India’s First Diplomat
V.S. Srinivasa Sastri and the Making of Liberal Internationalism
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8: An Honourable Compromise

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Sastri returned to public life in early 1924 after a few months’ rest. The Kenya decision had broken his faith in the British parliament, but only temporarily. In December 1923, the Conservatives were handed a major drubbing in the elections. The Ramsay MacDonald-led Labour Party formed a minority government with the support of the Liberal Party. Sydney Olivier, one of the famed ‘three musketeers’ of the Fabian Society along with Sidney Webb and George Bernard Shaw, took over as the Secretary of State for India.

The Labour Party had been historically supportive of the Indian cause, and in February 1924, Oliver released Gandhi from prison after having served only one third of his prison term. Given the state of unrest in the country, all Indian political parties agreed that the country could not wait for ten years (from 1919) to pass before the next set of reforms. A major group from within the Congress, the Swarijists led by Chitranjan Das, who had entered the assemblies to wreck them from within, demanded an immediate round table conference to discuss dominion status. Annie Besant appealed for a national convention of Indian leaders to draft a new constitution in order to present it to the British government.1

Sastri welcomed these winds of change and appealed to the Indian leaders to give the Labour government a chance. He led the dominion status demand from within the liberals, but preferred a new election, instead of a National Convention, to precede the framing of India’s demands. He argued that in a democratic set-up, however rudimentary, an altogether new demand must only come from the people.

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