the first Congress held in Bombay in 1885, nor had I the good fortune
to take part in the deliberations of the second Congress held in Calcutta
last year. But, Gentlemen, I have carefully read the proceedings of both
those Congresses, and I have no hesitation in declaring that they display
an amount of talent, wisdom, and eloquence of which we have every reason
to be proud.
1) A Representative Gathering
Gentlemen, from the proceedings of the two past Congresses, I think we are fairly entitled to hope that the proceedings of this present Congress will not only be marked by those virtues, but by the moderation and by that sobriety of judgment which is the offspring of political wisdom and political experience. Gentlemen, all the friends and well-wishers of India, and all those who take an interest in watching over the progress and prosperity of our people, have every reason to rejoice at the increasing success of each succeeding Congress.
At the first Congress in Bombay, in 1885, we had less than 100 representatives
from the different parts of India; in the second Congress, at Calcutta,
in 1886, we had as many as 440 representatives; while at this Congress,
I believe, we have over 600 delegates representing all the different parts
and all the different communities of this great Empire. I think, then,
Gentlemen, that we are fairly entitled to say that this is a truly representative
national gathering. Indeed, if that tentative form of representative institutions,
which has so often been asked for from Government, were granted to us,
I have not the smallest doubt but that many of the gentlemen I now have
the honour of addressing, would be elected by their respective constituencies
to represent their interests.
2) Congress and Musalmans
Gentlemen, it bas been urged in derogation of our character, as a representative national gathering, that one great and important community -- the Musalman community -- has kept aloof from the proceedings of the two last Congresses. Now, Gentlemen, in the first place, this is only partially true, and applies only to one particular part of India, and is moreover due to certain special, local, and temporary causes; and in the second place, no such reproach can, I think, with any show of justice be urged against the present Congress.
And, Gentlemen, I must honestly confess to you that one great motive which has induced me, in the present state of my health, to undertake the grave responsibilities of presiding over your deliberations, has been an earnest desire on my part to prove, as far as in my power lies, that I, at least, not merely in my individual capacity but as representing the Anjuman-i-Islam of Bombay, do not consider that there is anything whatever in the position or the relations of the different communities of India -- be they Hindus, Musalmans, Parsis, or Christians -- which should induce the leaders of any one community to stand aloof from the others in their efforts to obtain those great general reforms, those great general rights, which are for the common benefit of us all; and which, I feel assured, have only to be earnestly and unanimously pressed upon Government to be granted to us.
Gentlemen, it is undoubtedly true that each one of our great Indian
communities has its own peculiar social, moral, educational, and even political
difficulties to surmount; but so far as general political questions affecting
the whole of India -- such as those which alone are discussed by this Congress
-- are concerned, I, for one, am utterly at a loss to understand why Musalmans
should not work shoulder to shoulder with their fellow-countrymen of other
races and creeds, for the common benefit of all. Gentlemen, this is the
principle on which we in the Bombay Presidency have always acted, and from
the number, the character, the position, and the attainments of Musalman
delegates from the Bengal Presidency and from the Presidency of Madras,
as well as from the North-West Proinces and the Punjab, I have not
the smallest doubt that this is also the view held, with but few though
perhaps important exceptions, by the leaders of the Musalman communities
throughout the whole of India.
3) A Congress of Educated Natives
Gentlemen, it has been urged as a slur upon our loyalty, that this Congress is composed of what are called the educated natives of India. Now, if by this it is intended to be conveyed that we are merely a crowd of people with nothing but our education to commend us, if it is intended to be conveyed that the gentry, the nobility, and the aristocracy of the land have kept aloof from us, I can only meet that assertion by the most direct and the most absolute denial. To any person who made that assertion, I should feel inclined to say: 'Come with me into this Hall and look around you, and tell me where you could wish to see a better representation of the aristocracy, not only of birth and of wealth, but of intellect, education, and position, than you see gathered within the walls of this Hall.' But, Gentlemen, if no such insinuation is intended to be made, I should only say that I am happy to think that this Congress does consist of the educated natives of India.
Gentlemen, I for one am proud to be called not only educated but a "native" of this country. And, Gentlemen, I should like to know where among all the millions of Her Majesty's subjects in India are to be found more truly loyal -- nay, more devoted -- friends of the British Empire than among these educated natives. Gentlemen, to be a true and sincere friend of the British Government, it is necessary that one should be in a position to appreciate the great blessings which that Government has conferred upon us, and I should like to know who is in a better position to appreciate these blessiugs -- the ignorant peasants, or the educated natives? Who, for instance, will better appreciate the advantages of good roads, railways, telegraphs and post offices, schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, good laws and impartial courts of juctice? -- the educated natives, or the ignorant peasants of this country?
Gentlemen, if there ever were to arise -- which God forbid -- any great
struggle between Russia and Great Britain for supremacy in this country,
who is more likely to judge better of the two Empires? Again I say, Gentlemen,
that in these matters it is the educated natives that are best qualified
to judge, because it is we who know and are best able to appreciate, for
instance, the blessings of the right of public meeting, the liberty of
action and of speech, and high education, which we enjoy under Great Britain,
whereas probably under Russia we should have nothing but a haughty and
despotic Government, whose chief glory would consist in vast military organization,
aggression upon our neighbours, and great military exploits.
4) Are the Educated Natives Disloyal?
No, Gentlemen, let our opponents say what they please, we the educated natives, by the mere force of our education, must be the best appreciators of the blessings of a civilized and enlightened Government and, therefore, in our own interests, the best and staunchest supporters of the British Government in India. But, Gentlemen, do those who thus charge us with disloyalty stop for a moment toconsider the full meaning and effect of their argument? Do they realize the full importance and significance of the assertion they make? Do they understand that, in charging us with disloyalty, they are in reality condemning and denouncing the very Government which it is their intention to support?
Gentlemen, when they say that the educated natives of India are disloyal, what does it mean? It means this: that in the opinion of the educated natives -- that is to say, of all the men of light and leading, all those who have received a sound, liberal, and enlightened education, all those who are aquainted with the history of their own country and with the nature of the present and past Governments -- that in the opinion of all these, the English Government is so bad that it has deserved to forfeit the confidence and the loyalty of the thinking part of the population.
Now, Gentlemen, is it conceivable that a more frightful and unjust condemnation of the British Government can be pronounced than is implied in this cbarge of disloyalty against the educated natives of India? Gentlemen, if this charge were brought by some bitter enemies of Great Britain. if it were brought by the Russians, for example, I could understand it. But it is almost beyond my comprehension that it should come not from enemies but from the supposed friends of the British Government, not from the Russians but from Englishmen who presumably want, not to destroy, but to support their Government. I say it surpasses my comprehension.
Gentlement, just consider for a moment the effect of this reckless allegation upon the uneducated millions of the inhabitants of this country, upon the hordes of the Russians in the north, and upon the enlightened nations of Europe! I say, therefore, that the conduct of those who thus recklessly charge us with disloyalty resembles the conduct of the "foolish woodman" who was lopping off the very branch of the tree upon which he was standing, unconscious that the destruction of the branch meant the destruction of himself.
Happily, however, Gentlemen, this allegation is as absurd as it is unfounded. It is as unjust to us as it is unjust to the Government it impeaches. But though, Gentlemen, I maintain that the educated natives, as a class, are loyal to the backbone, I must yet admit that some of our countrymen are not always guarded, not always cautious, in the language they employ. I must admit that some of them do sometimes afford openings for hostile criticisms, and I must say that I have myself observed in some of the Indian newspapers, and in the speeches of public speakers, sentiments and expressions which are calculated to lead one to the conclusion that they have not fully realised the distinction between licence and liberty; that they have not wholly grasped the lesson that freedom has its responsibilities no less than its privileges.
And, therefore, Gentlemen, I trust that not only during the debates
of this Congress, but on all occasions, we shall ever bear in mind, and
ever impress upon our countrymen, that if we are to enjoy the right of
public discussion, the liberty of speech and liberty of the Press, we must
so conduct ourselves as to demonstrate by our conduct, by our moderation,
by the justness of our criticisms, that we fully deserve these -- the greatest
blessings which an enlightened Government can confer upon its subjects.
5) Europeans and Indian Aspirations
Gentlemen, it has been sometimes urged that Europeans in this country do not fully sympathise with the just aspirations of the natives of India. In the first place, this is not universally true, because I have the good fortune to know many Europeans than whom truer or more devoted friends of India do not breathe on the face of the earth. And in the second place, we must be prepared to make very considerable allowance for our European fellow-subjects, because their position in this country is surrounded by difficult and complicated questions not merely of a political, but of a social, character, which tend more or less to keep the two communities asunder in spite of the best efforts of the leaders of European no less than of native society.
Gentlemen, so long as our European friends come to this country as merely temporary residents, so long as they come here merely for the purpose of trade, commerce, or of a profession, so long as they do not look upon India as a country in whose welfare they are permanently interested, so long it will be impossible for us to expect that the majority of the Europeans should fraternize with us upon all great public questions; and it has, therefore, always seemed to me that one of the greatest, the most difficult, the most complicated, and at the same time one of the most important, problems to be solved is, how to make our European friends look upon India as in some sense their own country, even by adoption.
For, Gentlemen, if we could but induce our retired merchants, engineers,
doctors, solicitors, barristers, judges, and civilians to make India permanently
their home, what an amount of talent and ability, political experience
and ripe judgement, we should retain in India for the benefit of us all!
All these great questions in regard to the financial drain on India, and
those questions arising from jealousy of races and the rivalry for public
employment, would at once disappear. And when we speak of the poverty of
India, because of the draining away of vast sums of money from India to
England, it has always seemed to me strange that so little thought should
be bestowed upon the question of the poverty of our resources caused by
the drain of so many men of public, political, and intellectual eminence
from our shores every year.
6) Congress and Social Reform
Now, Gentlemen, one word as to the scope of our action and deliberations. It has been urged -- solemnly urged -- as an objection against our proceedings, that this Congress does not discuss the question of Social Reform. But, Gentlemen, this matter has already been fully dealt with by my friend Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji, who presided over your deliberations last year. And I must confess that the objection seems to me strange, seeing that this Congress is composed of the representatives not of any one class or community, not of one part of India, but of all the different parts, and of all the different classes, and of all the different communities of India.
Whereas any question of Social Reform must of necessity affect some
particular part or some particular community of India only; and therefore,
Gentlemen, it seems to me that although we Musalmans have our own social
problems to solve, just as our Hindu and Parsi friends have theirs, yet
these questions can be best dealt with by the leaders of the particular
communities to which they relate. I therefore think, Gentlemen, that the
only wise and, indeed, the only possible course we can adopt is to confine
our discussions to such questions as affect the whole of India at large,
and to abstain from the discussion of questions that affect a particular
part or a particular community only.
7) Subjects Before the Congress
Gentlemen, I do not, at present at least, propose to say anything upon the various problems that will be submitted to you for your consideration. I have no doubt the questions will be discussed in a manner and in a spirit that will reflect credit upon us all. I will only say this: Be moderate in your demands, be just in your criticism, be accurate in your facts, be logical in your conclusions, and you may rest assured that any propositions you may make to our rulers will be received with that benign consideration which is the characteristic of a strong and enlightened Government.
And now, Gentlemen, I fear I have already trespassed too long upon your
time. Before I sit down, I will once more offer to you my thanks from the
of my heart for the very great honour you have done me, and I pray to God that I may be enabled, in some measure at least, to deserve your approbation and justify the choice you have made and the confidence you have reposed in me. Gentlemen, I wish this Congress and all succeeding Congresses every success and every prosperity.
8) Tribute to the Dead
I am very glad to see the representatives of so many different communities and parts of India gathered together this afternoon before us. This in itself, Gentlemen, is no small advantage that we, as representatives of the different parts of India, should have the opportunity of meeting and discussing together the various problems that affect us all. Gentlemen, I will not take up much more of your time. I say, as our Chairman Sir T. Madhava Rao has said: "I welcome you here"; but at the same time I cannot help expressing my deep regret, a regret that I know you all share, that on this occasion we are deprived of the aid and counsel of some of those gentlemen. who laboured most earnestly for, and who graced with their presence, the Congress on previous occasions, and who have now, all too soon for their country's sake, passed from amongst us.
Among the friends we have lost are: Dr. Athalye of Bombay and Madras, who took such an energetic part in the first Congress held in Bombay in the year 1885; and Mr. Giriji Bhusan Mookerjee, whom you all know, and whom all who knew loved and respected, and who was one of the most active workers of the Congress held in Calcutta last year. Then. too, we have to mourn the loss of Mr. Dayaram Jethmall, the founder of the National Party in Sind; and a distinguished gentleman belonging to this Presidency (though I fear I am not in a position to pronounce his name correctly), Mr. Singaraju Venkata Subbaroyudu of Masulipatam.
But to all these, Gentlemen, of whose assistance and guidance we have
been deprived, we must owe a lasting debt of gratitude. They in their lifetime
spared no pains to make the Congress, either in Bombay or Calcutta, a success,
as far as in their power lay; and it only remains for us, while cherishing
their memories, to emulate their example.
Gentlemen, in addition to those of you who have been able to come to Madras, we have received numerous letters and telegrams from associations of various kinds, and from a large number of representative men in other parts of India, who for some reason or other have been debarred from being represented at or attending this Congress. We have received telegrams from Hyderabad; from all kinds of places in the Madras Presidency the names of which I shall not venture to pronounce; from Karachi, Calcutta, Dehra Dun, Sambur, Bangalore, Dacca; from His Highness the Maharaja of Durbungah; Messrs. Lal Mohun and Mano Mohan Ghose; Telang; and a vast number of other places and persons too numerous for me to pretend to recapitulate. There are no less than sixty-odd telegrams alone placed before me.
But, Gentlemen, there is one among those which I am particularly anxious to bring to your notice, and that is from our old and distinguished friend Mr. Atkins, whom by name at least I have not the smallest doubt every one of us here perfectly knows. Gentlemen, in his telegram he wishes this Congress and all future Congresses perfect success. He wishes that the unity of the different communities should be promoted, and that the objects which we all have at heart should be attained.
I think you will be of opinion that that is a very good omen. We want the assistance not only of representative men of the Indian communities, but we also want the assistance of Europeans. Gentlemen, while we are attempting to learn some few lessons in the art of Self-Government, our European friends have inherited that art from their forefathers, and after centuries of experience; and it cannot be doubted that if we can induce our European friends to cooperate with us in these various political matters, which in point of fact affect them no less than they affect us, it cannot, I say, be doubted that it will conduce to the advantage not only of ourselves, but of the European community also.