Gandhi’s Battlefield Choice: The Mahatma, The Bhagavad Gita, and World War II [1 ed.]

Table of contents :
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
1. Proclaiming a Non-Terrorist Manifesto
2. War in the Mahabharata and World War II
3. Freedom Now
4. Reconciling
5. Operation Ebb Tide
6. A Truthful Future
Text of Quit India Resolution

Citation preview

G A N D H I ’ S B AT T L E F I E L D C H O I C E This much anticipated volume compares and contrasts Gandhi’s non-violent leadership during World War II to the military leadership of Arjuna in the war that prompted the Bhagavad Gita dialogue, the Sanskrit text that guided Gandhi’s actions throughout his life. Early in his career as leader of India’s campaign to end British rule, Gandhi resisted terrorist interpretations of the Gita and described the Gita as depicting a metaphorical battle between good and evil impulses within every human heart.Then when India was drawn into a world war not unlike that in which Arjuna reluctantly led his troops into combat, Gandhi embraced his role as battlefield commander of the millions he had trained to be non-violent warriors. Never abandoning his dedication to non-violence, Gandhi stressed to his recruits that they should act as non-violently as possible but should not passively accept injustice. Remaining true to the Bhagavad Gita while responding to urgent hazards affecting all Indians, Gandhi himself became a wartime battlefield commander leading millions in the climactic Quit India conflict that ended British rule. The volume provides an overview of Gandhi’s entire career as leader of the Indian Nationalist Movement, clarifies Gandhi’s approach to acting non-violently when surrounded by violence, and affirms Gandhi’s enduring importance as a source of inspiration around the world. Francis G. Hutchins is author of books including The Illusion of Permanence: British Imperialism in India and Democratizing Monarch: A Memoir of Nepal’s King Birendra. He has also translated the Sanskrit Hitopadesha, published as Animal Fables of India with drawings by A. Ramachandran, and portions of the Sanskrit Harivamsa, published as Young Krishna, illustrated by reproductions of Indian miniature paintings.

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Gandhi’s Battlefield Choice the mahatma, the BHAGAVAD GITA, and world war ii



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First published 2018 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © Francis G. Hutchins and Manohar Publishers & Distributors The right of Francis G. Hutchins to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Print edition not for sale in South Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bhutan) British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-1-138-48479-5 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-351-05110-1 (ebk) Typeset in Bembo Std 12/15.2 by Manohar, New Delhi 110002



l i st of i llust ration s


p re fac e


1. Proclaiming a Non-Terrorist Manifesto


2. War in the Mahabharata and World War II


3. Freedom Now


4. Reconciling


5. Operation Ebb Tide


6. A Truthful Future


ap pe ndi x Text of Quit India Resolution





Plate 1. Plate 2. Plate Plate Plate Plate

3. 4. 5. 6.

Plate 7. Plate 8. Plate 9. Plate 10. Plate 11.

(between pp. 96-7) Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan with Gandhi Dr. King garlanded by Sucheta Kripalani, 1959 Gandhi and Jinnah, September 1944 Illegal salt-making, 1930 Illegal salt-making, 1930 Women protesting during Quit India Movement Bombay Quit India Protest, 1942 Meeting of working committee Sevagram, February 1942, Gandhi and Maulana Azad Gandhi and Kasturba Bai arrive in India, 1915 Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave, October 1940 Sevagram individual Satyagraha Lord and Lady Mountbatten


mahatma gandhi devoted his life to helping people remove debilitating obstacles to their well-being through individual and collective action. Gandhi’s tactics varied, depending on the character of the obstacle and whether a campaign to remove it was beginning or had fully matured. Gandhi was a master strategist, and in his own way he was a battlefield commander whose lifelong field guide was a battlefield dialogue, the Bhagavad Gita. How this ancient text was interpreted anew during Gandhi’s longest and largest campaign is the narrative focus of this volume. Early on, Gandhi decided that British rule of India must end because it was obstructing much-needed social reforms. But the manner in which British rule was to be brought to an end would necessarily impact the independent nation



India would then become. Gandhi’s vision of India’s post-British future motivated him to devote decades to developing a massive campaign of individual liberation, which he believed must precede national liberation. By the time World War II broke out in 1939, Gandhi had successfully trained for nonviolent battle a large army of volunteers who shared his hopes for India’s future. Then in the Summer of 1942, midway through World War II when India was threatened by invading armies and India’s British rulers were ignoring the desire of Indians to defend their own country, Gandhi concluded that his army must end imperial rule immediately by physically forcing India’s British overlords to ‘Quit India’. At this climactic moment of his decades-long campaign for Indian independence, Gandhi invoked in a new way the Bhagavad Gita’s exhortation to stand and fight as a last resort, even against foes one respects. The result was an insurrection so profound and widespread that India’s British rulers accepted political defeat in India, even as they were militarily winning World War II. Earlier in his long campaign to end British rule, Gandhi had drawn different lessons from the Bhagavad Gita. Because Indian terrorists were



invoking the Gita’s militant counsel to justify assassinations and bombings, Gandhi countered by proposing an allegorical interpretation for the ancient battlefield dialogue. He argued that in modern times the war depicted in the two-thousandyear-old Gita could be most productively thought of as a contest within every human being between good and evil impulses. But when World War II began in 1939, Gandhi modified his interpretation because this second twentieth-century world war all too vividly resembled the combat described in the Bhagavad Gita. Gandhi’s own role as a political leader had meanwhile also evolved. During World War I, Gandhi had loyally helped recruit Indian soldiers to fight for the British Empire in distant lands, only to see the British then renege on their promises to reward India’s war services with greater political autonomy. Following this betrayal of trust, Gandhi had worked for two decades to develop Indian national self-consciousness, with the result that by 1939 Gandhi found himself in command of an army of dedicated volunteers. In a world riven by war, the Gita’s guidance for Gandhi consequently turned starkly pragmatic. When the British displayed



indifference to the desire of Indians to defend themselves when vulnerable to attack from overseas, Gandhi pointed out that although one could not extract from the Gita a rationale for initiating a violent armed conflict, collective force in national self-defence might be used appropriately once a war began. Most Indians, he felt sure, would willingly fight to defend a free India but could not be asked to repeat the experience of World War I. Before fighting alongside Great Britain again, Indians must be free to decide for themselves whether or not to fight, and on what terms. It must be their decision alone, and not forced upon them. This conclusion led to Gandhi’s decision to request his army of volunteers to force the British government to relinquish political power in India even as war raged. Concluding that physical force must now be used against India’s defiantly entrenched imperial rulers and to defend India against a foreign invasion was not for Gandhi an abandonment of his fundamental commitment to non-violence. He was convinced that violence of all sorts pervades the world even in ordinary times, and that non-violence and violence could never be entirely dissociated, either in fact or in perception. Indeed, he once tellingly remarked



that an act ‘may wear the appearance of violence’and yet be ‘absolutely non-violent in the highest sense’.1 How Gandhi worked through these questions is central to the story told in this volume. Because violence and delusion could suddenly re-emerge in unforeseeable ways, Gandhi believed each new challenge demanded deep, fresh thinking. Revealingly, the subtitle of his Autobiography is The Story of My Experiments with Truth. His life was indeed a series of experiments designed to actualize Satya – transcendent Truth  – amidst the world’s everchanging circumstances. For guidance on his path toward Satya, Gandhi drew inspiration from many sources, including the Koran, the New Testament, John Ruskin’s Unto This Last, Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You and Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. But the Bhagavad Gita was always central to Gandhi’s deliberations. Conducting his life decade after decade as an ongoing dialogue with this ancient dialogue, Gandhi sought guidance from the Bhagavad Gita concerning countless challenges that emerged during his career 1 Nirmal Kumar Bose, ed., Selections from Gandhi,Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1968, p. 177.



as a non-violent fighter for political and social justice. For Gandhi, the Gita offered an enduring standard against which to test the credibility of each new experiment with Truth, including his World War II battlefield choice. The sources and significance of Gandhi’s climactic, Gita-inspired mid-World War II choice are still poorly understood. Wartime censorship hindered media coverage at the time. Later, a desire to characterize India’s 1947 independence as ‘fulfilment’ of British imperial intentions hampered perception by many that in the middle of the war the British were physically coerced by Indians to abandon their intention to continue shaping India’s future, and to begin making detailed arrangements for a complete withdrawal once the war was over. In addition, many admirers of Gandhi’s metaphorical interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita have been reluctant to acknowledge the extent to which Gandhi became commander on an actual battlefield in the 1942 Quit India insurrection.2 2

See Edward Thompson and G.T. Garratt, Rise and Fulfillment of British Rule in India, Allahabad: Central Book Depot, 1958. For a persuasive general account of the Quit India movement’s extent and consequences, see Arun Chandra Bhuyan, The Quit



Even the most fundamental aspects of Gandhi’s life and thought remain controversial. More than a half century after his assassination in 1948, perceptions of Gandhi diverge as wildly as ever. Disagreements persist about what he accomplished, what motivated him, what were his methods, and what his lasting influence will be in India and around the world. Efforts at understanding must therefore continue. Controversial or not, Gandhi’s contribution to shaping India’s national destiny and to advancing thinking worldwide about when and how to use different kinds of force has assured his place in history. But he will always elude attempts to limit India Movement: The Second World War and Indian Nationalism, New Delhi: Manas, 1975. Yet resistance remains strong to viewing Gandhi’s World War II tactics as a decisive factor in the way the British left India. Sir Richard Attenborough’s panoramic 1982 movie Gandhi is for example noteworthy for its misrepresentation of that era. For recent scholarship, see Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941-1945, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005, and their Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007; Madhusree Mukerjee, Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War Two, New York: Basic Books, 2010; and Yasmin Khan, India at War: The Subcontinent and the Second World War, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.



his tactics to single method or confine his thinking within a formulaic philosophy. As Gandhi himself said, ‘I am not built for academic writings. Action is my domain.’3 For this reason, those who have sought inspiration in Gandhi’s life and teachings have been most effective when  – like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States and Nelson Mandela in South Africa – they have been able to replicate Gandhi’s ability to imagine situationspecific forms of action and thus to confront injustices in their own countries in ways that fit their particular circumstances. For example, Dr. King, viewing Gandhi through a Christian lens, offered the highest praise he could bestow when he described Gandhi as ‘probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective force on a large scale’.4 King thereby creatively transposed Gandhi’s Gita-driven activism into a different cultural setting – with dynamic effect. 3

Rajmohan Gandhi, Gandhi, The Man, His People, and the Empire, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008, p. 517. 4 Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, Postmodern Gandhi and Other Essays, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 157.



Nelson Mandela also drew thoughtfully on Gandhi’s thinking and actions in his own struggle against racial apartheid in South Africa. Looking back in 1999, Mandela noted that Gandhi ‘never ruled out violence absolutely and unreservedly’and in fact ‘conceded the necessity of arms in certain situations’. Mandela explained that he had therefore adhered to Gandhi’s tactics of persuasion and subtle pressure, the tactics Gandhi preferred and believed one must begin with, until ‘there came a point in our struggle [in South Africa] when the brute force of the oppressor could no longer be countered through passive resistance alone’, at which point Mandela ‘added a military dimension to our struggle’.5 I first encountered Gandhi’s legacy in 1960, when I was twenty-one. On a ferry carrying hundreds of Tamil tea plantation workers, I arrived in southern India from Sri Lanka, and proceeded by bus to rural Gandhigram (Gandhi Village), then an agricultural self-help centre, now a university. I carried introductions to people in Gandhigram and elsewhere across India who had known Gandhi well, some of whom had dedicated their lives to pressing 5 Nelson Mandela,‘The Sacred Warrior’, Time, 31 December 1999.



forward Gandhi’s social reform agenda.Twelve years after his assassination, many people I talked with recounted vivid memories of conversations with Gandhi. Quite coincidentally and without realizing it at the time, I followed a path through Gandhi’s India somewhat similar to that traversed a year before by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and met and was impressed by several of the people who hosted Dr. King. Soon after visiting India, Dr. King began his transformative, Gandhi-influenced campaign in the United States for social and political reform. This anti-racism campaign led to his opposing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and in 1968 to his assassination. In 1969, as protests against the Vietnam War raged, I decided to travel again to India to learn more about Gandhi’s leadership. Attracted by the availability of newly-released World War II records and the opportunity to meet surviving participants in the 1942 Quit India uprising, I set out to bring together information gleaned from official sources and the still-fresh memories of persons who had risked their lives in answering Gandhi’s wartime call to oppose British rule. I presented my findings in a



book published in India in 1971 and in the United States in 1973.6 I also made an effort to draw from my researches about India during World War II some policy implications for the dilemmas then wracking the United States. In an article entitled ‘The Advantages of an Irresponsible Withdrawal from Vietnam’, published in the Spring of 1971 issue of the journal Public Policy, I argued that the United States could learn from the experience of the British rulers of India that if an occupying power withdrawing from a country attempts to manipulate the terms of withdrawal by claiming to be ‘acting responsibly’, the departing power’s actions are likely to be selfregarding and therefore destructive from the point of view of the country left behind. In 1969-71, my goal in writing about the Quit India uprising was to tell with corroborating detail a story that was not only untold but resisted both by apologists of Empire and by many admirers of Gandhi. From newly-released archival materials and 6

Francis G. Hutchins, Spontaneous Revolution:The Quit India Movement, Delhi: Manohar, 1971; Francis G. Hutchins, India’s Revolution, Gandhi and the Quit India Movement, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973.



interviews, I documented that Gandhi in 1942 launched an insurrection that he expected would lead to violence, and that this insurrection did in fact compel India’s long-defiant British rulers to Quit India. Today these ideas, which in 1971 seemed radical, are becoming commonplace. Even strong defenders of British imperialism now accept the argument that British control of India became unsustainable because of the 1942 uprising orchestrated by Gandhi.7 Although controversy has subsided about how British imperial rule of India came to an end, more elusive questions persist. Not about the result of what Gandhi decided to do but rather about the basis for his decision. In the climactic showdown of the Indian nationalist movement which Gandhi had led for more than two decades, did he under pressure abandon his own principles? Furthermore, did he inadvertently open the way to the partition of the subcontinent? In 1969-71, I felt that I understood well enough the regime against which Gandhi 7

See for example Lawrence James, Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. His term ‘Unmaking’ differs radically from Thompson and Garrett’s term ‘Fulfillment’.



rebelled, because the British imperial frame had been the focus of my earlier book, The Illusion of Permanence: British Imperialism in India, published in 1967.8 But the Indic background from which Gandhi drew inspiration in formulating his campaign of non-violent combat against British rule remained unexplored. As I came to recognize how formative the Bhagavad Gita was for Gandhi, I added the study of Sanskrit to my earlier Hindi studies, and then probed deeper into Gandhi’s mid-war strategizing. Here the result – Gandhi’s Battlefield Choice – merges data from my original researches with insights drawn from subsequent study of the Bhagavad Gita to offer a fuller account of how Gandhi’s course of action evolved, both for himself and for the millions who voluntarily followed his lead. 8 December 2016


Francis G. Hutchins

Francis G. Hutchins, The Illusion of Permanence: British Imperialism in India, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967.

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Proclaiming a Non-Terrorist Manifesto

when mahatma gandhi thought about how to confront a challenge, first as a student and eventually as the leader of a national independence movement infiltrated by terrorists, his ‘infallible guide of conduct’ was the Bhagavad Gita.1 Aware of this ancient text from his childhood in the Gujarat region of western India, Gandhi first read through the complete poem in 1889, while a twenty-yearold law student in London. Two Englishmen gave him a copy of Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation, The 1

M.K. Gandhi, An Autobiography:The Story of My Experiments with Truth, tr. Mahadev Desai, Boston: Beacon, 1957, pp. 264-5.


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Song Celestial, hoping he could explain the Sanskrit original. Gandhi could not help them much but he was transfixed by Sir Edwin’s stately English verse. ‘I went through the whole of it immediately, and was fascinated’, Gandhi related in his Autobiography. The young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi did not expect to become a world-famous leader, celebrated as the Mahatma, the Great-Souled One. As an introverted student and then as an inexperienced lawyer, Gandhi’s goal was simply to lead an ethical life and support a family as a loyal subject of Victoria, England’s Queen and Empress of India. After completing his legal studies in London, he had returned to practice law in western India. But not meeting with much success, he took a legal job in British-ruled South Africa, where he remained for twenty-two years. While employed in South Africa, Gandhi gradually expanded his ethical focus. He took up social reform and public political advocacy, responding to obvious needs and an equally obvious lack of credible leaders. At all times, whether living as a young adult in London, India or South Africa, Gandhi kept the Bhagavad Gita close at hand. In South Africa, when he was thirty-four he decided ‘to get by heart one

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or two verses everyday’ from the original Sanskrit. He attached to the wall of his bathroom ‘slips of paper on which were written the Gita verses and referred to them now and then’. In this way, he ‘committed to memory thirteen’ of the Gita’s eighteen chapters. Returning briefly to England in the summer of 1909 to lobby for South African causes, Gandhi ‘came in contact with every known Indian anarchist in London’ and was surprised to meet ‘practically no one who believes that India can ever become free without resort to violence’. Even more disturbing, both the Bhagavad Gita and the epic Ramayana were repeatedly cited to Gandhi in support of the use of terrorist tactics to expel the British from India. ‘Shyamji Krishnavarma, [Veer] Savarkar and others’, Gandhi related, ‘used to tell me that the Gita and the Ramayana taught quite the opposite of what I said they did’. Although unconvinced by Krishnavarma and Savarkar, Gandhi felt unprepared to respond. When he tried to put down on paper arguments he wished he could have made more effectively while debating terrorists in London, awareness of his inadequate mastery of the Gita led him to rely mainly on


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common sense. In his 1909 tract Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, written on his return voyage to South Africa, he mentioned the Gita only once, as an important Hindu scripture that non-Hindus also respect.2 Unlike the lofty discourse contained in the Bhagavad Gita dialogue, Gandhi’s modest Hind Swaraj dialogue resembles a down-to-earth conversation among friends. One speaker, an aspiring Indian anarchist, boasts ‘At first, we will assassinate a few Englishmen and strike terror; then … we will regain our land.’ In reply, Gandhi’s ‘Editor’ asks, ‘Whom do you suppose to free by assassination? The millions of India do not desire it…. Those who will rise to power by murder will certainly not make the nation happy.’ As an alternative to furtive power-grabbing by a conniving few, Hind Swaraj proposes working openly toward a transformative social revolution in ways that will engage the populace as a whole. Hind Swaraj can mean ‘Indian Home Rule’ but also ‘Indian Self-Governance’, understood in both 2

See Anthony J. Parel’s,‘Introduction to M.K. Gandhi’, Hind Swaraj, New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. xiv-lxxv, 54.

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a national and an individual sense. Imaginatively, Gandhi argued that Indians could not expect to govern their own nation unless they first exemplified self-control in their own lives. Notably, individual self-governance was clearly an ancient, Gita-based concept, whereas national self-governance was modern. Provoked by London terrorists, Gandhi was developing new implications and applications for the revered Bhagavad Gita. ‘The existence of British rule in the country is due to our disunity, immorality and ignorance’, Gandhi as ‘Editor’ affirmed. ‘If these national defects were overcome, not only would the British leave India without a shot being fired but we would be enjoying real Swaraj’ even before the British left. Conversely, if the British were forced out by hate-driven terrorists scheming in secret while the Indian people still lacked national and individual self-control, the only change made by getting rid of foreign rule would be having no outsiders to blame. Already by 1909, while still employed in South Africa and with increasing responsibilities there, Gandhi was focused on returning to India and applying there the results of his South African


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experiments. His path toward national leadership in India opened up far from home, as a result of careful reflection and preparation. With the Bhagavad Gita as his constant guide, Gandhi at every stage of his adult life can be seen steadily evolving toward evergreater subtlety and self-assurance. In South Africa, starting with those closest to him, Gandhi resolved to demonstrate that anyone when openly and lovingly challenged could change for the better. South Africa’s Indian immigrants, situated between white Europeans and black Africans, aspired only to somewhat enlarged rights in this Britishruled colony. Gandhi’s reform programme therefore concentrated on making Indians more conformist by European standards. Because Europeans ‘argued that the Indians were very dirty and close-fisted’, Gandhi exhorted his fellow immigrants ‘on subjects such as domestic sanitation, personal hygiene [and] the necessity of having separate buildings for houses and shops’.3 Gandhi’s most militant South African campaigns involved the burning of identity cards and mass courting of arrest, but with no object beyond securing greater rights for a minority. 3 M.K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1968, p. 64.

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When he finally returned to India in 1915, Gandhi found Indian reformers modestly urging expansion of the role of English-educated Indians in the public life of their own country. Fresh from South Africa, Gandhi sensed incongruity in the fact that leaders who claimed to speak for a great people were also seeking only a few more rights as British subjects. He therefore proposed that the Congress drop tactics he had himself employed in South Africa, such as lobbying in London. Meanwhile, opposing India’s moderates were terrorists akin to those Gandhi had met in London, and found short-sighted and self-defeating. As an alternative to both mild-mannered moderates and secretive terrorists, Gandhi urged that all Indians pursue explicitly transformational goals by boldly announced non-violent action. Three years after Gandhi returned to India, once World War I finally ended in 1918, India’s British rulers inadvertently bolstered Gandhi’s call for open mass defiance. In 1917, to rally Indian support during World War I, Great Britain’s Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu had announced as a post-War goal ‘the increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration, and the


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gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the Empire’. But instead of ‘responsible government’– whatever that might have meant – the British Government of India in 1919 rashly promulgated its draconian Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act, commonly known as the Rowlatt Act, which imposed press controls and authorized arrests without warrant and indefinite detention without trial. Indians were moreover viciously assaulted in the 13 April 1919 massacre at Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh, where more than a thousand trapped, unarmed demonstrators were killed or wounded by relentlessly firing British troops. In the early nineteenth century, the British East India Company had exercised limited administrative powers under revocable authority granted by India’s Mughal emperor. Then in 1858 Mughal rule was forcibly terminated by the British Parliament, and British officials in India became formally servants not of any tradition-sanctioned Indian sovereign but rather of Great Britain’s Queen Victoria, who in 1877 was provocatively proclaimed Empress of India.

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British imperialists even began imagining that India might be permanently merged into a global, Londoncentred entity on which the sun would never set, either temporally or geographically.4 By the early twentieth century, as Indians schooled in English petitioned for greater access to government jobs as well as for the right to hold elections, India’s British rulers had begun employing a cautiously qualified rhetoric that seemed to posit their eventual departure. Holding onto India as long as possible, however, remained implicit British policy, as close attention to Montagu’s tortured 1917 language makes apparent. In September 1920, the formerly moderate Indian National Congress responded to Great Britain’s failure to adhere even nominally to Montagu’s feeble mid-World War I promises by authorizing a national Non-Cooperation campaign aimed at immediate Indian independence, to be directed by Gandhi. Gandhi responded by calling on Indians to leave British schools, renounce British-conferred degrees, 4

Regarding the shift from Mughal to British imperial rule, see William Dalrymple, The Last Mughal:The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857, New York: Knopf, 2007, and Hutchins Illusion of Permanence.


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titles and career prospects and attend newly-founded free universities, where they would devise their own curricula and bestow their own degrees. And why should Indians take disputes to British courts when they could settle quarrels more quickly and cheaply on their own? Why buy British-manufactured textiles when India produced the cotton they were made from, and had a glorious tradition of textile creation stretching back for centuries? By declaring that India could be free within a year if Non-Cooperation was practised with sufficient determination, Gandhi emphasized that the kind of personal and national self-governance he advocated for Indians was not something Great Britain could bestow. For more than a year, millions of Indians actively demonstrated their shared determination to rid themselves of British control by participating in the Gandhi-led Non-Cooperation campaign. To most Indians, only complete freedom now seemed worth working toward, even if its attainment would take longer than one year. From the entrenched British point of view, however, this first great outpouring of nationalist fervour was just another passing agitation to be contained and endured. British authorities saw no

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need, for example, to cancel the tour planned for Edward, Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII and (after his abdication) Duke of Windsor. In November 1921, the twenty-seven-year-old Prince of Wales arrived as scheduled, hoping to fraternize with maharajas and amaze the masses. Instead, he was met by ‘empty streets, shuttered windows, brooding silence’. Indeed, on the very day of his arrival in Bombay, Gandhi was in town to oversee ‘a huge bonfire of foreign cloth’.5 To insure calm while the Prince toured India, the embarrassed government arrested thirty thousand NonCooperators. Gandhi responded by informing the British Viceroy on 1 February 1922, that Indians would refuse to pay their taxes unless the government agreed within a week to free all Non-Cooperators. Three days later, in the village of Chauri Chaura in northern India’s United Provinces, police fired on unarmed protestors and when out of ammunition locked themselves inside their headquarters which was then set on fire by infuriated protestors, resulting 5

B.R. Nanda, Mahatma Gandhi:A Biography, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1958, p. 226.


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in twenty-two deaths. Dismayed by this violence, Gandhi called off the planned national showdown, to the surprise of many Indians who considered such violence an acceptable cost.6 On 10 March 1922, Gandhi was arrested, for the second time since returning to India from South Africa, where he had been arrested six times. At his trial on 18 March 1922, he pleaded guilty to the charge of advocating the British Indian government’s overthrow. During his imprisonment from 1922 to 1924, he resumed study of the Bhagavad Gita, joined by fellow prisoners. Gandhi not only probed in depth the Gita’s Sanskrit text but also read through a Gujarati translation of the complete Mahabharata epic, of which the Gita forms a central part. Upon his release, Gandhi finally felt prepared for public debate with those who cited the Gita to justify political terrorism. From February to November of 1926, Gandhi held sessions that proceeded systematically through the text verse by verse, and discussed the Gita’s modern relevance to topics


Nanda, pp. 229-31.

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ranging from stray dogs hit by thoughtless boys to wars between nations.7 Gandhi candidly acknowledged that in his attempts to debate terrorists in London in 1909 he had had no answer to the terrorists’ argument that the prestigious moral teachings of the Gita are presented in the context of a battlefield dialogue urging violent warfare as an inescapable duty. Although his admiration for the Gita’s ethical wisdom was never shaken, he admitted having then been tempted to think ‘how much better it would have been if the sage Vyasa [the Gita’s legendary author] had not taken this illustration of fighting for inculcating spiritual knowledge. For when even highly learned and thoughtful men read this meaning in the Gita, what can we expect of ordinary people?’ Now, after his two years of prison study, Gandhi in 1926 felt prepared to offer a defense of Vyasa’s poetic as well as moral choices. Gandhi’s starting point was that both the Bhagavad Gita dialogue and the vast Mahabharata epic as a whole should be approached not as literal history 7

For records of these sessions, see M.K. Gandhi, Collected Works, New Delhi: Government of India, Publications Division, 1969, vol. 32.


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but rather as a story based on history narrated to stimulate reflection. In this regard, Gandhi was not breaking new critical ground. Many historians believe that a war somewhat like the one described in the Mahabharata occurred approximately three thousand years ago, but that accounts of this archaic war were then embellished and enhanced. By the time (perhaps a thousand years later) when the Gita was composed, the force headed by the great warrior Arjuna had grown heroically to 765,450 foot soldiers, 459,270 horse-mounted soldiers, 153,090 elephant-mounted soldiers and 153,090 chariots. The army opposing Arjuna’s was imagined to be even larger. More controversially, Gandhi then further suggested that the Mahabharata’s narrative of violent warfare was not only legendary but also best understood as ‘primarily’ an allegory.‘The battlefield described here’, he posited, ‘is primarily the one inside the human body’, where good and evil impulses endlessly contest. Gandhi argued that ‘Just as in Aesop’s Fables and in Panchatantra’, whose ‘authors have created conversations among birds and animals to impart moral teaching, so in the Mahabharata virtues and vices are personified and

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great moral truths conveyed’ as thought-provoking parables. ‘The description of the battle serves only as a pretext’, in which the ‘author has cleverly made use of the event to teach great truths.’8 The first portions of the Mahabharata detail a series of developments leading to full-scale war between two armies whose soldiers are wellacquainted and even related. Both sides are drawn up and poised to plunge forward when the Gita dialogue begins. At this tense moment, with battle formations in place foreboding countless deaths and injuries, Arjuna is beset by doubts about whether to proceed. Arjuna’s charioteer Krishna then reviews the consequences if Arjuna decides not to fight, unveiling imagery that becomes ever more cosmic. When Arjuna expresses regret that respected friends and relatives are arrayed before him, Krishna responds pragmatically, saying Arjuna has long known he would be faced by this very dilemma. So why now affect surprise? Describing this gentle rebuke of Arjuna by Krishna, Gandhi noted that earlier Arjuna had ‘never hesitated even when he had to fight against relations’. Arjuna’s reluctance 8

M.K. Gandhi, Collected Works, 32: 101, 96, 102.


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now therefore makes little sense.With equal cogency, Krishna points out to Arjuna that (as summarized by Gandhi) ‘victory in the battle depends entirely on him. … If he leaves the field … those vast numbers on his side … would be simply annihilated. … Their families would have been ruined, and the traditional dharma of these families . . . would have been destroyed.’ Fleeing now will not halt the slaughter Arjuna foresees and could cause more casualties. Even worse, instead of fighting and dying bravely as they have been taught to do, Arjuna’s army will become confused, separated from their dharma, their laboriously learned sense of duty. Believing themselves betrayed by their commander, they will die distraught. ‘The meaning of the Gita on the commonsense level’, Gandhi concluded succinctly, ‘is that, once we have plunged into a battle, we should go on fighting’.9 Arjuna was a principled hereditary warrior as well as the leader and commander of an army trained to engage in the carnage of warfare. Arjuna’s dharmic duty as a warrior living in these ancient 9

Ibid., 32: 101, 108.

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times and making decisions in these immediate circumstances was to put aside regret and lead his trusting forces into battle. Arjuna must proceed into battle despite his compassionate reluctance to harm foes with whom he is affectionately connected. But this realization, Gandhi then stressed, was just the first level of moral action explored in the Gita. Neither the Gita nor the entire Mahabharata epic, Gandhi felt sure, glorified warfare. Indeed the Gita’s author evidently thought the Mahabharata war a disaster because ‘not only those who lose but even those who win are defeated’. Nor would anyone addressed by Gandhi in 1926 have needed much persuading that wars were often catastrophic for all concerned. World War I, Gandhi noted, ‘reminds us of the battle of the Mahabharata’, having demonstrated ‘the ruin which such a war brings on a whole people’. Listened to attentively, the supposedly pro-war Gita could be said to undermine the rationale for almost all known forms of armed combat. ‘One can say, if one likes’, Gandhi conceded, that the Gita’s author ‘did not look upon war as morally wrong’. Yet this thought should not deter postWorld War I readers and listeners from concluding


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for themselves that war is futile. The Bhagavad Gita has survived because it is a poetic masterwork and, noted Gandhi, ‘The beauty of poetry is that the creation transcends the poet.’ Poets in other words are time-bound, poetry is not. Gandhi believed the Gita’s author would not have wished to ‘lay down that those who came after him should always read in it only the meaning which he himself had in mind’. Nor in conscience could any poet do so. ‘Because a poet puts a particular truth before the world, it does not necessarily follow that he has known or worked out all its great consequences.’10 In so far as the Bhagavad Gita may be said to concern real warfare the poem’s message, Gandhi contended, is that war, whether ancient or modern, will end up becoming a catastrophe for all concerned. But long before World War I, Gandhi had adopted the two-thousand-year-old Gita as a guide for human conduct not just in battle but in every imaginable circumstance. Gandhi believed that because the war between good and evil impulses within each individual 10

M.K. Gandhi, The Bhagavad Gita, Delhi: Orient, no date, 12, 292; Young India, 12 November 1925, 6 August 1931; Gandhi, Collected Works, 32: 212.

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human being is perpetual, damping down that war is the only way to begin improving life for oneself and others. To illustrate the grandeur of Sir Edwin Arnold’s English translation which had first alerted him to the Gita’s profundity, Gandhi in his Autobiography cited these concise lines: Desire flames to fierce passion, passion breeds Recklessness; then the memory – all betrayed – Lets noble purpose go, and saps the mind, Till purpose, mind, and man are all undone.11

Restraining desire, passion and recklessness could not begin too early in a person’s life. One morning in the Summer of 1926, as members of Gandhi’s residential ashram community began their daily discussion of the Gita, it was reported that a boy in the community had thrown a cricket bat at a stray dog.That day’s assigned reading was from the Gita’s twelfth chapter, whose thirteenth verse commends ‘friendly and compassionate’ conduct. Gandhi began his commentary on this verse by distinguishing ‘friendly’ from ‘compassionate’ conduct, and then 11

Gandhi, Gita, p. 9; Autobiography, p. 67. Lines quoted are from Chapter Two of Arnold’s translation.


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(without mentioning names) applied this insight to stray dogs. ‘Friendship can exist only between equals’, Gandhi explained, but one should feel compassion towards all. We cannot throw a cricket bat at a dog to hit it. How would we feel if our parents or teachers did that to us?… We shall not discuss here what our duty towards a dog is. It is certain, however, that it is not right for us to hit one. Forgiveness lies in not being angry even with a dog which may have bitten us.’12

Whereas hapless stray dogs should always inspire compassionate treatment, poisonous snakes posed a more complex challenge. During another Gita discussion, Gandhi chided a friend who had casually killed a poisonous snake. ‘I don’t wish to suggest that you cruelly tortured the snake. But certainly you did not simply lift it and remove it elsewhere.’ Gandhi thought a better approach would have been to ‘catch a snake and hold it tight with sticks’. In any case, ‘we should certainly not beat up a snake for our pleasure’. Persons who kill snakes just because they are poisonous, Gandhi remarked, ‘are 12

Gandhi, Collected Works, 32: 304, 232.

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afraid of dying themselves, and their only thought in killing a snake is to save themselves from being bitten by it’. Routinely killing poisonous snakes was not only violent but cowardly. On the other hand, one had to kill a poisonous snake that was about to attack oneself or another person. As Gandhi put it, ‘I might be ready to embrace a snake but, if one comes to bite you, I should kill it and protect you.’13 In self-defence or to deflect harm from someone else, Gandhi considered physically hurtful force permissible. Reactive self-defence was, however, not the highest kind of worldly action of which a human being was capable, or which the Gita compellingly endorsed. With the Gita as his guide, Gandhi urged that in deciding on a course of action, one should look beyond life’s enveloping violence, conquer personal likes and dislikes, disregard possible personal advantage and then act with the resolve to further the ultimate emergence of a less violent world. Indeed, only action by many properly motivated 13

Ibid., 32: 256, 104. Gandhi similarly insisted that we should not ‘act like scorpions’and instead ‘have goodwill for them, without ourselves becoming poisonous like them’ (Gandhi, Collected Works, 32: 282.)


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individuals – physically hurtful or not – could save the world from descending into moral chaos. Given life’s uncertainty, Gandhi believed using destructive force ‘is inescapable’ and in some contexts could even be paradoxically non-violent. For better and worse, he argued, ‘non-violence works in a most mysterious manner. Often a man’s actions defy analysis in terms of non-violence.’14 Gandhi pointed to the work of a surgeon as one example of how physically hurtful acts could be genuinely non-violent. A medical doctor’s surgical incisions, even amputations, Gandhi noted, ‘involve the use of all kinds of knives and lancets, but they involve no violence’ when the doctor’s ‘only motive would be to help the patient’. In this connection, Gandhi mentioned with approval a doctor he knew who ‘used to fast on the day previous’ to an operation, ‘so that no emotional disturbances in him, like anger, etc., might affect the patient’.15 A soldier too might attain a comparable level of self-discipline, and thereby aspire to use physical force non-violently because, even in using such force,‘Violence is simply 14

Gandhi, Gita, 13; N.K. Bose, ed., Selections from Gandhi, p. 177. 15 Gandhi, Collected Works, 32: 179, 326.

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not possible unless one is driven by anger, by ignorant love and by hatred’. If one’s internal battle against mean-spirited aggressiveness was successful, one could then engage in physically injurious battle, hopeful that such conduct would in the long run prove somehow beneficial. The ultimate effect of an action could never be determined within the span of a single lifetime. Indeed much of the time, Gandhi remarked, one should pattern one’s conduct after ‘a large black ant whose feet, if stuck in jaggery [molasses] will not let go’. Like that ant, Gandhi urged, ‘Everyone … should cling to the task undertaken till he or she breaks.’16 Like an ant mired in jaggery, one could never be confident of achieving positive results, however pure one’s motives, however admirable one’s objectives. Nor was achieving a specific result the reason one should keep striving. On the other hand, there was always the possibility of achieving a positive transformation in another person, or an entire nation. Open, loving interaction with one’s foes could have sudden and startlingly beneficial results. Emphasizing this transformative possibility was 16

Gandhi, Gita, pp. 302-3.


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an important reason that Gandhi decided to reject the term ‘passive resistance’ with its Western connotations of martyrdom and shaming and to coin a new Gita-based term  – Satyagraha  – to identify his method of affirmative outreach. As Gandhi explained in his 1928 book Satyagraha in South Africa, he had initially believed ‘passive resistance’ a reasonable English description of the techniques he was testing in South Africa, until a friend praised him for using ‘a weapon of the weak’. This misunderstanding brought home to him that ‘In passive resistance there is always present an idea of harassing the other party … while in Satyagraha there is not the remotest idea of injuring the opponent.’ For this reason, ‘Satyagraha may be offered to one’s nearest and dearest; passive resistance can never be offered to them unless of course they have ceased to be dear and become an object of hatred to us.’17 In Sanskrit, Satya means Truth, graha means 17

M.K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, tr.Valji Govindji Desai, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1928, pp. 111-14.

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grasping or holding onto. The noun satya derives from the verb sat, ‘to be’. But ‘to be’ in Sanskrit has a normative sense, so Truth implied ‘what should be’. For Gandhi, Truth transcended time and place, and Satyagraha  – Holding onto Truth  – was the steadying force needed to continue amid life’s uncertainties and setbacks. Truth-actualizing Satyagraha confronted and neutralized the world’s violence and injustice. Moreover, an earthly approximation of eternal Truth was definitely attainable, through properly motivated action by inevitably finite individuals with limited capacities. Gandhi believed everyone in any society should observe some fundamental rules of conduct. Thus, he posited,‘To speak the truth is a dharma common to all.’ Beyond that, one’s individual duty, one’s swa dharma, could change – often. ‘Swa dharma’, Gandhi contended, ‘means the work which falls to our lot from hour to hour’.Whenever and wherever innate individual qualities emerged, these would point the way toward the optimal activity for each person, from generation to generation and even from moment to moment as circumstances changed. Perhaps the most famous single line in the


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Bhagavad Gita is ‘Better to do poorly one’s own duty [swa dharma] rather than do another’s duty well.’18 Many Indians as well as many British imperialists saw prescribed here a changeless social order. Although some British officials had been reformminded in the early nineteenth century, latter-day British authorities in India embraced a static social outlook and were therefore inclined to favour a narrow view of the Bhagavad Gita’s social prescriptions. In contrast, Gandhi’s twentieth century opposition to British rule in India reflected not simply the fact that it was alien but even more saliently the fact that it was inhibiting India’s social progress and manipulatively exploiting regressive tendencies in traditional Indian culture and society. Gandhi was determined that the Bhagavad Gita not be used to block India’s forward progress. Countering both ultra-orthodox Indians and their British backers, Gandhi sought a post-British India in which all Indians would freely choose the careers and occupations they were best suited for by temperament and ability. Gandhi interpreted the Gita’s advice ‘to do poorly one’s own duty rather 18

Bhagavad Gita, 3: 35.

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than do another’s duty well’ as prescribing not fear of change but rather a dynamic egalitarian society open to talents.To be sure, one should perform one’s own duty, one’s swa dharma. But, added Gandhi, each person’s duty was to act in a way reflective of contemporary challenges as well as of one’s inherent, divinely bestowed abilities. People with different traits and interest would then willingly cooperate to enrich each other’s lives. In the Gita dialogue, Krishna speaking as the Supreme Being states that society’s ‘fourfold order was created by Me according to the divisions of quality and work’.19 Both orthodox Indian and imperial British commentators saw in these words confirmation that India’s four ancient varnas or castes – Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra – are divinely ordained, and that no one should even dream of a life different from one’s parents. Gandhi interpreted these words quite differently. He saw in them no proof that status and occupations are determined by heredity, or of constraint on the talents and ambitions of individuals. Gandhi under19

S. Radhakrishnan, tr., The Bhagavad Gita, London: George Allen & Unwin 1958, 4: 13.


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stood the Gita’s affirmation of the eternal fixity of a ‘fourfold’ social order to be simply acknowledgement of the need for specialization in a complex society such as India’s through what he termed ‘a division of functions’. Restating the Gita’s language to allow for innovation and individual choice, Gandhi theorized that A Brahmin’s work in life is to teach and help people to realize God…. The Kshatriya’s special dharma is protection of society. He should, above all, be a brave man. The Vaisya occupies himself with commerce…. The Sudra’s special dharma is service. If he combines with his service the spirit of yajna [sacrifice] or the motive of public good, he will win the reward of his life…. A Sudra is expected to have humility, but humility does not mean abjectness. He serves no one except God…. There is here no question of higher and lower. If we regard the person who cleans lavatories as lower and another who reads the Gita as higher, that will be the end of us. The majority in the world are engaged in the work of service.20

Interpreting the Gita’s conception of a complex society as one flexibly open to every individual’s talents and inclinations, Gandhi envisioned for 20

Gandhi, Gita, p. 301; Collected Works, 32: 199.

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India a future Golden Age peopled by wise priestintellectuals, exemplary warrior-rulers, publicspirited merchants and respected and well-paid labourers, crafts-people and farmers. In this future India, all occupations would be equal in dignity and social value, and no one’s occupation would be imposed by heredity or decree. Far from being immutable consequences of divine will, Gandhi considered social inequality and hereditary fixity in status or occupation unnecessary and undesirable. Moreover, since every human being possessed to some extent the distinctive attributes of all four castes, Gandhi posited that ‘every individual should display, in varying measure, the qualities associated with all the castes’.Whether for a long or short time, ‘a person will belong to the caste whose virtues he possesses in a predominant measure’.21 During his prison studies of the Bhagavad Gita from 1922 to 1924 as well in his 1926 discussions about how to interpret the ancient Gita in modern times, Gandhi methodically reviewed the political tactics he had used between 1920 and 1922, in


Gandhi, Collected Works, 32: 183, 344-5; Gita, p. 302.


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preparation for launching a second national mass movement which he knew must come soon. Random protests erupted in 1927, in response to the appointment of yet another all-British Commission, the so-called Simon Commission, a signal that the next round of discussion of India’s political future would again reflect old-fashioned British rather than new Indian priorities. Gandhi was ready, the popular mood was increasingly restive. In a coordinated manner orchestrated by Gandhi, masses of Indians on 26 January 1930, formally renounced their allegiance to the British Empire by celebrating ‘Independence Day’. Even today, 26 January is celebrated as the date Indians declared themselves an independent nation, notwithstanding the fact that the British government of India did not formally ‘transfer power’ until 15 August 1947. Next, in his brilliantly imagined and implemented Salt March, Gandhi broke British Indian law by picking up a bit of sea-salt in defiance of the requirement that all salt must be purchased from the government. Great Britain’s Indian Empire exercised monopoly control over and taxed a natural product essential to the diet of every Indian. Gandhi announced his intention well in advance and then

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walked 241 miles to the sea, taking almost a month – from 12 March to 6 April 1930 – allowing public excitement to gather momentum and permitting tens of thousands along the way to walk a few miles with him. Gandhi made sure the entire world would be watching when he finally did pick up salt from the ocean shore, and the expected British crackdown occurred. Along with numerous other nonviolent law-breakers, Gandhi was again arrested and imprisoned, his point made. Far from being benefactors of India, British law-givers were made to look like health-sapping parasites. Yet another British about-face followed. After serving a short prison term for violating the imperial salt monopoly law, Gandhi was released from prison without explanation or apology on 26 January 1931, the first anniversary of India’s declaration of independence. Three weeks later, on 17 February 1931, Gandhi clad in a homespun cotton dhoti walked up the steps of the Viceregal Palace in New Delhi carrying with him a pinch of illegal salt to begin a series of direct conversations with the Viceroy, Lord Irwin. Back in England, Winston Churchill fumed that ‘by the dress he wore – or did not wear, by the way in which his food was brought to him at the


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Viceregal Palace’,Gandhi ‘deliberately insulted, in a manner which he knew everyone in India would appreciate, the majesty of the King’s representative. These are not trifles in the East.Thereby our power to maintain peace and order among the immense masses of India has been sensibly impaired.’22 Discussions between Gandhi and the Viceroy continued for more than twenty hours spread out over several weeks, and led to an invitation for the Mahatma to attend a Round Table Conference in London that Fall. Gandhi seems to have sensed that nothing substantive would emerge from talks in London but went anyway, to demonstrate that he was not the intransigent one. Indeed, just prior to his departure, he was insulted by India’s new Viceroy Lord Willingdon. Summoned to Simla to confer with Willingdon, Gandhi was not offered the courtesy of a car ride to the Viceregal Lodge. Refusing to be carried in a rickshaw drawn by a human ‘beast of burden’, Gandhi walked ‘up and down the hilly roads in a chilling, drenching rain for the six miles to the 22

Ramachandra Guha, ‘Churchill and Gandhi’, The Hindu, 19 June 2005.

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Lodge and the six miles back, wading through deep puddles, plodding along with the help of a staff, soaked to the skin long before he reached the Viceroy’s office. It was nothing, he quipped to … newspapermen trudging alongside, after the two hundred miles or so he had walked to the sea to make salt.’23 Also invited to the London talks were numerous Indians expected to express concerns about a Gandhi-influenced future for India.All Round Table participants were assured that British authorities would have to weigh seriously their responsibilities to every imaginable element of the Indian population before authorizing any change in the status quo. After multiple protracted sessions in which both Indian and British representatives outlined obstacles to British withdrawal, Gandhi shocked his London hosts – and American reporter William Shirer who was present – by remarking, What you English don’t realize is that freedom is our birthright, as it is yours. We are ready to pay any price for it. It is true we do not wish to spill blood in winning 23

William L. Shirer, Gandhi: A Memoir, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979, p. 150.


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it. I believe in non-violence and I insist on practicing it. But I must tell you frankly that if any sacrifice can win our freedom, we will not hesitate to let the Ganges run red with blood to obtain it.24

Gandhi’s presence at the seat of Empire from September to December of 1931 created a sensation. No political agreement resulted but Gandhi did meet Lancashire millworkers devastated by the Great Depression and also had tea with King George V at Buckingham Palace. When asked whether he had been appropriately dressed, Gandhi reportedly quipped,‘The King had on enough for both of us.’25 Gandhi arrived back in Bombay on 28 December 1931. He was arrested on 4 January 1932, and held in preventive detention until released on 8 May 1933, by which time a new British-devised plan for managing India’s political future was ready for presentation to the Indian public. Freed from prison, Gandhi initially focused on re-energizing social reform. More amenable politicians were meanwhile 24

Shirer, p. 190. Joseph Lelyveld, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India, New York: Knopf, 2011, p. 208. See also Judith Brown, Gandhi, Prisoner of Hope, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989. 25

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exploring the possibilities offered by the latest ‘responsible’ British proposal finalized in 1935. Following elections under this reform scheme in 1937, the Congress formed ministerial governments in six provinces, accepting assurances that British provincial governors and the British Viceroy in New Delhi would not interfere unduly. The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 ended further talk of politics-as-usual, however, and Indian attention focused once again on what course of action the Mahatma might now propose.


War in the Mahabharata and World War II

on 1 september 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Two days later, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. At the same time, the BritishViceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, announced on behalf of the British government of India that India also would go to the defence of the Poles because in Poland the principles of international justice and morality were at war with ‘the law of the jungle…. Nowhere do these great principles mean more than in India’.1 For India’s British 1

Marquess of Linlithgow, Speeches and Statements, New Delhi: Bureau of Public Information, Government of India, 1945, pp. 199-200.



Viceroy, declaring that the Indian nation was at war with a distant foe seemed to involve nothing more than a reflexive response to a decision made in London. As Jawaharlal Nehru aptly remarked, ‘one man … a foreigner, plunged four hundred millions of human beings into war without the slightest reference to them.’2 All six provincial Congress ministries resigned to protest the Viceroy’s arbitrary way of making this momentous decision affecting all Indians. These resignations were actually welcomed by top British Indian officials, because they hoped to use the war to halt India’s drift toward democracy. In fact, shortly after the six provincial Congress ministries resigned, British officials began drafting an ambitious ‘Revolutionary Movement Ordinance’ and a ‘Manifesto’ to herald its promulgation. Ludicrously overblown, the manifesto claimed preemptively that the Congress was planning ‘to take concerted action in an endeavour to obstruct the war effort of the country and to overthrow or change the present form of government in India’, and affirmed that ‘India can now best fulfil her destiny and take her 2

Peter Ruhe, Gandhi, New York: Phaidon, 2001, p. 164.


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due place among the nations of the world only after the total extinction of the political party which … has seen fit to betray … law abiding citizens and men of true patriotism and goodwill throughout India’ at a time when ‘the entire energies of the country in war time must be devoted wholeheartedly to the defeat of its enemies, whether outside or within the gates’. Re-energized imperial grandiosity was similarly evident in the Ordinance itself, which prohibited ‘rumour or report which is likely to cause fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public or to defame Government or any servant of the Crown or to further any revolutionary activity or any revolutionary movement’. Moreover, if a movement or group was declared to be revolutionary by the Viceroy, it was to be legally considered such. The Ordinance further authorized the wholesale detention of Congress leaders, the dismissal of government employees considered disloyal, the closing of Congress educational institutions and the seizure of Congress bank accounts and party premises. Collective fines were to be imposed on restive regions, and wealthy supporters of Congress



were to be attacked by what was termed ‘economic warfare’.3 In a letter dated 8 August 1940, outlining the proposed Manifesto and Ordinance to British provincial governors, the Viceroy defended his own unilateral declaration of war on behalf of four hundred million Indians and expressed concern about a retaliatory ‘declaration of war’ on his government by the Indian National Congress.‘I feel very strongly’, the Viceroy confided, ‘that the only possible answer to a “declaration of war” by any section of Congress in present circumstances must be a declared determination to crush the organisation as a whole’. For tactical reasons, Sir Maurice Hallett, Governor of the United Provinces, counselled caution, and suggested that the objectives of the Ordinance and Manifesto might be accomplished with less fanfare under the government’s existing war emergency powers. ‘I do not question the desirability of smashing the Congress’, Hallett assured the Viceroy, but ‘it seems anomalous for us 3

National Archives of India (N.A.I.): Home File No. 3/16/40 Poll. (I).


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to go out and smash the Congress on any other ground than that they are interfering in the war’. This advice was rejected by Lord Linlithgow because World War II might end before the Congress was altogether eradicated, and ‘Gandhi has no doubt not overlooked the fact that the first Non-Cooperation movement’ of 1920-2, in which Gandhi had organized mass boycotts of British goods and services, ‘owed its success largely to war weariness and post-war difficulties’. As a result, Gandhi ‘may hope’ that a comparable lapse by government after World War II ‘may give him the desired opportunity  … [to] blackmail Government into conceding the Congress demand’.4 Seconding Hallett’s concerns, British authorities in London warned the Viceroy about possible bad international publicity resulting from issuance of something called a Revolutionary Movement Ordinance, which could be interpreted as a sign of governmental weakness. This anxiety about negative international repercussions annoyed Linlithgow, who 4

N.A.I.: Home File No. 13/4/40 Poll. (I). Letter dated 10 October 1940.) N.A.I. Home File No. 3/31/40 Poll. (I). ‘Extract from Secret Report from H.E. the Governor of U.P. to H.E. the Viceroy, No. U.P. 92, dated 23 April 1941.’



preferred ‘proclaiming at once the real character of the movement’. But concern that a Revolutionary Movement Ordinance ‘might produce an unfortunate impression in America and also give a handle to the German broadcasts’ ultimately led to a decision to keep the text of the Ordinance as drafted but change its title to ‘Emergency Powers Ordinance’ because ‘It is the short title that will, presumably, be broadcast to the outer world … and the actual clauses of the Ordinance will not be available for study, at any rate for some time, in countries like America or Germany.’5 The outbreak of World War II had catapulted Winston Churchill into power as Great Britain’s prime minister. During the 1930s, Churchill had identified himself with two politically controversial positions, warning against the consequences of appeasement of Hitler on the one hand and of Gandhi on the other. When his warnings regarding Hitler proved correct, he became the consensus choice to lead Great Britain in war against Nazi Germany.With regard to Gandhi, Churchill’s adam5

N.A.I. Home File No. 3/16/40, comment by Linlithgow dated 1 October 1940; N.A.I.: Home File No. 6/8/40 Poll. (I).


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antly hostile views were not even representative of his own Conservative Party, let alone of his Labour Party colleagues in the coalition War Cabinet. As Prime Minister, Churchill none the less made every effort to portray his atavistic views on Indian subjects as national policy. With a grandstanding prime minister in London and an aroused viceroy in New Delhi, administering a knock-out blow to the Congress became official Government of India policy. But the massive crackdown contemplated by the Revolutionary Movement Ordinance was difficult to unleash until the Congress did something somewhat more revolutionary than resign from six provincial ministries. Two decades earlier, a million Indian volunteers had travelled overseas to fight for the British Empire in World War I. That war had offered employment to those willing to serve in the Empire’s armed forces, and had stimulated domestic Indian manufacturing. But immediately after World War I, loyalty to the Empire was badly shaken when India’s services were not rewarded as promised in 1917 while war still raged, and Indian political assertiveness developed rapidly thereafter. Few Indians were disposed to support the British this time around.



Gandhi had twice actively assisted the British Empire in wartime, in 1899-1902 and again in 1914-18. In South Africa during the 1899-1902 Boer War, he had helped organize and manage a non-combatant Ambulance Corps employing ‘nearly eleven hundred Indians’ in support of British troops  – even while stating ‘It must largely be conceded that justice is on the side of the Boers.’ Gandhi rationalized such half-hearted war support as tactically necessary because ‘In every memorial we have presented, we have asserted our rights as … British subjects.’6 For similar reasons, after his return to India in 1915 Gandhi had recruited Indian soldiers to fight for the Empire. In 1917, on the heels of a successful agrarian campaign in his home region, Gujarat, Gandhi returned to the same district to recruit troops to serve overseas in World War I. In doing so, Gandhi later conceded, he was motivated by a sense of his own personal obligation to keep his word to British authorities and not responding to a genuine need. As a result, Gandhi recounted, ‘I used to walk 6

M.K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, pp. 72, 75. The British termed Gandhi’s Indian stretcher bearers ‘body snatchers’ (Lelyveld 44).


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miles in the hot burning sun in order to collect recruits and make an impression on the people about the urgency of it. But I could not.’ An eye witness recalled that in one small village where hardy peasants … had stood up bravely against the threats of forfeiture of their lands … not a soul would stir out, even to pay his respects to the Great Mahatma…. And Mr. Gandhi and Mr. [Vallabhbhai] Patel had the mortifying consolation of sitting on the outskirts of the village for about three days, and living on food which they cooked themselves without evoking the slightest response to their appeal for recruitment.

‘You will see, therefore’, Gandhi confessed, ‘that my influence, great as it may appear to outsiders, is strictly limited. I may have considerable influence to conduct a campaign for the redress of popular grievances because people are ready and need a helper. But I have no influence to direct people’s energy in a channel in which they have no interest.’7 During World War I, Gandhi became a better leader by becoming a better listener. As he commented in


Indulal Yagnik, Gandhi as I Know Him, Bombay: G.G. Bhatt, no date, 9.



January 1921, he had learned that he could not simply ‘foist my fads on India’.8 When World War II began in 1939, neither Gandhi personally nor most Indians could any longer imagine that loyalty to the Empire would lead to freedom for India. Among those reluctant to support the Empire in yet another war, there was, however, little agreement about what to do instead. Some Indians were angered by the viceroy’s highhanded method of declaring India at war. Others warned that India was being asked to fight for an unjust cause. Still others were eager to strike while Great Britain reeled. Jawaharlal Nehru, who would become independent India’s first prime minister, wrote to Gandhi describing this new World War as a ‘purely imperialist venture on both sides’. Congress Socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan, who would later become a Gandhian social reformer, was impressed by Soviet Russia’s 1939 Non-Aggression pact with Nazi Germany and suggested that India resist the war, and ‘utilize it to attain our own 8

D.G. Tendulkar, Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, New Delhi: Government of India, Publications Division, 1962, 6: 60.


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freedom’.9 Subhas Bose, the immediate past president of the Congress for the years 1938 and 1939, journeyed secretly to Germany where he made anti-British broadcasts from Berlin to India, and raised anti-British armies from Indian prisoners of war in Europe, as he would also do later in Southeast Asia fighting alongside Japan. Writing in the Harijan of 8 October 1938, Gandhi had denounced appeasement of Hitler at Munich as ‘a triumph of violence’ in which ‘England and France … quailed before the combined violence of Germany and Italy.’ A month later, in the Harijan of 11 November 1938, Gandhi condemned ‘the German persecution of the Jews’ as having ‘no parallel in history’, and warned that ‘The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews.’ Like Churchill, Gandhi denounced Hitler’s murderous violence toward Jews long before World War II began. But Gandhi’s solution to this unfolding catastrophe was different from Churchill’s. Applying the principles of self-defence that he had elaborated a decade earlier in his discourses on the Bhagavad 9

N.A.I.: Home File No. 43/96/41 Poll. (I).



Gita, Gandhi in November 1938 recommended open, self-assured defiance of the Nazis by German Jews, defiance he believed would energize world opinion in opposition to the Nazis’ ‘wanton persecution of a whole race’. If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German might, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon…. And for doing this I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance, but would have confidence that in the end the rest were bound to follow my example…. The Jews of Germany can offer Satyagraha under infinitely better auspices than the Indians of South Africa. The Jews are a compact, homogeneous community in Germany. They are far more gifted than the Indians of South Africa. And they have organized world opinion behind them. I am convinced that if someone with courage and vision can arise among them to lead them in non-violent action … what has today become a degrading manhunt can be turned into a calm and determined stand offered by unarmed men and women possessing the strength of suffering given to them by Jehovah…. The German Jews will score a lasting victory over the German gentiles in the sense that they will have converted the latter to an appreciation of human dignity.


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Both at the time and in subsequent decades, these 1938 recommendations were scorned by many as unrealistic. But realism was not Gandhi’s goal. Instead of seeking to be pragmatic, Gandhi was here describing the best imaginable response to a maniacal assault, well knowing that other, less optimal solutions might have to be resorted to. Gandhi always had in mind a range of choices, accompanied by a conviction that one should start by outlining the best possible reply to any new challenge before regretfully lowering one’s expectations. Nor was Gandhi wrong in anticipating the feasibility of the kind of resistance he recommended for Germany’s Jews. In 1943, Jews in Poland’s Warsaw Ghetto rose in joint defiance of Nazi aggression, with heroism that has never been forgotten.10 Gandhi’s 1938 advocacy of open, non-violent resistance to Nazi aggression by Germany’s Jews was intended to help avert war. When war did come, Gandhi praised the Allies for opposing German aggression, and emphasized that the use of armed 10

In 1946, Gandhi was asked about his 1938 advice to German Jews and reaffirmed what he had said in 1938. See Louis Fischer, Gandhi and Stalin: Two Signs at the World’s Crossroads, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1947, p. 50.



force in self-defence was far better than cowardly surrender. For this reason, Gandhi applauded Poland’s response to Nazi Germany’s 1939 invasion. Poland’s resistance effort exemplified what had to be done by an individual, group or nation, Gandhi argued, when ‘the weaker party does not make any preparation for offering violence for the simple reason that the intention is absent, but when he is suddenly attacked he uses unconsciously, even without wishing to do so, any weapon that comes his way’.11 Gandhi was not pro-war, and saw no reason to change his opposition to all wars simply because in World War II the Allied side was preferable. ‘My personal position is clear’, he wrote on 1 July 1942. ‘I hate all war…. But I know that all of us have not a living faith in non-violence.’12 Gandhi hated war, he further explained, because any war almost invariably sabotaged the very goals for which the war was ostensibly begun. Far from strengthening the Allies, Gandhi predicted, World War II would probably leave both sides prostrate. ‘The warring 11

M.K. Gandhi, Gandhiji’s Correspondence with the Government, 1942-44, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1957, p. 141. 12 Gandhi to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, 1 July 1942, in Tendulkar, Mahatma, 6: 116.


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nations are destroying themselves with such fury’, he warned,‘that the end will be mutual exhaustion’. Even if victorious, Great Britain was likely to ‘share the same fate that awaited the surviving Pandavas’ after the Mahabharata war. Despite the heroism and self-sacrifice of the victorious Pandavas, Gandhi noted, their leader ‘Arjuna was looted in broad daylight by a petty robber’.13 Like Arjuna in the epic Mahabharata war, Gandhi during World War II was reluctant to oppose warriors whom he knew personally and regarded with affection. But as the leader of an army of non-violent combatants, whose position paralleled Arjuna’s to some extent, Gandhi saw that he must provide guidance in this crisis for those he had inspired and trained – even if the ultimate result was tragic. By the Fall of 1940, a year after the viceroy’s declaration that India was at war with Nazi Germany, the Government’s Revolutionary Movement Ordinance was readied and could be set in motion at the first sign of ‘revolutionary’ activity by the Gandhi-led Congress. Although unaware of the 13

Tendulkar, Mahatma, 6: 128; Harijan, 26 July 1942; Yagnik 52; Young India, January 1921.



precise details of the government’s plan to deploy War Emergency powers to ‘smash’ the Congress, Gandhi understood that an anti-government campaign launched during wartime posed risks far beyond those encountered in earlier campaigns. His 1930 Salt March, for example, had been comprehensively covered by correspondents and photographers from around the world, and Gandhi had personally inaugurated law-breaking by picking up government-taxed natural salt from the ocean shore. In 1940, wartime censorship was rigorous and the government was certain to intervene quickly to halt any large protest. Gandhi therefore chose to direct the initial stages of his mid-World War II campaign from the background, postponing for strategic reasons giving any occasion for his own arrest. Asked in October 1940 why he was holding back and did not set an initial example and ‘offer civil resistance myself ’, Gandhi cited his role as a wartime commander.‘My imprisonment’, he pointed out,‘is likely to cause greater embarrassment to the authorities than anything else the Congress can do. I want also to remain outside to cope with any contingency that may arise. My going to jail may be interpreted as a general invitation to all Congressmen to follow


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suit. They will not easily distinguish between my act and speech.’14 To gauge public sentiment and ascertain how the government might respond if challenged, Gandhi devised a low-key test. On 17 October 1940, he announced that he had asked a soft-spoken pacifist named Vinoba Bhave to give a speech in a village opposing all wars, and noted that Vinoba’s special qualifications for undertaking this assignment included fervent dedication to hand-spinning, about which Bhave had written a textbook. At this time a little-known Gandhian loyalist, in later decades Vinoba would become world-renowned as ‘India’s walking saint’.15 Chosen to protest next was the internationallyknown intellectual and veteran Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru. Before he could even deliver his planned speech eruditely analysing World War II as an ‘imperialist’ war, he was preventively arrested on 30 October 1940, under the government’s 14

N.A.I.: Home File No. 3/18/40 Poll. (I), ‘Cutting from the Hindustan Times’, dated 16 October 1940. 15 See Hallam Tennyson, India’s Walking Saint: The Story of Vinoba Bhave, New York: Doubleday, 1955.



emergency war powers and sentenced to four years in jail. He was however permitted to make a statement in court prior to sentencing. ‘It is not me that you are seeking to judge and condemn,’ he informed his British judge,‘but rather the hundreds of millions of people of India, and that is a large task even for a proud Empire. Perhaps it may be that, though I am standing before you on my trial, it is the British Empire itself that is on its trial before the bar of the world.’16 The third individual protestor was a humble villager chosen at random to represent the millions of poor Indians whose lives had been disrupted by the arrival in India of large numbers of foreign troops. British police reports confirmed that Brahma Dutt Sharma was indeed ‘a very ordinary man, having no means of livelihood or any social position. He recently wrote a love letter to the daughter of one Hukam Chand, druggist of his village, which resulted in a quarrel’. The speech for which he was arrested expressed anger that ‘the police would take 16

Sarvepalli Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography, Volume One, 1889-1947, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976, pp. 269-70. Statement dated 4 November 1940.


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out a cigarette from anybody’s pocket, and would drink tea at other’s expenses’.17 Following these three carefully-spaced acts of individual protest, Gandhi methodically stepped up the pace by urging all Indians to court arrest oneby-one by publicly reciting this formula:‘It is wrong to help the British war effort with men or money. The only worthy effort is to resist all wars with non-violent resistance.’ Those who did as Gandhi requested were arrested and sent to jail for short terms. This non-stop drumbeat of protest continued for a year, during which approximately twenty-three thousand persons were imprisoned. Then these formulaic protests ended. From the government’s baleful perspective, twenty-three thousand separate anti-war gestures spread out over an entire year still could not quite qualify as a ‘revolutionary movement’. Indeed, British officials were so confident that Gandhi’s capacity to inspire anti-government disaffection had been exhausted that in early December of 1941 all non-violent war resisters were released in a general amnesty. The government then published a self17

N.A.I.: Home File No. 3/18/40 Poll. (I).



congratulatory History of the Civil Disobedience Movement 1940-41, which boasted that, to keep himself in the public eye, Gandhi had disregarded his colleagues, chosen an unpopular cause, and advanced it in a dull manner.As a result,‘to all intents and purposes, fizzled out this latest, perhaps last, and professedly most perfect, example of Gandhi’s technique’.18 What the authors of this premature History missed was that a year of small-scale protests had impacted Indian public opinion precisely as Gandhi anticipated. In fact, on 5 December 1941, while British officials were busy describing how this ‘dull’ campaign had ‘petered out’, Gandhi was already writing to Nehru, ‘It is nice to be able to write to you outside jail. But the pleasure is only momentary. For I cannot reconcile myself to these [amnesty] discharges. The discharges are a challenge.’19 The willingness of twenty-three thousand volunteers to invite arrest and go to jail had convinced 18

Government of India, History of the Civil Disobedience Movement, 1940-41, a ‘Strictly Secret’ document printed for limited distribution. 19 Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (N.M.M.L.): Nehru Papers, Gandhi to Nehru, 5 December 1941.


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Gandhi that millions of Indians were now ready to act like free people. The Government meanwhile appeared bent on exploiting World War II, as they had World War I, to prolong British control indefinitely. A year of probing had left Gandhi with ‘grave misgiving that those who are in authority do not want to part with India’. He therefore now ‘saw that some form of conflict was inevitable’.20 In October 1941, letters written by the proviolence socialist Jayaprakash Narayan were seized when he attempted to smuggle them out of his jail cell. These letters to fellow terrorists were then boastfully published by the government as conclusive evidence of ‘revolutionary’ anti-government scheming. In his suddenly celebrated letters, Jayaprakash had dismissed the Gandhi-inspired individual protests as a ‘farce’ and instead urged sabotage financed by ‘the old method’  – robbery. At the same time, Jayaprakash made clear that he would also not follow the lead of India’s Communists, who had stopped denouncing the British as imperialists and began defending World War II as a 20

Gandhi’s explanation to British Quaker Horace Alexander. See Alexander’s Gandhi Through Western Eyes, Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1969, pp. 204-6.



‘People’s War’ when Communist Russia became a British ally after Nazi Germany invaded Russia in June 1941. Jayaprakash termed this reversal by Indian Communists ‘extremely childish’.To assist the British simply because they were allied with Russia ‘would be a mistake’, whereas ‘To continue this attack [on British imperialism] would itself be a service to Soviet Russia.’ Jayaprakash then proposed what he himself labelled a ‘political stunt’. He suggested British officials be told that socialists would assist in raising Indian troops, on the condition that they be ‘sent directly to the Russian front’ and ‘commanded by the Russian forces’. Jayaprakash was defiant but also morose. ‘We must have an illegal organisation and illegal activities’, he exhorted his fellow terrorists. ‘We cannot do anything big. But … we must do something to attract public notice and arouse enthusiasm among the youth. Do think of something.’ Although derisive about Gandhi, Jayaprakash confessed being ‘anxious to know’ Gandhi’s intentions, and concluded by asking his fellow terrorists,‘What are the general political prospects?’21 The government’s official History of the Civil 21

N.A.I.: Home File No. 43/96/41 Poll. (I).


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Disobedience Movement, 1940-41 gloated that these seized letters ‘cut the Mahatma to the quick’. Actually, Gandhi welcomed them as an opportunity to clarify his evolving position.‘Frankly’, he remarked, ‘all nationalist forces … are at war with the Government. And, according to the accepted canon of war, the method adopted by Jayaprakash Narayan is perfectly legitimate … [although] harmful in the extreme, while a non-violent struggle is going on.’22 On 8 December 1941, a day after bombing the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese began bombing British-ruled Singapore. Soon Japanese troops were advancing overland through Frenchruled Indochina and British-ruled Malaya. On 15 February 1942, Singapore fell. British-ruled Burma became the next target. This rapid advance of Japanese-led forces through imperially-governed countries in Southeast Asia seemed likely to proceed into eastern portions of British India. To counter this threat, large numbers of Australian and American troops were assigned to help British forces defend India, while Indian troops recruited into British service were sent abroad to defend other shores. 22

Tendulkar, Mahatma, 6: 12.



Some newly-arrived Allied soldiers displayed ignorance of Indian culture by destroying traditional Indian swastikas, assuming that they were evidence of Nazi sympathies.23 In India, the swastika, an ancient Sanskrit term and symbol connoting good luck which had been ignorantly expropriated by Hitler, had no pro-Nazi implications whatsoever. In February of 1942, Gandhi began articulating a confrontational image of the British Indian government as helpless to forestall such abuse by foreign troops. ‘Drunk with the pride of physical strength’, Gandhi wrote, unruly soldiers ‘loot shops and are not even ashamed to take liberties with women. The administration is powerless in the war time to prevent such happenings.’24 Offered no protection by the British government, Indian women would have to defend themselves. Gandhi urged them to fight back, and be fearless. It is my firm conviction that a fearless woman who knows that her purity is her best shield, can never be dishonored. However beastly the man, he will bow in shame before the flame of her dazzling purity.… But 23

Bayly and Harper, Forgotten Armies, 196. Tendulkar, Mahatma, 6: 62-3.



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such faith or courage can not be acquired in a day. Meantime we must try to explore other means. When a woman is assaulted, she may not stop to think in terms of himsa or ahimsa [violence or non-violence]. Her primary duty is self-protection. She is at liberty to employ every method or means that come to her mind in order to defend her honour. God has given her nails and teeth.

This timeless advice elaborated themes that Gandhi had been developing for decades. In February of 1942, this discussion of how to respond to ‘criminal assaults’ was also a parable with ominous and immediate implications. As for himself, Gandhi continued, If old, decrepit and toothless, as I am, I were to plead non-violence and be a helpless witness of assault on the honour of a sister, my so-called mahatmaship would be ridiculed, dishonoured and lost. If I or those like me were to intervene and lay down our lives, whether violently or non-violently, we would surely save the prey and, at any rate, we would not remain living witnesses to her dishonor.

The obligation to protect a woman assaulted by a soldier extended to any bystander, Gandhi emphasized.



He must not be a passive onlooker. He must protect the woman. He must not run for police help; he must not rest satisfied by pulling the alarm chain in the train. If he is able to practise non-violence, he will die in doing so and save the woman in jeopardy. If he does not believe in non-violence or cannot practise it, he must try to save her by using all the force he may have.

Gandhi’s parable wasn’t finished yet. In an India still ruled by foreigners but wholly transformed by non-violence, he declared, such despicable attacks would not even be attempted. ‘If the courageous spirit pervades the entire atmosphere of our country and it is known that no Indian will stand women being assaulted, I venture to say that no soldier will dare to touch them.’25 Jawaharlal Nehru did not speak in parables. On 31 January 1942, Nehru matter-of-factly interpreted Gandhi’s evolving stance, explaining that Gandhi now ‘thought that some more far-reaching problems had cropped up than the individual Satyagraha’ campaign of individual anti-war testimonials had been designed to address. ‘Take for instance that bombs can fall over the city of Calcutta.’ Gandhi 25

Ibid., 6: 62-4.


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recognized that it would be ‘a useless thing’ to ‘go to Calcutta and ask the residents to offer Satyagraha’ while bombs rained down on them. The focus must henceforth be on training an army of civil defence workers ‘for defending our villages and cities’. Once in place, Nehru added pointedly, ‘This organisation would be capable even of running the government’.26 London’s response to India’s increasing turmoil and vulnerability to attack was to send out Labour politician Sir Stafford Cripps to see if he could entice moderate Congress leaders into supporting the British War effort. Upon his arrival in New Delhi on 22 March 1942, Cripps proposed that Congress representatives be added to the Viceroy’s Executive Council, and that the viceroy ‘treat it more as a Cabinet than as an Executive Council’. In London, Labourites had patriotically joined a War Cabinet of national unity headed by the Conservative Churchill, and Cripps hoped that something similar could be devised in British India for the duration of the war. If differences arose between the viceroy 26

India Office Library (I.O.L.): Linlithgow Papers, vol. 105. Translation dated 17 February 1942, of Nehru’s 31 January speech.



and Congress members of his augmented Executive Council, Cripps posited optimistically, ‘they would always have the power to resign, which would put them in a strong position to press their point of view’.27 Informed of Cripps’ offer, Gandhi simply left town. The equally skeptical viceroy also took no active part in Cripps’ negotiations with Nehru and other pro-Allied leaders, negotiations which dragged on for three weeks before Cripps returned to London empty-handed. By underscoring that even London’s left-wing Labourites weren’t willing to consider fundamental mid-war reforms, Cripps’ attempt at mediation ended up alienating potentially pro-British Congress moderates. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia were fleeing toward India ahead of Japanese-led forces advancing across Southeast Asia. By one estimate, six hundred thousand people, many of them Indian labourers in British service, ‘fled from Burma into India by land and sea’. Authorities in British-ruled Burma separated refugees into those privileged to take the European27

Nicholas Mansergh, ed., The Transfer of Power, 1942-47, London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1970, 2: 329.


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only ‘White Road’ and those forced to take the non-European ‘Black Road’. Along the ‘Black Road’, opportunists with police connivance supplied cartage and food and water for exorbitant charges. Approximately eighty thousand died from cholera, malnutrition and sheer exhaustion.28 Meeting at the end of April 1942, the All-India Congress Committee charged that in the evacuation of British-ruled Malaya and Burma, officials whose duty was to protect the lives and interests of the people in their respective areas … ran away from their post of duty and sought safety for themselves, leaving the vast majority of people wholly unprovided for. Such arrangements for evacuation as were made were meant for the European population.

Press censorship had become worse than useless in guiding public opinion, noted the secret ‘Fortnightly Report from the Government of Bihar for the First Half of May 1942’. The ‘unfavourable impression’ already made by 28

Bayly and Harper, Forgotten Armies, p. 167; Tendulkar, Mahatma, 6: 79; N.M.M.L.: Nehru Papers, File No. B-126, ‘Troubles and Difficulties in the Land Route from Burma to Chittagong via Prome and Akyab’.



the passage of trains through North Bihar containing sick and wounded from the Burma front is now likely to be strengthened by the unexpected return of labour which had only recently been recruited for the military roads in Assam. These labourers are returning in many cases with sores on their feet in a condition which shows that they have not been well cared for in the journey.

As a result,‘defeatism and anti-British feeling encouraged by enemy broadcasts and by objectionable speeches’ could no longer be controlled in Bihar.29 From western India as well, a British official in Malabar reported ‘a noticeable feeling’ among villagers there that ‘the Japanese are not bad people after all’.30 ‘We shall hold vital places,’ General G.N. Molesworth, deputy chief of the British Indian General Staff conceded publicly,‘but we cannot hold every one.’ Pronouncing surrender ‘unworthy of our heritage’, Molesworth declared that ‘if we really feel 29

N.A.I.: Home File No. 18/5/42 Poll. (1), ‘Fortnightly Report from the Government of Bihar for the First Half of May 1942’. 30 N.A.I.: Home File No. 18/4/42 Poll. (1), ‘Fortnightly Report from the Government of Madras for the First Half of April 1942’.


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India is worthy of having, we have got to see that we defend it’. Molesworth believed this meant preparing for the possibility that parts of eastern India might fall to the Japanese. He advocated moving British troops inland and encouraging the ‘masses to give the Japanese a great deal of trouble’. Gandhi’s weekly Harijan on 12 April 1942, reprinted Molesworth’s words.The British themselves believed, Gandhi’s secretary Mahadev Desai pointed out, that British troops could not defend the Indian people. But if, as military theorists acknowledged, superior weapons could never conquer a determined people and morale was always a nation’s greatest military asset, it made sense to suppose that India’s greatest military asset was the fighting spirit built up over twenty years by the Gandhian movement. Gandhi’s determination to free India from exploitation had stimulated efforts demonstrating that Indian villagers could feed and clothe themselves. As British troops fled, villagers could now show that they also had self-defence capabilities.31 In June 1942, Gandhi sent his trusted associate Mirabehn to eastern Orissa. The daughter of a 31

Harijan, 12 April 1942.



British admiral, Mirabehn  – whose English name was Madeleine Slade  – reported that villagers in coastal areas ‘are in despair’ because they had been ordered by government officials ‘to immobilize their boats’, on the theory that the Japanese might make use of them. Moreover, British troops had drained canals to prevent their use by foreign invaders, with the result that ‘The working of the land has been all upset.’ Even from a military viewpoint, crippling Orissa’s agriculture in this way was worse than useless, Mirabehn concluded. ‘When I look at these broad dry canal beds,’ she wrote Gandhi,‘they strike me as more serviceable for bringing up tanks and other heavy equipment than they would be if full of water.’32 Concern that Japanese troops would soon be speeding overland into the interior with the willing support of the local population had led British authorities to adopt a scorched earth policy designed to destroy or remove anything they thought would prove to be of value to an advancing army. In addition to draining canals needed for irrigation and transport, assets targeted by military authorities 32

Ibid., 12 July 1942.


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included ‘all the vehicles, carts and animals on which the people relied’ as well as stores of grain and other foodstuffs. These actions imposed immediate suffering, and a year later led to the deaths from famine of perhaps three million Indians when a cyclone hit the areas from which British soldiers had removed food stocks and the vehicles by which relief might have been distributed.33 On 18 May 1942, Gandhi announced that he ‘used to say that my moral support was entirely with Great Britain. I am very sorry to have to confess that today my mind refuses to give that moral support.’ Indeed, he asserted, by trying to hold onto an aroused India the British had abrogated any right to claim a higher moral standing for their side, and did not ‘deserve to win’. Were the people of India expected to watch passively while ‘two foreign mad bulls’ raged across their land? India would be physically devastated. More important, Indians would feel humiliated, reduced to imbecilic helplessness.34 On 31 May 1942, Gandhi went further, announcing 33

Bayly and Harper, Forgotten Armies, p. 253. Tendulkar, Mahatma, 6: 86; Harijan, 5 July 1942; ‘Two Mad Bulls’ are a questioner’s words. 34



formally what he had long been intimating. ‘I have waited and waited, until the country should develop the non-violent strength necessary to throw off the foreign yoke’, he asserted. ‘But my attitude has now undergone a change…. If I continue to wait, I might have to wait till doomsday…. That is why I have decided that even at certain risks, which are obviously involved, I must ask the people to resist slavery.’35 British imperial rule could now be called slavery. Indians might resist exploiters who were merely parasitic by gradually escalating pressure tactics. Enslavement in contrast demanded resistance by physical force. Setting aside parable, Gandhi declared that recent British conduct toward the Indian people justified resistance by mortally threatened people using any means at hand. Gandhi had not abandoned his Gita-based principles.What had changed was his perception of the challenge that these principles must now confront. On 5 July 1942, Gandhi went further still, terming the entire British Empire ‘perhaps the most organized and successful violence the world has seen’.36 35

Tendulkar, Mahatma, 6: 92. Ibid., 6: 120.



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Attempting to oppose such an entity by disciplined armed force made no sense. Nor could a good outcome be expected if Indians abandoned transformative openness and turned to covert terrorism, characterized by Gandhi as ‘murder and secrecy and the like’.37 But courageous defiance by aroused masses of people might at least have a chance. The entry of the U.S. into World War II in December of 1941 and the consequent arrival in India of large contingents of U.S. troops had led to a rapid growth in American public interest in India’s political turmoil, and the advent of a number of American journalists. Among the most enterprising of these was Louis Fischer. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, Fischer was strongly opposed to Hitler, and determined to confront Gandhi about the need for India to support the Allies. On 3 June 1942, Fischer arrived in the central Indian town of Wardha after ‘twenty-seven hours in the hot, dusty express train from New Delhi’. Next came a ride in a horse-drawn tonga to Gandhi’s austere, unelectrified ashram, where Gandhi greeted him ‘with an English accent, and we shook 37

Ibid., Mahatma, 6: 148-68.



hands’. Fischer was then invited to interview Gandhi as they sat together on ‘a flat, thick board resting on two metal trestles’. For the next week, Fischer ate and talked several times a day with Gandhi, and shared an ashram guest room with Jawaharlal Nehru who was visiting Gandhi to chart out an action plan to overthrow British rule in the midst of World War II. Fischer urged both Gandhi and Nehru to prioritize defeating Germany and Japan and postpone any thought of independence for India until after the war. Fischer’s arguments seem only to have strengthened Nehru’s resolve to join Gandhi in mid-war defiance of British authority. Even after Cripps proved a disappointment, Nehru had remained hopeful that U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt might be prevailed upon to pressure Churchill on India’s behalf. Fischer’s passionate focus on first defeating Hitler discouraged Nehru from thinking that American intervention on behalf of immediate Indian independence might be forthcoming. Fischer repeatedly emphasized to Gandhi and Nehru that winning World War II was likely to determine the fate of freedom everywhere, including


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India. ‘I see complete darkness for the world if the Axis wins’, he told Gandhi. Without an Allied victory, Indian independence was unimaginable because ‘It depends on the kind of peace we make.’ No, Gandhi answered, ‘It depends on what you do during the war…. I am not interested in independence after the war. I want independence now.’ But Gandhi also emphasized to Fischer that mid-war British relinquishment of political control of India will help England win the war…. We cannot support a war which may perpetuate British domination. How can we fight for democracy in Japan, Germany, and Italy when India is not democratic?….The British would not have to do it in two days or in two weeks. But it must be irrevocable and complete political withdrawal…. I want them to go now so I can help China and Russia…. Slaves do not fight for freedom.

Fischer then asked him if the planned new campaign ‘develops a violent phase … would you call it off ? You have done that before.’ ‘In my present mood,’ Gandhi replied, ‘it would be incorrect to say that no circumstances might arise in which I would call off the movement. In the past,



however, I have been too cautious.That was necessary for my own training and for the training of my collaborators. But I would not behave as I have in the past.’38 A week of conversations with Fischer left both Gandhi and Nehru better-informed about American attitudes, and prompted Gandhi to compose a letter for Fischer to carry back with him to President Roosevelt.With Fischer’s anxieties in mind, Gandhi assured President Roosevelt that ‘my present proposal, that the British should unreservedly and … immediately withdraw their rule, is prompted by the friendliest intention’ with respect to the Allied cause. Mentioning that he had ‘profited greatly by the writings of [Henry David] Thoreau and [Ralph Waldo] Emerson’ and had ‘numerous’ American friends, Gandhi stressed that his present political activity was motivated solely by a desire to ‘enable the millions of India to play their part in the present war’ alongside the United States and Great Britain. Yet, he added,


Louis Fischer, A Week with Gandhi, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1943, pp. 3-5, 33-34, 92, 101.


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I venture to think that the Allied declaration that the Allies are fighting to make the world safe for freedom of the individual and for democracy sounds hollow, so long as India and, for that matter, Africa are exploited by Great Britain, and America has the Negro problem in her own home. But in order to avoid all complications, in my proposal I have confined myself to India. If India becomes free the rest must follow…. I have suggested that, if the Allies think it necessary, they may keep their troops, at their own expense, in India, not for keeping internal order but for preventing the Japanese aggression and defending China. So far as India is concerned, she must become free even as America and Great Britain are. The Allied troops will remain in India during the War under treaty with the Free India Government that may be formed by the people of India without any outside interference, direct or indirect.39

In carrying this clarification of Gandhi’s thinking back to President Roosevelt, Louis Fischer could feel that his week spent sparring with Gandhi and Nehru had not been in vain. Instead of persuading Gandhi and Nehru to wait until after the Allies prevailed against Hitler, Fischer had been himself 39

Tendulkar, Mahatma, 6: 116-17. Letter dated 1 July 1942.



persuaded that a free India would help the Allies win, and he did his best through speeches, articles and books to persuade the American public that official British sources were not presenting an accurate picture of India’s developing crisis. Back in the United States, Fischer publicly argued that a free India would strengthen the Allies by rallying Indians behind the war. After presenting Gandhi’s letter to Roosevelt, he also sought to meet personally with the U.S. President but was rebuffed. Fischer then cabled Roosevelt on 7 August 1942, stating, ‘I am convinced that the British authorities will do nothing. I am convinced that the right approach by you might save the situation. A terrible disaster may be impending in India.’40 Gandhi followed up his 1 July 1942 letter to U.S. President Roosevelt with articles published in the weekly Harijan on 5 and 19 July 1942, emphasizing that if the British re-established their moral credibility 40

Gary R. Hess, America Encounters India, 1941-1947, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1971, p. 79. See also Louis Fischer, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi, New York: Harper and Row, 1950; and Auriel Weigold and Ian Copland,‘Louis Fischer and Edgar Snow: Roosevelt’s Emissaries in India, 1942’, South Asia, 35: 3 (2012).


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by relinquishing imperial control, he would not oppose British troops remaining in India to fight the Japanese.‘Whether without India Britain would have any reason to fight is a question I need not consider’, he remarked. ‘If India is the stake and not British honour we should know.’ On the other hand, if British troops wished to remain and help defend an independent India, it would be callous for a newly-independent Indian government to expel them. Military combat was an honourable British tradition, Gandhi acknowledged, and ‘I cannot all of a sudden produce in the minds of Britishers, who have been for centuries trained to rely upon their muscle for their protection, a belief which has not made a very visible impression even on the Indian mind’. Meanwhile, Gandhi on 6 July 1942, had initiated talks with the Congress Working Committee aimed at launching concerted mass action. On 14 July the Working Committee released an agreed statement that called for ‘a widespread struggle … under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi’. The statement affirmed that since September 1939 the Congress had ‘studiedly pursued a policy of non-embarrassment. Even at the risk of making its Satyagraha ineffective,

plate 1: khan abdul ghaffar khan with gandhi

plate 2: dr. king garlanded by sucheta kripalani, 1959

plate 3: gandhi and jinnah, september 1944

plate 4: illegal salt-making, 1930

plate 5: illegal salt-making, 1930

plate 6: women protesting during quit india movement

plate 7: bombay quit india protest, 1942

plate 8: meeting of working committee sevagram, february 1942, gandhi and maulana azad

plate 9: gandhi and kasturba bai arrive in india, 1915

plate 10: gandhi and vinoba bhave, october 1940 sevagram individual satyagraha

plate 11: lord and lady mountbatten



it deliberately gave it a symbolic character’. But the ‘abortive Cripps proposal’ in March 1942 had revealed ‘no change in the British Government’s attitude towards India’ and ‘resulted in a rapid and widespread increase of ill will against Great Britain and a growing satisfaction at the success of Japanese arms’ which could well ‘lead to a passive acceptance’ of Japanese ‘aggression’. This would ‘mean the degradation of the Indian people and the continuation of their subjection’. Being ‘anxious to avoid the experience of Malaya, Singapore and Burma and … to build up resistance to any aggression on, or invasion of, India by the Japanese or any foreign power’, the Congress desired to ‘make India a willing partner in a joint enterprise securing freedom for the nations and peoples of the world’. To achieve this result,‘British rule in India must end immediately’. If the government did not surrender power voluntarily, the Working Committee planned to recommend to the All-India Congress Committee, scheduled to meet in Bombay on 7 August, that it authorize Gandhi to initiate a campaign of mass direct action.41 41

Tendulkar, Mahatma, 6: 120-2.


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In Bombay, the 250-member All-India Congress Committee met in open session during the evening of 7 August 1942, at what was then known as Gowalia Tank Maidan, or Cow-Bathing Tank Park. This park has since been renamed August Kranti Maidan – August Revolution Park – to memorialize the importance in Indian history of what was about to be decided there. Spectators crowded around to observe and listen as Congress representatives gathered from across India debated and approved the Working Committee’s Quit India resolution. This resolution declared the immediate ending of British rule in India … an urgent necessity.… The continuation of that rule is degrading and enfeebling India and making her progressively less capable of defending herself and of contributing to the cause of world freedom…. A free India will … throw … all her great resources … against the aggression of Nazism, fascism and imperialism…. No future promises or guarantees can affect the present situation.… Only the glow of freedom now can release that energy and enthusiasm of millions of people which will immediately transform the nature of the war.

Freedom for India would also make clear that countries in Southeast Asia currently controlled



by the Japanese would not ‘subsequently be placed under the rule or control of any other colonial power’. Mid-War freedom for India would prove that World War II was not being fought to restore European colonial domination. To achieve these goals, the All-India Congress Committee resolved to sanction, for the vindication of India’s inalienable right to freedom and independence, the starting of a mass struggle on non-violent lines on the widest possible scale, so that the country might utilize all non-violent strength it has gathered during the last twenty-two years of peaceful struggle. Such struggle must inevitably be under the leadership of Gandhiji and the committee requests him to take the lead and guide the nation in the steps to be taken.

An interval of several weeks was expected to follow formal authorization of this struggle, during which Gandhi would offer to meet with the viceroy and allow British authorities one last chance to avert a showdown by agreeing to the terms set forth in the Quit India resolution. If these negotiations faltered, Gandhi would announce what form of mass nonviolent protest he hoped India’s millions would next voluntarily commence. On 7 August speaking in support of this proposed


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multi-stage plan leading to a possible national insurrection, Gandhi assured skeptics that ‘There is no real contradiction between the present resolution and my previous writings and utterances’ because ‘the contemplated struggle … has its roots in ahimsa [non-violence].’ Yes, he acknowledged, he had changed his mind about the British government of India. And yes, changing his definition of India’s plight from exploitation to enslavement had led to a change in the tactics he recommended. But these changes were firmly within the parameters of his long-held views about when the use of coercive force was justifiable, indeed non-violent. The time had come, he argued, to fight the British regime with physical force. Yet this anticipated struggle was to be carried forward in the spirit of the Bhagavad Gita, which taught that one should avoid contempt for one’s foes. Gandhi cautioned that he had noticed that there is hatred towards the British among the people. The people say that they are disgusted with their behavior.The people make no distinction between British imperialism and the British people. To them, the two are one.This hatred would even make them welcome



the Japanese. This is most dangerous. It means that we will exchange one slavery for another. We must get rid of this feeling. Our quarrel is not with the British people, we fight their imperialism.The proposal for the withdrawal of British power did not come out of anger. It came to enable India to play its due part at the present critical juncture…. We cannot evoke the true spirit of sacrifice and valor, so long as we do not feel that it is our war, so long as we are not free…. We must, therefore, purge ourselves of hatred…. At a time when I may have to launch the biggest struggle of my life, I may not harbour hatred against anybody.

Following final passage on 8 August 1942, of what came to be known as the Quit India resolution, Gandhi spoke again, this time addressing India and the world as the freely elected commander in a war to achieve India’s immediate independence. He thanked those assembled for listening to his exhortations with ‘patience and attention’ like ‘true soldiers’ and described the coming campaign as a culmination. ‘For the last twenty-two years’, he asserted, ‘I have controlled my speech and pen and have stored up my energy’ while preparing volunteer recruits for a climactic showdown. Now that final


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campaign was to be launched, but not at a moment chosen because optimal discipline had been achieved. War, and the enslavement that war brought, had rendered moot efforts to perfect further every Indian’s mastery of non-violent struggle. World War II had transformed parasites into enslavers, and enslavement was by definition attempted murder. Brutalizing debasement demanded defiance, by physical force if necessary. Violent or not, defiance was liberating. ‘The bond of the slave is snapped’, Gandhi proclaimed, ‘the moment he considers himself to be a free being’ and strikes back with any means at hand. ‘If a man holds me by the neck and wants to drown me, may I not struggle to free myself directly?’ India’s enslavement justified rebellion in pursuit of India’s freedom. But, as Gandhi’s speech of 8 August and the text of the Quit India resolution both made clear, all enslaved peoples would notice when Indians struck a blow for their own freedom. Even the enslavers would benefit. ‘I do not regard England or for that matter America, as free countries’, Gandhi declared. ‘They are free after their own fashion, free to hold in bondage the coloured races



of the earth. Are England and America fighting for the liberty of these races today?’ The Allies fighting in World War II needed to make clear that they were fighting for the freedom of conquered peoples and not to reclaim lost imperial realms. Because of the manner in which World War II was currently being fought, ‘Fraud and untruth today are stalking the world.’ Leading volunteers into non-violent battle was for Gandhi a way to evoke and implement Gita ethics in the midst of a dehumanizing war rather than simply stand on the sidelines until efforts by others ended the fighting. ‘I have traveled all over India as perhaps nobody in the present age has’, Gandhi recalled resignedly. The voiceless millions of the land saw in me their friend and representative, and I identified myself with them to an extent it was possible for a human being to do. I saw trust in their eyes, which I now want to turn to good account in fighting this empire upheld on untruth and violence. However gigantic the preparations that the empire has made, we must get out of its clutches. How can I remain silent at this supreme hour?…. If today I sit quiet and inactive, God will take me to task for not using up the treasure He had given me, in the


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midst of the conflagration that is enveloping the whole world.

What was about to be launched, he emphasized, would be ‘an open rebellion. In this struggle, secrecy is a sin’. In sending into battle the recruits he had so laboriously trained, Gandhi noted both similarities and differences in his position compared to that of Arjuna in the Mahabharata war. Unlike Arjuna, Gandhi did not himself take the field as general of a massed, heavily armed force. But there were lessons to be learned from Arjuna’s conduct in battle. I have been called their leader or, in the military language, their commander. But I don’t look at my position in that light. I have no weapon but love to wield my authority over anyone…. I appear before you not as your commander, but as a humble servant. And he who serves best is the chief among equals.

How could those choosing defiance best demonstrate they were free? ‘Here is a mantra, a short one’, Gandhi concluded. Do or Die.We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery….



Let every man and woman live every moment of his or her life hereafter in the consciousness that he or she eats or lives for achieving freedom and will die, if need be, to attain that goal.42


Rajmohan Gandhi has suggested that Gandhi ‘took his mantra from Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade (“Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die”)’. But Gandhi’s meaning and intent here were quite different from Tennyson’s lament about the fate of hapless soldiers given a senseless order. Gandhi’s ‘army’ were all to make their own decisions. Nor is a mantra an order. See Rajmohan Gandhi, Gandhi, pp. 467-8.


Freedom Now

the quit india resolution approved by the All-India Congress Committee on the evening of 8 August 1942, authorized Gandhi to begin a militant campaign for the British to hand over complete power to an independent Indian government including all political parties. Gandhi was to determine how this campaign was to proceed. He announced that he would first write to the viceroy, offer to meet with him personally and wait two or three weeks for him to reply. Only if this reply was adamant defiance would Gandhi call for some form of directly obstructive action. But Gandhi and scores of other Congress leaders were arrested before Gandhi’s letter to the viceroy explaining what the Quit India resolution authorized him to do could be written.



In the early hours of 9 August shortly after Gandhi had concluded his speech accepting leadership of a projected mass uprising and calling on all Indians to ‘Do or Die’, British Indian police began arriving. When relatives of those being arrested attempted to spread the alarm, they discovered that their phone lines had been severed. Leaders not in Bombay were arrested by local authorities responding to telegrams using the codewords ‘Adolf ’ and ‘Benito’ to differentiate more and less important ‘A’ and ‘B’ lists of activists. According to British officials, ‘The total number of arrests probably did not exceed a few hundreds’, but in the United Provinces alone the number of persons placed in preventive detention on 9 August was 547.1 At the Birla family residence where Gandhi and a number of others were staying, Gandhi had risen at 4 a.m. and just completed his morning prayers when Bombay’s Police Commissioner arrived at the 1

I.O.L.: ‘Report on the Civil Disturbances in Bihar, 1942’, Political and Secret Department, F. 204; Congress Responsibility for the Disturbances, 1942-43, New Delhi: Government of India Press, 1943, 21; NAI: Home File No. 18/8/42 Poll. (1), ‘Fortnightly Report from the Government of U.P. for the Second Half of August 1942’.


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door with warrants for the arrest of Gandhi, his secretary Mahadev Desai and Madeleine Slade, the British admiral’s daughter known as Mirabehn. Gandhi’s wife Kasturba Bai was permitted to accompany them to jail if she desired to do so. She asked Gandhi what he wanted her to do, and he replied,‘Since you ask, I’d like you to get arrested separately by speaking in my place at the rally scheduled for this evening. But if you want to come with me I won’t object. If they arrest you separately, they may keep you apart from me. You must consider all this and decide.’ She replied, ‘As for me, I would like to be with you in this hour. But even more, I want to fulfill your wishes. So I will stay.’2 A half hour was allowed for preparations, during which time a hymn, Vaishnav Jan, was sung by the group and verses from the Koran were recited by a Muslim friend. Gandhi gathered up and took with him his Bhagavad Gita, his Koran and his folding spinning wheel. As he left he was garlanded and the auspicious kumkum mark was put on his forehead by Mrs. R.D. Birla, the hostess. Messrs. R.D. Birla, G.D. Birla and other members of the family 2

Rajmohan Gandhi, Gandhi, p. 470.



then bade farewell and he left with his usual smile accompanied by Mirabehn and the Police Commissioner in the first car, while Mr. Mahadev Desai followed him in the second car in charge of a Superintendent of Police.3

When the special train carrying the government’s prize prisoners departed from Bombay’s Victoria Terminus at 7:18 a.m. on the morning of 9 August, forty-three Congress leaders including Gandhi were on board, having been assembled from different parts of the city. Gandhi was in a subdued mood but many others were not.‘An atmosphere suggestive of forced gaiety prevailed before the train’s departure’, reported F.E. Sharp, the British Deputy Inspector-General of Police who was in charge of arresting and transporting the Congress leaders gathered in Bombay to their new prison homes. Gandhi, Mahadev Desai and Mirabehn were taken from the train at Chinchwad and detained in a residential compound sequestered by the government from the Aga Khan. Other detainees were destined for Ahmednagar Fort. Their train was supposed to race through Poona (now Pune) station without 3

Darbara Singh, Indian Struggle 1942, Lahore: Hero Publications, 1946, p. 154.


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stopping but was halted by a shunting operation. When interrogated later, Poona’s Station Master claimed ‘to be ignorant until a late hour of the fact that any special train was running’. As the Congress leaders’ train slowed down, many waiting at the station ‘recognized [Jawaharlal] Nehru and S.D. Deo’. Deputy Inspector-General Sharp saw an excited crowd run up the platform.… Hardly had I alighted on the platform when to my surprise I saw Nehru with remarkable agility climbing through the corridor window onto the platform. He was about ten yards from me and rushed straight towards the crowd. I got in his way and asked him to stop, but he made no attempt to do so and hence I was constrained to stop him with outstretched arms. He struggled violently with me screaming at the top of his voice…. I said … my orders were that he should not communicate with the public and he must please resume his seat in the train…. He shouted to me … ‘I don’t care for your bloody orders.’ He is a big man and was having a fair share of the struggle with me. At this moment a Sub-Inspector caught him round the waist and with help of two other constables … he was then overpowered…. As proof of the violence of this short struggle the Superintendent Railway Police was kicked on the leg by S.D. Deo and also sustained a small scratch on his



wrist and I myself am feeling the effects of a sprained finger.4

Thus the first of hundreds of thousands of popular protests ended with the first recorded act of selfdefence violence – by Jawaharlal Nehru. By mid-morning of 9 August crowds were gathering at Gowalia Tank Maidan, where the Quit India resolution had been proclaimed the night before, to find out what was going on. As planned, student volunteers had ‘assembled on that Maidan … in their attractive orange robes’ but no wellknown Congress leader appeared to address them. Then ‘a European Sergeant’ announced that ‘the Maidan was under military possession and that it should be cleared of the volunteers and others at once or else tear gas would be used against them’. Undeterred, Aruna Asaf Ali, wife of the arrested leader Asaf Ali, President of the Delhi Congress Committee, began to speak, announcing that Gowalia Tank Maidan was now free territory. To prove this, she was going to raise high the tricolour


N.A.I.: Home File No. 3121142 Poll. (I).


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national flag. Then a police van arrived, and the police began putting on gas masks. The police gave one more order to clear but nobody budged even an inch. Aruna had finished her speech by then, and the National Flag had gone up on the pole and began to flutter high in the air.The Policemen then threw the gas containers on the assembly of volunteers on the Maidan…. But the captain of the volunteer corps gave order, ‘All lie down.’ All the volunteers and others lay close to the ground…. In two minutes the whole assembly was up on its feet again.

The police then ‘gave up the tear gas’, picked up their weighted bamboo lathis and assailed the crowd until they dispersed.5 In the confusion, Aruna Asaf Ali escaped, and would soon gain renown as an underground resistance leader. The arrests of Gandhi and other prominent Congress leaders had been anticipated, presumably after negotiations with the viceroy broke down and a national general strike began. Some details of the government’s contingency arrest plan had in fact been leaked. This plan had been finalized 5

Bejan Mitra and Phani Chakraborty, eds., Rebel India, Calcutta: Orient Book Company, 1946, pp. 130-1.



at a meeting in New Delhi on 2 August 1942. Government officials then sealed a letter of instructions, which was entrusted to an Indian clerk. Several hours later, this clerk was conferring with the Secretary of the Delhi Congress Committee. Asaf Ali, President of the Delhi Congress Committee, was informed of the letter’s contents that evening, and Asaf Ali personally carried this information to other members of the All-India Congress Committee meeting in Bombay. Some Congress members suspected that the leaked plan might be a ruse to force precipitate action. Therefore no move was made that might betray advance knowledge. But back in Delhi, the local Congress Committee did print and stockpile for use at some future time posters announcing Gandhi’s arrest and calling for a general strike.These posters were being distributed around Delhi within thirty minutes of announcement of the arrests on 9 August, a feat that led baffled Delhi magistrates to conclude that the Congress must possess an immensely efficient modern printing press.6 6

Interview, Jugal Kishore, 20 March 1970; Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, India Wins Freedom, Bombay: Orient Longman, 1959, p. 83.


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On 12 August the government’s secret Revolutionary Movement Ordinance, renamed the Emergency Powers Ordinance was signed by the viceroy and set up in type to be issued in the Gazette of India Extraordinary. At the last minute, publication was cancelled. Sections of the Ordinance were then issued as amendments to existing regulations, and a memo was sent out proclaiming that permanent eradication of the Congress was still official policy. ‘Economic warfare’ was launched, collective fines were imposed, assets were seized and ashrams burnt. But no Manifesto was promulgated explicitly declaring the British Indian government’s intention to ‘crush’ the Congress and take back control of India’s destiny. Congress President Maulana Azad had scheduled a meeting for the morning of 9 August at industrialist G.D. Birla’s house, where Gandhi had been staying,  to discuss implementation of the Quit India resolution approved the previous evening.With Azad, Gandhi and other top Congress leaders arrested, only lower-level staff persons and spouses assembled. Sadiq Ali, office secretary from the All-India Congress Committee headquarters in Allahabad, Gandhi’s



secretary Pyarelal and others quickly shifted the meeting to a residence considered a less likely police target. When the meeting finally began, Sucheta Kripalani, wife of the arrested Congress General Secretary Acharya Kripalani, informed those present that she was not aware of any definite action plan for the next phase. After much discussion, a twelvepoint declaration was agreed on, largely based on earlier Congress campaigns, calling for a nationwide strike followed by a non-violent uprising to topple the government within two months. Officials and soldiers were requested to resign rather than oppose the people’s will, and students over sixteen were urged to leave school to participate in this climactic struggle.Thirty people went to work making typed and handwritten copies of this twelve-point programme for circulation to unarrested All-India Congress Committee members to carry back to their respective provinces. Distribution of this defiant statement showed that the will to resist among those not on the government’s ‘Adolf ’ or ‘Benito’ lists was unshaken. The insurrection was to go on in the manner Gandhi had contemplated for the period following his arrest, with every person acting on his


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or her own initiative ‘within the four corners’ of the Quit India resolution adopted on 8 August. Among the first to act on her own was Gandhi’s wife Kasturba Bai. As Gandhi had hoped, she did attempt to address a rally in Bombay that evening, and was arrested, at which time she was brought to share captivity with her husband. In the days following the arrests of leaders on 9 August, the need for individual activists to think for themselves was soon apparent. Police had sealed bank accounts and seized Congress offices and files in many places throughout the country. Any form of open campaign seemed forestalled. But mass protests defying harsh police and army retaliation made clear that the struggle for Indian independence had entered a new phase. Protestors began efforts to capture or destroy every facility the British thought valuable enough to defend. An unprecedented assault had begun on the symbols and sinews of British authority and control. Rails and roads, telegraph and telephone communications and government buildings were demolished. According to one later tally, the overall result was ‘1,318 government buildings and 208 police stations … destroyed … over 3,400 cases of damage to electrical installations



… 332 [railway] stations wrecked, 268 items of rolling stock damaged and lines torn up.’7 Nothing was known for several weeks about the fate of arrested leaders. News of the sudden death in custody of Gandhi’s top assistant Mahadev Desai on 15 August aroused intense suspicion. Desai was a vigorous fifty-year-old, and many assumed he had not died a natural death. The actual cause, however, was a massive heart attack. K.G. Mashruwala, who succeeded Mahadev Desai as editor of the Harijan newspaper for the two issues that could be brought out before police destroyed its files and equipment, felt pressure to publish a formal statement endorsing an uprising that seemed sure to result in widespread destruction. Mashruwala’s views were circulated in the final issue of the Harijan, dated 23 August. Of the chaotic protests underway throughout the country, he wrote that ‘Much though


Mansergh, 2: 557-8; Interviews, Sadiq Ali, 16 March 1970, Jugal Kishore, 20 March 1970, Sucheta Kripalani, 21 January 1970. Text of twelve-point programme in August 9th, 25th Anniversary, New Delhi: All-India Congress Committee, 1967. Lawrence James, Raj:The Making and Unmaking of British India, New York: St. Martins Press, 1998, pp. 564-83.


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I dislike the acts, I regret I am unable to condemn my people.’ For the future, he counselled, Dislocation of traffic communications is permissible in a non-violent manner  – without endangering life…. Cutting wires, removing rails, destroying small bridges, cannot be objected to in a struggle like this provided ample precautions are taken to safeguard life….The non-violent revolutionaries have to regard the British power in the same way as they … would the Axis Power and carry out the same measures.

Some anonymous broadsides sketched outlines of a genuinely Gandhian insurrection. One set of instructions read: Declare … your village a free village….Wherever you are well-organised, take peaceful possession of … Government buildings in your area.Those who resist … should be confined in suitable places. They shall be our prisoners and should be properly housed and properly fed…. Disorganise the communication whose sole use today is to suppress us. Take care that you … injure no life.

A Gandhi-influenced pamphlet similarly urged snapping of the artificial link of slavery between the



villages and the cities. Let not this deliberate atomisation be confused with the gradual falling asunder of a country through decay….The strength that can consciously break up a vast country into its numberless villages can also put them together into a new symphony of health and beauty.8

Tenant farmers were advised by one leaflet to Pay the landlord who is with you just enough rent to maintain himself and his family. Pay nothing to the landlord who is an ally of the Government…. Do not keep paper money with you. It is a fraud. Soon it will lose all value and buy nothing. Convert paper money into goods while there is yet time.

Another leaflet elaborated: The credit of British Government has almost disappeared in India, as gold and silver have been taken to England and there is shortage of copper coins as well. Paper currency is in full swing.The villagers should be advised verbally and through leaflets not to send their grain to the market, as grain is being sent out of India for military purposes, and also is stored in cantonments for emergency 8

N.M.M.: All-India Congress Committee Papers,‘A.I.C.C. Appeal to Students No. 3’, File No. G-26, 1942.


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purposes…. Carts carrying grain to the market should be stopped, if they do not listen to the advice given.

A sly appeal addressed to businessmen urged them to ‘Think of the unsoundness of Indian currency’ and ‘talk about it among friends’.9 While the goals of activists responding to the Quit India resolution were broadly similar everywhere, motivations, tempo and tactics varied widely. Bihar in eastern India, already inflamed by British failure to assist those fleeing the Japanese threat, witnessed mass turmoil in both cities and rural areas. In a few places, saboteurs were sent to clip telegraph lines with wire-cutters and protective gloves. Often, however, aroused villagers simply tossed ropes over the wires and pulled them down, poles and all,


N.A.I.: Home File No. 3/19/43 Poll. (1), ‘All-India Congress Committee Instruction No. 7,To Peasants, Multiplied by the Council of Action. Bengal P.C.C., 13/9/42’.; Home File No. 3/19143 Poll. (1), All-India Congress Committee, ‘Instruction No. 12, To the Peasants of India’; NAI.: Home File No. 3/19/43 Poll. (1), ‘Circular issued by the Organiser, War Council, U.P. Congress’; N.M.M.: All-India Congress Committee Papers, File No. G-26, 1942, ‘Appeal No. 4, To the Businessmen’.



sometimes with the assistance of elephants.10 ‘All classes of people took part…: intellectuals, students, factory workers, miners, peasants, C class apprentices, and sweepers.’ Even policemen defected and joined the uprising, and in some areas Gram Raj – Village Self-governance – held sway for several weeks.11 On 10 August demonstrations and a general strike immobilized the province. On 11 August, crowds raided the Secretariat and Assembly buildings in the provincial capital Patna, and everywhere sabotage of communications was in full swing. Beginning on 12 August, British ‘patrol trains with troops moved both East and West’ from Patna ‘removing road blocks, breaking up opposition and extricating Europeans’. On the 13th, however, two Royal Air Force officers were dragged from one of these trains and killed. On the 14th, the first of several attacks by British military aircraft armed with machine guns was made on crowds dismantling railroad tracks and bridges. On the 15th,‘forty wagons of British troops rations’ were burnt. On the 18th, a British military 10

N.A.I.: Home File Nos. 18/8142 Poll. (I)-18110142 Poll. (I),‘Fortnightly Reports from the Government of U.P.’,AugustOctober 1942. 11 Bhuyan, p. 70; Mitra and Chakraborty, p. 167.


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aircraft crashed. The pilot was killed in the crash; the rest of the crew, reported Bihar’s Governor, were ‘killed by mob’. On the 19th, it was ‘Reliably reported that saboteurs in certain areas have taken trains and driven them.’ On the 21st, the Tata Iron and Steel Works at Jamshedpur in south-eastern Bihar were shut down. The day before, workers planning to strike suggested to management that ‘furnaces be shut down to avoid damage’.The new 27,500 kilowatt power plant was safely ‘shut down and locked with the help of those who went on strike’. Additionally,‘The Transportation Staff had line-cleared miles of railway sidings in the works, before they put down their tools.’ In this manner 30,000 workers ‘absented themselves’ in a manner ‘so very peaceful and so spontaneous that it evoked praise from the American and other foreign troops who could not think of such things in their own lands’. Meanwhile, members of the Jamshedpur police force began actively assisting the striking workers and helping insure good order. Appeals from managers stressing the importance of iron and steel production for the War effort were unavailing. Finally,‘several companies of Tommies and Gurkhas were sent to Jamshedpur’, thirty-three insurgent



police officers were arrested, and by 3 September iron and steel production slowly resumed.12 Elsewhere in Bihar, on 4 September six hundred prisoners in the Bhagalpur Central Jail mutinied and ‘murdered and burnt’ the Deputy Superintendent and several other jail employees. On 7 September at Champaran, ‘Troops seized stores of spears, bows, arrows, pepper, syringes and nitric acid.’ On the 11th at Mushabanai, 5,000 copper miners struck. On the 15th at Losarhi, British troops ‘opened fire at two mobs, which successively attacked them with spears and other weapons’.These ‘spears and other weapons’ were ‘manufactured by village blacksmiths from fish-plates and other pieces of metal taken from Railway lines’. By October, Bihar’s jails were crammed with 27,000 prisoners, double their rated capacity. But when the violent saboteur Jayaprakash Narayan escaped from Hazaribagh Central Jail on 9 November along with other political prisoners ‘of an extremely dangerous type’, officials knew violent attacks would continue.13 12

Mitra and Chakraborty, pp. 145-9.‘Tommies’ were British soldiers. Gurkhas were troops from Nepal in British service. 13 Mansergh 2: 787-8, 777, 789, 795; NAI: Home File Nos. 1818142 Poll. (1)-18111142 Poll. (I), ‘Fortnightly Reports


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Disturbances throughout Bihar were especially intense but the neighbouring eastern half of the United Provinces was almost as severely impacted. In this region, anti-government defiance first took hold among urban students who then carried the message of revolt to the countryside. In Allahabad on 12 August, students ‘had to be fired on’ even though ‘girl students were placed in the forefront of the procession’. Students then began dispersing as their hostels were closed by police. ‘On August 14th, a passenger train flying a Congress flag arrived full of students’ in Ballia on the United Provinces/ Bihar border, and shortly thereafter this region was out of control. After several days of demonstrations, the District Magistrate of Ballia decided on 19 August to surrender power to the protest’s leaders as the best way to restore order. Released from jail, they were ‘accorded a grand reception’ and at a ‘public meeting at the Town Hall the Independence of Ballia was declared’. Order was restored and shops from the Government of Bihar’, August-November 1942; Home File No. 3130142 Poll. (I), ‘Provincial Summary of Events Connected with the Disturbances for the period of 9th August-14th September 1942, in Bihar’.



reopened. After four days as an independent people’s republic, Ballia was recaptured by the British army and a large collective fine was imposed on the district but this taste of freedom would not be forgotten.14 In metropolitan Allahabad, the British military never entirely lost control. Here, persons wearing Gandhi caps were ‘stopped by soldiers and ordered to throw their caps to the ground’. One man who refused was shot and killed. Hearing of this, eighteenyear-old Dasrath Lal Jaiswal ‘put on a Gandhi cap and deliberately went up to the crossing of Lawther and Muthigunj roads where a military guard was posted’. The soldiers ‘ordered him to take his cap off, urinate on it and throw it in the gutter.The boy refused. One of the soldiers hit him so that he fell staggering…. Pressing the wound with one hand and keeping the cap on his head with the other, the boy fled to save his life.’15 In the even larger city of Calcutta (now Kolkata) in Bengal, Tram cars could not come out in the streets; the few which appeared under police escort were set fire to or 14

Mitra and Chakraborty, pp. 77-81. Ibid., p. 73. Cf 83.



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at least paralysed by the simple device of the cutting of the trolley rope…. [M]ilitary lorries … were attacked with stones and brickbats, even the gas lamp-posts and street letter boxes were uprooted and laid on the ground.

Middle-class Indians wearing European hats and ties rather than Gandhi caps and homespun dhotis were ‘attacked by an unarmed people with no better weapon than the empty hand and a breast full of determination’.16 South of Kolkata in rural Orissa, villagers rallied to block the arrest of a a respected local Congress leader Sri Muralidhar Panda. One unarmed protestor, Kali Mahallick, was shot three times in the chest. As he died, he whispered,‘Brothers, don’t you worry for me. I will soon take my rebirth in a Free India.’17 To the north-east, in Assam’s remote hills, the revolt was slower getting underway. But as word of events elsewhere in India reached Assam, ‘a SubDeputy Collector … was obstructed by some boys lying down in front of his elephant’.18 Then on 20 September 1942, a deadly confrontation took 16

Ibid., p. 44. Ibid., p. 64. 18 Mansergh, 3: 189. 17



place in Gohpur, a town on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra River. Five thousand civilians marched toward the town police station led by seventeen-year-old Kanaklata Barua. Holding aloft the nationalist flag, she demanded that unless the police ‘wanted to act as the servants of the people, they must clear out and allow the people to take possession of the place’. Gohpur’s police chief refused and warned her that if she and her followers advanced, his men would fire. ‘She came forward only a step when a constable fired directly at her chest and killed her.’ Then her ‘tri-colour flag was taken’ from her ‘collapsing palms … by her comrade Mukunda Kaoti and he too was pulled down by another bullet.’ The crowd advanced anyway and finally unfurled the national flag atop the seized police station but at least nine demonstrators were killed and scores wounded. India’s independent Government has erected several life-size statues depicting Kanaklata Barua as she strode forward to her death brandishing the national flag.19 In western India, urban dislocation in Bombay (Mumbai) and Ahmedabad was immediate, severe 19

Mitra and Chakraborty, p. 4.


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and prolonged. In and around Bombay, the number of bomb explosions far exceeded the number in the rest of India combined. Damage in many categories was greater in Bihar, but such damage was mostly done by unarmed crowds demolishing buildings with the simplest of tools. In Bombay, sabotage was conducted with stealth, and police retaliation was foreseen and forestalled. In Ahmedabad, the Congress was strong among both mill owners and workers. Pro-Independence owners took the initiative in closing mills, which remained shut for several months, prompting thousands of workers to leave the city.20 Events proceeded differently in the princely state of Kota in Rajasthan. Here beginning on 9 August, Processions of about a mile long and mammoth meetings were organised in spite of the ban on them. The tempo mounted daily. On the 13th August police ‘invited’ some prominent leaders for ‘friendly discussion’ … and arrested them. The wife of one of the arrested leaders was badly manhandled and the crowd which gathered outside … 20

N.A.I.: Home File No. 3/11543 Poll. (1), ‘Calendar of Events Connected with the Civil Disobedience Movement, 1943’.



was lathi-charged. Several were injured.The next day the police opened fire. This infuriated the masses who captured the city walls. The massive gates were closed, blocking entrances to the city; guns traditionally kept on the corners of the city walls were also captured. Seeing this, all the police garrisons … decided to surrender.

British-led troops quickly summoned to Kota found the city gates closed, the national tricolour flag aflutter proudly and ancient cannons trained on them from above. Entering the city ‘through the river by boat’, the soldiers confronted ‘peaceful crowds crying “Gandhiji ki Jai” [Victory to Gandhi] and “Hindustan Azad hai” [India is Free]. The Military was ordered to open fire but … refused to do so’. Kota’s pro-British princely ruler, the Maharao Raja Sri Sir Bhim Singhji, then ‘sent his personal emissary to negotiate with the people. As a gesture of goodwill on the demand of the people, military forces were immediately removed and they marched, after saluting the tri-colour flag flying over the erstwhile police station.“People’s Raj” was there…. Volunteer corps patrolled the city day and night.’ Kota’s ‘People’s Raj’ did not last long. After only three days of popular control, the princely rule of


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Raja Sri Sir Bhim Singhji was reinstated by a nowinvincible British military force.21 Across India, the mass protests that began on 9 August 1942, were spontaneous and varied. The movement’s next, underground phase relied heavily on previously law-abiding members of the middle class who had been radicalized by the government’s crackdown. Radhe Shyam Sharma for example had been Professor of Chemistry and Warden of the Birla Student Hostel at Benares Hindu University. On 9 August Professor Sharma and his colleague Dr. Kaushalya Nand Gairola raised the cry of revolt on campus. The university’s gates were barricaded from within, Benares Hindu University was declared free Indian soil, and the undergraduate military training corps became the army of Free India.22 Ten days later, at 5 a.m. on 19 August, the university was finally liberated by British and Australian troops. Sharma and Gairola had been warned of this plan of attack by sympathetic Indian police officers and escaped, after urging students to travel home and continue the struggle from there. 21

Mitra and Chakraborty, pp. 120-1. My interview with Surya Narayan Rao, 10 December 1969. Rao was hit by three bullets at this time. 22



By this time, Sharma and Gairola had Rs. 5,000 bounties on their heads. Gairola held a degree from Vienna and was alleged on this basis to have Nazi sympathies. Although Sharma had no previous record of suspect associations, British police files quickly began recording the exploits of ‘the notorious ex-professor … and his gang of United Provinces terrorists.’23 Benares Hindu University’s student activists and their faculty leaders eluded arrest with the assistance of virtually all the city’s ordinarily law-abiding inhabitants. Activists sought by the police hid in the backs of houses in the small lanes of the old city (now known as Varanasi) and then set out on foot for home. Professor Sharma walked 70 miles to Allahabad, disguised as an ascetic with shaven head and saffron robes. From Allahabad, he reached his native Gwalior and then went to Delhi where he contacted other underground saboteurs. He avoided arrest for months by shifting his residence daily, and changing his disguise from that of a Hindu sadhu to that of a Muslim maulana with beard and cap. 23

N.A.I.: Home File No. 3/6/43 Poll. (1); File No. 3/66/43 Poll. (1).


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In becoming a specialist in the manufacture of explosives, Professor Sharma made effective use of both his contacts in Gwalior and his knowledge of chemistry. Long pampered by India’s nobilityrevering British rulers, princely states such as Gwalior had once been thought exempt from political radicalism. Now princely states were aggravating instability elsewhere. Exempt from the longstanding restrictions on firearms imposed in British India, princely states offered militants a ready source of weapons and bomb-making materials. Sharma’s chief source of dynamite was a Gwalior forest contractor who used it for earth-moving work. Casings were supplied by a Gwalior ironmonger. Sharma tested his first bombs in a second princely state, amidst Jaipur’s arid hills. Sympathetic Indian army officers helped Sharma shuttle his bombs around; army officers travelling with bulky suitcases were not viewed with suspicion. Sharma was finally arrested on 31 December 1942, while approaching one of his ammunition storage sites. A number of confiscated bombs were then thrown into the Jumna River, where they exploded.These explosions so astonished the police that munitions experts were sent to interview



Sharma in detention to find out why his bombs had not been deactivated by contact with water. The professor declined to reveal this professional secret. Sharma was kept awake for long periods and placed in a damp riverside cell of Delhi’s Red Fort. He was told that fellow militant Aruna Asaf Ali had also been arrested and already confessed. Her purported confession did contain certain accurate details. Unmoved, Sharma was next presented with a copy of the Hindustan Times whose headline proclaimed that his mother had died. Sharma was asked if he wished to attend to his mother’s last rites. He said he did. Then he was informed that he would be permitted to do so only after he had divulged certain information, and he realized the newspaper story was a trick.24 Prior to 9 August 1942, Professor Sharma had known nothing about disguises and sabotage. But once underground, he did not lose the respect of friends and acquaintances. Persons he had known in ordinary times readily abetted his secretive, violent schemes to end British rule. Upon his release 24

My interview with Radhe Shyam Sharma, 11 December 1969; N.A.I.: Home File No. 3/6143 Poll. (1).


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following the war, Sharma quietly resumed the teaching of chemistry. Usha Mehta before 9 August 1942, was an M.A. student in Bombay, and like Professor Sharma was a law-abiding member of an academic community. After 9 August she suddenly became a fabled heroine, broadcasting sedition each night from ‘somewhere in India’ as the chief announcer for an underground radio station. A slight young woman with large, intense eyes and a startlingly rich voice, she had been meeting every Sunday with a group of fellow M.A. students interested in promoting Hindi as India’s national language. Her parents were suspicious about the motives that brought this group together and her father, a judge in British service, had said to her, ‘I don’t care what you do with your life, but please finish your studies first.’ On 9 August, however, she told her father that the nation had to be freed now, so her studies would have to wait. She moved out of her parents’ house and went underground, shifting from one rented room to another to escape police detection. Her mother, however, always knew where she was. Mehta and her fellow Hindi enthusiasts decided to establish a Congress radio station. By 20 August,



they were on the air because law-abiding people quietly offered them money and equipment.Transmitters were supplied by a prominent Bombay firm, and these transmitters were assembled – and reassembled after each shift to a new secret location – by skilled technicians from the same reputable company. Once launched on the airwaves, Usha Mehta was sought out by more people, including the Congress Socialist leader Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia who supplied funds for a larger transmitter which carried Mehta’s defiant message from her Bombay back room all the way to Calcutta and Madras. For more than three months, news of the progress of the Quit India revolt and the recorded voices of Gandhi and other leaders were beamed across India. Frustrated officials roamed the streets of Bombay in a ‘detection van’ endlessly trying to track down the signal. In December, a technician Mehta relied on was caught and interrogated. Informed of the technician’s arrest and that she too would probably be arrested if she did not flee immediately, she and her colleague Chandrakantbhai Jhaveri decided instead to broadcast one last time because ‘it was our duty as disciplined soldiers to stick to our Freedom’s fight, and to face the obvious danger. Do or Die was our motto.’ As


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she finished her evening broadcast as usual ended by playing a recording of the patriotic song ‘Vande Mataram’, she heard knocks at the door. We, however, just carried on the programme. Three bolted doors had to be broken open before the hunters could happily pounce upon their prey…. The Deputy Commissioner of Police, his military technicians and his troop of fifty odd policemen smiled triumphantly. Perhaps this made them lose their senses as they asked us, rather ordered us to stop the playing of the record. Did they mistake us for mercenaries or what? We not only refused to carry out their orders, but also to get up from our seats and thus the ‘Vande Mataram’ record was over. We wanted to announce the news of the … betrayal by one of our technicians, who led the police to this station, and of our arrest at the place of duty. But the traitor of a technician came to the rescue of the police by tampering with the fuse. Of course, our colleagues, who were listening to the radio, did get the hint of our arrest when they heard the hard knocks on the radio.Thus the breaking open of the doors served as a call-sign of our arrest. When the fuse was tampered with, there was all darkness in the room and that made the police all the more nervous as it afforded us a nice opportunity of escaping…. After about an hour’s good endeavour, the police could manage to get a hurricane lamp and began their formalities … which



lasted for nearly three hours and a half. Chandrakantbhai and myself stepped out of the room and naturally felt elated at the idea that a troop of policemen, one on every step of the floor, and several others downstairs were waiting for our reception. We took it as a ‘guard of honors’. Instead of being perturbed, we went out happy and smiling, perhaps we felt proud, too.25

Gandhi was cited frequently in fugitive leaflets, and slogans excerpted from his speeches and writings were placed at the head of elaborate plans for covert sabotage. Rumors were spread that Gandhi had even sanctioned train derailments if a red warning flag was waved, or that Gandhi drew the line only at killing. ‘We took Gandhi’s statement that anarchy was better than slavery and said, all right, then we will have anarchy’, one former saboteur recalled. Another violent activist later conceded having cynically invoked Gandhi as his dhar or shield.26 The most painstakingly Gandhian underground law-breaker may have been Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. One of the few prominent Congress leaders 25

Mitra and Chakraborty, pp. 158-9. Transmitters were supplied by Chicago Radio and Telephone Company Ltd. 26 My interviews with Radhe Shyam Sharma, 11 December 1969; Viswanath Sharma, 12 December 1969.


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not arrested on 9 August Ghaffar Khan, sometimes called the ‘Frontier Gandhi’, orchestrated resistance in India’s North-West Frontier Province, now a region of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. He devised an open approach to sabotage, approving the cutting of wires and removing rails if the perpetrator immediately afterward reported the crime to the police. As he explained, ‘This would add to the moral courage of the worker and set an example of uprightness and bravery to the people and also save them from being victims of harassment and suspicion.’27 From a quite different perspective, the violent revolutionary Jayaprakash Narayan also carefully thought through his position. In a letter written after his escape from prison in November 1942, Jayaprakash – who would in later decades renounce violence and become a Gandhian social reformer – urged lone-wolf saboteurs to unite in a disciplined guerrilla war, and argued that such a guerrilla war


D.G. Tendulkar, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1967, 353. N.A.I.: Home File No. 3119/43 Poll. (I), ‘Translation of Cyclostyled Pamphlet in Pushtu, published by Markaz-i-A’lia’.



could be legitimately considered a Congress struggle. ‘The Congress has stated repeatedly’, he wrote, that if India became free, or even if a national government were set up, it would be prepared to resist aggression with arms. But, if we are prepared to fight Japan and Germany with arms, why must we refuse to fight Britain in the same manner? The only possible answer can be that the Congress in power could have an army, whereas the Congress in wilderness has none. But supposing a revolutionary army were created or if the present Indian army or a part of it rebel, would it not be inconsistent for us first to ask the army to rebel and then to ask the rebels to lay down arms and face British bullets with bared chests?28

Jayaparakash remained at large for ten months, until his capture in September 1943. He ‘started a regular guerrilla training school … in the jungles, north of Jaleswar’ in Nepal’s Terai region beyond the reach of British police, while making regular forays across the Nepal border into neighbouring regions of northern India.29 28

Jayaprakash Narayan, Towards Struggle, Bombay: Padma Publications, 1946, pp. 25-6. 29 Bhuyan, pp. 111-22.


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Others by the end of 1942 were beginning to feel that secretive sabotage should be given up. One such leader, Sucheta Kripalani, later Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, decided early in 1943 that she must seek Gandhi’s guidance even if this meant surrendering herself to the police. She communicated her desire to an Indian Civil Service officer, H.V.R. Iengar, Additional Secretary, Home Department, Bombay, who arranged for her to visit Gandhi and to depart without being arrested. Gandhi was delighted to see her. He inquired about her health but made no reference to her well-known support for secretive sabotage, which she interpreted as indicating Gandhi’s approval of her right to continue underground if she so desired.30 Since he had repeatedly emphasized that a well-motivated person could resist a murderous assault with physical force, Gandhi had no difficulty wishing Sucheta Kripalani well when she unexpectedly appeared at his detention site. Numerous underground activists similarly searched their consciences and made difficult decisions despite having to wonder both before and after whether Gandhi would approve. 30

My interview with Sucheta Kripalani, 21 January 1970.



Even in prison, Gandhi wielded power. Legally barred from contact with his followers, he clearly understood that he remained ‘chief among equals’, nothing more but also nothing less. In his speech delivered on 7 August 1942, urging passage of the Quit India resolution authorizing a non-violent insurrection, he had for example sought to distinguish some of the ways in which he resembled but also differed from a conventional army commander. ‘In a violent struggle’, he noted, a successful general has been often known to effect a military coup and set up a dictatorship. But under the Congress scheme of things, essentially non-violent as it is, there can be no room for dictatorship. A non-violent soldier of freedom will covet nothing for himself, he fights only for the freedom of his country.

At the same time, he recognized that he was indeed the commander of an unconventional army, with obligations strongly resembling those of Arjuna, the legendary war leader of ancient India. By the time the Bhagavad Gita dialogue begins, Arjuna has prepared his army for a decisive battle. He has assembled a vast force, trained them in techniques of warfare and set a personally inspiring example.


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Making such preparation can be considered Arjuna’s most important responsibility as a war leader. Once the battle commenced, Arjuna’s ability to discipline subordinates and direct the actions of individual combatants would be far more limited. His obligation as commander in the field at that point consists centrally in standing firm, following through on decisions long since made, and continuing to provide an example by his personal conduct. Gandhi had made precisely this point in his 1926 discussions of the Gita, remarking, If Arjuna took any unexpected step, people would not understand his intention and might do something which he had never wanted them to do. He had asked those hundreds of thousands of men to assemble there ready for battle. How could he, now, cause confusion in their minds? He should, therefore, go on doing his duty in the spirit of yoga, unattached to the fruits of his work, and inspire others to work likewise.31

In his speech of 7 August 1942, setting in motion the battle that began on 9 August Gandhi in this 31

M.K. Gandhi, Collected Works 32: 172-3; M.K. Gandhi, The Bhagavadgita, p. 13.



spirit had affirmed,‘I must act now. I may not hesitate and merely look on’. By the Summer of 1942, Gandhi had been working for more than two decades to develop a non-violent army dedicated to winning India’s freedom from foreign control.While aware of what India’s British rulers were doing and thinking and endeavoring to counter their strategy, Gandhi’s central focus was on insuring that his own followers would be ready for the responsibilities of independence. If there were to be a violent final showdown before independence could be achieved, the most important duties inherent in Gandhi’s leadership role, like those in Arjuna’s, would need to have been completed in advance. After conflict began, there would not have been a great deal Gandhi could do as a field general directing the individual actions of followers. Above all, Gandhi like Arjuna would need to focus on insuring that his followers were not overwhelmed by doubt or despair. During the open rebellion begun in August 1942, Gandhi hoped personally to conduct himself in a purely non-violent manner. As for the millions expected to answer his call, Gandhi hoped even if imprisoned to remain an energizing presence as they


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made their own life-or-death decisions. As Gandhi remarked on 31 May 1942, ‘The people have not my ahimsa [non-violence], but my ahimsa should help them.’32 On 22 June, he added, ‘No doubt the non-violent way is always the best, but where that does not come naturally the violent way is both necessary and honourable.’33 Again on 7 August Gandhi acknowledged, ‘I know how imperfect our ahimsa is.’ But perfection had never been his expectation or requirement, just as winning a single battle had never been his goal because ‘In ahimsa, there is no final failure or defeat.’34 If individual human beings fought against the odds time after time without anger and selfishness, the world would benefit somehow, some day.


Tendulkar, Mahatma 6: 92. Gandhi, Harijan, 22 June 1942;Tendulkar, Mahatma 6: 117. 34 Tendulkar, Mahatma, 6: 152-3. 33



on 9 february 1943, after six months in preventive detention, Gandhi began a twenty-one day fast. Prior to his fast, he had been rigorously secluded by the British Indian government. Unimprisoned Indian leaders were not permitted to see him. Gandhi’s letters to the viceroy  – among them, one dated 23 September 1942, in which he referred to ‘deplorable destruction’ by ‘people wild with rage to the point of losing self-control’  – were not released because Gandhi also lamented that the government had ‘goaded the people to the point of madness’.1 News of Gandhi’s fast, however, could 1

India Unreconciled, New Delhi:The Hindustan Times, 1944, pp. 122, 173, ‘madness’ reference is in letter dated 29 January 1943.


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not be suppressed, and British officials did not wish to be blamed if he died. Indeed Gandhi’s decision to fast produced such an upheaval in Great Britain and the United States as well as among Indians of all persuasions that British Indian authorities felt compelled to release the hitherto suppressed correspondence between Gandhi and the viceroy. Many Indians who had not approved of the Congress decision to end British rule while World War II still raged felt compelled by news of Gandhi’s fast to leave the sidelines. On 17 February 1943, three non-Congress Indian members of the viceroy’s Executive Council resigned to protest the government’s indifference to the fast.Then on 19 February, three hundred prominent Indians led by Tej Bahadur Sapru and M.R. Jayakar gathered in Delhi at a twoday All-India Leaders Conference to petition for Gandhi’s release. The government’s response was a brief note from the viceroy’s secretary stating that ‘no new factor has emerged since’ the beginning of Gandhi’s fast ten days earlier, a pointed rebuke to these three hundred leaders who imagined their Conference might be considered such a factor. The viceroy had in fact quietly decided to accept the risk that Gandhi might die, and security preparations



were being made to contain the protests expected to follow his death.2 Gandhi’s fast also intensified objections to government press censorship. On 13 February a group of American journalists, including correspondents of the Associated Press, United Press, Time, Life, The New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Daily News, addressed a letter to the viceroy complaining that ‘Despatch after despatch has been ruthlessly cut by censors. We are not allowed to mention even the names of certain personalities. Worst of all, concrete facts, some of which have been reported in the Indian press, are kept from the American public.’ News of Gandhi’s physical condition could not be suppressed altogether, but British officials did what they could to reduce the impact. In Delhi, for example, the Hindustan Times was ordered not to print headlines regarding the fast ‘extending over a width greater than that of two columns of the usual width’ or in type ‘exceeding one-fifth of an inch in overall height’. It was hoped that readers of the Hindustan Times would be left with the impression 2

India Unreconciled, 197.


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that the fast was not a matter of great consequence in the eyes of the paper’s editor  – Gandhi’s son Devdas.3 British Indian authorities initially informed Gandhi that they ‘would be very reluctant to see you fast’. Having failed to dissuade him, they sought to induce him to fast outside of prison, by accepting a temporary release. Gandhi replied that if his release was unconditional, he might not fast, whereas if his release was only for the duration of the fast, he could just as easily abstain from food in prison.The government then publicized their offer to let Gandhi fast outside of prison. Citing Gandhi’s willingness to abandon his fast if released unconditionally, the viceroy derided such manoeuvering as an attempt to ‘find an easy way out’ of prison. Oddly, he also termed the fast himsa or ‘violent’ according to what he imagined must be Gandhi’s own standards, stating ‘I regard the use of a fast for political purposes as a form of political blackmail (himsa).’4 Gandhi’s fast was certainly an escalation, in accord 3

N.A.I.: Home File No. 33/4/43 Poll. (1). India Unreconciled, pp. 123-4, 126, Linlithgow letter, 5 February 1943. 4



with his sense of the climactic nature of this midWorld War II confrontation. He had never before fasted to exert even indirect pressure on a viceroy. To be sure, Gandhi had attempted through meetings and informal letters to establish to personal connection with each new British viceroy, and Lord Linlithgow was no exception. Indeed, as Gandhi had pointed out on 8 August 1942, hours before his arrest, Whether Lord Linlithgow will bear me out I do not know; but there has sprung up a personal bond between him and myself. He once introduced me to his daughter … Lady Anne…. She is an obedient and favourite daughter. I take interest in their welfare. It is a terrible job to have to offer resistance to a viceroy with whom I enjoy such relations.

Because of his commitment to openness, and because the viceroy ‘more than once trusted my word’, Gandhi during the Spring and Summer of 1942 had informed Linlithgow in advance of each stepped-up pressure tactic, offering him every opportunity to accede voluntarily to the demand for immediate British withdrawal. At the very moment when the British Empire irreversibly


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‘forfeited my trust’, Gandhi explained, ‘the Englishman who was its viceroy came to know it’ – along with the consequence: a planned mass insurrection in which ‘India will wrench with non-violence her liberty from unwilling hands’. Simultaneously, Gandhi assured his followers that ‘no personal bond will ever interfere with the stubborn struggle which, if it falls to my lot, I may have to launch against Lord Linlithgow, as the representative of the Empire’.5 In August 1942, Gandhi thus had not exaggerated the esteem in which he was held by Linlithgow, and in February 1943 did not expect a positive viceregal response to his fast. Gandhi, therefore, announced that he would begin a long but limited fast of twenty-one days, which raised only the possibility of his death; he was then seventy-three years old and suffered from high blood pressure. If he survived, he would not have to accept a facesaving compromise to bring his fast to a close. The approaching fast overwhelmed the viceroy’s other concerns.‘We are not masters of the time-table in this matter’, grumbled Linlithgow. On 8 February the day before the fast was to begin, the Secretary to the Governor of Bombay arrived with a letter to 5

Tendulkar 6: 165.



deliver at Gandhi’s ‘detention camp’ at 6 p.m., only to be told this ‘was a day of silence and he gave me a written note asking me to call again at 9 p.m. As Mr. Gandhi observes old time, this meant 10 p.m. Accordingly I called on him at 10 p.m.’ Back in New Delhi, Linlithgow ‘deluged’ London with telegrams, and even convened his rump Executive Council for a three-hour meeting at 12:30 a.m. Expecting Gandhi would die, Linlithgow steeled himself for the abuse he knew must follow. Yet he confessed grudging admiration for Gandhi’s tactical acuity, at one point giving ‘the old man … full marks for … a masterpiece of the usual type!’6 As it turned out, Gandhi calculated correctly in suspecting that it might finally make sense to fast targeting (among others) a viceroy. Appointed in 1936, Linlithgow had been in India longer than any viceroy since Lord Curzon, who served from 1899 to 1905. Though Linlithgow gave little public indication of stress, he was shaken by Gandhi’s fast and induced by it to defy Prime Minister Churchill. When Linlithgow decided to offer Gandhi release for the duration of his fast, Churchill was appalled, 6

Mansergh, 3: 621, 640-1 ‘Old Time’ refers to what would today be called Standard as opposed to Daylight Saving time.


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angrily exclaiming ‘this our hour of triumph everywhere in the world was not the time to crawl before a miserable little old man who had always been our enemy’. Linlithgow was formally instructed not to offer release to Gandhi. Astonishingly, Linlithgow disregarded this order, cabling in defence of his action that ‘No wise skipper … would choose to put the helm over hard in weather like this.’ Gandhi saved Linlithgow from Churchillian retribution by declining to be released. But in choosing to defy Churchill, India’s viceroy had made himself uncomfortably aware that Gandhi was more salient to him than was Great Britain’s prime minister. Some months later, Linlithgow again deferred to Gandhi in defiance of Churchill’s War Cabinet, when Gandhi – still in custody – asked to contact the Muslim leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah. On this occasion, the battle-hardened Linlithgow mused almost exultingly, ‘I am not sure whether Daniel had the advantage of Cabinet advice before entering the lion’s den, but like him I am concerned to get out alive.’7 7

Mansergh, 3: 632, 622, 999. Amery’s report of Churchill’s remarks.



Gandhi’s February 1943 fast continued with unbroken rigour for ten days, when at the point of death he was persuaded to modify his fast and take a small amount of liquid nourishment for the remainder of the twenty-one days. Gandhi had earlier described his fast as ‘to capacity’ and now himself dismissed it as a ‘fraudulent fast’. Churchill exulted that the ‘old rascal’ had been shown to be a master of ‘bluff and sob-stuff ’. ‘We have exposed the Light of Asia – Wardha version – for the fraud it undoubtedly is: a blue glass with a tallow candle behind it!!’ rejoiced Linlithgow. Linlithgow happily piled on, declaring ‘The old man has done … neither more nor less than one of these reducing fasts which people used to do at Champney.’8 But elation that Gandhi had decided not to die could not obscure the fact that Gandhi in prison rather than the viceroy in New Delhi was shaping events.When the viceroy travelled in his special train from city to city across a hostile land, a separate engine now ran ahead to try the tracks. The government’s heady plan to ‘crush’ the Congress had been scrapped, and in its place was substituted 8

Ibid., 3: 744, 746.


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a desire to hang on and salvage something before relinquishing power. Among still-free underground activists, Gandhi’s February 1943 fast prompted much soul-searching. Several conspirators scrupulously committed to non-violent  – albeit illegal  – protests decided to meet secretly on 23 May 1943. Sucheta Kripalani, Baba Raghavdas and Dwarkanath Kachru were present, along with Aruna Asaf Ali who because of her open endorsement of violence was considered to be ‘the only non-Gandhite representative in the meeting’. Gathered in Varanasi, they agreed that henceforth an attempt would be made to promote only ‘constructive work’. Leaders for whom there were arrest warrants would remain hidden but would only orchestrate open, non-violent protests. Such a plan was difficult to implement, and Gandhian activists began more or less consciously to will their own arrests. Sucheta Kripalani, for example, greeted her arrest as a welcome reprieve from an increasingly wearisome existence.9 When Gandhi ended his fast on the morning of 9

My interview with Sucheta Kripalani, 21 January 1970. See also Bhuyan 136.



3 March 1943, verses from the Bhagavad Gita and the Koran were recited.Then Gandhi’s wife Kasturba Bai offered him ‘a glass containing six ounces of orange juice diluted with water’.10 Less than a year later, on 22 February 1944, Kasturba Bai died while still in detention, and the following day was cremated on the grounds of their detention site, the Aga Khan’s erstwhile compound. Gandhi requested that not only their sons but also ‘all friends who are as good as relatives to me’ be allowed to attend her final ceremonies. Signaling that the government’s punitive vigilance was finally eroding, ‘the gates of the Aga Khan Palace were thrown open to about 150 relatives and friends’.11 On 6 May 1944, two and a half months after Kasturba Bai’s death, Gandhi was released, along with several close associates. Technically, they had been held for almost two years in preventive detention. No charges were ever lodged, nor was any substantive explanation offered for his release, which the official announcement said was ordered ‘solely on medical grounds’.12 Perhaps because 10

Tendulkar, Mahatma, 6: 200. Ibid., 6: 237. 12 Ibid., 6: 175, 250. 11


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Gandhi had refused to accept a conditional release during his fast a year earlier, the government this time imposed no conditions whatsoever. While noting that the 8 August 1942, Quit India resolution remained Congress policy, Gandhi declined to resume command of the on-going movement. The millions who had acted on their own following his arrest were none the less anxious to know what Gandhi thought of the way they had used their freedom. Gandhi did not praise the manner in which resistance had been carried on, but neither did he condemn it. Indeed he asserted that the uprising though flawed had furthered the nationalist cause. Gandhi even refused to condemn secretive sabotage because, he said, he could not ‘be reformer and informer at the same time’.13 He argued that those still working underground were nobly motivated but that their objectives would be better served by open defiance of British authority. IndulalYagnik had special reasons to be concerned about Gandhi’s opinion. In 1942, Yagnik had denounced the Quit India movement, fearing it would 13

Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1965, 1: 42.



harm Communist Russia. But in 1943, Yagnik decided that Gandhi had been right, and wished to tell Gandhi his desire to dedicate the rest of his life to Gandhian service. But how would Gandhi receive someone who had for years worked closely with him and then bitterly denounced him? Yagnik had attached himself to Gandhi shortly after Gandhi returned from South Africa in 1915, followed him through the turmoil of the next few years, and served as his cellmate and secretary during their imprisonment together from 1922 to 1924. But after their release from prison,Yagnik denounced Gandhi as a counter-revolutionary and threw his energies into organizing India’s landless farm labourers. In a bitter memoir entitled Gandhi As I Know Him, Yagnik even complained archly about the irritation he had felt at Gandhi’s habit of clattering around their cobblestone prison courtyard in wooden sandals. Upon Gandhi’s release from prison in 1944, Yagnik yearned to report that his twenty-year rebellion had ended. By chance, he arrived at Gandhi’s ashram on a day when Gandhi was observing a vow of silence.When Gandhi noticedYagnik sitting quietly in the crowd, he scribbled out a note. It read,


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‘How many changes will you make in your life? As many as I have made?’14 Gandhi himself reached out to Aruna Asaf Ali. Wife of the arrested Congress leader Asaf Ali, she was the most intently sought of the violent saboteurs still at large when Gandhi was released from detention in 1944. Despite her notoriety, she managed to travel from city to city by air with the assistance of sympathetic pilots, including Biju Patnaik, later Orissa’s chief minister. Hearing that Mrs. Asaf Ali was in poor health, Gandhi sent her a letter. ‘I have been filled with admiration for your courage and heroism’, he wrote, but ‘you must not die underground. You are reduced to a skeleton. Do come out and surrender yourself and win the prize offered for your arrest. Gandhi’s address-less letter to the underground terrorist found its mark. ‘Your precious words reached about a fortnight ago’, she replied. Throughout these twenty-two months you have been very close to me. In moments of my anguish and distress I found myself recalling your image. I can now understand the fascination of image worship. Your tender and warm 14

My interview with Indulal Yagnik, 22 December 1969.



appreciation of what I have done has overwhelmed me…. I have been a stranger to you all these years…. All unbeknown to yourself you have liberated many a captive soul. Need I say more?

She confided that she would willingly give herself up if Gandhi desired that she do so on political grounds; if he was motivated only by concern for her personal well-being, she felt she must refuse. On 30 June 1944, Gandhi replied: Pria Putri [Dear Daughter] Aruna… I consider myself to be incapable of asking anyone much less you, of doing anything that would hurt your pride…. This struggle has been full of romance and heroism.You are the central figure…. I do not want you to surrender unless you feel that it is the better course. I have brought myself to regard secrecy as a sin in the application of non-violence. But it cannot be followed mechanically…. You must therefore be the best judge of what is proper…. This I promise, I will not judge you, no matter what you do.

Gandhi’s ‘dear daughter’ replied on 2 August 1944, announcing ‘I will now go into voluntary inaction’. She also would try to persuade colleagues underground to suspend all sabotage. ‘Why have you this


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magic of stirring hearts, stimulating minds and soothing the troubled waters of the soul?’ Finding fugitive life increasingly burdensome as friends in prison began to be released, she again turned to Gandhi. ‘Every country, and every generation leaves in the wake of gigantic movements a band of vagrants, disowned and disinherited’, she wrote on 23 March 1945. Although the ‘gigantic movement’ for Indian freedom openly led by Gandhi would succeed, covert saboteurs like herself, she feared, could have no future. Like driftwood caught in stagnant waters, rootless, banished from all spiritual moorings … that is how one feels these days.There was a time when we of the August revolt thought and felt like Gods…. For the first time we feel broken….We know ours is the voice of lost souls that championed a lost cause….Will you not restore to us our faith in life? We need it even more for dying.

During Gandhi’s imprisonment, Aruna Asaf Ali and countless others had felt they must decide for themselves on a course of action. ‘We undertook individual responsibility for such alternative forms of defensive actions as were organized or practised’, she explained to Gandhi, indicating that his approval



of destructive force when employed in self-defence had in fact been the basis on which she and many other underground workers justified their activities. The exercise of independent judgement Gandhi called for convinced her that he would not disown her. Gandhi’s letters found Aruna Asaf Ali ‘somewhere in India’ and induced her to halt secretive sabotage. She then came quietly to see Gandhi. But the British never found her, and she remained at large until 1946, when the warrant for her arrest was cancelled by the departing British.15


My interview with Aruna Asaf Ali, 31 October 1969. N.M.M.L.: Nehru Papers, Aruna Asaf Ali-Gandhi Correspondence.


Operation Ebb Tide

in the first chaotic days after 9 August 1942, British officials had spoken confidently of the initial mass protests as proof of the uprising’s weakness and predicted a quick return to governance-as-usual. In the Spring of 1943, long after active resistance had subsided and been replaced by token defiance, officials were wearily acknowledging that India would never be the same again. Congress leaders were no longer derided as unrepresentative agitators, and no official now imagined that the Congress could be permanently eradicated. After surviving the first onslaught following 9 August 1942, longserving British officials began recording  – and forwarding to their superiors  – the opinion that this was a movement of ‘the people’. Sir Maurice



Hallett, Governor of the United Provinces, for example confessed to Lord Linlithgow on 18 August 1942, that before 9 August he had ‘anticipated a somewhat fatuous attempt at the forms of civil disobedience which have taken place during previous years’.1 Instead, building on earlier campaigns, Gandhi had launched an insurrection that could not be halted by the arrest of tens of thousands, and moved forward even after he was imprisoned, as millions of Indians thought and acted for themselves. In a telegram to Prime Minister Churchill dated 31 August 1942, Lord Linlithgow himself termed the 1942 insurrection ‘by far the most serious rebellion since that of 1857’.2 The ‘rebellion’ of 1857 (alternatively known as ‘India’s First War of Independence’) and the 1942 Quit India ‘rebellion’ are in fact curiously comparable in a number of respects. Both eradicated British authority in large areas of the country, and both were most intense in many of the same areas of northern India.Yet these two outbursts of popular fury had opposite results. 1

I.O.L.: Linlithgow Papers, vol. 105, Hallett to Linlithgow, 18 August 1942. 2 Mansergh, 2: 853.


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The first led to an even firmer imposition of British authority, the second forced the end of British rule. In 1857, the rebels were left demoralized and the British emerged more determined than ever. In 1942, the militarily invulnerable British grew ever more demoralized, as the dispersed rebels became ever more resolute. In 1857, British rule was a makeshift affair defied militarily by resentful aristocrats whose status was being eroded, and who would never again jeopardize British control. Aptly, the most fabled leader of the 1857 revolt is a warrior queen, the celebrated Rani of Jhansi. The British response to this old-guard challenge was to strengthen Queen Victoria’s imperial frame. In contrast, the 1942 uprising left the British Indian government depressingly aware that even the presence of vast numbers of British, Australian and American troops could not insure the re-establishment of British rule on a solid footing. Within mainland India, British authority had been defied entirely without regular military forces, which in 1857 had been provided by Indian mutineers from British service as well as the armies of princely states. By 1942, the British Indian army and police were vastly more efficient and better disciplined forces than in 1857, and the



rebels were almost all civilians. Nor was the 1942 uprising begun or ended by military force. Quit India was centrally an expression of political will, whose potency involved much more than the ability to injure physically.With transformational goals, the rebels of 1942 employed symbolic force, and hoped with good reason that many erstwhile skeptics could be persuaded to join them. Conceived as an open rebellion against an apparently invincible regime, the demand for the British to Quit India presumed that Indians would be free when they acted that way. In 1942, Indians demonstrated that they were indeed already free. In 1942, telegraphic messages between New Delhi and London could be exchanged in two hours. Yet the viceroy in New Delhi and the War Cabinet in London were increasingly disconnected. In the early months of 1942 as Japanese and Free Indian Army troops advanced toward India from the east, the viceroy expressed scorn for Indian politicians. Meanwhile, the War Cabinet in London thought some compromise might be feasible, and sent out Sir Stafford Cripps to mediate. After the August showdown demonstrated deep popular Indian support for immediate independence, the War


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Cabinet in London waxed curiously grandiose, even as top officials in India began to realize that the British could never regain the initiative. For a brief time in July and August of 1942, British determination to hold onto India was strong in both New Delhi and London. Lord Linlithgow in New Delhi and Secretary of State for India L.S. Amery in London both boldly proclaimed that Gandhi’s presumption would be shown up. Amery for example declared on 15 July 1942, After all, we are dealing with people who are more and more advancing the claim to be considered as the alternative Government of India and ingeniously fortifying that claim step by step. At some point or other we have got to make it quite clear that we are the Government of India and that the claim is a bubble to be pricked.3

A short time later, when nation-spanning mass rebellion subsided and was followed by scattered, sporadic sabotage, the government’s failure to rally Indian public opinion was considered by officials in New Delhi to be an irreversible calamity. Meanwhile in London, Prime Minister Churchill was exulting 3

Ibid., 2: 391, 631-2.



cavalierly that ‘the number of white troops in that country is larger than at any time in the British connection’. Even more bizarre, Churchill requested ‘a note on Mr. Gandhi’s intrigues with Japan’, stipulating that ‘The note should not exceed three pages of open typescript.’ The reply Churchill received did not exceed three lines: ‘The only evidence of Japanese contacts during the War relates to the presence in Wardha of two Japanese Buddhist priests who lived for part of 1940 in Gandhi’s Ashram.’4 Churchill advocated boldly bypassing the ‘bourgeois’ Congress and directly addressing Indian peasants and workers. At a War Cabinet meeting on 31 August 1942, recorded Amery, Winston began one of his usual curious monologues about India, treating the present trouble as completely disposed of and as evidence of the fact … that Congress really represents hardly anybody except lawyers, moneylenders and the ‘Hindu priesthood’. From this he rambled on to the suggestion that it would really pay us to take up the cause of the poor peasant and confiscate the rich Congressmen’s lands and divide them up. 4

Ibid., 2: 961, 978.


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To prove he was serious, Churchill urged imposing on India a punitive bill for services rendered during the War. ‘Winston harangued us at great length’, Amery reported on 15 September 1942, about the monstrous idea that we should spend millions upon millions in the defence of India, then be told to clear out, and on top of it all owe India vast sums incurred on her behalf.… Winston’s idea apparently being that … we should draw up a supplementary bill against India which may equal if not exceed the accumulated sterling balances!5

The viceroy and his advisers in New Delhi had themselves once been eager to eradicate the Congress and energize pro-British Indian politicians. Now Linlithgow saw Congress adamancy as an insuperable obstacle, and worried that the War Cabinet in London and British public opinion might not grasp the difficulty he faced in merely holding onto power until the War’s end. The ‘gravity and extent’ of the disorders ‘we have so far concealed from the world for reasons of military security’, Linlithgow cabled anxiously, with the result that ‘opinion at home may 5

Ibid., 2: 884, 874-5.



think … this business has not been so serious as, in fact, it has.’ He termed popular support for the Congress a ‘most intractable problem’ and derided Indians who supported the government’s war efforts. ‘None of them count for a row of pins’, he exclaimed resentfully. Congress was presumed certain to win any general election in which they were permitted to participate, since they ‘possess the only effective vote-catching machine in India’.6 A few months earlier, Linlithgow had brushed aside Gandhi’s proposal that the British military might remain in India in a supporting role after the British government of India relinquished all political power. Now Linlithgow stressed Great Britain’s military expertise as a useful bargaining gambit, suggesting that it might be possible for British officers to provide technical services to an independent Indian government in return for retaining some strategic military resources in British hands. Indians who had served the British loyally as bureaucrats and army officers, and been repeatedly assured that radical politicians would never become beneficiaries of an eventual British withdrawal, were however 6

Ibid., 2: 853, 911, 964, 3: 708, 877, 789, 849.


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considered to be a lost cause. British officials themselves pronounced valueless their own earlier guarantees to Indian subordinates that they would never be abandoned. Sir Reginald Maxwell, Home Secretary in the New Delhi government, observed resignedly that Indians in British service ‘must naturally in considering their future prospects look towards the rising rather than the setting sun’. In the aftermath of the Quit India uprising, it seemed undeniable to Sir Reginald that ‘we shall not be here to employ or protect them in the future’.7 In London, Prime Minister Churchill still appeared to be determined to hold the Empire together, singlehandedly if necessary. He boasted that Quit India had changed nothing. On 10 November 1942, for example, he assured India – and the world – that ‘We intend to remain the effective rulers of India for a long and indefinite period….We mean to hold our own. I have not become the King’s First Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.’ Although Churchill never wavered, Secretary of State for India Amery was becoming increasingly melancholic. While lamenting Churchill’s rants, 7

Ibid., 3: 291, 157.



Amery also began glumly pondering where the Empire had lost its way. ‘Looking back’, he wrote the Viceroy on 1 October 1943, one can never help regretting that we did not keep Kashmir after the [1845-9] Sikh Wars and use it for the large scale settlement both of old British Officers and soldiers and also for Anglo-Indians…. Possibly it has been a real mistake of ours in the past not to encourage Indian Princes to marry English wives for a succession of generations and so breed a more virile type of native ruler.8

These sad musings made clear that – Churchill notwithstanding  – quiet contingency planning was finally underway in both London and New Delhi that contemplated a complete British withdrawal from India immediately following World War II. Lord Linlithgow’s successor as viceroy, appointed in October of 1943, was Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, a self-made career military officer who had served since 1941 under Linlithgow as Commanderin-Chief of Allied forces in India. But because Indians were assumed to be even more impressed 8

I.O.L.: Linlithgow Papers, vol. 12, Amery to Linlithgow, 1 October 1943.


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by aristocratic rank than were the British themselves, a viscountcy was royally bestowed on Wavell prior to his Viceregal assignment. Like his predecessor Lord Linlithgow, the newlyminted Viscount had been deeply influenced by the Quit India uprising. He therefore began his viceroyalty with no grand illusions, and instead with a sober understanding of the likely roles in India’s future to be played respectively by the British government of India and the Gandhi-led Congress. Fortunately, he also possessed a creditable portion of normal human sensitivity. Three days after the death of Kasturba Gandhi on 22 February 1944, Wavell wrote the still-imprisoned Gandhi politely extending sympathy. On 9 March 1944, Gandhi replied thanking the Viscount ‘for your kind condolences on the death of my wife’. Then, as he had always done since becoming leader of India’s nationalist movement in 1920, he made an effort to form a personal bond with the latest viceroy, this time through poetry. As India’s military Commander-in-Chief,Wavell had been responsible for deploying troops to help quell the Quit India uprising. While thus occupied, Wavell had also found time to edit an anthology of



poems heralding military valour. In a Foreword to this anthology, which was entitled Other Men’s Flowers and dated ‘New Delhi, April 1943’, the Field Marshall and futureViceroy had disarmingly confided that ‘riding a horse alone I often declaim out loud’. Knowing this, Gandhi remarked equally disarmingly in his 9 March 1944, letter from prison that ‘As I am writing to you’ he had been reminded that ‘while teaching the boys and girls of Tolstoy Farm in South Africa, I happened to read to them Wordsworth’s Character of the Happy Warrior…. It will delight my heart to realize that warrior in you.’ William Wordsworth’s Character of the Happy Warrior had been written in 1806 as a tribute to British Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died in 1805 while routing the French fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar. According to Wordsworth, a ‘Happy Warrior’ was a person Who, doomed to go in company with Pain, And Fear, and Bloodshed, miserable train!… In face of these doth exercise a power Which is our human nature’s highest dower: Controls them and subdues, transmutes, bereaves Of their bad influence, and their good receives: By objects, which might force the soul to abate


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Her feeling, rendered more compassionate…. More skillful in self-knowledge, even more pure, As tempted more; more able to endure…. Who, if he rise to station of command, Rises by open means; and there will stand On honourable terms, or else retire, And in himself possess his own desire.

While not great poetry,Wordsworth’s lines had been considered creditable by Gandhi in South Africa, and were still remembered by him more than thirty years later. Although comparatively simplistic, Wordworth’s ‘Happy Warrior’ does modestly echo the Bhagavad Gita. The resonance of Wordworth’s praise of Admiral Nelson with the advice given Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita would certainly have attracted Gandhi’s attention. Wavell’s reply to Gandhi’s attempt to connect through poetry was disappointing. Wavell had not included in his anthology a single Wordsworth poem because, as he himself acknowledged, Wordworth’s verses ‘never registered an impression on my memory, they seem to me to belong to a limbo which is earthy without being quite human and stargazing without being inspired’. Instead, Other Men’s Flowers included numerous non-Gita-like poems, particularly



in those sections of the anthology labelled ‘Good Fighting’ and ‘Hymns of Hate’. Rudyard Kipling was the poet represented by the largest number of poems – twenty-eight. One Kipling poem included in Wavell’s ‘Good Fighting’ section was entitled ‘Boxing’: Read here the moral roundly writ For him who into battle goes – Each soul that hitting hard or hit, Endureth gross or ghostly foes. Prince, blown by many overthrows, Half blind with shame, half choked with dirt, Man cannot tell, but Allah knows How much the other side was hurt!

About this poem, Wavell commented in very unGita-like language. ‘The last two lines illustrate my favorite military maxim, that when things are going badly in battle the best tonic is to take one’s mind off one’s own troubles by considering what a rotten time one’s opponent must be having.’9 Kipling’s verses, Wavell effused, have ‘courage and humanity, and their feet are usually on the ground’. Clearly, in 9

Archibald P. Wavell, Other Men’s Flowers, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1945, pp. xv-xvii, 63.


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citing Wordsworth’s ‘Happy Warrior’ because of Wavell’s known love of poetry, Gandhi was far off the mark. Indeed Gandhi may have inadvertently confirmed Wavell’s impression of him as a person engaged in ‘stargazing’. Wavell’s answer to Gandhi’s prison letter with its ‘Happy Warrior’ gambit made no mention of poetry or any other shared values. Instead,Wavell expressed chagrin that Gandhi was not more cognizant of the problems caused by the Quit India uprising. ‘I was, as you know, the commander-in-chief at the time’, Wavell wrote Gandhi; my vital lines of communication to the Burma frontier were cut by Congress supporters, in the name of the Congress, often using the Congress flag. I cannot, therefore hold Congress guiltless of what occurred; I cannot believe that you, with your acumen and experience, can have been unaware of what was likely to follow from your policy.10

While World War II still raged, Wavell was not about to Quit India – or forgive the still-imprisoned Gandhi. But this exchange of candid letters may 10

Tendulkar, Mahatma, 6: 240-6.



have aided Wavell’s ability to perceive Gandhi as a fellow human being, even if not as a fellow battlefield commander. When the European phase of World War II ended on 8 May 1945, Prime Minister Churchill’s multiparty coalition War Cabinet was quickly replaced by an exclusively Conservative Government headed by Churchill, who scheduled a ‘khaki election’ which he expected would extend his wartime grip on power. Instead, the opposition Labour Party won and formed a government in July, even before Japan surrendered formally ending World War II.Viscount Wavell, however, remained Viceroy, serving until March 1947. Visiting London briefly in August 1945 for consultations with the new Labour government, Wavell also met with ex-Prime Minister Churchill. Afterward, Wavell noted in his journal, ‘His final remark as I closed the door of the lift was: “Keep a bit of India.”’11 Having in 1942 scorned talk of ‘liquidation of the British Empire’, even Churchill 11

Archibald P. Wavell, Wavell: The Viceroy’s Journal, ed. Penderel Moon, London: Oxford University Press, 1973, p. 168.


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was now focused on salvaging something as liquidation began. As World War II wound down, the War’s political consequences became everywhere the central focus. Obliged to strategize about the future relationship of Great Britain and India without clear guidance from London, Wavell devised a plan for a staged British withdrawal, which he poetically labelled Operation Ebb Tide. This would have left in place existing Indian provincial governments and ministries, and therefore could have led to a period of loose federalism comparable to the situation in the United States between the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783 and adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1789. This credible precedent had in fact been pointed out by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 to then-Prime Minister Churchill, who at the time derided the idea.12 Throughout India during the Summer of 1945, Gandhi and other formerly imprisoned Indian political leaders were greeted by jubilant throngs, among whom mingled many Indians still in British service. Military officers, enlisted men and civilian 12

Mansergh, 1: 409-10.



workers who had been secretly supportive of Congress during the War were now openly so. ‘Wherever I went during this period’, noted Congress President Maulana Azad, ‘the young men of the defence forces came out to welcome me and express their sympathy and admiration without any regard for the reaction of their European officers’. Other Indians who had remained silent during the War also made clear that they had not been unmoved. In Calcutta, recorded Azad, ‘a large gathering of constables and head constables surrounded my car. They saluted me and some touched my feet. They all expressed their regard for Congress and said that they would act according to our orders.’13 Popular indignation at the government’s effort to stage treason trials for officers of the Free Indian Army which had fought in Southeast Asia alongside the Japanese further underscored the meaning that Indians intended to give to the war. Then in February 1946, twenty British ships in Bombay harbour as well as shore batteries were taken over by Indian sailors, training their guns on British troops rushed to Bombay to recapture the harbour. Indians 13

Azad, p. 126.


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crowded the waterfront to show support, and an eyewitness described the scene: From every walk of life they came and crowded the seafront around the Gateway of India, with packets of food and pails of water…. Indian soldiers with rifles slung across their backs helped to load the food packets brought by the public on boats sent from the ships in the harbour.The British officers were helpless spectators.14

This impasse ended when Congress leaders secured guarantees against victimization and were able to reassure the mutineers that only technicalities remained before India was formally free.15 India’s largest post-World War II political challenge was whether the British while departing would try one final time to invoke their historic Divide-andRule strategy. Apologists preferred to speak not of ‘Divide-and-Rule’ but rather of what Churchill termed the Empire’s ‘broad, tolerant and impartial 14

Remarks of B.C. Dutt, quoted in Yasmin Khan, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007, p. 26. 15 Philip G. Altbach, ‘The Bombay Naval Mutiny’, Opinion, 27 July 1965, 31 August 1965. See also Rajmohan Gandhi, Gandhi, pp. 513-15.



rule’ which purportedly only acknowledged preexisting social distinctions.16 In practice, ‘broad, tolerant and impartial rule’ by the British Indian government had encourged minority hopes for protection against other Indian social groups, small and large, and had predictably prompted divisiveness – for which the solution offered was ever more formal separation and isolation, which in turn led to ever greater fear, misunderstanding and animosity among groups, thereby enabling British domination. In the opinion of Churchill and other likeminded imperialists, only the presence of ‘broad, tolerant and impartial’ foreigners had long kept India’s various communities from murdering each other. Above all, Hindus and Muslims, who had managed to coexist for centuries prior to the arrival of the British, were presumed incapable of abstaining from mayhem in the absence of a controlling foreign presence. Gandhi argued that a simple way to disprove this British claim was to see what would happen if foreign imperialists suddenly stopped manipulating and manoeuvering. In the summer of 1942, Gandhi’s wished-for test was made. With 16

Rajmohan Gandhi, Gandhi, p. 623.


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government authority paralysed, local communities were obliged to deal directly with one another. Contrary to government predictions, Hindus did not terrorize Muslims. But neither did Muslims join the protests. Most Muslims remained strictly neutral. Because their inactivity was not identified as proBritish, it provoked no adverse reaction from demonstrators. Indeed in certain places, Muslims participated in the Quit India uprising incognito, not wishing to support the British though reluctant to identify themselves as Muslims with the Congress. A puzzled Lord Linlithgow suspected Congress strategy behind the fact that events had not followed the expected course into Hindu-Muslim conflict. The ‘absence of communal trouble’, he surmised (with some accuracy) ‘must be put down largely to disciplined [Congress] abstention from interference with Muslims’.17 The events of 1942 made clear that the Congress was the most potent political force throughout British India but not strong everywhere. Government statistics demonstrated overwhelming Congress predominance in the northeastern Gangetic plains, 17

Mansergh, 3: 76.



especially in Bihar and the United Provinces, as well as in western India. Less concentrated Congress strength was visible elsewhere, in such areas as Madras, Bengal, Orissa, Delhi and the Central Provinces. On the other hand, the uprising had no appreciable strength in far western Sindh, where Islamic separatism was strong. In Punjab in the northwest, the Muslim and Sikh communities had proud traditions of British military service and remained largely uninvolved. Even in areas where the Quit India uprising was most intense, some groups and parties held back, avoiding arrest. Then, with Gandhi and tens of thousands of other Congress and pro-Congress activists in jail, these other political parties were free to organize. The government had in fact legalized the Communist Party and released many Communists in July 1942, hopeful that they would give the Congress more trouble than they gave the government. Most leaders of the pro-Soviet Indian Communist Party supported the government, which was now allied with Soviet Russia. But many student Communists, less impressed with considerations of international policy, answered Gandhi’s call. Like the Indian Communist Party, the Muslim


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League was provided a rare organizational opportunity by the arrest of almost all Congress leaders. Although led effectively by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the Muslim League in 1942 still lacked a clearcut agenda other than advancing British India’s Muslims into a powerful bargaining position as the Empire’s endgame commenced in earnest. But during the final years of the war, Jinnah consolidated his influence among Muslim groups as well as with the government. With beleaguered British officials eager for his cooperation, Jinnah offered a visible focus toward which non-Congress Muslim notables were induced to orient their attention. Provincial ministries headed by regionally prominent Muslim aristocrats not integrated into any nationwide party had remained in office in Bengal and Sindh after the 1939 British declaration that India was at war with Germany. These local Muslim leaders were drawn closer to Jinnah’s Muslim League by the mid-war collapse of British authority, with the result that by 1945 the Muslim League’s proposal to carve out an independent Muslim-majority state from as-yet-undefined regions of British India had acquired a degree of credibility unimaginable only a few years earlier.



The appointment of Lord Louis Mountbatten to be viceroy in March 1947 surprised Viscount Wavell and ended the inertial drift of Operation Ebb Tide. The letter of instruction from Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee to Mountbatten allowed him room to explore the possibility of a settlement acceptable to the Congress and the Muslim League. Mountbatten interpreted this guidance as freeing him to ignore all other Indian parties, which elevated the Muslim League to a level of implicit political parity with the Congress. Mountbatten sought withdrawal terms that would be acceptable to three players: the Congress, the Muslim League and the Empire in retreat. This narrow definition of his task led to Mountbatten’s abrupt decision to demarcate two new successor states – India and Pakistan – to be free within a matter of weeks. Divide-and-Rule thereby evolved into ‘Divide-and-Quit’.18 The Muslim League and the question of whether to create a state to be called Pakistan were certainly issues to be addressed, but there was no need to address these questions before British withdrawal, 18

Penderel Moon, Divide and Quit, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962.


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and no logic to the procedure devised by Mountbatten to resolve them. Revealingly, Mountbatten predicted that a British-supervised partition ‘would be likely to make for lasting goodwill between the United Kingdom and the successor Governments’. He thereby disregarded the issue of the future relationship to each other of the two proposed new states. Even more shortsightedly, Mountbatten’s plan called for sovereignty to be handed over to these two sovereign nation states before British officials worked out boundary details. Power was to be transferred to two rival governments with undetermined borders.19 Further complicating border issues, Mountbatten simply ignored British India’s princely states. These tributaries of the British Crown were told that longstanding assurances of protection had ‘lapsed’. Most princes felt obliged to come to terms with one or the other of the two successor states. But even today in Kashmir, Baluchistan and elsewhere, violence persists decades after Mountbatten declared his work done. 19

H.V. Hodson, The Great Divide, London: Hutchinson, 1969, pp. 545-6. For details on Gandhi’s actions in the weeks prior to 15 August 1947, see Rajmohan Gandhi, Gandhi, pp. 574-602.



Eager to begin wielding power, Jawaharlal Nehru and many other Congress leaders accepted Mountbatten’s partition plan. Gandhi did not. On 20 July 1947, three weeks before the planned launch of the two successor regimes, Gandhi grimly predicted the outcome. Man had the supreme knack of deceiving himself. The Englishman was supremest among men. He was quitting because he had discovered that it was wrong on economic and political grounds to hold India in bondage. Herein he was quite sincere. It would not be denied, however, that sincerity was quite consistent with self-deception. He was self-deceived in that he believed that he could not leave India to possible anarchy if such was to be India’s lot. He was quite content to leave India as a cockpit between two organised armies. Before quitting, he was setting the seal of approval on the policy of playing off one community against another.20

To avert Mountbatten’s proposed division of British India into two hostile armed camps, Gandhi was prepared to back the Muslim League’s leader Jinnah as prime minister of a united India. Gandhi expected that whichever party – Congress or Muslim League – 20

Harijan, 20 July 1947.


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was given full power over an undivided India would feel constrained to deal collaboratively with the other. This suggestion was well-considered. Gandhi’s 1947 proposal that Jinnah be named undivided India’s prime minister recalled assurances he had extended on 8 August 1942, that he would ‘have no objection to the British government transferring all the powers it today exercises to the Muslim League on behalf of the whole of India’.21 Similarly, in 1939 when the Congress was badly split by the determination of then-Congress president Subhas Bose to force an immediate showdown with the British, Gandhi had responded by offering Bose unfettered discretion. Assessing the international situation which would soon lead to war, Bose thought the moment opportune for a bold initiative. Assessing the internal condition of India, Gandhi felt national resolve was not yet strong enough for a disciplined non-violent struggle. Such a fundamental difference of perspective could not be compromised. Gandhi’s solution was to give Bose free rein. Because Bose had been acting as if he had 21

Rajmohan Gandhi, Gandhi, p. 464.



no use for those he termed the ‘Gandhites’, Gandhi told him to go ahead and exercise full power if he could.The ‘Gandhites’, Gandhi informed Bose,‘will not obstruct you. They will help you where they can, they will abstain where they cannot’. Bose quickly discovered his inability to force compliance, and resigned as Congress president. When World War II did break out, Bose travelled in secret to Nazi Germany, where he made anti-British propaganda broadcasts and helped form captured British Indian soldiers into a force that fought alongside Germany and Japan against the Allies. Bose and Gandhi had first met two decades earlier, when Bose was a high-achieving, English-educated Indian. In response to Gandhi’s call for patriotic Indians to sever all ties to the British Indian government immediately, Bose had resigned from the elite Indian Civil Service in 1921 and sought Gandhi’s instructions regarding his next move.‘I was ushered into a room covered with Indian carpets’, Bose recounted. Almost in the centre, facing the door, sat the Mahatma surrounded by some of his closest followers. All were clad in homemade khadi. As I entered the room, I felt somewhat out of place in my foreign costume and could


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not help apologizing for it. The Mahatma received me with his characteristic hearty smile and soon put me at ease and the conversation started at once. I desired to obtain a clear understanding of the details – the successive stages – of his plan, leading on step by step to the ultimate seizure of power from the foreign bureaucracy.22

Bose was disappointed that Gandhi lacked such a rigorous plan. Yet for the following eighteen years, before World War II separated them forever, Bose and Gandhi did manage to collaborate, developing a viable albeit tense working relationship. Gandhi’s proposal that Jinnah become prime minister of a united India can be further connected to a story Gandhi related on 13 April 1942, about two boys quarreling over an apple.They could fight angrily over it, Gandhi observed, but ‘the nonviolent way’ would be for one of the two boys ‘to leave the apple for the other … the latter well knowing that it would mean non-cooperation’ from the ‘surrendering’ boy if the boy receiving the whole apple refused to share it.23 22

Hugh Toye, Subhash Chandra Bose, Bombay: Jaico Publishing House, 1959, p. 25. 23 Tendulkar, Mahatma, 6: 74, quoting from Harijan of 19 April 1942.



This story is somewhat reminiscent of the legendary King Solomon’s solution to the claims by two women to be the mother of the same child. The King commanded, ‘Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other’ (1 Kings 3: 25). Solomon correctly anticipated that the false claimant might vindictively agree, while the real mother was likely to give up her child rather than see it killed. But King Solomon also anticipated remaining in power to enforce (or not enforce) this provocative decision. Gandhi, in describing two boys who craved one apple as well as in proposing that Jinnah be offered the prime ministership of undivided India, was foreseeing a situation in which the two quarrelers had no outside enforcer and expected to continue living as neighbours.The ‘boys’ in Gandhi’s story were, in other words, presumed to be mature enough to think constructively about their options, and to make sensible decisions on their own. Without the power of King Solomon or the wisdom of Gandhi, Lord Mountbatten decided against allowing the Congress and the Muslim League to work out a way to share their common neighbourhood. Instead, he divided it and quit.


A Truthful Future

gandhi refused to associate himself with ceremonies surrounding the launching on 14 and 15 August 1947, of Pakistan and India as implicitly hostile nation states without clearly defined borders between them. Indian leaders warned that ‘if he did not give any message to the nation, it would not be good’. Gandhi replied, ‘There is no message at all. If it is bad, let it be so.’ Requests from the BBC for a statement were similarly rejected, Gandhi commenting, ‘They must forget that I know English.’1 As millions of refugees from both Pakistan and India fled their homes, Gandhi went first east and 1

N.K. Bose, My Days with Gandhi, Calcutta: Nishana, 1953, pp. 255, 258.



then west in an effort to mitigate the consequences of a catastrophe he had sought to avert. In Calcutta (now Kolkata), Gandhi collaborated with Muslim leaders in an effort to end Hindu-Muslim rioting. On the evening of 31 August 1947, large numbers of Hindus arrived at Gandhi’s residence ‘carrying an injured Hindu who had allegedly been knifed by a Muslim. They demanded that Gandhi call for retaliation’. Gandhi confronted the unruly crowd but was not able to calm their anger. Reports of this impasse ‘triggered an outburst of violence the next day throughout the city; by evening fifty people had been killed and more than three hundred injured’. Gandhi therefore resolved that evening to begin a fast. A friend asked him whether it made sense to fast hoping to influence goondas (hoodlums). Gandhi replied, ‘I want to touch the hearts of those who are behind the goondas.’ As he summed up, To put in an appearance before a yelling crowd does not always work. It certainly did not last night. What my word in person cannot do, my fast may…. I therefore begin fasting from 8:15 tonight to end only if and when sanity returns to Calcutta.

In response, scores of self-described goondas


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‘surrendered to Gandhi a small arsenal of weapons, and admitted to him their complicity in the urban violence’. The Calcutta police force  – ‘European and Indian, Christian, Hindu, and Muslim’  – had meanwhile ‘commenced a twenty-four hour fast in sympathy while remaining on duty’. Several vying political leaders signed an agreement to ‘strive unto death to prevent … communal strife in the city.’2 Gandhi then broke his fast. He soon departed for Delhi, intending to travel on to the western border region. But he decided to remain in Delhi because he found so much tension there resulting from the arrival of non-Muslim refugees fleeing Pakistan. Four months later, on 12 January 1948, Gandhi announced another fast, hoping though not expecting to curb continuing animosity and disorder.This fast, he explained, ‘will end when and if I am satisfied that there is a reunion of hearts of all the communities brought about without any outside pressure, and from an awakened sense of duty’. To his co-worker Mirabehn, he remarked that how the public 2

Dennis Dalton, Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action, New York: Columbia University Press, 1993, pp. 154-8.



responded to his fast ‘is neither your concern nor mine. Our concern is the act itself not the result of the action.’3 These words made clear that the Bhagavad Gita still guided his decisions. Gandhi broke this, his final fast on 18 January 1948, after receiving assurances from leaders of renewed efforts to restrain violence and hatred. Twelve days later, on 30 January 1948, he was assassinated by a young Hindu who thought him too pro-Muslim. His assassin also claimed inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita, invoking the pro-violence interpretation of the Gita that Gandhi had been combatting for decades.4 Throughout the devastation of World War II and then through chaos resulting from the partition of India and Pakistan, Gandhi never forgot the Bhagavad Gita or the ancient war in whose midst the dialogue occurs. In this war, the great leader Arjuna prevails, and then stands by as his elder brother Yudhishthira 3

M.K. Gandhi, Bapu’s Letters to Mira, 1924-1948, Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1959, p. 362. 4 See Yogesh Chadha, Gandhi: A Life, New York: John Wiley, 1997, pp. 497-501. Also Richard H. Davis, The Bhagavad Gita: A Biography, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015, pp. 143-5.


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becomes a just ruler, after which Arjuna is content to become his self-effacing helper. After Gandhi instigated a popular uprising during World War II that forced an end to imperial British rule, his kinsman Chakravarti Rajagopalachari replaced Lord Louis Mountbatten as free India’s GovernorGeneral.5 But Gandhi could not believe his work was done simply because a kinsman occupied New Delhi’sViceregal Palace. Gandhi had made clear years earlier that ending British rule would only remove one large obstacle to India’s cultural and social regeneration. Despite the chaos of 1947, achieving this regeneration was still possible. But much work would be required, and Gandhi was intent on getting started. Having predicted that like the ancient Mahabharata war World War II would prove catastrophic for all concerned, Gandhi was not disoriented by the fractured independence attained by India and Pakistan. But rethinking was definitely needed. Even as Gandhi devoted his immediate energies to con5

Rajagopalachari, father-in-law of Gandhi’s son Devdas, served briefly as acting Governor-General in November 1947, and as Governor-General from June 1948 until 1950 when India adopted its present Constitution.



fronting the violence resulting from the calamitous way British rule was brought to an end, he was already at work on challenges certain to persist for decades to come. As usual, the ancient Bhagavad Gita dialogue served as Gandhi’s starting point, even as he searched for modern applications. Gandhi had anticipated that the government likely to follow British withdrawal would be a ‘mixture’, with ambitious Indian politicians jostling for ‘a voice in the government of the day’. In an effort to add a longer-range perspective, Gandhi proposed setting up a People’s Service Corps or Lok Sevak Sangh to be ‘a strong party representing true non-violence’. Relatedly, Gandhi suggested giving the vote to eighteen-year-olds. Village-level institutions were to be emphasized, and villagers encouraged to believe they were not ‘born to serve the cities and towns of India’. Above all, India and Pakistan were to be reunited in spirit even if not formally. Gandhi referred repeatedly to the needs of 700,000 villages, adding together the villages of both successor nation states to reach this total.6 6

Bose, My Days with Gandhi, p. 271; M.K. Gandhi, Delhi Diary, pp. 68, 376; Bose, ed., Selections from Gandhi, p. 115.


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Gandhi pointed out that the Bhagavad Gita had been composed in and for a time of change, and if creatively interpreted could offer cogent guidance as independent India entered a time of massive transition. Two thousand years earlier, the Gita had for example imaginatively redefined the venerable practice of yajna  – sacrifice  – by affirmatively redirecting people’s aspirations and energies toward work in the world as a sacrificial offering more beneficial than the old-fashioned slaughtering of animals. Gandhi suggested that it might make similar sense for modern Indians to move away from religious rituals that involved burning wood. India had once been shadowed by ‘big forests’ that constrained agricultural development, Gandhi noted, so ‘clearing these forests’ was then seen as ‘a social necessity’. To accomplish this desirable result, ‘Innumerable ceremonies were devised, all of which required the lighting of fire’. Since India’s natural environment was now so different, by ‘burning wood in this age, we misuse’ a scarce social resource or – even worse  – ‘show ourselves witless pedants by understanding the thing in a literal sense’. As an alternative, Gandhi in the 1920s had proposed ‘spinning, the reason being the same as in the



instance I cited of the forests. At that time, the very thought of cutting trees for wood in a forest might have shaken a man with fear; but the man who had faith would have started the work straightway.’ In India in the 1920s, hand-spinning was comparably beneficial. It could help free India from foreign imports, and as a village custom was also challenging for many English-educated urban Indians. For these reasons, hand-spinning had made sense during the campaign for Indian independence, and could even be seen as a modern-day work-as-worship yajna sacrifice. Looking ahead, however, Gandhi could also imagine a time when hand-spinning might seem as dated as clearing dark forests for sacrificial woodburning. ‘It is quite possible’, he speculated, that in future people may see harm in the spinning-wheel, may come to think that no one should wear cotton clothes at all, because they do harm. They may, for instance, believe that clothes should be made from fibres extracted from banana leaves. If people should come to feel that way, anyone who still clings to the spinningwheel would be looked upon as a fool.

More tellingly, Gandhi emphasized that handspinning could be best thought of as a metaphor.


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For Gandhi, a hand-operated spinning-wheel was ‘not an article made of wood but any type of work which provides employment to all people’.7 The spinning-wheel illustrated the potential of any good machine to free rather than enslave its user, and was thus a standard by which to gauge all new machines, including those big machines called factories, and that biggest of all machines, the modern industrialized nation. Gandhi had a similarly subtle understanding of Indian ‘village autonomy’. Gandhi wanted every Indian village to be in some sense self-sufficient and therefore free. But he also thought of the entire Indian nation as a village. Whether large or small, a self-sufficient Indian village could confidently utilize many of modernity’s advanced systems. In the future, Gandhi anticipated, Indian villagers will go to the bank, their own bank, and utilize it under their direction for purposes they think best. They may then build windmills or produce electricity or whatever they like. A central government will evolve, but it will act according to the wishes of the people and will be broad-based on their will…. If there is large-scale 7

M.K. Gandhi, Collected Works, 32: 154, 157-8.



industrialization, the state will of course have to lead the process.8

Whether working in large factories or on small farms, independent India’s labour force would need to ‘realize its dignity and strength’, Gandhi insisted. ‘Capital has neither dignity nor strength compared to labour.’9 Gandhi’s vision for India’s future economy might be termed non-violent socialism. He assumed that every society – including India’s – would be held together by varying levels of force and falsehood until better means had been freely accepted. He none the less believed it possible in theory to organize a society recognizing that every one of one’s fellow human beings contained a spark of the divine. If this goal was in theory attainable, then it was worth working toward in practice every day. Gandhi sought a consensual society animated by positive bonds of respectful mutuality. Such bonds 8

Louis Fischer, A Week with Gandhi, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1943, pp. 82, 93; idem, Gandhi and Stalin, New York: Harper & Bros., 1947, 22. 9 Bose, My Days with Gandhi, p. 271; Gandhi, Delhi Diary, pp. 68, 376; Bose, ed., Selections from Gandhi, p. 115.


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could not be coercively created. But moving even somewhat closer to this goal was worth the struggle required.


Text of the Quit India Resolution Approved at the A.I.C.C. Meeting in Bombay on 7-8 August 1942

the all india congress committee has given the most careful consideration to the reference made to it by the Working Committee in their resolution dated 14 July 1942, and to subsequent events, including the development of the war situation, the utterances of responsible spokesmen of the British Government, and the comments and criticisms made in India and abroad.The Committee approves of and endorses that resolution and is of opinion that events subsequent to it have given it further justification, and have made it clear that the immediate ending of British rule in India is an urgent necessity, both for the sake of India and for the success of the cause of the United Nations. The continuation of that rule is degrading and enfeebling India and making her



progressively less capable of defending herself and of contributing to the cause of world freedom. The Committee has viewed with dismay the deterioration of the situation on the Russian and Chinese fronts and conveys to the Russian and Chinese people its high appreciation of their heroism in defence of their freedom.This increasing peril makes it incumbent on all those who strive for freedom and who sympathise with the victims of aggression, to examine the foundations of the policy so far pursued by the Allied Nations, which have led to repeated and disastrous failure. It is not by adhering to such aims and policies and methods that failure can be converted into success, for past experience has shown that failure is inherent in them.These policies have been based not on freedom so much as on the domination of subject and colonial countries, and the continuation of the imperialist tradition and method. The possession of Empire, instead of adding to the strength of the ruling Power, has become a burden and a curse. India, the classic land of modern imperialism, has become the crux of the question, for by the freedom of India will Britain and the United Nations be judged, and the peoples of Asia and Africa be filled with hope and enthusiasm.The ending of British rule in this country is thus a vital and immediate issue on which depend the future of the war and the success of freedom and democracy. A free India will assure this success by throwing all her great resources in the struggle for



freedom and against the aggression of nazism, fascism and imperialism. This will not only affect materially the fortunes of the war, but will bring all subject and oppressed humanity on the side of the United Nations, and give these Nations, whose ally India would be, the moral and spiritual leadership of the world. India in bondage will continue to be the symbol of British imperialism and the taint of that imperialism will affect the fortunes of all the United Nations. The peril of today, therefore, necessitates the independence of India and the ending of British domination. No future promises or guarantees can affect the present situation or meet that peril. They cannot produce the needed psychological effect on the mind of the masses. Only the glow of freedom now can release that energy and enthusiasm of millions of people which will immediately transform the nature of the war. The A.I.C.C. therefore repeats with all emphasis the demand for the withdrawal of the British Power from India. On the declaration of India’s independence, a Provisional Government will be formed and Free India will become an ally of the United Nations, sharing with them in the trials and tribulations of the joint enterprise of the struggle for freedom.The Provisional Government can only be formed by the cooperation of the principal parties and groups in the country. It will thus be a composite government, representative of all important sections of the people of India. Its primary functions must be to



defend India and resist aggression with all the armed as well as the non-violent forces at its command, together with its Allied powers, to promote the well-being and progression of the workers in the fields and factories and elsewhere, to whom essentially all power and authority must belong. The Provisional Government will evolve a scheme for Constituent Assembly which will prepare a constitution for the Government of India acceptable to all sections of the people. This constitution, according to the Congress view, should be a federal one, with the largest measure of autonomy for the federating units, and with the residuary powers vesting in these units. The future relations between India and the Allied Nations will be adjusted by representatives of all these free countries conferring together for their mutual advantage and for their co-operation in the common task of resisting aggression. Freedom will enable India to resist aggression effectively with the people’s united will and strength behind it. The freedom of India must be the symbol of and prelude to the freedom of all other Asiatic nations under foreign domination. Burma, Malaya, Indo-China, the Dutch Indies, Iran and Iraq must also attain their complete freedom. It must be clearly understood that such of these countries as are under Japanese control now must not subsequently be placed under the rule or control of any other colonial Power. While the A.I.C.C. must primarily be concerned with



the independence and defence of India in this hour of danger, the Committee is of opinion that the future peace, security and ordered progress of the world, demand a World Federation of free nations, and on no other basis can the problems of the modern world be solved. Such a World Federation would ensure the freedom of its constituent nations, the prevention of aggression and exploitation by one nation over another, the protection of national minorities, the advancement of all backward areas and peoples, and the pooling of the world’s resources for the common good of all. On the establishment of such a World Federation, disarmament would be practicable in all countries, national armies, navies and air forces would no longer be necessary, and a World Federal Defence Force would keep the world peace and prevent aggression. An independent India would gladly join such a World Federation and cooperate on an equal basis with other nations in the solution of international problems. Such a Federation should be open to all nations who agree with its fundamental principles. In view of the war, however, the Federation must inevitably, to begin with, be confined to the United Nations. Such a step taken now will have a most powerful effect on the war, on the peoples of the Axis countries, and on the peace to come. The Committee regretfully realises, however, that despite the tragic and overwhelming lessons of the war and the perils that overhang the world, the governments



of few countries are yet prepared to take this inevitable step towards World Federation. The reactions of the British Government and the misguided criticisms of the foreign press also make it clear that even the obvious demand for India’s independence is resisted, though this has been made essentially to meet the present peril and to enable India to defend herself and help China and Russia in their hour of need.The Committee is anxious not to embarrass in any way the defence of China or Russia, whose freedom is precious and must be preserved, or to jeopardise the defensive capacity of the United Nations. But the peril grows both to India and these nations, and inaction and submission to a foreign administration at this stage is not only degrading India and reducing her capacity to defend herself and resist aggression, but is no answer to that growing peril and is no service to the peoples of the Untied Nations. The earnest appeal of the Working Committee to Great Britain and the United Nations has so far met with no response, and the criticisms made in many foreign quarters have shown an ignorance of India’s and the world’s need, and sometimes even hostility to India’s freedom, which is significant of a mentality of domination and racial superiority which cannot be tolerated by a proud people conscious of their strength and of the justice of their cause. The A.I.C.C. would yet again, at this last moment, in the interest of world freedom, renew this appeal to Britain



and the United Nations. But the Committee feels that it is no longer justified in holding the nation back from endeavouring to assert its will against an imperialist and authoritarian government which dominates over it and prevents it from functioning in its own interest and in the interest of humanity. The Committee resolves, therefore, to sanction for the vindication of India’s inalienable right to freedom and independence, the starting of a mass struggle on non-violent lines on the widest possible scale, so that the country might utilise all the non-violent strength it has gathered during the last twenty-two years of peaceful struggle. Such a struggle must inevitably be under the leadership of Gandhiji and the Committee requests him to take the lead and guide the nation in the steps to be taken. The Committee appeals to the people of India to face the dangers and hardships that will fall to their lot with courage and endurance, and to hold together under the leadership of Gandhiji, and carry out his instructions as disciplined soldiers on Indian freedom. They must remember that non-violence is the basis of this movement. A time may come when it may not be possible to issue instructions or for instructions to reach our people, and when no Congress Committees can function.When this happens, every man and woman, who is participating in this movement must function for himself or herself within the four corners of the general instructions issued. Every Indian who desires freedom and strives for it must



be his own guide urging him on along the hard road where there is no resting place and which leads ultimately to the independence and deliverance of India. Lastly, while the A.I.C.C. has stated its own view of the future governance under free India the A.I.C.C. wishes to make it quite clear to all concerned that by embarking on mass struggle it has no intention of gaining power for the Congress.The power, when it comes, will belong to the whole people of India.


Aesop 34 Aga Khan Palace 109, 140, 151, 155 Ahmedabad 127-8 Alexander, Horace 76n Allahabad 114, 124, 125, 131 Ali, Sadiq 114 Amery, L.S. 166-8, 170-1 Asaf Ali 111, 113, 158 Ali, Aruna Asaf 111-12, 133, 154, 158-61 All-India Congress Committee 84, 97-100, 106, 113-15 All-India Leaders Conference 146 Arjuna 34-7, 70, 104, 141-3, 174, 195-6 Arnold, Sir Edwin 21-2, 39 Assam 85, 126-7 Attlee, Clement 185 Australia 78, 130, 164

Azad, Maulana A.K. 114, 179 Ballia 124-5 Baluchistan 186 Barua, Kanaklata 127 Benares Hindu University 130-1 Bengal 125-6, 183, 184 Bhagalpur 123 Bhagavad Gita 7-12, 14, 19, 21-6, 32-49, 66-7, 89, 100, 103, 108, 141-2, 155, 174, 174-5, 195, 197, 198 Bhave, Vinoba 72 Bihar 84-85, 120-4, 128, 183 Birla, G.D. (family) 107-9, 114 Boer War 63 Bombay (now Mumbai) 31, 54, 97-100, 107-9, 116, 127-8, 134-7, 140, 150, 179-80



Bose, Subhas Chandra 66, 188-90 Burma 78, 83-5, 97, 176 Calcutta (now Kolkata) 81-2, 125-6, 179, 193-4 Caste system 47-9 Central Provinces 183 Champaran 123 Chand, Hukam 73 Chauri Chaura 31-2 China 92, 94 Churchill, Winston 51-2, 61-2, 66, 82, 91, 151-3, 163, 166-8, 170-1, 177-8, 180-1 Communists 76-7, 183 Congress, Indian National 27, 29, 55, 57, 57-60, 62, 70-2, 82-3, 106, 109-10, 112-16, 124, 126, 128, 139, 162-9, 172, 176, 179, 182-91 Congress Working Committee 96-8 Cripps, Sir Stafford 82-3, 91, 97, 165 Curzon, Lord 151 Delhi 131-3, 183, 194 Delhi Congress Committee 111, 113 Deo, S.D. 110 Desai, Mahadev 21n, 86, 108, 109, 117

Dharma 36, 45-8 East India Company 28 Edward, Prince of Wales 31 Emerson, Ralph Waldo 93 Fischer, Louis 68n, 90-5 France 56, 66, 173 Free Indian Army (Azad Hind Fauj) 165, 179 Gairola, Dr. Kaushalya Nand 130-1 Gandhi, Devdas 148, 196n Gandhigram 15 Gandhi, Kasturba Bai 108, 116, 155, 172 Gandhi, Mohandas K., his enduring influence 7-19; his early life 21-7; the years 1915-39 27-55; the years 1939-42 56-105; his fasts, 145-55, 193-5; on partition 162-91; on India’s future 192-202 George V, King 54 Germany, Nazi 56, 61, 65-9, 70, 77, 79, 91, 92, 131, 139, 184, 189 Gohpur 127 Gowalia Tank Maidan 98, 111-12 Gujarat 21, 63-4 Gwalior 131-2

INDEX Hallett, Sir Maurice 59-60, 162-3 Harijan 66, 86, 87n, 88n, 95, 117 Hazaribagh Central Jail 123 Hind Swaraj 24 Hindustan Times 133, 147-8 History of the Civil Disobedience Movement 1940-41 75, 77-8 Hitler, Adolph 61, 66, 79, 90, 91, 94, 107 Iengar, H.V.R. 140 Indochina 78 Irwin, Lord 51-2 Italy 66, 92 Jaipur 132 Jaiswal, Dasrath Lal 125 Jallianwala Bagh 28 Jamshedpur 122-3 Japan 66, 78, 83, 85-7, 91, 92, 94, 96, 97, 99, 101, 120, 139, 165, 167, 177, 179, 189 Jayakar, M.R. 146 Jews 66-8, 90 Jhansi, Rani 164 Jhaveri, Chandrakantbhai 135-7 Jinnah, Mohammed Ali 152, 184, 187-8, 190-1 Kachru, Dwarkanath 154 Kaoti, Mukunda 127 Kashmir 171, 186


Khan, Abdul Ghaffar 137-8 King, Martin Luther, Jr. 14, 16 Kipling, Rudyard 175 Koran 11, 108, 155 Kota 128-30 Kripalani, Acharya 115 Kripalani, Sucheta 115, 140, 154 Krishna 35-6, 47 Krishnavarma, Shyamji 23 Linlithgow, Lord 56-62, 65, 146-53, 163, 166, 168-72, 182 Lohia, Dr. Ram Manohar 135 Lok Sevak Sangh 197 Losarhi 123 Madras (Tamil Nadu) 183 Mahabharata 32-5, 37, 70, 104 Mahallick, Kali 126 Malabar 85 Malaya 78, 84, 97 Mandela, Nelson 14, 15 Mashruwala, K.G. 117 Maxwell, Sir Reginald 170 Mehta, Usha 134-7 Mirabehn (Madeleine Slade) 86-7, 108-9, 194-5 Molesworth, G.N. 85-6 Montagu, Edwin 27-9 Mountbatten, Lord 185-7, 191, 196 Mughal rule 28-9



Mushabanai 123 Muslim League 183-5, 187-8, 191 Muslims 181-5, 193-5 Narayan, Jayaprakash 65, 76-8, 123, 138-9 Naval Mutiny 179-80 Negroes, American 94, 102-3 Nehru, Jawaharlal 57, 65, 72-3, 75, 81-3, 91, 93, 94, 110-11, 187 Nelson, Admiral Horatio 173-4 Nepal 139 New Testament 11 Non-Cooperation Movement 29-31, 60 Non-violence 10-11, 42-3, 80-1, 100, 143-4, 154, 197

Quit India Movement 8, 12, 16, 17, 106-56, 163-5, 170, 172, 176, 182-3 Quit India Resolution 98-106, 111, 114, 116, 120, 141, 156 Raghavdas, Baba 154 Rajagopalachari, C. 196 Rajasthan 128-30 Ramayana 23 Rebellion of 1857 163-4 Revolutionary Movement Ordinance 57-62, 70, 114 Roosevelt, Franklin 69n, 91, 93, 94, 95, 178 Round Table Conference (1931) 52-4 Rowlatt Act 28 Ruskin, John 11 Russia 65, 77, 90, 92, 157, 183

Orissa 86-7, 126, 158, 183 Pakistan 138, 185-6, 192, 195, 197 Panchatantra 34 Panda, Sri Muralidhar 126 Patel, Sardar Vallabhbhai 64 Patna 121 Patnaik, Biju 158 Pearl Harbor 78 Poland 56, 68-9 Poona (Pune) 109-10 Punjab 183 Pyarelal 115

Salt March (1930) 50-1, 71 Sapru, Tej Bahadur 146 Satya 11, 45 Satyagraha 44-5, 67, 81-2, 96-7 Savarkar, Veer 23 Sharma, Brahma Dutt 73-4 Sharma, Radhe Shyam 130-4 Sharp, F.E. 109-11 Shirer, William 53-4 Sikhs 183 Sikh Wars [1845-9] 171 Simla 52 Simon Commission 50

INDEX Sindh 184 Singapore 78, 97 Singhji, Maharao Raja Sri Sir Bhim 129-30 Slade, Madeleine, see Mirabehn Solomon, King 191 South Africa 15, 22-7, 32, 44, 63, 67, 157, 173-4 Swastikas 79 Tata Iron and Steel Works 122-3 Thoreau, Henry David 11, 93 Tolstoy, Leo 11, 173 Trafalgar battle 173 United Provinces 31, 59, 107, 124-5, 131, 163, 183


United States of America 16, 61, 78, 90, 91, 93-5, 102-3, 147, 164, 178 Varanasi 130-1, 154 Victoria, Queen 28, 164 Vietnam War 16, 17 Vyasa 33 Wavell, Lord 171-8, 185 Wardha 90, 153, 167 Willingdon, Lord 52 Wordsworth, William 173-6 Yagnik, Indulal 64n, 156-8 Yajna 198-9 Yudhishthira 195-6