the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action
Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav
Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist
Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India
Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229
Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India
Public Funds and Mahatma Gandhi
I cabled too saying that audit was unnecessary. You could gain nothing by auditing especially now. If we decide not to take any public funds, our books can be only simple. All you will then have will be receipts from Indian Opinion and book sales and expenditure. What is left for Polak is earmarked. If you would not handle it there, it now could be transferred here. But I hope that you will all consider that allotment to be necessary. 1 As the weapon of the rich is money, that of the workers is their labour. Just as a rich man would starve if he did not employ his wealth, even so if the worker did not employ his wealth did not work—he would also starve. One who does not work is not a worker. A worker who is ashamed of working has no right to eat. If, therefore, the workers desire to fulfil their pledge in this great struggle, they should learn to do some work or other. Those who collect funds and, remaining idle, maintain themselves out of them do not deserve to win. Workers are fighting for their pledge. Those who want food without working for it do not, it may be said, understand what a pledge means. He alone can keep his pledge who can feel shame or has self-respect. Is there anyone who will not look down on those who desire to be maintained on public funds without doing any work? It behoves us, therefore, that we maintain ourselves by doing some work. If a worker does not work, he is like sugar which has lost its sweetness. If the sea water lost its salt, where would we get our salt from? If the worker did not work, the world would come to an end. 2
This struggle is not merely for a 35 per cent increase; it is to show that workers are prepared to suffer for their rights. We are fighting to uphold our honour. We have launched on this struggle in order to better ourselves. If we start using public funds improperly, we shall grow worse and not better. Consider the matter from any angle you choose, you will see that we must maintain ourselves by our own labour. Farhad2 broke stones for the sake of Shirin, his beloved. For the workers, their pledge is their Shirin. Why should they not break stones for its sake? For the sake of truth, Harishchandra3 sold himself; why should workers not suffer hardships for upholding their pledge ? For the sake of their honour, Imam Hassan and Hussain suffered greatly. Should we not be prepared even to die for our honour? If we get money while we remain idle at home and fight with that money, it would be untrue to say that we are fighting. If all the hundreds of public workers start travelling by first or second class, public funds will be exhausted in travelling and our ship of swaraj will make no progress. It is necessary for us every moment to pause and think before spending public funds. I say this, being ill at ease because of a remark which one rich gentleman, a public worker, made before me. The moment I brought up the subject of khadi, he said: “You cannot understand our plight. You can get a car whenever you want, you will get ten glasses of goat’s milk if you ask for one, everyone gives you khadi; but others, even a wealthy person like me, will find public service an expensive job if I have to pay each time taxi and hotel fares and for all the khadi that I require.” This gentleman is a member of the All-India Congress committee; he does not hesitate to spend money; but I realize that his daily expenses in Bombay could not have amounted to less than twenty rupees.
I do feel that there is a good deal of substance in his argument. However, I am helpless in my present situation. I know that my weakness has reduced my capacity to serve. I do not now have the courage to ask everyone to go walking. Because I myself am weak, I imagine others to be so and often unnecessarily take pity on them. Otherwise, one who wishes to serve the public does not have to spend overmuch. Third-class fares are not so high that one cannot afford the expense and, moreover, one should make it a point to spend nothing on transport at any place one visits. One should eat simple food and dress simply. But we have pampered ourselves so much that we think we cannot do what hundreds of thousands of other people do every day. A strike may fail in spite of a just grievance and the ability of strikers to hold out indefinitely, if there are workers to replace them. A wise man, therefore, will not strike for increase of wages or other comforts, if he feels that he can be easily replaced. But a philanthropic or patriotic man will strike in spite of supply being greater than the demand, when he feels for and wishes to associate himself with his neighbour’s distress. Needless to say, there is no room in a civil strike of the nature described by me for violence in the shape of intimidation, incendiarism or otherwise. I should therefore be extremely sorry to find, that the recent derailment near Chittagong was due to mischief done by any of the strikers. Judged by the tests suggested by me, it is clear that the friends of the strikers should never have advised them to apply for or receive Congress or any other public funds for their support. The value of the strikers’ sympathy was diminished to the extent, that they received or accepted financial aid. The merit of a sympathetic strike lies in the inconvenience and the loss suffered by the sympathizers. 3
I have given a summary of the 25-page letter almost in the correspondent’s own words. The writer is a thoughtful person and has said everything with a good motive. I know nothing about some of his allegations, but it is indeed my experience that public funds are being misused a great deal. I have even criticized this from time to time. I have known many instances of more money than was necessary having been spent on the comforts of workers. This practice is very much less prevalent now, but I must admit that there is still room for reform. There is certainly some substance in the complaint that expenses on conveyance are incurred much too readily. We now wish to serve the poorest of the poor and to be their representatives. I have no doubt, therefore, that there should be much greater simplicity in our lives than there is at present. A carriage must not be hired so long as one can walk the distance. Public workers arriving as one’s guests need not be treated to banquets. Workers come together not to enjoy dinners but to render service. 4
I have critics who see nothing but flaws in everything I say or do. I profit by their criticism sometimes. But I have also the good fortune to have friends who may be described as guardians of my virtue. They would have me to become a perfect man, and therefore, feel agitated when they think that I have erred, or am likely to err in anything I may say or do. One such well-wisher, whose caution has before now proved to be of the greatest value to me, writes to the following effect: Within my experience, you have been responsible for collecting subscriptions for several funds, such as for Jallianwala, Satyagraha Sabha, Swadeshi, Swaraj, and now you have fixed yourself up in Bengal for Deshbandhu Memorial Fund. Are you satisfied that the previous funds have been well managed, and now the Deshbandhu Memorial Fund will also be properly managed? You owe it to the public to render a full explanation. The correspondent might have added theTilak Swaraj Fund, and also the Flood Relief Fund in the South. The question is pertinent. Even in course of my collection for the Deshbandhu Memorial, those who have paid me handsomely have given me the caution.
My general rule is that I never identify myself with any fund where I do not know those who are to operate upon it, and where I am not satisfied about their honesty. The first three funds were raised not by me, or on the strength of any reputation I possess, but they were raised by Mr. Banker, whom even then I knew well and who had a perfect right to use my name. I know, too, that he could have raised all the money that was received on the strength of his own undoubted reputation and service rendered. Fullest accounts were kept of the receipts and disbursements, and were published also, if my recollection serves me right. But, in any event, these are very small accounts. I have referred to the Tilak Swaraj Fund, although my correspondent has not. I have heard repeated complaints about it. It was the biggest public fund ever raised. I have the clearest conscience about it. The closest scrutiny of the disposal of that fund will show that generally there has been no laxity about its administration, and that there have been far less losses than are incurred by commercial firms. The latter generally write off 10 p.c. as their book-debts. I have known big South African firms writing off so much as 25 p.c. as a normal thing. In the transactions on the Tilak Swaraj Fund, we have not lost anything near 10 p.c. I doubt if the total losses would amount to 2 p.c.
The working treasurer insisted upon vouchers for everything. The accounts have been audited from time to time. They have been published. This is not to say that in some cases there has not been gross misappropriation by Congress workers who were entrusted with funds. This is inevitable where monies have to be disbursed through hundreds of channels. All that is possible is to ensure against the looseness or carelessness on the part of top men. The wonder to me is that, on the whole, it is possible to show as clean a record as we have. Then take the Jallianwala Bagh Fund. Here, again, there is accurate account-keeping. The accounts have been published also from time to time. The place is well looked after. Pandit Malavyaji may be considered to be the soul of that fund. The place is kept beautifully clean, and from a dung-heap it has been turned into a garden. Complaints, however, have been made that no fitting memorial has yet been raised, and the money is allowed to lie idle. If it is a charge, I must confess that I am perhaps more answerable for it than the others. Even plans have been prepared, but I felt that conditions of the time when the fund was raised were altered immediately after. The Bagh itself has been in some way or other, a bone of contention between different parties. I do not know that we have seen the last of it. The Memorial was to be, as it should be, a memorial of solid communal unity a triumph out of a tragedy. Hindu, Mussalman and Sikh blood that flowed on that fateful 13th in a mingled stream was to signify an unbreakable union.
Where is that union today? It will be time to think of building a memorial when we stand united. For the present, so far as I am concerned, it is enough that the Bagh stands, as a little bit of a lung in crowded Amritsar, with its narrow, tortuous and dirty lanes. Now, I come to the Deshbandhu Memorial Fund. The treasurer of the fund is a host in himself. But I know that he will not be forever possessed of it. It will ultimately vest in the trustees. The five original trustees are nominees of the deceased patriot. Every one of them has a status in society, and a reputation to lose. Some of them are monied men. These five original trustees have added two more. They are, again, men connected not with one public trust but many. One of them, Sir Nilratan Sircar, is the premier physician of Calcutta, and the other, Mr. S. R. Das, the first cousin of the deceased, is the Advocate- General of Bengal. If these seven trustees are not capable of rendering a good account of themselves, and doing justice to the trust reposed in them, I should despair of any trust succeeding in India. The mansion is there, and I know that Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, another medical trustee and a physician of the first rank is busy evolving plans for putting it to the use for which it is intended. It has been whispered to me that possibly Mr. S. R. Das, being the Advocate-General of Bengal, cannot be trustee. I do not know the law in the matter. I knew that he was Advocate-General of Bengal when he undertook the trust; but if it is an oversight, there will be a trustee appointed in his place who will be equal in reputation to him. If Mr. S. R. Das can remain a trustee, I was privileged to know enough of him to be able to assure the readers that he will neglect nothing to make the administration of the trust athorough success. Up to the moment of his departure for England, it occupied his care and attention. But I feel sure that every one of the original trustees will be as jealous of the memory of the deceased as any can be, and that they will make the proposed hospital and nurses’ training institution worthy of his memory. So much for the All- Bengal Deshbandhu Memorial Fund. About the All-India Memorial Fund, I am myself one of the trustees. The object of the Memorial is nearest to my heart. My fellow-trustees are as well known to the public as any public men.
The Secretary is a seasoned soldier, and so is the treasurer, both respectively Secretary and Treasurer of the Congress also. Let me, however, in conclusion, warn the public that the safety of the public fund lies more even in an intelligent vigilance of the public than in the strict integrity of those who are in charge of funds. Absolute honesty of the trustees is a necessity, but public inertia is a crime. Ignorant criticism must not be mistaken for intelligent vigilance. What I have found generally is ignorant criticism.What I would love to see is, that some public men, with a knowledge of account-keeping, make it a point, now and again, of overhauling the administration of public funds, an bringing the administrators to book. 5 Father has written to me. Of course, I never wanted to go as far as he supposes. I would not think of asking anyone to support father. But I would not hesitate to ask a friend or friends who would consider it a privilege to pay you for your public services. I would press you to take it from public funds, if your wants owing to the situation in which you are and must be were not extraordinary. I am myself convinced that you should contribute to the common purse either by doing some business or by letting your personal friends find funds for retaining your services. There is no immediate hurry but without fretting about it, come to a final decision. I will not mind even if you decided to do some business. I want your mental peace. I know that you will serve the country even as manager of a business. I am sure that father will not mind any decision you may arrive at so long as it gives you complete peace. 6
The volunteers in every place worked with boundless enthusiasm, and were ever alert and wide awake in the performance of their duties. Generally speaking, there was not much molestation by the police. When sometimes there was such molestation, the volunteers quietly put up with it. They brought to bear upon their work quite an amount of humour, in which the police too sometimes joined. They devised various diversions in order to beguile their time. Some of them were once arrested on a charge of obstructing the public traffic. As non-co-operation did not form a part of the satyagraha struggle there, defence could be made in courts, though as a rule advocates for defence were not paid from public funds. The volunteers were declared innocent and acquitted by the court, which still further exalted their spirit. 7 I must, however, say that Bhai Shivji’s behaviour in every respect, after my inquiry about him, has confirmed my opinion against him. First, I was the judge and others were the complainants. They had given money to Bhai Shivji. When my viewpoint became unacceptable to Bhai Shivji, even I was declared to be a complainant. Now Bhai Shivji, in his statement, seems to consider me at fault. But he and all those who are interested in the social workers obeying more or less the rules and regulations of morality, and who desire faultless management of public funds should know that the proposal to appoint the Panch was for the benefit of Bhai Shivji. He is still guilty in my opinion. His lapses are grave and he has confessed most of them. The panchnama1, which I could never have signed, was drawn up as far as I know, by Bhai Shivji himself. By issuing this statement Bhai Shivji has added salt to the wound and made his guilt worse. 8
Much trouble, time and money can be saved by a little forethought. As it is, I often notice a reckless waste of public funds in connection with these meetings. Let organizers of all meetings, but especially of khadi meetings, realize that we are the poorest country in the world, millions of whom are semi-starved, if only because their earnings are less even than three pice per day. Let organizers therefore understand, as stewards for the nation, it is their duty to spend public funds like misers and never to spend a pie without thought and without necessity. Organizers of khadi meetings should further realize that every pice collected is a pice meant for the starving millions and so one pice means often a day’s earning for a widow. They must not therefore spend where they need not. For instance, they spend money on paper decorations. This is no time for decorations. Let them save as much as they can by avoiding all decorations save only those which may be required to attract people’s attention. In that case they can think of several artistic things which cost nothing or very little. Thus they can have flags and buntings out of waste khaddar. We are now going in for extensive tailoring in connection with khaddar sales. There is always much waste material in a tailor’s shop which he throws away. Now every part of this waste can be used for buntings which unlike paper buntings can be preserved for further use. 9
For us being in good shape means not being able to give away anything at all. I see from your report that the tenements of our workers are in a state of disrepair. If our resources permit we should utilize what we can spare for repairing their houses so that they would not be a burden on the public funds. I would regard that as our substantial contribution. 10 Then I should like to know how your volunteers here have handled funds, like a spendthrift or like a miser. Have they been able to remain free from the but too common weakness of being lax with regard to the use of public funds? I take it that there has been no extravagance or reckless expenditure in your case. But what we need is Spartan simplicity. I shall be only too glad to be told that the strictest standard of economy was observed throughout. Nothing will give me greater satisfaction than to find that you have learnt to do better in this respect than is usual with volunteers in general. Ours is the poorest country in the world. Moreover, our Government is the most extravagant in the world save that of America. If we observe the working of the hospitals here, we shall find that money is spent in them according to standards prevailing in England. Even the hospitals in Scotland would not spend so much money. Col. Maddock told me that in Scotland they could not afford to throw away the used bandages as we do here, that they were put to use again after they had been washed. England can afford to act in that manner. They have left their country for adventure and they have found in ours a field for exploitation. Our true standard can be ascertained by what the majority of people get to wear and to protect themselves with. We must assess our needs on the basis of that standard and spend money accordingly. If we do not do that, we will lose ultimately. 11
One personal thing, I must correct. The Khilafat Committee did pay for a time for my expenses at your instance, not on my request, and certainly not for the reason that you state, for the simple reason that I have never travelled at Congress expense on any single occasion, even when I have done exclusively Congress work. My travelling expenses have always been borne by friends. And when I accepted your offer, I had Rs. 25,000 placed at my disposal by a common friend, whom you know, purely for my travelling as he was most anxious that I should never stint myself about these, nor draw upon any public funds for them. I had given you this information, but I agreed with you that it would be more graceful if I let you pay my travelling expenses. But in the manner in which you now put the matter, I feel inclined to offer to return the whole of these expenses with interest if you will accept them without being insulted or offended. I think that Mahadev will have somewhere a record of these expenses. 12
Let no one imagine that my experiments in dancing and the like marked a stage of indulgence in my life. The reader will have noticed that even then I had my wits about me. That period of infatuation was not unrelieved by a certain amount of self-intro-spection on my part. I kept account of every farthing I spent, and my expenses were carefully calculated.T1 Every little item, such as omnibus fares or postage or a couple of coppers spent on newspapers,T2 would be entered, and the balance struck every evening before going to bed. That habit has stayed with me ever since, and I know that as a result, though I have had to handle public funds amounting to lakhs, I have succeeded in exercising strict economy in their disbursement and, instead of outstanding debts, have had invariably a surplus balance in respect of all the movements I have led. Let every youth take a leaf out of my book and make it a point to account for everything that comes into and goes out of his pocket,T3 and like me, he is sure to be a gainer in the end. 13
No province in India has enjoyed such privileges in the matter of public funds as Gujarat. The Gujarat Provincial Congress Committee has never found its exchequer empty. Nor have its district or taluk branches ever been left to want the funds that they needed. It has been my conviction for years that such affluence cannot be good for any public institution. There comes a point in the life of every institution that has a prestige in public, when it experiences this plethora of funds and all the risks and dangers attendant on it. At that time, if it does not take care and does not spend like a miser, it is bound to come to grief. Because an institution happens to have plenty of funds it does not mean that it should anyhow spend away every pie that it possesses. The golden rule is not to hesitate to ask for or spend even a crore when it is absolutely necessary and when it is not, to hoard up every pie though one may have a crore of rupees at one’s disposal. 14
How could you trust Harilal? How can we believe in anything he says when drunk? But I am quite guarded. I am not going to spend a single pie out of public funds for his coming here or for keeping him here. I hope you also have not promised to pay him the railway fare from such funds. You know that formerly he had asked me for the fare and I had plainly refused. Gandhi Seva Sanghke Dwitiya Adhiveshan (Savli) ka Vivaran, pp. 36 The next question deals with body-labour. What I have said earlier includes my reply on this point also. Each person will function within his own individual limits. We cannot lay down more than this. Let every man put in the maximum body-labour he can. One worker wrote to me that he managed to earn his livelihood in the village; but all his time was spent in doing body-labour. He had resolved to take to spinning and also planned to make a living by spinning. But he found no time to do anything else. I have written to him that, if he continues his work with devotion, people will have a lesson to learn even from this. If the people of the village desire to accept his services, he can educate their children, clean up the garbage and in return earn his bread from them. If he puts his heart in his work, he will be able to earn his livelihood. But he must take only what is necessary. He may be able to have sweets, ghee, fruits, etc., if he asks for them. But he should not accept these things even if the people offer them on their own. I go round with the thought of the village in my mind, and so other problems do not arise for me. There can be no question at all of drawing the maximum out of public funds. I have understood your question. But it is not possible to set the same limit for all workers. In fact, each one of them should put in as much labour as he can. Let him earn whatever wages he can, and supplement the deficit from the funds of the Sangh. If his needs are not so great that it would be disturbing to others when they know about them, he should not hesitate to meet them from the Sangh. I cannot set any limit.
I would not set any limit if the management were in my hands. I do not also wish to determine which type of work should be regarded as body-labour. I can only say that writing a book is not body-labour. The third question a very difficult one relates to the family. Members should help the President in solving this problem. And the President also should be alert in the matter. We have changed our way of life. We have given up the old tradition. Nevertheless, we are born in the cities. We have got our parents, wives and children. They have been all brought up in the old tradition. They have not changed their way of living. We wonder what right we have to compel them to accept the way of life we have accepted. And we want to educate our children in the old method which we have discarded. That is the reason why the workers are worried about the future of their children. They wonder if they would be able to educate their children so as to make them lawyers or doctors. On the one hand, a member of the Sangh lives in poverty and on the other he feels that his duty to his wife and children is different from what he has accepted for himself. He believes that sacrifice is his dharma but not his family’s. Renunciation is regarded as a duty in old age. At the root of this idea is the traditional Hindu sentiment that we should renounce the world in old age.
That is why we want to educate our children in the old way. But we have given up the belief that renunciation is a duty only of old age, not imperative for youth. We have accepted it as our duty, even in youth, to renounce all pleasures and serve the country. If we believe that sacrifice is man’s dharma and that our pleasures should be consistent with the dharma of renunciation, then it becomes our duty to recognize the appropriateness of this dharma for our wives and children as well. If they insist on having more than this, let us tell them that we can give them only this much, that we can give them only the food that we ourselves eat; that what we consider proper for ourselves, we consider proper for them too. What more could be done? Right from my South Africa days I have adhered to this ideal. There is nothing wrong in wanting to reduce one’s income. And any ideal which is right for us is also right for our children. All problems would be easily solved if we acccept this. But the conflict arises when we believe that our wives and children have a different dharma to follow. We must go as far along this path as possible. If, out of an impulse, we have gone too far, there should be no hesitation in retracing our steps. The Sangh should carry on with whatever means it may be having. Let us keep an eye on our resources and fix the maximum limit. But, in doing this, we shall have to look to the country as well. We are bound to be affected by whatever may be happening in the country. And it is our goal to take the country along with us. We must always try to pursue our activities taking the country with us. I cannot lay down any rule in such matters. These are matters concerning the individual and they depend on his sincerity. The highest limit of Rs. 75 has been set. Whether or not that amount should be drawn is a matter for individual decision. 15
Now a surprise for you both. Kanti’s mind is now set on getting formal education and obtaining a degree. However one may try, he cannot possibly be deterred. I tried hard, but without success. Now, the question of the expenses for his education remains. Kanti, too, agrees that it cannot be paid from the public funds and that it would be a crime to take anything from his mother’s sisters who have already spent a good deal on him. Hence, either you three brothers should pay his expenses or he must earn and learn. In my opinion, you three should share the burden, which is likely to be Rs. 75 to Rs. 100 a month, though I do not know about it. It is enough if you give your share of Rs. 33. Start sending the sum if you agree with the proposal. 16 I have talked to Sushilabehn about the quantities of milk. She will speak to those who do not need more than 1.5 1b of milk. The fact is, no one normally needs more than 1.5 1b. Since we are living on public funds and have taken a vow of austerity, we should take nothing more than we need. 17
I wish to suggest that we are a long way off from the ideal of poverty. Our living continues to be luxurious. We beguile our minds by pretending that all this milk and ghee is necessary for health, for preserving our strength to serve. I cheat my heart by suggesting that my energy will decline if I don’t take goat’s milk. Thus we deviate from the vow of asvada1, we start seeking pleasures. Prafulla Babu invited us all here. He collected funds from people. The people are somewhat enamoured of my name. Once the funds were collected Prafulla Babu thought of feeding us well. That is how it goes on. We accept it too. This is not the correct way of using public funds. We should utilize the funds like a miser. There should be no wasteful expenditure. Money is not the only wealth for us. Every useful commodity is real wealth. We may not throw away even water. If one glass of water would do, why take two? Thus in all respects we should have our own point of view. We may not overeat a delicious dish. If we do, we cannot practise truth and ahimsa. 18
Shri Gopinath Bardoloi deserves congratulation on his dignified protest. It was certainly unbecoming of a constitutional Governor to Identify himself with the act of his Ministers irrespective of the propriety or legality of their act and of the wishes of the Opposition in such a matter as a public gift. Apart from the legality of the transaction it is a serious thing for a Ministry to pay out of public funds any sum without previous provision and without the sanction of the House in whose name they have to act and from whom they derive their authority. I think Shri Bardoloi was quite right in raising the question. And I hope the money will not be paid without a thorough examination of the legality of the transaction. I myself so further and suggest that, even if the gift is held to be within the rights of the Ministry, His Excellency would put himself right if he has the gift sanctioned by the Assam Assembly. One lakh of rupees is insignificant compared to the daily expense of nine million sterling incurred by the British Treasury. It is, in my opinion, all the more necessary why extra care should be taken to ensure constitutional propriety. 19
So long as you feel grieved by my conduct, how can you forgive me? I have no conviction of wrongdoing. Just think clearly a bit. Was I in any way bound to pay you a single pice? You pleaded inability to get on with the Bengal workers. You wanted to come to Sevagram. I took pity and let you come. Inch by inch I came to know of your difficulties and I began to accommodate you. When I thought you to be unworthy of support, I declined to continue, after notice. Was that a wrong done to you? You yourself admit that you acted hastily and thoughtlessly. I acted in the only honourable way I could. I was disbursing public funds. You should know that I brought you here almost against the wish of trusted co-workers. Your wants were and are beyond your market value. I doubt whether I should have given you the support I did. I still continue to do what I can for you because I believe you to be a person willing to serve but with reasoning faculty gone astray. Your present letter is proof of what I say. 20 The money at the disposal of our institution is public money and any institution maintained with public funds must pay the utmost attention to economy. But one does not see this being done and the institution constantly finds itself short of funds. 21