Book Excerpt: In his own words: How Gandhi stayed true to his ahimsa ideal


By the end of the year, the ICD satyagrahis are out of jail and Rajaji, with much reflection done in his Trichy incarceration, is by now for suspending the campaign and ‘giving Britain another chance’. Not so, Gandhi. He does not believe Britain will offer anything worthwhile to India. Besides, for him, the issue of ahimsa versus the war is not about theory. The Tamil Nadu leader Satyamurti also believes Congress should now reconsider its position and accept provincial office. — Gopalkrishna Gandhi

I had written to Subhas, who was unwell, on 29 December: You are irrepressible whether ill or well. Do get well before going in for fireworks…. As for your Bloc joining Civil Disobedience, I think, with the fundamental differences between you and me, it is not possible. Till one of us is converted to the other’s views, we must sail in different boats though their destination may appear, only appear, to be the same. Meanwhile, let us love one another, remaining members of the same family that we are. In his reply of 10 December, he said, ‘I beg of you to reconsider.’ I responded to this, but my letter was said to have got lost, and so I wrote to Forward Bloc people on the same lines.

On 13 April, the eve of his eightieth birthday, I telegraphed Gurudev: FOUR SCORE NOT ENOUGH. MAY YOU FINISH FIVE.


By July, reports of his health caused me to wire on 16 July: PRESS REPORTS DISTURBING. WIRE EXACT CONDITION. And I asked his son Rathindranath to tell his father that I would not rest till the amount of the Andrews Memorial Fund is fully realised. On 7 August, Gurudev passed away. ‘Your loss is mine,’ I wrote to Rathindranath.

I had agreed to attend the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Banaras Hindu University. The vice-chancellor of the university, Sir S. Radhakrishnan, wrote asking if I would accept from the university on that occasion an honorary doctorate of laws. ‘How can a lawbreaker,’ I wrote to him on 12 October, be a doctor of laws?’

Maithili Sharan Gupt is a famous poet. He had been arrested without any good reason. He was imprisoned in Agra Jail. The government is sometimes over-generous. It picks up people without any ostensible reason. Dhirendra Majumdar, one of the pillars of the Charkha Sangh, was not expecting to be in jail. He, too, was jailed in Agra. He could not rest content without making everyone spin. In that jail, poetry did not flow from Maithili Sharanji’s pen; it flowed from the yarn that he spun. He wrote to me to say that in the Agra jail, his communist companions also joined in spinning, although they had no respect for my views. No one compelled them. They started spinning on their own. I wrote to Maithili Sharanji that with every round of yarn that he and his co-prisoners spun, they brought swaraj that much nearer. What I wrote to the poet was not mere rhetoric. I meant what I said. We have never produced as much yarn as we have produced this year.

Rajaji, who too was in jail, had written to Mahadev: ‘I am spinning and reading and completely avoid thinking of politics…

My late colleague, Harijan minister Muniswami Pillai, is working hard spreading the practice of the charkha among us….’ Rajaji’s prison term gave over, with a two-month remission, in October. He wrote to me about my use of two expressions which he said were ‘slang’—‘O.K.’ and ‘A1’. He said I knew slang better than he did. I replied on 16 October, declining to accept the compliment. ‘I did not even know,’ I said, ‘that O.K. and A1 were slang. So you see the poverty of my language.’

Agatha Harrison had written to me in grief over the violence surrounding her. I replied on 22 October, saying, ‘I understand your earnestness and grief….’ Polak, too, had written asking if my trust in non-violence can stand the strain if bombs were dropping near my feet, and I was witnessing near ones being crushed to death. ‘I cannot say,’ I wrote to her. ‘I rehearse such situations. I pray that the faith might not break under such strain…. I did shed a silent tear when I read about the damage done to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul’s.’ I advised, ‘Don’t worry, don’t fret…. He allows this slaughter. We do not know why. But if we keep our hands, head, and heart stainless, let us believe that in His own good time, he will use us to stop this apparently senseless mutual slaughter.’

S. Satyamurti, who too had just been released from jail, had written to ask if he was free to speak on his view that there should be a change in the Congress programme and it should accept office in the provinces. ‘You are free to speak and convert people to your view,’ I replied on 30 October, ‘but…the question of propriety of speech arises…(I)n true democracy a person has many rights but duty automatically restrains him from using most of them.’

On 31 October, I wrote to Vallabhbhai: ‘I am told today is your birthday. That means one year less from the number you can devote to service…. Remember, we wish to depart only after winning swaraj.’

When all ICD satyagrahis, including Congress President Azad and Jawaharlal, were released on 4 December, 1941, I said without a change in policy, the releases would not evoke a single responsive or appreciative chord in me. The government will soon be disillusioned if it thought the prisoners will have changed their opinions.

Excerpted from I Am an Ordinary Man, edited by Gopalkrishna Gandhi, chapter titled 1941— A Year of Indecision, with permission from Aleph

I Am an Ordinary Man : India’s Struggle for Freedom (1914–1948)
Edited by Gopalkrishna Gandhi
pp. 437; Rs 999

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