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Wednesday, 12 July 2017
Interview with Louis Fisher
INTERVIEW WITH LOUIS FISCHER
GANDHIJI: Now I am fully at your disposal.
LOUIS FISCHER: I feel that the Cripps mission was a turning point in Indian history. The country is probably now beginning to grasp the significance of Cripps’s failure, and from that understanding big things might flow.
G. When Cripps arrived, he sent me a telegram asking me to come and see him in New Delhi. I did not wish to go, but I went because I thought it would do some good. I had heard rumours about the contents of the British Government’s offer he brought to India, but I had not seen the offer. He gave it to me, and after a brief study, I said to him, “Why did you come if this is what you have to offer? If this is your entire proposal to India, I would advise you to take the next plane home.” Cripps replied, “I will consider that.”
L.F. What is your criticism of the Cripps offer? Didn’t it promise you dominion status with the right to secede from the British Commonwealth?
G. C. F. Andrews always used to assert that dominion status is not for India. We have not the same relation to Britain as the dominions which are white and settled, for the most part, by emigrants from Britain or their descendants. We do not wish any status conferred on us. If a status is conferred on us, it means we are not free. As to secession, there are big flaws. One of the chief flaws is the provision in the Cripps proposal regarding the Princes. The British maintain that they must protect the Princes under treaties which they forced on the Princes for Britain’s advantage.
The Maharaja of Bikaner and I take him as any X, Y, Z, reigned before the British came and had more power than than now. The second flaw is the recognition of Pakistan. The differences between Hindus and Muslims have been accentuated by British rule. Now they have been given their maximum scope by the Cripps offer.
Lord Minto started this when he was Viceroy 1909 by establishing separate electorates for the two religious communities, and since then the British have sought to divide us still further. Lord Curzon was a great administrator. I never met him as I have met Chelmsford, Irwin Halifax, and Linlithgow. But he said one thing to one man, another to a second man, and still a third thing to a third man. With Sir Samuel Hoare, I know whom I am talking to. I know where he stands. But not with Curzon. The division of Bengal, as carried out by Curzon, was a necessary reform. It was a good measure. But it had the effect of dividing the province according to religion. Cripps introduced this same principle in his offer; that is the second big flaw. There can be no unity in India, therefore, as long as the British are here.
L.F. Well, you did not like the outlines of the post-war settlement proposed by Cripps. But was there nothing desirable in the interim or immediate provisions? Did you not think that? Irrespective of the plan for the future, there might be some value in the immediate arrangements which would give your people experience in government and earn you the right to demand freedom after the war?
G. Roughly, this was the spirit in which I approached it. But when I saw the text of the Cripps offer, I was certain that there was no room for co-operation. The main issue was defence. In war time, defence is the chief task of government. I have no desire to interfere with the actual conduct of the war. I am incompetent to do so. But Roosevelt has no special training in strategy or, if he has it is partial. Or, let me take Churchill. L.F. No, you needn’t hesitate to take Roosevelt as an example. I understand the point.
G. The point is that in war time there must be civilian control of the military, even though the civilians are not as well trained in strategy as the military. If the British in Burma wish to destroy the golden pagoda because it is a beacon to Japanese airplanes, then I say you cannot destroy it, because when you destroy it, you destroy something in the Burmese soul. When the British come and say, we must remove these peasants to build an aerodrome here, and the peasants must go today, I say, ‘Why did you not think of that yesterday and give the poor people time to go, and why don’t you find places for them to go to?’
L.F. If these are the matters which you wish Indians to control, I am sure
General Wavell would have regarded them as interference in the prosecution of the war.
G. The British offered us war-time tasks like the running of canteens and the printing of stationery, which are of minor significance. Though I am no strategist, there are things we could have done which would have been more conducive to success in the war The British have fared so badly in the Far East that they could do with help from us.
L.F. apparently, then, you placed chief stress on defence. He agreed. Did Nehru and other Congress leaders take the same view?
G. I hope so; I hope Nehru takes the same view, and that the Maulana Sahib takes the same view.
L.F.. In other words, you found nothing good in the Cripps proposals?
G. I am glad you put this direct and definite question to me. No I found nothing good at all in them.
L.F. Did you tell that to Cripps?
G. Yes, I said to Cripps, ‘You performed a miracle in Russia.’
L.F.. Why did you say that? It wasn’t Sir Stafford Cripps who brought Russia into the war, but a gentleman named Adolf Hitler.
G. But I and thousands of Indians believed that it was Cripps who performed the miracle.
L.F. Didn’t Cripps protest when you said that?
G. No, he took the compliment. We thought Stalin had asked for British aid before the invasion of Russia.
L.F. No, that is not correct. After the invasion, Russia got help and is now obtaining increasing help from America and Britain. But before the attack, Stalin, fearing Hitler, could show no friendship for Britain or for Cripps.
G. In any case, I asked Cripps to perform a miracle here too, but it was not in his power.
L.F. I think there is a vast popular ferment going on in England. I flew to
England last summer and stayed nine weeks. The mass of the people are resolved not to be ruled after the war by the sort of people who ruled them before the war and brought on this war. Cripps could become the expression and embodiment of this popular protest. His rise to office is therefore an encouraging phenomenon.
G. Yes, and a discouraging one too, for I wonder whether Cripps has the qualities of a great statesman. It is very discouraging to us that the man who was a friend of Jawaharlal’s and had been interested in India should have made himself the bearer of this mission.
Lord Sankey once told me to take care of myself, and I said him, ‘Do you think I would have reached this green old age if I hadn’t taken care of myself?’ This is one of my faults.
L.F. I thought you were perfect.
G. No, I am very imperfect. Before you are gone you will have discovered a hundred of my faults, and if you don’t I will help you to see them. Now, I have given you an hour.
L.F. You helped recruit soldiers for the British Army in the First World War When this war started, you said you wished to do nothing to embarrass the British Government. Now, obviously, your attitude has changed. What has happened?
G. In the First World War I had just returned from South Africa. I hadn’t yet found my feet. I wasn’t sure of my ground. This did not imply any lack of faith in non-violence. But it had to develop according to circumstances, and I was not sufficiently sure of my ground. There were many experiences between the two wars. Nevertheless, I announced after some talks with the Viceroy in September 1939, that the Congress movement would not obstruct this war. I am not the Congress. In fact, I am not in the Congress. I am neither a member nor an officer of the Party. Congress is more anti-British and anti-war than I am, and I have had to curb its desires to interfere with the war effort. Now I have reached certain conclusions. I do not wish to humiliate the British. But the British must go. I do not say that the British are worse than the Japanese.
L.F. Quite the contrary.
G. I would not say quite the contrary. But I do not wish to exchange one master for another. England will benefit morally if she withdraws voluntarily and in good order.
Gandhi came in, greeted me and lay down on his bed.
G. I will take your blows lying down. The Muslim woman gave him a wet mud-pack for his abdomen. He said: This puts me in touch with my future. I see you missed that one.
L.F. I hadn’t missed it but thought he was too young to think about returning to the dust.
G. Why, you and I and all of us, some in a hundred and twenty years, but all sooner or later, will do it.
L.F. When I hear a suggestion about some arrangement for the future I try to imagine how it would look if it were actually adopted. I am sure you have done the same in connection with your proposal that the British withdraw. Then how do you see that withdrawal, step by step?
G. First, there are the Princes who have their own armies. They might make trouble. I am not sure that there will be order when the British go. There could be chaos. I have said, ‘Let the British go in an orderly fashion and leave India to God.’ You may not like such unrealistic language. Then call it anarchy. That is the worst that can happen. But we will seek to prevent it. There may not be anarchy.
L.F. Could not the Indians immediately organize a government?
G. Yes, There are three elements in the political situation here: the Princes, the Muslims and Congress. They could all form a provisional government.
L.F. In what proportion would power and the posts be divided?
G. I do not know. Congress being the most powerful unit might claim the largest share. But that could be determined amicably.
L.F. It seems to me that the British cannot possibly withdraw altogether. That would mean making a present of India to Japan and England would never consent to that, nor would the United States approve. If you demand that the British pack up and go bag and baggage, you are simply asking the impossible; you are barking up a tree. You do not mean, do you, that they must also withdraw their armies?
G. You are right. No, Britain and America, and other countries too, can keep their armies here and use Indian Territory as a base for military operations. I do not wish Japan to win the war. I do not want the Axis to win. But I am sure that Britain cannot win unless the Indian people become free. Britain is weaker and Britain is morally indefensible while she rules India. I do not wish to humiliate England.
L.F. But if India is to be used as a military base by the United Nations, many other things are involved. Armies do not exist in a vacuum. For instance, the United Nations would need good organization on the railroads.
G. Oh, they could operate the railroads. They would also need order in the ports where they received their supplies. They could to have riots in Bombay and Calcutta. These matters would require co-operation and common effort.
L.F. Could the terms of this collaboration be set forth in a treaty of alliance?
G. Yes, we could have a written agreement with England.
L.F. Or with Britain, America and the others? Why have you never said this? I must confess that when I heard of your proposed civil disobedience movement I was prejudiced against it. I believed that it would impede the prosecution of the war. I think the war has to be fought and won. I see complete darkness for the world if the Axis wins. I think we have a chance for a better world if we win.
G. There I cannot quite agree. Britain often cloaks herself in a cloth of hypocrisy, promising what she later doesn’t deliver. But I accept the proposition that there is a better chance if the democracies win.
L.F. It depends on the kind of peace we make.
G. It depends on what you do during the war.
L.F. I would like to tell you that American statement have great sympathy for the cause of Indian freedom. The United State Government tried to dissuade Churchill from making the speech in which he declared that the Atlantic Charter did not apply to India. Important men in Washington are working on the idea of a Pacific Charter, but they tell me that they have not got very far because the first principle of such a charter would be the end of imperialism, and how can we announce that while Britain holds India?
G. I am not interested in future promises. I am not interested in independence after the war. I want independence now. That will help England win the war.
L.F. Why have you not communicated your plan to the Viceroy? He should be told that you have no objection now to the use of India as a base for Allied military operations.
G. No one has asked me. I have written about my proposed civil disobedience movement in order to prepare the public for it. If you put me some direct questions in writing about this matter, I will answer them in Harijan. Only make the questions brief.
L.F. If you knew anything about my writing you would know that I always try to be brief, direct, and squeeze out the water.
G. Jawaharlal told me about you before you came. He said you were honest and had no axe to grind. You don’t have several irons in the fire. He said you were a solid man. I can see that by looking at you.
L.F. Yes, solid, at least physically.
G. I have talked freely and frankly to you. I think you are a sahib loke.
L.F. Did you say ‘sahib bloke’? Is that the English word bloke?
G. No, loke. Miss Katherine Mayo came here and I was good to her and then she wrote only filth. You know what I have called her?
G. Drain inspector.
L.F. I come from a very poor family. I know what it means to be hungry. I have always sympathized with the downtrodden and the poor. Many Americans feel the greatest friendship for India. I think it very unfortunate, therefore, that you have recently uttered some unfriendly words at the expense of America.
G. It was necessary. I wanted to shock. I think many Americans have a soft corner in their hearts for me, and I wished to tell them that if they continue to worship
Mammon they will not make a better world. There is a danger that the democracies will defeat the Axis and become just as bad as Japan and Germany.
L.F. Of course there is a danger. But many people said that England would go Fascist if it went to war. Yet in fact England is more democratic now than she was before the war.
G. No. We see in India that this is not so.
L.F. At least in England.
G. It cannot be true in England and not in the Empire. I cannot depend on your future goodness. I have laboured for many decades for Indian national freedom. We cannot wait any longer. But I believe that there is goodwill for us. England is sitting on an unexploded mine in India and it may explode any day. The hatred and resentment against Britain are so strong here that Britain can get no help for her war effort. Indians enlist in the British Army because they want to eat, but they have no feeling in their hearts which would make them wish to help England.
L.F. If you permit me to summarize the suggestions you have made today about a settlement in India, you have reversed the Cripps offer. Cripps offered you something and kept the rest for England. You are offering England something and keep the rest for India.
G. That is very true. I have turned Cripps around.
I saw from his watch that the end of the hour was approaching. I said I would not dare ask him to read my book, Men and Politics, which Dev had, but 1 hoped he would page through it. A secretary asked what “paging through” meant.
G. It means looking first at the last page, then at the first page, then at a page in the middle.
L.F. And then throwing the book away and saying it is excellent. Now I have kept you the agreed hour.
G. Yes, you have. Go and sit in the tub.
I asked him what the theory behind his weekly day of silence was.
G. What do you mean by theory?
L.F. I mean the principle, the motivation.
G. It happened when I was being torn to pieces. I was working very hard, travelling in hot trains incessantly, speaking at many meetings, and being approached in trains and elsewhere by thousands of people who asked questions, made pleas, and wished to pray with me. I wanted to rest for one day a week. So I instituted the day of silence. Later of course I clothed it with all kinds of virtues and gave it a spiritual cloak. But the motivation was really nothing more than that I wanted to have a day off.
Silence is very relaxing. It is not relaxing in itself. But when you can talk and don’t, it gives you great relief and there is time for thought. I asked Gandhi about Rajaji’s programme.
G. I don’t know what his proposals are. I think it unfortunate that he should argue against me and that I should argue with him, so I have given order that, as far as we are concerned, the discussion should be suspended. But the fact is that I do not know what Rajaji proposes.
L.F. Isn’t the essence of his scheme that the Hindus and Muslims collaborate and in common work perhaps discover the technique of peaceful co-operation?
G. Yes. But that is impossible. As long as the third power, England, is here, our communal differences will continue to plague us. Far back, Lord Minto, then Viceroy, declared that the British had to keep Muslims and Hindus apart in order to facilitate the domination of India. I told Gandhi I had seen the Minto quotation.
G. This has been the principle of British rule over since.
L.F. I have been told that when Congress ministries were in office in the province, during 1937, 1938 and 1939, they discriminated against Muslims.
G. The British governors of those provinces have officially testified that is not so.
L.F. But isn’t it a fact that in the United Provinces, Congress and the Muslims entered into an electoral pact because Congress was not sure of winning, that, then, Congress won a sweeping victory and refused to form a coalition with the Muslims?
G. No. There were four Muslim ministers in the United Provinces Government formed by Congress. There were no representatives of the Muslim League, but there were Muslims. No. We have always tried to collaborate with Muslims. It is said that the Maulana is a puppet in our hands. Actually, he is the dictator of Congress. He is its president. But the Cripps proposals have divided Hindus from Muslims more than ever. Thanks to the British Government, the divergence between the two communities has been widened.
L.F. It was sad that Congress leaders and Muslim Leaguers came to New Delhi to talk to Cripps, and talked to Cripps but did not talk to one another.
G. It was not only sad, it was disgraceful. But it was the fault of the Muslim League. Shortly after this war broke out, we were summoned to meet the Viceroy at New Delhi. Rajendra Prasad and I went to speak for Congress, and Mr. Jinnah for the Muslim League. I asked Jinnah to confer with us in advance and face the British Government unitedly. We agreed to meet in New Delhi, but when I suggested that we both demand independence for India he said, ‘I do not want independence.’ We could not agree. I urged that we at least make the appearance of unity by going to the Viceroy together; I said he could go in my car or I would go in his. He consented to have me go in his car. But we spoke to the Viceroy in different tones and expressed different views.
In actual life, it is impossible to separate us into two nations. We are not two nations. Every Muslim will have a Hindu name if he goes back far enough in his family history. Every Muslim is merely a Hindu who has accepted Islam. That does not create nationality. If some influential Christian divine converted us all to Christianity, we should not become one nation if we really were two nations, and in the same manner the two religions of India do not make two nationalities. Europe is Christian, but Germany and England, so much alike in culture and language, are grimly at one another’s throats. We in India have a common culture. In the north, Hindi and Urdu are understood by both Hindus and Muslims. In Madras, Hindus and Muslims speak Tamil, and in Bengal they both speak Bengali and neither Hindi nor Urdu. When communal riots take place, they are always provoked by incidents over cows and by religious processions. That means that it is our superstitions that create the trouble and not our separate nationalities.
L.F. Caroe and Jenkins told me that there were no communal differences in the villages, and I heard from others too that the relations between the two religious communities are peaceful in the villages. If that is so, that is very important because India is ninety per cent village.
G. It is so, and that of course proves that the people are not divided. It proves that the politicians divide us.
L.F. The Muslim bartender in my hotel in New Delhi said to me although he is a member of the Muslim League and an advocate of Pakistan that the communal troubles always started where Muslims were a minority and never where the Hindus were a minority.
G. Fischer, you have been here only for a short time. You cannot study everything. But if you make any investigations and find that we are wrong or guilty, please say so in a loud voice. These are my patients. She is one of my best patients.
L.F. Wouldn’t it be better to leave her to the doctor?
G. No, there is much quackery in all this. She is not my patient, she is my relaxation. This baby’s father was a sergeant in the British Army sic stationed at the North-West Frontier. He was ordered to shoot at Indians. He refused and was sentenced to sixteen years’ imprisonment. He served six years, but there were so many petitions for his liberation that he was released two years ago. Now he lives here with us. Fischer, give me your bowl and I will give you some vegetables. You don’t like vegetables?
L.F. I don’t like the taste of these vegetables.
G. Ah, you must add plenty of salt and lemon.
L.F. You want me to kill the taste.
G. No, enrich the taste.
L.F. You are so non-violent. You wouldn’t even kill a taste.
G. If that were the only thing men killed, I wouldn’t mind. I perspired and said: Next time I am in India . . . You either ought to have air-conditioning in Sevagram, or live in the Viceroy’s palace.
G. All right. I began my interview with Gandhi this afternoon by reading this passage to him. I said it confirmed his statement to me this morning that the Muslim people are much less interested in separatism than their leaders.
G. Of course.
L.F. But how real are the fears of the Muslim leaders? Perhaps they understand better than the Muslim masses that the Hindus desire to dominate. Can you say quite objectively that the Hindus have not tried to gain the upper hand?
G. Here and there, individuals may entertain regrettable ideas. But I can say that the Congress movement and the Hindus in general have no desire to control. The provinces must enjoy broad autonomy. I myself am opposed to violence or domination and do not believe in powerful governments which oppress their citizens or other States. So how could I wish for domination? This charge is a cry originated by leaders to obtain a better hold on their people.
L.F. Very highly placed Britishers had told me that Congress was in the hands of big business and that Gandhi was supported by the Bombay mill-owners who gave him as much money as he wanted. What truth is there in these assertions?
G. Unfortunately, they are true. Congress hasn’t enough money to conduct its work. We thought in the beginning to collect four annas from each member per year and operate on that. But it hasn’t worked.
L.F. What proportion of the Congress budget is covered by rich Indians?
G. Practically all of it. In this ashram, for instance, we could live much more poorly than we do and spend less money. But we do not, and the money comes from our rich friends.
L.F. Doesn’t the fact that Congress gets its money from the moneyed interests affect Congress politics? Doesn’t it create a kind of moral obligation?
G. It creates a silent debt. But actually we are very little influenced by the thinking of the rich. They are sometimes afraid of our demand for full independence.
L.F. The other day I noticed in The Hindustan Times an item to the effect that Mr. Birla had again raised wages in his textile mills to meet the higher cost of living and, the paper continued to say, no other mill-owner had done so much. The Hindustan Times is a Congress paper.
G. No, it is completely owned by Birla. I know, because my youngest son is the editor. The facts are true, but it has nothing to do with Congress. You are right, however, that the dependence of Congress on rich sponsors is unfortunate. I use the word ‘unfortunate’. It does not pervert our policy.
L.F. Isn’t one of the results that there is a concentration on nationalism almost to the exclusion of social and economic problems?
G. No. Congress has from time to time, especially under the influence of
Pandit Nehru, adopted advanced social programmes and schemes for economic planning. I will have those collected for you.
L.F. But is it not a fact that all these social changes are projected to a time when independence will have been achieved?
G. No. When Congress was in office in the provinces (1937-39) the Congress ministries introduced many reforms which have since been cancelled by the British administration. We introduced reforms in the villages, in the schools, and in other fields.
L.F. I have been told, and I read in the Simon report that one of the great curses of India is the village money-lender to whom the peasant is often in debt from birth to death. In European countries, private philanthropy and governments have in similar circumstances created land banks to oust the usurious money-lender. Why could not some of your rich friends start a land bank on a purely business basis except that, instead of getting forty to seventy per cent interest per year, they would get two or three per cent? Their money would be secure, they would earn a small profit, and they would be helping their country.
G. Impossible. It could not be done without Government legislation.
G. Because the peasants wouldn’t repay the loans.
L.F. But surely the peasant would realize that it was better to repay money which he borrowed at three per cent than to mortgage his life away to the money-lender?
G. Money lending is an ancient institutions and it is deeply rooted in the village. What you advocate cannot be done before we are free.
L.F. What would happen in a free India? What is your programme for the improvement of the lot of the peasantry?
G. The peasants would take the land. We would not have to tell them to take it. They would take it.
L.F. Would the landlords be compensated?
G. No. That would be fiscally impossible. You see, our gratitude to our millionaire friends does not prevent us from saying such things. The village would become a self-governing unit living its own life.
L.F. But there would of course be a national government.
L.F. But surely you need a national administration to direct the railroads, the telegraphs, and so on.
G. I would not shed a tear if there were no railroads in India.
L.F. But that would bring suffering to the peasant. He needs city goods, and he must sell his produce in other parts of the country and abroad. The village needs electricity and irrigation. No single village could build a hydro-electric power station or an irrigation system like the Sukkur barrage in Sind.
G. And that has been a big disappointment. It has put the whole Province in debt.
L.F. I know, but it has brought much new land under cultivation, and it is a boon to the people.
G. I realize that despite my views there will be a central government administration. However, I do not believe in the accepted Western form of democracy with its universal voting for parliamentary representatives.
L.F. What would you have India do?
G. There are seven hundred thousand villages in India. Each would be organized according to the will of its citizens, all of them voting. Then there would be seven hundred thousand votes and not four hundred million. Each village, in other words, would have one vote. The villages would elect their district administrations, and the district administrations would elect the provincial administrations, and these in turn would elect a president who would be the national chief executive.
L.F. That is very much like the Soviet system.
G. I did not know that. I don’t mind.
L.F. Now, Mr. Gandhi, I would like to ask you a second question about Congress. Congress has been accused of being an authoritarian organization. There is a new book out by two British authors, Shuster and Wint, called India and Democracy, which makes the charge that when the Congress provincial ministries resigned in 1939 they did so not of their own volition but on the orders of the district sic dictators of Congress.
G. This is nonsense. Do you think all questions are decided in the House of Commons or are decisions taken in party caucuses and in the clubs of London? Congress officers are elected by the members of Congress, and ministers who are members of Congress abide by the principles of Congress. Sir Samuel Hoare has told me a few things about the workings of democracy in Britain.
L.F. He seems to be your favourite British statesman. This provided much laughter.
G. At least, I always know where he stands. Parliamentary democracy is not immune to corruption, as you who remember Tammany Hall and the Mayor of Chicago should know. I do not think a free India will function like the other countries of the world. We have our own forms to contribute. I said, I would like to talk to him for a few moments about Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian leader who had escaped to Axis territory. I told Gandhi that I was rather shocked when I heard that he had sent a telegram of condolence to Bose’s mother on the receipt of the report, since proved false, that Bose had died in an airplane accident.
G. Do you mean because I had responded to news that proved to be false?
L.F. No, but that you regretted the passing of a man who went to Fascist
Germany and identified himself with it.
G. I did it because I regard Bose as a patriot of patriots. He may be misguided. I think he is misguided. I have often opposed Bose. Twice I kept him from becoming president of Congress. Finally he did become president, although my views often differed from his. But suppose he had gone to Russia or to America to ask aid for India. Would that have made it better?
L.F. Yes, of course. It does make a difference to which you go.
G. I do not want help from anybody to make India free. I want India to save herself.
L.F. Throughout history, nations and individuals has helped foreign countries. Lafayette went from France to assist America in winning independence from Britain. Thousands of Americans and other foreigners died in Spain to save the Spanish Republic.
G. Individuals, yes. But America is the ally of England which enslaves us. And I am not yet certain that the democracies will make a better world when they defeat the Fascists. They may become very much like the Fascists themselves.
L.F. This is where, as I told you the other day, we must agree to differ. I find the concentration of Indians on problems of their freedom to the exclusion of social problems a disappointment and a shortcoming. Bose is a young man with a propensity for dramatic action, and were he to succumb in Germany to the lure of Fascism and return to India and make India free but Fascist, I think you would be worse off than under British rule.
G. There are powerful elements of Fascism in British rule, and in India these are the elements which we see and feel every day. If the British wish to document their right to win the war and make the world better, they must purify themselves by surrendering power in India. Your President talks about the Four Freedoms. Do they include the freedom to be free? We are asked to fight for democracy in Germany, Italy and Japan. How can we when we haven’t got it ourselves?
Gandhi asked me how I had slept. I told him I had slept very well and asked how he had slept. He said he usually sleeps from 9.30 to 4.30.
“Without interruption?”, I asked.
G. No, with two or three very brief interruptions. But I have no trouble falling asleep again. And then I have half an hour’s sleep every afternoon.
I told him that Churchill did the same.
G. I hear that this is becoming more and more customary in Europe. Especially in old age it is very important.
I told him that it had been reported that Roosevelt falls asleep the moment he gets into bed. Gandhi inquired about Roosevelt’s health and then asked me to describe Mrs. Roosevelt to him.
G. Then she has an influence on American politics?
I tried to explain the progress in social legislation, trade union organization, and social thinking which had taken place under the New Deal. I also stressed the fact that the American Government is financing foreign governments and financing domestic war industries. I compared that with the private financing of foreign governments and to American industry during the First World War
G. What about the Negroes?
I talked about the Negro situation in the North and South. I said I did not, of course, wish to defend the treatment meted out to Negroes, but it seemed to me that it was not so cruel as untouchability in India.
G. As you know, I have fought untouchability for many years. We have many untouchables here in the ashram. Most of the work in the ashram is done by the untouchables, and any Hindu who comes to Sevagram must accept food from untouchables and remain in their proximity.
I asked whether the discrimination against untouchables had been somewhat alleviated.
G. Oh, yes, but it is still very bad.
L.F. Very thoughtful and otherwise progressive people, for instance
Varadachariar, have tried to justify it in conversation with me; it seems to arise from the belief in the transmigration of the soul which apparently is part of the Hindu religion. Do you believe in the transmigration of the soul?
G. Of course. I cannot admit that the soul dies with the body. When a man’s house is blown away, he builds himself another. When his body is taken away, his soul finds another. Nor do I accept the view that when the body is laid in the ground the soul remains suspended somewhere waiting for judgment day when it will be brought to the bar and confronted with its crimes. No, it immediately finds itself a new home.
L.F. This is obviously another form of man’s eternal striving for immortality. Does it not all arise from the weak mortal’s fear of death? Tolstoy was irreligious until his old age, when he started dreading the end.
G. I have no fear of death. I would regard it with relief and satisfaction. But it is impossible for me to think that that is the end. I have no proof. People have tried to demonstrate that the soul of a dead man finds a new home. I do not think this is capable of proof. But I believe it.
L.F. I think we all seek immortality, only some believe they live in their children or their works and some believe they live in transmuted form in animals, or otherwise. Some men live longer because their works last longer, but I believe that faith in one’s immortality if it is distinct from one’s acts, is really fear of death and an attempt to find comfort in an illusion.
Gandhi thereupon reiterated his view with much passion and in fine flowing English prose; he always spoke a rich, fluent English with a British university accent. I said students had told me that the new generation in India was less inclined to make a distinction between high-caste Hindus and untouchables, or between Hindus and Muslims, and that they were not much interested in religion.
G. The first is correct. But Hinduism is not a religion. The students do not perform religious ceremonies. But Hinduism is life. It is a way of life. Many who do not practice formal religion are nearer to this way of life than some who do. He added that untouchability pained him deeply and he hoped that India’s freedom would hasten the solution of the problem of untouchability. This brought him back to his favourite subject. He spoke of “the challenge, for it is a challenge, which I have flung to the British to go. They will be purified if they go and better equipped for the task of making a new world. Otherwise all their professions are a cloak of hypocrisy.”
L.F. Don’t you think that in view of the diversities of India you will need here a federation which will satisfy the Princes and the Muslims?
G. I am in no position to say which system would suit us better. First, the British must go. It is a matter of pure speculation what we will do later. The moment the British withdraw, the question of religious minorities disappears. If the British withdraw and there is chaos, I cannot say what form will ultimately rise out of the chaos. If I were asked what I would prefer, I would say federation and not centralization. There is bound to be a federal system of some sort. But you must be satisfied with my answer that I am not disturbed by the problem of whether we are to have a federation or not. Perhaps your cast-iron mind mocks at this. Perhaps you think that with millions unarmed and accustomed to foreign rule for centuries, we will not succeed in the civil disobedience movement which I have decided to launch.
L.F. No. I do not think that. I believe that history is moving fast and that before long you will be an independent country like China. The struggle you began years ago cannot end in any other way.
G. I do not want to be independent like China. China is helpless even now and in spite of Chiang Kai-shek. Notwithstanding China’s heroism and her readiness to risk all in this war, China is not yet completely free. China should be able to say to America and England, ‘We will fight our battle of independence single-handed, without your aid.’ That I would call independence.
I asked him how he got on in his long interview with Chiang.
G. Very well.
L.F. Only you did not understand him, and he did not understand you. G. I found him inscrutable. Maybe it was the matter of language. We spoke through Madame Chiang. But I do not think it was only that.
L.F. Of course China is not completely free, but freedom does not come in a day. Through this war, if we win it, China will become free. We may be approaching the Asiatic century. India and China may shape a great deal of history in the coming decades. I see no sign, however, that the British realize this. They will not go as you ask. If they could not save themselves by their arms in Singapore and Malaya, they will not save themselves by their brains in India.
G. I would like you to understand that I am not criticizing China. Only I wanted to emphasize that I do not wish to imitate China. I do not want India to be in the same predicament as China. That is why I am saying I do not want British and American soldiers here. I do not want Japanese or German soldiers here. The Japanese broadcast every day that they do not intend to keep India they only propose to help us win our freedom. I do not welcome their sympathy or help. I know they are not philanthropists I want for India a respite from all foreign domination. I have become impatient. I cannot wait any longer. Our condition is worse than China’s or Persia’s. I may not be able to convince Congress. Men who have held office in Congress may not rise to the occasion. I will go ahead nevertheless and address myself directly to the people. But whatever happens, we are unbendable. We may be able to evolve a new order which will astonish the whole world. I would ask you to cast off your prejudices and enter into this new idea of mine of a civil disobedience campaign and try to find flaws in it if there are any. You will then be able to help our cause and, to put it on a higher plane; you will be able to do justice to yourself as a writer. The literature that is being produced on India is piffling and of no consequence. There is nothing original in most of it. It is all Cast-iron. I ask you to struggle out of that groove. I would like you to penetrate through my language to what I am attempting to express. That is difficult, I know; you came here with all the glamour, brilliance, culture and armed strength of American and British civilization. I would understand your refusing to grasp anything that does not fit into your groove or that is not desirable for that groove. But if your mind cannot rise above that beaten track, then your days in Sevagram will have been wasted.
L.F. Yes, but will you help me to see the new order you speak of? I am not so sure of my own new order as to reject yours out of hand. I think India has much to contribute, but how do you see future developments?
G. You see the centre of power now is in New Delhi, or in Calcutta and
Bombay, in the big cities. I would have it distributed among the seven hundred thousand villages of India. That will mean that there is no power. In other words, I want the seven hundred thousand dollars now invested in the Imperial Bank of England withdrawn and distributed among the seven hundred thousand villages. Then each village will have its one dollar which cannot be lost. The seven hundred thousand dollars invested in the Imperial Bank of India could be swept away by a bomb from a Japanese plane, whereas if they were distributed among the seven hundred thousand shareholders, nobody could deprive them of their assets. There will then be voluntary co-operation between these seven hundred thousand units, voluntary co-operation—not co-operation induced by Nazi methods. Voluntary co-operation will produce real freedom and a new order vastly superior to the new order in Soviet Russia. Some say there is ruthlessness in Russia but that it is exercised for the lowest and the poorest and is good for that reason. For me it has very little well in it. Some day this ruthlessness will create anarchy worse than we have ever seen. I am sure we will escape that anarchy here. I admit that the future society of India is largely beyond my grasp. But a system like the one I have outlined to you did exist though it undoubtedly had its weakness, else it would not have succumbed before the Moguls and the British. I would like to think that parts of it have survived, and that the roots have survived despite the ravages of British rule. Those roots and the stock are waiting to sprout if a few drops of rain fall in the form of a transfer of British power to Indians. What the plant will be like I do not know. But it will be infinitely superior to anything we have now. Unfortunately, the requisite mood of non-violence does not now exist here, but I refuse to believe that all the strenuous work of the last twenty-five years to evolve a new order has been in vain. The Congress Party will have an effective influence in shaping the new order, and the Muslim League will also have an effective influence.
L.F. I would like you to pursue this idea of the symbolic seven hundred thousand dollars. What will the villages do with the dollar that has come back to them from the Imperial Bank of England?
G. One thing will happen. Today the shareholders get no return. Intermediaries take it away. If the peasants are masters of their dollars they will use them as they think best.
L.F. A peasant buries his money in the ground.
G. They will not bury their dollars in the ground because they will have to live. They will go back to the bank, their own bank and utilize it under their direction for purposes they think best. They may then build windmills or produce electricity or whatever they like. A central government will evolve, but it will act according to the wishes of the people and will be broad based on their will.
L.F. The State, I imagine, will then build more industries and develop the country industrially.
G. You must visualize a central government without the British Army. If it holds together without that army, this will be the new order. That is a goal worth working for. It is not an unearthly goal. It is practicable.
L.F. I agree. Ten years ago I might not have agreed, but after my experiences in Russia and elsewhere I feel that the greatest danger the world faces is the emergence of the all-powerful State which makes individual freedom impossible. Apparently, capitalist economics have made it necessary for the State to intervene more and more in economic affairs. That gives the State more power. The next generation’s real problem will be to devise checks and balances on such a State. One question is: Can we safeguard personal liberty in a country where the government is all powerful? Another question is: Will nations co-operate inside an international organization, or will we reject internationalism and have some more wars?
G. My question would be: how to prevent the rise of these gigantic States. That is why I do not want the Allied powers to assume the roles of Fascist States. It is therefore that I ask them to declare that what India says is good. Let them take this jump and give India her freedom, and, if necessary, remain in India On India’s terms for the duration. Let us see if we can get a free co-operation among peoples.
L.F. I am absolutely certain that you ought to have your independence. I think it would be good for you and good for all of us. Certainly the British have not shown any startling ability to defend their empire or to win its sympathy.
G. You must say that to America.
L.F. I will say it, but not in those terms. We are now financing all of Britain’s purchases of munitions. We are making sixty thousand planes this year, but a hundred and forty thousand in 1943. As far as America’s role in India is concerned, the crisis here has matured a bit too early. If we were making one hundred and forty thousand planes per year now and had two million men at the front, our views on India would receive more attention in London. The British do not understand today what is happening in India. With American help they may understand tomorrow.
G. Therefore it is that I come to brass tacks and say that the British will understand not while we are reasoning with them and showing them the great justice and feasibility of our proposal, but when we begin to act. That is British history.
They are impressed by action, and it is action that we must take now. For the moment, however, I must popularize the idea of an Indian national government now and demonstrate that there is nothing chimerical or visionary about it. It is based on non-violence although I do not need the idea of non-violence to prove the validity or justice of my aim. The same aim might have evolved even if I were violently inclined. Even if I were violently inclined I might have said, ‘Go and do not use India as your military base.’ But today I say, ‘If you must use India as a base lest someone else appropriate it, use it, and stay here on honourable terms and do no harm.’ I would go further and add that if the central government which India evolves is military-minded the British may have its help.
L.F. If the British, under pressure, were to accept your offer, how would you launch your republic of seven hundred thousand villages?
G. I cannot give you a concrete plan. I cannot work it out today. It is all Theoretical. It has to come out as a plan drafted by a body of representatives and not out of the brain of one whom many label a dreamer.
L.F. Well, I am not so completely cast-iron as not to understand homespun cotton.
G. But you do not understand vegetables.
L.F. I do not like the same vegetables every day for lunch and dinner.
I started by saying that we had not even mentioned India’s biggest problem, the problem most difficult of solution.
G. What’s that?
L.F. India’s population is increasing by five million each year. British official statistics show that the population of India increased from three hundred and thirty-eight million in 1931 to three hundred and eighty-eight million in 1941. Fifty million more mouths to feed and bodies to clothe and shelter. Fifty million more in ten years. How are you going to deal with that?
G. One of the answers might be birth control. But I am opposed to birth
L.F. I am not, but in a backward country like India birth control could not be very effective anyway.
G. Then perhaps we need some good epidemics.
L.F. Or a good civil war. But, Soviet Russia had famines, epidemics, and a civil war and yet her population grew very rapidly, and the Bolsheviks, in 1928, took certain economic measures.
G. You want to force me into an admission that we would need rapid industrialization. I will not be forced into such an admission. Our first problem is to get rid of British rule. Then we will be free, without restraints from the outside, to do what India requires. The British have seen fit to allow us to have some factories and also to prohibit other factories. No! For me the paramount problem is the ending of British domination.
L.F. Well, how do you actually see your impending civil disobedience movement? What shape will it take?
G. In the villages, the peasants will stop paying taxes. They will make salt despite official prohibition. This seems a small matter; the salt tax yields only a paltry sum to the British Government. But refusal to pay it will give the peasants the courage to think that they are capable of independent action. Their next step will be to seize the land.
L.F. With violence?
G. There may be violence, but then again the landlords may co-operate.
L.F. You are an optimist.
G. They might co-operate by fleeing. Nehru, who had been sitting by my side, said, “They might vote for confiscation with their legs just as you say in your Men and Politics that, as Lenin put it, the Russian soldier voted for peace with his legs in 1917 he ran away from the trenches. So also the Indian landowners might vote for the confiscation of their land by running away from the village.”
L.F. Or, they might organize violent resistance.
G. There may be fifteen days of chaos, but I think we could soon bring that under control.
L.F. You feel then that it must be confiscation without compensation?
G. Of course. It would be financially impossible for anybody to compensate the landlords.
L.F. That accounts for the villages. But that is not all of India.
G. No. Workingmen in the cities would leave their factories. The railroads would stop running.
L.F. General Strike. I know that you have in the past had a large following among the peasants, but your city working-class support is not so big.
G. No, not so big. But this time the workingmen will act too, because, as I sense the mood of the country, everybody wants freedom, Hindus, Muslims, untouchables, Sikhs, workers, peasants, industrialists, Indian Civil Servants and even the Princes. The Princes know that a new wind is blowing. Things cannot go on as they have been. We cannot support a war which may perpetuate British domination. How can we fight for democracy in Japan, Germany and Italy when India is not democratic? I want to save China. I want no harm to come to China. But to collaborate we must be free. Slaves do not fight for freedom.
L.F. Do you think that the Muslims will follow you in your civil disobedience movement?
G. Not perhaps in the beginning. But they will come in when they see that the movement is succeeding.
L.F. Might not the Muslims is used to interfere with or stop the movement?
G. Undoubtedly, their leaders might try or the Government might try, but the Muslim millions do not oppose independence and they could not, therefore, oppose our measures to bring about that independence. The Muslim masses sympathize with the one overall goal of Congress: freedom for India. That is the solid rock on which Hindu-Muslim unity can be built.
L.F. I have found you so objective about your work and the world that I want to ask you to be objective about yourself. This isn’t a personal question but a political question: how do you account for your influence over so many people?
G. I can see the spirit in which you ask this. I think my influence is due to the fact that I pursue the truth. That is my goal.
L.F. I do not underestimate the power of truth. But this explanation seems to me inadequate. Leaders like Hitler have achieved power by telling lies. That doesn’t mean that you cannot become influential by telling the truth. But truth in itself has not always availed others in this country or elsewhere. Why is it that you, without any of the paraphernalia of power, without a government or police behind you, without ceremonies or even tightly-knit organization for I understand that Congress is in no sense a disciplined, tightly-co-ordinate body how is it that you have been able to sway so many millions and get them to sacrifice their comforts and time and even their lives?
G. Truth is not merely a matter of words. It is really a matter of living the truth. It is true, I have not much equipment. My education is not great. I do not read much.
L.F. Isn’t it that when you advocate independence you strike a chord in many Indians? A musician does something to the members of his audience. You play a note which Indians are waiting to hear. I have noticed that people applaud most the arias they have heard often and liked. A lecture audience applauds views it agrees with. Is it that you say and do what your people want you to say and do?
G. Yes, maybe that is it. I was a loyalist in respect to the British, and then I became a rebel. I was a loyalist until 1896.
L.F. Weren’t you also a loyalist between 1914 and 1918?
G. Yes, in a way, but not really. By 1918, I had already said that British rule in India is an alien rule and must end. I will tell you how it happened that I decided to urge the departure of the British. It was in 1916. I was in Lucknow working for Congress. A peasant came up to me looking like any other peasant of India, poor and emaciated. He said, ‘My name is Rajkumar Shukla. I am from Champaran, and I want you to come to my district.’ He described the misery of his fellow agriculturists and prayed me to let him take me to Champaran, which was hundreds of miles from Lucknow. He begged so insistently and persuasively that I promised. But he wanted me to fix the date. I could not do that. For weeks and weeks Rajkumar Shukla followed me wherever I went over the face of India. He stayed wherever I stayed. At length, early in 1917, I had to be in Calcutta. Rajkumar followed me and ultimately persuaded me to take the train with him from Calcutta to Champaran. Champaran is a district where indigo is planted. I decided that I would talk to thousands of peasants but, in order to get the other side of the question; I would also interview the British Commissioner of the area. When I called on the Commissioner he bullied me and advised me to leave immediately, I did not accept his advice and proceeded on the back of an elephant to one of the villages. A police messenger overtook us and served notice on me to leave Champaran. I allowed the police to escort me back to the house where I was staying and then I decided to offer civil resistance. I would not leave district. Huge crowds gathered around the house. I co-operated with the police in regulating the crowds. A kind of friendly relationship sprang up between me and the police. That day in Champaran became a red-letter day in my life. I was put on trial. The Government attorney pleaded with the magistrate to postpone the case but I asked him to go on with it. I wanted to announce publicly that I had disobeyed the order to leave Champaran. I told him that I had come to collect information about local conditions and that I therefore had to disobey the British law because I was acting in obedience with a higher law, with the voice of my conscience. This was my first act of civil disobedience against the British. My desire was to establish the principle that no Englishman had the right to tell me to leave any part of my country where I had gone for a peaceful pursuit. The Government begged me repeatedly to drop my plea of guilty. Finally the magistrate closed the case. Civil disobedience had won. It became the method by which India could be made free.
L.F. This is perhaps another clue to your position in India.
G. What I did was a very ordinary thing. I declared that the British could not order me around in my own country.
L.F. It was ordinary, but you were the first to do it. It’s like the story of Columbus and the egg.
G. What’s that?
L.F. Have you never heard the story of Columbus and the egg?
G. No, tell me.
I told him. He laughed.
G. That’s right, it was an ordinary thing to say that I had the right to go peacefully anywhere in my own country. But no one had said it before.
G. Now fire.
L.F. That would be violence,
G. And have you any objection to violence?
L.F. But you have never heard a word from me as to whether I am for or against violence.
G. You don’t have to tell me. I look at you and know.
L.F. In case you’re impending civil disobedience movement develops a violent phase, as it has sometimes in past years, would you call it off? You have done that before.
G. In my present mood it would be incorrect to say that no circumstances might arise in which I would call off the movement. In the past, however, I have been too cautious. That was necessary for my own training and for the training of my collaborators. But I would not behave as I have in the past.
L.F. Since I am going away soon from your village, I want to be quite sure that I understand your ideas correctly. Would there be any chance of a compromise between what you want and what the British authorities are ready to offer? Might some kind of a modified Cripps proposal be acceptable to you?
G. No. Nothing along the lines of the Cripps offer. I want their complete and irrevocable withdrawal. I am essentially a man of compromise because I am never sure that I am right. But now it is the unbending future [sic] in me that is uppermost. There is no halfway house between withdrawal and non-withdrawal. It is, of course, no complete physical withdrawal that I ask. I shall insist, however, on the transfer of political power from the British to the Indian people.
L.F. What about the time factor? When you launch your civil disobedience movement, and if the British yield, will it be a matter of the immediate transfer of political power?
G. The British would not have to do that in two days or in two weeks. But it must be irrevocable and complete political withdrawal.
L.F. Suppose the British say they will withdraw completely after the war?
G. No. In that case my proposal loses much of its value. I want them to go now so I can help China and Russia. Today I am unable to pull my full weight in favour of them. It is my philanthropy that has made me present this proposal. For the time being, India disappears from my gaze. I never wanted independence for India’s sake alone. I never wished to play the role of frog-in-the-well.
L.F. You have not felt this way before, Mr. Gandhi.
G. The whole idea keeps blossoming out within me. The original idea of
asking the British to go burst upon me suddenly. It was the Cripps fiasco that inspired the idea. Hardly had he gone when it seized hold of me.
L.F. exactly when did the idea occur to you?
G. Soon after Cripps’s departure. I wrote a letter to Horace Alexander in reply to his letter to me. Thereafter the idea possessed me. Then began the propaganda. Later I framed a resolution. My first feeling was, we need an answer to Cripps’s failure. What a diabolical thing if the Cripps mission were without any redeeming feature. Suppose I ask them to go. This idea arose from the crushed hope that had been pretty high in our minds. We had heard good things about Cripps from Jawaharlal and others. Yet the whole mission fell flat. How, I asked myself, am I to remedy this situation? The presence of the British blocks our way. It was during my Monday day of silence that the idea was born in me. From that silence arose so many thoughts that the silence possessed me and the thoughts possessed me too and I knew I had to act for Russia and China and India. My heart goes out to China. I cannot forget my five hours with Chiang Kai-shek and his attractive partner. Even for China’s sake alone I must do this. I am burdening my thoughts with the world’s sorrow.
L.F. Why will it not wait until after the war?
G. Because I want to act now and be useful while the war is here.
L.F. Have you any organization with which to carry on this struggle?
G. The organization is the Congress Party. But if it fails me, I have my own organization, myself. I am a man possessed by an idea. If such a man cannot get an organization, he becomes an organization.
L.F. Have you sufficient confidence in the present mood of the country? Will it follow you? This civil disobedience movement may involve heavy sacrifices for the people. Has anybody opposed your idea?
G. I had a letter today from Rajagopalachari. He is the only one opposed. I know his views. But how does he expect the Muslim League to work with him when he wishes to work with the Muslim League in order to destroy Pakistan?
L.F. Do you think Jinnah is set on Pakistan? Perhaps it is a bargaining counter with him which he will give up if Hindu-Muslim co-operation can be achieved.
G. As I have told you before, he will only give it up when the British are gone and when there is therefore nobody with whom to bargain.
L.F. So you intend to tell the British in advance when you will launch your movement?
L.F. You had better not tell them too far in advance.
G. Is that a tip from you?
G. They will know in good time.
L.F. If you look at this in its historic perspective, you are doing a novel and remarkable thing you are ordaining the end of an empire.
G. Even a child can do that. I will appeal to the people’s instincts. I may
L.F. Let us try to see the possible reaction throughout the world. Your very friends, China and Russia, may appeal to you not to launch this civil disobedience movement.
G. Let them appeal to me. I may be dissuaded. But if I can get appeals to them in time, I may convert them. If you have access to men in authority here, tell them this. You are a fine listener. No humbug about you. Discuss this with them and let them show me if there are any flaws in my proposal.
L.F. Have I your authority to say this to the Viceroy?
G. Yes, you have my permission. Let him talk to me; I may be converted. I am a reasonable man. I would not like to take any step that would harm China.
L.F. Or America?
G. If America were hurt, it would hurt everybody.
L.F. Would you wish President Roosevelt to be informed about your attitude?
G. Yes. I do not wish to appeal to anybody. But I would want Mr. Roosevelt to know my plans, my views, and my readiness to compromise. Tell your President I wish to be dissuaded.
L.F. Do you expect drastic action when you launch the movement?
G. Yes. I expect it any day. I am ready. I know I may be arrested. I am ready.