In India tension grew in those early months of 1942. The theatre of war came ever nearer and there was now the probability of air raids over Indian cities. What was going to happen in those eastern countries where war was raging? What new development would take place in the relations between India and England? Were we going to carry on in the old way, glaring at each other, tied up and separated by the bitter memories of past history, victims of a tragic fate which none could avert? Or would common perils help us to bridge that chasm? Even the bazaars woke up from their normal lethargy, a wave of excitement passed over them and they buzzed with all manner of rumours. The monied classes were afraid of the future that was advancing so swiftly towards them, for that future, whatever else it might be, was likely to upset the social structure they were accustomed to and endanger their inter-ests and special position. The peasant and the worker had no such fear for he had little to lose, and he looked forward to any change from his present unhappy condition.
In India there had all along been much sympathy for China and, as a consequence, a certain antipathy to Japan. The Pacific War, it was thought at first, would bring relief to China. For four and a half years China had fought single-handed against Japan; now she had powerful allies, and surely this must lighten her burden and lessen her danger. But those allies suffered blow after blow, and before the advancing Japanese armies the British colonial empire cracked up with amazing rapidity. Was this proud structure then just a house of cards with no foundations or inner strength? Inevitably, comparisons were made with China's long resistance to Japanese aggression in spite of her lack of almost everything required for modern war. China went up in people's estimation, and though Japan was not liked, there was a feeling of satisfaction at the collapse of old-established European colonial powers before the armed strength of an Asiatic power. That racial, Oriental-Asiatic, feeling was evident on the British side also. Defeat and disaster were bitter enough but the fact that an Oriental and Asiatic power had triumphed over them added to the bitterness and humiliation. An Englishman occupying a high position said, that he would have preferred it if the Prince of Wales and the Repulse had been sunk by the Germans instead of by the yellow Japanese.
The visit of the Chinese leaders, Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, was a great event in India. Official conventions and the wishes of the Government of India prevented them from mixing with the people, but their presence in India itself at that critical stage and their manifest sympathy for India's freedom helped to bring India out of her national shell and increased her awareness of the international issues at stake. The bonds that tied India and China grew stronger, and so did the desire to line up with China and other nations against the common adversary. The peril to India helped to bring nationalism and internationalism close together, the only separating factor being the policy of the British Government.
The Government of India were no doubt very conscious of the approaching perils; there must have been anxiety in their minds and a sense of urgency. But such was the conventional existence of the British in India, so set were they in their established grooves, so wedded to the never-ending processes of bureaucratic red-tape, that no marked change was visible in their outlook or activities. There was no sense of hurry and speed, of tension and getting things done. The system they represented had been built up for another age and with other objectives. Whether it was their army or their civil services, the objective in view was the occupation of India and of suppression- of any attempts of the Indian people to free themselves. It was sufficient enough for that purpose, but modern war against a powerful and ruthless adversary was a very different matter, and they found it exceedingly difficult to adapt themselves to it. They were not only mentally unfitted for this, but a great part of their energies was absorbed in keeping down nationalism in India. The collapse of the Burmese and Malayan administrations before new problems had been significant and revealing, yet it taught no lesson. Burma had been governed by the same kind of civil service as India; indeed till a few years ago, it had been part of the Indian administration. The ways of government there were identical with those of India, and Burma had demonstrated how moribund this system was. But the system continued without change and the Viceroy and his high officials functioned in the same way as before. They added to their number many of the higher officials who had failed so conspicuously in Burma; there was another Excellency sitting on the hilltop at Simla. Like the emigre governments in London, we were given the privilege of having in our midst emigre officials from British colonies. They fitted like a glove into the British structure in India.
Like shadows on a stage these high officials continued to function in their old way, trying to impress us with their elaborate imperial ritual, their court ceremonies, their durbars and investitures, their parades, their dinners and evening dresses, their pompous utterances. The Viceroy's house in New Delhi was the chief temple where the high priest officiated, but there were many other temples and priests. All this ceremonial and display of imperial pomp was designed to impress, and it had impressed our people in the old days, for Indians are also given to ceremonial observances. But new standards had arisen, different values had been created, and now this elaborate show was the subject of jest and ridicule. Indians are supposed to be a slow-moving people, disinclined to rush and hurry, but even they had developed a certain speed and vigour in their work, so strong was their desire to get things done. The Congress provincial governments, whatever their failings might have been, were anxious to achieve results and worked haru and continuously, disregarding many old-established routines. It was irritating to see the passivity and slowness of the Government of India and its many agents in the face of grave crisis and peril.
And then came the Americans. They were very much in a hurry, eager to get things done, ignorant of the ways and ceremonial of the Government of India and not particularly anxious to learn them. Intolerant of delay, they pushed aside obstructions and red-tape methods and upset the even tenor of life in New Delhi. They were not even careful of the dress they should wear on particular occasions, and sometimes offended against the rigid rules of protocol and official procedure. While the help they were bringing was very welcome, they were not liked in the highest official circles, and relations were strained. Indians liked them on the whole; their energy and enthusiasm for the work in hand were infectious, and contrasted with the lack of these qualities in British official circles in India. Their forthrightness and freedom from official constraints were appreciated. There was much silent amusement at the underlying friction between the newcomers and the official class, and many true or imagined stories of this were repeated.
The approach of the war to India disturbed Gandhi greatly. It was not easy to fit in his policy and programme of non-violence with this new development. Obviously civil disobedience was out of the question in the face of an invading army or between two opposing armies. Passivity or acceptance of invasion were equally out of the question. What then? His own colleagues, and the Congress generally, had rejected non-violence for such an occasion or as an alternative to armed resistance to invasion, and he had at last agreed that they had a right to do so; but he was nonetheless troubled and for his own part, as an individual, he could not join any violent course of action. But he was much more than an indi-vidual; whether he had any official status or not in the nationalist movement, he occupied an outstanding and dominating position and his word carried weight with large numbers of people.
Gandhiji knew India, and especially the Indian masses, as very few, if any, have known them in the past or the present. Not only had he widely travelled all over India and come into touch with millions of people, but there was something else which enabled him to come into emotional contact with those masses. He could merge himself with the masses and feel with them, and because they were conscious of this they gave him their devotion and loyalty. And yet his view of India was to some extent coloured by the out-look he had imbibed in his early days in Gujarat. The Gujaratis were essentially a community of peaceful traders and merchants, influenced by the Jain doctrine of non-violence. Other parts of India had been influenced much less by this, and some not at all. The widespread Kshatriya class of warriors certainly did not allow it to interfere with war or hunting wild animals. Other classes also, including the Brahmins, had been as a whole little influenced by it. But Gandhiji took an eclectic view of the development of Indian thought and history, and believed that non-violence had been the basic principle underlying it, even though there had been many deviations from it. That view appeared to be far-fetched and many Indian thinkers and historians did not agree with it. This had nothing to do with the merits of non-violence in the present stage of human existence, but it did indicate a historical bias in Gandhiji's mind.
The accidents of geography have had a powerful effect on determining national character and history. The fact that India was cut off by the tremendous barrier of the Himalayas and by the sea produced a sense of unity in this wide area and at the same time bred exclusiveness. Over this vast territory a vivid and homo-genous civilization grew up which had plenty of scope for expansion and development, and which continued to preserve a strong cultural unity. Yet within that unity geography again produced diversity. The huge northern and central plain differed from the hilly and variegated areas of the Deccan, and the people living in different geographical areas developed different characteristics. History also took a different course in the north and in the south, though often the two overlapped and joined hands. The flatness of the land, and the vast open spaces of the north, as in Russia, required power-ful central governments for protection against external enemies. Empires flourished in the south as well as the north, but the north was really the centre of empire and often dominated the south. A strong central government in the old days inevitably meant autocracy. It was not a mere accident of history that the Mughal Empire was broken up, among other causes, by the Marathas. The Marathas came from the hilly tracts of the Deccan, and had preserved some spirit of independence when the great majority of the dwellers on the northern plains had grown servile and submissive. The British had an easy victory in Bengal, and the people of the fertile plains there submitted with extraordinary docility. Having established themselves there they spread elsewhere.
Geography counts still and must count in the future, but other factors play a more important role now. Mountains and seas are no longer barriers, but they still determine a people's character and a country's political and economic position. They cannot ignored in considering new schemes of division, partition or remerging, unless the planning is on a world scale.
Gandhiji's knowledge of India and the Indian people is pro-found. Though not greatly interested in history as such, and per-haps not possessing that feeling for history, that historical sense, which some people have, he is fully conscious and intimately aware of the historical roots of the Indian people. He is well informed about current events and follows them carefully, though inevitably he concentrates on present-day Indian problems. He has a capacity for picking out the essence of a problem or a situation, avoiding non-essentials. Judging everything by what he considers the moral aspect, he gets a certain grip and a longer perspective. Bernard Shaw has said that though he (Gandhi) may commit any number of tactical errors, his essential strategy continues to be right. Most people, however, are not much concerned with the long run; they are far more interested in the tactical advantage of the moment.
Sir Stafford Cripps comes to India
With the fall of Penang and Singapore, and as the Japanese advanced in Malaya, there was an exodus of Indians and others and they poured into India. They had to leave very suddenly, carrying nothing with them except the clothes they were in. Then followed the flood of refugees from Burma, hundreds of thousands of them, mostly Indians. The story of how they had been deserted by civil and other authorities and left to shift for themselves spread though out India. They trekked hundreds of miles across mountains and through dense forests, surrounded by enemies, many dying on the way, killed by dagger or disease or starvation. That was a horrible result of the war and had to be accepted. But it was not the war that caused discrimination in treatment between Indian and British refugees. The latter were cared for as far as possible and arrangements made for their transport and assistance. From one place in Burma, where vast numbers of refugees were gathering, there were two roads leading to India. The better one was reserved for Britishers or Europeans; it came to be known as the White Road.
Horrible stories of racial discrimination and suffering reached us, and as the famished survivors spread out all over India they carried these stories with them, creating a powerful effect on the Indian mind.
Just then Sir Stafford Cripps came to India with the proposals of the British War Cabinet. Those proposals have been discussed fully during the past two and a half years and they are past history already. It is a little difficult for one who took part in the negotiations that followed to deal with them in any detail without saying much that had better to be left unsaid till some future time. As a matter of fact all the relevant issues and considerations that arose have already been made public.
I remember that when I read those proposals for the first time I was profoundly depressed, and that depression was largely due to the fact that I had expected something more substantial from Sir Stafford Cripps as well as from the critical situation that had arisen. The more I read those proposals and considered their many implications, the greater was my feeling of depression. I could understand a person unacquainted with Indian affairs imagining that they went far to meet our demands. But, when analyzed, there were so many limitations, and the very acceptance of the principle of self-determination was fettered and circumscribed in such a way as to imperil our future.
The proposals dealt essentially with the future, after the cessation of hostilities, though there was a final clause which vaguely invited co-operation in the present. That future, while asserting the principle of self-determination, gave the right to provinces not to join the Indian union, and to form separate independent states. Further, the same right of non-accession to the Indian union was given to the Indian states, and it should be remembered that there are nearly 600 such states in India, some major ones and the great majority tiny enclaves. These states, as well as the provinces, would all join in the constitution making, would influence that constitution, and then could walk out of it. The whole background would be of separatism and the real problems of the country, economic or political, would take secondary place. Reactionary elements, differing from each other in many ways, would unite to frustrate the evolution of a strong, progressive, unified national state. Under the constant threat of withdrawal, many undesirable provisions might be introduced into the constitution, the central government might be weakened and emasculated, and yet the withdrawal might still follow, and it would be difficult then to refashion the constitution and make it more workable for the remaining provinces and states. The elections in the provinces for the constitution-making body would take place under the existing system of separate religious electorates; that was un-fortunate, as it would bring with it the old spirit of cleavage, and yet, in the circumstances, it was inevitable. But in the states there was no provision for elections and their ninety million inhabitants were completely ignored. The semi-feudal rulers of the states could nominate their own representatives in proportion to the population. These nominees might contain some able ministers but, as a whole, they would inevitably represent, not the people of the states, but the feudal and autocratic ruler. They would form nearly one quarter of the members of the constitution-making body, and would powerfully influence its decisions by their numbers, their socially backward attitude, and their threats of subsequent withdrawal. The constituent assembly or constitution-making body would be a curious mixture of elected and non-elected elements, the former chosen by separate religious electorates as well as by certain vested interests, the latter nominated by the rulers of the states. To this had to be added the fact that there would be no pressure to accept joint decision, and the sense of reality which comes from evolving integrates and final decisions would be lacking. The tendency for many of its members would be to act in a wholly irresponsible manner, for they would feel-that they could always withdraw and refuse to accept the responsibility for carrying out those decisions.
Any proposal to cut up India into parts was a painful one to contemplate; it went against all those deeply-felt sentiments and convictions that move people so powerfully. The whole national-ist movement of India had been based on India's unity, but the sentiment was older and deeper than the present phase of nationalism ; it went far back into the remote periods of Indian history. That belief and sentiment had been strengthened by modern developments till it had become an article of faith for vast numbers of people, something that could not be challenged or controverted. A challenge had come from the Moslem League but few took it seriously, and there were certainly large numbers of Moslems who did not agree with it. Even the basis of that challenge was not really territorial, though it suggested a vague undefined partition of territory. The basis was a mediaeval conception of nations based on religious differences, and according to it, there-fore, in every village in India there were two or more nations. Even a partition of India could not get over these widespread and overlapping religious divisions. A partition would in fact add to the difficulty and increase the very problems it was intended to solve.
Apart from sentiment, there were solid reasons against parti-tion. The social and economic problems of India had reached a crisis, chiefly because of the policy of the British Government, which necessitated rapid and all-round progress if the gravest of disasters had to be averted. That progress could only take place with real and effective planning for the whole of India, for the various parts supplied each other's deficiencies. As a whole, India was to a large extent a powerful and self-sufficient unit, but each part by itself would be weak and dependent on others. If all these, and other, arguments were valid and sufficient in the past, they became doubly important through modern political and economic developments. Small states were disappearing everywhere as independent entities; they were becoming absorbed in, or economic appendages to, the larger states. There was an inevitable tendency for vast federations, or collections of many states functioning together, to grow up. The idea of the national state itself was giving place to the multinational state, and in the distant future there appeared a vision of a world federation. To think of partitioning India at this stage went against the whole current of modern historical and economic development. It seemed to be fantastic in the extreme.
And yet under stress of dire necessity or some compelling disaster one has to agree to many undesirable things. Circum-stances may force a partition of what logically and normally must not be divided. But the proposals put forward on behalf of the British Government did not deal with any definite and particular partition of India. They opened out a vista of an indefinite number of partitions both of provinces and states. They incited all the reactionary, feudal, and socially backward groups to claim partition. Probably none of them seriously wanted it because they could not stand by themselves. But they could give a lot of trouble and obstruct and delay the formation of a free Indian state. If they were backed by British policy, as they well might be, it meant no freedom at all for a long time. Our experience of that policy had been bitter and at every stage we had found that it encouraged fissiparous tendencies. What was the guarantee that it would not continue to do so, and then claim that it could not fulfill its promise because the conditions for it were lacking? Indeed the probability was that this policy would continue.
Thus this proposal was not a mere acceptance of Pakistan or a particular partition, bad as that would have been, but some-thing much worse, opening the door to the possibility of an indefinite number of partitions. It was a continuing menace to the freedom of India and a barrier to the fulfillment of the very promise that had been made.
The decision about the future of the Indian states was not going to be made by the people of those states or their chosen representatives, but by their autocratic rulers. Our acceptance of this principle would have been a negation of our well-established and often repeated policy and a betrayal of the people of the states, who would have been condemned to autocratic rule for a much longer period. We were prepared to treat the princes as gently as possible so as to gain their co-operation in the change-over to democracy, and if there had been no third party, like the British power, we would no doubt have succeeded. But with the British Government supporting autocracy in the states, the princes were likely to keep out of the Indian Union and rely on British military support for protection against their own people. Indeed, we were told, that if such circumstances arose, foreign armed forces would be kept in the states. As these states were often likely to be isolated islands in the territory of the proposed Indian Union, the question arose how foreign forces could reach them or communicate with the forces in some other similar state. That necessitated a right of way for foreign forces over the territory of the Indian Union.
Gandhiji had repeatedly declared that he was no enemy of the princes. Indeed his attitude has been consistently a friendly one towards them, though he had often criticized their methods of government and their denial of even elementary rights to their people. For many years he had prevented the Congress from interfering directly with the affairs of the states, believing as he did that the people of the states should themselves take the initiative and thus develop self-confidence and strength. Many of us had disapproved of this attitude of his. Yet behind it lay one basic conviction, as he put it himself: 'One fundamental element in my attitude is that I shall never be a party to the sale of the rights of the people of the states (even) for the sake of the freedom of the people of British India.' Professor Berriedale Keith, the eminent authority on the British Commonwealth and Indian constitutions, supported Gandhiji's claim (which was the Congress claim) in regard to the states. Keith wrote: 'It is impossible for the Crown's advisers to contend that the people of the states shall be denied the rights of Indians in the provinces, and it is their clear duty to advise the King-Emperor to use his authority to secure that the princes shall enter into constitutional reforms which will result at no distant date in securing responsible government therein. No federation can be deemed in the interest of India, if in it representatives of the provinces are compelled to sit with the nominees of irresponsible rulers. There is, in fact, no answer to Mr. Gandhi's claim that the princes are bound to follow the Crown in its transfer of authority to the people.' Professor Keith had given this opinion in regard to the earlier proposal of the British Government relating to federation, but it was even more applicable to the proposals brought by Sir Stafford Cripps. The more one thought of these proposals the more fantastic they grew. India became a chequer-board containing scores of nominally independent or semi-independent states, many of them relying on Britain for military protection of autocratic rule. There was to be neither political nor economic unity and Britain might well continue to exercise dominating power, both politically and economically, through the many petty states she controlled [The entire dependence of the Indian States on British power and protection is stressed by Sir Geoffrey de Montmorency in his ' The Indian States and Indian Federation
1 (1942): The states 'are still so numerous in India that they offer a grave conundrum in evolution to which no solution is at present forthcoming.. .. Their disappearance and absorption would, of course, be inevitable if Britain ever ceased to be the supreme power as regards India.' ].
What the British War Cabinet had in mind for the future I do not know. I think Sir Stafford Cripps meant well for India and hoped to see her free and united. But this was not a matter of individual views or opinions or personal goodwill. We had to consider a state document, carefully drafted in spite of its deli-berate vagueness, and we were told that we had to accept it or reject it as a whole. And behind it lay the continuous, century-old policy of the British Government, creating division in India and encouraging every factor that came in the way of national growth and freedom. Every forward step that had been taken in the past had always been hedged in by qualifications and limitations, which seemed innocuous enough at the beginning, and yet which proved to be formidable checks and brakes.
It was possible, and even probable, that the dire consequences that seemed to flow from the proposals need not all take shape. Wisdom and patriotism, and a larger view of what was good for India and the world, would no doubt influence many people, including rulers and ministers of Indian states. Left to ourselves, we would have faced each other with confidence, considered all the complexities of the problem and the difficulties that faced each group, and after full deliberation hammered out an integrated solution. But we were not going to be left to ourselves in spite of the suggestion that we were going to exercise self-determination. The British Government was always there, occupying strategic points, in a position to hinder and interfere in many ways. It con-trolled not only the whole apparatus of government, services, etc., but, in the states, its residents and political agents occupied a dominating position. Indeed the princes, autocratic as they were as regards their people, were themselves completely subject to the control of the political department which was directly under the Viceroy. Many of their principal ministers had been imposed upon them and were members of British services.
Even if we escaped many of the possible consequences of the British proposals, enough remained to undermine Indian freedom, delay progress, and raise fresh and dangerous problems which would create enormous difficulties. The introduction of separate religious electorates a generation or more earlier had played enough mischief; now the door was opened to every obscurantist group giving trouble, and to the fear of continuing division and vivisection of India. We were asked to pledge our-selves to this arrangement for that undetermined future which was to emerge as the issue of the war. Not only the National Congress but politically the most moderate of our politicians, who had always co-operated with the British government, expressed their inability to do so. And yet the Congress, for all its passion for Indian unity, was anxious to win over the minority and other groups and even declared that a territorial unit could not be kept in the Indian Union against the declared will of its people. It accepted the principle even of partition, if this became unavoidable, but it did not want to encourage it in any way. The Working Committee of the Congress, in the course of its resolution on the Cripps proposals, said: 'The Congress has been wedded to Indian freedom and unity and any break in that unity, especially in the modern world, when people's minds inevitably think in terms of ever larger federations, would be injurious to all concerned and exceedingly painful to contemplate. Nevertheless the Committee cannot think in terms of compelling the people in any territorial unit to remain in an Indian Union against their declared and established will. While recognizing this principle, the Committee feel that every effort should be made to create conditions which would help the different units in developing a common and co-operative national life. The acceptance of the principle inevitably involves that no changes should be made which result in fresh problems being created and compulsion being exercised on other substantial groups within that area. Each territorial unit should have the fullest possible autonomy within the union, consistent with a strong national state. The proposal now made on the part of the British War Cabinet encourages and will lead to at-tempts at separation at the very inception of a union and thus create friction just when the utmost co-operation and goodwill are most needed. This proposal has been presumably made to meet a communal demand, but it will have other consequences also and lead politically reactionary and obscurantist groups among different communities to create trouble and divert public attention from the vital issues before the country.'
The Committee went on to say that 'in to-day's grave crisis, it is the present that counts, and even proposals for the future are important in so far as they affect the present. Although they had been unable to agree to the proposals made for the future, they were anxious to come to some settlement so that, as they said, India might shoulder the burden of her defence worthily. There was no question of non-violence involved and no mention of this was made at any stage. In fact one of the matters discussed was that there should be an Indian Minister of Defence.
The Congress position at this stage was that in view of the imminent war peril to India they were prepared to put aside questions about the future and concentrate on the formation of a national government which would co-operate fully in the war. They could not agree to the British Government's specific proposals for the future as these involved all manner of dangerous commitments. So far as they were concerned, these proposals could be withdrawn or might remain as an indication of British intention, it being clearly understood that the Congress did not accept them. But this need not come in the way of finding a method for present co-operation.
So far as the present was concerned, the British War Cabinet's proposals were vague and incomplete, except that they made it clear that the defence of India must remain the sole charge of the British Government. From Sir Stafford Cripps' repeated statements it appeared that except for defence all other subjects would be transferred to effective Indian control. There was even mention of the Viceroy functioning merely as a constitutional head, like the King of England. This led us to imagine that the only issue that remained for consideration was that of defence. Our position was that defence in war time might be made to cover, and to a large extent did cover, most other national activities and functions. If defence was wholly removed from the scope of the national government's work, very little might remain. It was agreed that the British Commander-in-Chief would con-tinue to exercise full authority over the armed forces and military operations. It was also agreed that the general strategy would be directed by the Imperial staff. Apart from this, it was claimed that there should be a Defence Member of the national government.
After some discussion it was agreed by Sir Stafford that there might be a Defence Department under an Indian member, but the matters to be dealt with by this department were: public relations, petroleum, canteens, stationery and printing, social arrangements for foreign missions, amenities for troops, etc. This list was remarkable and made the position of an Indian Defence Member ludicrous. Further discussions led to a somewhat different approach. There still seemed to be a considerable gap bet-ween the two viewpoints, but we seemed to be moving towards one another. For the first time I felt, and so did others, that a settlement was probable. The deepening crisis in the war situation was a continuous spur to all of us to come to an agreement*.
The peril of war and invasion was great and had in any event to be met. Yet there were different ways of meeting it, or rather there was only one really effective way of doing so in the present, and much more so for the future. We felt that the psychological moment might pass, not only bringing present dangers in its train but also adding to the greater dangers of the future. New weapons were necessary as well as old, new ways of using them, new enthusiasms, new horizons, a new faith in a future that was going to be essentially different from the past and the present, and the proof of it lay in a change in the present. Perhaps our eagerness fed our optimism and made us forget for a while or minimize the width and depth of the formidable chasm that separated us from Britain's rulers. It was not so easy for the centuries-old conflict to be resolved even in face of peril and disaster; it had never been easy for an imperial power to loosen its grip on its subject dominions unless forced to do so. Had circumstances produced that force, that conviction? We did not know, but we hoped it might be so..And then, just when I was most hopeful, all manner of odd things began to happen. Lord Halifax, speaking somewhere in the U.S.A., made a violent attack on the National Congress. Why he should do so just then in far America was not obvious, but he could hardly speak in that manner, when he presented the views and policy of the British Government. In Delhi it was well known that the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, and the high officials of the Civil Service were strongly opposed to a settlement and to a lessening of their powers. Much happened which was only vaguely known.
When we met Sir Stafford Cripps again to discuss the latest formula about the functions of the Defence Minister, it transpired that all our previous talk was entirely beside the point, as there were going to be no ministers with any power. The existing Viceroy's Executive Council was to continue, and all that was contemplated was to appoint additional Indians, representing political parties, to this Council. The Council was in no sense a cabinet; it was just a group of heads of departments or secretaries, and all power was concentrated in the Viceroy's hands. We realized that legal changes take time and we had not there-fore pressed for them, but we insisted that a convention should be observed that the Viceroy was to treat this Council as a cabinet and accept its decisions. We were now told that this was not possible and the Viceroy's powers must remain unaltered not only in theory but in practice. This was an astonishing development which we could hardly credit, for all our previous talks had taken place on a different basis.
We discussed how we could increase India's powers of resistance against invasion. We were anxious to make the Indian army feel that it was a national army and thus to introduce a patriotic element in the war. Also to build up new armies, militias, home guards, etc., rapidly for home defence in case of invasion. All these would of course function under the Commander-in-Chief. We were told that we could not do so. The Indian army was really a part and section of the British army and it could not be considered, or even referred to, as a national army. It was further doubtful if we could be allowed to raise any separate forces like militias or home guards.
So it all came to this, that the existing structure of government would continue exactly as before, the autocratic powers- of the Viceroy would remain, and a few of us could become his liveried camp-followers and look after canteens and the like. There was not an atom of difference between this and what Mr. Amery had offered eighteen months earlier, which had seemed to us then an affront to India. It was true that there would be a psychological change after all that had happened, and individuals make a difference. Strong and capable men would function differently from the servile breed that usually surrounded the viceregal throne.
But it was inconceivable and impossible for us to accept this position at any time and more specially at that time. If we had ventured to do so we would have been disowned and rejected by our own people. As a matter of fact, when later the facts were known to the public, there was an outcry against the many con-cessions we had agreed to in the course of the negotiations.
In the whole course of our talks with Sir Stafford Cripps, the so-called minority or communal issue was at no time raised or considered. Indeed it did not arise at that stage. It was an important issue in considering future constitutional changes, but these had been deliberately put aside after our initial reaction to the British proposals. If the principle of an effective transfer of power to a national government had been agreed to, then the question would no doubt have arisen as to the relative strengths of the various groups represented in it. But as we never reached the stage of agreement on that principle, the other question did not arise and was not considered at all. So far as we were concerned, we were so anxious to have an effective national government enjoying the confidence of the principal parties, that we felt that the question of proportions would not give much trouble. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the Congress president, in a letter to Sir Stafford Cripps had said: 'We would point out to you that the suggestions we have put forward are not ours only but may be considered to be the unanimous demand of the Indian people. On these matters there is no difference of opinion among various groups and parties, and the difference is as between the Indian people as a whole and the British Government. Such differences as exist in India relate to constitutional changes in the future. We are agreeable to the postponement of this issue so that the largest possible measure of unity might be achieved in the present crisis for the defence of India. It would be a tragedy that even when there is this unanimity of opinion in India, the British Government should prevent a free national government from functioning and from serving the cause of India as well as the larger causes for which millions are suffering and dying to-day.'
In a subsequent and final letter of the Congress president it was stated: 'We are not interested in the Congress as such gaining power, but we are interested in the Indian people as a whole having freedom and power.... We are convinced that if the British Government did not pursue a policy of encouraging disruption, all of us, to whatever party or group we belonged, would be able to come together and find a common line of action. But, unhappily, even in this grave hour of peril, the British Government is unable to give up its wrecking policy. We are driven to the conclusion that it attaches more importance to holding on to its rule in India, as long as it can, and promoting discord and disruption here with that end in view, than to an effective defence of India against the aggression and invasion that overhang us. To us, and to all Indians, the dominant consideration is the defence and safety of India, and it is by that test that we judge.'
In this letter he also made clear our position in regard to defence. 'No one has suggested any restrictions on the normal powers of the Commander-in-Chief. Indeed we went beyond this and were prepared to agree to further powers being given to him as war minister. But it is clear that the British Government's conception and ours in regard to defence differ greatly. For us it means giving it a national character and calling upon every man and woman in India to participate in it. It means trusting our own people and seeking their full co-operation in this great effort. The British Government's view seems to be based on an utter lack of confidence in the Indian people and in withholding real power from them. You refer to the paramount duty and responsibility of His Majesty's Government in regard to defence. That duty and responsibility cannot be discharged effectively unless the Indian people are made to have and feel their responsibility, and the recent past stands witness to this. The Government of India do not realise that the war can only be fought on a popular basis.'
Almost immediately after this last letter of the Congress pre-sident, Sir Stafford Cripps returned to England by air. But before he did so, and on his return, he made certain statements to the public which were contrary to the facts and which were bitterly resented in India. In spite of contradiction by responsible persons in India, these statements were repeated by Sir Stafford and others.
The British proposals had been rejected, not by the Congress only, but by every single party or group in India. Even the most moderate of our politicians had expressed their disapproval of them. Apart from the Moslem League, the reasons for dis-approval were more or less the same. The Moslem League, as has been its custom, waited for others to express their opinions and then, for its own reasons, rejected the proposals.
It was stated in the British Parliament and elsewhere that the rejection by the Congress was due to the uncompromising attitude of Gandhiji. This is wholly untrue. Gandhiji had strongly disapproved, in common with most others, of the indefinite and innumerable partitions that the proposals involved, and of the way in which the ninety million people of the Indian states had been allowed no say in their future. All the subsequent negotiations, which dealt with changes in the present and not with the future, took place in his absence, as he had to leave because of his wife's illness, and he had nothing whatever to do with them. The Congress Working Committee had, on several previous occasions, disagreed with him on the question of non-violence, and was anxious to have a National Government to co-operate in the war and especially in the defence of India.
The war was the dominant issue and thought in men's minds, and the invasion of India seemed imminent. And yet it was not the war that came in the way of agreement, for that war would inevitably have to be conducted by experts and not by laymen. On the conduct of the war itself it was easy to come to an agree-ment. The real question was the transfer of power to the National Government. It was the old issue of Indian nationalism versus British imperialism, and on that issue, war or no war, the British governing class in England and in India was determined to hold on to what it had. Behind them stood the imposing figure of Mr. Winston Churchill.
The abrupt termination of the Cripps' negotiations and Sir Stafford's sudden departure came as a surprise. Was it to make this feeble offer, which turned out to be, so far as the present was concerned, a mere repetition of what had been repeatedly said before—was it for this that a member of the British War Cabinet had journeyed to India? Or had all this been done merely as a propaganda stunt for the people of the U.S.A.? The reaction was strong and bitter. There was no hope of a settlement with Britain; no chance was given to the people of India even to defend their country against invasion as they wanted to.
Meanwhile the chances of that invasion were growing and hordes of starving Indian refugees were pouring across the eastern frontiers of India. In eastern Bengal, in a panicky state of mind in anticipation of an invasion, tens of thousands of river boats were destroyed. (It was subsequently stated that this had been done by a mistaken interpretation of an official order.) That vast area was full of waterways and the only transport possible was by these boats. Their destruction isolated large communities, destroyed their means of livelihood and transport, and was one of the contributory causes of the Bengal famine. Preparations were made for large-scale withdrawals from Bengal, and a repetition of what had happened in Rangoon and Lower Burma seemed probable. In the city of Madras a vague and unconfirmed (and, as it turned out, a false) rumour of the approach of a Japanese fleet led to the sudden departure of high Government officials and even to a partial destruction of harbour facilities. It seemed that the civilian administration of India was suffering from a nervous break-down. It was strong only in its suppression of Indian nationalism.
What were we to do? We could not tolerate any part of India submitting tamely to invasion. So far as armed resistance was concerned that was a matter for the army and air force, such as they were. American help was pouring in, especially in the shape of aircraft, and was slowly changing the military situation. The only way we could have helped was by changing the whole atmosphere of the home front, by creating enthusiasm in the people and a fierce desire to resist at all costs, by building up citizen forces for this purpose and home guards and the like. That had been made terribly difficult for us by British policy. Even on the eve of invasion no Indian outside the regular army could be trusted with a gun, and even our attempts to organize un-armed self-defence units in villages were disapproved and some-times suppressed. Far from encouraging the organization of popular resistance the British authorities were afraid of this, for they had long been accustomed to look upon all popular self-defence organization as seditious and dangerous to British rule. They had to follow their old policy, for the only alternative was to accept a national government relying on the people and organizing them for defence. This alternative had been definitely rejected by them and there was no middle course or half-way house. Inevitably they were led to treat the people as chattels, who were to be allowed no initiative and were to be used and disposed of entirely according to their own wishes. The All-India Congress Committee, which met at the end of April, 1942, declared its deep resentment at this policy and treatment, and said that it could never accept a position which involved our functioning as slaves of foreign authority.
Nevertheless, we could not remain silent and inert spectators of the tragedy that seemed to be imminent. We had to advise the people, the vast masses of the civilian population, as to what they should do in case of invasion. We told them that in spite of their indignation against British policy they must not interfere in any way with the operations of the British or allied armed forces, as this would be giving indirect aid to the enemy aggressor. Further, that they must on no account submit to the invader, or obey his orders, or accept any favours from him. If the invading forces sought to take possession of the people's homes and fields they must be resisted even unto death. This resistance was to be peaceful; it was to be the completest form of non-co-operation with the enemy.
Many people criticized with considerable sarcasm what seemed to them the absurd notion of resisting an invading army with these methods of non-violent non-co-operation. Yet far from being absurd, it was the only method, and a very brave method, left to the people. The advice was not offered to the armed forces, nor was peaceful resistance put forward as an alternative to armed resistance. That advice was meant only for the unarmed civilian population, which almost invariably submits to the invader when its armed forces are defeated or withdrawn. Apart from the regular armed forces, it is possible to organize guerrilla units to harass the enemy. But this was not possible for us, for it requires training, arms, and the full co-operation of the regular army. And even if some guerrilla units could have been trained the rest of the population remained. Normally the civilian population is expected to submit to enemy occupation. Indeed, it was known that directions had been issued by British authorities in certain threatened areas advising submission, even by some of the petty officials, to the enemy when the army and the higher officials withdrew.
We knew perfectly well that peaceful non-cooperation could not stop an advancing enemy force. We knew also that most of the civilian inhabitants would find it difficult to resist even if they wanted to do so. Nevertheless we hoped that some leading personalities in the towns and villages occupied by the enemy would refuse to submit or carry out the enemy's orders or help in getting provisions or in any other way. That would have meant swift punishment for them, very probably death as well as reprisals. We expected this non-submission and resistance to death of even a limited number of persons to have a powerful effect on the general population, not only in the area concerned but in the rest of India. Thus we hoped that a national spirit of resistance might be built up.
For some months previously we had been organizing, often in the face of official opposition, food committees and self-defence units in towns and villages. The food problem was troubling us and we feared a crisis in view of the increasing difficulties of transport and Other developments of the war situation. Government was doing next to nothing in regard to this. We tried to organize self-sufficient units, especially in the rural areas, and to encourage primitive methods of transport by bullock-cart in case modern methods failed. There was also the possibility of large numbers of refugees and evacuees suddenly marching west, as they had done in China, in case of invasion from the east. We tried to prepare ourselves to receive them and provide for them. All this was exceedingly difficult, indeed hardly possible, without the co-operation of the Government, yet we made such attempts as we could. The purpose of the self-defence units was to help in these tasks and to prevent panic and keep order in their respective areas. Air raids and the news of invasion, even in a distant area, 'might well cause panic in the civilian population, and it was important to stop this. The official measures taken in this behalf were totally insufficient and looked upon with distrust by the public. In the rural areas dacoities and robberies were on the increase.
We made these vast plans and in a small measure gave effect to them, but it was obvious that we were only scratching the surface of the tremendous problem which confronted us. A real solution could come only through complete co-operation between the governmental apparatus and the people, and that had been found to be impossible.
It was a heart-breaking situation, for while the crisis called to us and we were bubbling over with the desire to act, effective action was denied us. Catastrophe and disaster advanced with tremendous strides towards us while India lay helpless and inert, bitter and sullen, a battle ground for rival and foreign forces.
Much as I hated war, the prospect of a Japanese invasion of India had in no way frightened me. At the back of my mind I was in a sense attracted to this coming of war, horrible as it was, to India. For I wanted a tremendous shake-up, a personal experience for millions of people, which would drag them out of that peace of the grave that Britain had imposed upon us. Something that would force them to face the reality of to-day and to outgrow the past which clung to them so tenaciously, to get beyond the petty political squabbles and exaggerations of temporary problems which filled their minds. Not to break with the past, and yet not to live in it; realise the present and look to the future.. . .To change the rhythm of life and make it in tune with this present and future. The cost of war was heavy, and the consequences full of uncertainty. That war was not of our seeking, but since it had come, it could be made to harden the fibre of the nation and provide those vital experiences out of which a new life might blossom forth. Vast numbers would die, that was inevitable, but it is better to die in war than through famine; it is better to die than to live a miserable, hopeless life. Out of death, life is born afresh, and individuals and nations who do not know how to die, do not know also how to live. 'Only where there are graves are there resurrections.'
But though the war had come to India, it had brought no exhilaration of the spirit to us, no pouring out of our energies in some glad endeavor, when pain and death were forgotten and self itself ignored and only the cause of freedom counted and the vision of the future that lay beyond. Only the suffering and sor-row were for us, and an awareness of impending disaster which sharpened our perceptions and quickened pain, and which we could not even help to avert. A brooding sense of inevitable and ineluctable tragedy grew upon us, a tragedy that was both personal and national.
This had nothing to do with victory or defeat in the war, with who won and who lost. We did not want the Axis powers to win, for that led to certain disaster; we did not want the Japanese to enter or occupy any part of India. That had to be resisted any-how, and we repeatedly impressed the public with this fact, but all this was a negative approach. What positive aim was there in this war, what future would emerge out of it? Was it just a repetition of past follies and disasters, a play of nature's blind forces which took no cognizance of man's wishes and ideals? What was going to be the fate of India?
We thought of Rabindranath Tagore's last testament, his death-bed message given the year before: ' . . . t h e demon of barbarity has given up all pretence and has emerged with unconcealed fangs ready to tear up humanity in an orgy of devastation. From one end of the world to the other the poisonous fumes of hatred darken the atmosphere. The spirit of violence which perhaps lay dormant in the psychology of the west has at last roused itself and desecrated the spirit of man.
'The wheels of fate will some day compel the English to give up their Indian empire. But what kind of India will they leave behind, what stark misery? When the stream of their centuries' administration runs dry at last, what a waste of mud and filth they will leave behind! I had one time believed that the springs of civilization would issue out of the heart of Europe. But to-day when I am about to quit the world that faith has gone bankrupt altogether.
'As I look round I see the crumbling ruins of a proud civilization strewn like a vast heap of futility. And yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in man. I would rather look forward to the opening of a new chapter in his history after the cataclysm is over and the atmosphere rendered clean with the spirit of service and sacrifice. Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the east where the sun rises. A day will come when un vanquished man will retrace his path of conquest, despite all barriers, to win back his lost human heritage. 'To-day we witness the perils which attend on the insolence of might; one day shall be borne out the full truth of what the sages have proclaimed: "By unrighteousness man prospers, gains what appears desirable, conquers enemies, but perishes at the root." ' No, one may not lose faith in man. God we may deny, but what hope is there for us if we deny man and thus reduce everything to futility? Yet it was difficult to have faith in anything or to believe that the triumph of righteousness is inevitable. Weary of body and troubled in mind I sought escape from my surroundings and journeyed to Kulu in the inner valleys of the Himalayas.