In India tension grew in those early months of 1942. The theatre of war came ever nearer and there was now the probability of air raids over Indian cities. What was going to happen in those eastern countries where war was raging? What new development would take place in the relations between India and England? Were we going to carry on in the old way, glaring at each other, tied up and separated by the bitter memories of past history, victims of a tragic fate which none could avert? Or would common perils help us to bridge that chasm? Even the bazaars woke up from their normal lethargy, a wave of excitement passed over them and they buzzed with all manner of rumours. The monied classes were afraid of the future that was advancing so swiftly towards them, for that future, whatever else it might be, was likely to upset the social structure they were accustomed to and endanger their interests and special position. The peasant and the worker had no such fear for he had little to lose, and he looked forward to any change from his present unhappy condition.
In India there had all along been much sympathy for China and, as a consequence, a certain antipathy to Japan. The Pacific War, it was thought at first, would bring relief to China. For four and a half years China had fought single-handed against Japan; now she had powerful allies, and surely this must lighten her burden and lessen her danger. But those allies suffered blow after blow, and before the advancing Japanese armies the British colonial empire cracked up with amazing rapidity. Was this proud structure then just a house of cards with no foundations or inner strength? Inevitably, comparisons were made with China’s long resistance to Japanese aggression in spite of her lack of almost everything required for modern war. China went up in people’s estimation, and though Japan was not liked, there was a feeling of satisfaction at the collapse of old-established European colonial powers before the armed strength of an Asiatic power. That racial, Oriental-Asiatic, feeling was evident on the British side also. Defeat and disaster were bitter enough but the fact that an Oriental and Asiatic power had triumphed over them added to the bitterness and humiliation. An Englishman occupying a high position said, that he would have preferred it if the Prince of Wales and the Repulse had been sunk by the Germans instead of by the yellow Japanese.
The visit of the Chinese leaders, Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, was a great event in India. Official conventions and the wishes of the Government of India prevented them from mixing with the people, but their presence in India itself at that critical stage and their manifest sympathy for India’s freedom helped to bring India out of her national shell and increased her awareness of the international issues at stake. The bonds that tied India and China grew stronger, and so did the desire to line up with China and other nations against the common adversary. The peril to India helped to bring nationalism and internationalism close together, the only separating factor being the policy of the British Government.
The Government of India were no doubt very conscious of the approaching perils; there must have been anxiety in their minds and a sense of urgency. But such was the conventional existence of the British in India, so set were they in their established grooves, so wedded to the never-ending processes of bureaucratic red-tape, that no marked change was visible in their outlook or activities. There was no sense of hurry and speed, of tension and getting things done. The system they represented had been built up for another age and with other objectives. Whether it was their army or their civil services, the objective in view was the occupation of India and of suppression of any attempts of the Indian people to free themselves. It was sufficient enough for that purpose, but modern war against a powerful and ruthless adversary was a very different matter, and they found it exceedingly difficult to adapt themselves to it. They were not only mentally unfitted for this, but a great part of their energies was absorbed in keeping down nationalism in India. The collapse of the Burmese and Malayan administrations before new problems had been significant and revealing, yet it taught no lesson. Burma had been governed by the same kind of civil service as India; indeed till a few years ago, it had been part of the Indian administration. The ways of government there were identical with those of India, and Burma had demonstrated how moribund this system was. But the system continued without change and the Viceroy and his high officials functioned in the same way as before. They added to their number many of the higher officials who had failed so conspicuously in Burma; there was another Excellency sitting on the hill-top at Simla. Like the emigri governments in London, we were given the privilege of having in our midst emigre officials from British colonies. They fitted like a glove into the British structure in India.
Like shadows on a stage these high officials continued to function in their old way, trying to impress us with their elaborate imperial ritual, their court ceremonies, their durbars and investitures, their parades, their dinners and evening dresses, their pompous utterances. The Viceroy’s house in New Delhi was the chief temple where the high priest officiated, but there were many other temples and priests. All this ceremonial and display of imperial pomp was designed to impress, and it had impressed our people in the old days, for Indians are also given to ceremonial observances. But new standards had arisen, different values had been created, and now this elaborate show was the subject of jest and ridicule. Indians are supposed to be a slow-moving people, disinclined to rush and hurry, but even they had developed a certain speed and vigour in their work, so strong was their desire to get things done. The Congress provincial governments, whatever their failings might have been, were anxious to achieve results and worked hard and continuously, disregarding many old-established routines. It was irritating to see the passivity and slowness of the Government of India and its many agents in the face of grave crisis and peril.
And then came the Americans. They were very much in a hurry, eager to get things done, ignorant of the ways and ceremonial of the Government of India and not particularly anxious to learn them. Intolerant of delay, they pushed aside obstructions and red-tape methods and upset the even tenor of life in New Delhi. They were not even careful of the dress they should wear on particular occasions, and sometimes offended against the rigid rules of protocol and official procedure. While the help they were bringing was very welcome, they were not liked in the highest official circles, and relations were strained. Indians liked them on the whole; their energy and enthusiasm for the work in hand were infectious, and contrasted with the lack of these qualities in British official circles in India. Their forthrightness and freedom from official constraints were appreciated. There was much silent amusement at the underlying friction between the newcomers and the official class, and many true or imagined stories of this were repeated.
The approach of the war to India disturbed Gandhi greatly. It was not easy to fit in his policy and programme of non-violence with this new development. Obviously civil disobedience was out of the question in the face of an invading army or between two opposing armies. Passivity or acceptance of invasion were equally out of the question. What then? His own colleagues, and the Congress generally, had rejected non-violence for such an occasion or as an alternative to armed resistance to invasion, and he had at last agreed that they had a right to do so; but he was nonetheless troubled and for his own part, as an individual, he could not join any violent course of action. But he was much more than an individual; whether he had any official status or not in the nationalist movement, he occupied an outstanding and dominating position and his word carried weight with large numbers of people.
Gandhiji knew India, and especially the Indian masses, as very few, if any, have known them in the past or the present. Not only had he widely travelled all over India and come into touch with millions of people, but there was something else which enabled him to come into emotional contact with those masses. He could merge himself with the masses and feel with them, and because they were conscious of this they gave him their devotion and loyalty. And yet his view of India was to some extent coloured by the outlook he had imbibed in his early days in Gujrat. The Gujratis were essentially a community of peaceful traders and merchants, influenced by the Jain doctrine of non-violence. Other parts of India had been influenced much less by this, and some not at all. The widespread Kshatriya class of warriors certainly did not allow it to interfere with war or hunting wild animals. Other classes also, including the Brahmins, had been as a whole little influenced by it. But Gandhiji took an eclectic view of the development of Indian thought and history, and believed that non-violence had been the basic principle underlying it, even though there had been many deviations from it. That view appeared to be far-fetched and many Indian thinkers and historians did not agree with it. This had nothing to do with the merits of non-violence in the present stage of human existence, but it did indicate a historical bias in Gandhiji’s mind.
The accidents of geography have had a powerful effect on determining national character and history. The fact that India was cut off by the tremendous barrier of the Himalayas and by the sea produced a sense of unity in this wide area and at the same time bred exclusiveness. Over this vast territory a vivid and homogeneous civilization grew up which had plenty of scope for expansion and development, and which continued to preserve a strong cultural unity. Yet within that unity geography again produced diversity. The huge northern and central plain differed from the hilly and variegated areas of the Deccan, and the people living in different geographical areas developed different characteristics. History also took a different course in the north and in the south, though often the two overlapped and joined hands. The flatness of the land, and the vast open spaces of the north, as in Russia, required powerful central governments for protection against external enemies. Empires flourished in the south as well as the north, but the north was really the centre of empire and often dominated the south. A strong central government in the old days inevitably meant autocracy. It was not a mere accident of history that the Mughal Empire was broken up, among other causes, by the Marathas. The Marathas came from the hilly tracts of the Deccan, and had preserved some spirit of independence when the great majority of the dwellers on the northern plains had grown servile and submissive. The British had an easy victory in Bengal, and the people of the fertile plains there submitted with extraordinary docility. Having established themselves there they spread elsewhere.
Geography counts still and must count in the future, but other factors play a more important role now. Mountains and seas are no longer barriers, but they still determine a people’s character and a country’s political and economic position. They cannot be ignored in considering new schemes of division, partition or re-merging, unless the planning is on a world scale.
Gandhiji’s knowledge of India and the Indian people is profound. Though not greatly interested in history as such, and perhaps not possessing that feeling for history, that historical sense, which some people have, he is fully conscious and intimately aware of the historical roots of the Indian people. He is well-informed about current events and follows them carefully, though inevitably he concentrates on present-day Indian problems. He has a capacity for picking out the essence of a problem or a situation, avoiding non-essentials. Judging everything by what he considers the moral aspect, he gets a certain grip and a longer perspective. Bernard Shaw has said that though he (Gandhi) may commit any number of tactical errors, his essential strategy continues to be right. Most people, however, are not much concerned with the long run; they are far more interested in the tactical advantage of the moment.
- The Two Backgrounds: Indian And British
- Allahabad 29th December 1945
- The Modern Approach To An Old Problem
- The Problem Of Population. Falling Birth-Rates And National Decay
- Freedom And Empire
- Realism and Geopolitics. World Conquest Or World Association. The U.S.A. And The U.S.S.R
- India: Partition Or Strong National State Or Centre Of Supra-National State?
- The Importance Of The National Idea. Changes Necessary In India
- Religion, Philosophy, And Science