THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > A Second Deputation
32. A Second Deputation
Thus the Satyagrahis were being imprisoned or deported. There was sometimes a lull and then a storm, but both the parties had somewhat weakened. The Government saw that they could not hope to subdue the Satyagrahi stalwarts by sending them to jail, and the policy of deportations had only put themselves in a false position. The Government also lost some cases which were taken to the courts. The Indians on their part were not in a position to put up a strong fight. There was not a sufficient number of Satyagrahis for the purpose. Some Indians were war-weary, while others had become entirely defeatist and therefore looked upon the staunch Satyagrahis as so many fools. The ‘fools’ however knew themselves to be wise and had full faith in God, in their cause and in the righteousness of the means they had selected to promote it. They were confident that great is Truth and it shall prevail in the end.
Meanwhile, there was continuous movement in South African politics. The Boers and the British were anxious to secure a higher status by effecting a union of the various Colonies in the sub-continent. General Hertzog stood for a total breach of the British connection while others preferred to keep up a nominal association with the British Empire. Englishmen would never agree to a total secession, and yet higher status in view could only be attained through the British Parliament. The Boers and the British in South Africa therefore decided that a deputation should visit England on their behalf and present their case before the British Cabinet.
The Indians observed that in case of a union of the colonies their last state would be worse than their first. All the Colonies were ever desirous of suppressing the Indians, and it was clear in view of their anti-Indian tendency that it would go very hard with the community when they came closer together. In order that not a single avenue might remain unexplored, the Indians resolved to send once again a deputation to England, although there was every likelihood of their small voice being drowned in the loud roar of British and Boer lions. On this occasion Sheth Haji Habib, a Memon gentleman from Porbandar, was appointed as my colleague on the deputation. The Sheth carried on a long established trade in the Transvaal and was a man of wide experience. He had not received English education, yet he easily understood English, Dutch, Zulu and other languages. His sympathies were with the Satyagrahis but he could not be described as a full Satyagrahi himself. Mr. Meriiiman the famous veteran statesman of South Africa was our fellow-passenger on board s.s. Kenilworth Castle, which took us to England, leaving Cape town on June 23, 1909. He was going with a view to the unification of the Colonies. General Smuts and others were already in England. A separate deputation of the Indians in Natal also visited England about this time in connection with their special grievances.
At this time, Lord Crewe was Secretary of State for the Colonies and Lord Morley Secretary of State for India. There were many discussions, and we interviewed a large number of people. There was hardly a journalist or member of either House whom it was possible to meet but whom we did not meet. Lord Ampthill rendered us invaluable help. He used to meet Mr. Merriman, General Botha and others and at last he brought a message from the General. Said he: ‘General Botha appreciates your feelings in the matter, and he willing to grant your minor demands. But he is not ready to repeal the Asiatic Act or to amend the Immigrants Restrictions Act. He also refuses to remove the colour bar which has been set up in the law of the land. To maintain the racial bar is a matter of principle with the General and even if he felt like doing away with it the South African Europeans would never listen to him. General Smuts is of the same mind as General Botha, and this is their final decision and final offer. If you ask for more you will only be inviting trouble for yourself as well as for your people. Therefore whatever you do, do it after giving due consideration to this attitude of the Boer leaders. General Botha has asked me to tell you this and give you an idea of your responsibility?’
And after delivering the message Lord Ampthill said, ‘You see that General Botha concedes all your practical demands, and in this work-a-day world we must always give and take. We cannot have everything that we desire. I would therefore strongly advise you to close with this offer. If you wish to fight for principle’s sake, you may do so later on. You and the Sheth think over this and let me have your reply at your convenience.’
Upon hearing this I looked to Sheth Haji Habib who said, ‘Tell him from me that I accept General Botha’a offer on behalf of the conciliation party. If he makes these confessions, we will be satisfied for the present and later on struggle for principal. I do not like the community to suffer and more. The party I represent constitutes the majority of the community, and it also holds the major portion of the community’s wealth.’
I translated the Sheth’s sentences word by word, and then on behalf of the Satyagrahis I said: ‘We are both highly obliged to you for the trouble you have taken. My colleague is right when he says that he represents a numerically and financially stronger section. The Indians for whom I speak are comparatively poor and inferior in numbers, but they are resolute unto death. They are fighting not only for practical relief but for principle as well. If they must give up either of the two, they will jettison the former and fight for the latter. We have an idea of General Botha’s might, but we attach still greater weight to our pledge, and therefore we are ready to face the worst in the act of abiding by it. We will be patient in the confidence that if we stick to our solemn resolution, God in Whose name we have made it will set to its fulfillment.
‘I can grasp your position fully. You have done much for us. We will not take it ill if you now withhold your support from a handful of Satyagrahis. Nor will we forget the debt of gratitude under which you have laid us. But we trust that you will excuse us for our inability to accept your advice. You may certainly tell General Botha how the Sheth and myself have received his offer and inform him that the Satyagrahis though in a minority will observe their pledge and hope in the end to soften his heart by their self-suffering and to induce him to repeal the Asiatic Act.’
Lord Ampthill replied:
‘You must not suppose that I will give you up. I too must play the gentleman’s part. Englishmen are willing at once to relinquish any task they have undertaken. Yours is a righteous struggle, and you are fighting with clean weapons. How possibly can I give you up? But you can realize my delicate position. The suffering, if any, must be borne by you alone, and therefore it is my duty to advise you to accept any settlement possible in the circumstances. But if you, who have to suffer, are prepared to undergo any amount of suffering for principle’s sake, I must not only come in your way but even congratulate you. I will therefore continue as President of your Committee and help you to the best of my ability. Btu you must remember that I am but a junior member of the House of Lord’s, and do not command much influence. However, you may be rest assured that what little influence I possess will be continually exerted on your behalf.’
We were both pleased to hear these words of encouragement.
One delightful feature of this interview has perhaps not escaped the reader. As I have already observed Sheth Haji Habib and myself held divergent views, and yet there was such friendship and mutual confidence between us, that the Sheth did not hesitate to communicate his difference of opinion through me. He relied upon me to present his case to Lord Ampthill all right.
I will close this chapter with a not quite relevant paragraph. During my stay in England I had occasion to talk with many Indian anarchists. My booklet Indian Home Rule written during my return voyage to South Africa on board s.s. Kildonan Castle (November 1909) and published soon afterwards in Indian Opinion had its birth from the necessity of having to meet their arguments as well as to solve the difficulties of Indians in South Africa who held similar views. I had also discussed the main points of the book with Lord Ampthill in order that he might not feel for one moment that I had misused his name and his help for my work in South Africa by suppressing my views. This discussion with Lord Ampthill has always remained imprinted on my memory. He found time to meet me in spite of illness in his family, and although he did not agree with my views as expressed in Hind Swaraj, he accorded his support to our struggle till the last, and my relations with him were always cordial.