"How is the cutting of telegraphic wires contrary to the principle of Ahimsa?" a friend asked Gandhiji some time back.
The question is typical of many that have been put to
Gandhiji since his release. Another friend who saw him some time
after he left the Agakhan Palace posed to him the problem thus:
"There are two schools of thought amongst our youth today. One
school holds and openly says that as a programme of action Ahimsa is
played out. It has done its work which was to waken the masses and
has set the stage for the final struggle for independence. In this
struggle force of arms cannot be excluded. The other school while
professing belief in Ahimsa says that there is room for modification
and further elaboration in its technique. They aver that the next
phase of our struggle would be characterized by organized sabotage
on an extensive scale." Gandhiji questioned the statement that
sabotage could be part of the non-violent programme or that it was
derivable from the principle of Ahimsa as he understood it. The
friend however persisted that sabotage had come to stay whether one
liked it or not. "Irresponsible prophesying leads to nowhere," cut
short Gandhiji. "The real question is where we stand, what our
attitude towards it is going to be."
The friend put before Gandhiji some of his doubts.
Was destruction of Government property violence? "You say that
nobody has a right to destroy any property not his own. If so, is
not Government property mine? I hold it is mine and I may destroy
"There is a double fallacy involved in your
argument," replied Gandhiji. "In the first place, conceding that
Government property is national property — which today it is not —
I may not destroy it because I am dissatisfied with the Government.
But even a national Government will be unable to carry on for a day
if everybody claimed the right to destroy bridges, communications,
roads, etc., because he disapproved of some of its activities.
Moreover, the evil resides not in bridges, roads, etc. which are
inanimate objects but in men. It is the latter who need to be
tackled. The destruction of bridges, etc., by means of explosives
does not touch this evil but only provokes a worse evil in the place
of the one it seeks to end." "I agree," rejoined the friend, "that
the evil is within ourselves, not in the bridge which can be used
for a good purpose as well as an evil one. I also agree that it’s
blowing up provokes counter violence of a worse type. But it may be
necessary from a strategic point of view for the success of the
movement and in order to prevent demoralization."
"It is an old argument," replied Gandhiji. "One used
to hear it in the old days in defence of terrorism. Sabotage is a
form of violence. People have realized the futility of physical
violence but some people apparently think that it may be
successfully practised in its modified form as sabotage. It is my
conviction that the whole mass of people would not have risen to the
height of courage and fearlessness that they have but for the
working of full non-violence. How it works we do not yet fully know.
But the fact remains that under non-violence we have progressed from
strength to strength even through our apparent failures and
setbacks. On the other hand terrorism resulted in demoralization.
Haste leads to waste."
"We have found," rejoined the friend, "that a person
who has had a schooling in violent activity comes nearer to true
non-violence than one who has had no such experience."
"That can be true only in the sense that having tried
violence again and again he has realized its futility. That is all.
Would you maintain also that a person who has had a taste of vice is
nearer to virtue than the one who had none? For, that is what your
argument amounts to."
The discussion then turned upon secrecy. The friend
in question argued that whilst individual secrecy created a fear
complex and was therefore an evil, organized secrecy might be
useful. "It is no secrecy if the person concerned is boldly prepared
to face the consequences of his action. He resorts to secrecy in
order to achieve his object. He can refuse to take any part in
subsequent interrogations during his trial. He need not make a false
But Gandhiji was adamant. "No secret organization,
however big, could do any good. Secrecy aims at building a wall of
protection round you. Ahimsa disdains all such protection. It
functions in the open and in the face of odds, the heaviest
conceivable. We have to organize for action vast people that have
been crushed under the heel of unspeakable tyranny for centuries.
They cannot be organized by any other than open truthful means; I
have grown up from youth to 76 years in abhorrence of secrecy. There
must be no watering down of the ideal. Unless we cling to the
formula in its fullness, we shall not make any headway.
"I know we have not always lived up to our ideal.
There have been grave lapses. Had our instruments been less
imperfect, we would have been nearer our goal. But in spite of our
temporizing with our ideal, non-violence has worked like a silent
leaven among the dumb millions. That does not mean that we can
afford to go on like this for ever. We cannot remain static. We must
move forward or we shall slide back."
"Are you of opinion," asked the friend, "that the
August revolution caused a setback in the struggle for independence;
that all the heroism and courage which our people showed in the
course of it was useless?"
"No," replied Gandhiji. "I do not say that. In the
historical process, the country will be found to have advanced
towards freedom through every form of struggle, even through the
August upheaval. All that I have said is that the progress would
have been much greater if we had shown the non-violent bravery of my
conception. In this sense the sabotage activity has retarded the
country's freedom. I have the highest admiration for the courage,
patriotism and spirit of self-sacrifice of people, say, Tike
Jaiprakash Narain. But Jaiprakash cannot be my ideal. If I had to
give a medal for heroism, it would go not to him but to his wife
who, though simple and unlearned in politics, typifies in her
person the power of Satyagraha in its purest form before which even
Jaiprakash has to bow. What I have said about the August upheaval is
not by way of judgment upon the past — I have consistently refused
to condemn it — but as a guidance for the future."
Our people," said the friend finally, "have faith in
non-violence but they do not know how to make it dynamic. What is
the reason for this failure?"
"By hammering away at it through painful years,"
replied Gandhiji, "people have begun to see that there is a potency
in non-violence, but they have not seen it in all its fullness and
beauty. If they had responded to all the steps that had to be taken
for the effective organization of non-violence and carried out in
their fullness the various items of the eighteen-fold constructive
programme, our movement would have taken us to our goal. But today
our minds are confused because our faith in constructive work is so
weak. I know, one must push forth undaunted by difficulties."
On the train to Madura, 2-2-'46