BJP and Quit India – Part IV: Gandhiji’s stand on Violence during Quit India

The Concluding part of the four part series.  I have rarely added my own words, simply for the reason that I feel the extract talks for itself. But out of sheer need to reiterate I have added a sum up at the end.

After his release, Gandhiji rested at Poona for three days and then proceeded to Bombay where he stayed at Juhu. His health was shattered and it was found that he had contracted hookworm infection. His first concern was to nurse his health to be able to resume his active life. On May 14 he entered on a fortnight’s silence. After that for some time he broke his silence only for a couple of hours a day.

On June 15 he returned to Poona. Here on the 29th he met the Congress workers of Maharashtra. A great controversy about the use of violence and non-violence was going on at that time among Congress workers, Gandhiji’s own position also seemed to have created some doubts. In his last speech at the A.I.C.C meeting he had said that nobody should submit through cowardice. Also, he had up to that time not condemned the people who had indulged in violent demonstrations against the terrorist regime. If his correspondence with the authorities had been published, there would have been no misconception about his position. He had therein squarely blamed the authorities for their “leonine violence” which had resulted in maddening the people. Questioned by the Maharashtra workers he made his position crystal clear. In brief, he said he was “wedded to truth and non-violence, not merely as a matter of discipline or expedience, but as a rule of conduct in all walks of life”. Therefore he could “endorse nothing untruthful or violent“. But he refused “to sit in judgement upon the actions of others”.* He also told them that they should not feel frustrated because their object had not been immediately achieved. He said: “Frustration is born of our own weaknesses and loss of faith. So long as we do not lose faith in ourselves, it is well with India. This is the message that I want to leave with you this evening.” (emphasis mine).

 

From the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi – Vol – 83:

 

212. LETTER TO LORD LINLITHGOW

THE AGA KHAN’S PALACE,

August 14, 1942

DEAR LORD LINLITHGOW,

The Government of India were wrong in precipitating the crisis. The Government resolution justifying this step is full of distortions and misrepresentations. That you have the approval of your Indian “colleagues” can have no significance, except this, that in India you can always command such services. That co-operation is an additional justification for the demand of withdrawal irrespective of what people and parties may say.

 The Government of India should have waited at least till the time I inaugurated mass action. I had publicly stated that I fully contemplated sending you a letter before taking concrete action. It was to be an appeal to you for an impartial examination of the Congress case. As you know, the Congress has readily filled in every omission that has been discovered in the conception of its demand. So could I have dealt with every difficulty if you had given me the opportunity. The precipitate action of the Government leads one to think that they were afraid that the extreme caution and gradualness with which the Congress was moving towards direct action might make world opinion veer round to the Congress, as it had already begun doing, and expose the hollowness of the grounds for the Government’s rejection of the Congress demand. They should surely have waited for an authentic report of my speeches on Friday and on Saturday night after the passing of the resolution by the All-India Congress Committee. You would have found in them that I would not hastily begin action. You should have taken advantage of the interval foreshadowed in them, and explored every possibility of satisfying the Congress demand.

………………………

 

Another letter:

218. LETTER TO SECRETARY, HOME DEPARTMENT,

GOVERNMENT OF INDIA

September  23, 1942

TO,

THE SECRETARY

GOVERNMENT OF INDIA

HOME DEPARTMENT

SIR,

 In spite of the chorus of approval sung by the Indian Councillors and others of the present Government policy in dealing with the Congress, I venture to assert that, had the Government but awaited my contemplated letter to His Excellency the Viceroy and the result thereafter, no calamity would have overtaken the country. The reported deplorable destruction would have most certainly been avoided.

In spite of all that has been said to the contrary, I claim that the Congress policy still remains unequivocally non-violent. The wholesale arrest of the Congress leaders seems to have made the people wild with rage to the point of losing self-control. I feel that the Government, not the Congress, are responsible for the destruction that has taken place. The only right course for the Government seems to me to be to release the Congress leaders, withdraw all repressive measures and explore ways and means of conciliation. Surely the Government have ample resources to deal with any overt act of violence. Repression can only breed discontent and bitterness.

Since I am permitted to receive newspapers, I feel that I owe it to the Government to give my reaction to the sad happenings in the country. If the Government think that as a prisoner I have no right to address such communications, they have but to say so and I will not repeat the mistake.

I am,

Yours etc,

 

M.K.GANDHI

 

From Frontline Article on Vajpayee (Vol 15 Issue 20 dated Feb 7 – 20, 1998)

In 1942, Vajpayee, officially under 16, was already a dedicated and active member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and well versed with politics. The RSS as a movement had no association with the freedom struggle – choosing, ideologically and politically, not to oppose the British colonial authority. (See accompanying story in this investigation by Manini Chatterjee.) Frontline‘s investigation shows that against such a backdrop, contrary to the propaganda of the Sangh Parivar and his own bio-data summary, Vajpayee did not participate in the Quit India movement as a “freedom fighter” in his home village of Bateshwar. In his own characterisation recorded in the interview, he was “a part of the crowd” with no role to play in the militant events in Bateshwar of August 27, 1942 – other than going along with the crowd and witnessing the proceedings. “I related whatever I had seen,” he told Frontline about the nature of his confessional statement. “I did not speak against anybody – I did not claim that…whatever had happened was truly related by me.”

Frontline‘s investigation also found that, contrary to the allegations levelled against him, Vajpayee’s confessional statement was not used by the prosecution in Sessions trial No. 3/43 before the Special Judge, Agra. In fact, the copy of the judgment furnished to the press by Vajpayee makes it clear that his name did not figure in the trial at all. Thus, the political charge that he was a government “approver” in the 1942 case is untrue.

ON SEPTEMBER 1, 1942, Atal Behari Vajpayee signed the following confessional statement – which had been taken down in Urdu, which he could not read – before S. Hassan, II Class Magistrate (his elder brother, Prem Behari Vajpayee, made a virtually identical statement):

My name: Atal Behari
Father’s name: Gauri Shankar
My caste: Brahman
Age: 20 years
Occupation: Student, Gwalior College
My address: Bateshwar, P.S. Bah, Distt Agra

On being asked by the Court “Did you commit an act of arson and cause damage? What have you to say in this regard?”, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee made the following statement:

“On August 27, 1942, Ala was being recited in Bateshwar bazaar. At about 2 p.m. Kakua alias Liladhar and Mahuan came to the Ala and delivered a speech and persuaded the people to break the forest laws. Two hundred people went to the Forest Office and I along with my brother followed the crowd and reached Bateshwar Forest Office. I and my brother stayed below and all other people went up. I do not know the name of any other person, except Kakua and Mahuan, who was there.

“It seemed to me that bricks were falling. I could not know who was razing the wall to the ground but the bricks of the wall were certainly falling.

“I along with my brother started to go to Maipura and the crowd was behind us. The abovementioned persons forcibly turned out the goats from the cattle-pound and the crowd proceeded towards Bichkoli. Ten or twelve persons were in the Forest Office. I was at a distance of 100 yards. I did not render any assistance in demolishing the government building. Thereafter, we went to our respective homes.”

Signed: S. Hassan
1.9.42

Signed: Atal Behari Vajpai.

 

From the above 4 parts what I understand is:

  1. The Congress Working Committee and later A.I.C.C was very reluctant to pass the resolution on Quit India as proposed by the Mahatma and he had to threaten that he would go his own way to force the A.I.C.C to agree.
  2. Even then the agreement was reluctant and few members reneged on the unanimous resolution.
  3. Gandhiji specifically refused to condone the violence and wrote to the British Government saying Congress would not take responsibility for the violence.
  4. A 16 year old ABV did not take part in violence / destruction despite being present at the site of violence / destruction.

Draw your own conclusions but base it on facts.

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