Many leaders of the Congress were not happy with the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. Nor were the British Officers who were against Irwin's effort at compromise. There were differences in the interpretation of the Pact. It looked as though it would break down. Meanwhile, the British Government decided to hold another Round Table Conference with Indian Leaders to evolve agreement on further constitutional reform. The First Round Table Conference was a failure. The Congress was not there. It could not, therefore, be presented as being representative. There were serious objections to the way the Government had selected participants. Yet, the Congress decided to attend. It also decided that Gandhi would be its sole representative at the Conference. This was a very heavy responsibility, especially because there were some differences within the Congress itself. Another reason that made the task difficult was the composition of the Conference. The Government had packed it with Rulers and people selected from many groups from which the Government expected support. On the eve of his departure to attend the Conference at London, Gandhi, therefore, warned the nation that he might return empty handed.
He sailed from Bombay
with his personal entourage that included his Secretaries, Mahadev Desai and
Pyarelal, Miraben an English disciple, and Devdas Gandhi. Miraben was the
daughter of an English admiral, but had become Gandhi's disciple and
co-worker, and taken the Indian name, Mira. Gandhi travelled by the second
class and spent most of his time on the deck. He spent the day as he would
have done in his Ashram with prayer, spinning, reading, talking to visitors.
He was very popular with the children on the ship. Many fellow passengers
attended the prayer or talked to him on matters of religion, human problems
and politics. He radiated warmth and love.
In London, he decided to
stay in the East End, where the poor and the families of the working class
lived. He did not want to stay in luxurious hotels or areas where the rich
and privileged lived. Every day he went to the St. James Palace where the
Conference met, worked till late into the evening, and returned to his lodge
in East London. He stuck an instant rapport with the workers and their
families. They looked upon him as one of them. Ethnic differences and
differences in nationality and political views never stood between Gandhi
and the common people. He wanted to go to Lancashire where textile workers
had been hit by unemployment as a result of his movement for the boycott of
foreign goods and the adoption of Swadeshi. He answered their questions with
calm and understanding. He told them they had three million people who were
unemployed. He had in his country three hundred million people who were
unemployed, whose average daily income was not even one-tenth of their dole.
Should he not ask that they should get employment and incomes? Even God dare
not appear before them except in the form of bread. Those who had questioned
Gandhi agreed with him, and said that in his place they would do what he was
doing. He had conquered their hearts.
At the Conference
itself, Gandhi saw through the plan of the British. They wanted to create
the impression that the Indians were quarrelling among themselves; they had
conflicting interests which they pursued with mutual hostility; they would
be at each other's throat if Britain was not there to hold them together and
protect every one's interest. Transfer of power, therefore, was unthinkable.
Some made no secret of their belief that Indians were unfit for self-
government. And the Government had selected participants to ensure a
Gandhi, therefore, was
forthright. He spelt out the objectives of the Indian nation, said that the
British Government had created an unreal situation. It was they who were
creating and promoting differences to use them as an excuse to deny freedom.
It is this attitude that should change. There were no conflicts of interests
in India. All artificial interests that went against the interests of the
common man should go. Every legitimate interest whether British or Indian
that would not be in conflict with the interests of the masses could remain.
Independent India would scrutinize all such claims and annul whatever was
against the interests of the poor.
He was against the plan
of the British Government to create permanent divisions in India through a
"Communal electorate" in which Muslims, Hindus and people of other
communities would elect their own representatives separately. There would be
no common electorate. This would mean that there would be no union of hearts
and no common vision. India would never evolve a common image. This was the
surest way of breaking up India and continuing in command. He said that for
the same reasons he was also against the creation of separate electorates
for the so-called untouchables.
Great Indians like
Srinivasan Sastry, Akbar Hydari, Dr. Ambedkar and others were present. But
the Conference could not come to common conclusions. That was what the
British Government wanted. But nationalist India felt thwarted.
While the Conference was
going on, Gandhi had the opportunity to meet leading figures in British
society. He spoke at Oxford, at the London School of Economics and at Eton.
At the house of Lindsay,
the master of Balliol, he met the leading professors and intellectuals of
Britain — Dr. Gilbert Murray, Gilbert Salter, Prof. Coupland, Edward Thomson
and others. They were amazed ai the calm and clarity with which Gandhi
answered every question, however profound or provocative it was, without so
much as a frown or twitching of the skin on his face. He met leaders in
other fields like Charlie Chaplin and the great playwright, Bernard Shaw.
All these visits and talks enabled the people of Britain to see Gandhi
through their own eyes and to feel the impact of his uncommon personality.
On his way back to India
he decided to spend a few days with the great French writer and philosopher,
Romain Rolland who had written a biography of Gandhi even before meeting
him. They spent many days at Villanenue exchanging their perceptions and
sharing apprehensions and aspirations.
Gandhi was invited to a
'Tea Party' that the King- Emperor of England held for the delegates to the
Conference. Representatives of the Government tried to press Gandhi to dress
in a three-piece suit for the occasion. Gandhi refused. He said that he had
come to the Conference as a representative of the poor people of India. He
had, therefore, no right to wear anything more than what they were. He met
the King clad in his loin cloth and shawl.
The visit to Lausanne in
Switzerland was memorable. It was there, at a meeting of religious
practitioners, philosophers and intellectuals that Gandhi first explained
the profound significance that he attached to the fine distinction between
the two statements : God is Truth and Truth is God. He used to say God is
Truth. But now after many years of experience and reflection, he had come to
realize that it was more correct to say Truth is God than to say God is
Truth. Gandhi himself did not believe that God was a person. God or Truth
was the law, and the law giver rolled into one.
He visited Italy. He
could not meet the Pope. But he was overcome by the figure of the Christ on
the Cross that he saw in the Pope's Chapel. He met the
Mussolini. There were fears that the dictator might exploit Gandhi's visit.
Gandhi told Mussolini that he was building a house of cards.
Gandhi landed at Bombay
on the 28th of December, 1931. He was candid. He told the people that he had
returned empty handed. He did not believe that Britain would accept the
demand for Independence without further struggle. He was apprehensive of
what lay ahead. In the meanwhile Irwin's successor, Willingdon, had already
destroyed whatever good will had been created by the Gandhi- Irwin Pact.
While Gandhi was in Europe or on the high seas, many leaders of the Congress
including Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan had been arrested. Jawaharlal Nehru had
been arrested while he was on his way to receive Gandhi at Bombay.
Willingdon had promulgated new orders restricting freedom. Lathi charges and
firings were the order of the day. Thousands had been put in jail. A war of
repression had been launched. The Congress Working Committee had come to the
conclusion that the Congress had no alternative but to revive Civil
Gandhi still wanted to
meet the Viceroy and persuade him to see reason and not push the country
into another holocaust. But he was rebuffed. The Government had decided to
teach the Congress and Gandhi a lesson. Congress was declared an unlawful
association. Its offices were sealed. Its funds were confiscated. Its
workers were arrested and treated with harshness and cruelty, both inside
and outside prison. Women became special targets since the Government wanted
to prevent a repetition of the Salt Satyagraha. Newspapers were not allowed
to publish reports of Congress activities, meetings and arrests. Efforts
were made to suppress the publication of journals and to prosecute
journalists. The Government had decided to crush the movement.
Gandhi himself and the
members of the Working Committee were arrested on the 4th of January, hardly
one week after his arrival from London. He was sent to the jail at Yervada.
His Secretary, Mahadev Desai and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel were detained with
Gandhi got back to the
usual routine that he followed in prison. This time he had to attend to a
voluminous mail from India and abroad, seeking his views and advice on many
matters. He himself was keen to remain in touch with the inmates of his
Ashram and his colleagues in the various States.