the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09415777229, 094055338









 An innocent paragraph, occurring in a letter in reply to one covering other subjects, has led to what I venture to call a thoughtless misrepresentation of Satyagraha and its author. The paragraph is part of a private letter written in Gujarati to Mr. Bharucha. It is no thesis on Satyagraha, and like every letter it contains many things understood between the writer of the original letter and that of the reply. It was not meant for publication. But when Mr. Bharucha telegraphed asking for permission to publish the paragraph, I had no hesitation in wiring permission. It appears from the newspaper report before me that the speakers at the Nagpur meeting suggested that I should have explained at the time the Nagpur Satyagraha was launched out what I have explained in my letter to Mr. Bharucha. I must dissent from the view. Had Mr. Awari not ascribed to me endorsement of his campaign, I should not even have written the article I did in repudiation. Where I cannot help, it is my rule not to hinder by any unnecessary or uncalled for interference on my part. Instead, therefore, of giving an exhaustive opinion on what I then knew of Nagpur Satyagraha, I confined myself to repudiation and an opinion on the general atmosphere of violence prevalent in the country. And I cannot help saying that it was an unlawful use to make of my private letter for suspending Nagpur Satyagraha, if those who were permitted to see the letter did not accept the reasoning contained in it.

Moreover, when they decided to make public use of the letter, they owed it to me to have made clear to them the points which they could not understand, or which appeared to them to be inconsistent with my previous writings. They owed it to the enthusiastic young men in Nagpur neither to damp their zeal nor to disconcert them by hurling in their midst an opinion which the receivers did not understand and did not accept. For myself I do not consider it to be any part of my duty to express an opinion upon the many insane things that are going on in this country, for I am humble enough to recognize that what may appear to me to be insane need not appear so to those who are doing those acts, and may even be in reality an epitome of wisdom. Though, therefore, things are being done in the name of Satyagraha in several places, I have not felt called upon to say one word about them. And I do suggest to the young men in Nagpur and to all concerned that they are not in any way bound to receive the permission of the Congress to offer Satyagraha or any other resistance to any unjust act so long as they do not use the Congress name. And if they are really of opinion that the Nagpur Satyagraha was justified, that it was really Satyagraha, it would amount to a desertion on the part of their commander and other comrades in jail not to immediately re-embark upon their campaign, unless they think with me that what they thought was Satyagraha was not so in fact. Having cleared the ground so far let me now try to remove the confusion that the well-meaning friends who have undertaken to criticize the letter in question have created about Satyagraha.

I do maintain that the Arms Act could not be broken in terms of Satyagraha in the way it was in Nagpur. Let it be remembered that the bone of contention between the “Republican Army” of Nagpur and the Government was not the Arms Act but the unjust and lawless detention of many patriotic young Bengalis. It was in every way wrong, therefore, to select the Arms Act for civil disobedience. Several speakers have read into my letter a meaning which I hold it does not bear and was never intended to bear. As long ago as 1917 or 1918, I said that amongst the many black deeds of the Government, disarmament was the blackest. And out-and-out believer in nonviolence though I am, I hold that it is right of any Indian who wishes to bear arms to do so under lawful permission. I do submit that an Arms Act is now and will ever be a necessity of good government. I do not believe in the inherent right of every citizen to possess as many arms as he chooses without a licence. On the contrary, I hold it to be absolutely necessary for good government that the State should have the authority to prohibit the holding of arms except under prescribed conditions. I can also conceive the possibility of Satyagraha being offered against an unjust Arms Act or its unjust administration, as I can justify Satyagraha against an unjust Arms Act for preventing thefts or other crimes. But I do maintain that just as Satyagraha cannot be offered against an unjust Crimes Act by committing the specific crimes, so can Satyagraha not be offered against an unjust Arms Act by carrying arms. Let us also appreciate the distinction between Satyagraha and civil disobedience all civil disobedience is a part or branch of Satyagraha, but all Satyagraha is not civil disobedience. And seeing that the Nagpur friends have suspended what they were pleased to call Satyagraha or civil disobedience, let me suggest for their information and that of others how Satyagraha can be legitimately offered with reference to the Bengal detenus.

If they will not be angry with me or laugh at me, let me commence by saying that they can offer Satyagraha by developing the power of the people through khadi, and through khadi achieving boycott of foreign cloth. They can offer Satyagraha by becoming precursors of Hindu-Muslim unity, by allowing their heads to be broken whenever there is a quarrel between the two, and whilst there is no active quarrel in their parts by performing silent acts of service to those of the opposite faith to theirs. If such constructive methods are too flat for them, and if they will be satisfied by nothing less than civil disobedience in spite of the violence of thought, word and deed raging round us, I suggest the following prescription of individual civil disobedience, which even one man can offer, not indeed in the hope of securing immediate release of detenus, but certainly in the hope of the individual sacrifice ultimately eventuating in such release. Let a batch, or only one person, say from Nagpur, march on foot to the Government House in Calcutta, and if a march is irksome or impossible then let him, her, or them beg enough money for train fare from friends, and having reached Calcutta let only one satyagrahi march to the Government House and walk on to the point where he or she is stopped. There let him or her stop and demand the release of detenus or his or her own arrest.

To preserve intact the civil nature of this disobedience the satyagrahi must be wholly unarmed, and in spite of insults, kicks or worse must meekly stand the ground, and be arrested without the slightest opposition. He may carry his own food in his pocket, a bottleful of water, take his Gita, the Koran, the Bible, the Zend Avesta or the Granth Sahib, as the case may be, and his takli. If there are many such real satyagrahis, they will certainly transform the atmosphere in an immensely short time, even as one gentle shower transforms the plains of India into a beautiful green carpet in one single day. The question will legitimately be asked, ‘If you really mean what you say, why don’t you take lead, never mind whether anyone follows you or not?’ My answer is : I do not regard myself as pure enough to undertake such a heroic mission. I am trying every moment of my life to attain the requisite purity of thought, word and deed. As it is, I confess that I am swayed by many passions. Anger wells up in my breast when I see or hear about what I consider to be misdeeds.

All I can humbly claim for myself is that I can keep these passions and moods under fair subjection, and prevent them from gaining mastery over me. But the standard of purity that I want for any such heroic measure is not to have such passions at all and yet to hate the wrong. When I feel that I have become incapable even of thinking evil, and I hold it to be possible for every God-fearing man to attain that state, I shall wait for no man’s advice, and even at the risk of being called the maddest of men, I shall not hesitate to knock at the Viceregal gate or go wherever God leads me, and demand what is due to this country which is being ground to dust today.

Meanwhile let no man mock at Satyagraha. Let no man parody it. If it is at all possible, leave Satyagraha alone, and the whole field is open for unchecked action. On a chartless sea in which there is no lighthouse a captain dares whither he wills. But a captain who knowing the existence of a lighthouse and its position, sails anyhow, or takes no precaution for knowing the lighthouse from deceiving stars, will be considered unfit for his post. If the reader can bear with me, let him understand that I claim to be the keeper of the lighthouse called Satyagraha in the otherwise chartless sea of Indian politics. And, therefore, it is that I have suggested that those who make for Satyagraha will do well to go to its keeper. I can, therefore, merely rely upon the indulgence of fellow-workers for recognition of my office.

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