30. THAT WONDERFUL SPECTACLE!
Thus, while on the one
hand the agitation against the Rowlatt Committee's report gathered volume
and intensity, on the other the Government grew more and more determined
to give effect to its recommendations, and the Rowlatt Bill was published.
I have attended the proceeding of India's legislative chamber only once
in my life, and that was on the occasion of the debate on this Bill. Shastriji
delivered an impassioned speech, in which he uttered a solemn note of warning
to the Government. The Viceroy seemed to be listening spell-bound, his
eyes riveted on Shastriji as the latter poured forth the hot stream of
his eloquence. For the moment it seemed to me as if the Viceroy could not
but be deeply moved by it, it was so true and so full of feeling.
But you can wake a man only
if he is really asleep; no effort that you may make will produce any effect
upon him if he is merely pretending sleep. That was precisely the Government's
position. It was anxious only to go through the farce of legal formality.
Its decision had already been made. Shastriji's solemn warning was, therefore,
entirely lost upon the Government.
In these circumstances mine
could only be a cry in the wilderness. I earnestly pleaded with the Viceroy.
I addressed him private letters as also public letters, in the course of
which I clearly told him that the Government's action left me no other
course except to resort to Satyagraha. But it was all in vain.
The Bill had not yet been gazetted
as an Act. I was in a very weak condition, but when I received an invitation
from Madras I decided to take the risk of the long journey. I could not
at that time sufficiently raise my voice at meetings. The incapacity to
address meetings standing, still abides. My entire frame would shake, and
heavy throbbing would start, on an attempt to speak standing for any length
I have ever felt at home in
the south. Thanks to my South African work I felt I had some sort of special
right over the Tamils and Telugus, and the good people of the south have
never belied my belief. The invitation had come over the signature of the
late Sjt. Kasturi Ranga lyengar. But the man behind the invitation, as
I subsequently learnt on my way to Madras, was Rajagopalachari. This might
be said to be my first acquaintance with him; at any rate this was the
first time that we came to know each other personally.
Rajagopalachari had then only
recently left Salem to settle down for legal practice in Madras, at the
pressing invitation of friends like the late Sjt. Kasturi Ranga lyengar,
and that with a view to taking a more active part in public life. It was
with him that we had put up in Madras. This discovery I made only after
we had stayed with him for a couple of days. For, since the bungalow that
we were staying in belonged to Sjt. Kasturi Ranga lyengar, I was under
the impression that we were his guests. Mahadev Desai, however, corrected
me. He very soon formed a close acquaintance with Rajagopalachari, who,
from his innate shyness, kept himself constantly in the background. But
Mahadev put me on my guard. 'You should cultivate this man,' he said to
me one day.
And so I did. We daily discussed
together plans of the fight, but beyond the holding of public meetings
I could not then think of any other programme. I felt myself at a loss
to discover how to offer civil disobedience against the Rowlatt Bill if
it was finally passed into law. One could disobey it only if the Government
gave one the opportunity for it. Failing that, could we civilly disobey
other laws? And if so, where was the line to be drawn? These and a host
of similar questions formed the theme of these discussions of ours.
Sjt. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar called
together a small conference of leaders to thrash out the matter. Among
those who took a conspicuous part in it was Sjt. Vijayaraghavachari. He
suggested that I should draw up a comprehensive manual of the science of
Satyagraha, embodying even minute details. I felt the task to be beyond
my capacity, and I confessed as much to him.
While these cogitations were
still going on, news was received that the Rowlatt Bill had been published
as an Act. That night I fell asleep while thinking over the question. Towards
the small hours of the morning I woke up somewhat earlier than usual. I
was still in that twilight condition between sleep and consciousness when
suddenly the idea broke upon me--it was as if in a dream. Early in the
morning I related the whole story to Rajagopalachari.
'The idea came to me last night
in a dream that we should call upon the country to observe a general hartal.
Satyagraha is a process of self-purification, and ours is a sacred fight,
and it seems to me to be in the fitness of things that it should be commenced
with an act of self-purification. Let all the people of India therefore,
suspend their business on that day and observe the day as one of fasting
and prayer. The Musalmans may not fast for more than one day; so the duration
of the fast should be 24 hours. It is very difficult to say whether all
the provinces would respond to this appeal of ours or not, but I feel fairly
sure of Bombay, Madras, Bihar, and Sindh. I think we should have every
reason to feel satisfied even if [only] all these places observe the hartal
Rajagopalachari was at once
taken up with my suggestion. Other friends too welcomed it when it was
communicated to them later. I drafted a brief appeal. The date of the hartal
was first fixed on the 30th March, 1919, but was subsequently changed to
6th April. The people thus had only a short notice of the hartal.
As the work had to be started at once, it was hardly possible to give longer
But who knows how it all came
about? The whole of India from one end to the other, towns as well as villages,
observed a complete hartal on that day. It was a most wonderful