2/03/2019

"Speech on East India Bill" : Summary (Edmund Burke)

Edmand Burke's "Speech on the East Indía Bill" primarily concerns East India Company's arbitrary abuse of power in the conquered Indian territory and the advocacy for a reform proposal initiated by the Fox Bills. However, the speech is a passionate attack on the despotic style' of government that the British adopted in India. The speech shows Burke's oratorical brilliance and rhetorical excellence as he addresses the objections raised by the opponents of the bill in a persuasive and argumentative manner. Though the ultimate objective of the speech is to win political support for the bill, it is multidimensional in the sense that it includes issues like Burke's concern for and subsequent defence of the politically oppressed people, his idea of imperial government, misrule of the East India Company in India and so on. Fox's India Bills was the immediate occasion for Burke's passionate but self-controlled outpouring in the House of Commons regarding Indian issues. The prime duty on the shoulder of the speaker was to win political support for the Bills. Hence he presented it refuting the objections and terming it as the Magna Charta of Hindostan. He believed that the Fox Bills would "correct a system of oppression and tyranny, that goes to the utter ruin of thirty millions of my fellow-creatures and fellow-subjects". He also asserted that the Bills would give security to the chartered rights of men' superseding the East India Company charter of power and 'monopoly'. He says -   “This bill, and those connected with it, are intended to form the Magna Charta of Hindostan. Whatever the Treaty of Westphalia is to the liberty of the princes and free cities of the Empire, and to the three religions there professed, whatever the Great Charter, the Statute of Tallage, the Petition of Right, and the Declaration of Right are to Great Britain, these bills are to the people of India”   One of the major themes in the "Speech on the East India Bill is the misgovernment of East India Company. Burke, bringing example after examples, shows that the Company adopted a despotic, tyrannical and arbitrary style of government in India. Corruption hypocrisy, frauds and evasion characterize the British rule in India. Under the British maladministration the people of India were paying heavy price as their miseries knew no bounds. The money-grubbing and mercantile agents of the Company through their 'despotic acts' turned "this once opulent and flourishing country" into a "grand waste”. The Company appeared as a destructive force destroying whatever it touched--  "In effect, Sir, every legal, regular authority, in matters of revenue, of political administration, of criminal law, of civil law, in many of the most essential parts of military discipline, is laid level with the ground: and an oppressive, irregular, capricious, unsteady, rapacious, and speculating despotism, with a direct disavowal of obedience to any authority at home, and without any fixed maxim, principle, or rule of proceeding to guide them in India, is at present the state of your charter-government over great kingdoms."  Another theme is Burke's genuine concern for oppressed people. Burke always claimed to be a reformer, and in many ways he was one. The speech demonstrates his concern for people outside Great Britain but under British rule. Burke was always an imperialist but an enlightened one who believed that the Empire could and should be a blessing to all the lands that composed it. In the speech, Burke laments the precarious conditions of the suffering Indians. Burke gives graphic details of the sufferings of the Indian in an appealing manner--  “Animated with all the avarice of age, and all the impetuosity of youth, they roll in one after another; wave after wave; and there is nothing before the eyes of the natives but an endless, hopeless prospect of new flights of birds of prey and passage, with appetites continually renewing for a food that is continually wasting……... Their prey is lodged in England; and the eries of India are given to seas and winds, to be blown about, in every breaking up of the monsoon, over a remote and unhearing ocean. In India all the vices operate by which sudden fortune is acquired, in England are often displayed, by the same persons, the virtues which dispense hereditary wealth.... Here the manufacturer and husbandman will bless the just and punctual hand, that in India has torn the cloth from the loom, or wrested the scanty portion of rice and salt from the peasant of Bengal, or wrung from him the very opium in which he forgot his oppressions and his oppressor.”  The principal concern for Burke is justice to the suffering Indians. For this he is even ready to "break the faith, the covenant, the solemn, original, indispensable oath, in which J am bound".  Another theme is economics. Since Burke never wrote a formal treatise on that subject, his views on it are found in relatively brief form scattered throughout his works. In other places though Burke shows that he is in favour of non-intervention in economic matters in the "Speech on the East India Bill" he is not unwilling to have government intervene in economic matters. Burke himself defended the chartered rights of the East India Company against efforts to bring it under greater control by the British government a decade before he delivered the speech. The speech marks a change in Burke's notion regarding economic matters as he advocated stripping the Company of independent power to govern the parts of India that it went against the Company, which he earlier defended, because it violated the 'chartered rights of men'. He once said, "The question with me is not whether you have a right to make your people miserable but whether it is not your interest to make them happy. It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity reason, and justice tell me I ought to do."   In "Speech on the East India Bill” Burke deals with the imperial topics. The speech is a lengthy indictment of the East India Company's misgovernment of India. Burke pressed for a reform in British Indian government and the impeachment of Warren Hastings, the Company's Governor-General of Bengal. Burke's idea of an imperial government and empire is also expressed in the speech. Burke's vision of an empire was that of a 'great disjointed empire’ and he believed in the lawful existence of the government. He believed in an imperial rule that must be directed to the benefits of the ruled. In the "Speech on the East India Bill" he declares that all political power which is set over men, and that all privilege elaimed or exercised in exclusion of them, being wholly artificial, and for so much, a derogation from the natural equality of mankind at large, ought to be some way or other exercised ultimately for their benefit. Burke established his trust on the moral balance between the rulers and the ruled. Morality, humanity and justice were his guiding principles. He said,   "There is one thing, and one thing only which defies all mutation:; that which existed before the world, and will survive the fabric of the world itself, I mean justice”  In the "Speech on the East India Bill” Burke denounced the East India Company and Warren Hastings because he passionately felt for the poor and the oppressed. Whether Burke was fair to the Company and to Hastings is a matter of dispute, as is the issue of whether the prosecution of Hastings had much effect on Britain's subsequent government of India. But there is little doubt of the sincerity of Burke's conviction that, as he said in his speech on the East India bill, "Our Indian government is in its best state a grievance," or his desire to relieve that grievance and do justice to the suffering people of India.  Fox's reforming bills failed to pass, in part because Fox was suspected of meaning to usurp the Crown's prerogative of appointment to office where Indian posts were concerned. This defeat was the immediate cause of the fall of the Coalition. But, Burke's "Speech on the East India Bill", nevertheless, defies the tooth of time, containing the gist of Burke's sixteen-year contest against the Company and Hastings. Englishmen were exploiting the Indian peoples to the ruin of India and the disgrace of British justice. Burke the politician did not succeed but it was Burke the humanitarian who made a mark. He appealed to humanity and it was the humanitarian Burke that made a lasting influence. Burke failed to win the hearts of the Lords but because of his humanistic treatment of the sufferin Indians and others he has lived in the hearts of many.


Edmand Burke's "Speech on the East India Bill" primarily concerns
East India Company's arbitrary abuse of power in the conquered
Indian territory and the advocacy for a reform proposal initiated by
the Fox Bills. However, the speech is a passionate attack on the
despotic style' of government that the British adopted in India. The
speech shows Burke's oratorical brilliance and rhetorical excellence
as he addresses the objections raised by the opponents of the bill in a persuasive and argumentative manner. Though the ultimate
objective of the speech is to win political support for the bill, it is
multidimensional in the sense that it includes issues like Burke's
concern for and subsequent defence of the politically oppressed
people, his idea of imperial government, misrule of the East India
Company in India and so on.
Fox's India Bills was the immediate occasion for Burke's
passionate but self-controlled outpouring in the House of Commons
regarding Indian issues. The prime duty on the shoulder of the
speaker was to win political support for the Bills. Hence he presented
it refuting the objections and terming it as the Magna Charta of
Hindostan. He believed that the Fox Bills would "correct a system of
oppression and tyranny, that goes to the utter ruin of thirty millions
of my fellow-creatures and fellow-subjects". He also asserted that the Bills would give security to the chartered rights of men' superseding the East India Company charter of power and 'monopoly'. He says -
“This bill, and those connected with it, are intended to form the Magna Charta of Hindostan. Whatever the Treaty of Westphalia is to the liberty of the princes and free cities of the Empire, and to the three religions there professed, whatever the Great Charter, the Statute of Tallage, the Petition of Right, and the Declaration of Right are to Great Britain, these bills are to the people of India”
One of the major themes in the "Speech on the East India Bill is
the misgovernment of East India Company. Burke, bringing example
after examples, shows that the Company adopted a despotic,
tyrannical and arbitrary style of government in India. Corruption
hypocrisy, frauds and evasion characterize the British rule in India.
Under the British maladministration the people of India were paying
heavy price as their miseries knew no bounds. The money-grubbing
and mercantile agents of the Company through their 'despotic acts'
turned "this once opulent and flourishing country" into a "grand
waste”. The Company appeared as a destructive force destroying
whatever it touched--

"In effect, Sir, every legal, regular authority, in matters of revenue, of political administration, of criminal law, of civil law, in many of the most essential parts of military discipline, is laid level with the ground: and an
oppressive, irregular, capricious, unsteady, rapacious, and speculating despotism, with a direct disavowal of
obedience to any authority at home, and without any fixed maxim, principle, or rule of proceeding to guide them in India, is at present the state of your charter-government over great kingdoms."

Another theme is Burke's genuine concern for oppressed people. Burke
always claimed to be a reformer, and in many ways he was one. The speech demonstrates his concern for people outside Great Britain but under British rule. Burke was always an imperialist but an enlightened one who believed that the Empire could and should be a blessing to all the lands that composed it. In the speech, Burke laments the precarious conditions of the suffering Indians. Burke gives graphic details of the sufferings of the Indian in an appealing manner--

“Animated with all the avarice of age, and all the impetuosity of youth, they roll in one after another; wave after wave; and there is nothing before the eyes of the natives but an endless, hopeless prospect of new flights
of birds of prey and passage, with appetites continually renewing for a food that is continually wasting……...
Their prey is lodged in England; and the eries of India are given to seas and winds, to be blown about, in every breaking up of the monsoon, over a remote and unhearing ocean. In India all the vices operate by which sudden fortune is acquired, in England are often displayed, by the same persons, the virtues which
dispense hereditary wealth.... Here the manufacturer and husbandman will bless the just and punctual hand,
that in India has torn the cloth from the loom, or wrested the scanty portion of rice and salt from the peasant of Bengal, or wrung from him the very opium in which he
forgot his oppressions and his oppressor.”

The principal concern for Burke is justice to the suffering Indians. For this he is even ready to "break the faith, the covenant, the solemn, original, indispensable oath, in which J am bound".

Another theme is economics. Since Burke never wrote a formal treatise on that subject, his views on it are found in relatively brief form scattered throughout his works. In other places though Burke shows that he is in favour of non-intervention in economic matters
in the "Speech on the East India Bill" he is not unwilling to have
government intervene in economic matters. Burke himself defended
the chartered rights of the East India Company against efforts to
bring it under greater control by the British government a decade before he delivered the speech. The speech marks a change in Burke's notion regarding economic matters as he advocated stripping the Company of independent power to govern the parts of India that it went against the Company, which he earlier defended,
because it violated the 'chartered rights of men'. He once said, "The
question with me is not whether you have a right to make your
people miserable but whether it is not your interest to make them
happy. It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity
reason, and justice tell me I ought to do."
In "Speech on the East India Bill” Burke deals with the imperial
topics. The speech is a lengthy indictment of the East India
Company's misgovernment of India. Burke pressed for a reform in
British Indian government and the impeachment of Warren Hastings, the Company's Governor-General of Bengal. Burke's idea of an imperial government and empire is also expressed in the speech. Burke's vision of an empire was that of a 'great disjointed empire’ and he believed in the lawful existence of the government. He believed in an imperial rule that must be directed to the benefits of the ruled. In the "Speech on the East India Bill" he declares that all political power which is set over men, and that all privilege
elaimed or exercised in exclusion of them, being wholly artificial, and for so much, a derogation from the natural equality of mankind at
large, ought to be some way or other exercised ultimately for their benefit. Burke established his trust on the moral balance between the rulers and the ruled. Morality, humanity and justice were his guiding principles. He said,

"There is one thing, and one thing only which defies all mutation:; that which existed before the world, and
will survive the fabric of the world itself, I mean justice”

In the "Speech on the East India Bill” Burke denounced the East India Company and Warren Hastings because he passionately felt for the poor and the oppressed. Whether Burke was fair to the Company
and to Hastings is a matter of dispute, as is the issue of whether the prosecution of Hastings had much effect on Britain's subsequent
government of India. But there is little doubt of the sincerity of Burke's
conviction that, as he said in his speech on the East India bill, "Our
Indian government is in its best state a grievance," or his desire to relieve that grievance and do justice to the suffering people of India.

Fox's reforming bills failed to pass, in part because Fox was suspected of meaning to usurp the Crown's prerogative of appointment to office where Indian posts were concerned. This defeat was the immediate cause of the fall of the Coalition. But,
Burke's "Speech on the East India Bill", nevertheless, defies the tooth
of time, containing the gist of Burke's sixteen-year contest against the Company and Hastings. Englishmen were exploiting the Indian peoples to the ruin of India and the disgrace of British justice. Burke the politician did not succeed but it was Burke the humanitarian who made a mark. He appealed to humanity and it was the humanitarian Burke that made a lasting influence. Burke failed to win the hearts of the Lords but because of his humanistic treatment of the suffering Indians and others he has lived in the hearts of many.

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