E. Roy

The Colonies

The Debacle of Gandhism

(12 September 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 78, 12 September 1922, pp. 586–588.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


Non-payment of taxes was not the only disturbing feature of Indian unrest during the months of January and February. Widespread disturbances throughout India, from the Punjab to Madras, from Bombay to Burma, arose from the attempts to enforce the various measures of the Non-cooperation program, such as boycott of cloth and liquor shops, resulting in encounters between police and people, and mob risings, with loss of life and many arrests which tended to increase the general disquiet. The correspondent of the Morning Post writing from India at the end of January, says:

“In large areas, particularly upper Assam, conditions border on anarchy. Rent and revenue payments are refused, and where resort is had to loyalist volunteers and Gurkhas, the Gandhites have openly ridiculed such military procedure. In a police affray arising from picketing in Serajgunge (Bengal), the police fired, killing five and wounding 200. The present tension, unless eased by stronger Government action, will have a most serious outcome.”

In Bombay, the movement was more peaceful, consisting mainly of boycott of schools and enlistment of volunteers, so that in a mass-meeting held in Bardoli in January, under the auspices of the Non-cooperators, Mr. Gandhi was able to declare the district self-disciplined and fit enough for the adoption of Civil Disobedience. But even this model atmosphere was ruffled when the Bombay Government announced on Feb. 9, that the Municipalities of Ahmedabad and Burat would be superseded for two and three years respectively, for having resolved in conduct their schools independently of Government control and for refusing the Government education grant.

At this critical moment, an unexpected pin-prick exploded Mr. Gandhi’s faltering resolution, and sent him scurrying back to the protection of law and order. On February 4th, a riot occurred in Chauri Chaura, a village of the United Provinces in which a procession of volunteers was fired on by the police and the infuriated mob charged the police station, captured the building, killed 23 policemen, and then set fire to the police station, cut the telegraph wires and tore up the railway. The news of this untoward but by no means unusual event, whose counterparts were being enacted all over India in every pro vince, leaked through the official censorship on Feb. 6th, just in the moment when Mr. Gandhi and the Viceroy were exchanging their famous notes, and full details reached the Mahatma on the very day on which he announced the formal inauguration of Mass Civil Disobedience.

The gruesome details of burned policemen and dismantled telegraph wires were more than Mr. Gandhi’s sensitive conscience could near. By some extraordinary mental process, he held himself and his declaration of Civil Disobedience to be responsible for the whole occurrence, and with a loud wail of dismay and despair, announced a five-days’ fast (reduced to two days on the supplications of his followers) as penance and punishment for the tragedy of Chauri Chaura. In an article published on Feb. 10th in Young India, Mr. Gandhi declares:

“I regard the Chauri Chaura tragedy as a third warning from God against the hasty embarkation on mass civil disobedience, and it is my bitterest cup of humiliation, but I deem such humiliation, ostracism or even death preferable to any countenancing of untruth or violence.”

Without loss of time, on Feb. 11th, a Conference was hastily convened at Bardoli, wherein the Working Committee of the Congress revoked not only Mass Civil Disobedience, but all picketing, processions and public meetings as well. The peasants were ordered to pay land-revenue and all other taxes due the Government, and to suspend every activity of an offensive nature.

Mr. Gandhi’s harkening to his conscience did him the good service of delaying the order for his own arrest, a fact of which he was unaware at the time. The Government at Simla, a little amazed at this temperamental outburst and sudden change of heart, stayed its hand temporarily to permit Mr. Gandhi to lead the movement into confusion worse confounded. The national uprising, which they had feared and prepared against during the last three months, was checked and thrown into rout by the good offices of Mr. Gandhi himself, whose incorrigible pacifism and dread of the popular energy could be counted upon to prevent the explosion, what Governmental repression in all its varied forms had failed to accomplish, the agonized appeal of the Mahatma was able to effectuate. Truly, as a Pacifist Reformer, Mr. Gandhi may well congratulate himself on his success in soothing the just anger of the populace, even though he may have to admit his utter failure to melt the heart of the Government That which arrests, tortures, floggings, imprisonments, massacres, fines and police-zoolams could not quell – the blind struggles of a starving nation to save itself from utter annihilation – Mr. Gandhi by the simple magic of love and non-violence, reduced to impotence and inactivity, which insured its temporary defeat.

The Bardoli Resolutions were received throughout the country with mingled feelings of triumph, relief and alarm – triumph on the part of the Government and its supporters, relief to the feelings of those moderates and secret sympathizers with the victims of Government repression, and alarm on the part of those Non-cooperators whose ideas of strategy and tactics differed widely from those of Mr. Gandhi.

While the Nationalist press on the whole supported Mr. Gandhi in his volte-face, and local Congress Committees immediately began to put the Bardoli Resolutions into practice, a section of Extremist opinion found itself outraged by the sudden retreat from the Ahmedabad decisions. Some Mahratta newspapers criticized Mr. Gandhi for stressing isolated incidents like Chauri Chaura and Bombay to the detriment of the movement as a whole. Mr. S.R. Bomanji, in a lecture delivered in Bombay on The Lessons of Bardoli declared that the people were asked to sacrifice everything and were prepared to do it, because they thought Mr. Gandhi was leading a fight for freedom. Mr. Gandhi was the most greatly admired man in India, but that did not preclude them from the right of thinking, and and in the hero-worship of Mr. Gandhi, they were losing their individuality.

The regular session of the All-India Congress Committee was held in Delhi on Feb. 24tb, and the Bardoli resolutions were presented for endorsement Pundit Malaviya, Mr. Gandhi’s alter ego of Pacifism and Moderation, urged the ratification of Bardoli, and the complete abandonment of Non-cooperation in all its forms. Mr. Gandhi, still horror-stricken at the bloodshed of Chauri Chaura that presaged Revolution, hugged the Bardoli decisions without going to the length of Pundit Malaviyn’s surrender. But an angry section of earnest Extremists, realizing the disastrous effect upon the movement of the abandonment of aggressive tactic, and smarting under the Government’s ill-concealed triumph, urged the repudiation of Bardoli and the renewal of Non-cooperation, including Civil Disobedience. Mr. Gandhi himself, caught in the unpleasant predicament of being “let off” by the Government for good behavior, felt himself stung to self-defense by a return to his abandoned position. Accordingly, a compromise was struck, and the Delhi session of the Congress Committee sanctioned all forms of Non-cooperation, including individual civil disobedience, both defensive and aggressive, and picketing. The Resolution affirmed that “Civil Disobedience is the right and duty of a people, whenever a state opposes the declared will of the people.”

The Delhi decision was a compete reversal of Bardoli, and as such, constituted a direct challenge to the Government.

The arrest of Mr. Gandhi, already once postponed, could be henceforth merely a matter of time and place. The wider issues of imperial policy as well as the Government of India, demanded it. In England, the Die-hards were clamoring for his blood, together with that of Mr. Montagu, Secretary of State for India, whom they identified with the liberal policy of the Montford Reforms. Lloyd George, threatened with a General Election by the dissolution of his Coalition, ran hither and thither, hatching devices for saving his job. Having achieved the Irish Free State and “Independent” Egypt as sops to Liberal opinion, it became necessary to placate the Conservatives by some blood-offering, and this he proceeded to do by the sacrifice of Indian hopes and aspirations.

India’s victimization to Lloyd Georgian and Imperial exigencies took three outward and visible manifestations The first was the attempted splitting off of the Musulmans from the Nationalist Movement by granting certain concessions to the claims of the Caliphate; the second was the dismissal of Mr. Montagu and the appointment of a Conservative to his post; the third was the arrest of Mr. Gandhi, with the purpose of dealing the coup de grace to the Non-cooperation Movement. Mr. Lloyd George is a clever politician, but events have not justified the wisdom of any one of these three steps.

The revision of the Treaty of Sévres had formed one of the demands of the Non-cooperators from the very beginning, as a means of bringing about the Hindu-Muslim unity so essential to the success of Indian nationalism. But Mr. Gandhi was not the only angler for Muslim good-will. The historic “divide and rule” policy of the British Government, which had met with so much success in India by the separation of Mussulmans and Hindus, could not be checkmated by so simple a manoeuvre as taking up the cudgels for the Caliphate. It was clear that if Muslim support could be bought by concessions to religious fanaticism, the British Government would be the first to buy it over, if it considered it worth while.

The time came when this policy seemed expedient. At the end of January, Lord Northcliffe, in the course of his Indian tour, published a significant and sensational letter advising concession to Muslim opinion, and the conservative press in England echoed his advice. The Viceroy of India took advantage of the approaching Paris Conference to telegraph the Home Government his oft-reiterated plea on behalf of some revision in favor of the Caliphate. It was evident that the Die-hards, influenced by traditional belief in the militant fierceness of the Mussulman, were inclined to placate this element at the expense of the Hindu community.

In a word, the Imperialists stole Mr. Gandhi’s thunder, and hoped thereby to split the strength of the Indian Extremists. The Paris Conference, duly presided over by Lord Curzon who had his instructions, granted most of the things that Indian Muslims had clamored for. But the result has been somewhat disappointing. Seith Chotani, President of the Indian Central Caliphate Committee, issued a statement on behalf of his organization regarding the Near East proposals, which he stigmatizes as “pro-Greek” and entirely unacceptable to Indian Muslims. “Indian Muslims and their fellow-countrymen demand that England keep her promises to the letter and spirit”. In view of international complications, England cannot very well concede more, so the ruse of buying up Muslim good-will can be said, on the whole, to have failed.

As for the dismissal of Mr. Montagu, this served its purpose with the Die-hards, but at what a cost to Indian public opinion only Lord Reading, as the man on the spot, best knows. Mr. Montagu enjoyed a wide popularity among Indian Moderates, based on a fictitious idea of his friendliness to Indian constitutional reform, and this popularity has attained a frenzy of adulation since his spectacular martyrdom on the altar of British Liberalism in India. This frenzy is enhanced by a growing fear that his successor, Lord Peel, symbolizes a reversal of the Reform policy adopted in 1919. The slightest act of reversion on the part of the India Office will be heralded in India as the beginning of reaction and oppression. What Mr. Lloyd George has gained at home, be has more than sacrificed in India by this peculiarly inopportune victimization of pseudo-liberalism, which in reality, was never anything but a sugar-coated imperialistic pill.

As for the arrest of India’s Mahatma! Mr. Lloyd George, should beware of the Ides of March. Scarce twelve days after the Delhi decisions, and simultaneously with the dismissal of Mr. Montagu, Mr. Gandhi was arrested on the charge of “tending to promote disaffection against the existing system of Government” by certain speeches and articles, and a few days later was brought to trial. True to his gospel of Non-cooperation, Mr. Gandhi pleaded guilty and offered no defense, urged the judge to find him guilty and to give him the maximum sentence, and in the course of a long written statement which he read out before the court, he reaffirmed his doctrine of non-violent Non-cooperation with the existing system of government in straightforward, eloquent words.

The judge who sat personifying British justice and honesty must have felt some inward qualms of conscience in the face of this ringing indictment, which fell upon the courtroom like the voice of suffering India itself. In a few words, half-explanatory and almost apologetic, he pronounced sentence, – six years simple imprisonment – and the farce was over. Mohandas Karamehand Gandhi, apostle of Non-resistance, leader of Non-cooperation and beloved Mahatma of India’s struggling millions, was led off to jail.

* * *

Let neither Lloyd George, nor Lord Reading, nor the thinking public be derived by the calm that fell upon India’s millions at news of Mr. Gandhi’s incarceration. The Non-cooperators, those who intoxicate themselves with the opiate of non-violence, may attribute it to Soul-Force; the Government may deem it the justification of its policy of repression; but for those who know India of today, this unearthly calm presages a storm more violent than any which has yet shaken the political horizon. That which is lacking is leadership in the Indian movement today. But without disrespect let us say frankly, that no leadership for a time is preferable to Mr. Gandhi’s misleadership. He performed gallant service in the last three years, in leading the Indian people out of their age-long hopelessness and stagnation onto the path of agitation and organization which attained a nation-wide response and scope. His own mental confusion was but a reflection of the confused and chaotic state of the movement itself, just staggering upon its weak legs and learning to walk.

All honor to Mr. Gandhi, who found a way for his people out of the entanglements of Government censorsnip and repression; who by his slogans of non-violent Non-cooperation, boycott and Civil Disobedience, he was able to draw the wide masses into the folds of the Congress Party and make the Indian movement for the first time truly national. But the movement had outgrown its leader; the time had come when the masses were ready to surge ahead in the struggle, and Mr. Gandhi vainly sought to hold them back, they strained and struggled in the leading-strings of Soul-Force, Transcendental Love and Non-violence, torn between their crying earthly needs and their real love for this saintly man whose purity gripped their imagination and claimed their loyalty.

Mr. Gandhi had become an unconscious agent of reaction in the face of a growing revolutionary situation. The few leaders of the Congress Party who realized this and sought a way out, were rendered desperate, almost despairing at the dilemma. Mr. Gandhi had become a problem to his own movement, and lo! the British Government, in its infinite wisdom; relieved them of the problem. Mr. Gandhi out of jail was an acknowledged force of peace, a sure enemy of violence in all its forms. Mr. Gandhi in jail is a powerful factor for unrest, a symbol of national martyrdom, a constant stimulation to the national cause to fight its way to freedom.

Since his arrest, two wings of the Congress Party have developed into clear-cut prominence. One veering towards the right, headed by Malaviya, seeks reunion with the Moderates, the abandonment of Non-cooperation and a bourgeois program of constitutional reform within the Empire. The other struggles vainly after the vanishing slogans of Gandhism, – Satyagraha, Non-violence, boycott of foreign goods, and the reconquest of India by the Charka (Spinning-wheel). In this camp which is all that remains of Extremism, reigns consternation and confusion, but a few voices are rising clear and strong above the din. The voice of Mr. C.R. Das, President of the last Bengal Provincial Conference, recommending the capture of the Reform Council and the formation of peasant and workers’ unions; the voice of Dr. Munji in the Maharashtra Conference, which proclaimed that “the aim of the Congress is thoroughly worldly and for worldly happiness and has to be attained by worldly means which should be easily understandable and practicable”; the voice of nationalist journals which cry that the nation must be organized for the struggle, and that the real work lies among the masses.

New leaders are surging to the front, ready to learn by past mistakes and to build a new program for the future. Upon their understanding of the present Indian situation depends their present success or failure. The mass-movement among the workers and peasants is still strong and powerful; the Aika peasant movement in the United Provinces, the outbreak of unrest among the Bhils in Central India, the three months strike of the workers on the East India Railroad, prove where the real strength of the Indian movement lies. Reformist trade-union and cooperative workers are already in the field to capture the allegiance of the Indian masses. It remains for the Congress leaders to anticipate them by formulating such a program as will bring the workers and peasants of India to their side. In the dynamic struggle of mass-action under wise political leadership lies the true and only solution of the Indian struggle for freedom.

Last updated on 31 August 2020