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The Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi – Part III

By Prof. Santanu Sen

Worsening of relations between Hindus and Muslims was still alarming. But during the freedom struggle they forgot their differences and fought the common enemy together till the movement started to falter. The chauvinistic and communal sentiments were stirred up by the authorities. Gandhiji realised that it was imperative to build up the forces of ‘Satyagraha’. He set politics aside and devoted his efforts to restoring friendly relations between communities, which he called constructive work to education the people in the spirit of unity; mutual assistance and non-violence. Meanwhile the ‘Swarajists’ started to dominate the political arena more. It was not until late 1920’s that a revival in the nationalist forces started to take shape. The I.N.C. left wing headed by Jawharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose drew radical conclusions from the defeat of the (1919-1922), ‘Satyagraha Campaign’ and become even more active in the party. At the Madras session of Indian National Congress in 1927AD, Jawharlal Nehru’s resolution which proclaimed the total Independence as the main goal of the struggle was accepted. Gandhiji was not supportive of this resolution yet he did not interfere. At the so called interparty, conference held the next year, the right-wing members of the congress countered this resolution with Motilal Nehru’s report which expressed their preparedness to accept the dominion status. In response the supporters of full independence headed by J.L. Nehru, set up in November 1928AD the Independence of India League with the objective of urging the I.N.C. to do everything, even if that meant resorting to non-violent resistance, the implementation of the resolution of the Madras session.

 M.K. Gandhi proposed a platform of compromise. Recognising India’s Independence as I.N.C’s ultimate goal, he committed himself not to call the people to non-cooperation within two years and be content with the British authorities implementing the reforms in ‘Motilal Nehru’s report’. The plan was approved at the I.N.C. annual session held in Calcutta in December, 1928AD. All the left wing members managed to do was to cut the period of delay to one year. But at the end of the term however India was not granted self governance as promised. The intransigence of the British compelled Gandhiji and I.N.C. to put pressure on the authorities. The nationwide ‘Satyagraha’ was launched in March 1930. Gandhiji also persuaded his compatriots to protest against the salt monopoly of the British. Together with his associates he walked for 24 days to the sea. People in large numbers began to make salt by evaporating sea water in order to violate British monopoly and the entire nation was mobilised which demonstrated a rare unity which could not be broken by reprisals. Yet, just as in 1922 AD, the British were not willing to capitulate. Once again Gandhiji was facing the dilemma of whether to launch the campaign of non-payment of taxes campaign behind him or to put up with defeat again. He opted for the latter. This time his pretext for suspending the campaign was the suggestion by the British to negotiated for India’s self governance. The negotiations which took place in London (England) could not and did not lead to any constructive result as they were designed by the British to down pay the people’s struggle and to suppress it. The pact concluded by M.K. Gandhi and the viceroy Lord Irwin on march 5, 1931AD failed even to mention the status of self governance. When Gandhiji tried to revive the second nationwide ‘Satyagraha’ after the failure of the negotiations, the enthusiasms of the people had already waned, the campaign was slack, merely symbolic and the authorities snuffed it out in no time. This time too, Gandhiji did not risk unfolding the campaign in full as he feared that it would go beyond the limits of non-violence. Just, as in 1922AD ‘Satyagraha’, it threatened to go beyond the I.N.C’s control as the masses could, at any time be ignited to independent spontaneous action. The well organised non-violent, non-cooperation accrued hegemony for the I.N.C. could evolve into a popular revolution with all the methods and social goals befitting it, whereas ‘Satyagraha’, with the accurately dosed out resistance was the maximum of revolutionary  activity the Indian National bourgeoisie (which ran the I.N.C.) were prepared to tolerate .

After the second national non-violent resistance, the situation in the I.N.C. was similar to that of the late 1920’s as differences emerged between the supporters of parliamentary action and the advocates of civil disobedience. The official termination of non-cooperation in 1934AD pre-determined the outcome of the wrangling between them in the coming years. Not only did the I.N.C. participate in the parliamentary election under the Viceroy and in accordance with the ‘1935 Government of India act’ that granted the country a limited (fictitious) autonomy, but also agreed to form Governments in the provinces. As in 1924AD Gandhiji was preoccupied with his constructive work of promoting spinning and weaving and fighting for the rights of the untouchables. This was important for strengthening of national unity that was feared by the British. They tried to defeat the efforts towards unity by using an election system based on religion and caste. In order to stress his retreat from political activity, Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi left the I.N.C. (Indian National Congress) for a while. However, this did not prevent him from remaining the I.N.C’s actual leader. Without directly associating himself with any of its factions, Gandhiji set a clear cut course towards ensuring the unity of the congress and reserving a dominant position in its moderate reformist circles.

 In the 1930’s the differences on tactical issues resulted in a division of the congress into the left and right. The younger members were disappointment with the failure of Gandhi’s second nationwide ‘Satyagraha Campaign”. They fought to dispel the parliamentary illusions of the old guard and called for the urgent and decisive attack against the colonialists. Their revolutionary spirit manifested in their understanding of the tasks of the national movement. They decided to agree to full independence and establishment of social justice. As the liberation struggle grew more democratic, involving an increasing number of peasants, workers, professionals and students, the left wing rose in popularity. They were headed by Jawharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose. However, the weakness of the new trends lay in lack of unity, factionalism, ideological diversity and mutual suspicion.  Nonetheless, they were united in their drive to radicalise the Congress. The left wing’s growing activity worried the moderates and conservatives. They sought the keep within the framework of legal forms of struggle which at times alternated with the non-violent manifestations of protest.

Gandhiji realised that it was only natural for new trends to emerge and welcomed the enthusiasm and freedom struggle in order to avoid at split. He proposed that Nehru be elected Chairman of the Congress. At the ‘Karachi session’ in 1931 AD a resolution was adopted on the goals, basic rights, as well as economic and social changes. This resolution moved by J.L. Nehru, stressed the need to end poverty and the exploitation of the masses, create a public sector, introduce the planning of and control over economic activity. The national planning committee was put in charge of studying the prospect for economic development. Gandhiji’s policy of retaining the left wing members matched the need to strengthen national unity in the struggle against imperialism. For Gandhiji however the principle underlying this unity constituted in reserving the leading position for the traditional congress circles which were becoming increasingly rightwing as the freedom movement continued. Gandhiji deemed it necessary to provide them with every opportunity to rely on the policy of co-operation and negotiation. The expression of his sympathy with the left was superficial and in all cardinal issues of the extant politics of agrarian relations, was important as the collective memberships of peasants and workers organisations in the I.N.C. were to support the democratic movement and participation in elections. Later in forming provincial Governments he tended to side with the right when in 1939 the conflict between the left and the right exacerbated due to the repeated election of Subhas  Chandra Bose, as the Chairman of the I.N.C.  His plan of actions under the compromise tactics were replaced by mass civil disobedience. Gandhiji’s influence compelled the I.N.C., to choose between Subhas Chandra Bose policy and the Gandhian line at the Tripura session. At that point Gandhi sided with the right and Subhas Bose had to resign. The left wing in the congress suffered moral and political losses.

The WWII (1939-1945) gave rise to the hope that the difficulties experienced by Great Britain would compel it to make concessions as regards to the British colonies. But these hopes were soon dashed as Winston Churchill, the British premiere, said he was not ready to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. On August 8, 1942, INC adopted the resolution to launch the ‘Quit India’ movement for immediately recognising India’s demand for complete freedom. The mass non-violent movement was an act of despair and an attempt to find a way out. However, it failed to have a great impact as many of the leaders were imprisoned. It was not until the end of the WWII (1939-1945AD) when the defeat of ‘Nazism’ and upsurge in universal democratic sentiments, along with the growth of the U.S.S.R. (Soviet Russia) and emergence of a World Socialist order a new international scenario was created. With the new Labour Government replacing Winston Churchill’s war cabinet, the time was ripe for recognising India’s demand for freedom and sovereignty. There were no room for procrastination as the entire nation was charged to act. Since 1945AD India was swept by peasant uprisings, strikes and mass demonstration. The working class in major industrial centres was particularly active. In February, 1945AD the Indian Naval mutiny was supported by rallies and demonstrations held in many cities. The masses no longer waited for instructions from Gandhiji or the Congress and began to act on their own, using their own methods and were not afraid of violating the ‘principles of Ahimsa’. The mass anti-British movements organised, even without the I.N.C. participation which never dared to resort to civil disobedience, compelled England to realise the advantages of the tactics of negotiations and pressure to agree to serious talks with the Congress. However, the colonialists resorted to their last weapon of putting the unity of India at stake and supported the separatist tendencies of the ‘Muslim league’ who welcomed the creation of a separate Muslim state. The advocates of ‘the state of Pakistan‘ were prepared to go to any length to achieve the their goals and passed over from a political game to the so called direct action provoking an unprecedented ‘Hindu-Muslim’ clash that cost thousands of innocent  lives.  Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi challenged their narrow mindedness and stood up for the unity and equal rights of all the religious communities and ethnic groups in India. But on January 30, 1948 A.D. he was assassinated by a fanatical Hindu, a member of a fundamentalist, chauvinist organisation. Two weeks after Gandhiji’s death the newspaper ‘Harijan’ published a document that had gone down to history under the title, “His last will and Testament”.

Gandhiji wrote it on the last day of his life. He stated the Congress, had become outdated as a parliamentary mechanism. He proposed that it should be disbanded and re-established as an organ for the service of the people or Lok Sevak Sangh. According to him, India was yet to reach social, moral and economic independence as understood by the Indian villages. Gandhi was not defeated and he was able to see the frontiers to be reached. He placed social justice high on the agenda which had so far been postponed for gaining of independence. At the age of 78, he was ready to part ways with those who had been his comrades in arms for many years as his goals and principles had become different. He was prepared to start anew with those who retained his belief in ‘Ahimsa and Sarvodoya’.

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