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For God and Country

The Battle is Taken to the Legislature!

The Indian Council Act of 1892 allowed indirect election of members to a few seats in the Imperial and Provincial Legislative Councils, through municipal committees and district boards.
These members were allowed to discuss the annual budget but they could not move amendments or vote on the bill. They were little more than spectators.
Some members, however, refused to be content with this passive role. They began to assert themselves and much to the shock and dismay of the government, began to speak out against the shortcomings of the administration. Their speeches in the legislative assemblies were widely reported in the newspapers.
In 1895 the government proposed to empower local authorities in disturbed areas, to keep a punitive police force. The cost of maintaining the police force was proposed to be recovered from the inhabitants of the area. Reacting sharply to the proposed legislation, Pherozeshah Mehta argued: "I cannot conceive of legislation more empirical, more retrograde, more open to abuse, or more demoralizing... it is a piece of legislation... which will not and cannot recognise the scientific fact that the punishment and suppression of crime without injuring and oppressing innocents must be controlled by judicial procedure." Mehta made it clear that he had his doubts about impartiality of the officials. "It would be idle to believe that they can be free from the biases, prejudices, and defects of their class and position." These remarks of Mehta drew protests from the treasury benches. James Westland, the Finance Minister, objected to the 'new spirit' which Mehta had introduced into the council. But Mehta's countrymen applauded. The Tribune of Lahore observed:
"The voice of the people has been admitted through the open door of election... Mr. Mehta speaks as the representative of the people..." The Tribune described Sir James' protest as "the outcry of the bureaucrat rapped over the knuckles in his own stronghold."
On another occasion, while criticizing the government's disinclination to promote higher education in the country, Mehta said: "It is very well to talk of raising the subject to the pedestal of the ruler, but when the subject begins to press close at your heels, human nature is after all weak... the temptation to kick back is almost irresistible." Mehta maintained that every English bureaucrat looked upon every Indian college as a nursery for hatching breeds of vipers, the less therefore, the better."

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