India’s First Diplomat
V.S. Srinivasa Sastri and the Making of Liberal Internationalism

10: We Have No Sastri


As soon as the Cape Town Agreement was announced, the South African government wasted little time in pushing for the assisted emigration scheme. A piece of legislation, called Act 37 of 1927, to implement the agreement’s undertakings on assisted emigration was introduced in the Union parliament and passed without opposition a week after Sastri’s arrival. The government also raised bonus rates for emigrants, which led to an appreciable rise in the numbers early on. Compared to 1,358 Indians who emigrated in 1925, the numbers for 1927 and 1928 rose to 2,975 and 3,477, respectively.

Assisted emigration was stringently opposed by many Indians, especially in the Transvaal. Their criticisms were mainly around three concerns. First, the emigration was not really voluntary. It allowed the Union government to create conditions, through racial laws and public pressure, which would drive out Indians from their jobs, reduce their means of livelihood and therefore force them to leave. Second, it was widely feared that the emigrants would be worse off in India than in South Africa. Third, the scheme considered the Indian as a foreigner in South Africa, even when a large percentage of them were South Africa-born.1

The South African government also noted a key operational flaw in the scheme. The European opposition against Indians in Natal and Transvaal was largely based on the assumption that Indians competed with Europeans in trade. In contrast, agricultural labourers, employed mostly in the sugar-cane industry, were paid a pittance, and were valued by Europeans. Through travel bonuses and assistance with finding jobs in India, the emigration scheme incentivized those who were closer to subsistence levels rather than the comparatively affluent trading class.

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