PHILOSOPHY > SELECTIONS FROM GANDHI > The Congress in relation to the Classes and the Masses

The Congress in Relation To The Classes and the Masses

The Character of the Congress

316. I do not consider the Congress as a party organization, even as the British Parliament, though it contains all parties, and has one party or other dominating it from time to time, is not a party organization. I shall venture to hope that all parties platform for all parties to appeal to the Nation, with a view to molding its policy, and I would endeavor so to mould the policy of the League* as to make the Congress retain its no-party national character.—Sita, 326.

317. The Congress represents the whole of India. The Congress from its very inception has not been of any particular groove or any particular colour or caste or of any particular province. It has claimed, ever since its birth, to represent the whole nation and on your behalf I have made the claim that you represent not only the registered members of the congress but the entire nation. (A.I.C.C. speech of 8-8-42)

—ABP, 9-8-42.

318. Let us understand the functions of the Congress. For internal growth and administration it is as good a democratic organization as any to be found in the world. But this democratic organization has been brought into being to fight the greatest imperialist power living. For this external work, therefore, it has to be likened to an army. As such, it ceases to be democratic. The Central authority possesses plenary powers, enabling it to impose and enforce discipline on the various units working under it….

It has been suggested that, whilst my thesis holds good when there is active war in the shape of civil resistance going on, it cannot, whilst the latter remains under suspension. But suspension of Civil Disobedience does not mean suspension of war.

* The Home Rule League of which he had become President after Mrs. Annie Besant.

The latter can only end when India has a constitution of her making. Till then, the congress must be in the nature of an army.

Therefore, the Congress, conceived as a fighting machine, has to centralize control and guide every department and every congressman, however highly placed. And expect unquestioned obedience. The fight cannot be fought on any other terms. They say this is fascism, pure and simple; but they forget that fascism is the naked sword. Under it…should lose his head. The Congress is the very antithesis of fascism, because it is bases on nonviolence pure and undefiled. Its sanctions are all moral. Its authority is not derived from the control of panoplied Black-Shirts.

That is the glory and strength of the Congress, not its weakness. Its authority is derived form that non-violent attitude. It is the only purely nonviolent political organization of importance, to my knowledge, throughout the world. And let it continue to be the boast of the Congress that it can command the willing and hearty obedience from its followers, so long as they choose to belong to it.

–A.I.C.C. bulletin on C.P. Ministerial Crisis (1937-38), 71-81.

319. The Congress has a double function. It is a democratic organization in peace time. It becomes a non-violent army in wartime. In its second capacity it has no voting power. Its will is expressed by its general whoever he may be. Every unit has to tender him willing obedience in thought, word and deed. Yes, even in thought, since the fight is non-violent. –H, 18-11-39, 344.

Representing the Masses

320. The Congress must cease to be a debating society of talented lawyers who do not leave their practice, but it must consist of producers and manufacturers, and those who would understand them, nurse them and voice their feelings. Practicing lawyers can help by becoming silent workers and donors. I sympathize with them for their desire to be in the limelight. But I would urge them to recognize their limitations.

–YI, II-8-2I, 252.

321. The congress must progressively represent the masses. They are as yet untouched by politics. They have no political consciousness of the type our politicians desire. Their politics are confined to bread and salt-I dare not say butter, for millions do not know the taste of ghee or even oil. Their politics are confined to communal adjustments. It is right however to say that we the politicians do represent the masses in opposition to the government. But if we begin to use them before they are ready, we shall cease to represent them We must first come in living touch with them by working for them and in their midst. We must share their sorrows, understand their difficulties and anticipate their wants. With the pariahs we must be pariahs and see how we feel to clean the closets of the upper classes and have the remains of their table thrown at us. We must see how we like being in the boxes, miscalled houses, of the labourers of Bombay. We must identify ourselves with the villagers who toil under the hot sun beating on their bent backs and see how we would like to drink water from the pool in which the villagers bathe, wash their clothes and pots and in which their cattle drink and roll. Then and not till then shall we truly represent the masses and they will, as surely as I am writing this, respond to every call.

‘We cannot all do this, and if we are to do this, good-boy to Swaraj for a thousand years and more,’ some will say. I shall sympathize with the objection. But I do claim that some of us at least will have to go through the agony and out of it only will a nation full, vigorous and free be born.—YI, II-9-24, 300.

Interest of the Masses Supreme

322. I may tell you that the congress does not belong to any particular group of men. It belongs to all; but the protection of the poor peasantry, which forms the bulk of the population of the poor peasantry, which forms the bulk of the population, must be its primary interest. The congress must, therefore, truly represent the poor. But that does not mean that all other classes the middle classes, the capitalists or zamindars-must go under. All that it aims at is that all other classes must subscribe to the interests of the poor.

To me Hind Swaraj is the rule of all the people, is the rule of justice. –YI, I6-4-3I, 79, 78.

323. Let there be no mistake as to what Purna Swaraj means to the Congress. It is full economic freedom for the toiling millions. It is no unholy alliance with any interest for their exploitation. –YI, I6-4-3I, 77.

324. I will therefore state the purpose. It is complete freedom from alien yoke in every sense of the term, and this for the sake of the dumb millions. Every interest, therefore, that is hostile to their interest, must be revised or must subside if it is not capable of revision. —YI, I7-9-3I,263.

Under Swaraj

325. I am afraid that for years to come India would be engaged in passing legislation in order to raise the downtrodden, the fallen, from the mire into which they have been sunk by the capitalists, by the landlords, by the so-called higher classes, and then, subsequently and scientifically, by the British rulers. If we are to lift these people from the mire, then it would be the bounden duty of the National Government of India, in order to set its house in order, continually to give preference to these people and even free them from the burdens under which they are being crushed. And, if the landlords, zamindars, monied men and those who are today enjoying privileges-I do not care whether they are Europeans or Indians-if they find that they are discriminated against. I shall sympathize with them, but I will not be able to help them, even if I could possible do so, because I would seek their assistance in that process, and without their assistance it would not be possible to raise these people out of the mire.

Look at that condition, if you will, of the untouchables, if the law comes to their assistance and sets apart miles of territory. At the present moment they hold no land; they are absolutely living at the mercy of the so-called higher castes, and also, let me say, at the mercy of the state. They can be removed from one quarter to another without complaint and without being able to seek the assistance of law. Well, the first act of the Legislature will then be to see that in order somewhat to equalize conditions, these people are given grants freely.

From whose pockets are those grants to come? Not from the pockets of Heaven is not going to drop money for the sake of the state. They will naturally come from the monied classes, including the Europeans.

It will be, therefore, a battle between the haves and have-nots: and if that is what is feared, I am afraid the National Government will not be able to come into being if all the classes hold the pistol at the head of the dumb millions and say: ‘You shall not have a Government of your own unless you guarantee our possessions and our rights.’

I have got another formula also hurriedly drafted because I drafted it here as I was listening to Lord Reading and Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru. It is in connection with existing rights:

"No existing interest legitimately acquired and not being in conflict with the best interests of the nation in general, shall be interfered with except in accordance with the law applicable to such interests."

I certainly have in mind what you find in the congress resolution in connection with the taking over by the incoming Government of obligation that are being today discharged by the British Government. Just as we claim that these obligations must be examined by an impartial tribunal before they are taken over by us, so should existing interests be subject to judicial scrutiny when necessary. There is no question, therefore, of repudiation but merely of taking over under examination under audit. We have here some of us who have made a study of the privileges and monopolies enjoyed by the Europeans, but let it not be merely Europeans: there are Indians-I have undoubtedly several Indians in mind-who are today in possession of land which has been practically given away to them not for any service rendered to the nation but for some service rendered, I cannot even say to the Government, because I do not think that the Government has benefited, but to some official; and if you tell me that those concessions and those privileges are not to be examined by the state, I again tell you that it will be impossible to run the machinery of Government on behalf of the have-nots on behalf of the dispossessed. Hence, you will see that there is nothing stated here in connection with the Europeans. The second formula also is applicable equally to the Europeans as it is applicable to Indians, as it is applicable, say, to Sir Purushottamdas Thakurdas and Sir Pheroze Sethna. If they have obtained concessions which have been obtained because they did some service to the officials of the day and got some miles of land, well, if I had the possession of the Government I would quickly dispose them. I would not consider them because they are Indians, and I would just as readily they are and however friendly they are to me. The law will be no respecter of whatsoever. I give you that assurance. I am unable to go any further. So, that is really what is implied by ‘legitimately acquired’ that every interest must have been taintless, it we shall expect to examine all these things when they come under the notice of the Government.

Then you have ‘not being in conflict with the best interests of the nation’. I have in mind certain monopolies legitimately acquired, undoubtedly, but which have been brought into being in conflict with the best interests of the nation. Let me give you an illustration which will amuse you somewhat, but which is on natural ground. Take this white elephant which is called New Delhi. Crores have been spent upon it. Suppose that the future Government comes to the conclusion that seeing that we have got this white elephant it ought to be turned to some use. Imagine that in Old Delhi there is a plague or cholera going on, and we want hospitals for the poor people. What are we to do? Do you suppose that the National Government will be able to build hospitals, and so on? Nothing of the kind. We will take charge of those buildings and put these plague-stricken people in them and use them as hospitals, because I contend that those buildings are in conflict with the best interests of the nation. They do not represent the millions of India. They may be representative on the monies men who are sitting here at the table; they may be representative of His Highness the Nawab Sahib of Bhopal, or of sir Purushottamdas Thakurdas, or of Sir Pheroze Sethna, or of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, but they are not representative of those who lack even a place to sleep and have not even a crust of bread to eat. If the National Government comes to the conclusion that that place is unnecessary, no matter what interests are concerned, they will be dispossessed, and they will be dispossessed, I may tell you, without any compensation, because, if you want this Government, to pay compensation it will have to rob Peter and Pay Paul, that would be impossible.

It is a bitter pill which has got to be swallowed if a Government, as Congress conceives it, comes into being. In order to take into the belief that everything will be quite all right. I want, on behalf of the congress, to lay all the cards on the table. I want no mental reservation of any description whatsoever; and then, if the Congress position is acceptable, nothing will please me better, but if today I fell I cannot possible touch your hearts and cannot carry you with me, then the Congress must continue to wander and must continue the process of proselytization until you are all converted and allow the millions of India to feel that at last they have got a National Government. –NV, 7I.

The Question of the States

326. I have often declared that the Congress should generally adopt a policy of non-interference with regard to questions affecting Indian States. At a time when the people of British India are fighting for their own freedom, for them to interfere with the affairs of the Indian States would only be to betray impotence. Just as the Congress clearly cannot have any effective voice in the relation between Indian States and the British Government, even so will its interference be ineffective as to the relations between the Indian States and their subjects. Still the people in British India as well as in the Indian States are one, for India is one.

I am firmly of opinion that so long as British India have not free, so long as the people of British India have not attained real power, that is to say, so long as British India has not the power of self-expression, in a word, so long as British India does not obtain Swaraj, so long will India, British as well as Native remain in a distracted condition. The existence of a third power depends upon a continuance of such distraction. We can put our house in order only when British India has attained Swaraj.

I have therefore often said that the liberation of British India spells the liberation of the states as well. When the auspicious day of the freedom of British India arrives, the relation of the ruler and the ruled in the Indian states will not cease but will be purified. Swaraj as conceived by me does not mean the end of kingship. I have staked my all in the movement of Swaraj in the hope that Swaraj is a certain cure for all maladies. As darkness vanishes at sunrise, so when the sun of Swaraj rises, the dark anarchy of the rulers as well as of the subjects will disappear in an instant.

If the institution of kingship has a moral basis, princes are not independent proprietors but only trustees of their subjects them only as trust money. It may be said that this principle has been almost completely carried out in the English Constitution. Abubaker and Hazrat Umar collected revenue running into Crores and yet personally they were as good as fakirs. They received not a pie from the Public Treasury. They were ever watchful to see that the people got justice. It was their principle that one may not play false even with the enemy but must deal justly with him.

That prince is acceptable to me who becomes a prince among his people’s servants. The subjects are the real master. But what is the servants to do if the master goes to sleep? Everything, therefore, is included in trying for a true national awakening.

In my humble opinion I have done my done my duty by the Princes in saying a few words about them. A word now to the people. The popular saying, ‘As is the king, so are the people,’ is only a half-truth. That is to say, it is not more true than its converse, ‘As are the people, so is the prince.’ Where the subjects are watchful a prince is entirely dependent upon them for his status. Where the subjects are overtaken by sleepy indifference, there is every possibility that the Prince will cease to function as a protector and become an oppressor instead. Those who are not wide-awake have no right to blame their prince. The Prince as well as the people are mostly creatures of circumstances. Enterprising princes and peoples mould circumstances for their own benefit. Manliness consists in making circumstances subservient to ourselves. Those who will not heed themselves perish. To understand this principle is not to be impatient, not to reproach Fate, not to blame others. He who understands the doctrine of self-help blames himself for failure. It is on this ground that I object to violence. If we blame others where we should blame ourselves and wish for or bring about their destruction, that does not remove the root cause of the disease which, on the contrary, sinks all the deeper for the ignorance thereof.

We then see that the people themselves are as responsible as and even more responsible than the Princes for the defects pointed out by me. If public opinion is opposed to a particular line of action, it should be impossible for the Prince to adopt it. Opposition here does not mean merely inaudible murmur. Public opposition is effective only where there is strength behind it.

Such being my ideal there is room for there is full protection guaranteed to the subjects for their rights. The true source of rights is duty. I have therefore spoken only about the duties of Princes as well as the peoples. I have not dealt with the questions of the ideal constitution for the States as you alone can be its fashioners. My duty lies in discovering and employing means by which the nation may evolve the strength to enforce its will. When once the nation is conscious of its strength it will find its own way or make it.—(Extracts from the speech delivered as President of the Kathiawad Political Conference)

—YI, 8-  I-25, 9.

327. I disclaim any undue partiality for the States. At the same time I own them no grudge; I do not desire their destruction. There is an abundant scope for reform in them which it should not be impossible to effect today. But it is my firm belief that it is impossible to reform the States in the true sense while India is in bondage. It may be possible to obtain redress here and there in cases of flagrant injustice by leading a crusade against them. But such tinkering does not interest me. It gives me no satisfaction. I am therefore today concentrating all my energy on the root evil. If I can effectively touch the root, the branches will in time drop down of their own accord, whereas, on the contrary, to divert public attention from the root evil and mobilize it against the branch evils in the States would mean lending an additional lease of life to the former. That is a risk that I for one am not prepared to run.

Let no one, however, understand me to mean from this that no action whatsoever is at present possible in the case of the State. I shall repeat here what I have already said, Wherever the subjects of the States are ready for it they can and ought to organize an agitation against maladministration in that State, especially if they have the strength to make use of the never failing weapon of Satyagraha. But it is a matter of deep sorrow to me that today the ruled are often the tools in the hand of the wicked rulers. Grinding oppression has rendered the people nerveless. No one has yet been able to save goats from the clutches of tigers. The goats’ emancipation would be possible only if one could envisage the goat-world itself giving birth to its would-be emancipator. Though reduced to the position of the goat, as is not lost for him. He belongs to a higher species. Strength lies dormant in the weak. If they find an environment in which bipeds exactly like them exhibit strength, it is not unlikely that they will catch the infection. Bardoli was only a modest forerunner, a beam from the powerful sun. If Bardoli exhibited the full strength and qualifications necessary for the full Satyagraha, its example would spread throughout the length and breadth of the land, and we should find ourselves including the people of the States a free nation. (Translated from Navajivan by P.)—YI, 29-8-29, 282.

Two Significant Pronouncements

328. It is the privilege and the duty of a Hindu prince to propound religious codes which are not inconsistent with the fundamental principles of Hinduism as derived from the Vedas and which are demanded by the spirit of the time. This must be true of all the progressive and living religions. If the Brahmin cal spirit was restored, princes would be rishis, who would take from the revenues the honest minimum necessary to support them as a commission for their labours on behalf of the ryots, and hold their revenue in trust for the ryots. They would not have private property as they possess today and feel independent of their ryots and their wishes. —H, 2I-II-36, 324.

329. As trustee the Thakore Saheb (of Rajkot) and other members of his family should perform their duty. Through the performance of their duty to the State, they earn the right of taking a certain amount of money from the State. –H, 25-3-39, 65.

330. The almost simultaneous awakening in the various states is a very significant event in the national struggle for can be due to the instigation of the one person or a body of persons of any organization. It is just possible that the Haripura resolution of the Congress put the people of the States on their mettle and they realized as never before that their salvation depended upon their own labours. But above all it is the time spirit that has brought about the awakening. It is to be hoped that the Princes and their advisers will recognize it and meet the legitimate aspirations of the people. There is no half-way house between total extinction of the States and the Princes making their people responsible for the administration of their States and themselves becoming trustees for the people, taking an earned commission for their labours.

–H, 3-I2-38, 360.

*The Home Rule League of which he had become President after Mrs. Annie Besant