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Gandhi’s Dilemma in War and Independence (An Essay on Gandhi and A Wartime Document)

Ranabir Samaddar

Contents Preface


The Impossible Exit














India’s Extremists and the Axis by Sir Alfred Watson

Gandhi’s Dilemma in War and Independence

..........An understanding of the forties may well lead us to a better comprehension of the global process connoted by that term. The following pages may be considered an exercise in that understanding. But this will be an understanding with a difference, a different emphasis, an attempt to grasp the question of transition in a new way. Yet this is also a book on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who, in more than one sense, symbolised the conflicts and the paradoxes of that time of transition. What he said, what he wrote, what he agreed and disagreed with, what he did, the places he chose to visit to make his points – all these speak of the challenges, the conflicts, and the closures of the time. The philosophical investigations of the twentieth century – particularly in its second half – have thrown light on the significance of the simple and primeval practices of life, hitherto thought to be inconsequential to the great discourses, namely the acts of speaking, talking, writing,




arguing, pardoning, conceding, gazing, reconciling, or visiting. Though partial, this account of Gandhi spanning the late thirties and forties tells us how the aforesaid acts suddenly become important in politics and history. They are important because they throw unexpected light on the question of transition. They also show that while usual socio-political analysis has the spotlight on the state, its nature and character, and the possible transformations it may undergo, Gandhi was pointing out the problem of governance as distinct from that of the state. He was also posing the question of the international – a euphemism for great power intrigues and wars – with which a weak colonised nation would have to be transformed to a sovereign country. The problematic of dual power assumes new dimensions from these two angles. We need not anticipate the discussion here. Readers are invited to go through the following pages to appreciate the question of how the political

Gandhi’s Dilemma in War and Independence

subject prepares for the transition. What does it essentially mean for a constituent power to reconstitute society? In all these matters, the issue of governance is persistent. How will the new nation approach the task of governing? What will be its attitude to violence? How will it wade through the murky waters of the international, which is the other name for inter-state wars within which sovereignty must shape and operate? All these questions raise the problematic of truth – in this case political truth. Among other things, this book reproduces a pamphlet written by a former chairman of The Statesman, Calcutta. This pamphlet, which was embargoed as a ‘classified document’ for a long time, charges Gandhi, known for his intransigence in defence of non-violence, as being a supporter of the Axis powers. It also views Gandhi as a saboteur of the Allied democratic cause. Gandhi appears as a terrorist in the Englishman’s eyes. Gandhi of course wrestled with all these complaints. His truth was that of xii

Do we have any lesson to learn? We can keep our opinion and judgment in abeyance till we go through this brief account.



the satyagrahi, the lonely truth seeker – in other words, one whose truth is defined by his relentless practice of seeking truth. Yet as Lord Linlithgow’s document reproduced here shows, time was closing down on him. It was a situation of classic aporia, when exit in terms of the problem that one wants to exit from becomes impossible. It is, in other words, a situation of impossible exit.

Gandhi’s Dilemma in War and Independence

. . . .Gandhi himself was always in two minds in judging the deaths of the militant revolutionists. At times he would honour them. He refused to criticise Jatindranath Mukherjee, the leader of the Bengal revolutionaries. Mukherjee died in a gun battle on the shores of the river Buribalam, and had inspired and planned the killings of colonial officials before his death. But at times Gandhi would blame the revolutionists for their violent policies and would refuse to honour their sacrifices and deaths. He disagreed, for instance, with Bhagat Singh and did not honour his death at the gallows. He also had no word of appreciation for Sachindranath Sanyal, another famous revolutionary who had sent him a letter requesting him to explain his norms in honouring the ethical standards of an anticolonial movement.5 This ambivalence only increased as the nationalist movement gained momentum and fury with the onset of the forties marked by the August upsurge of 1942 that began as the Quit India movement, and 8


The Impossible Exit

In this situation of closure where an exit was impossible, Gandhi had to define what the policy of truth and non-violence would be. Here we arrive at the heart of the question I want to address in this essay. Of course, we must remember that two other anti-colonial leaders, Mao and Ho Chi Minh, negotiated the transition problematic. To my mind they did so not by attempting an exit from the war/ peace copula – i.e. either from that particular war to peace or from a particular politics to war and then vice versa – but by managing to bring in another dimension. We can name this dimension the third dimension, the other scene of politics, always lurking in the horizon, never appearing as a possibility, yet brought to the centre of the vortex by the event. But this is not the occasion to generalise those specific lessons. Nor are we discussing Mao or Ho Chi Minh. We are discussing India at the wartime, the closure to the nationalist politics that the war brought about, and the exit that Gandhi wanted to make.

described Gandhi as ‘extremist’, bull headed, lacking in common sense . . .

Gandhi’s Dilemma in War and Independence

III We have with us the instance of a pamphlet written during the war by a British commentator on Gandhi’s views which were considered ‘extremist’.9 The writer was one Alfred Watson, former editor and chairman of The Statesman of Calcutta. Divided into four sections and dealing with the three related themes of the Congress attitude to war, the Governor-General’s offer of 1940, and the failure of the Cripps Mission, the thrust of the pamphlet was to emphasise Gandhi’s role in hardening the Congress’ attitude, the subsequent withdrawal of the Congress from the ministry in the provinces in which it was in power, its rejection of the 1940 offer of the Governor-General, and the subsequent proposal of the Cripps Mission. What is interesting in this pamphlet is the bewilderment of Watson that someone in India ....... 20


Responsibility of Mr. Gandhi

Other men, like Mr. M. N. Roy, have sought independence of thought outside the Congress ranks, but all who have remained have placed their consciences in the keeping of Mr. Gandhi. Submission to his policy has been the only terms upon which Mr. Gandhi would continue to lead. “A dominant feature of his character,” says Miss Mitchell, “is an inordinate love of personal power . . . demanding unquestioning obedience from his disciples and his rank-and-file followers.” In plain words, Mr. Gandhi insists on being a dictator or nothing at all within the Congress Party organisation. Again and again he has resigned his leadership when views contrary to his own have prevailed, only to be recalled to absolutism when the party has found it impossible to hold together under any other chief the diverse elements of which it is composed. So long as Mr. Gandhi survives and retains his leadership, there can be no departure without his sanction from denying to the Indian people any active part in their own

Gandhi’s Dilemma in War and Independence

describe the form of government proposed by the Congress Party as “a Fascist Grand Council,” under which “Mussalmans and the other minorities would be at the mercy of the Congress Raj . . . this was not freedom for Muslims nor other minorities, who would be at the mercy of this caucus Cabinet.” So long as the Congress Party holds to its present ideas of its future part in government, so long as it insists that there are no differences that cannot be settled on its own terms, so long as it is dominated by a high command that is a narrow oligarchy subject to a personal dictatorship, the prospect of settlement in India recedes rather than advances. In practice, as will have been seen, Mr. Gandhi dominates Congress as Hitler dominates the Nazis, or as Mussolini until recently dominated the Fascists. In theory, the Congress Party is ruled by the Working Committee of fifteen members, of whom one is President. Again in theory, the President is elected by the Congress members throughout



Gandhi’s Fast and After

.........In fact, he is the choice of Mr. Gandhi, as the Mahatma showed when he got rid of Mr. Subhas Bose, who showed symptoms of establishing a dictatorship of his own. Though Mr. Gandhi is himself not a member of Congress, he has ruled from outside the deliberations of the Working Committee. When this body has shown a difference of opinion with him he has wrapped himself in his loin cloth and retired, only to be recalled to omnipotence after a due interval. So long as that position continues, all dealings with the Congress Party must be dealings with Mr. Gandhi. When, therefore, the suggestion is made that the Congress Party could be won over to assist in the war, we have to ask what is the chance of bringing a change of heart to Mr. Gandhi, whose resolute opposition to every stage of advance in government during the last quarter of a century has been a principal hindrance to the rapid attainment of complete self-government

Gandhi’s Dilemma in War and Independence

in India, whose belief that all war is to be abhorred and forbidden, has driven him to courses seriously prejudicial to the survival of India. And Mr. Gandhi has no policy for the future that would not leave the lives and liberties of the people of India to chance. “Let them entrust India to God, or, in modern parlance, to anarchy. Then all parties will fight one another like dogs, or will, when real responsibility faces them, come to a reasonable agreement.” What a vision of statesmanship! The answer to that fatalistic position comes perhaps best in the words of Lord Linlithgow, as Viceroy: “It is because agreement cannot be reached between the conflicting interests in this country as to who is to take over the responsibilities which Britain is only too ready to transfer to Indian hands that the deadlock has arisen. It is from no reluctance on our part to transfer them.” But Great Britain cannot contemplate anarchy in India with, the calm indifference to the fate of its people that Mr. Gandhi professes. 114

Gandhi's Dilemma