Chapter 35: Conundrums
Thus asks a well-known Congressman:
- " What is your personal attitude towards this war consistent with non-violence?
- Is it the same as, or different from your attitude during the last war?
- How could you with your non-violence actively associate with and help
the Congress whose policy is based on violence in the present
- What is you concrete plan based on non-violence to oppose or prevent this
These questions conclude a long friendly complaint
about my seeming inconsistencies or my inscrutability. Both are old
complaints, perfectly justified from the standpoint of the
complainants, wholly unjustified from my own. Therefore my
complainants and I must agree to differ. Only this let me say. At
the time of writing I never think of what I have said before. My aim
is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given
question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself
to me at a given moment. The result has been that I have grown from
truth to truth; I have saved my memory an undue strain; and what is
more, whenever I have been obliged to compare my writing even of
fifty years ago with the latest, I have discovered no inconsistency
between the two. But friends who observe inconsistency will do well
to take this meaning that my latest writing may yield unless, of
course, they prefer the old. But before making the choice they
should try to see if there is not an underlying and abiding
consistency between the two seeming inconsistencies.
So far as my inscrutability is concerned, friends
should take my assurance that there is never any attempt on my part
to suppress my thought when it is relevant. Sometimes it arises from
my desire to be brief. And sometimes it must be due to my own
ignorance of the subject on which I may be called upon to give an
To give a typical instance, a friend, between whom
and me there never is any mental reservation, thus writes in anguish
rather than anger:
“In the not-improbable event of India being a theatre
of war, is Gandhiji prepared to advise his countrymen to bare their
breasts to the enemy's sword? A little while ago I would have
pledged my word he would do so, but I am not confident anymore."
I can only assure him that, notwithstanding my recent
writings, he can retain his confidence that I would give the same
advice as he expects I would have given before, or as I gave to the
Czechs or the Abyssinians. My nonviolence is made of stern stuff.
It is firmer than the firmest metal known to the scientists. Yet,
alas, I am painfully conscious of the fact that it has still not
attained its native firmness. If it had, God would have shown me the
way to deal with the many local cases of violence that I helplessly
witness daily. This is said not in arrogance but in the certain
knowledge of the power of perfect non-violence. I will not have the
power of non-violence to be underestimated in order to cover my
limitations or weaknesses.
Now for a few lines in answer to the foregoing questions.
My personal reaction towards this war is one of greater horror than ever before. I was not so
disconsolate before as I am today. But the greater horror would
prevent me today from becoming the self-appointed recruiting
sergeant that I had become during the last war. And yet, strange
as it may appear, my sympathies are wholly with the Allies.
Willynilly this war is resolving itself into one between such
democracy as the West has evolved and totalitarianism as it is
typified in Herr Hitler. Though the part that Russia is playing
is painful, let us hope that the unnatural combination will result in a happy though unintended fusion
whose shape no one can foretell. Unless the Allies suffer
demoralization, of which there is not the slightest indication,
this war may be used to end all wars, at any rate of the
virulent type that we see today. I have the hope that India,
distraught though it is with internal dissensions, will play an
effective part in ensuring the desired end and the spread of
cleaner democracy than hitherto. This will undoubtedly depend
upon how the Working Committee will ultimately act in the real
tragedy that is being played on the world stage. We are both
actors in and spectators of the drama. My line is cast. Whether
I act as a humble guide of the Working Committee or, if I may
use the same expression without offence, of the Government, my
guidance will be for the deliberate purpose of taking either or
both along the path of non-violence, be the step ever so
imperceptible. It is plain that I cannot force the pace either
way. I can only use such power as God may endow my head or heart
with for the moment.
- I think I have covered the second question in answering the first.
- There are degrees of violence as of non-violence. The Working
Committee has not willfully departed from the policy of
non-violence. It could not honestly accept the real implications
of non-violence. It felt that the vast mass of Congressmen had
never clearly understood that in the event of danger from
without they were to defend the country by non-violent means.
All that they had learnt truly was that they could put up a
successful fight, on the whole non-violent, against the British
Government. Congressmen have had no training in the use of
non-violence in other fields. Thus, for example, they had not
yet discovered a sure method of dealing successfully in a
nonviolent manner with communal riots or goondaism. The
argument is final inasmuch as it is based on actual experience.
I would not serve the cause of non-violence, if I deserted my
best co-workers because they could not follow me in an extended
application of non-violence. I therefore remain with them in the
faith that their departure from the nonviolent method will be
confined to the narrowest field and will be temporary.
- I have no ready-made concrete plan. For me too
this is a new field. Only I have no choice as to the means. It
must always be purely non-violent, whether I am closeted with
the members of the Working Committee or with the Viceroy.
Therefore what I am doing is itself part of the concrete plan.
More will be revealed to me from day to day, as all my plans
always have been. The famous non-co-operation resolution came to
me within less than 24 hours of the meeting of the A.I.C.C. at
which it was moved in Calcutta in 1920; and so did practically
the Dandi March. The foundation of the first civil resistance
under the then knovyn name of passive resistance was laid by
accident at a meeting of Indians in Johannesburg in 1906
convened for the purpose of finding the means of combating the
anti-Asiatic measure of those days. I had gone to the meeting
with no preconceived resolution. It was born at the meeting. The
creation is still expanding. But assuming that God had endowed
me with full powers (which He never does), I would at once ask
the English to lay down arms, free all their vassals, take pride
in being called "little Englanders", and defy all the
totalitarians of the world to do their worst. Englishmen will
then die unresistingly and go down to history as heroes of
nonviolence I would further invite Indians to co-operate with
Englishmen in this godly martyrdom. It will be an indissoluble
partnership drawn up in letters of the blood of their own
bodies, not of their so-called enemies. But I have no such
general power. Non-violence is a plant of slow growth. It grows
imperceptibly but surely. And even at the risk of being
misunderstood, I must act in obedience to "the
still small voice".
On the train to Simla, 25-9-'39