SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI >  VOL. IV - SELECTED LETTERS > SECTION ONE : SELECTED LETTERS > To Konda Venkatappayya
42. To Konda Venkatappayya1
Satyagraha Ashram,
Sabarmati,
March 4, 1922
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.
Yours sincerely,

From a photostat: S. N. 7977

1 President, Andhra Provincial Congress Committee
2 A village in Gorakhapur district of Uttar Pradesh where on February 5, 1922, the mob set fire to the police station and 22 constables were burnt alive. Gandhiji was profoundly shocked by this and imposed on himself a five days' fast on February 12.