Gandhiji's Leadership in the National Struggle
520. It has been somewhat justly said that if I am a good general, I must not grumble about my men. For I must choose them from the material at my disposal. I plead guilty. But I have qualified my admission by the adverb somewhat, for I laid down the condition from the very inception of the programme of non-violence. My terms were accepted. If from experience it is found that the terms cannot be worked, I must either be dismissed or I must retire. I retired but to no purpose. The bond between Congressmen and me seems to be unbreakable. They may quarrel with my conditions but they will not leave me or let me go. They know that however unskilled a servant I may be, I will neither desert them nor fail them in the hour of need. And so they try, though often grumblingly, to fulfill my condition. I must then on the one hand adhere to my conditions so long as I have a living faith in them, and on the other take what I can get from congressmen, expecting that if I am true, they will someday fulfill all my conditions and find themselves in the enjoyment of full independence such as has never before been seen on earth.
-CB, 8-I-42, 48
Letter to the President
The President, Indian National Congress.
Dear Maulana Saheb,
In the course of discussion in the Working Committee I discovered that I had committed a grave error in the interoperation of the Bombay Resolution. I had interpreted it to mean that the Congress was refused participation in the present or all war on the ground Principally of non-violence. I found to my astonishment that most members differed from my interpretation and held that the opposition need not be on the ground of nonviolence. On re-reading the Bombay Resolution I found that the differing members were right and that I had read into it a meaning which its letter could not bear. The discovery of the error makes it impossible for me to lead the Congress in the struggle for resistance to war effort on the grounds in which non-violence was not indispensable. I could not, for instance, identify myself with opposition to war effort on the ground of ill-will against Great Britain. The Resolution contemplated material association with Britain in the war effort as a price for guaranteed independence of India. If such was my view and I believed in the use of violence for gaining independence and yet refused participation in the effort as the price of that independence, I would consider myself guilty of unpatriotic conduct. It is certain belief that only non-violence can save India and the world from self-extinction. Such being the case, I must continue my mission whether I am alone or assisted by an organization or individuals. You will, therefore, please relieve me of the responsibility laid upon me by the Bombay Resolution. I must continue civil disobedience for free speech against all war with such Congressmen and others whom I select and who believe in the non-violence I have contemplated and are willing to conform to prescribed conditions.
I will not, at this critical period, select for civil disobedience those whose services are required to steady and help the people in their respective localities.
(CB, 5-2-42, 2)
The following is a summary of Gandhiji's speech in Hindustani introducing the Bardoli Resolution.
I was not a little perturbed when the Maulana raised me sky-high. I do not live up in the air. I am of the earth, earthy. I have never seen an aeroplane. I am like you, an ordinary mortal made of common clay.
The question of ahimsa would not have come up before you, had it not come up before the working Committee in Bardoli. And it was well that it came up. The result has been good, not or two things clear.
I am, as I have said, an ordinary mortal like you. Had that not been the case, we should not have been able to work together these twenty years. Ahimsa with me is a creed, the breath of my life. But it is never as a creed that I placed it before India, or for the matter of that before anyone except in casual informal talks. I placed it before the Congress as a political method, to be employed for the solution of political questions. It may be it is a novel method, but it does not on that account lose its political character. I tried it for the first time in South Africa after I found that all so-called constitutional remedies, with which Congress work in India had made me familiar, had failed. The question there was exclusively of the political existence of Indians who had settled in South Africa as merchants, petty hawkers, etc It was for them a question of life and death, and it was in dealing with it that this method of nonviolence came to me. The various measures that I adopted there were not the work of a visionary or a dreamer. They were the work of an essentially practical man dealing with practical political questions. As a political method, it can always be changed, modified, altered, even given up in preference to another. If, therefore, I say to you that our policy should not be given up today, I am talking political wisdom. It is political insight. It has served in the past, it has enabled us to cover many stages towards Independence, and it is as politician that I suggest to you that it is a grave mistake to contemplate its abandonment. If I have carried the Congress with me all these years, it is in my capacity as politician. It is hardly fair to describe my method as religious because it is new.
The Maulana has affectionately used high words of praise for me, but I cannot accept them. The article in my possession is an incalculable pearl. It has to e weighed in the proper scales, and those who can pay
the price for it can have it. It cannot be bartered away even for Independence.
Non-violence has brought us near to Swaraj as never before. We dare not exchange it even for Swaraj. For Swaraj thus got will be no true Swaraj. The question is not what we will do after Swaraj. It is whether under given conditions we can give up non-violence to win Swaraj. Again, do you expect to win real Independence by abandoning non-violence? Independence for me means the Independence of the humblest and poorest among us. It cannot be obtained by joining the war. For the Congress to join any war before the attainment of Complete Independence is to undo the work of the past twenty years.
And yet why is it that I stand before you to plead with you to accept the Resolution, and even to divide the house? The reason is that the Resolution reflects the Congress mind. It undoubtedly is a step backward. We have not a clean slate to write on. Our elders have taken a step which has produced world-wide reactions. To alter the Resolution out of shape is to ignore these. It would be unwise to change the right to think that the Working Committee. The world had a right to think that the Working Committee's policy would be endorsed by you. At one time, I had thought of dividing the A.I.C.C., but I saw that it would be a mistake. It would be almost violence. Non-violence does not act in the ordinary way.
Sometimes a step back is a prelude to a step forward. It is highly likely that our step will be of that character.
The Resolution is a mirror in which all groups can see themselves. The original was Jawaharlalji's draft, but it was referred to sub-committee at whose hands it has undergone material changes. The original had left no room for Rajaji to work. The sub-committee opened a tiny window for him to squeeze in. Jawaharlalji's opposition to participation in the war effort is almost as strong as mine, though his reasons are different. Rajaji would participate, if certain conditions acceptable to the Congress are fulfilled. The non-violent non-co-operators like Rajendra Babu have certainly a place, for until the remote event takes place, non-violence reigns supreme.
It is no longer open to the Government and the Congress critics to say that the Congress has banged the door to negotiation on the impossible or unpolitical ground of non-violence. The Resolution throws the burden on the Government of wooing the Congress on the basis of participation in the war effort. That nothing is to be expected from the Government is probably too true. Only the Resolution puts the Congress right with the expectant world. And since there is a party in the congress who will welcome an honourable offer that will satisfy the rigid test it is as well that the Resolution has accommodated this party. It is likely in the end to make all of one mind. Out and out believers in non-violence of the political type have the whole field open to them.
When there was a talk of the A.I.C.C. being possibly divided, several people contemplated the prospect with trepidation, lest the Congress should again listen to mad Gandhi's advice in order to retain his leadership, and become a religious organization instead of the political organization that it has been all these years. Let me disabuse them of their fear, and say the congress can do no such thing, that we have not wasted the past twenty years. All that the Congress has decided to do is that it will allow the world to deal with it in terms that the world can understand, and if the terms are good enough, it will accept them. But you may be also sure that the congress will not be easily satisfied. It will go on repeating Not this, until it wins the real commodity it wants. You will, therefore, say exactly what you want, and I will also say all I want. That is why I have decided to issue the three weeklies, and I will go on venting my views therein with the fullest freedom, as long as I am allowed to do so. In the meanwhile, if you can get what you want, you will strike the bargain, and you may be sure that I will not shed a single tear. I therefore do not want to cheat the world of its jubilation over the Resolution, I do not want the Congress to look ridiculous in the eyes of the world. I do not want it to be said that in order to retain my leadership you bade good-bye to your convictions.
Some friends have complained that the Resolution has no operative clause. The complaint is true so far as the Resolution is concerned. The Resolution had to be merely explanatory. It is addressed to the world. It is not even addressed to the Government.
But there are the instructions about the constructive programme for Congressmen. They form the operative part. It is a substitute for civil disobedience and the parliamentary programme. Civil disobedience has been wisely reserved for me as an expert. It is good that, so long as I am alive and well in mind, it is so reserved. And as far as I am concerned, there will be none, if the Government do not interfere with Harijan. For this weekly will constitute enough propaganda against al war. I have no ill-will against Britishers,, and for that matter against Germans, Italians or Japanese. I can have none against the Russians who have done great things for the proletariate. The Chinese sail in the same boat with us. I would like all these nations to be at peace with one another. I would like to think that India will, through her non-violence, be a messenger of peace to the whole world. Even political non-violence has potency of which we have no conception. Harijan will deliver the message of peace from week to week. But if this is not permitted, then will be the tie for civil disobedience as a token. I want every worker to be out for constructive work. And if I am rendered penless, I may become the sole resister. But I have no fixed plan.
Events will show the way.
So much for civil disobedience.
Though the parliamentary mentality has come to stay, in my opinion, the parliamentary programme can have no place in Congress work so long as the war lasts. The Congress cannot handle it without identifying itself with the war effort. I have always held that at all times it is the least part of a nation's activity. The most important and permanent work is done outside. Legislators are not the masters, but servants of their electors the nation. The less, therefore, we look at and depend upon parliaments the better. Power resides in the people either through their arms or through their civil disobedience, more comprehensively described as non-violent non-co-operation, but the power of non-co-operation comes only through solid, incessant constructive work. Non-violent strength comes from construction, not destruction, Hence today the constructive programme is the only thing before the Congress. And in this all parties are at one.
Do not please go away with the idea that there is a rift in the Congress lute. The Working Committee has worked like members of a happy family. Somebody suggested that Pandit Jawaharlal and I were estranged. It will require much more difference of opinion to estrange us. Wehave had differences from the moment we became co-workers, and yet I have said for some years and say now that not Rajaji but Jawaharlal will be my successor. He says the does not understand my language, and that he speaks a language foreign to me. This may or may not be true. But language is no bar to a union of hearts. And I know this that when I am gone he will speak my language.
Let there be no lack of understanding or zeal among Congressmen. Neither Jawaharlal nor Rajaji will let you be idle. I certainly will not. Lastly let those who think the constructive programme is insipid know that there is nothing in the Working Committee's Resolution to prevent a Congressman at this own risk from leading civil disobedience individual or mass. If he succeeds, he will win nothing but praise from all. But let me warn enthusiasts that they will not handle the weapon with any success. They will only damage themselves and the cause by any hasty or ignorant action. And let me say as your expert that those who regard the constructive programme as insipid do not know what non-violence is and how it works.
Some Congressmen are sorry because I have relinquished the leadership of the Congress. You have not lost me. You would lose me only if I ceased to be loyal to the Congress, only if I became a visionary, only if I ceased to be a practical man. It is not at Bardoli that I left the Congress; I did so seven years ago at Bombay, and I did so in order to be able to render greater service to the country and the Congress. Colleagues like the Sardar and Rajendra Babu are not happy over the Resolution, but I am asking them not to leave the Working Committee. But even if they leave the Congress, the Congress is not going to cease to function. Its work will go on, whether they are there or not. No man, however great, is indispensable to the Congress. Those who built up the Congress like Dadabhai, Pherozeshah and Tilak are no more, but the Congress still functions. For they have left for us and edifice do work upon and expand. And if the passing away of those leaders has not made any difference, why should the withdrawal of other leaders make any?
-CB, 5-2-1942, 16.
522. A. The relation between the Congress and Gandhiji is brought out very clearly in the following speech of the president in 1940.
It is hardly four months and two weeks since we met at Ramgarh but during this short period the world has changed almost out of recognition. This change was not only in respect of outward form but it had almost brought about a revolution in ideas and beliefs. It would not be possible for us not to be affected by all that has happened and, therefore, it becomes our duty to review our own position and take stock of the situation with a view to seeking what changes we should make in our own attitude.
Two important decisions of the Congress Working Committee are to be placed before you. One of these is known as the Wardha Statement. Although there is nothing new in it, as it relates to the basic policy of the Indian National Congress, it becomes our duty to consider it as this House represents the Congress.
It was not at the Wardha meeting in June last that Mahatma Gandhi raised the question of non-violence for the first time. He had raised it two years ago. In September 1938 the All India Congress Committee met at Delhi. At this meeting of the Congress Working Committee Mahatma Gandhi raised the issue or extending the principle of nonviolence which the Congress had followed in regard to its internal policy for the last twenty years to other spheres.
Mahatma Gandhi wanted the Congress at this state to declare that a Free India would eschew all violence and would have no army to defend the country against aggression. The Congress should thus depend entirely upon non-violence for the purpose of dealing with internal disorders and external aggression. Mahatma Gandhi felt that he had to give the message of non-violence to the world and if he could not persuade he own countrymen to accept it, it would be difficult for him to preach it to others. The Congress Working committee felt it self unable to accept this position and explained the difficulties to Mahatma Gandhi. The issue however did not assume any serious proportions then as the Munich Agreement postponed war.
The question was again raised by Mahatma Gandhi when war broke out in September last. In November last when Gandhiji went to interview the Viceroy he asked me and other members of the Working Committee to relieve him of the responsibility of guiding the Congress policy of non-violence. The Committee, however, once again persuaded Mahatma Gandhi to postpone decision. At Ramgarh Mahatma Gandhi raised this question for the third time. On this occasion Mahatma Gandhi also referred to other weaknesses in the Congress organization and expressed a desire to be relieved of responsibility. This came as a shock to the Working Committee and if I had not practically forced Mahatma Gandhi to postpone decision of the issue once again, a crisis would have arisen as early as at Ramgarh.
You will thus see that this issue has been hanging fire for over two years and when we met in Wardha in June last Mahatma Gandhi wanted the Committee to make up its mind once for all, as the international situation had become delicate and he felt that a decision on such a vital issue could not be postponed any longer. Even then I tried to persuade Mahatma Gandhi once again to postpone the matter as I knew the dangers and difficulties of a decision. There is not a soul in the Congress who is not anxious to go the whole length with Mahatma Gandhi, if he can help it (if he can do so? - N.K.B.); but we cannot close our eyes to hard facts. We know that arms and ammunitions have not been able to save the freedom of France, Holland, Belgium and Norway but we also know that human nature even after realizing the futility of armed resistance is not prepared to give up force. We had not the courage to declare that we shall organize a State in this country without an armed force. If we did it would be wrong on our art. Mahatma Gandhi has to give the message of non-violence to the world and, therefore, it is his duty to propagate it but we have to consider our position as the representatives of the Indian Nation meeting in the Indian National Congress. The Indian National Congress is a political organization pledged to win the political independence of the country. It is not an institution for organizing world peace.
- CB, 7-9-1940, 2.