Written by : Ravindra Varma
First Edition : 1,000 copies, October 2001
Total Copies : 3,000 copies
Price : Rs. 60/-
ISBN : 81-7229-291-6
Printed and Published by :
Navajivan Publishing House
Many leaders of the Congress were not happy with the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. Nor were the British Officers who were against Irwin's effort at compromise. There were differences in the interpretation of the Pact. It looked as though it would break down. Meanwhile, the British Government decided to hold another Round Table Conference with Indian Leaders to evolve agreement on further constitutional reform. The First Round Table Conference was a failure. The Congress was not there. It could not, therefore, be presented as being representative. There were serious objections to the way the Government had selected participants. Yet, the Congress decided to attend. It also decided that Gandhi would be its sole representative at the Conference. This was a very heavy responsibility, especially because there were some differences within the Congress itself. Another reason that made the task difficult was the composition of the Conference. The Government had packed it with Rulers and people selected from many groups from which the Government expected support. On the eve of his departure to attend the Conference at London, Gandhi, therefore, warned the nation that he might return empty handed.
He sailed from Bombay with his personal entourage that included his Secretaries, Mahadev Desai and Pyarelal, Miraben an English disciple, and Devdas Gandhi. Miraben was the daughter of an English admiral, but had become Gandhi's disciple and co-worker, and taken the Indian name, Mira. Gandhi travelled by the second class and spent most of his time on the deck. He spent the day as he would have done in his Ashram with prayer, spinning, reading, talking to visitors. He was very popular with the children on the ship. Many fellow passengers attended the prayer or talked to him on matters of religion, human problems and politics. He radiated warmth and love.
In London, he decided to stay in the East End, where the poor and the families of the working class lived. He did not want to stay in luxurious hotels or areas where the rich and privileged lived. Every day he went to the St. James Palace where the Conference met, worked till late into the evening, and returned to his lodge in East London. He stuck an instant rapport with the workers and their families. They looked upon him as one of them. Ethnic differences and differences in nationality and political views never stood between Gandhi and the common people. He wanted to go to Lancashire where textile workers had been hit by unemployment as a result of his movement for the boycott of foreign goods and the adoption of Swadeshi. He answered their questions with calm and understanding. He told them they had three million people who were unemployed. He had in his country three hundred million people who were unemployed, whose average daily income was not even one-tenth of their dole. Should he not ask that they should get employment and incomes? Even God dare not appear before them except in the form of bread. Those who had questioned Gandhi agreed with him, and said that in his place they would do what he was doing. He had conquered their hearts.
At the Conference itself, Gandhi saw through the plan of the British. They wanted to create the impression that the Indians were quarrelling among themselves; they had conflicting interests which they pursued with mutual hostility; they would be at each other's throat if Britain was not there to hold them together and protect every one's interest. Transfer of power, therefore, was unthinkable. Some made no secret of their belief that Indians were unfit for self- government. And the Government had selected participants to ensure a deadlock.
Gandhi, therefore, was forthright. He spelt out the objectives of the Indian nation, said that the British Government had created an unreal situation. It was they who were creating and promoting differences to use them as an excuse to deny freedom. It is this attitude that should change. There were no conflicts of interests in India. All artificial interests that went against the interests of the common man should go. Every legitimate interest whether British or Indian that would not be in conflict with the interests of the masses could remain. Independent India would scrutinize all such claims and annul whatever was against the interests of the poor.
He was against the plan of the British Government to create permanent divisions in India through a "Communal electorate" in which Muslims, Hindus and people of other communities would elect their own representatives separately. There would be no common electorate. This would mean that there would be no union of hearts and no common vision. India would never evolve a common image. This was the surest way of breaking up India and continuing in command. He said that for the same reasons he was also against the creation of separate electorates for the so-called untouchables.
Great Indians like Srinivasan Sastry, Akbar Hydari, Dr. Ambedkar and others were present. But the Conference could not come to common conclusions. That was what the British Government wanted. But nationalist India felt thwarted.
While the Conference was going on, Gandhi had the opportunity to meet leading figures in British society. He spoke at Oxford, at the London School of Economics and at Eton.
At the house of Lindsay, the master of Balliol, he met the leading professors and intellectuals of Britain - Dr. Gilbert Murray, Gilbert Salter, Prof. Coupland, Edward Thomson and others. They were amazed ai the calm and clarity with which Gandhi answered every question, however profound or provocative it was, without so much as a frown or twitching of the skin on his face. He met leaders in other fields like Charlie Chaplin and the great playwright, Bernard Shaw. All these visits and talks enabled the people of Britain to see Gandhi through their own eyes and to feel the impact of his uncommon personality.
On his way back to India he decided to spend a few days with the great French writer and philosopher, Romain Rolland who had written a biography of Gandhi even before meeting him. They spent many days at Villanenue exchanging their perceptions and sharing apprehensions and aspirations.
Gandhi was invited to a 'Tea Party' that the King- Emperor of England held for the delegates to the Conference. Representatives of the Government tried to press Gandhi to dress in a three-piece suit for the occasion. Gandhi refused. He said that he had come to the Conference as a representative of the poor people of India. He had, therefore, no right to wear anything more than what they were. He met the King clad in his loin cloth and shawl.
The visit to Lausanne in Switzerland was memorable. It was there, at a meeting of religious practitioners, philosophers and intellectuals that Gandhi first explained the profound significance that he attached to the fine distinction between the two statements : God is Truth and Truth is God. He used to say God is Truth. But now after many years of experience and reflection, he had come to realize that it was more correct to say Truth is God than to say God is Truth. Gandhi himself did not believe that God was a person. God or Truth was the law, and the law giver rolled into one.
He visited Italy. He could not meet the Pope. But he was overcome by the figure of the Christ on the Cross that he saw in the Pope's Chapel. He met the
Fascist dictator Mussolini. There were fears that the dictator might exploit Gandhi's visit. Gandhi told Mussolini that he was building a house of cards.
Gandhi landed at Bombay on the 28th of December, 1931. He was candid. He told the people that he had returned empty handed. He did not believe that Britain would accept the demand for Independence without further struggle. He was apprehensive of what lay ahead. In the meanwhile Irwin's successor, Willingdon, had already destroyed whatever good will had been created by the Gandhi- Irwin Pact. While Gandhi was in Europe or on the high seas, many leaders of the Congress including Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan had been arrested. Jawaharlal Nehru had been arrested while he was on his way to receive Gandhi at Bombay. Willingdon had promulgated new orders restricting freedom. Lathi charges and firings were the order of the day. Thousands had been put in jail. A war of repression had been launched. The Congress Working Committee had come to the conclusion that the Congress had no alternative but to revive Civil Disobedience.
Gandhi still wanted to meet the Viceroy and persuade him to see reason and not push the country into another holocaust. But he was rebuffed. The Government had decided to teach the Congress and Gandhi a lesson. Congress was declared an unlawful association. Its offices were sealed. Its funds were confiscated. Its workers were arrested and treated with harshness and cruelty, both inside and outside prison. Women became special targets since the Government wanted to prevent a repetition of the Salt Satyagraha. Newspapers were not allowed to publish reports of Congress activities, meetings and arrests. Efforts were made to suppress the publication of journals and to prosecute journalists. The Government had decided to crush the movement.
Gandhi himself and the members of the Working Committee were arrested on the 4th of January, hardly one week after his arrival from London. He was sent to the jail at Yervada. His Secretary, Mahadev Desai and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel were detained with him.
Gandhi got back to the usual routine that he followed in prison. This time he had to attend to a voluminous mail from India and abroad, seeking his views and advice on many matters. He himself was keen to remain in touch with the inmates of his Ashram and his colleagues in the various States.