40. MINIATURE SATYAGRAHA
Though I thus took part
in the war as a matter of duty, it chanced that I was not only unable directly
to participate in it, but actually compelled to offer what may be called
miniature Satyagraha even at that critical juncture.
I have already said that an
officer was appointed in charge of our training, as soon as our names were
approved and enlisted. We were all under the impression that this Commanding
Officer was to be our chief only so far as technical matters were concerned,
and that in all other matters I was the head of our Corps, which was directly
responsible to me in matters of internal discipline; that is to say, the
Commanding Officer had to deal with the Corps through me. But from the
first the officer left us under no such delusion.
Mr. Sorabji Adajania was a shrewd
man. He warned me. 'Beware of this man,' he said. 'He seems inclined to
lord it over us. We will have none of his orders. We are prepared to look
upon him as our instructor. But the youngsters he has appointed to instruct
us also feel as though they had come as our masters.'
The youngsters were Oxford students
who had come to instruct us, and whom the Commanding Officer had appointed
to be our section leaders.
I also had not failed to notice
the high-handedness of the Commanding Officer, but I asked Sorabji not
to be anxious, and tried to pacify him. But he was not the man to be easily
'You are too trusting. These
people will deceive you with wretched words, and when at last you see through
them, you will ask us to resort to Satyagraha, and so come to grief, and
bring us all to grief along with you,' said he with a smile.
'What else but grief can you
hope to come to after having cast in your lot with me?' said I. 'A Satyagrahi
is born to be deceived. Let the Commanding Officer deceive us. Have I not
told you times without number that ultimately a deceiver only deceives
Sorabji gave a loud laugh. 'Well,
then,' said he, 'continue to be deceived. You will some day meet your death
in Satyagraha and drag poor mortals like me behind you.'
These words put me in mind of
what the late Miss Emily Hobhouse wrote to me with regard to non-co-operation:
'I should not be surprised if one of these days you have to go to the gallows
for the sake of truth. May God show you the right path and protect you.'
The talk with Sorabji took place
just after the appointment of the Commanding Officer. In a very few days
our relations with him reached the breaking-point. I had hardly regained
my strength after the fourteen days fast, when I began to take part in
the drill, often walking to the appointed place about two miles from home.
This gave me pleurisy and laid me low. In this condition I had to go week-end
camping. Whilst the others stayed there, I returned home. It was here that
an occasion arose for Satyagraha.
The Commanding Officer began
to exercise his authority somewhat freely. He gave us clearly to understand
that he was our head in all matters, military and non-military, giving
us at the same time a taste of his authority. Sorabji hurried to me. He
was not at all prepared to put up with this high-handedness. He said: 'We
must have all orders through you. We are still in the training camp, and
all sorts of absurd orders are being issued. Invidious distinctions are
made between ourselves and those youths who have been appointed to instruct
us. We must have it out with the Commanding Officer, otherwise we shall
not be able to go on any longer. The Indian students and others who have
joined our Corps are not going to abide by any absurd orders. In a cause
which has been taken up for the sake of self-respect, it is unthinkable
to put up with loss of it.'
I approached the Commanding
Officer and drew his attention to the complaints I had received. He wrote
asking me to set out the complaints in writing, at the same time asking
me 'to impress upon those who complain that the proper direction in which
to make complaints is to me through their section commanders, now appointed,
who will inform me through the instructors.'
To this I replied saying that
I claimed no authority, that in the military sense I was no more than any
other private, but that I had believed that as Chairman of the Volunteer
Corps, I should be allowed unofficially to act as their representative.
I also set out the grievances and requests that had been brought to my
notice, namely, that grievous dissatisfaction had been caused by the appointment
of section leaders without reference to the feeling of the members of the
Corps; that they be recalled, and the corps be invited to elect section
leaders, subject to the Commander's approval.
This did not appeal to the Commanding
Officer, who said that it was repugnant to all military discipline that
the section leaders should be elected by the Corps, and that the recall
of appointments already made would be subversive of all discipline.
So we held a meeting and decided
upon withdrawal. I brought home to the members the serious consequences
of Satyagraha. But a very large majority voted for the resolution, which
was to the effect that, unless the appointments of Corporals already made
were recalled, and the members of the Corps given an opportunity of electing
their own Corporals, the members would be obliged to abstain from further
drilling and week-end camping.
I then addressed a letter to
the Commanding Officer telling him what a severe disappointment his letter
rejecting my suggestion had been. I assured him that I was not fond of
any exercise of authority and that I was most anxious to serve. I also
drew his attention to a precedent. I pointed out that although I occupied
no official rank in the South African Indian Ambulance Corps at the time
of the Boer War, there was never a hitch between Colonel Gallwey and the
Corps, and the Colonel never took a step without reference to me with a
view to ascertain the wishes of the Corps. I also enclosed a copy of the
resolution we had passed the previous evening.
This had no good effect on the
Officer, who felt that the meeting and the resolution were a grave breach
Hereupon I addressed a letter
to the Secretary of State for India, acquainting him with all the facts
and enclosing a copy of the resolution. He replied explaining that conditions
in South Africa were different, and drawing my attention to the fact that
under the rules the section commanders were appointed by the Commanding
Officer, but assuring me that in future, when appointing section commanders,
the Commanding Officer would consider my recommendations.
A good deal of correspondence
passed between us after this, but I do not want to prolong the bitter tale.
Suffice it to say that my experience was of a piece with the experiences
we daily have in India. What with threats and what with adroitness the
Commanding Officer succeeded in creating a division in our Corps. Some
of those who had voted for the resolution yielded to the Commander's threats
or persuasions and went back on their promise.
About this time an unexpectedly
large contingent of wounded soldiers arrived at the Netley Hospital, and
the services of our Corps were requisitioned. Those whom the Commanding
Officer could persuade went to Netley. The others refused to go. I was
on my back, but was in communication with the members of the Corps. Mr.
Roberts, the Under-Secretary of State, honoured me with many calls during
those days. He insisted on my persuading the others to serve. He suggested
that they should form a separate Corps, and that at the Netley Hospital
they could be responsible only to the Commanding Officer there, so that
there would be no question of loss of self-respect, Government would be
placated, and at the same time helpful service would be rendered to the
large number of wounded received at the hospital. This suggestion appealed
both to my companions and to me, with the result that those who had stayed
away also went to Netley.
Only I remained away, lying
on my back and making the best of a bad job.