37. THE AMRITSAR CONGRESS
The Punjab Government
could not keep in confinement the hundreds of Punjabis who, under the martial
law regime, had been clapped into jail on the strength of the most meagre
evidence by tribunals that were courts only in name. There was such an
outcry all round against this flagrant piece of injustice that their further
incarceration became impossible. Most of the prisoners were released before
the Congress opened. Lala Harikishanlal and the other leaders were all
released, while the session of the Congress was still in progress. The
Ali Brothers too arrived there straight from jail. The people's joy knew
no bounds. Pandit Motilal Nehru, who, at the sacrifice of his splendid
practice, had made the Punjab his headquarters and had done great service,
was the President of the Congress; the late Swami Shraddhanandji was the
Chairman of the Reception Committee.
Up to this time my share in
the annual proceedings of the Congress was confined only to the constructive
advocacy of Hindi by making my speech in the national language, and to
presenting in that speech the case of the Indians overseas. Nor did I expect
to be called upon to do anything more this year. But, as had happened on
many a previous occasion, responsible work came to me all of a sudden.
The King's announcement of the
new reforms had just been issued. It was not wholly satisfactory even to
me, and was unsatisfactory to everyone else. But I felt at that time that
the reforms, though defective, could still be accepted. I felt in the King's
announcement and its language the hand of Lord Sinha, and it lent a ray
of hope. But experienced stalwarts like the late Lokamanya and Deshabandu
Chittranjan Das shook their heads. Pandit Malaviyaji was neutral.
Pandit Malaviyaji had harboured
me in his own room. I had a glimpse of the simplicity of his life on the
occasion of the foundation ceremony of the Hindu University; but on this
occasion, being in the same room with him, I was able to observe his daily
routine in the closest detail, and what I saw filled me with joyful surprise.
His room presented the appearance of a free inn for all the poor. You could
hardly cross from one end to the other, it was so crowded. It was accessible
at all odd hours to chance visitors, who had the licence to take as much
of his time as they liked. In a corner of this crib lay my charpai/1/
in all its dignity.
But I may not occupy this chapter
with a description of Malaviyaji's mode of living, and must return to my
I was thus enabled to hold daily
discussions with Malaviyaji, who used lovingly to explain to me, like an
elder brother, the various viewpoints of the different parties. I saw that
my participating in the deliberations on the resolution on the reforms
was inevitable. Having had my share of responsibility in the drawing up
of the Congress report on the Punjab wrongs, I felt that all that still
remained to be done in that connection must claim my attention. There had
to be dealings with Government in that matter. Then similarly there was
the Khilafat question. I further believed at that time that Mr. Montagu
would not betray or allow India's cause to be betrayed. The release of
the Ali Brothers and other prisoners too seemed to me to be an auspicious
sign. In these circumstances I felt that a resolution not rejecting but
accepting the reforms was the correct thing. Deshabandu Chittaranjan Das,
on the other hand, held firmly to the view that the reforms ought to be
rejected as wholly inadequate and unsatisfactory. The late Lokamanya was
more or less neutral, but had decided to throw in his weight on the side
of any resolution that the Deshabandu might approve.
The idea of having to differ
from such seasoned, well-tried, and universally revered leaders was unbearable
to me. But on the other hand the voice of conscience was clear. I tried
to run away from the Congress, and suggested to Pandit Malaviyaji and Motilalji
that it would be in the general interest if I absented myself from the
Congress for the rest of the session. It would save me from having to make
an exhibition of my difference with such esteemed leaders.
But my suggestion found no favour
with these two seniors. The news of my proposal was somehow whispered to
Lala Harkishanlal. 'This will never do. It will very much hurt the feelings
of the Punjabis,' he said. I discussed the matter with Lokamanya, Deshabandu,
and Mr. Jinnah, but no way out could be found. Finally I laid bare my distress
to Malaviyaji. 'I see no prospect of a compromise,' I told him, 'and if
I am to move my resolution, a division will have to be called and votes
taken. But I do not find here any arrangements for it. The practice in
the open session of the Congress so far has been to take votes by a show
of hands, with the result that all distinction between visitors and delegates
is lost, while, as for taking a count of votes in such vast assemblies,
we have no means at all. So it comes to this that, even if I want to call
a division, there will be no facility for it, nor meaning in it.' But Lala
Harkishanlal came to the rescue and undertook to make the necessary arrangements.
'We will not,' he said, 'permit visitors in the Congress pandal on the
day on which voting is to take place. And as for taking the count, well,
I shall see to that. But you must not be absent yourself from the Congress.'
I capitulated; I framed my resolution, and in heart-trembling, undertook
to move it. Pandit Malaviyaji and Mr. Jinnah were to support it. I could
notice that, although our difference of opinion was free from any trace
of bitterness, and although our speeches too contained nothing but cold
reasoning, the people could not stand the very fact of a difference; it
pained them. They wanted unanimity.
Even while speeches were being
delivered, efforts to settle the difference were being made on the platform,
and notes were being freely exchanged among the leaders for that purpose.
Malaviyaji was leaving no stone unturned to bridge the gulf. Just then
Jeramdas handed over his amendment to me and pleaded in his own sweet manner
to save the delegates from the dilemma of a division. His amendment appealed
to me. Malaviyaji's eye was already scanning every quarter for a ray of
hope. I told him that Jeramdas's amendment seemed to me to be likely to
be acceptable to both parties. The Lokamanya, to whom it was next shown,
said, 'If C. R. Das approves, I will have no objection.' Deshabandhu at
last thawed, and cast a look towards Sjt. Bepin Chandra Pal for endorsement.
Malaviyaji was filled with hope. He snatched away the slip of paper containing
the amendment, and before Deshabandhu had even pronounced a definite 'yes,'
shouted out, 'Brother delegates, you will be glad to learn that a compromise
has been reached.' What followed beggars description. The pandal was rent
with the clapping of hands, and the erstwhile gloomy faces of the audience
lit up with joy.
It is hardly necessary to deal
with the text of the amendment. My object here is only to describe how
this resolution was undertaken as part of my experiments with which these
The compromise further increased
= = = = = = = = = = =
A light Indian bedstead.