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70. Sabotage and Secrecy
"How is the cutting of telegraphic wires contrary to the principle of Ahimsa?" a friend asked Gandhiji some time back.
The question is typical of many that have been put to Gandhiji since his release. Another friend who saw him some time after he left the Agakhan Palace posed to him the problem thus: "There are two schools of thought amongst our youth today. One school holds and openly says that as a programme of action Ahimsa is played out. It has done its work which was to waken the masses and has set the stage for the final struggle for independence. In this struggle force of arms cannot be excluded. The other school while professing belief in Ahimsa says that there is room for modification and further elaboration in its technique. They aver that the next phase of our struggle would be characterized by organized sabotage on an ex­tensive scale." Gandhiji questioned the statement that sabotage could be part of the non-violent programme or that it was derivable from the principle of Ahimsa as he understood it. The friend however persisted that sabotage had come to stay whether one liked it or not. "Irresponsible prophesying leads to nowhere," cut short Gandhiji. "The real question is where we stand, what our attitude towards it is going to be."
The friend put before Gandhiji some of his doubts. Was destruction of Government property violence? "You say that nobody has a right to destroy any property not his own. If so, is not Government property mine? I hold it is mine and I may destroy it."
"There is a double fallacy involved in your argument," replied Gandhiji. "In the first place, conceding that Go­vernment property is national property — which today it is not — I may not destroy it because I am dissatisfied with the Government. But even a national Government will be unable to carry on for a day if everybody claimed the right to destroy bridges, communications, roads, etc., because he disapproved of some of its activities. Moreover, the evil resides not in bridges, roads, etc. which are inani­mate objects but in men. It is the latter who need to be tackled. The destruction of bridges, etc., by means of explosives does not touch this evil but only provokes a worse evil in the place of the one it seeks to end." "I agree," rejoined the friend, "that the evil is within ourselves, not in the bridge which can be used for a good purpose as well as an evil one. I also agree that it’s blowing up provokes counter violence of a worse type. But it may be necessary from a strategic point of view for the success of the movement and in order to prevent demoralization."
"It is an old argument," replied Gandhiji. "One used to hear it in the old days in defence of terrorism. Sabotage is a form of violence. People have realized the futility of physical violence but some people apparently think that it may be successfully practised in its modified form as sabotage. It is my conviction that the whole mass of people would not have risen to the height of courage and fearlessness that they have but for the working of full non-violence. How it works we do not yet fully know. But the fact remains that under non-violence we have progressed from strength to strength even through our apparent failures and setbacks. On the other hand terrorism resulted in demoralization. Haste leads to waste."
"We have found," rejoined the friend, "that a person who has had a schooling in violent activity comes nearer to true non-violence than one who has had no such ex­perience."
"That can be true only in the sense that having tried violence again and again he has realized its futility. That is all. Would you maintain also that a person who has had a taste of vice is nearer to virtue than the one who had none? For, that is what your argument amounts to."
The discussion then turned upon secrecy. The friend in question argued that whilst individual secrecy created a fear complex and was therefore an evil, organized secrecy might be useful. "It is no secrecy if the person concerned is boldly prepared to face the consequences of his action. He resorts to secrecy in order to achieve his object. He can refuse to take any part in subsequent interrogations during his trial. He need not make a false statement."
But Gandhiji was adamant. "No secret organization, however big, could do any good. Secrecy aims at building a wall of protection round you. Ahimsa disdains all such protection. It functions in the open and in the face of odds, the heaviest conceivable. We have to organize for action vast people that have been crushed under the heel of unspeakable tyranny for centuries. They cannot be organized by any other than open truthful means; I have grown up from youth to 76 years in abhorrence of secrecy. There must be no watering down of the ideal. Unless we cling to the formula in its fullness, we shall not make any headway.
"I know we have not always lived up to our ideal. There have been grave lapses. Had our instruments been less imperfect, we would have been nearer our goal. But in spite of our temporizing with our ideal, non-violence has worked like a silent leaven among the dumb millions. That does not mean that we can afford to go on like this for ever. We cannot remain static. We must move forward or we shall slide back."
"Are you of opinion," asked the friend, "that the August revolution caused a setback in the struggle for independence; that all the heroism and courage which our people showed in the course of it was useless?"
"No," replied Gandhiji. "I do not say that. In the historical process, the country will be found to have advanced towards freedom through every form of struggle, even through the August upheaval. All that I have said is that the progress would have been much greater if we had shown the non-violent bravery of my conception. In this sense the sabotage activity has retarded the country's freedom. I have the highest admiration for the courage, patriotism and spirit of self-sacrifice of people, say, Tike Jaiprakash Narain. But Jaiprakash cannot be my ideal. If I had to give a medal for heroism, it would go not to him but to his wife who, though simple and unlearned in politics, typi­fies in her person the power of Satyagraha in its purest form before which even Jaiprakash has to bow. What I have said about the August upheaval is not by way of judgment upon the past — I have consistently refused to condemn it — but as a guidance for the future."
Our people," said the friend finally, "have faith in non-violence but they do not know how to make it dynamic. What is the reason for this failure?"
"By hammering away at it through painful years," replied Gandhiji, "people have begun to see that there is a potency in non-violence, but they have not seen it in all its fullness and beauty. If they had responded to all the steps that had to be taken for the effective organization of non-violence and carried out in their fullness the various items of the eighteen-fold constructive programme, our movement would have taken us to our goal. But today our minds are confused because our faith in constructive work is so weak. I know, one must push forth undaunted by difficulties."
On the train to Madura, 2-2-'46
Harijan, 10-2-1946