The Kheda campaign was launched while the deadly war in Europe was still going on. Now a crisis had arrived, and the Viceroy had invited various leaders to a war conference in Delhi. I had also been urged to attend the conference. I have already referred to the cordial relations between Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy, and myself.
In response to the invitation I went to Delhi. I had, however,
objections to taking part in the conference, the principal one being
the exclusion from it of leaders like the Ali Brothers. They were
then in jail. I had met them only once or twice, though I had heard
much about them. Everyone had spoken highly of their
services and their courage. I had not then come in close touch
with Hakim Saheb, but Principal Rudra and Dinabandhu Andrews had
told me a good deal in his praise. I had met Mr. Shuaib Qureshi and Mr.
Khwaja at the Muslim League in Calcutta. I had also come in contact
with Drs. Ansari and Abdur Rahman. I was seeking the friendship of
good Musalmans. and was eager to understand the Musalman mind
through contact with their purest and most patriotic
representatives. I therefore never needed any pressure to go with
them, wherever they took me, in order to get into intimate touch
I had realized early enough in South Africa that there was no
genuine friendship between the Hindus and the Musalmans. I never
missed a single opportunity to remove obstacles in the way of unity.
It was not in my nature to placate anyone by adulation, or at the
cost of self-respect. But my South African experiences had
convinced me that it would be on the question of Hindu-Muslim unity
that my Ahimsa would be put to its severest test, and that the
question presented the widest field for my experiments in Ahimsa.
The conviction is still there. Every moment of my life I realize
that God is putting me on my trial.
Having such strong convictions on the question when I returned from
South Africa, I prized the contact with the Brothers. But before
closer touch could be established they were isolated. Maulana
Mahomed Ali used to write long letters to me from Betul and
Chhindwada whenever his jailers allowed him to do so. I applied for
permission to visit the Brothers, but to no purpose.
It was after the imprisonment of the Ali Brothers that I was invited
by Muslim friends to attend the session of the Muslim League at
Calcutta. Being requested to speak, I addressed them on the duty of
the Muslims to secure the Brother's release. A little while after
this I was taken by these friends to the Muslim College at Aligarh.
There I invited the young men to be fakirs for the service of the
Next I opened correspondence with the Government for the release of
the Brothers. In that connection I studied the Brothers' views and
activities about the Khilafat. I had discussions with Musalman
friends. I felt that, if I would become a true friend of the
Muslims, I must render all possible help in securing the release of
the Brothers, and a just settlement of the Khilafat question. It was
not for me to enter into the absolute merits of the question,
provided there was nothing immoral in their demands. In matters of
religion beliefs differ, and each one's is supreme for himself. If
all had the same belief about all matters of religion, there would
be only one religion in the world. As time progressed I found that
the Muslim demand about the Khilafat was not only not against any
ethical principle, but that the British Prime Minister had admitted
the justice of the Muslim demand. I felt, therefore, bound to render
what help I could in securing a due fulfillment of the prime
Minister's pledge. The pledge had been given in such clear terms
that the examination of the Muslim demand on the merits was needed
only to satisfy my own conscience.
Friends and critics have criticized my attitude regarding the
Khilafat question. In spite of the criticism I feel that I have no
reason to revise it or to regret my co-operation with the Muslims. I
should adopt the same attitude, should a similar occasion arise.
When, therefore, I went to Delhi, I had fully intended to submit the
Muslim case to the Viceroy. The Khilafat question had not then
assumed the shape it did subsequently.
But on my reaching Delhi another difficulty in the way of my
attending the conference arose. Dinabandhu Andrews raised a question
about the morality of my participation in the war conference. He
told me of the controversy in the British press regarding secret
treaties between England and Italy. How could I participate in the
conference, if England had entered into secret treaties with another
European power? asked Mr. Andrews. I knew nothing of the treaties.
Dinabandhu Andrews' word was enough for me. I therefore addressed a
letter to Lord Chelmsford explaining my hesitation to take part in
the conference. He invited me to discuss the question with him. I
had a prolonged discussion with him and his Private Secretary Mr.
Maffey. As a result I agreed to take part in the conference. This
was in effect the Viceroy's argument: 'Surely you do not believe
that the Viceroy knows everything done by the British Cabinet. I do
not claim, no one claims, that the British Government is infallible.
But if you agree that the Empire has been, on the whole, a power for
good, if you believe that India has, on the whole, benefited by the
British connection, would you not admit that it is the duty of every
Indian citizen to help the Empire in the hour of its need? I too
have read what the British papers say about the secret treaties. I
can assure you that I know nothing beyond what the papers say, and
you know the canards that these papers frequently start. Can you,
acting on a mere newspaper report, refuse help to the Empire at such
a critical juncture? You may raise whatever moral issues you like
and challenge us as much as you please after the conclusion of the
war, not today.'
The argument was not new. It appealed to me as new because of the
manner in which, and the hour at which, it was presented, and I
agreed to attend the conference. As regards the Muslim demands I was
to address a letter to the Viceroy.