Correspondence passed between General Smuts and myself, placing on record the agreement arrived at as the result of a number of interviews. My letter dated January 21, 1914 may be thus summarized:
‘We have conscientious scruples with regard to leading evidence
before the commission as constituted at present. You appreciate these
scruples and regard them as honourable, but are unable to alter your decision.
As however, you have accepted the principle of consultation with the Indians,
I will advise my countrymen not to hamper the labours of the commission
by any active propaganda, and not to render the position of the Government
difficult by reviving passive resistance, pending the result of the commission
and the introduction of legisllation during the forthcoming session. It
will further be possible for us to assist Sir Benjamin Roberston who has
been deputed by the Viceroy.
‘As to our allegations of ill-treatment during the progress of the
Indian strike in Natal, the avenue of proving them through the commission
is closed to us by our solemn declaration to have nothing to do with it.
As Satyagrahis we endeavour to avoid, as far as possible, any resentment
of personal wrongs. But in order that our silence may not be mistaken,
may I ask you to recognize our motive and reciprocate by not leading evidence
of a negative character before the commission on the allegations in question?
‘Suspension of Satyagraha, moreover, carries with it a prayer for
the release of Satyagrahi prisoners.
‘It might not be out of place here to recapitulate the points on
which relief has been sought:
1. Repeal of the $ 3 tax;
2. Legalization of the marriages celebrated according to the rite of Hinduism,
3. The entry of educated Indians;
4. Alternation in the assurance as regards the Orange Free State;
5. An assurance that the existing laws especially affected Indians will
be administered justly, with the regard to vested rights.
‘If you view my submission with favour, I shall be prepared to advise
my countrymen in accordance with the tenor of this letter.’
General Smuts’ reply of the same date was to this effect:
‘I regret but understand your inability to appear before the commission.
I also recognize the motive which makes your you unwilling to revive old
sores by courting libel proceeding before another tribunal. The Government
repudiates the charges of harsh action against the Indian strikers. But
as you will not lead evidence in support of those allegations, it would
be futile for the Government to lead rebutting evidence in vindication
of the conduct of its officers. As regards the release of Satyagrahi prisoners,
the Government had already issued the necessary orders before your letter
arrived. In regard to the grievances summarized at the end of your letter,
the Government will await the recommendations of the commission before
any action is taken.’
Mr. Andrews and I had frequent interviews with General Smuts before these
letters were exchanged. But Meanwhile Sir Benjamin Robertson too arrived
at Pretoria. Sir Benjamin Robertson too arrived at Pretoria. Sir Benjamin
was looked upon as a popular official, and he brought a letter of recommendation
from Gokhale, but I observed that he was not entirely free from the usual
weakness of the English official. He had no sooner come than he began
to create factions among the Indians and to bully the Satyagrahis. My
first meeting with him in Pretoria did not prepossess me in his favour.
I told him about the telegrams I had received informing me of his bullying
procedure. I dealt with him, as indeed with everyone else, in a frank
and straightforward manner, and we therefore became friends. But I have
often seen that officials are apt to bully those who will tamely submit
to them, and will be correct with those who are correct themselves and
will not be cowed down.
We thus reached a provisional argument, and Satyagraha was suspended for
the last time. Many English friends were glad of this, and promised their
assistance in the final settlement. It was rather difficult to get the
Indians to endorse this agreement. No one would wish that enthusiasm which
had arisen should be allowed to subside. Again, whoever would trust General
Smuts? Some reminded me of the fiasco in 1908, and said, ‘General
Smuts once played us false, often charged you with forcing fresh issues,
and subjected the community to endless suffering. And yet what a pity
that you have not learnt the necessary lesson of declining to trust him!
This man will betray you once again, and you will again propose to revive
Satyagraha. But who will then to you? Is it possible that men should every
now and then go to jail, and be ready to be faced with failure each time?
With a man like General Smuts settlement is possible only if he actually
delivers the goods. It is no use having his assurances. How can we any
further trust a man who pledges his word and then breaks it?
I knew that such arguments would be brought forward, and was not therefore
surprised when they were. No matter how often a Satyagrahi is betrayed,
he will repose his trust in the adversary so long as there are not cogent
grounds for distrust. Pain to a Satyagrahi is the same as pleasure. He
will not therefore be misled by the mere fear of suffering into groundless
distrust. On the other hand, relying as he does upon his own strength,
he will not mind being betrayed by the adversary, will continue to trust
in spite of frequent betrayals, and will believe that he thereby strengthens
the forces of truth and brings victory nearer. Meetings were therefore
held in various places, and I was able at last to persuade the Indians
to approve of the terms of the agreement. The Indians now came to a better
understanding of the spirit of Satyagraha. Mr. Andrews was the mediator
in the witness in the present agreement, and then there was Sir Benjamin
Robertson as representing the Government of India. There was therefore
the least possible likelihood of the agreement being subsequently repudiated.
If I had obstinately refused to accept the agreement, it would have become
a count of indictment against the Indians, and the victory which was achieved
in the next six months would have been best with various obstacles. The
author of the Sanskrit saying, ‘Forgiveness is an ornament to the
brave’, drew upon his rich experience of Satyagrahis never giving
anyone the least opportunity of finding fault with them. Distrust is a
sign of weakness and Satyagraha implies the banishment of all weakness
and therefore of distrust, which is clearly out of place when the adversary
is not to be destroyed but to be won over.
When the Indians thus endorsed the agreement, we had only to wait for
the next session of the Union Parliament. Meanwhile the commission set
to work. Only a very few witnesses appeared before it on behalf of the
Indians, furnishing striking evidence of the great hold which the Satyagrahis
had acquired over the community. Sir Benjamin Robertson tried to induce
many to tender evidence but failed except in the case of a few who were
strongly opposed to Satyagraha. The boycott of the commission did not
produce any bad effect. Its work was shortened and its report was published
at once. The commission strongly criticized the Indians for withholding
their assistance and dismissed the charges of misbehavior against the
soldiers, but recommended compliance without delay with all the demands
of the Indian community, such as for instance the repeal of the three
pound tax and the validation of Indian marriages, and the grant some trifling
concessions in addition. Thus the report of the commission was favourable
to the Indians as predicated by General Smuts. Mr. Andrews left for England
and Sir Benjamin Robertson for India. We had received an assurance that
the requisite legislation would be undertaken with a view to implement
the recommendations of the commission. What this legislation was and how
it was brought forward will be considered in the next chapter.