RE-ASSESSING MAHATMA

Although Gandhi-ji’s involvement with the freedom movement began with his visit to India in 1896, it was not until six years later that he began to get seriously involved.

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“…In his second visit for a year in 1901-2 he attended the Congress session in Calcutta and spent more than a month with G.K. Gokhale, who was very loyal to the British and was opposed to the ideas of freedom movement of Tilak, Lajpat Rai, Chittaranjan Das, Surendranath Banerjee and Bipin Pal. Thus, Gandhi has joined the Empire-loyalist camp within the Congress, disinterested in the Swaraj movement of Tilak.

Gandhi’s first Satyagraha:

Returning toSouth Africa, Gandhi began to defy the Transvaal Asiatic Ordinance, where the government wanted all Asiatic, Arabs and Turks to carry a pass all the time to prove their eligibility to stay inSouth Africa. It was not a big issue, as in most countries even today foreigners must carry such documents anyway.

Throughout the Satyagraha, Gandhi emphasized that it was not so much for the rights of the Indians in South Africa as for the honour of the motherland, but which “motherland’ Gandhi was talking about was not clear.

One of the most dramatic events of the Satyagraha was the burning of the passes. The question is did that help the Indians inSouth Africa. The answer is definitely negative. Indians were rounded up and deported in many cases. The campaign lasted for over seven years, and in 1913 hundreds of people went to jail – and thousands of striking Indian miners faced imprisonment and injury.

Even when General Smut decided to meet Gandhi, it was made clear that there would be no further immigration of the Indians toSouth Africa. Passes were withdrawn temporarily but soon after laws were passed to restrict the non-Europeans into designated areas in every cities; that was the beginning of the legal racial segregations inSouth Africa.

By all means Gandhi’s Satyagraha was not a success, but that had not stopped certain people and the English language media in India at that time to propagate Gandhi as victorious against a racist government of British origin for whom Gandhi had worked as medical orderly in the war against the Dutch settlers in South Africa and became a recruitment agent during the First World War…”

Dr Basu also notes that “…(during this time)..Gandhi had practically no contact with the African and their liberation movement”.

Gandhi’s second Satyagraha :

“…Through extraordinary good fortune, due to the deaths of Tilak by September 1920 Gandhi in an extraordinary political coup was elected himself as the president of the All-India Home Rule League and steered a resolution in favour of Non-Cooperation to preserve the Khilafat but got rid of the freedom movement in the Congress session in Calcutta.

Later all the important leaders of the Congress, Bipin Pal, Surendranath Banerjee, Ajit Singh were either expelled or neutralized by Gandhi. Tilak had gathered about Rs.10 lakhs, a huge sum these days to finance his freedom movement. Gandhi used that up to please the followers of Turkish Khalifa, who was defied by the Muslims in the Turkish occupied Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and in Turkey itself by the reforming leader Kamal Attaturk. Gandhi and the Muslim leaders ofIndiawere ignorant about these political developments in theMiddle East.

The agitation to save the Turkish Sultan by the “Non-Cooperation’ of the Congress party was initiated by the Khilafat leadership, not by the Congress.

Gandhi without consulting other leaders of the Congress made these two issues his own by presiding over the All India Khilafat Conference in Delhi in November 1919, and started his programme of peaceful non co-operation with the British included boycotts of British goods and institutions to protect the Turkish Sultan, leading to arrests of thousands of the people for defying British laws.

Thus, the second Satyagraha has nothing to do with the freedom movement of India and was a regressive movement to preserve the violent crude feudal Sultanate of Turkey who had colonized a vast part of the world, from Iraq to Greece with its inhuman rule…”

Gandhi’s third Satyagraha:

Gandhis political influence was minimal for some years, until the Calcutta Congress in December 1928, where he demanded dominion status forIndia, and threatened a nation-wide campaign but he had also expelled Srinivas Iyenger from the Congress for demanding complete independence ofIndia.

Subhas Chandra Bose was expelled along with more than 200 of his followers from the Congress party for similar reason in 1939.

On March 12, 1930 Gandhi started a March in Dandi, Gujarat to break the law, which had deprived the people of his right to make his own salt, although for most of the people ofIndiait was only symbolic as they never did used to make their own salt in any way. On April 6, 1930 Gandhi broke the Salt law at the sea beach at Dandi. This simple act was immediately followed by a nation-wide defiance of the law.

This movement came to be known as Civil Disobedience Movement. Within a few weeks about a hundred thousand men and women, thinking mistakenly that it was the beginning of the freedom movement, were in jail, throwing mighty machinery of the British Government out of gear. Gandhi was arrested on May 5, 1930.

After his arrest, a more aggressive non-violent rebellion took place in which 2500 volunteers raided salt depots at Dharsana. In April 1930 there were violent police-crowd clashes inCalcutta. Approximately over 100,000 people were imprisoned in the course of the Civil disobedience movement (1930-31), while inPeshawarunarmed demonstrators were fired upon by the British. Gandhi withdrew himself from the movement. Sacrifice of the people was in vain. The British government had never withdrawn the tax on salt.

In January 1931, the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, ordered the release of Gandhi and together they signed the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, which called for an end of Congresss civil disobedience. In August, Gandhi went toLondonto represent the Indian National Congress at the Second Round Table Conference; the first one was held without Congress participation in November 1930. That Conference in 1931has failed mainly because of the change of government inBritain.

Gandhi returned toIndiaand decided to resume the civil disobedience movement in January 1932.Indiawas then under the repressive policies of the new Viceroy, Lord Willingdon. The Indian National Congress had been outlawed. Gandhi had restricted the civil disobedience movement to him and suspended it completely in 1934.Gandhi then had started his campaign against untouchability.

Thus, Gandhi’s second Satyagraha also could not achieve anything much because Gandhi as usual refused to continue it. That was Gandhi’s last and the only Satyagraha as a mass political movement for the freedom movement.

In August 1942, Gandhi gave forth the slogan Quit India for the British but he had no plan how to execute the programme. The Congress passed a resolution on 8 August 1942, which stated that, the immediate ending of the British rule in India, was an urgent necessity both for the sake of India and the success of United Nations. The congress resolved to launch a mass Civil Disobedience struggle on the widest possible scale for the vindication of India’s unalienable right to freedom and independence if the British rule did not end immediately. The day after the resolution was passed, the Congress was banned and all the important leaders were arrested including Gandhi. That provoked spontaneous demonstrations at many places and people resorted to the use of violence, not Satyagraha, to dislodge the foreign rule.

Unarmed crowds faced police and military firing on many occasions and they were also machine gunned by low- flying aircraft. Repression also took the form of taking hostages from the villages, imposing collective fines, whipping of suspects and burning of villages. By the end of 1942, over 60,000 persons had been arrested. Martial law had not been proclaimed but the army did whatever it wanted. The brutal and all-out repression succeeded within a period of 6 or 7 weeks in bringing about a cessation of the struggle. As usual Gandhi already withdrew himself from that movement within a few days after it has started.

Since 1942, Gandhi was busy making plans to partitionIndiato createPakistan, the idea of which Gandhi has accepted even in 1940, according to both B.R.Ambedkar and Sri Aurobindo. Nehru and Patel as representative of Gandhi were in regular consultations with the Vice-Roy of India on how best to help the British war efforts againstJapanand the Azad Hind Fauz. Freedom movement was not in their mind.

Gandhi had initiated a number of his personal Satyagraha on a number of issues unrelated to the freedom movement; most of these were not successful.

Sri Aurobindo made this comment about Satyagraha:

Gandhi fasted in the Ahmedabad mill-hands strike to settle the question between mill- owners and workers. The mill-owners did not want to be responsible for his death and so they gave way, without of course, being convinced of his position. But as soon as they found the situation normal they reverted to their old ideas. The same thing happened in South Africa. He got some concessions there by passive resistance and when he came back to India it became worse than before.”

Analysis:

It is a common belief in India and in the Western world that Gandhi through his non-violence Satyagraha has gave India independence from the British rule. The truth is somehow very different.

According to the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee…the creation of the INA( Indian National Army) and mutiny the RIN ( Royal Indian Navy) of February 18–23 1946 made the British realise that their time was up inIndia.

An extract from a letter written by P.V. Chuckraborty, former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, on March 30 1976, reads thus:

When I was acting as Governor of West Bengal in 1956, Lord Clement Attlee, who as the British Prime Minister in post war years was responsible for India’s freedom, visited India and stayed in Raj Bhavan Calcutta for two days. I put it straight to him like this: “The Quit India Movement of Gandhi practically died out long before 1947 and there was nothing in the Indian situation at that time which made it necessary for the British to leave India in a hurry. Why then did they do so?’ In reply Attlee cited several reasons, the most important of which were the INA activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, which weakened the very foundation of the British Empire in India, and the RIN Mutiny which made the British realise that the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to prop up the British. When asked about the extent to which the British decision to quit India was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s 1942 movement, Attlee’s lips widened in smile of disdain and he uttered, slowly, “Minimal’.”*

Famous historian Ramesh Chadra Majumdar dismissed the contribution of Satyagraha to the eventual independence ofIndia.

He said, “ The campaigns of Gandhi… came to an ignoble end about fourteen years before India achieved independence… In particular, the revelations made by the INA trial, and the reaction it produced in India, made it quite plain to the British, already exhausted by the war, that they could no longer depend upon the loyalty of the sepoys for maintaining their authority in India. This had probably the greatest influence upon their final decision to quit India. (Majumdar, R.C., Three Phases ofIndias Struggle for Freedom,Bombay, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan).

Thus, one should not just believe in the official version of the recent Indian history, which has propagated that only Gandhi and Nehru through the Satyagraha has brought freedom to India.

The reality is quite different, but was hidden so far due the massive state power to advertise Satyagraha, which as a mass movement has failed everywhere whether inIndia or inSouth Africa.

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