The Punjab Government could not keep in confinement the hundreds of Punjabis who, under the martial law regime, had been clapped into jail on the strength of the most meagre evidence by tribunals that were courts only in name. There was such an outcry all round against this flagrant piece of injustice that their further incarceration became imposible. Most of the prisoners were released before the Congress opened. Lala Harkishanlal and the other leaders were all released, while the session of the Congress was still in progress. The Ali Brothers too arrived there straight from jail. The people's joy knew no bounds. Pandit Motilal Nehru, who, at the sacrifice of his splendid practice, had made the Punjab his headquarters and had done great service, was the President of the Congress; the late Swami Shraddhanandji was the Chairman of the Reception Committee.
Up to this time my share in the annual proceedings of the Congress was
confined only to the constructive advocacy of Hindi by making my
speech in the national language, and to presenting in that speech the
case of the Indians overseas. Nor did I expect to be called upon to
do anything more this year. But, as had happened on many a previous
occasion, responsible work came to me all of a sudden.
The King's announcement on the new reforms had just been issued. It
was not wholly satisfactory even to me, and was unsatisfactory to
everyone else. But I felt at that time that the reforms, though
defective, could still be accepted. I felt in the King's
announcement and its language the hand of Lord Sinha, and it lent a
ray of hope. But experienced stalwarts like the late Lokamanya and
Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das shook their heads. Pandit Malaviyaji
Pandit Malaviyaji had harboured me in his own room. I had a glimpse
of the simplicity of his life on the occasion of the foundation
ceremony of the Hindu University; but on this occasion, being in the
same room with him, I was able to observe his daily routine in the
closest detail, and what I saw filled me with joyful surprise. His
room presented the appearance of a free inn for all the poor. You
could hardly cross from one end to the other. It was so crowded. It
was accessible at all odd hours to chance visitors who had the
licence to take as much of his time as they liked. In a corner of
this crib lay my charpai1 in all its dignity.
But I may not occupy this chapter with a description of Malaviyaji's
mode of living, and must return to my subject.
I was thus enabled to
hold daily discussions with Malaviyaji, who used lovingly to explain
to me, like an elder brother, the various view-points of the
different parties. I saw that my participation in the deliberations
on the resolution on the reforms was inevitable. Having had my share
of responsibility in the drawing up of the Congress report on the
Punjab wrongs, I felt that all that still remained to be done in
that connection must claim my attention. There had to be dealings
with Government in that matter. Then similarly there was the
Khilafat question. I further believed at that time that Mr. Montagu
would not betray or allow India's cause to be betrayed. The release
of the Ali Brothers and other prisoners too seemed to me to be an
auspicious sign. In these circumstances I felt that a resolution not
rejecting but accepting the reforms was the correct thing.
Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das, on the other hand, held firmly to the
view that the reforms ought to be rejected as wholly inadequate and
unsatisfactory. The late Lokamanya was more or less neutral, but had
decided to throw in his weight on the side of any resolution that
the Deshabandhu might approve.
The idea of having to differ from such seasoned, well tried and
universally revered leaders was unbearable to me. But on the other
hand the voice of conscience was clear. I tried to run away from the
Congress and suggested to Pandit Malaviyaji and Motilalji that it
would be in the general interest if I absented myself from the
Congress for the rest of the session. It would save me from having
to make an exhibition of my difference with such esteemed leaders.
But my suggestion found no favour with these two seniors. The news
of my proposal was somehow whispered to Lala Harkishanlal. 'This
will never do. It will very much hurt the feelings of the Punjabis,'
he said. I discussed the matter with Lokamanya, Deshabandhu and Mr.
Jinnah, but no way out could be found. Finally I laid bare my
distress to Malaviyaji. 'I see no prospect of a compromise,' I told
him, 'and if I am to move my resolution, a division will have to be
called and votes taken. But I do not find here any arrangements for
it. The practice in the open session of the Congress so far has been
to take votes by a show of hands with the result that all
distinction between visitors and delegates is lost, while, as for
taking a count of votes in such vast assemblies, we have no means at
all. So it comes to this that, even if I want to call a division,
there will be no facility for it, nor meaning in it.' But Lala
Harkishanlal came to the rescue and undertook to make the necessary
arrangements. 'We will not,' he said, 'permit visitors in the
Congress pandal on the day on which voting is to take place. And as
for taking the count, well, I shall see to that. But you must not
absent yourself from the Congress.'
I capitulated; I framed my
resolution, and in heart trembling undertook to move it. Pandit
Malaviyaji and Mr. Jinnah were to support it. I could notice that,
although our difference of opinion was free from any trace of
bitterness, and although our speeches too contained nothing but cold
reasoning, the people could not stand the very fact of a difference;
it pained them. They wanted unanimity.
Even while speeches were being delivered, efforts to settle the
difference were being made on the platform, and notes were being
freely exchanged among the leaders for that purpose. Malaviyaji was
leaving no stone unturned to bridge the gulf. Just then Jeramdas
handed over his amendment to me and pleaded in his own sweet manner
to save the delegates from the dilemma of a division. His amendment
appealed to me. Malaviyaji's eye was already scanning every quarter
for a ray of hope. I told him that Jeramdas's amendment seemed to me
to be likely to be acceptable to both the parties. The Lokamanya, to
whom it was next shown, said, 'If C.R. Das approves, I will have no
objection.' Deshabandhu at last thawed, and cast a look towards Sjt.
Bepin Chandra Pal for endorsement. Malaviyaji was filled with hope.
He snatched away the slip of paper containing the amendment, and
before Deshabandhu had even pronounced a definite 'yes', shouted
out, 'Brother delegates, you will be glad to learn that a compromise
had been reached.' What followed beggars description. The pandal was
rent with the clapping of hands, and the erstwhile gloomy faces of
the audience lit up with joy.
It is hardly necessary to deal with the text of the amendment. My
object here is only to describe how this resolution was undertaken
as part of my experiments with which these chapters deal.
The compromise further increased my responsibility.