I can never forget the five hours' close contact I had with you and
your noble wife in Calcutta. I had always felt drawn towards you in
your fight for freedom, and that contact and our conversation brought
China and her problems still nearer to me. Long ago, between 1905
and 1913, when I was in South Africa, I was in constant touch with
the small Chinese colony in Johannesburg. I knew them first as clients
and then as comrades in the Indian passive resistance struggle in
South Africa. I came in touch with them in Mauritius also. I learnt
then to admire their thrift, industry, resourcefulness and internal
unity. Later in India I had a very fine Chinese friend living with
me for a few years and we all learnt to like him.
I have thus felt greatly attracted towards your great country and,
in common with my countrymen, our sympathy has gone out to you in
your terrible struggle. Our mutual friend, Jawaharlal Nehru, whose
love of China is only excelled, if at all by his love of his own country,
has kept us in intimate touch with the developments of the Chinese
Because of this feeling I have towards China and my earnest desire
that our two great countries should come closer to one another and
co-operate to their mutual advantage, I am anxious to explain to you
that my appeal to the British power to withdraw from India is not
meant in any shape or form to weaken India's defence against the Japanese
or embarrass you in your struggle. India must not submit to any aggressor
or invader and must resist him. I would not be guilty of purchasing
the freedom of my country at the cost of your country's freedom. That
problem does not arise before me as I am cleaar that India cannot
gain her freedom in this way, and a Japanese domination of either
India or China would be equally injurious to the other country and
to world peace. That domination must therefore be prevented and I
should like India to play her natural and rightful part in this.
I feel India cannot do so while she is in bondage. India has been
a helpless witness of the withdrawals from Malaya, Singapore and Burma.
We must learn the lesson from these tragic events and prevent by all
means at our disposal a repetition of what befell these unfortunate
countries. But unless we are free we can do nothing to prevent it,
and the same process might well occur again, crippling India and China
disastrously. I do not want a repetition of this tragic tale of woe.
Our proferred help has repeatedly been rejected by the British Government
and the recent failure of the Cripps Mission has left a deep wound
which is still running. Out of that anguish has come the cry for immediate
withdrawal of British power so that India can look after herself and
help China to the best of her ability.
I have told you of my faith in non-violence and of my belief in the
effectiveness of this method if the whole nation could turn to it.
That faith in it is as firm as ever. But I realize that India today
as a whole has not that faith and belief, and the Government in free
India would be formed from the various elements composing the nation.
Today the whole of India is impotent and feels frustrated. The Indian
Army consists largely of people who have joined up because of economic
pressure. They have no feeling of a cause to fight for, and in no
sense are they a national army. Those of us who would fight for a
cause, for India and China, with armed forces or with non-violence,
cannot under the foreign heel, function as they want to. And yet our
people know for certain that India free can play even a decisive part
not only on her own behalf, but also on behalf of China and world
peace. Many like me feel that it is not proper or manly to remain
in this helpless state and allow events to overwhelm us when a way
to effective action can be opened to us. They feel, therefore, that
every possible effort should be made to ensure independence and that
freedom of action which is so urgently needed. This is the origin
of my appeal to the British power to end immediately the unnatural
connection between Britain and India.
Unless we make the effort there is grave danger of public feeling
in India going into wrong and harmful channels. There is every likelihood
of subterranean sympathy for Japan growing simply in order to weaken
and oust British authority in India. This feeling may take the place
of robust confidence in our ability never to look to outsiders for
help in winning our freedom. We have to learn self-reliance and develop
the strength to work out our own salvation. This is only possible
if we make a determined effort to free ourselves from bondage. That
freedom has become a present necessity to enable us to take our due
place among the free nations of the world.
To make it perfectly clear that we want to prevent in every way Japanese
aggression, I would personally agree that the Allied Powers might,
under treaty with us, keep their armed forces in India and use the
country as a base for operations against the threatened Japanese attack.
I need hardly give you my assurance that, as the author of the new
move in India, I shall take no hasty action. And whatever action I
may recommend will be governed by the consideration that it should
not injure China, or encourage Japanese aggression in India or China.
I am trying to enlist world opinion in favour of a proposition which
to me appears self-proved and which must lead to the strengthening
of India's and China's defence. I am also educating public opinion
in India and conferring with my colleagues. Needless to say, any move-ment
against the British Government with which I may be connected will
be essentially non-violent. I am strain¬ing every nerve to avoid
a conflict with British authority. But if in the vindication of the
freedom which has become an immediate desideratum, this becomes inevitable,
I shall not hesitate to run any risk however great.
Very soon you will have completed five years of war against Japanese
aggression and invasion and all the sorrow and misery that these have
brought to China. My heart goes out to the people of China in deep
sympathy and in admiration for their heroic struggle and endless sacrifices
in the cause of their country's freedom and integrity against tremendous
odds. I am convinced that this heroism and sacrifice cannot be in
vain; they must bear fruit. To you, the Madame Chiang and to the great
people of China, I send my earnest and sincere wishes for your success.
I look forward to the day when a free India and free China will co-operate
together in friendship and brotherhood for their own good and for
the good of Asia and the world.
In anticipation of your permission, I am taking liberty of publishing1 this letter in Harijan.