War with Gandhi
1. Meeting One - Just then the Govt of Bombay announced that the Police dept was thrown open for recruitment to the DC. A small opening, it meant much significantly. BRA was now a force to reckon with. The agitation he had sponsored, the work he did in India and the prestige he attained at the RTC were bringing sufficient pressure upon the Govt to change its attitude towards the DC. There was now a visible change in the attitude of the Congressmen to the political problem of the country. Nehru said that Congressmen had never branded the delegates to the RTC as traitors, what they said was they were not people’s representatives. Another important change was that Gandhi showed resilience enough to negotiate the terms of participitation in the next RTC. Yet the Congressmen of Amdavad greeted BRA with black flags when he visited their city.
BRAS, Gandhi, Sapru amongst other were invited to attend the second RTC. Congratulations were showered from all quarters of India & even England on BRA. Newspapers from the opposite camp also began to appreciate his patriotism, love for democracy and anxiety for the welfare of the common man. It was not certain if Gandhi would attend the RTC, he wanted to sound BRA as to his demands. They met on 14/8/.
In the characteristic way, which Gandhi observed in dealing with non-Muslim leaders & non-European leaders & representatives, he did not look at first for a while at BRA & kept chatting with Miss Slade & others. BRA’s men feared that a little more indifference & a collision would follow. Just then Gandhi turned to BRA, excerpts from conversation.
Gandhi – I understand that you have some grievances against the Congress & me. I may tell you that I have been thinking over the problems of Untouchables ever since my school days. I had to make enormous efforts to make it a part of the Congress platform. The Congress has spent not less than 20 lakhs on the uplift of the Untouchables.
BRA – It is true Mahatmaji, that the Congress has recognition to the untouchable problem. But let me tell you the Congress did not do anything beyond this. The 20 lakhs is all waste. With such a backing I could have affected an astounding change in the outlook & economic conditions of my people. Had it been sincere it would have made the removal of untouchability a condition, like the wearing of khaddar for becoming a member of the Congress. I say that the Hindus have not shown a change of heart in regard to our problem, and so long as they remain adamant we would believe neither the Hindus nor the Congress. We believe in self-help & self-respect.
The atmosphere was grim, faces changed color; just then BRA asked a pertinent question.
BRA – everybody knows that Muslims & Sikhs are socially, economically & politically more advanced than the Untouchables. The first RTC has given political recognition to Muslim demands & recommended political safeguards for them. It also gave recognition to the political rights of the DC & recommended political safeguards & adequate representation. According to us that is beneficial to the DC. What is your opinion?
Gandhi – I am against the political separation of the Untouchables from the Hindus. That would be politically suicidal.
BRA thanked Gandhi for his frank opinion & took leave with a fiery resolve to fight out the issue, win human rights for his people. Clearly Gandhi & BRA had crossed swords. To answer Gandhi was to incur permanent displeasure. And that too a Hindu leader doing it was a thing beyond Gandhi’s imagination. The interview sounded the beginning of a war between Gandhi & BRA.
2. The same night BRA made a stirring speech to the DC women & men, excerpts, ‘At present Gandhi cannot do much to protect your interests. We must stand on our own feet & fight as best as we can for our rights. So carry on your agitation, organize your forces, power & prestige will come through struggle’.
The next day 15/8/1931 most leaders including BRA sailed for London. In an interview BRA gave on the steamer he referred to Gandhi’s refusal to go to the RTC, said it was the height of folly to place the interests of Bardoli above those of India. On steam leaders like Jayakar, Maharaja of Rewa expressed satisfaction at the imposing sight of the Samata Seva Dal of the DC. Dr Moonje was pleased that there was one organization of the untouchable Hindus to stand face to face with the Muslim volunteers. BRA reached London but fell sick. Meanwhile Gandhi, Nehru, Patel met the Viceroy at Simla where the differences were patched up & Gandhi caught the earliest steamer for London.
3. 2ND RTC, 1931 – The main work of the RTC was to be done in the Federal Structure & Minority Committees. Gandhi made his first speech in the RTC, in the Federal Structure Committee. He claimed that the Congress represented all interests & classes. It represented the Muslims because it has Muslims as Presidents & Working Committee members, DC because removal of untouchability was a plank of the political platform of the Congress. Gandhi said that Congress stood for the states as ‘even now the Congress has endeavored to serve the Princes of India by refraining from interfering from their domestic & internal affairs’. It represented women because its past Presidents like Annie Besant were women. And because he was the sole representative of the Congress it followed that he was the sole representative of the Indian nation!
BRA made his speech the same day. He told the Princes that before a State was allowed to join the Federation, it must prove that it has the necessary resources & the capacity to give its citizens a life and the main condition laid down by BRA was that the State’s representatives to the Federal Assembly should be chosen by election not nomination. These strong views gave a shock to the Princely Order & their benefactors.
Gandhi paid lip service to BRA’s comments while supporting the Princes. Referring to the main problem he said, ‘The Congress has reconciled itself to special treatment of the Hindu-Muslim-Sikh tangle. There are some historical reasons for it but the Congress will not under any conditions extend that doctrine in any shape or form. I have not quote understood what BRA has to say but of course the Congress will share with BRA the onus of representing the interests of the untouchables’. This was nothing but a declaration of war. During subsequent discussions in the Federal Structure Committee BRA’s speeches on constitutional history, ideas about free India were full of information, interest & valuable suggestions. All were impressed by BRA.
Now the Minority Committee was to begin work. BRA met Gandhi and placed his cards on the table, Gandhi did not open his mind. Meanwhile Gandhi was having meetings with the Muslims. That time BRA said, ‘Those who are negotiating ought to understand that they do not represent all, they may be of the character of Gandhi or the Congress people, they are not in a position to bind us – certainly not’. BRA made his position clear.
4. BRA Gandhi tussle - On October 1, Gandhi asked the Committee for a week’s adjournment since he was closeted with various Muslim leaders in talks. In response to BRA’s question Gandhi said that the DC would be presented on the Minority Committee. BRA then told the delegates, ‘On the first day that Gandhi spoke in the Federal Structure Committee as a representative of the Indian National Congress that he was not prepared to give political recognition to any community other than the Muslims/Sikhs’. BRA thundered that if the DC were not going to be recognized in the future Constitution of India, as was done by the Minorities Sub-Committee in the first RTC, he would neither join the Committee nor whole-heartedly support the proposition for adjournment.
Meanwhile Gandhi’s discussions with Muslims had reached an encouraging stage. According to media reports it was states that Gandhi had conceded to the Muslims their 14 points, accepted that residuary powers be vested in federating provinces, allowed the Muslims majority in Punjab & Bengal, and had in fact offered the Muslims a blank cheque. The talks, however, failed on the Muslim-Sikh question.
On October 8 Gandhi declared that talks had failed, its cause were inherent in the composition of the Indian Delegation, and that they were almost all not the elected representatives of the parties or groups whom they presumed to represent nor were those whose presence was absolutely necessary for an agreed solution. He therefore, moved for an adjournment of the meeting sine die. In response BRA thundered, ‘instead of confining himself to his proposition, Gandhi started casting aspersions upon the representatives of the different communities who are sitting round this Table. While admitting that the delegates were nominees of the Govt, speaking for himself, if the DC were given a chance to elect their representative to this Conference, they would elect him as their representative.
BRA’s vigorous propaganda carried on. In a letter to the TOI dated October 12 he wrote, ‘We are reliably informed that in carrying on his negotiations with our Muslim friends, Gandhi demanded that as one of the conditions for his accepting their fourteen points, they should oppose the claims of the DC & smaller minorities’. In his letter he foretold that the 2nd RTC would end in a fiasco for which Gandhi was responsible. BRA observed that Gandhii’s diabolical way of playing one community against the other was quite clear. His undemocratic mental set up gave a rude shock to people like Vithalbhai Patel.
Gandhi’s hostility to the demands put forth by BRA had wide reactions in the quarters of the DC’s all over India. The All India DC Conference under the presidentship of Rao Bahadur M.C. Rajah, declared at its Gurgaon session that Gandhi was misrepresenting the case of the Untouchables and strongly denounced the claim by Gandhi that the Congress had taken care of the Untouchables from the beginning & championed their cause. The Conference supported BRA’s demands & declared that no Constitution would be acceptable to the DC which did not included in it the system of separate electorates for the DC. Many telegrams went to BRA asking him not to put faith in Gandhi, they indicated who the real leader of the DC’s was. Gandhi, too, received a few cables. Such was the effect of BRA’s fighting propaganda that Gandhi was nonplussed, and his assumed guardianship of the Untouchables was exposed.
Inspite of his heavy schedule BRA was very busy giving private interviews, explanation, statements, counter-statements and making speeches in London. In one of his letters to a DC leader BRA wondered why Gandhi was opposed to special electorates & to special representations for the DC or else the problem would have been solved long before. BRA admitted that Gandhi had done work for the uplift of the Untouchables but they differed on this question. At a reception hosted by the King Emperor for the delegates BRA narrated him harrowing tales on the conditions of the untouchables that the King shuddered. ‘Friends without going into too much of detail BRA had put Gandhi into a spot. Here he was unassisted by the Indian press, party caucuses. BRA had the power of knowledge, will-power, energy, courage, love for his people, passion for their cause that motivated him to take on the world included India’s tallest leader then, Gandhi’.
5. A Must Read - A campaign of unbridled ferocity was let loose immediately by the so-called Indian national press against BRA. His statement that he was not anxious about the transfer of power was condemned as one voiced without a blush. BRA was now the most hated man in India. He was stigmatized as rude, uncivil, a public nuisance, stooge of the British, destroyer of Hinduism. BRA hit back at his hostile critics by hammering their idol Gandhi a ruthless manner.
Some years later he described Gandhi’s role in the R.T.C, ‘Unfortunately the Congress chose Gandhi as its representative. Gandhi presents himself as a man full of humility. But his behavior at the RTC showed that in the flush of victory Gandhi could be very petty-minded. As a result of his successful compromise with the Govt just before he came, Gandhi treated the whole non-Congress delegation with contempt. By telling them that they were nobodies & he alone represented the country. Instead of unifying the delegation he widened the breach. From the point of view of knowledge he proved ill equipped. On the many constitutional & communal questions with which the Conference were confronted, Gandhi had many platitudes to utter but no views or suggestions of a constructive character to offer’. Gokhale, the Guru of Gandhi had predicted this. He said that when the history of political negotiations & parleys was written Gandhi would go down as a great failure.
BRA’s interpretation that Muslims dropped Gandhi’s proposal because they refused to betray the other minorities, was not correct. It was the unwritten policy of the Muslim leaders to drag the Hindu leaders to a certain line of agreement and then to turn to the British for more concessions, for they knew, it was the British govt that had the power to give. Secondly, having got separate electorates themselves they were shrewd enough not to refuse the same benefit to smaller minorities. A divided Hindu society was to their advantage, politically & socially, they paid lip service to BRA no more.
And was it fair on the part of the Congress to declare a man of BRA’s integrity, independence as a traitor just because he was against Gandhi. Congress led the people to believe that it was their party alone that wanted independence. But the fact their claim was late, it was Veer Savarkar & his revolutionary party that first declared absolute political independence as their goal. BRA also wanted independence, said at several conferences & at the first RTC that the fate of the DC’s would improve only in free India. But he feared the reins of the govt would fall into the hands of the majority who was hostile & inimical to the interests of the DC. So sometimes his enthusiasm for that demand dwindled.
But the conflict, which raged in BRA’s mind, can best be understood with this incident. When BRA saw that his speeches were used by the English statesmen against Hindus to support Muslim demands, he secretly submitted, it is learnt from a circle close to him, a Memorandum to Ramsay MacDonald defending the interests of the Hindus against the Muslims.
6. BRA & Gandhi - The caste Hindus suffered political bondage by being ruled by the British, but BRA’s peoples suffered social & political slavery in the land. If political slavery of 150 years could justify extreme methods against the British, the Untouchables were a thousand times justified in lashing with scathing hatred the spokesman of their oppressors & the system of oppression. What good could they expect from the touchables if they were to be invested with political power. There had been no leader like BRA who would have cared to bring the Untouchables in the political picture of India. The Congress fighting for independence were equipped with wealth, strength to fight their case but BRA was fighting for the rights of those people whose minds, views, hearts & emotions were trampled upon in this land for ages past. It was their good luck that a leader of the caliber of BRA was born amongst them. His grip over political problems & ability to judge constitutional problems was in itself a great asset. Thus BRA’s efforts were directed to the lasting good of Hindu society as a whole esp. of the DC.
BRA’s dilemma – had he opposed the British & sided with Gandhi he would not have gained anything for his people from the Britishers and Gandhi would not have given his people anything more than blessings & hollow platitudes. Naturally the way out for BRA was to side with the Britishers and secure recognition to his cause & sanction for his demands. The second option was to side with Gandhi & to get special representation with joint electorates. But Gandhi was dead against it. Had Gandhi shown this much insight, he could averted a disaster.
To return. The last meeting of the Minorities Committee took place when leading reps of Muslims, DC, Europeans, and Anglo-Indians submitted a Memorandum stating their general & special claims. Further the memorandum also demanded recruitment of the DC to public services, military & police services etc. Also BRA & Srinivasan put a supplementary memorandum, asking for special representation for the DC in all provincial legislatures & in the Central Assembly in proportion to their population in India. They demanded separate electorates, but added that if the system of joint electorates was to exist with reserved seats, it would take place only after a referendum but that also not until after 20 years. Their last demand was they must be called ‘neo-caste-Hindus, Protestant Hindus or non-conformists Hindus.
Gandhi - When Gandhi saw this Minorities pact he was livid and expressed strong disagreement in the Committee meeting. He expressed regard for BRA’s ability but added that his bitter experiences in life had warped his judgment. Said Gandhi, ‘it is not a proper claim that is being registered by BRA when seeks to speak for the whole of the Untouchables in India. It will create a division in Hinduism. I do not mind Untouchables being converted to Islam or Christianity. I cannot possibly tolerate what is in store for Hinduism if there are these two divisions in every village. Those who speak of Untouchables do not know how Indian society is conducted. Thus I will resist this with my life’.
Gandhi could have clinched the issue with BRA by accepting joint electorates with reserved seats with DC. But he was not prepared to conciliate with BRA while he surrendered totally to the Muslims, allowing them separate electorates & provinces into the tent of the constitution. Had he used his persuasiveness to argue BRA into a compromise, BRA’s brains & guns would have been a positive step in demolishing the fortress of Muslim communalists.
When the British Premier saw that there was no unanimous solution to the minorities problem, he asked all members of the committee to sign a requisition authorizing him to settle the problem and they would accept his decision. Gandhi signed, BRA did not.
A few days before Gandhi’s arrival it was announced that DC from all over the country were coming to Bombay to show their faith in Gandhi to which Shivtarkar, Secretary of the DC Institute threatened a counter blast to Gandhi. On the early night of December 27, Congress volunteers gathered, a procession of 8,000 marched to the Mole Station. The DC staged a black flag demonstration against Gandhi, and there then ensued a free fight, exchanging stones, lathis etc and decrying the arrival of the apostle of non-violence to India. Congress leaders/journals were the fathers of intolerance against their political opponents. They had preached hatred against BRA, called him a British stooge and a traitor. Congressmen showed black flags to BRA at Amdavad. This was a return gift.