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Emerson’s Note on Interview with Mahatma Gandhi

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

 

 

Emerson’s Note on Interview with Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

 

1. I had five hours’ talk last night with Mr. Gandhi regarding various matters arising out of the settlement. We talked first about the communal situation, which he recognized as very serious. He obviously had little hope of an early settlement with the Mohmmedans and he expressed himself as very grieved that not only was the feeling extremely bitter, but that non-Congress Mohmmedans was challenging the honesty of proposals he made. I took the opportunity of rubbing in that in the present state of feeling throughout Northern India any trivial incident would suffice to start serious trouble and that it was, therefore, the more necessary that the Congress should avoid interference with the liberty of individuals, which was an important cause of the keen resentment felt by Muslims. I also emphasized the great danger of trouble spreading into the villages, especially in the United Provinces, and the difficulties that would arise in stamping it out, if it once began in rural areas. He was obviously fully aware of the danger, and the impression I gained was that he will use his influence with Congress to avoid causes of offence to Muslims. I gathered that the Congress was already using much more discretion in picketing the shops of Mohmmedans and that Gandhi’s own desire was that picketing of their shops should cease.

2. We then got on to the subject of Gujarat, about which he said he was receiving very distressing accounts. Some of the new Patels were men of bad character, etc., and were making the lives of the villagers unbearable; there was no real spirit of co-operation between Government and the Congress; the latter had, for instance, asked for a list of the lands which had been sold and the persons to whom they were sold, but this had been refused, although in fact, according to his account, previous owners of land had not, in some cases, correct information on this point. It was understood that Government would remain neutral regarding the recovery of lands sold to third parties, but they were not doing so. For instance, they were using the Police to put purchasers in possession of lands they had bought, although according to law the purchasers ought to have obtained possession by a regular suit in cases where they had not obtained more than formal possession from Government. Again there were some temporary Patels who had not yet been replaced by previous incumbents who had resigned. Generally, the burden of his complaint was that he had made a mistake in agreeing about the non-restoration of lands sold to third parties and the non-reinstatement of Patels whose places have not been permanently filled, and, although he had no intention of going back on the settlement, he now realized what difficulties were involved. I then gave him the other side of the case. I told him that for every complaint he had made I had seen several from the other side, that the position, as reported to the Government of India, is that in particular taluka land revenue collections are at a standstill, continuous pressure is being brought to bear on loyalists, on purchasers of land and movable property and on new Patels, and that generally from the Government point of view the situation is very unsatisfactory. So far as Patels are concerned, I imagined that the actual position is that villagers are trying to obtain the reinstatement of the old Patels by securing the dismissal of the new ones, that the District Officers are, therefore, naturally skeptical in regard to complaints about the latter, but that I did not think that they would desire to keep any Patel in office if his conduct was such as to render him liable to dismissal under the rules. On the other hand, the District Officers would naturally defend the Patels against frivolous complaints. He admitted that the complaints were not against all the new Patels, but against some of them. I said that, as regards the neutrality of Government, this could not be interpreted as meaning that Government should not give purchasers of land the legal rights to which they were entitled, and that, if they were, in fact, entitled under the ordinary revenue law to summary possession, it was obviously right to give it. I then read out to him extracts from the demi-official letters of the Bombay Government, dated the 2nd and 4th April, which showed clearly that in certain taluka, e.g., Borsad and Bardoli, collections of land revenue had practically stopped since the settlement. He seemed to be surprised at these figures and asked for a copy of the extracts, which I promised to give him. I said that it was absurd to suppose that this general suspension of payment was due to economic distress, that our information was that crops were very good and that cases in which persons would find any difficulty in paying were extremely few, that Government regarded the delay in payment as a serious breach of the settlement and that, even if it were true, as he said, that people in one or two villages were having trouble from the new Patels, that was no reason why land revenue should not be paid, that the Bombay Government had recently informed the Government of India that they proposed to resume coercive processes within the next ten days and on the information before them the Government of India could not possibly take exception to this proposal, although naturally both they and the local Government hoped that it would not be necessary to resort to them, since it was clear that, once the use of coercive processes began on a considerable scale, the atmosphere in Gujarat would again become seriously disturbed and more ill-feeling would be engendered. Mr. Gandhi admitted the great desirability of avoiding resort to coercive processes, but recognized that the local Government could not reasonably be expected to wait beyond the period stated. He expressed his desire that the settlement should be scrupulously observed and said that he would be in Ahmadabad on the 12th, when he would very much like to have a heart-to-heart talk with the Commissioner of the Northern Division. I said that I thought it was an excellent idea and would pass on his wish to the Bombay Government. He said that he hoped that later His Excellency the Governor of Bombay would be able to grant him an interview. The impression left on my mind by the talk about Gujarat was that Vallabhbhai Patel and his friends are making it as difficult as possible for Gandhi to honour the settlement; that they are holding up the payment of land revenue on one pretext or another in the hope that all Patels will be reinstated and all lands restored; that they are communicating to Gandhi all sorts of complaints, few of which have any foundation, and that Gandhi himself would like to find a way out, but cannot. I am inclined to think that when he returns to Gujarat he will play the game regarding the payment of land revenue, but that he will meet with considerable opposition and that there will be attempts to exploit any pretext for non-payment. I think it would be a good thing if the Commissioner, Northern Division, were able to hear what Mr. Gandhi has to say to give him the other side of the picture with specific examples. Gandhi himself recognizes that the settlement must stand regarding lands and Patels, and I think it might be possible to satisfy some of his doubts and misgivings, if he were assured that (a) the policy of reinstating Patels, whose places have not been filled, will be liberally pursued, (b) Government, while protecting new Patels against frivolous complaints, will be prepared to deal under the ordinary revenue rules with Patels, if any, who abuse their position, (c) local officers will give such information as might reasonably be expected regarding the slae of lands. I venture to make these suggestions, because I am quite clear that Gandhi does not want to break the settlement and that he is fully alive to the undesirability of collection by coercive processes. In the mean time I made it quite clear to him that the Government of India does not intend to raise any objection to the proposal of the local Government to start coercive process in the near future.

3. I mentioned the cases of delay in the payment of land revenue in the Kanara and Dharwar Districts. He said that this delay was entirely due to bad harvests and economic distress, and that when he saw His Excellency the Governor, he would mention the matter to him. I did not pursue the subject.

4. Mr. Gandhi then raised the question of the United Provinces which he discussed for about two hours. I read out to him the gist of letters of the Collectors of Allahabad and Muttra, last week’s report of the special branch of United Provinces and the instructions sent by the Provincial Congress Committee to the District Committee of Fatehpur. I told him that Sir Frank Noyce and I had recently discussed the situation with His Excellency the Governor of the United Provinces, and that the Government of India and the local Government regarded the situation in several districts with great concern. There was no doubt that the situation had deteriorated very rapidly and that in one or two districts there was imminent danger of serious disorder at any time. If disorder began, it might easily spread and there was very grave danger that, although it might begin as agrarian, it would end as communal. Mr. Gandhi was very obviously surprised at the facts placed before him and he at once admitted that the following Congress activities were wrong: (a) Advocating tenants to withhold payment of rent and land revenue in whole or part, (b) the establishment of a Congress Tahsildar in the Muttra District, (c) dissemination of the idea that swaraj had been attained and that revenue and rent need no longer be paid, (d) attacks by tenants on zamindars, (e) interference with Muslims. He was particularly concerned about the last item and I laid stress on the fact that, if Muslims generally had reason to believe that the Congress were attempting to come between Muslim landlords and their tenants, communal bitterness would be increased and there would be grave danger of trouble. I said that Government regarded the activities of the Congress in the United Provinces in regard to rent and revenue as a very serious breach of the settlement, that it had never been contemplated that anything of the sort would be done and that Government were satisfied that, under cover of economic distress, the Congress were in fact carrying on the campaign for political purposes. I had been instructed by Government to tell him that the local Government propose to take what measures were possible under the ordinary law to deal with the situation and that the Government of India approved of this course; further it was anticipated that, if this action did not suffice, the local Government would come forward with proposals for special measures, e.g., the renewal of powers conferred by the Unlawful Instigation Ordinance or action under the Criminal Law Amendment Act; and that the Government of India directed me to let him know that, if such proposals were made, they would receive the serious consideration of Government. I added, as my own opinion, that, if Congress activities continued, action under the ordinary law would almost certainly prove inadequate and that an irresistible case would be made out for special measures. I said that this would almost certainly break the settlement, a result which Government was very anxious to avoid, if this were possible. I then briefly explained to him the statement of land revenue policy made by His Excellency the Governor a few days ago in the Provincial Legislative Council and said that the local Government considered that it would meet the requirements of the economic situation; at any rate, it was essential that it should be given a trial; and that, if the consequences above outlined were to be avoided, Congress should cease to interfere. Mr. Gandhi asked me whether Government considered it as part of the duty of the Congress to secure the payment of land revenue. I said that, so far as the United Provinces were concerned, I thought that Government would be satisfied if Congress abstained completely from any sort of interference, and that they would not wish to impose on Congress any obligation in this respect. I explained that the position in Gujarat was different. Mr. Gandhi said that he had heard complaints from the other side, as, for instance, brutal treatment of tenants by landlords, and that the real problem was how the Congress could co-operate with Government in regard to the situation. He said that the methods so far pursued were on the facts given by me undoubtedly open to objection, but that was no reason why the matter should not be put on the right lines which he proceeded to develop. The proposals as they eventually emerged were that in each tehsil there should be a Congress Committee which would co-operate with the local officers in land revenue matters. In ordinary times, the Congress Committee would have nothing to do, since the full demand would be accepted as a matter of course; but in times of distress the Congress would collect facts and figures themselves, would ascertain the views of the zamindars and the tenants and would make representations to the Collector which the Collector would examine. He asked me whether Government would object to this scheme. I said that I thought that the Government of India and the local Government would object very strongly to it. He suggested that this showed distrust of Congress which was not warranted, that the reasonable course was for the Government and Congress to work together, that in fact Government were now at peace with the Congress; they had entered into a settlement with it, and that there could be no reason why this principle should not be extended. I pointed out to him that the settlement reached related to the abandonment of the civil disobedience movement in which Government and the Congress were solely, or at any rate mainly, concerned, that it was a different matter for Government to use the Congress as an intermediary in matters in which other parties were concerned, that, while it was regrettable that there was distrust, he could hardly expect Collectors of districts, in view of the facts that had been placed before him, to welcome the scheme. Moreover, however unobjectionable it might appear in theory, it was open to grave practical objections and would certainly lead to a continuous agitation on the part of tenants, at any rate, in regard to their rents. No Government could abrogate its functions in the manner suggested and provincial autonomous governments of the future would have grave cause of complaint against the present Government, if they allowed any political party to intervene in the way suggested. Mr. Gandhi asked whether I objected to a combination of tenants, for common purposes. I said that I could not take legal objection to it, but I thought that such combinations almost inevitably led to trouble and disturbed the relations between landlords and tenants. He then said that, if there and were no objections to a combination of tenants, what objection could there be to Congress representing the interests of the tenants, Congress assisting the cause of tenants by appeals to zamindars on the grounds of humanity. He suggested that zamindars themselves would find such an arrangement advantageous. I pointed out that Congress did not command the universal support he seemed to think. Muslims, for instance, were intensely hostile to it, and there were many zamindars who regarded its activities with the greatest apprehension and suspicion. In fact the general tendency of the Congress to interfere in other people’s affairs was the cause of a good deal of existing unrest. I then explained that the objections would apply equally whatever political party was concerned. I asked him whether, for instance, he considered that it would conduce to harmony if the Muslim League interfered in the Punjab between a Hindu landlord and a Muhammadan tenant. Mr. Gandhi then said that Congress had always supported the cause of tenants and that it would be impossible for him to stand by and see tenants ill-treated by landlords without trying to help them. I said that I was quite sure that the local Government would do everything to discourage ill-treatment of tenants in order to enforce payment of rent and that they would be only too glad if tenants filed criminal complaints. In any case, whatever might be the theoretical position, organized interference by Congress at the present time in matters affecting land revenue and rent would inevitably lead to serious trouble and had to be ruled out. He then asked what he was to do about it. He had previously said that he was very concerned about affairs in the United Provinces and felt that he himself would have to try to put matters right there. He had also mentioned his desire to discuss matters with the Governor. I suggested that the proper course for the Congress was to leave things alone so that the scheme of the local Government might be put into operation, that it might be presumed that, if incidental adjustments in the scheme were necessary, these would be made and that the local Government would pursue a policy in accordance with the requirements of the situation. I said that I could not say anything about his interview with the Governor, but, if one were granted, I felt that the Governor would be able to satisfy him that there was no intention of demanding land revenue in excess of the capacity of the land revenue payers to pay, that it was the desire of the local Government that landlords should not demand excessive rent, and that they would actively discourage ill-treatment by landlords for the purpose of exacting rent. I gathered that Mr. Gandhi would not, in any case, be able to see the Governor before the return of Sir Malcolm Hailey. The final understanding was that Mr. Gandhi would do what he could to stop the present activities in the United Provinces relating to land revenue and rent and that he would seek an interview with Sir Malcolm Hailey on his return. My impressions regarding this part of the conversation were that Mr. Gandhi was ignorant of a great deal that had been going on and that he generally disapproved of it. He was also evidently apprehensive regarding the possible consequences of agrarian and communal trouble combined. At the same time, the scheme of Tehsil Committees (which I take to be Jawaharlal’s) had certain attractions for him and it no doubt represents one side of the Congress programme to get hold of the rural classes by acting as an intermediary between Government and the people and exercise functions which belong properly to Government. I doubt whether Jawaharlal and other leaders of the United Provinces will readily give up their programme, and I should not be surprised if Gandhi had considerable difficulties in dealing with them. In the mean time he is in no doubt regarding the action which the local Government will at once find it necessary to take and the further measures that may be necessary if the activities continue. This knowledge should operate in making him exercise greater control over Jawaharlal, for he does not want a breach of the settlement and it appeared that even before our conversation he was uneasy regarding the United Provinces.

5. I next brought up the subject of the issue by the All-India Congress Committee of a directory which includes a list of mills that had not given a certain undertaking. Mr. Gandhi said that the directory had been issued before the arrangement had been finally reached by which the Congress were not to issue any such list or to make any reference to the Congress ban. He said that he had already given instructions that no such list would issue in future. I again emphasized what Government regarded as essentials in connection with the movement in favour of Indian goods, namely, that the methods should be confined to persuasion, propaganda and advertisements and that the object should be economic and not political. I said that, if Government found that other methods were being pursued, they would take what action they considered to be necessary. Mr. Gandhi agreed. I then mentioned the question of racial discrimination which appeared to be involved in some of the undertakings which the agents of mills had given, e.g., provisions regarding share capital and personnel of the management. I said that, although the matter had not been raised during the course of the conversations which led to the settlement, it should be understood that Government regarded as objectionable activities which involved discrimination between British and Indian firms engaged in business in India; that the views of the Government of India were contained in their Reforms Despatch and that these held good. Further, although we had not received specific complaints on this matter, it was not improbable that we might receive them, and that there was no doubt that attempts to get undertakings from English firms in India involving provisions of this kind would create much feeling in India and would emphasize the necessity of making provision against discrimination in the new constitution. I suggested to him the folly of the Congress in pursuing a course which was likely to alienate English feeling and so prejudice the friendly atmosphere created at the Round Table Conference. Mr. Gandhi was non-committal on this subject, but said that he had given the question of discrimination much thought, that he recognized the advisability of going slow in matters on which British opinion was strong, that the question of discrimination mainly arose in matters such as shipping, and he gave expression to sentiments about the preservation of Indian civilization (which I see he mentioned in his address today to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry).

6. I mentioned a report just received from the Punjab Government to the effect that “a dealer in foreign cloth in Amritsar had been ‘persuaded’ by Dr. Kitchlew to pay fine of Rs. 3,000 to Congress funds”. He had refused to make a public apology in the Jallianwala Bagh. I said that, while the dealer in question would probably say if questioned that the so-called fine was a free gift, it was very difficult to believe that this was so, and incidents of this kind which were coming to the notice of Government left little doubt that the principle of individual freedom of action was not being observed. He promised himself to make enquiries during his forthcoming visit to Amritsar. Incidentally he observed that picketing had been much reduced and that the sale of foreign cloth was on the increase, but I do not know what basis there is for these statements. I told him that we were still receiving a number of complaints from Bihar and Orissa about picketing which seemed to be worse there than in any other province. I said that I would send him another batch of complaints just received and that it was his duty to see that matters were put right.

7. I told him that local Governments had, since the settlement, deliberately abstained from prosecutions on account of political activity, so that the settlement might not be prejudiced, that there was, however, no reason why they should further abstain and that the Government of India intended to inform local Governments that they did not wish them to hold their hand in cases where they considered prosecutions to be necessary. Mr. Gandhi merely observed that it was right that those who brought themselves within the mischief of the law should suffer the consequences.

8. Amongst the complaints which Mr. Gandhi himself made were the following: (a) The case of a few persons expelled under the Foreigners Act. I said that I would try to discuss with the Bombay Government next week. (b) A few cases of persons expelled from Cantonment areas. I explained the position and asked Mr. Gandhi to give me information of specific cases. (c) The general question of civil disobedience prisoners still in jail. His complaint, which was not seriously pressed, was that some prisoners coming within the amnesty had not been released. He mentioned, in particular, a case in Muttra and again referred to Sholapur prisoners. He said that this question of prisoners was causing him difficulty. I said that there could be very few, if any, cases of non-release of prisoners coming within the amnesty, and that local Governments had acted very liberally; the question was really one of leniency towards persons not coming within the amnesty, and that we could not approach local Governments even informally in this direction so long as conditions of peace were not very definitely established and Congress were not implementing the spirit of the settlement. I promised to go through a long memorandum which had been prepared for Mr. Gandhi and which he confessed he had not had time himself to digest. (d) To my surprise he did not raise the question of political prisoners in general in regard to whom a resolution was passed at the Karachi Congress. He apparently does not wish to ask for anything outside the settlement.

9. I found Mr. Gandhi very friendly and reasonable. He was pleased with his success at Karachi, but depressed regarding the communal situation. He did not conceal his keenness to go to the Round Table Conference or to reach a final settlement of constitutional problems. His demands will, I fancy, be far less extravagant than some of his earlier speeches indicated, and, if he goes to London, he is likely to pay more regard to the spirit in which problems are approached and the attitude of British parties towards Indian aspirations than to the actual terms of the settlement, although he will require to be convinced that, if certain demands are not met, there are adequate reasons for not meeting them. Financial safeguards will give the most trouble and after them possibly discrimination. I believe that his present intention is to go to London not with the object of wrecking the Conference by excessive demands, but to obtain a settlement which, according to his lights, he can honorably accept. I do not think he will lightly return to India and confess failure. On the other hand, he does not profess to be over-confident of success, and he is quite candid in saying that, in the mean time, Congress will attempt to consolidate their position in case there is another fight. This is the big danger involved in the present position and the practical question that will almost certainly arise sooner or later is how far Government will be able to remain inactive. Gandhi, however, realizes the disadvantage, from his point of view, of forcing Government to take action and it is to be hoped that this knowledge will act as a brake on Congress activities. I made it quite clear to him that the so-called consolidation of the Congress position might easily produce a situation which Government could not tolerate.

 

Reference:

 

EMERSON’S NOTE ON INTERVIEW WITH GANDHIJI, April 7, 1931

 

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