Perhaps no part of India has passed through such fire of suffering
as Midnapore during the August upheaval in 1942, when man's
brutality completed the work of nature's wrath. Their suffering had
chastened them but did not subdue their spirit. The chastening
effect was visible in the perfect discipline and pin-drop silence
that marked Gandhiji's prayer gatherings which were sometimes
attended 'by over a lakh of people.
The question of non-violence and Jatiya Sarkar naturally constituted the core of the discussions which the Congress workers of Midnapore had with Gandhiji during his visit to Mahishadal. Jatiya Sarkar was set up in the thanas of Sutahata, Nandigram, Mahishadal and Tamluk in Midnapore district on 17-12-'42 and 16-1-'43 and was formally dissolved on August 8, 1944, as a result of the publication of Gandhiji's statement on secrecy and underground work after his release from detention. By September 1944, about 150 workers connected with it had come out into the open and surrendered themselves to the authorities. In a comprehensive report which the workers of Midnapore submitted to Gandhiji during his visit to Mahishadal, they described in graphic detail how during the August upheaval the people had captured thanas, burnt down kutcheris, paralyzed communications, and organized a parallel police service, intelligence branch and law courts where delinquents and those engaged in anti-social activities were brought to book and dealt with "according to law". They had scrupulously avoided taking of life, they claimed, and had therefore acted non-violently.
Later on they discussed the whole question of parallel government and sabotage with Gandhiji. "I cannot say," remarked Gandhiji "that all that has been done has been well done or ought to have been done. On the contrary, much of it ought not to have been done. That the people did not remain inert is a matter of satisfaction, but the fact that after all these years they should not have known what the Congress stood for is a matter for sorrow. What they did was thoughtless. By its very nature it could not be sustained.
"You have graphically put in your reports how you blew up a railway track, put a road out of use, burnt a kutchery, seized a thana, set up a parallel government and so on. This is not the technique of non-violent action. People committed the mistake of thinking that all that did not involve killing was non-violence. Sometimes killing is the cleanest part of violence. If you kill the mischief-maker outright, there is an end to it as far as he is concerned, but harassment is worse. It did not pat out mischief. On the contrary, it brought the mischief on our own heads. The authorities became vindictive. Perhaps you will say that they would have been vindictive anyhow, but that is not what we should desire or aim at. It does not pay us to let them go into a panic.
"In August 1942, the authorities became panicky. We gave them that excuse. But they are a people who do not know what defeat is; their cowardice is not fundamental. So, they let such things as thanas, kuttheris, panchayat courts etc., remain in your hands for a short while as toys, but as soon as they had completed their dispositions they turned the full blast- of their machinery of retaliation against us. It is not in this way that India will attain her independence. We cannot afford to repeat it.
"Today you have to reckon not with Britain alone but the Big Three. You cannot successfully fight them with their own weapons. After all you cannot go beyond the atom bomb. Unless we can have a new way of fighting imperialism of all brands in the place of the outworn one of a violent rising, there is no hope for the oppressed races of the earth.
"Let nobody be misled by the Russian parallel," he continued. "Our tradition is wholly different from Russia's. The historical setting too is different. In Russia the whole population was under arms; Indian masses won't take to arms even if they could be given the necessary training. But it is useless to think that our rulers will let us give them that training when they have at a stroke disarmed a first-rate military State like Japan. Today Japan lies prostrate at the conqueror's feet. But non-violence knows no defeat. It must however be true non-violence, not a make-believe. I would not shed a single tear if I alone were left to represent such non-violence."
"After all that we have done and suffered," observed the friends, "we have begun to doubt whether our energies have flown in the right channel, whether the mass awakening was not misdirected. But, is not non-violent rebellion, a programme of seizure of power?" they asked.
"Therein lies the fallacy," replied Gandhiji. "A nonviolent revolution is not a programme of 'seizure of power'. It is a programme of transformation of relationships ending in a peaceful transfer of power. If the people had fully carried out the five steps outlined by me in my 8th of August speech in the A.I.C.C. in Bombay, and had there been a perfect atmosphere of non-violence, the Government's power of repression would have been sterilized and, it would have been compelled to yield to the national demand.
"If under the impact of foreign invasion or some such cause the ruling power abdicates and a vacuum is created, the people's organization will naturally take over its functions; but such Jatiya Sarkar would have no other sanction except that of non-violence and service of the people to enforce its fiats. It will never use coercion. Even those who might hold contrary views will receive a full measure of security under it."
As an instance of the infinitely greater efficacy of the non-violent technique as compared to the technique of coercion, he mentioned the case of Bardoli. In Midnapore whilst they succeeded in capturing a few symbols of power in the initial stages, they could not retain the fruits of their success. But in Bardoli the Satyagrahis were able fully to retain the gains of their struggle. "Moreover, you have seen," resumed Gandhiji, "that all your bravery could not prevent the violation of women. Now that is intolerable. No one should be able to cast an evil eye upon them. This requires inculcation of a higher form of bravery, i.e. that of non-violence which can hurl defiance at death and against which the power of the aggressor cannot prevail. This is what I am trying to do. It may take time. It takes a long time to infuse this kind of higher courage among the millions. Whether this kind of non-violence will ever come into play or not I do not know. But you, who have had training in non-violence for all these years, ought to realize that in your hands non-violence should show all the brilliance that is inherent in it."
They next wanted to know as to how they could start on the right lines. Gandhiji in reply prescribed to them the spinning wheel as "the symbol and central sun of the 18- fold constructive programme". It was the best way of achieving social solidarity and non-violent organisation. The technique of non-violent action consisted in isolating and sterilizing the instruments of evil. Jatiya Sarkar based on non-violence would not put Government servants under duress, but would effectively isolate them so that they would either have to align themselves with the people or be reduced to the necessity of carrying out the foreign Government's writ through undiluted barbarism of which they would soon sicken and tire. Even their relations and dear ones would desert them. "This presupposes that no section among the people is labouring under a sense of injustice and wrong at the hands of the others. Untouchability, exploitation and communal rancour can have no place under a Jatiya Sarkar, or it will be like a house divided against itself which must fall."