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Mahatma Gandhi


144. The Half-Naked Seditious Fakir

Arch-imperialist Mr (now, Sir) Winston Churchill, who firmly believed that "the loss of India would mark and consummate the downfall of the British Empire" and that "that great organism would pass at a stroke out of life into history", and who had declared, "We have no intention of casting away that most truly bright and precious jewel in the crown of the King, which more than all our other Dominions and Dependencies constitutes the glory and strength of the British Empire," could not contain himself when he saw the Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin, carrying on negotiations with Mahatma Gandhi for a political truce after the latter had launched a countrywide campaign of civil disobedience. He vented his spleen against the Mahatma as well as the Viceroy in these terms in an address to the Council of the West Essex Unionist Association on February 23, 1931: "It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, an Inner Temple lawyer, now become a seditious fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceregal Palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor."

He had also thundered: "I am against these conversations and agreements between Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi. . . The truth is that Gandhi-ism and all it stands for will have to be grappled with and finally crushed." It was no wonder that Churchill should have refused to meet Gandhiji when the latter had gone to England towards the end of the same year as a delegate to the Second Round Table Conference.

An echo of Churchill's thunder against Gandhiji was heard thirteen years after the latter's release from detention from the Aga Khan's Palace in May 1944. Gandhiji, who was recouping his health at Panchgani, wrote the following letter to Churchill, who was then Prime Minister of Great Britain:

" 'Dilkhush' (Panchgani)
July 17, 1944

Dear Prime Minister,

You are reported to have a desire to crush the simple 'Naked Fakir' as you are said to have described me. I have been long trying to be a 'Fakir' and that naked - a more difficult task. I, therefore, regard the expression as a compliment though unintended. I approach you then as such and ask you to trust and use me for the sake of your people and mine and through them those of the world.

Your sincere friend,
M.K. Gandhi"

How this letter came to be miscarried and delayed in seeing the light of day was related by Gandhiji in a statement issued by him on June 18, 1945 from Panchgani. According to Gandhiji the letter was written in the small hours of the night of July 17, at the same time that he wrote his Gujarati note to Quide-i-Azam Jinnah and duly posted to be sent through the Viceroy. Unfortunately, the letter miscarried. Having waited for a long time, on September 10, 1944, Gandhiji sent a letter of enquiry out of curiosity, "for the psychological moment had passed." To his surprise, the Private Secretary to the Viceroy wrote in return on September 13 that the letter in question had not been received by him. As Gandhiji attached importance to the letter he sent a copy of the missing letter, repeating the request that it might be sent to the Prime Minister. "My letter of July 17 to Mr. Churchill in my estimation was of a sacred character not meant for the public eye," said Gandhiji, "but I could contemplate an occasion or time when it might call, for publication without losing the sacred character. I, therefore, requested the Viceroy on December 13, 1944, to enquire from the Prime Minister whether I had his permission to publish it in case of need. He replied through his Secretary that the Prime Minister agreed to the publication of my letter subject to the fact that it was duly acknowledged."