The popular image of Gandhi in the West involves a saintly manner and “passive resistance.” In fact he was a skillful lawyer whose techniques of nonviolent protest were anything but passive and who could be fearlessly outspoken in defense of his beloved India. In this imaginary dialogue, Gandhi is replying to the question of an interviewer (here labeled “READER”) as to how he would address “extremists” seeking independence from Britain. Gandhi’s replies are labeled “EDITOR.”
What does Gandhi say the proper role of the British in India should be?
I would say to the extremists: “I know that you want Home Rule (1) for India; it is not to be had for your asking. Everyone will have to take it for himself. What others get for me is not Home Rule but foreign rule; therefore, it would not be proper for you to say that you have obtained Home Rule if you have merely expelled the English. I have already described the true nature of Home Rule. This you would never obtain by force of arms. Brute-force is not natural to Indian soil. You will have, therefore, to rely wholly on soul-force. You must not consider that violence is necessary at any stage for reaching our goal.” I would say to the moderates: “Mere petitioning is derogatory; we thereby confess inferiority. To say that British rule is indispensable, is almost a denial of the Godhead. We cannot say that anybody or anything is indispensable except God. Moreover, common sense should tell us that to state that, for the time being, the presence of the English in India is a necessity, is to make them conceited.
“If the English vacated India, bag and baggage, it must not be supposed that she would be widowed. It is possible that those who are forced to observe peace under their pressure would fight after their withdrawal. There can be no advantage in suppressing an eruption; it must have its vent. If, therefore, before we can remain at peace, we must fight amongst ourselves, it is better that we do so. (2) There is no occasion for a third party to protect the weak. It is this so-called protection which has unnerved us. Such protection can only make the weak weaker. Unless we realize this, we cannot have Home Rule. I would paraphrase the thought of an English divine (3) and say that anarchy under Home Rule were better than orderly foreign rule. Only, the meaning that the leaned divine attached to Home Rule is different from Indian Home Rule according to my conception. We have to learn, and to teach others, that we do not want the tyranny of either English rule or Indian rule.”
If this idea were carried out, both the extremists and the moderates could join hands. There is no occasion to fear or distrust one another.
What then, would you say to the English?
To them I would respectfully say: “I admit you are my rulers. It is not necessary to debate the question whether you hold India by the sword or by my consent. I have no objection to your remaining in my country, but although you are the rulers; you will have to remain as servants of the people. It is not we who have to do as you wish, but it is you who have to do as we wish. You may keep the riches that you have drained away from this land, but you may not drain riches henceforth. Your function will be, if you so wish, to police India; you must abandon the idea of deriving any commercial benefit from us. We hold the civilization that you support to be the reverse of civilization. We consider our civilization to be far superior to yours. If you realize this truth, it will be to your advantage and, if you do not, according to your own proverb, (4) you should only live in our country in the same manner as we do. You must not do anything that is contrary to our religions. It is your duty as rulers that for the sake of the Hindus you should eschew beef, and for the sake of Mahomedans (5) you should avoid bacon and ham. We have hitherto said nothing because we have been cowed down, but you need not consider that you have not hurt our feelings by your conduct. We are not expressing our sentiments either through base selfishness or fear, but because it is our duty now to speak out boldly. We consider your schools and courts to be useless. We want our own ancient schools and courts to be restored. The common language of India is not English but Hindi. You should, therefore, learn it. We can hold communication with you only in our national language.
“We cannot tolerate the idea of your spending money on railways and the military. We see no occasion for either. You may fear Russia; we do not. When she comes we shall look after her. If you are with us, we may then receive her jointly. We do not need any European cloth. We shall manage with articles produced and manufactured at home. You may not keep one eye on Manchester (6) and the other on India. We can work together only if our interests are identical.
(1) Independence, self-government.
(2) Gandhi thus foresees the possibility of something like the divisive violence that occurred at Independence, even though it was to break his heart and take his life.
(4) “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
(5) An old English term for “Muslim.” Note that Gandhi is already trying to be sensitive to both religions. This was the issue that in the end defeated him.
(6) The center of the English cotton-weaving trade. One of Gandhi’s most important campaigns was to persuade Indians to wear only traditional Indian homespun garments, boycotting English imports.
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