Gandhi’s Life – Part 13
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Biographies|
Biography of M.K. Gandhi
“Don’t Cut India in Two”
When England went to war in September, 1939, she included India in the declaration without consulting her. This undiplomatic reminder of their subjection offended the Indians. Gandhi and most of the Congress leaders, however, sympathized with the Allies, and when Nehru issued a statement saying “a free India” would willingly associate with other free nations, Gandhi supported it even though it was not entirely consistent with his total faith in nonviolence. “My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements,” he observed, “but to be consistent with the truth.”
But England refused to take the hint and offered India nothing. Congress then decided not to aid Britain in the war. Some Indian leaders wanted to turn on Britain while she was under assault by the Nazis, but Gandhi said, “We do not seek our independence out of Britain’s ruin.”
In 1940 Congress again offered to support England if India were granted freedom. But the Prime Minister, the same Winston Churchill who earlier had said that Gandhi had to be crushed, was adamantly opposed to such a trade. One of the reasons he offered was that he would not turn over power to an Indian government unacceptable to the Moslems.
Congress now threatened a campaign of civil disobedience, but Gandhi, unwilling to weaken England while she was under heavy attack, confined it to having Congress leaders speak out against the war and go to jail. Congress cooperated, as did the British, and over twenty-three thousand persons were arrested.
When Japan joined the Nazi cause in December, 1941, the situation changed dramatically. India’s cooperation or noncooperation could now seriously affect the war in the Pacific. Britain immediately freed some of the political prisoners, while Gandhi advised the greatest nonviolent resistance campaign in history if Japan attacked.
This photo shows Gandhi with Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, July 6, 1946.
America wanted India’s assistance in the war against the Japanese and, as a former British colony, was sympathetic to India’s desire for independence. President Franklin D. Roosevelt began to press Churchill to yield on the Indian issue. China and some British politicians added their weight. Churchill grumbled, “I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside at the liquidation of the British Empire,” but in March, 1942, he finally sent Sir Stafford Cripps to India with a series of proposals. Although the proposals offered India dominion status, they were rejected by Gandhi and the Congress because they provided special treatment for the wealthy Indian princes, made it possible for any province to reject the constitution and become a separate nation, and put the British in control of India’s role in the war.
Cripps returned to London, leaving the Indians angry, frustrated, and disappointed. Congress renewed its plea for independence on acceptable terms and threatened a civil disobedience campaign led by Gandhi. The night the decision was approved, Gandhi and most of the Congress hierarchy were arrested.
India had been tasting independence for about twenty years; she had felt free ever since the war began. When news of the arrests became known, the Indians erupted against the British in acts of violence, murder, and rebellion across the country.
The British blamed Gandhi, who was powerless to do anything because they held him in prison. If he had not been arrested he would have sought a nonviolent outlet for his people similar to the Salt March. Imprisoned, he could do nothing but pray. For a time he was not even aware of the turmoil, because he was not permitted to read any newspapers.
Pained by British accusations that he was somehow responsible for the thing he hated most, Gandhi announced he would fast twenty-one days. The Viceroy dismissed the announcement as “a form of political blackmail.” Nevertheless the British offered to free him. He refused and fasted in jail.
He was seventy-two years old and everyone, including his wife Kasturbai, who was in prison with him, expected him to die. But somehow he survived, and before he was released it was Kasturbai who died, on February 22, 1944, her head resting in her husband’s lap. They had been married over sixty years, and Gandhi wrote, “I feel the loss more than I had thought I should.”
Not long after, Gandhi was struck down by malaria, followed by a severe intestinal disease. The British, still fearful of the consequences of his dying in their custody, freed him on May 6, 1944. As soon as he was well, Gandhi began a series of frustrating, fruitless conferences with the Moslem leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who, now that India was on the threshold of independence, was insisting that a separate Moslem state of Pakistan be carved out of it.
Hindus in India outnumbered Moslems three to one. Most of the Moslems were, in fact, Hindus who had been converted to Islam by various conquerors. But the Moslems felt themselves to be an oppressed minority; they feared that an India ruled by Hindus would deny them equal opportunities in employment, education, and basic liberties. Their solution was to establish a separate Moslem state and their spokesman was Jinnah.
Mohammed Ali Jinnah was as different from Gandhi as Satan is from God. Where Gandhi’s weapon was love, Jinnah’s was hate. Years before, Jinnah had been a leader of the Congress party but he had abandoned it in disdain when Gandhi took control and tried to make it more democratic. Hating Gandhi and believing himself the victim of countless slights, he became leader of a party called the Moslem League, which was anti-Gandhi, anti-Congress, and anti-India.
To win peasant support for a separate Moslem state, Jinnah enflamed the Hindu-Moslem religious hatred that always simmered beneath India’s surface. Gandhi, who usually spoke kindly even of his enemies, called Jinnah “an evil genius” and a “maniac.” For the Mahatma there could be no Hindu nation or Moslem nation, but only an Indian nation. “I find no parallel in history for a body of converts and their descendants claiming to be a nation apart from the parent stock,” he wrote. On another occasion he told Jinnah, “You can cut me in two if you wish but don’t cut India in two.” Jinnah would have been happy to do both.
World War II ended during the summer of 1945, and the Labour Party replaced Churchill’s Conservatives in office. The new government made it clear it wanted “an early realization of self-government in India.”
In March, 1946, a British mission went to India to work out the terms of independence. After hearing Moslem demands for a separate state, they advised against partition and recommended a united country with a federal government and special safeguards for the Moslem minority. A provisional government would be established and then a constituent assembly elected to draft a constitution for the new land.
Because he was refused the right to veto Congress appointments to the provisional government, Jinnah refused to participate in it. On August 12, 1946, the Viceroy told Jawaharlal Nehru to form the government. Nehru offered Jinnah a choice of positions for the Moslem League, but he was rebuffed. Taking their lead from the Hindu-Moslem disputes at the parliamentary level, the Hindus and Moslems unsheathed their blades in the cities. At least five thousand persons were slaughtered in religious rioting in Calcutta.
Nehru became India’s first Prime Minister on September 2, and Jinnah proclaimed it a day of mourning. “We are not yet in the midst of civil war,” said Gandhi, “but we are nearing it.”
END OF PART THIRTEEN
This biography was written by Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht and is reprinted here with the permission of the copyright holder.
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