GANDHI IN ACTION network

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

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

dr.yogendragandhi@gmail.com

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

 

Voting and Mahatma Gandhi 

 

 

Voting is a human right. Mahatma Gandhi supported it. He started Satyagraha in South for voting right to South African Indian. He gave a clear cut his idea about after returning to India in different occasions. What do we mean by “rejecting” the reforms? Rejecting means refusing to work them. Not working them means abstaining from voting, from enlisting ourselves as voters or standing for election as members. No one is ready for such rejection, nor have we made any efforts towards that end. The deputations who went to England gave no indications to that effect. 1 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.  Whether or not men do their duty, why should the women not have their rights? Women must have voting rights, by all means : but what will women, who do not understand what rights are or, if they understand them, do not have the strength to secure them, do with voting rights? Let them have these rights, there is no harm in that; let them become members of legislatures in India; but the foremost duty of women is to save themselves from the intentional or unintentional tyranny of men and make India glorious and strong. It is only when an ignorant woman is ready to sacrifice her equally ignorant daughter to the fire of a recent widower’s lust that the man, whose tears of grief on the loss of his wife have not yet dried, can think of remarrying. For my part, I believe that it is women’s right, nay; it is a duty they owe to themselves, to their men folk and to India, to bring about reforms of this kind. 2

The voting was elaborately registered. The Congress pandal was cleared for the purpose of voting. Lala Lajpatrai personally superintended the operation. It lasted for six hours. All the provinces but the Central Provinces and the Berar voted in favour of my resolution. The Central Provinces gave for my proposition 30 votes as against 33 for Babu Bipin Chandra Pal’s.  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. 3

These are no idle questions. We shall be tested by how we answer them. Our attending meetings and raising hands for voting will not get us swaraj or justice for the Punjab; nor will it prevent the humiliation of Islam. 4 How many candidates for councils did I entreat to withdraw their candidature? To how many voters did I appeal to abstain from voting? 5 Volunteers too will not do anything on the 16th instant to dissuade voters from voting. 6. In short, those who choose to vote should have the day wholly at their disposal. How can we hope to convert voters whom we have not been able to persuade till the 15th? Surely we do not want to prevent anybody from voting by physical force. There can therefore be no persuasion on the 16th. Our campaign is one of educating public opinion. When we have succeeded in doing that, then and only then is swaraj within easy reach. 6 

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. 7 Every person wishing to join a unit of the Congress is given the right to do so by paying the fee of four annas and signing the Congress creed. In order that persons representing all points of view can enter the Congress, it has been decided to introduce a system of voting there under only one vote can be given and, if that vote is not needed by the candidate in question, it can be transferred to another. The division into provinces has also been made on the basis of language. If work is carried on in each province along the lines indicated in the constitution that it will enable us to make great progress, for, as soon as we have developed team spirit and the power of organization, we shall have won swaraj. Towards that end, it is necessary above all to create national consciousness in every section of the public. 8

I dislike even the resolution voting the money to be used at the discretion of the All-India Congress Committee in foreign propaganda. We want all the money we need in this country. I would far rather invest Rs. 45,000 in spinning-wheels or establishing primary schools than in wasting it in advertising our work. Every good deed is its own advertisement. And I shall certainly hope that the money will still be saved for a better purpose. So far as the newspaper India is concerned, we are certainly better without it. It raised in us false hopes. 9 A question has cropped up whether the Congress constitution allows of plural voting. In my opinion the new constitution is based on the principle of ‘one man one vote’. We have avoided property qualification. And it seems to me that one person cannot have his name registered on more than one register. 10 England has her choice. She can no longer hold the awakened Hindus and Mussulmans as slaves. If India is to remain equal partner with every other member of the Empire, India’s voting strength must be infinitely superior to that of any other member. In a free commonwealth, every partner has as much right to retire if the rest go wrong, as it is his duty to remain so long as the rest are faithful to certain common principles. If India votes wrong, England can retire from partnership, as every other partner can. Thus, the centre of equilibrium must shift to India rather than to England, when India has come into her own. That is my meaning of swaraj within the Empire. Brute force must be ruled out of account in all deliberations. Reference must be had always to reason and never to the sword. 11 

This is quite true. When the voters are all non-co-operators, a co-operator is not likely to be elected as a delegate. If the Congress has voting members who are in favour of co-operation and if their votes add up to a majority, or if they can collect sufficient votes to elect a delegate who advocates co-operation, they may certainly do so and the election would be perfectly legal. 12 I hope that those of you who have voted for the previous resolution will think fifty times before taking up this resolution and voting for it. We shall be charged by the thinking portion of the world that we do not know really where we are. Let us understand, too, our limitations. Let Hindus and Mussulmans have absolute, indissoluble unity. Who is here who can say today with confidence, “Yes, Hindu-Muslim unity has become an indissoluble factor of Indian nationalism?” 13 

Though they attended the Conference, they did not become a party to it. They refrained from voting. Non-co-operators were willing to utilize the services of neutral persons as intermediaries, and I think that was the right attitude. They enhanced the prestige of the National Congress and saved people’s time by proceeding systematically and by selecting me as their sole spokesman. Besides, in a conference like this, there was more for non-co-operators to listen to than to explain. By adopting this attitude, we maintained decorum. The Conference went through its business without hot exchanges. 14 I mean that every citizen desirous of vote would get a vote. I do not see the use of compulsory enrolment without compulsory voting. Votes of people who must be driven to the poll are of questionable value. My idea is to open enrolling depots all over the country where those desiring to vote can register their names on payment of a small fee enough to make the voting machinery self-supporting. I am convinced that we shall obtain in this way popular mandates as intelligent as in any other country. 15

In the first instance, I do not consider it possible that there would be a balance of voting on either side. As a matter of fact, we shall come to a clear understanding without the necessity of voting. But if it does come to voting, and the parties are nicely balanced, I dare say God will give us something or other which will enable us to divide the parties sharply. 16 The voting yesterday was in fact a true index of the position. If it gives a correct picture of how the A.I.C.C. feels in the matter, I have rightly drawn the conclusion that a majority of the provinces want this resolution. I, therefore, asked myself if it was possible to unite the provinces. Khadi is a thing of no ordinary power. Not because we have started using khadi, but because it has been revived among us as a symbol of something which we cannot have through any other means; it is only khadi which can unite us completely at the present hour. It is only through it that we can forge a close bond with the masses in the country. You will not succeed in uniting the country by entering the Councils or practising in the courts. 17

I had a bare majority always for the four resolutions. But it must be regarded by me as a minority. The house was fairly evenly divided. The Gopinath Saha resolution clinched the issue. The speeches, the result and the scenes I witnessed after, were a perfect eye-opener. I undoubtedly regard the voting as a triumph for Mr. Das although he was apparently defeated by eight votes. That he could find 70 supporters out of 148 who voted had a deep significance for me. It lighted the darkness though very dimly as yet.  I liked this opposition and was looking forward to the voting. But the oppose was followed by Swami Govindanand who raised the technical objection that no resolution designed to affect one previously passed could be moved at the same session of the Committee. The chairman properly rejected the objection, if only because the previous day the very first resolution was amended after it was passed by a majority. But the last straw was unwittingly supplied by Dr. Choithram. I have known him to be a responsible man. A long period of unbroken service lies to his credit. He has embraced poverty for the sake of his country.

I was not prepared for a constitutional objection from him in a matter in which the Committee had on previous occasions softened the effect of the boycott resolution. But he thoughtlessly asked whether my resolution was not in breach of the Congress resolution on boycotts.  The programme had a far greater majority than the voting at the A.I.C.C. would indicate. I must travel in the country and see things for myself. My second proposal was for all who fully accepted the Congress creed to retire in favour of the Swarajists. As the argument against it developed, I rejected it myself as thoughtless. It was the last thing the Swarajists wanted. I felt that it would be doing violence to them to expect them to do the impossible. I know that they would not entertain even the first proposal. I offer edit to them at Juhu and renewed it in Ahmadabad. I have therefore reluctantly decided to drink the bitter cup and continue to be in the Congress organization and shoulder the responsibility for working it until the Congress puts me in an actual numerical minority. 18

This is like sending a reprieve after hanging. The right of voting at the present moment may not be of much consequence. But when people become alive to their rights, one vote is enough to turn the scales on momentous occasions. Mr. Jamaluddin is entitled to an explanation of the extraordinary delay in a matter that required no prolonged investigation and when the Commissioner must have known that the elections were pending. For me the incident furnishes an additional cause for non-co-operation. I look upon all such official acts with considerable suspicion. They betray contempt of popular opinion and rights. That people may not have an immediate remedy against the abuse is to me no reason for associating directly or indirectly with the authorities in conducting Indian administration in utter defiance of public opinion. 19

It is necessary to say a word about the proposed radical change in the Congress constitution. I may be pardoned for saying that I am the principal author of the Congress constitution. It was intended to be the most democratic in the world, and if successfully worked, to bring swaraj without more. But it was not so worked. We had not sufficient honest and able workers. It must be confessed that it has broken down in the sense in which it was intended. We never had even one crore of members on the roll. At the present moment probably our nominal roll does not exceed two lakhs for all India. And the vast majority of these too are as a rule not interested in our proceedings saves for paying four annas and voting. 20 If the voters cast their votes not intelligently but out of blind faith, then such voting does not serve an educative purpose, but only leads to their degradation. If the voters are trustful and cannot see the intricacies of a problem, the principle of majority may even lead to their destruction. 21 

Then, again, do you feel that khadi has been reduced to a mere formality? Even that fear is groundless. It is one thing to pass a resolution in favour of khadi; it is another to say that anyone who does not wear khadi cannot become a member of the Congress. The act of voting is a very definite one, the condition for voting should not be very rigid and difficult to fulfil. 22 The agreement puts Swarajists on a par with the No-changers. It was inevitable if voting and all it means was to be avoided. Nonviolence means utmost accommodation compatible with one’s 1 This and five identical telegrams to Konda Venkatappayya, C. Rajagopalachari, Jamnalal Bajaj, Gangadharrao Deshpande and Jairamdas Daulatram were sent after the receipt on November 12 of a telegram, dated November 11, from Motilal Nehru which read:”Mahadev’s letter too late to post invitations after consulting you and Das. Suggest your wiring associations named by Mahomed Ali inviting representatives also prominent individuals on behalf of yourself, Das and me.” principles. Swarajists claim to be a growing body. That they have made an impression on the Government cannot be gainsaid. Opinions may differ as to its value but it is not possible to question the fact itself. They have shown determination, grit, discipline and cohesion and have not feared to carry their policy to the point of defiance. Once assume the desirability of entering Councils and it must be admitted that they have introduced a new spirit into the Indian Legislatures. That their very brilliance takes the nation’s mind away from itself is to one like me regrettable, but so long as our ablest men continue to believe in Council-entry, we must make the best of the Legislatures. Though an uncompromising No-changer, I must not only tolerate their attitude and work with them, but I must even strengthen them wherever I can. 23

It was pointed out by some friends that Liberals and National Home Rulers might object to voting for the preamble. In fact consistently with principles extraordinary care was taken by all who had a hand in drafting the final agreement to anticipate and meet the requirements of those who have remained outside the Congress. I know that even so, the agreement falls short of the full requirements of the various political groups and parties. The reason for the defect is not due to want of effort or will, but it is due to both the Swarajists and myself having to take into account our respective principles, or call them limitations if that word is preferable. 24 It seems that even now the change in voting rights appears terrible to many. This does not surprise me. We are often troubled by a new thing; sometimes it produces fear. I hope that, as time goes by, fear will disappear and people will realize the value of the spinning franchise. In order to help such appreciation, it is necessary that those who have faith in the spinning-wheel should prove it by their persistence in it. Without waiting for orders from the Provincial Committee, those who are already spinning should do it more regularly and those who are not doing should start doing it. As hanks measuring two thousand yards are ready, people should hand them over to the Provincial Committees and get their names registered. This must not wait for a notice from the Provincial Committee. 25

It is dated 27th December and signed by twelve members including the President and the Secretary. I hope that the signatories do not propose to carry their threat into effect. If these gentlemen have voted for, or refrained from voting against the spinning resolution for the sake of discipline or unity, I beg to point out to them that the mere voting or refraining does not fulfil the conditions of discipline or unity. To be effective, discipline means the carrying into effect of the terms of the resolution in a proper soldierly spirit of obedience although it may not commend itself to reason. Such was the spirit of the Light Brigade whose memorable charge has been made famous by Tennyson. Such was also the spirit of the soldiers who, although they knew they were running into the jaws of death, followed their general during the Boer war and were riddled to death by the Boer bullets on the heights of Spionkop. A mechanical assent by them to their general’s proposition that the heights should be carried would have meant nothing, and would have meant even disgrace. It was the action though reluctant yet as daring as that of the staunchest believers that made them heroes. Be it noted that they fought a battle in which defeat was a certainty. But heroes are made in the hour of defeat. Success is, therefore, well described as a series of glorious defeats. What if the franchise is found at the end of the year to have produced a failure? It will be a glorious defeat if the Congressmen irrespective of parties and irrespective of willingness unwillingness will work their best to make it a success.  This resolution differs from the Congress resolution in that it requires the original member habitually to wear khadi and not merely on state occasions. Here there was no disciplinary voting; everyone was free to vote as he chose. 26

To have the right of voting in the Congress, a member has to wear khadi when doing Congress work and on similar occasions. In spite of this, it is found in places that members do not wear khadi. In my view, this is also against the rules of the Congress. Personally, I do not understand how we can win swaraj if we do not obey rules framed by ourselves. Somebody may argue that it is only proper to disregard the rules of the Congress which one does not approve of. But this is not right, for, if everybody disregarded rules which he did not like, there would be no rule which would be obeyed by all, and as a result the constitution, i.e., the very system, would break down. Before a rule is introduced, one may oppose it as much as one likes, but to violate it after it has been accepted would be to invite chaos. Let no one say that my argument would also rule out civil disobedience. The argument is not correct. Civil disobedience is offered only when not to do so would be immoral. In this case, there is no question of immorality. To wear khadi is not immoral. I have yet to hear anyone argue that it is immoral to wear khadi. 27

It was with this very aim that I suggested regular spinning as a condition for the right of voting. If people who do not spin do not, therefore, join the Congress, the ship will not sink. It will not matter if only a few thousands, just five or ten, join it. I shall be able to solve the economic problems of the country through them. I can, on the other hand, do nothing through people who have no appreciation of the economic condition of the country, even if there should be crores of them. They can be of no use to me. 28 The Swarajists had a perfect right of enforcing their will by a battle of votes. I was unprepared for it; for I have known the voting power to demoralize the people, especially when the electorate has not been accustomed to use independent judgment. I was bound as a sane man to recognize the growing power of the Swarajists. They were willing to give the predominant place to the constructive programme. More could not be expected from them. If I had forced them to the vote, they might not only have made Council-entry the national programme, but they might, in the heat of battle, have even thrown overboard the constructive programme or relegated it to an insignificant place. 29

My meaning is that everyone should help this party to the best of his ability and as far as his conscience will permit. Thus one who is inclined towards the Council programme and has no conscientious objections to it will join the Party. One who has conscientious objections will refrain but, short of joining, give all the other help that he can. He may object to vote also. He will then refrain even from voting. 30 When the acceptance of office by all parties becomes a settled fact I presume those who have conscientious scruples will refrain from voting altogether. At the forthcoming elections, too, those who have conscientious objections will refrain. The others will naturally follow the Congress lead and vote as the Congress directs. I have given my definition of a Congressman already in these pages. Not every man who says, “I am a Congressman” is such, but only he who does the will of the Congress. 31

The amendment of Pandit Motilal is a plea for honesty. If you do not believe in the wearing of khaddar then it is your bounden duty to unhesitatingly vote against it, but the existing clause is nothing but humiliation. In voting on this question, consideration of person must be avoided. Khaddar must stand on its own bottom or it should be destroyed. Please, therefore, eliminate me from your considerations. I do not care whether khaddar remains or not, but I do care for honour of the Congress, because Congress is a mighty name. No success at the polls will achieve swaraj. 32 If after what I have told you, if after I have taken you into the secrets and if after I have told you of something which induced me to withdraw my resolution, if after all that you do not want that my original resolution be withdrawn and if you care to take that serious responsibility upon your shoulders, you can say that the resolution shall not be withdrawn. Then your vote will be tantamount to your voting for that resolution.  You must honour the compromise I have worked out in the Subjects Committee. If you think I am lowering the ideal of Congress, you may repudiate me and not listen to me. I do not want you to accept the resolution simply because I have moved it. You must accept it only if you are prepared to work the specified programme. If you reject this then you will have to find yourself another President, as your present President is the moving spirit behind this resolution. I do not believe in resorting to dirty maneuvering to obtain a majority vote. It will only delay swaraj. If you want swaraj you must cleanse your mind of all such ideas by voting for this Resolution. 33

I think that this is a step in the right direction. ‘B’ class membership was introduced only in order to conciliate some who professed their inability to send 1,000 yards per month of hand-spun yarn. Experience however has shown that not over many have taken advantage of ‘B’ class membership which meant spinning only 2,000 yards per year. And when a limited power of voting for the election of members to the Council was announced, the absurdity of ‘B’ class membership became patent. ‘A’ class members repeatedly applied for being classed as ‘B’ class members in order not to forfeit the right of voting. The Council did not want to go back upon the rules that were framed for voting. So the original list remained undisturbed. But for all future occasions it was decided to have only ‘A’ class members. And as the policy of the Spinners’ Association has been from the very commencement to have those only as members who have the fullest faith in the message of the spinning wheel, it was considered desirable to have only one class of members with stricter qualification. This would no doubt considerably reduce the members of the Association. But the Council has no hesitation in running the risk. It does not show much faith in the message of the spinning-wheel if members are not willing to devote even half an hour to spinning from day to day. 34

But at the time of voting at Congress meetings these have to be habitual wearers of khadi. This clause may be a hindrance to the proper running of the Congress machinery but not to setting it up. Whether the clause should or should not be removed from the constitution is a question which may be specially re-examined by the Congress and debated on merits. If even at this hour Congressmen do not believe in khadi, the clause should certainly be removed. If believing in khadi they do not want it in the constitution, it should also go. If it is retained, for the good name of the Congress it should be strictly enforced. If the 7_ lakhs of members are honestly canvassed, the workers would naturally talk to the men and women whom they may invite to enroll themselves on the work being done and expected of them by the Congress. If I were a canvasser I would use the occasion for selling khadi and for carrying on anti-liquor and anti-untouchability propaganda. If the persons approached are at all politically inclined, I should talk to them about the Nehru constitution and tell them that if it is not accepted by the Govt. on or before 31st December next, the Congress will be expected to scrap the constitution and declare for complete independence. I should finally tell them that in the event of such declaration, the Congress would expect them to join any campaign of non-cooperation or civil disobedience that may be ordained by it. I know that if we have a bona fide organization fulfilling the minimum requirements and submitting to discipline we should have title difficulty in working out civil resistance if it becomes necessary next year as it is highly likely to be. 35

The obligation to wear khadi applies to a man who wishes to exercise his voting right. It is necessary to understand this distinction. It is also meaningful. A man joining the Congress may be a lover of foreign cloth and even revile khadi, but we hope that, after coming into contact with us, after being served by us and experiencing our love, his fascination for foreign cloth will disappear and he will begin to use khadi. Perhaps, he may be moved to wear khadi if only out of a desire to earn the franchise. And despite all this, if he will not wear khadi, he will forfeit his voting right at least for that time. This is how the Congress had understood the utility and necessity of khadi. I have very often written that it is our duty to remove the condition regarding khadi if a number of people hold that that restriction retards the work of the Congress and that it must be done away with. But I have no doubt whatever in my mind that, as long as that condition stands, it must be implemented honestly. 36 

The voters were A and B-class members who had paid up their subscriptions. Though the B-class membership was abolished for the reasons already stated in these pages, for the purposes of this election, anomalous though it was in many respects, the B-class members were allowed to participate in the voting. The system adopted was proportional representation. The voting was conducted through the post. The result was very satisfactory. The voters understood their responsibility and appreciated the privilege. There were five candidates of whom three had to be elected. 37 But a member loses the privilege of voting at Congress elections and other meetings, if he does not habitually wear khadi. It is the duty of workers to explain this clause to the new members as also to give them the history of the Congress. The workers should share their sorrows and their troubles, so that it may be noised abroad that the Congress is an instrument never of oppression and ever of real service to everyone in distress. Given a reasonable fulfillment of these elementary conditions, there is no reason why the Congress should not become an irresistible organization. 38

What I said was that I would like to be silent as I do not want that at the time of voting you should be influenced by any appeal I might make to you. I wanted you to vote according to your conviction judging the resolution on its merits and leaving out of your mind considerations for me personally. But if you desire to hear me so that I may explain to you my views on the amendments and on the debate, it is your right to demand it and my duty to comply with. 39 Considering the revolutionary character of the two resolutions, the criticism was restrained and the voting showed an extraordinary sense of responsibility and appreciation of facts. The attendance too was quite good. 40 

Assuming that the member believing in khaddar out and out finds that the majority do not observe the rule, that he has drawn their attention to the breach, that he has drawn the attention of the chief officials also and fails to find any satisfaction, he should by way of protest retire from the elected body to which he belongs. He will simply remain a four-anna member without exercising his right of voting. But outside the organization he will preach discipline without being bitter towards those who are lax in observing it. He will also do such Congress work as commends itself to him if he can do so without incurring the displeasure of the powers that be in the Congress organization. A vast amount of constructive work can be done without one being a member.  Indian Round Table Conference (Second Session): Proceedings of Federal Structure Committee and Minorities Committee, Vol. I, pp. 156 I would far rather forgo the right of voting myself than that this untouchable brother should not have the vote. I am not enamored of the doctrine of literacy that a voter must at least have knowledge of the three R’s. 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. 41

Having put my life at stake for the removal of untouchability, I hope I shall not be found so cowardly as to save it by taking advantage of any dodge. What I have said about the postponement refers only to honest voting.  42 In order to find out the truth, voting was confined only to those who were actual temple-goers, that is to say, those who were not entitled to enter the Guruvayur Temple and those who would not, such as the Arya Samajists, were excluded from the voters’ list. I had intended without thinking of all implications actually to find out by some method of examination, which was actual temple-goers, but I have found it to be utterly impracticable. It was enough to announce that only those should vote who believed in temple-going, who had faith in temple-worship as an integral part of the Hindu religion and who were entitled to enter the Guruvayur Temple. 43 

Any person who subscribes to the object of the Sangh and will help the Sangh by paying and collecting contributions to the Sangh and otherwise further its object can become an associate of the Sangh and shall be kept informed of the proceedings of the Sangh from time to time and shall be entitled and invited to attend the meetings of the Central Board or of the Board of his Province without however the right of voting. 44 Exercise of the right of voting will in itself is an education for Harijans. Nor would it be proper to say that they would not understand national interests. Their representatives would be persons elected with our own votes. For every Harijan seat, Harijans would elect four persons, and from among these four we shall have to elect one. Would we not find even one person from among them who would understand the nation’s interests? If we really do not find such a person, then the fault would be ours for having neglected them to that extent. The right way is to embrace them and win over their hearts by serving them. It won’t help to distrust them. 45  

If you realize as I do the value of thirty votes in the Council, you will have no fears. In South Africa, the Indian community with very much less voting strength could turn the scales in their favour at critical junctures. Here your position is absolutely strong unless everyone else in the Council is opposed to you which are impossible. So my word to you is: Have no fear for the future. 46 Considering the revolutionary character of the two resolutions, the criticism was restrained, and the voting showed an extraordinary sense of responsibility and appreciation of facts. The attendance, too, was quite good.  Well, I would not give that preference to the urban vote. In the Round Table Conference I urged the adoption of adult franchise and voting by the village community. The proposal was rejected because the Round Table Conference was not representative. 47

Even the memory of the sense of opposition which they experienced at the time of voting without an intelligent belief in these resolutions oppresses me just as much as they were oppressed. They and I must be free from this oppression if we are all to grow in pursuit of what we believe to be the common goal. Hence it is necessary for all concerned to act freely and boldly according to their convictions. 48 The parliamentary programme is in the air. It has come to stay and rightly. But it cannot bring us independence. Its function is strictly limited though quite necessary. Its success will prevent the Government from claiming that Ordinance rule or any measure restricting our progress to the goal was sanctioned by popular representatives. Hence the necessity for voters voting for the Congress candidates who dare not vote for unpopular measures without being liable to Congress discipline. The success of that programme may also bring some relief in individual cases such as the release of Shri Subhas Bose or the detenus. But that is not independence, political or economic. 49

I do not see any particular justice or merit in granting voting right only to the literate persons. But as I pen this reply it occurs to me that I should discuss this issue in Harijanbandhu, so that you may have a detailed reply and I may not have to deal with the same thing twice. I do feel strongly in matters like these. My views are based on experience. So it will be as well if, through you, I can let the public know Hence only this much on the question. You will have read in H. B. my reply to your letter about education. Let me know if you have any comments. 50 There was nothing against non-violence in voting for the resolution. What you will do is of consequence. And, as you will see from the next Harijan, I am writing for friends like you. You will see the position developed from week to week. But I can sum it up for you. There is no question of civil disobedience for there is no atmosphere for it—at any rate there is no question of civil disobedience in the aggressive sense as we launched in 1930 and 1932. We might have to offer it if all constructive work was made impossible, that is to say, if grave irritation was given by Government. I fear no such thing. At any rate I will not keep ‘Gandhiites’ in the dark. You should make a point of following carefully what I write every week. 51

Unscrupulous persons will mislead the illiterate masses into voting for wrong men and women. These risks have to be run, if we are to evolve something true and big. The Constituent Assembly, if it comes into being as I hope it will as a result of an honourable settlement between us and the British people, the combined wit of the best men of the two nations will produce an Assembly that will reflect fairly truly the best mind of India. Therefore the success of the experiment at the present stage of India’s history depends upon the intention of the British statesmen to part with power without engaging India in a deadly unorganized rebellion. For I know that India has become impatient. I am painfully conscious of the fact that India is not yet ready for non-violent civil disobedience on a mass scale. If, therefore, I cannot persuade the Congress to await the time when nonviolent action is possible, I have no desire to live to see a dog-fight between the two communities. I know for certain that if I cannot discover a method of non-violent action or inaction to the satisfaction of the Congress and there is no communal adjustment, nothing on earth can prevent an outbreak of violence resulting for the time being in anarchy and red ruin. I hold that it is the duty of all communities and Englishmen to prevent such a catastrophe. 52

The European bloc gives peace neither to the Muslims nor the Hindus. Muslim ministers may flatter themselves with the belief that they are safe with the European vote. They may be safe as individuals, but the national interest cannot be safe if bodies of persons who are numerically insignificant are given an artificially decisive voting strength in a democratic assembly. It deprives the latter of its democratic character. 53 You have adopted the resolution practically unanimously as there were only seven or eight dissentients. That adds to my responsibility, for I have been witness to debate. If I had so desired, I should have warned you before voting, but I accepted the suggestion of the Working Committee that I should not address the house before the resolution was passed. 54

Voting is all right in small matters, but our work will be hampered if we decide larger issues by ‘vote’. The Congress is like a non-violent army. Our effort will be to keep it nonviolent to the end. I am not going to restrain it if on the basis of experience we realize that we were on the wrong path. 55 By power I mean voting power for the people so broad-based that the will of the majority can be given effect to.  I realize that despite my views there will be a central government administration. However, I do not believe in the accepted Western form of democracy with its universal voting for parliamentary representatives.  There are seven hundred thousand villages in India. Each would be organized according to the will of its citizens, all of them voting. Then there would be seven hundred thousand votes and not four hundred million. Each village, in other words, would have one vote. The villages would elect their district administrations, and the district administrations would elect the provincial administrations, and these in turn would elect a president who would be the national chief executive. 56

The separate voting is binding on both the major parties, only because it is necessary for the existence of the Assembly and in no otherwise at the time of writing. I took up the Statement, reread it clause by clause, and came to the conclusion that there was nothing in it binding in law. Honour and necessity alone are the two binding forces. 57 They have been made to look as foolish in their latest statement as to say that they would refrain from voting for themselves but would use their vote for electing their henchmen wearing the Indian skin! They would, if they could, repeat the trick which has enabled them, a handful, to strangle the dumb millions of India. How long will this agony last! Does the Mission propose to bolster up this unholy ambition and yet expect to put to sea the frail baroque of their Constituent Assembly? Indians cannot perform the obvious duty of the Mission for them. 58 

Badshah Khan writes to me to say that he is carrying out the plan I had discussed with you and he with Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah. The plan was to move for free Pathanistan framing its own local constitution and when the Pakistan and the Union constitutions were out, to decide either to belong to one State or the other. In this move he has failed. Therefore the referendum would go on without any interference by his followers, the latter abstaining from voting either way. He fully realizes that in this case the Frontier would probably go to Pakistan.  I see in today’s papers that Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah contends that if the Pathans abstain from voting, the abstention will constitute a breach of the terms of the referendum. I do not see the force of the contention. 59 Agitation is undoubtedly being carried on today by Badshah Khan and his lieutenants to tell the voters that it is wrong for them to take part in the voting. There should be no demonstration during the voting days and there should be no approach to the voters during the voting time. If this is what you mean I shall be glad to refer to the matter in those terms at the evening prayer. I am quite prepared to adopt quicker means of reaching Badshah Khan, if you suggest any. 60

 

References:

 

  1. Navajivan, 14-12-1919
  2. Navajivan, 16-5-1920  
  3. Young India, 15-9-1920
  4. Navajivan, 26-9-1920
  5. Navajivan, 10-10-1920
  6. Young India, 10-11-1920 
  7. Young India, 24-11-1920
  8. Navajivan, 9-1-1921
  9. Young India, 19-1-1921
  10. Young India, 13-4-1921
  11. Young India, 29-6-1921
  12. Navajivan, 17-7-1921
  13. Young India, 19-1-1922
  14. Navajivan, 22-1-1922
  15. The Searchlight, 27-6-1924
  16. The Hindu, 9-6-1924 
  17. Navajivan, 17-7-1924
  18. Young India, 3-7-1924
  19. Young India, 17-7-1924 
  20. Young India, 11-9-1924
  21. Navajivan, 14-9-1924
  22. Navajivan, 16-11-1924
  23. Young India, 13-11-1924
  24. Young India. 4-12-1924
  25. Navajivan, 11-1-1925
  26. Young India, 15-1-1925
  27. Navajivan, 5-4-1925
  28. Navajivan, 26-4-1925 
  29. Young India, 25-6-1925
  30. Young India, 17-9-1925
  31. Young India, 27-5-1926 
  32. Amrita Bazar Patrika, 28-12-1926
  33. Amrita Bazar Patrika, 29-12-1928
  34. Young India, 16-5-1929
  35. Young India, 30-5-1929 
  36. Navajivan, 2-6-1929 
  37. Young India, 6-6-1929
  38. Young India, 10-10-1929 </</body>

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