140 YEARS OF THE TRIBUNE

The Tribune editorial on the Rowlatt Bills

March 21, 1919

The Tribune editorial on the Rowlatt Bills

A Colossal Blunder

It is done. The bureaucracy has taken the fatal plunge. The blunder which the country had for weeks been asking it through myriad voices to avoid is all but an accomplished fact. The worse and more important of the two Rowlatt Bills has passed through all its stages in the Legislative Council and only awaits the Vice-regal assent to become the law of the land. With the passing of this Bill, the already attenuated liberties of the people cease to have any meaning and any reality in the English sense, and the paramountcy of the executive becomes complete.

The most fundamental of the rights of the people, the right which, in the absence of representative institutions, is the chief security for all their other rights, the right of open and regular trial by ordinary courts and on the basis of lawful and adequate evidence before a hair of one's head is touched by way of punishment, comes automatically to an end. The reign of law under which public life has grown to its present state of efficiency and power is now superseded by the region of discretion. Public men and public movements may, and we have no doubt will, still exist but they will exist not by their own right, not on a footing of legal security, but on one of two conditions, as a matter of sufferance on the part of the executive or of readiness on the part of the people themselves to make whatever sacrifice may be needed to maintain their God-given liberties and to exercise their inalienable rights both as human beings and as citizens of no mean country.

It is not for any of these things, however, that we regard the Government’s action as extraordinarily unwise. These and similar things would make that action arbitrary, illiberal, autocratic and even intolerable.

What makes it a blunder of colossal magnitude is the fact that the action is a challenge to the people in their most vital part, a challenge which no self-respecting people can be slow to take up, that it not only reopens but widens the gulf between the bureaucracy and the people which many of us had been fondly hoping had been partially bridged by the announcement of August 20, and is the starting point of a constitutional struggle, infinitely larger, more intense, perhaps also more bitter than any that has been known so far, between authority and right, between irresponsible power and popular liberty, a struggle which may go through many stages and be attended by Heaven only knows how much suffering before it ends, but which can end in only one way. It is always a bad thing for men in power to provoke such a contest. It is the height of unwisdom and the negation of statesmanship to provoke it at the very time when a great world war has given a tremendous impetus to the principle of liberty and when the clang of the breaking cord is being heard in every quarter of the globe.

It was from this point of view and no other that Mr. B.N. Sharma described the action of the official majority as marking the beginning of the end, and assuredly no wiser thing was said in the courses of the historic debate even on the non-official side.

There is one consolation and only one left to us in this awful hour when we stand literally at the parting of ways. Whoever else may have failed in his duty, our representatives in the Council have not. One has only to recall the several stages of the controversy which has culminated in the passing of the measure to realise that throughout they have acted as men and patriots. From first to last, they have opposed the Bill in language, function of unpromising strength and unequivocal import. It was thus that they opposed the introduction of the measure. It was thus that they opposed its passage through the select committee.

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