After Johannesburg Gokhale visited Natal and then proceeded to Pretoria, where he was put up by the Union Government at the Transvaal Hotel. Here he was to meet the ministers of the Government, including General Botha and General Smuts. It was my usual practice to inform Gokhale of all engagements fixed for the day, early in the morning or on the previous evening if he so desired. The coming interview with the Union ministers was a most important affair. We came to her conclusion that I should not go with Gokhale, nor indeed even offer to go. My presence would raise a sort of barrier between Gokhale and the ministers, who would be handicapped in speaking out without any reserve about what they considered to be the mistakes of the local Indians including my own. Then again they could not with an easy mind make any statement of future policy if they wished to make it. As for all these reasons Gokhale must go alone, it added largely to his burden of responsibility. What was to be done if Gokhale inadvertently committed some mistake of fact, or if he had nothing to say as regards some fact which had not been first brought to his notice, but which was first put to him by the ministers, or if he was called upon to accept some arrangement on behalf of the Indians in theabsence of any one of their responsible leaders? But Gokhale resolved this difficulty at once. He asked me to prepare a summary historical statement of the condition of the Indians up to date, and also to put down in writing how far they were prepared to go. And Gokhale said that he would admit his ignorance if anything outside its ‘brief’ cropped up at the interview, and ceased to worry. If now only remained for me to prepare the statement and for him to read it. However it was impossible for me to narrate the vicissitudes of the Indians’ history in four Colonies ranging over a period of 18 years except by writing ten or twenty pages at the least, and there was hardly left any time for Gokhale to look over it. Again there would be many questions he would like to put us after reading the paper. But Gokhale had an infinite capacity for taking pains as he had an exceptionally sharp memory. He kept himself and others awake the whole night, posted himself fully on every point, and went over the whole ground again in order to make sure that he had rightly understood everything. He was at last satisfied. As for me I never had any fears.
Gokhale’s interview with the ministers lasted for about two hours,
and when he returned, he said, ‘You must return to India in a year.
Everything has been settled. The Black Act will be repealed. The racial
bar will be removed from the emigration law. The three pound tax will
be abolished.’ ‘I doubt it very much,’ I replied. ‘You
do not know the ministers as I do. Being an optimist myself, I love your
optimism, but having suffered frequent disappointments. I am not as hopeful
in the matter as you are. But I have no fears either. It is enough for
me that you obtained this undertaking from the ministers. It is my duty
to fight it out only where it is necessary and to demonstrate that ours
is a righteous struggle. The promise given to you will serve as a proof
of the justice of our demands and will redouble our fighting spirit it
comes to fighting after all. But I do not think you can return to India
in a year and before many more Indians have gone to jail.’
Gokhale said: ‘What I have told you is bound to come to pass. General
Botha promised me that Black Act would be repealed and the three-pound
tax abolished. You must return to India within twelve months, and I will
not have any of your excuses.’
During his visit to Natal Gokhale came in contact with many Europeans
in Durban Maritzburg and other places. He also saw the diamond mines in
Kimberley, where as well as at Durban public dinners were arranged by
the reception committees, and attended by many Europeans. Thus having
achieved a conquest of Indian as well as Europeans hearts, Gokhale left
South Africa on November 17, 1912. At his wish Mr. Kallenbach and I accompanied
him as far as Zanzibar. On the steamer we had arranged to have suitable
food for him. On his way back to India he was given an ovation at Delagoa
Bay, Inhambane, Zanzibar and other ports.
On the steamer our talks were confined to India or to the duty we owed
to the motherland. Every word of Gokhale glowed with his tender feeling,
truthfulness and patriotism. I observed that even in the games which he
played on board the steamer Gokhale had a patriotic motive rather than
the mere desire to amuse himself, and excellence was his aim there too.
On the steamer we had ample time to talk to our heart’s content.
In these conversations Gokhale prepared me for India. He analyzed for
me the characters of all the leaders in India and his analyses was so
accurate, that I have hardly perceived any difference between Gokhale’s
estimate and my own personal experience of them.
There are many sacred reminiscences of mine relating to Gokhale’s
tour in South Africa which could be set down here. But I must reluctantly
check my pen as they are not relevant to a history of Satyagraha. The
parting at Zanzibar was deeply painful to Kallenbach and me, but remembering
that the most intimate relations of mortal men must come to an end at
last, we somehow reconciled ourselves, and hoped that Gokhale’s
prophecy would come true and both of us would be able to go to India in
a year’s time. But that was not to be.
However, Gokhale’s visit to South Africa stiffened our resolution,
and the implications and the importance of his tour were better understood
when the struggle was renewed in an active form. If Gokhale had not come
over to South Africa, if he had not seen the Union ministers, the abolition
of the three pound tax could not have been made a plank in our platform.
If the Satyagraha struggle had closed with the repeal of the Black Act,
a fresh fight would have been necessary against the three pound tax, and
not only would the Indians have come in for endless trouble, but it was
doubtful whether they would have been ready so soon for a new and arduous
campaign. It was incumbent upon the free Indians to have the tax abolished.
All constitutional remedies to that end had been applied but in vain.
The tax was being paid ever since 1895. But when a wrong, no matter how
flagrant, has continued for a long period of time, people get habituated
to it, and it becomes difficult to rouse them to a sense of their duty
to resist it, and no less difficult to convince the world that it is a
wrong at all. The undertaking given to Gokhale cleared the way for the
Satyagrahis. The Government must repeal the tax in terms of their promise,
and if they did not, their breach of pledge would be a most cogent reason
for continuing the struggle. And this was exactly what happened. Not only
did the government not abolish the tax within a year, but they declared
in so many words that It could not be removed at all.
Gokhale’s tour thus not only helped us to make the three pound one
of the targets of our Satyagraha, but it led to his being recognized as
a special authority on the South African question. His views on South
Africa now carried greater weight, thanks to his personal knowledge of
the Indians in South Africa, and he understood himself and could explain
to India what steps the mother country ought to adopt. When the struggle
was resumed, India rendered munificent help to the Satyagraha funds and
Lord Hardinge heartened the Satyagrahis by expressing his ‘deep
and burning’ sympathy for them (December1913). Messrs Andrews and
Pearson came to South Africa from India. All this would have been impossible
without Gokhale’s mission.
The breach of the ministers’ pledge and its consequences will be
the subject of the next chapter.