MY DEAR FRIEND,
I have kept your letter of the 19th February in order to be able to
write to you at length.
Your first question is whether the requisite non-violent atmosphere
can at all be attained and if so when. This is really a question as
old as non-cooperation. It puzzled me to find some of the closest
and most esteemed of co-workers putting the question as if the requirement
was a new thing. I have not the shadow of a doubt that, if we can
secure workers with an abiding faith in non-violence and in themselves
we can ensure the non-violent atmosphere required for the working
of civil disobedience. The discovery I have made during these
few days is that very few understand the nature of non-violence. The
meaning of the adjective "civil" before "disobedience"
is of course "non-violent". Why should the people not be
trained to refrain from participating in activities which are likely
to throw them off their balance? I agree that it will be difficult
to get 30 crores of people to be non-violent, but I refuse to believe
that it is difficult, if we can get intelligent and honest workers,
to make people who are not actively participating in the movement
remain indoors. Now, at Chauri Chaura2 the procession was deliberately
formed by volunteers. It was wickedly taken in the direction of the
Thana. In my opinion, the forming of the procession itself was easily
avoidable. Having been formed, it was the easiest thing to avoid passing
the Thana. Two or three hundred volunteers are reported to have been
in the procession. I hold that it was equally easy for this large
number of volunteers to have effectively prevented the atrocious
murder of the constables or at least for every one of them to have
perished in the flames lit by the mob which they were leading. I must
not also omit to tell you that these men knew that trouble was brewing,
knew that the Sub-Inspector was there, knew that there was collision
between him and the people on two former occasions. Was not the Chauri
Chaura tragedy absolutely capable of being avoided? I admit that nobody
plotted the murder, but the volunteers should have foreseen the consequence
of what they were doing. Of the Bombay tragedy I was myself a witness.
The workers neglected the duty of telling the people, whilst
they were preparing them about boycott, to remain tolerant, as also
of posting volunteers in areas visited by the labouring population.
I myself neglected the duty of putting down every insolent laying
of hands upon other people's turbans and caps. Finally take Madras.
Not one single incident which happened in Madras was unavoidable.
I hold the Congress Committee responsible for all that happened in
Madras. With the experience of Bombay fresh in their minds they could,
even if they were not fully confident, have avoided hartal. The fact
is in every case all the workers did not understand the full purpose
of non-violence nor its implications. They liked and loved excitement,
and underneath these vast demonstrations was an idea unconsciously
lurking in the breast that it was a kind of demonstration of force,
the very negation of non-violence. To follow out non-violence as a
policy surely does not require saints for its working, but it does
require honest workers who understand what is expected of them.
You say that the people work under the spell of one year's limit.
There is much truth in what you say, but there again, if the people
worked slowly under that spell, they were certainly not working for
Swaraj. I can understand some temporary excitement, but excitement
must not be the whole thing, nor the main part of a great national
activity. Swaraj after all is not a mango trick; it is a steady evolution,
steady growing into strength such that a period must arrive when our
strength has assumed such proportions as to tell upon the usurpers,
but every moment of our activity we are gaining Swaraj.
Certainly a peaceful Tehsil at the foot of the Himalayas will be affected
by a violent hamlet situated near the Cape Comorin if there is a vital
connection between the two, as there must be if they are both integral
parts of India and your Swaraj flag is to dominate both. At the same
time, for mass civil disobedience in Bardoli, I would certainly have
thought nothing of anything happening in an out-of-the-way Tehsil
which had not come under the influence of the Congress and which had
not resorted to violence in connection with any Congress activity.
You cannot predicate any such want of connection about Gorakhpur,
Bombay or Madras. Violence broke out in connection with a national
activity. You have the forcible illustration of Malabar. There it
was organized and sustained violence offered by the Moplahs, and yet
I did not allow Malabar to affect any of our plans, nor have I altered
my views during all these months. I can still distinguish between
Malabar and Gorakhpur. The Moplahs themselves had not been touched
by the non-cooperation spirit. They are not like the other Indians
nor even like the other Mussalmans. I am prepared to admit that the
movement had an indirect effect upon them. The Moplah revolt was so
different in kind that it did not affect the other parts of India,
whereas Gorakhpur was typical, and therefore, if we had not taken
energetic steps, the infection might easily have spread to the other
parts of India.
You say that, individual civil disobedience being withdrawn, there
will be no opportunity to test the temper of the people. We do not
want to test the temper. On the contrary we want the people to become
immersed in industries and constructive activities so that their temper
is not exposed to the constant danger of being ruffled. A man wishing
to gain self-control instead of exposing himself to temptations avoids
them, though, at the same time, he is ready for them if they come
to him unsought and in spite of his wanting to avoid them.
We certainly have not suspended any item of non-cooperation.
This you will see clearly brought out in Young India. I am satisfied
that our success depends upon our cultivating exemplary self-restraint
and not disobeying even unseen orders of prohibition of meetings.
We must learn to conduct our campaign in spite of prohibitions and
without civil disobedience. If the people want excitement, we must
refuse to give it to them even though we have to risk unpopularity
and find ourselves in a hopeless minority. Even a few hundred chosen
workers, scattered throughout the length and breadth of the country,
solidly following the programme will create a far more lasting impression
than a haphazard mass movement undertaken in order to truckle to the
multitude. I would like you therefore to become introspective and
to find out for yourself the truth. If you still consider that there
is a flaw in the reasoning I have put before you, I would like you
to combat the position I have taken. I want us all to think originally
and to arrive at independent conclusions. A drastic overhauling of
ourselves and of the movement is absolutely necessary. I do not mind
having finally to find out that non-violence is an impracticable dream.
If such is our belief, it will be at least an honest belief. For me
there is but one thing. I would love to contemplate the dreamland
of non-violence in preference to the practicable reality of violence.
I have burnt my boats, but that has nothing to do with any of my co-workers.
The majority of them have come into the movement as a purely political
movement. They do not share my religious beliefs, and I do not seek
to thrust them upon them.
You must get better soon and, if necessary, you should come here to
further discuss the matter.