27. RECRUITING CAMPAIGN
So I attended the conference.
The Viceroy was very keen on my supporting the resolution about recruiting.
I asked for permission to speak in Hindi-Hindustani. The Viceroy acceded
to my request, but suggested that I should speak also in English. I had
no speech to make. I spoke but one sentence to this effect: 'With a full
sense of my responsibility I beg to support the resolution.'
Many congratulated me on my
having spoken in Hindustani. That was, they said, the first instance within
living memory of anyone having spoken in Hindustani at such a meeting.
The congratulations and the discovery that I was the first to speak in
Hindustani at a Viceregal meeting hurt my national pride. I felt like shrinking
into myself. What a tragedy that the language of the country should be
taboo in meetings held in the country, for work relating to the country,
and that a speech there in Hindustani by a stray individual like myself
should be a matter for congratulations! Incidents like these are reminders
of the low state to which we have been reduced.
The one sentence that I uttered
at the conference had for me considerable significance. It was impossible
for me to forget either the conference or the resolution I supported. There
was one undertaking that I had to fulfil while yet in Delhi. I had to write
a letter to the Viceroy. This was no easy thing for me. I felt it my duty
both in the interests of the Government and of the people to explain therein
how and why I attended the conference, and to state clearly what the people
expected from Government.
In the letter I expressed my
regret for the exclusion from the conference of leaders like Lokamanya
Tilak and the Ali Brothers, and stated the people's minimum political demand,
as also the demands of the Muslims on account of the situation created
by the war. I asked for permission to publish the letter, and the Viceroy
gladly gave it.
The letter had to be sent to
Simla, where the Viceroy had gone immediately after the conference. The
letter had for me considerable importance, and sending it by post would
have meant delay. I wanted to save time, and yet I was not inclined to
send it by any messenger I came across. I wanted some pure man to carry
it and hand it [over] personally at the Viceregal Lodge. Dinabandhu Andrews
and Principal Rudra suggested the name of the good Reverend Ireland of
the Cambridge Mission. He agreed to carry the letter if he might read it
and if it appealed to him as good. I had no objection, as the letter was
by no means private. He read it, liked it, and expressed his willingness
to carry out the mission. I offered him the second class fare, but he declined
it, saying he was accustomed to travelling intermediate. This he did, though
it was a night journey. His simplicity and his straight and plainspoken
manner captivated me. The letter thus delivered at the hands of a pure-minded
man had, as I thought, the desired result. It eased my mind and cleared
The other part of my obligation
consisted in raising recruits Where could I make a beginning except in
Kheda? And whom could I invite to be the first recruits except my own co-workers?
So as soon as I reached Nadiad, I had a conference with Vallabhbhai and
other friends. Some of them could not easily take to the proposal. Those
who liked the proposal had misgivings about its success. There was no love
lost between the Government and the classes to which I wanted to make my
appeal. The bitter experience they had had of the Government officials
was still fresh in their memory.
And yet they were in favour
of starting work. As soon as I set about my task, my eyes were opened.
My optimism received a rude shock. Whereas during the revenue campaign
the people readily offered their carts free of charge, and two volunteers
came forth when one was needed, it was difficult now to get a cart even
on hire, to say nothing of volunteers. But we would not be dismayed. We
decided to dispense with the use of carts and to do our journeys on foot.
At this rate we had to trudge about 20 miles a day. If carts were not forthcoming,
it was idle to expect people to feed us. It was hardly proper to ask for
food. So it was decided that every volunteer must carry his food in his
satchel. No bedding or sheet was necessary, as it was summer.
We had meetings wherever we
went. People did attend, but hardly one or two would offer themselves as
recruits. 'You are a votary of Ahimsa, how can you ask us to take up arms?'
'What good has Government done for India to deserve our co-operation?'
These and similar questions used to be put to us.
However, our steady work began
to tell. Quite a number of names were registered, and we hoped that we
should be able to have a regular supply as soon as the first batch was
sent. I had already begun to confer with the Commissioner as to where the
recruits were to be accommodated.
The Commissioners in every division
were holding conferences on the Delhi model. One such was held in Gujarat.
My co-workers and I were invited to it. We attended, but I felt there was
even less place for me here than at Delhi. In this atmosphere of servile
submission I felt ill at ease. I spoke somewhat at length. I could say
nothing to please the officials, and had certainly one or two hard things
I used to issue leaflets asking
people to enlist as recruits. One of the arguments I had used was distasteful
to the Commissioner: 'Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India,
history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the
blackest. If we want the Arms Act to be repealed, if we want to learn the
use of arms, here is a golden opportunity. If the middle class render voluntary
help to Government in the hour of its trial, distrust will disappear, and
the ban on possessing arms will be withdrawn.' The Commissioner referred
to this and said that he appreciated my presence in the conference in spite
of the differences between us. And I had to justify my standpoint as courteously
as I could.
Here is the letter to the Viceroy
referred to above:
As you are aware, after
careful consideration, I felt constrained to convey to Your Excellency
that I could not attend the Conference for reasons stated in the letter
of the 26th instant (April), but after the interview you were good enough
to grant me, I persuaded myself to join it, if for no other cause, then
certainly out of my great regard for yourself. One of my reasons for abstention
and perhaps the strongest was that Lokamanya Tilak, Mrs. Besant, and the
Ali Brothers, whom I regard as among the most powerful leaders of public
opinion, were not invited to the Conference. I still feel that it was a
grave blunder not to have asked them, and I respectfully suggest that that
blunder might possibly be repaired if these leaders were invited to assist
the Government by giving it the benefit of their advice at the Provincial
Conferences, which, I understand, are to follow. I venture to submit that
no Government can afford to disregard the leaders who represent the large
masses of the people, as these do, even though they may hold views fundamentally
different. At the same time it gives me pleasure to be able to say that
the views of all parties were permitted to be freely expressed at the Committees
of the Conference. For my part, I purposely refrained from stating my views
at the Committee at which I had the honour of serving, or at the Conference
itself. I felt that I could best serve the objects of the conference by
simply tendering my support to the resolutions submtted to it, and this
I have done without any reservation. I hope to translate the spoken word
into action as early as the Government can see its way to accept my offer,
which I am submitting simultaneously herewith in a separate letter.
I recognize that in the hour
of its danger we must give, as we have decided to give, ungrudging and
unequivocal support to the Empire of which we aspire in the near future
to be partners in the same sense as the Dominions overseas. But it is the
simple truth that our response is due to the expectation that our goal
will be reached all the more speedily. On that account, even as performance
of duty automatically confers a corresponding right, people are entitled
to believe that the imminent reforms alluded to in your speech will embody
the main general principles of the Congress-League Scheme, and I am sure
that it is this faith which has enabled many members of the conference
to tender to the Government their full-hearted co-operation.
If I could make my countrymen
retrace their steps, I would make them withdraw all the Congress resolutions,
and not whisper 'Home Rule' or 'Responsible Government' during the pendency
of the war. I would make India offer all her able-bodied sons as a sacrifice
to the Empire at its critical moment, and I know that India, by this very
act, would become the most favoured partner in the Empire, and racial distinctions
would become a thing of the past. But practically the whole of educated
India has decided to take a less effective course, and it is no longer
possible to say that educated India does not exercise any influence on
the masses. I have been coming into most intimate touch with the ryots
ever since my return from South Africa to India, and I wish to assure you
that the desire for Home Rule has widely penetrated them. I was present
at the sessions of the last Congress, and I was a party to the resolution
that full Responsible Government should be granted to British India within
a period to be fixed definitely by a Parliamentary Statute. I admit that
it is a bold step to take, but I feel sure that nothing less than a definite
vision of Home Rule to be realized in the shortest possible time will satisfy
the Indian people. I know that there are many in India who consider no
sacrifice as too great in order to achieve the end, and they are wakeful
enough to realize that they must be equally prepared to sacrifice themselves
for the Empire in which they hope and desire to reach their final status.
It follows then that we can but accelerate our journey to the goal by silently
and simply devoting ourselves heart and soul to the work of delivering
the Empire from the threatening danger. It will be national suicide not
to recognize this elementary truth. We must perceive that, if we serve
to save the Empire, we have in that very act secured Home Rule.
Whilst, therefore, it is clear
to me that we should give to the Empire every available man for its defence,
I fear that I cannot say the same thing about financial assistance. My
intimate intercourse with the ryots convinces me that India has already
donated to the Imperial Exchequer beyond her capacity. I know that in making
this statement I am voicing the opinion of the majority of my countrymen.
The conference means for me,
and I believe for many of us, a definite step in the consecration of our
lives to the common cause, but ours is a peculiar position. We are today
outside the partnership. Ours is a consecration based on hope of better
future. I should be untrue to you and to my country if I did not clearly
and unequivocally tell you what that hope is. I do not bargain for its
fulfilment, but you should know that disappointment of hope means disillusion.
There is one thing I may not
omit. You have appealed to us to sink domestic differences. If the appeal
involves the toleration of tyranny and wrongdoing on the part of officials,
I am powerless to respond. I shall resist origanized tyranny to the uttermost.
The appeal must be to the officials that they do not ill-treat a single
soul, and that they consult and respect popular opinion as never before.
In Champaran, by resisting an age-long tyranny I have shown the ultimate
sovereignty of British justice. In Kheda a population that was cursing
the Government now feels that it, and not the Government, is the power
when it is prepared to suffer for the truth it represents. It is, therefore,
losing its bitterness and is saying to itself that the Government must
be a Government for people, for it tolerates orderly and respectful disobedience
where injustice is felt. Thus Champaran and Kheda affairs are my direct,
definite, and special contribution to the war. Ask me to suspend my activities
in that direction and you ask me to suspend my life. If I could popularize
the use of soul-force, which is but another name for love-force, in place
of brute force, I know that I could present you with an India that could
defy the whole world to do its worst. In season and out of season, therefore,
I shall discipline myself to express in my life this eternal law of suffering,
and present it for acceptance to those who care, and if I take part in
any other activity, the motive is to show the matchless superiority of
Lastly, I would like you to
ask His Majesty's ministers to give definite assurance about Mohammedan
States. I am sure you know that every Mohammedan is deeply interested in
them. As a Hindu, I cannot be indifferent to their cause. Their sorrows
must be our sorrows. In the most scrupulous regard for their rights of
those States and of the Muslim sentiment as to their places of worship,
and your just and timely treatment of India's claim to Home Rule, lies
the safety of the Empire. I write this because I love the English nation,
and I wish to evoke in every Indian the loyalty of Englishmen.