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
Voters and Mahatma Gandhi
Many who had hitherto no concern with Council elections will be shortly called upon to vote for the reformed Councils? The powers, too, of elected members will be found to have increased. This adds to the voters’ responsibility. In all our cities the citizens have been exercising the municipal franchise. And of these elections it cannot be said that the electors have always acquitted themselves in a wise manner. Electors’ private relations with the candidates have often weighed with them more than the candidates’ qualifications. It would be well if we set up a better standard for the elections to the Legislative Councils. Only thus shall we be able to make the best use of the Councils. I suggest also that voters should not identify themselves with any party or its quarrels. They should consider candidates’ views and not their party. Their character should weigh more even than their views. A man of character will make himself worthy of any position he is given. Even his mistakes will not much matter. I consider it impossible for a man without character to do higher national service so that if I were a voter, from among the list I would first select men of character and then I would understand their views. My questions to them would be:
1. Do you approve of the present swadeshi movement? If so, are you prepared to levy heavy import duties on foreign cloth? Will you favour legislation for cheapening the materials and machinery required to produce swadeshi articles?
2. Do you hold that all the affairs of a province should be conducted in its own vernacular and that the affairs of the nation should be conducted in Hindustani a combination of Hindi and Urdu? If you do, will you endeavour incessantly to introduce the use of the vernaculars in the administration of the respective provinces, and the national language in the Imperial administration?
3. Do you hold that the present division of the provinces of India was made for administrative and political purposes and that no regard was paid to the people’s wishes? And do you hold that this division has done much harm to the national growth? If you think so, will you try to bring out redistribution on a linguistic basis as early as possible?
4. Do you hold that there is not the remotest likelihood of India’s regeneration without Hindu-Muslim unity? And if you think so, are you, if a Hindu, willing to help the Mussulmans in all legitimate ways in their trouble?
A satisfactory answer to them alone will entitle the candidates to my vote if I had one. I suggest these questions because I regard them as of great importance. If the electors do not see any significance in these questions, they may put others which they consider to be of greater importance for the upliftment of the nation. If it is not the particular questions that matter but the knowing of candidates’ views on national questions. My attempt is to point out that we need an electorate which is impartial, independent and intelligent. If the electors do not interest themselves in national affairs and remain unconcerned with what goes on in their midst, and if they elect men with whom they have private relations or whose aid they need for themselves, this state of things can do no good to the country; on the contrary, it will be harmful. Now it remains to be considered what the electors should do if they do not receive a satisfactory answer to their questions or if they cannot find men of character.
It is an established custom with regard to elections that electors, if they do not find any candidate to their liking, need not register their votes. In such a case abstention amounts to an exercise of one’s vote. Exception was taken to this procedure, that if good electors refuse to make their choice bad electors would make the worst choice. This is to a certain extent true. But suppose in a certain place, all candidates being drunkards, the better portion of the electorate abstain from voting and the candidates manage to secure votes from their kind, can they exercise any influence in the Councils? No doubt their vote has its numerical value, but their views and speeches cannot influence the Council. Moreover, an intelligent abstention has its own effect. The electors having once failed to find a proper candidate will next time take steps to find out a suitable man and elect him, and by so doing they will raise the level of their own place. In a growing nation people are able to understand the national affairs and they are expected to purify the political atmosphere they live in and to maintain its purity. All enlightened and thoughtful voters will find that occasionally situations must arise when they will have to purposely refuse to register their votes. I earnestly hope that on such occasions our electors will have courage to do so. I hope that when they do exercise the vote they will give it to the best man no matter to which party he belongs. 1
Every voter being a lawyer is bound at the earliest opportunity to suspend his practice and promote the cause of settlement of disputes by private arbitration. Every candidate for the councils, who has voted with the majority, has undertaken to withdraw his candidature, every such voter to refrain from voting at the elections. Every delegate voting with the majority has bound himself to stimulate hand-spinning and hand-weaving and in his own person to use only hand-spun and hand-woven cloth. Everyone of the majority having accepted the principle of non-violence, self-sacrifice and discipline in regard to non-co-operation is bound to treat the minority with respect and fairness. We may not use physical or wordy violence against them. We must endeavour by our intensive practice and by scrupulously honourable methods to convert it to our views. Those who voted with the minority were either weak or not ready. Some few doubted the rightness of withdrawing children from schools for instance. But when they see schools being emptied, national schools springing into being, lawyers suspending practice and yet not starving, and the councils deserted at least by the best of nationalists, they will soon begin to believe in the programme, lose their weakness and be themselves ready to adopt it. We need not therefore be impatient with the minority because it does not see eye to eye with us. 2
The special session of the Congress by an overwhelming majority has decided in favour of complete boycott of the reformed councils. It is therefore your duty not to vote for any candidate for election to the reformed councils. It is however necessary for any candidate who wished to stand in your name to know that you do not wish him or anybody else to represent you. For that purpose you should sign the form that has been prepared for your signature. It is your duty also to tell your co-voters, what they should do. You know why it is wrong to enter the councils. The Government has declined to grant justice to the Punjab. British ministers have broken their pledged word to the Mussulmans and otherwise ignored the deepest Mussulman sentiments regarding the khilafat. We must get these wrongs righted and in order to prevent a recurrence of such injustice or bad faith we must obtain full swaraj and must get rid of the badge of inferiority. We cannot do this by going to the councils, nor can we gain swaraj by going there. On the contrary, although our representatives may vote against unjust Government measures they will still be regarded as authors of those measures and thus be unwilling instruments of injustice. The best way therefore for conserving our honour, hastening the advent of swaraj and righting those wrongs is for the voters not to send any representatives to the councils. 3
The elections in the Bombay Presidency and elsewhere have demonstrated the success of non-co-operation about Councils, in so far as the voters are concerned. In some cases not a single voter seems to have registered his vote. What will the so-called representatives do? They know that the voters have refrained from going to the polls not out of laziness but out of deliberation. They know, too, that thousands of voters have declared in writing their intention not to be represented. The members had ample opportunity of acting on the electors and convincing them of the desirability of voting. They cannot complain of intimidation or even picketing. For the instructions were not to picket, and, as far as I am aware, the instructions were implicitly followed. In the face of these facts, is it not the clear duty of the members declared to have been elected not to have anything to do with the Council? The electors have shown in no uncertain terms that they do not want to have anything to do with the reformed Councils.
The members will reduce representative institutions to an absurdity if they persist in going to the Council when they have the clearest possible mandate to the contrary. If the so-called representatives do not obey the mandate of their electors, the course of the latter is quite clear. They must form voters’ associations, and through these bodies pass votes of no-confidence; they must address their respective members notifying their disapproval of their conduct in allowing themselves to be declared elected. It follows, too, that the electors must not on any account whatsoever take any work from these members. For them the Council does not exist. They must not seek any relief through it. The next trial of the voters will commence when the Council is opened, if at all, in the face of this verdict. The temptation to air grievances by having questions put in the Council will be very great. The electors will have to resist the temptation. But let us hope for the good name of our country that the members themselves will bow to the verdict so emphatically declared by the electors. 4
The important and relevant fact is that every voter has to show sound work. My proposal therefore that everyone henceforth who desires to belong to the Congress organization should have some labour for the nation to his credit is neither original nor ridiculous. Seeing that a great nation has accepted before us the formula, we need not be ashamed of copying it. Labour given for only a few minutes per day to be fruitful must be of the same kind for the millions. And there is nothing but hand-spinning which can be made universal in a big country like ours. 5 Another objection that has been advanced against the proposal is that it will disfranchise thousands of Congress voters. I make bold to say that the objection is chimerical. A voter is one who actively interests himself in the organization in which he is a voter. Our voters are not of that type. The fault is not theirs, but ours. We have not interested ourselves sufficiently in them. And we are not going to do so without being spurred thereto. The spindle is the spur. From month to month Congress officials will have to keep themselves in direct touch with every single voter. It surprises me that it should be necessary to demonstrate the obvious. Think of the possibilities of an organization of honest workers who must render an account of their work from month to month. Surely, a living organization containing a few earnest workers is infinitely superior to an organization containing many indifferent members whose work is confined merely to registering their votes at the bidding of a few men. The indications, however, are that if only we would have the courage to make the necessary change, we will have a very large number of voters, much larger than many expect. The number of the second month is double the number of the first month. If every worker in every province properly organizes this voluntary spinning, we must have a steady increase in the spinners. We should not be surprised to find the figure of two lakhs being reached in a few months. Two lakhs means ten thousand for each province. It does not need extraordinary organizing ability to register ten thousand voluntary spinners in each province on an average. I hope, therefore, that my proposal will not be rejected. 6
If I were a voter and if I exercise the right to vote, I shall tell you what I should do. I will first of all scan the candidates from top to bottom and if I find that among all the candidates there is not one man who is dressed from top to toe in khaddar, I will retain my vote in my pocket absolutely sealed. And if I am satisfied that there is at least one man who is dressed from top to toe in khaddar, I will go to him in all humility and ask him if he is dressed in this style for the occasion or if he habitually at home and out of home wears hand-spun and hand-woven khaddar. If he returns an answer in the negative, I should again retain my vote in my pocket. I would next ask him: “It is extremely good that you always wear khaddar. Do you also spin for the sake of the masses at least for half an hour?” And if I am entirely satisfied on this question, my next question will be: “Do you believe in Hindu-Muslim-Parsi-Christian- Jewish unity?” And if I am still satisfied with the answer, my next question will be, if he is a Hindu and if there is a general electorate in which I can vote for Hindus, Mussalmans and others: “Do you believe in the removal of untouchability in the sense in which I have put it before you?” I am an ambitious and a zealous voter. Therefore, I would further ask: “Do you favour temperance reform? And do you favour total immediate prohibition even though every one of our schools will have to be closed for want of revenue?” And if he says “Yes”, I would take heart and immediately ask him a few questions to see that he is as sound on the Brahmin-non-Brahmin question and I shall vote for him. That is what I would do. You may ask fifty other questions. But I would ask you never to be satisfied until you have asked all these questions and added many more. 7
I am an ambitious and a zealous voter. Therefore, I would further ask: “Do you favour temperance reform? And do you favour total immediate prohibition even though every one of our schools will have to be closed for want of revenue?” And if he says “Yes”, I would take heart and immediately ask him a few questions to see that he is as sound on the Brahmin-non-Brahmin question and I shall vote for him. That is what I would do. You may ask fifty other questions. But I would ask you never to be satisfied until you have asked all these questions and added many more. 8 Your estimate of the modern voter is very correct. But my experience of the educated voter whom you will have in the place of the present type is no more hopeful. Even barristers take their politics from the favourite newspaper. The root of the evil lies in the corruption of our hearts, not necessarily in the limitations of our intellect. But, I must not argue with you. However I send you all my good wishes. I wish you a long and healthy life of usefulness. 9
The swaraj that we aspire for is to be secured with the strength of these three colours. If we have the conviction that swaraj cannot be won by any other means, then the hoisting of this flag is worthwhile. The resolve which is signified by the spinning-wheel should be shared by all—the President and all others. Different circumstances may confront you tomorrow and you may be asked to take down this flag. In many a municipality in India this flag has been hoisted and also taken down. I, therefore, warn you that you are never to take down this flag once it has been hoisted and for that not only you, the members of the Municipality, but every citizen who is a voter has to struggle till the very end. We have added to our strength by performing this task and I pray to God that this flag may be an inspiration to us all. 10 We will not get swaraj by non-violent means if we do not drive away the evil of drinking from amongst us. We do not want a drunkard as our President during swaraj nor do we want him as a voter. We must destroy that cup of Satan wherever it is found. 11
I am not enamored of the doctrine of literacy that a voter must at least have knowledge of the three Rs. I want for my people knowledge of the three R’s; but I know also that, if I have to wait until they have got knowledge of the three R’s before they can be qualified for voting, I shall have to wait until the Greek Kalneds, and I am not prepared to wait all that time. I know millions of these men are quite capable of voting; but if we are going to give them the entire vote, it will become very difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to bring them all on the voter’s list and have manageable constituencies. 12 Every adult male and female belonging to the erstwhile untouchable’s class shall be registered as voter in the general joint register unless disqualified by reason of imprisonment or lunacy or mental deficiency within one year after first election for new provincial legislatures and the central legislature under the revised franchise. A referendum shall be taken of the voters belonging to the e. u. c. and if it is found that thirty-three per cent of the votes of a provincial legislature or the central legislature as the case may be, have signified their dissatisfaction with the number of representatives of e. u. class returned by the electorate, fresh elections of members of the general electorate shall take place for the particular provincial legislature or the central legislature as he case may be, with reservation of seat for the e. u. c. guaranteed by statute for the next ten years on the basis of population, provided however that no referendum will be necessary where representatives of that class have been elected in accordance with the proportion of their population. 13
When it is pointed out to the Chair or when the Chairman of a Congress meeting himself knows that a voter or a candidate is not wearing khadi clothes at that meeting, he is bound to rule that the person is not a habitual wearer in spite of his protestation to the contrary. 14 No one, not being a duly qualified voter on any of the registers, in his constituency, shall offer himself for election as delegate. 15 Everybody has to be a primary voter. You may ask me why I have not become a voter. That is for a different reason. Not that I have not been given the right to vote; only I did not want to be a voter. My position is different and it is valid only for me. The members of the Sangh are votaries of Truth. He whom the Gandhi Seva Sangh orders to go will go. The question is not of individuals. It is not a question of temptation of self-interest. 16 A popular ministry is responsible to the legislature, and cannot do anything without their consent. Every elected member in a popular legislature is responsible to his voters. Therefore the voter who represents the public should ponder well before embarking on any criticism of the government of his creation. Moreover, one bad habit of the people should be borne in mind. They do not like any tax whatsoever. Where there is good government, the tax-payer gets full return for his money as, for example, the water tax in cities. No tax-payer could get water on his for the same payment. But even so, and in spite of the fact that the tax is levied by the popular will, tax-payers always resent even paying such taxes. It is, of course, true that one cannot prove the benefit of all taxes as easily as the one I have cited as an example. But as society grows in size and complexity and the field of service also grows, it is difficult to explain to the individual tax-payer how he gets his return for any particular tax. This much, however, is clear that taxes as a whole should stand for the general benefit of society. If this were not so, the argument that taxes were levied by popular will would not hold. To the extent that we are still under foreign rule, the Government is not wholly responsible to the people. But in the Provinces today the Government is popular to a large extent and we must judge the Sales Tax accordingly. 17