GANDHI IN ACTION network

the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229

E-mail- dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net;

dr.yogendragandhi@gmail.com

Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India

 

 

Bhulabhai Desai and Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

 

Bhulabhai Desai, an eminent lawyer and leader of the Congress Party in the Legislative Assembly. He was a well known freedom fighter and associate of Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi guided him many times. He wrote many letters for it. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The Bardoli Inquiry Committee will meet in the beginning of November. I think it is desirable that the case should be represented by an eminent and experienced advocate like you, so that the Committee may think twice before doing flagrant injustice. Can you spare the time? I do not insist that you should be present at every hearing. It will be enough if you remain present at the first two or three meetings to represent the ryots’ case and thereafter attend the meetings only when you consider it necessary. This letter will be delivered to you by Mahadev who will tell you more. I have written along similar lines to Bahadurji also but Mahadev will use that letter, if necessary, only after meeting you.” 1 

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I had been arguing with myself whether or not it would be correct to thank you for the trouble you took over the report of the committee on financial transactions between India and Britain. And today I came to the decision that I must write to you. I have anyway ventured to write to Bhai Bahadurji. You will yourself say that there was nothing much about what you have done. But since we do not come across many who take such pains we need must thank those who do. Kumarappa said that you all took great pains. And we are going to be obliged to give you still more trouble. The time is bound to come. I thank you now and hope I can take work from you then.” 2 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “We were all happy to have your letter. I wish that nobody should worry on account of the pain in my elbow. I am taking the necessary treatment. The [authorities] will themselves call for help from outside when there is need for it. I shall myself ask for it if I feel the need. There is not much pain. We are all glad to know that all of you are doing well. Obviously one cannot study here as well as one can outside.” 3

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Shoulder the whole burden of the parliamentary election, financial as well as organizational. You will yourself no doubt contribute the largest amount but also persuade others to do likewise. This task is primarily yours; others will join afterwards.” 4 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I read Nariman’s letter. Personally I feel that a great injustice has been done to him. If there is nothing else apart from that letter and if my view is correct, I should like you yourself to make amends when we meet tomorrow. I write this so that you may think about the matter beforehand. I wrote to Vallabhbhai from the car itself. But I see that I ought to write to you.” 5

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “You are hasty in your judgments. How can you identify the Ministers with what appears in the Nagpur Times even though it is a ministerial organ? Those who care to render public service have got to put up with criticism, both fair and unfair. Much of the writing you have sent me is simple banter. I do not know what impropriety Shri Bhulabhai Desai committed. I understand that his appointment was welcomed by the leaders of the complaining group. But you must not expect me to interest myself in such matters which are for the Working Committee to deal with.” 6 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Bhai Munshi had given me the substance of your talk with him. You must have seen from my statement that the Congress policy is quite clear. The clarity was achieved after a long discussion. Hence those who do not accept that particular portion of the Poona resolution have no option but to leave the Congress, and that is why I persuaded Bhai Munshi to take the step he has taken. Now if what I understand about your views is correct, your path is clear. You should come out openly with your view and try to cultivate public opinion in accordance with it. This is an age of action. All of us will be judged by our actions. A heavy responsibility rests on the Congress. It can be discharged only if there is perfect correspondence between our views and our actions. We claim to represent the 35 crores. I am addressing this to you personally, but I should like all of you to think over it. It is going to be a long and a hard struggle. What is going on at present is but a preparation.” 7

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I understand all that you say. I have trust in you. You know the parliamentary mind. You also know the minds of our people. You may, therefore, do what you think well. My own thinking runs in the opposite direction to the parliamentary one. But I know that there is, and will remain, room for both points of view in the Congress. You may, therefore, go ahead without fear. Let nobody take cover behind this note. Everybody should form an opinion independently and act accordingly. But tell them that I am not against the scheme. This note may be used. As regards the Hindu-Muslim question, you may do what you can. I would welcome a Congress-League Ministry along the lines I have suggested. I would also welcome co-operation between them in the parliamentary programme. But you should obtain authorization for it from the Working Committee. Without that I think it will be risky to come to a final agreement. The League should join in the efforts to get the Working Committee released. In my view it will be a test of its sincerity. I should not like you to let yourself be persuaded on just any terms. This draft is for your perusal. You may suggest any emendations or additions that occur to you. I will make the changes if I like them. I now wish to rest for a while. Meanwhile think things over and let me know.” 8

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “You must have seen the report of Liaquat Saheb’s speech at Tinnevelly. How can we reach an understanding with him? In public he speaks as he likes and then talks to you in a different tone altogether. And you are obliged to hold your tongue. This is just to inform you and caution you. Do what you think best. I may only let you know what I observe from a distance. I can see nothing else, and what I see frightens me.” 9 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I understand that the steps would be somewhat as follows: The League agrees with us as to the composition of the interim Government at the Centre. (The agreed nominees will be responsible to the elected legislature.)The League agrees that if the proposal is accepted by the Governor General the first step to be taken by the new Government will be to release the Working Committee. On this being done, the G. G. will be requested to accept the composition agreed upon (with the addition of members representing the elected parties or elements). On the G. G. agreeing, an interim Government would be formed and when the Working Committee is thereafter released, you will be good enough to tell them that this step was taken with your approval.

QUESTIONS: Is the agreement of the League to release the Working Committee as the first step of the new provisional Government (preliminary) proof of their bona fides?

ANSWER: Yes.

Q. If the new provisional Government is formed while the Working Committee is still in detention and if the new Government releases them, why do you see danger in the way of a permanent solution of the Hindu-Muslim question?

A: The danger lies with the Quaid-e-Azam being equivocal and two-faced.” 10

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “What you say is correct. Come whenever you wish. I have no fear. It is the newspaper reports that impelled me to caution you.” 11 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Devdas has talked to me fully. He will report to you in detail. Liaquat Saheb’s performances and things going on in the country frighten me. They should frighten you too. Do what is just and proper. It does not matter if the thing fizzles out. Once the consent of the Working Committee is obtained, the form you want to give it shall be all right. Your English should harmonize with my Gujarati. Don’t you agree?” 12  Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “If, after all that has happened, the Chimur prisoners are to be hanged, I cannot see how a national government can be formed. What can we expect from such a government? Will you consider only your own interests in what you do and give no thought to the interests of the masses? Both you and I need to ponder deeply over this. Please consider what can be done while the prisoners are still alive. If you can do something with the League’s co-operation do it, otherwise do what you yourself think proper.” 13

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Keep in mind the Chimur prisoners. They must live. It will spoil everything if they are hanged.” 14 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I have sat down to write this letter after the Morning Prayer, i. e., at about 6 o’clock. I saw your letter last evening. I am writing this with the sole desire that you should retain the eminent position you occupy. I hesitate to write because I write without any official authority. There is a very big difference between your legal style and my own old-fashioned one or rather between your legal knowledge and mine. I am saying this deliberately and not through false modesty. I learnt while studying law and practicing it and I have always acted upon the understanding that a lawyer, having accepted the brief of an untruthful case should give it up as soon as he realizes its untruthfulness, that is, ask for a verdict against his client. I know that there is a section of the bar which holds the opposite view. They ask what the function of the judge would be if an advocate himself were to sit in judgment on his case. I have always held, and hold even today, that that section is mistaken. This is my own view. I find the whole of your argument unconvincing. It should be of no concern either to you or to me whether it is the question of League or the non-League Muslims. If the case of those who hold opposite views from ours is just, I would come forward to support it notwithstanding opposition from everybody else, but if a case is unjust I would not support it even if it were my own son’s. I also believe that Bhai Khuhro’s brief should not be rejected merely on the ground that he is believed to be inciting the Hurs. But, if after having accepted his brief and studied it, I felt that he was guilty, my moral sense would teach me that, if permitted by the client, I should plead guilty and take the punishment. But if he should not permit me, I would request him to release me and engage another lawyer. I remember having done that for two Muslim clients. In one case I asked for a verdict against the client and in another admitted the client’s guilt’s and got his punishment much reduced and ultimately had him released after he had undergone some years of imprisonment.

I therefore do not hesitate to request you that if, after examining the papers of Khuhro’s case, you feel that he is innocent, you should fight for him, but if you feel that he is guilty, you should advise him to plead guilty or ask him to relieve you. This is but a suggestion from me. If, after weighing it carefully you do not approve of it, reject it. Do not look to the person who has given advice; only think over the advice. As desired by you, I am sending your letter to Choithram. I feel that he should have written to you. I also believe that he should not have formed prejudiced views. But that is a characteristic not only of our life but of that of the whole world. We have observed that even the most balanced men have not been able to shed this weakness. Hence, do not pay attention to Choithram’s shortcomings. If you find any substance in his otherwise faulty reasoning, accept it. I have not explained to Choithram the argument I have put before you.” 15

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Considering all that is happening around us, I see danger in this partnership with the League. One thing is definite, namely, that until the members of the Working Committee are freed and can express their opinion, nothing can be done in the name of the Congress. It is also definite that if the Chimur-Ashti prisoners and other such prisoners are hanged, the situation will become impossible. Unless the League’s attitude shows a change without any expectation of gain I will have no deal with it even if the Congress Working Committee consents. This is for you yourself to think over and decide. You are in a better position to understand the truth than anybody else. The distinction that is being made between the League Muslims and the others seems to me dangerous from every point of view. I don’t think it safe to countenance any such position. Think carefully over what you said last night regarding this. Will the 40 per cent Congress quota include any representatives of the Hindu Mahasabha or of Harijans? What about the Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, etc.? Whether you have discussed this with the League or not is irrelevant here. When the time for final decision comes, the Congress will have to consider all these points. The Congress will not be in the same position as the League. It will have to take into account all the interests in the country, whereas the League is concerned with the interests only of the Muslims supporting it. You will have to be ready to face all these complications. You will definitely not be able to bring the ship to port by disregarding the parties other than the League. Please understand my limitations fully before you proceed further. As I have explained, my temper is progressively becoming more uncompromising. I use the word “uncompromising” in a good sense, so take it in that spirit. Against my indifference to the Parliamentary scheme and my increasing faith in non-violent non-co-operation, you can safely place my loyalty to you. It will not let me go beyond the limits of what I have given you in writing. But it is difficult even for me to say where my uncompromising spirit will take me, for I am coming to put ever increasing faith in the Unseen Power and, therefore, I think very little about tomorrow. I started writing this before 6 and it is 6.30 now. I will write more if anything occurs to me. Otherwise take this as fully representing my views.” 16 

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I hope you read my articles. Keep in mind whatever I am writing these days. If the Congress is obliged to appoint only Hindus, then we are all Hindus, but not in that sense. We should have perfect freedom to appoint anyone we like. I do not have the time to write more.” 17 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “You had said you would be seeing Dr. Khan Saheb and you would then tell me how wrong he was in what he had said about your drinking. According to the Doctor you had not seen him till the day before yesterday. He himself tried to meet you but he could not find you. A lady who heard about this said: “I am a witness to the fact that Bhulabhai drinks and associates with undesirable women. His drinking and going around in the company of undesirable women is known all over Simla.” Even if this is true, you can still stand on the Congress ticket. I was further told that at the meeting held at Maulana Saheb’s residence you had crossed the limit of decency while presenting your case. Even with regard to money, what you told me does not appear to be correct. Even in writing this, my intention is to do good to you and the Congress. If you cannot cleanse yourself, you must consider all your talents as of no account.” 18 

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “QUESTION: According to Dr. Pattabhi, the Desai-Liaqat Formula contemplated formation of a new government first, to be followed by the release of the members of the Congress Working Committee. This aspect of the Formula had been interpreted by some people as “bypassing the Congress” and by some others as “stabbing the Congress in the back”. You have stated in your statement issued from Panchgani that you blessed the Formula as you thought it provided a basis for communal settlement. It is generally believed that you were consulted at every stage of the agreement. Is the interpretation put on the agreement that it bypassed the Congress correct?

ANSWER: I consider the question has been addressed to a wrong person. Parties to the Formula are the best persons to say what it meant. Then what you put into Dr. Pattabhi’s mouth, he may repudiate. I, therefore, suggest to all reporters at all times, but most especially at this time, to be precise and accurate in what they say. There never was the slightest intention on the part of Advocate Bhulabhai Desai, on whose behalf alone I can speak, “of stabbing the Congress in the back” or making an attempt to “bypass” the Congress. He, himself made politically by the Congress, could never be guilty of any such intention, and, for me, I should be committing suicide if I could be a party to any such attempt. I can say this much for Advocate Bhulabhai Desai that the only intention he had was that of honorably resolving the deadlock and thereby serving the Congress. It would be wrong to say that I was consulted “at every stage” but it would be strictly correct to say that Advocate Bhulabhai Desai saw me more than once about the ‘Pact’.” 19

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “As it is difficult to decipher my handwriting, I am dictating this letter so that it can be written in a clear hand. Sardar and I keep receiving telegrams suggesting that you should be put up as a candidate for the Central Legislative Assembly. I myself have no interest in the elections. A durbar daily assembles round the Sardar, but I know nothing about it. Ordinarily he does not talk to me nor do I ask him anything. I attend to my work and he attends to his. The only reason for our being together this time is his nature-care treatment. He does not have much faith in nature care while I have. An operation would be a very risky affair. No doctor except Dr. Deshmukh advises it. That is why he has put faith in me and is undergoing nature-cure treatment. I have, accordingly, brought him to Dr. Mehta for I have faith in him. My own knowledge of nature cure is superficial. I have given this introduction because I thought it necessary. If Sardar receives any suggestion regarding you, he puts it before me. Since you have accepted my advice, I assume that you yourself are not at all keen on getting into the Central Assembly, and that, therefore, those who send the telegrams do not do so at your instance. Some big people naturally desire your presence in the Assembly. If I were not there, perhaps Sardar would have yielded to the pressure. But I am firm, for I am acting as your well-wisher. I want a big service from you, if you can give it. I wish to see you as a people’s man. I don’t consider you an old man. Why shouldn’t you also live up to 125? If you do not aspire to live that long, as I do, please remember that I try to persuade everybody to have such aspiration for the sake of service. And it is not that there is no strength or effort behind my aspiration. If there is none and my aspiration proves fruitless, I will accept that. I am not, therefore, afraid of death if it should come today. But I will cherish my aspiration till my last breath; for I have to serve I have not yet finished with service. There is a spirit of competition to serve which all of us should share. From this standpoint I suggest to you that you yourself should issue a graceful statement, thanking all those who are trying on your behalf, explaining that you do not wish to be a member of the Assembly at the moment and that you have been doing, and will continue to do, whatever service you can from outside, that if you live long enough and feel later that you should also enter the Legislature, you yourself will come forward and seek people’s votes. I like the work you are doing just now of defending the prisoners. It will bring you credit. I also wish that like Jawaharlal and Sardar, and to a great extent Maulana Azad, you too should come into contact with the masses. Perhaps I should cite Rajendra Babu’s case as offering the best example. Rajendra Babu is sought after by Bihar, he himself does not go seeking the support of Bihar. I can cite other similar instances, too. But where is the need to do so for you? Even what I have written above seems to me too long, but I cannot restrain my moha. If desire also could be described as sattvika, I am sure this desire of mine is that and, therefore, I need not hide it. I trust you are well and succeeding in your efforts.” 20

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I have never forgotten Bhulabhai’s ability. I know that he entered politics at my instance. The difference which arose between us was one of love. There are innumerable people who drink. There are many such in the Congress, too, and I could say nothing to them. But Bhulabhai’s addiction pained me and I told him about it. Afterwards he even wept before me. I could not bear his being a slave to the drink habit. And it was with him that I first discussed the matter. Let me tell you that I had a great share in his being taken up on the Working Committee. I had to fight for his inclusion. I was behind his inclusion in the Constitution Committee also. Need I say more? I also knew about the proposal to appoint you ambassador. Calm down and acquit yourself well in your job with patience and self-control.” 21

 

References:

 

  1. LETTER TO BHULABHAI DESAI, October 26, 1928
  2. LETTER TO BHULABHAI DESAI, July 26, 1931
  3. LETTER TO BHULABHAI J. DESAI, December 31, 1932
  4. LETTER TO BHULABHAI J. DESAI, September 21, 1936
  5. LETTER TO BHULABHAI J. DESAI, December 14, 1938
  6. A LETTER, August 27, 1939
  7. LETTER TO BHULABHAI J. DESAI, June 30, 1941
  8. NOTE TO BHULABHAI J. DESAI, January 5, 19453
  9. LETTER TO BHULABHAI J. DESAI, January 31, 1945
  10. NOTE TO BHULABHAI DESAI, January 1945
  11. LETTER FO BHULABHAI J. DESAI, February 2, 1945
  12. LETTER TO BHULABHAI J. DESAI, February 20, 1945
  13. LETTER TO BHULABHAI J. DESAI, April 8, 1945
  14. LETTER TO BHULABHAI DESAI, May 22, 1945
  15. LETTER TO BHULABHAI DESAI, June 7, 1945
  16. SILENCE-DAY NOTE TO BHULABHAI DESAI, June 11, 1945
  17. LETTER TO BHULABHAI DESAI, June 17, 1945
  18. LETTER TO BHULABHAI DESAI, July 10, 1945
  19. INTERVIEW TO THE HINDU, July 28, 1945
  20. LETTER TO BHULABHAI J. DESAI, October 21, 1945
  21. NOTE TO DHIRUBHAI B. DESAI, February 1947

 

 

 

 

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