THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > Charge of forcing fresh issue
28. Charge of forcing fresh issue
During the same year in which Black Act was passed General Smuts carried through the Legislature another bill called the Transvaal Immigrants Restriction Bill (Act of 15 of 1907), which was ostensibly of general application but was chiefly aimed at the Indians. This Act generally followed the lines of similar legislation in Natal, but it treated a prohibited immigrants those who could pass education tests but were ineligible for registration under the Asiatic Act, and was thus indirectly made an instrument for preventing the entry of a single Indian newcomer.
It was absolutely essential for the Indians to resist this fresh inroad on their rights, but the question was whether it should be made a plank in the Satyagraha struggle. The community was not bound as to when and regarding what subjects they should offer Satyagraha, in deciding what subjects they should offer Satyagraha, in deciding which question they must only not transgress the limits prescribed by wisdom and appreciation of their own capacity. Satyagraha offered on every occasion seasonable or otherwise would be corrupted unto Duragraha. And if anyone takes to Satyagraha without having measured his own strength and afterwards sustains a defeat, he not only disgraces himself but he also brings the matchless weapon of Satyagraha into disrepute by his folly.
The Satyagraha Committee saw that the Indians’ Satyagraha was being offered only against the Black Act, and that if the Black Act was once repealed, the Immigration Restriction Act would lose the sting to which I have referred. Still if the Indians did not take any steps regarding the Immigration Act from an idea that a separate movement against it was unnecessary, their silence might be misconstrued as implying their consent to the total prohibition of Indian immigration in the future. The Immigration Act too must therefore be opposed, and the only question was: Should this also be included in the Satyagraha struggle? The community’s view was that it was their duty to include in the Satyagraha any fresh attacks on their rights made while the struggle was in progress. If they did not feel strong enough to do so that was altogether a different matter. The leaders came to the conclusion that their lack or deficiency of strength should not be made a pretext for letting the Immigration Act alone, and that therefore this Act too must be covered by the Satyagraha struggle.
Correspondence was therefore carried on with the Government on this subject. We could not thereby induce General Smuts to agree to a change in the law, but it provided him with a fresh handle for vilifying the Community and really speaking myself. General Smuts knew that many more Europeans, besides those who were publicly helping us, were privately sympathetic to our movement, and he naturally wished that their sympathy should be alienated if possible. He therefore charged me with raising a fresh point, and he told as well as wrote to our supporters that they did not know me as he did. If he yielded an inch, I would ask for an ell and therefore it was that he was not repealing the Asiatic Act. When Satyagraha was started, there was no question whatever about fresh immigrants. Now when he was legislating to prevent the fresh entry of any more Indians in the interest of the Transvaal, there too I had threatened Satyagraha. He could not any more put up with this ‘cunning’. I might do my worst, and every Indian might be ruined, but he would not repeal the Asiatic Act, nor would the Transvaal Government give up the policy they had adopted regarding the Indians, and in this just attitude they were entitled to the support of all Europeans.
A little reflection will show how totally unjust and immoral this argument was. When there was nothing like the Immigrations Restriction act at all in existence, how were the Indians or myself to oppose it? General Smuts talked glibly about his experience of what he called my ‘cunning’ and yet he could not cite a single case in point in support of his statement. And I do not remember to have ever resorted to cunning during all those years that I lived in South Africa. I may now go even farther and say without the least hesitation that I have never had recourse to cunning in all my life. I believe that cunning is not only morally wrong but also politically inexpedient, and have therefore always discountenanced its use even from the practical standpoint. It is hardly necessary for me to defend myself. I would even be ashamed of defending myself before the class of readers for whom this is written. If even now they have not seen that I am free from cunning, nothing that I could write in self-defence could convince them of that fact. I have penned these few sentences only with a view to give the reader an idea of the difficulties which were encountered during the Satyagraha struggle and of the imminent danger to the movement if the Indians even by a hair’s breadth swerved from the straight and narrow path. The rope-dancer, balancing himself upon a rope suspended at a height of twenty feet, must concentrate his attention upon the rope, and the least little error in so doing means death for him, no matter on which side he falls. My eight years’ experience of Satyagraha in South Africa has taught me that a Satyagrahi has to be if possible even more single-minded than the rope-dancer. The friends before whom General Smuts leveled this charge at me knew me well, and therefore the charge had an effect over them just the opposite of what General Smuts had desired. They not only did not give me up or the movement but grew even more zealous in supporting us, and the Indians saw later on that they would have come in for no end of trouble if their Satyagraha had not been extended to the Immigration Act also.
My experience has taught me that a law of progression applies to every righteous struggle. But in the case of Satyagraha the law amounts to an axiom. As the Ganga advances, other streams flow into it, and hence at the mouth it grows so wide that neither bank is to be seen and a person sailing upon the river cannot make out where the river ends and the sea begins. So also as a Satyagraha struggle progresses onward, many another element helps to swell its current, and there is a constant growth in the results to which it leads. This is really inevitable, and is bound up with the first principles of Satyagraha. For in Satyagraha the minimum is also the maximum, and as it is the irreducible minimum, there is no question of retreat, and the only movement possible is an advance. In other struggles, even when they are righteous, the demand is first pitched a little higher so as to admit of future reduction and hence the law of progression does not apply to all of them without exception. But I must explain how the law of progression comes into play when the minimum is also the maximum as in Satyagraha. The Ganga does not leave its course in search of tributaries. Even so does the Satyagrahi not leave his path which is sharp as the sword’s edge. But as the tributaries spontaneously join the Ganga as it advances, so it is with the river that is Satyagraha. Seeing that the Immigration Act was included in the Satyagraha, some Indians ignorant of the principles of Satyagraha insisted upon the whole mass of the Anti-Indian legislation in the Transvaal being similarly treated. Others again suggested a mobilization of Indians all over South Africa and the offering of Satyagraha against all anti-Indian legislation in Natal, the Cape Colony, the Orange Free State, etc., while the Transvaal struggle was on. Both the suggestions involved a breach of principle. I distinctly said, that it would be dishonest now, having seen the opportunity, to take up a position which was not in view when Satyagraha was started. No matter how strong we were, the present struggle must close when the demands for which it was commenced were accepted. I am confident, that if we had not adhered to this principle, instead of winning, we would not only have lost all along the line, but also forfeited the sympathy which had been enlisted in our favour. On the other hand if the adversary himself creates new difficulties for us while the struggle is in progress, they become automatically included in it. A Satyagrahi, without being false to his faith, cannot disregard new difficulties which confront him while he is pursuing his own course The adversary is not a Satyagrahi, Satyagraha against Satyagraha is impossible, and is not bound by any limit of maximum or minimum. He can therefore try if he wishes to frighten the Satyagrahi by raising novel issues. But the Satyagrahi has renounced all fear, tackles by Satyagraha the later difficulties as well as the former and trusts that it will help him to hold his own against all odds. Therefore as a Satyagraha struggle is prolonged, that is to say by the adversary, it is the adversary who stands to lose from his own standpoint, and it is the Satyagrahi who stands to gain. We shall come across other illustrations of the working of this law in the later stages of this struggle.