Report by A.I. Meer to the Joint Passive Resistance Council of the Natal and Transvaal Indian Congresses
9 January 1948
In terms of the Joint Council decision I left Johannesburg to the USA on the 9 September 1947, to attend the United Nations. Mr. Ashwin Choudree accompanied me. We reached New York at midnight on the 10 September 1947, and were escorted by United Nations officials in an official United Nations car to our hotel.
We interviewed Sardar J.J. Singh, President of the India League and secured the assistance of his organisation with various matters connected with our mission. It was still a few days before the United Nations session and the delegation from India had not yet arrived. The first to reach New York was a delegate of the Pakistan government, M.A.H. Ispahani, who is also Pakistan Ambassador to the USA. We interviewed Mr. Ispahani and acquainted him with various aspects of the Indian question with which he was not familiar. His Excellency assured us of the support of his government at the United Nations.
A couple of days later the Indian delegation arrived. We held discussions with Mrs. Pandit, Sir Maharaj Singh, Mr. Vellodi (Secretary-General of the delegation) and Mr. C.S. Jha at their respective hotels. After careful and lengthy discussions with Mrs. Pandit and Mr. Jha, I started work on the pamphlet South Africa Defies United Nations:
What Next? All this time my co-delegate, Mr. Rustomjee, who was in possession of the necessary funds, was still in England and the work of publishing the pamphlet could not be proceeded with until his arrival. When Mr. Rustomjee reached New York some two weeks later the printing of the pamphlet above referred to, as well as the pamphlet Indian Question in South Africa on behalf of the Council for Asiatic Rights, was proceeded with. Mr. Rustomjee was not in w of press conferences or public meetings. I was however able to interview and furnish material to a number of American newspapers and organisations as well as individuals. Immediately on his arrival I managed to secure an interview with Sir Mohammed Zafrullah Khan, leader of the Pakistan delegation, and obtained a message of support for our cause. At this and subsequent interviews the Pakistan delegation was acquainted with the existing situation in South Africa.
Council on African Affairs
Just prior to the debate on South West Africa I had long conferences with the Council on African Affairs and found the officials of this organisation, especially Dr A. Hunton, most cooperative and helpful. I suggest that the Council should send a special letter of thanks to Dr Hunton for all the help and assistance he was able to furnish us with. This organisation is very efficiently run; has a well-kept library and also files, pamphlets and newspaper cuttings on all African matters. All those were at our disposal whenever required.
Reverend Scott reached New York about the 10 November. The delay in his arrival, due to the refusal by the American Consul to issue a visa, was a constant source of worry to us. We did all that was possible, by making representations to the American authorities through the Indian delegation. On the day Reverend Scott arrived the Council on African Affairs arranged a press conference. Messrs Rustomjee and Choudree as well as a representative of the Springbok Legion, Mr. Barney Gordon, were present and all made statements which received good publicity in various American papers. Mr. Gordon was very helpful in many ways and assisted in obtaining valuable contacts. Reverend Scott arrived in New York without any funds and it was Mr. Gordon who assisted him in paying his first week's hotel bill. Mr. Gordon also arranged free accommodation for Reverend Scott at a friend's house for two weeks.
Reverend Scott's arrival caused a stir at Lake Success. His name and fame had preceded him and pressmen gathered around him immediately news spread about his arrival. Although I had arranged for a press conference for Reverend Scott the next day the pressmen present showed extreme impatience in waiting till the next day. We therefore held a press conference there and then. Reverend Scott's arrival, the purpose of his mission, and the ban placed on him all received wide publicity in the American press.
It is unfortunate that Reverend Scott arrived late, for the debate on South West Africa had already reached the resolution stage and much useful information was received too late to influence the delegates in arriving at their decision. The result was that India's resolution on South West Africa did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority and a compromise resolution was adopted.
Debate on Indian Question
Council members are already acquainted with the discussions on the South African Indian question and the results thereof. Mrs. Pandit put up a brilliant fight on our behalf and the arguments of the brilliant debater Dr Alex Bebler of Yugoslavia and his intimate knowledge of conditions in the Union made Minister Lawrence and his colleagues feel most uncomfortable and nervous. While delegates supporting South Africa did not have the courage to defend South Erica's policy and relied on sheltering behind the time-worn argument 'W jurisdiction, the delegates supporting India's resolution made 'scathing condemnation of the Union's racial policy. Though India's Solution could not be adopted for lack of the necessary two-thirds majority it must be remembered that the resolution supported by South Africa for reference to the International Court of Justice did not even receive a simple majority
During my stay in the USA, I was able to attend a Forum on the United Nations at Stamford, Connecticut, and I dealt with the United Nations from the point of view of the non-Europeans in South Africa. I also addressed a meeting on the Indian question at the Hunter College (New York) at their request. After the meeting a telegram was sent by the students condemning the action of the United States delegates in not supporting the Indian resolution. Other meetings addressed by me were those organised by the India League and a meeting held by the National Association for the Advancement of the coloured people.
A couple of days after we reached New York Mr. Ashwin Choudree and I were able to attend a meeting organised by the Progressive Citizens of America and addressed by such leading personalities as Henry Wallace, Paul Robeson and Lena Home. At this meeting, which was attended by 20 000, a resolution condemning racial discrimination and supporting the struggle of the Indian people was unanimously adopted.
I left New York for a representative of the India League and Yusuf Motala, and Cassim Jadwat met London on The 4th December and on arrival there at the aerodrome. I immediately set about interviewing various newspapers, organisations, MP's and other leading personalities. I found very healthy signs here and a great eagerness to assist our cause. The India League, the National Council for Civil Liberties, the Fabian Society, the National Peace Council and the University Students Labour Federation are all doing useful work in enlisting support for our cause.
After discussions with several MP's and the organisations above referred to, I thought it would be a good idea to have an independent commission coming out here from England to enquire into racial discrimination in the economic, social, educational and commercial life of our people.
I received encouraging response to this proposal from many quarters but as I did not receive any definite instructions from the Joint Council in reply to my cable sent to them I did not pursue the matter further. I suggest that the Council give this matter their very serious consideration - A.I. Meer.
Smuts will not invite Nehru to talks
General Smuts will not issue a direct invitation to India and Pakistan to engage in Round Table talks on the Indian question here, The Leader learns from a highly placed source. The reason is simple:
He has not changed his stand that the issue is a domestic one.
The Prime Minister does not recognise the right of India to interfere with what he considers a domestic issue. If, then, he were to issue an invitation directly to Pandit Nehru, he would be recognising, in fact, the right of another country to interfere in the internal affairs of the Union. It will be recalled that India's "interference" has at ill times been a sore point with the Premier.
It has been further disclosed to The Leader that the Prime Minister has agreed to talks between India and the Union not because of the Passive Resistance Movement or the negotiations of the Natal Indian Organisation, but because of representations made by the United Kingdom from a Commonwealth standpoint and because of the stated United Party policy that the Commonwealth should remain intact. The Indian people must not lose sight of the fact that the Prime Minister has not shifted his stand.
He has only made some adjustments in the details. There is also the danger, The Leader has been told, and that the Indian question may soon become a minor issue in view of the epoch-making moves on the chessboard of international politics.
India renews charge against South Africa
New York: The Indian Government has called upon the United Nations for a fresh and urgent consideration for the treatment of Indians in South Africa. It has asked that the matter be placed on the agenda of the United Nations Central Assembly to meet in Paris 'September. In the course of a letter to Mr. Trygve Lie, the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. P. Pillai, permanent representative of India to the United Nations states:
"The Government of India is of opinion that the situation of Indians in South Africa calls for fresh and urgent consideration by the United Nations in order to uphold the basic moral principles of Charters and prevent further deterioration in the already strained relations between India and the Union. The government of India does not believe that it could be the intention of the United Nations 'continue to acquiesce in the refusal of the Union to act on the General Assembly resolution of 8 December 1946."
Government willing to hold Round Table Conference
The Union Government is quite willing to meet India at a Round Table Conference. The Minister of the Interior has conveyed this information to the Natal Indian Organisation.
There are, however, restrictions and limitations on the nature and scope of the subjects which will be discussed at such a Conference. In his letter to the NIO, the Minister states that the Government will not be prepared to discuss any domestic matters with India and the restrictions and the basis of the 1927 and 1932 Conferences will apply. When the Union and India met in 1927 the motive force of the Conference was the question of repatriation. Dr Malan, the present Prime Minister, who was the Minister of the Interior, declared that he was seeking to reduce the Indian population of the Union to the "irreducible minimum" . The Cape Town Agreement which emerged from the deliberations has been, at times, described as an "instrument of expulsion" because of the emphasis on repatriation. The two important clauses in the Cape Town Agreement are the "Assisted Emigration Scheme" and the "Uplift Clause" . It would seem that the Government wants any Round Table Conference to be a continuation of the series begun in 1927.
Congress asks for British Intervention
The South African Indian Congress has cabled Commonwealth Prime Ministers asking them to raise the question of the Indian problem in South Africa at the Commonwealth Conference which opened in London on Monday. A cable sent to Mr. Attlee says: "On behalf of the 280 000 voterless but fully taxed Nationals of the Union of South Africa, we address to you this appeal to take the initiative in requesting Conference to give wholehearted support in removing the curse of race discrimination, which is our daily lot in this part of the Common wealth and which has already caused strained relations between three of its members."