THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > Crooked Policy
15. Crooked Policy
As soon as we handed at Cape Town, and more so when we reached Johannesburg, we saw that we had overrated the Madeira cablegram. Mr Ritch who sent it was not responsible for this. He cabled only what he had heard about the measure being disallowed. As we have already observed, the Transvaal was then, that is to say in 1906, a Crown colony. Crown Colonies are represented in England by agents one of whose duties it is to instruct the Secretary of State for the Colonies in all matters affected Colonial interests. The Transvaal was then represented by Sir Richard Solomon, the noted lawyer of South Africa. Lord Elgin had disallowed the Black Act in consultation with him. Responsible government was to be conferred on the Transvaal on January 1, 1907. Lord Elgin therefore assured Sir Richard that if an identical measure was passed by the Transvaal legislature constituted after the grant of responsible government, it would not be refused the royal assent. But so long as the Transvaal was a Crown Colony, the Imperial Government would be held directly responsible for such class legislation, and as racial discrimination was a departure from the fundamental principles of the British Empire, he could not but advise His Majesty to disallow the measure in question.
If the measure was to be thus disallowed only in name and if the Transvaal Europeans could at the same time have their own way, Sir Richard Solomon had no reason to object to such an excellent arrangement. I have characterized this as crooked policy, but I believe it could be given a still harsher name with perfect justice. The Imperial Government is directly responsible for the legislation of Crown Colonies, and there is no place in its constitution for discrimination on the ground of race or colour. So far so good. One can also understand that the imperial Government could not all at once disallow measures passed by the legislatures of Colonies enjoying responsible government. But to hold private conferences with Colonial agents and in advance to promise the royal assent to legislation which is in open violation of the Imperial Constitution, what is this if it is not a breach of faith and an injustice to those whose rights are thus pilfered? Really speaking Lord Elgin by his assurance encouraged the Transvaal Europeans in their anti Indian activities. If he wanted to do this, he ought to have told the Indian deputation so in plain terms. As a matter of fact the Empire cannot escape responsibility even for the legislation of Colonies enjoying responsible government. Even such Colonies are bound to accept the fundamental principles of the British Constitution. As for example no such colony can revive the institution of legalized slavery. If Lord Elgin disallowed the Black Act because it was an improper piece of legislation, and he could disallow it only on this ground, it was his clean duty privately to have warned Sir Richard Solomon that the Transvaal could not enact such an iniquitous law after the grant of responsible government, and if it had any intention of doing so, the Imperial Government would be constrained to reconsider the advisability of granting it and such superior status. Or he should have told Sir Richard that responsible government could be conferred only on the condition that the rights of the Indians were fully safeguards. Instead of following such straightforward procedure, Lord Elgin made an outward show of friendliness to the Indians, while at the same time he really and secretly supported the Transvaal government and encouraged it to pass once more the very law which he had vetoed himself. This is not the only or the first case of such tortuous policy followed by the British Empire. Even an indifferent student of its history will easily recall similar incidents.
In Johannesburg, therefore, the sole topic of conversation was the trick played upon us by Lord Elgin and the Imperial Government. Our disappointment in South Africa was as deep as had been our joy in Madeira. Ye the immediate became even more enthusiastic than before. Everyone said that we must never fear as our struggle was independent of any help from the Imperial Government. We must look for assistance only to our own selves and to that God in Whose name we had pledged ourselves to resistance. And even crooked policy would in time turn straight if only we were true to ourselves.
Responsible government was established in the Transvaal. The first measure passed by the new Parliament was the budget; the second was the Asiatic Registration Act, which was, except for an alteration in the date specified in one of its clauses, which lapse of time made necessary, and exact replica of the original Ordinance, and was rushed through all its stages at a single sitting on March 21, 1907. The disallowance of the Ordinance, therefore, was forgotten as if it was a dream. The Indians submitted memorials etc., as usual, but who would listen to them? The Act was proclaimed to take effect from July 1, 1907 and Indians were called upon to apply for registration under it before July 31. The delay in enforcing the Act was due not to any desire to oblige the Indians, but to the exigencies of the case. Some time must elapse before the formal sanction of the Crown to the measure was signified, and the preparation of the forms set forth in schedules and the opening of permit offices at various centres would also take time. The delay therefore was intended solely for the Transvaal Government’s own convenience.