“Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was the President of the ’16th Indian NationalCongress held in Karachi in 1931. At the outset, he condoled tin deaths of PanditMotilal Nehru, Maulana Mohammed All and “those nameless heroes who, unknown to fame. high and in caring for it. lard down their lives in the non-violent struggleduring the point months”
You have called a simple farmer to the highest office, to which anyIndians can aspire. I am conscious that your choice of me as the first servant is not so much for what little I might have done, but it is therecognition of the amazing sacrifice made by Gujarat for the honor.But in truth, every Province did its utmost during the year of thegreatest national awakening that we have known in modern times.
NON-VIOLENCE—NO IDLE DREAM
Though there have been aberrations, it is a fact beyond challengethat India has given a singular proof to the world that mass non-violenceis no longer the idle dream of a visionary or a mere human longing.It is a solid fact capable of infinite possibilities for humanity, which is groaning for want of faith, beneath the weight of violence of which it has almost made a fetish. The greatest proof that our movement wasnon-violent lies in the fact that the peasants falsified the fears of our worst skeptics. They were described as very difficult to organize fornon-violent action and it is they who stood the test with bravery and endurance that was beyond all expectation. Women and childrentoo contributed their great share in the fight. They responded to thecall by instinct and played a part which we are too near the evenadequately to measure. Looked at in the light of non-violence ourstruggle is a world struggle and it is a matter of great satisfaction thatthe nations of the earth, especially the United States of America, haveheartened us by their sympathy.
The recent settlement, however, renders it unnecessary to dwell at greater length upon this heroic period in the national life. Your WorkingCommittee has entered into the Settlement in anticipation of yourapproval. You are now invited formally to endorse it. The Committee1 haying accepted it as your accredited representatives, it is not, I take it, open to you to repudiate it- but it is open to you to pass a vote ofno-confidence in the present executive and appoint better agents. Butwhilst it is but meet f hat I should draw your attention to the constitutionalposition, I have no doubt whatsoever that you will endorse the settlementwhich I hold to be perfectly honorable for both the parties. Had wenot accepted the settlement we should have put ourselves in the wrongand thereby undone the effect of the sufferings of the past year. Indeedwe had always claimed, as Satyagrahis must claim, to be ready andeager for peace. When, therefore, the way seemed to be open for peace, we took it. In view of the clear demand on the part of the BritishIndian Delegation at the Round Table Conference for full responsibility,and in view of the British parties have accepted the position and in view of the appeal made to the Congress by the Premier, the Viceroyand many of our distinguished countrymen, the Working Committeethought that if an honorable truce could be arranged and if it was opento the Congress to press without any reservation for what is consideredto be the best for the country, the Congress should, if invited, takepart in the Conference and attempt to reach an agreed solution of theconstitutional issue. If we failed in the attempt and there was no wayopen but that of suffering, then it was a privilege of which no power onearth could deprive us.
Under the constitution clause bf the settlement it is open to us to press for Purna Swaraj, to ask for complete control over our defenseforces, foreign affairs, finance, fiscal policy and the like. There wouldbe safeguards or reservations, or as the late Pandit Motilalji called them, adjustments, conceived in our own interest. When power passes fromone to the other by agreement there are always safeguards in theinterest of the party in need of reparation or help. The continuedexploitation of India for close on two centuries renders it necessary for us to seek assistance in several respects from external sources. Thuswe would need military skill and there is no reason why we may notreceive English assistance in this direction. I have taken only one tellingillustration out of others that may be suggested.
The defense safeguard may, therefore, be the retention of BritishOfficers, or, as some would say, even privates, but we could never let our defense be controlled by the British. We must have full power to make mistakes. We may gratefully receive British advice, neverdictation.
BRITISH ARMY OF OCCUPATION
The fact is that the British army in India is an army of occupation, the defense is a misnomer. Frankly, the army is for defending Britishinterests and British men and women against any internal uprising. I cannot recall a single instance in which the Indian army was required forthe protection of India to fight a foreign power. True, there have beenexpeditions on the Frontier, wars with Afghanistan. British historianshave taught us that they were wars more of aggression rather than of,defense. We must not, therefore, be frightened by the bogey of foreign designs upon India. In my opinion, if we need an army, we certainlydo not need the octopus we are daily bleeding to support. If the Congress has its way, the army will suffer an immediate reduction to its reasonable proportion.
PIRNA SWARAJ—OIK GOAL
Again we have been taught to think that our civil administrationwill be inefficient and corrupt if we give up the able assistance of highlypaid British civilians. The administrative powers that the Congresshas exhibited during recent years and the fact of its having on an ever-increasing scale drawn to its assistance some of the best young men andwomen either without pay or on a mere pittance should sufficientlydispose of the fear of corruption or inefficiency. It would be too great a strain upon our poor purse to have to pay, by way of insurance againstcorruption, a premium out of all proportion to the highest possibleestimate of corruption that may ever take place’. It will, therefore, benecessary if India is to come to her own, to demand a heavy reductionin the Civil Service expenditure and thus a consequent reduction in theemoluments of the Civil Service.
We have claimed that many of the charges laid upon India are wholly unjust. We have never suggested repudiation of a singleobligation, but we have asked and must continue to ask for an impartialinvestigation into the debits against us wherever we cannot agree.
There is no receding from the Lahore resolution of completeIndependence. This independence does not mean, was not intended to mean, a churlish refusal to associate with British or any other power.Independence, therefore, does not exclude the possibility of equal partnership for mutual benefit and dissolvable at the will of either party.If India is to reach her independence through consultation and the agreement, it is reasonable to suppose that there is a strong body ofopinion in the country to the effect that before partnership couldbe conceived there must be a period of complete dissociation. I do notbelong to that school. It is, as I think, a sign of weakness and disbelief in human nature.
FEDERATION OF INDIA
Federation is a fascinating idea. But it introduces new embarrassments. Princes will not listen to reverence? Is it severanceof British connection. But if they will come in the true spirit it will be a great gain. Their association must not be to impede the progress of democracy. I hope therefore that they will not take up an’uncompromising attitude that may be wholly inconsistent with thespirit of freedom. I wish they would, without any pressure, give us* an earnest of their desire to march abreast of the time-spirit. Surelythe fundamental rights of their subjects should be guaranteed as of the rest of the inhabitants of India. All the inhabitants of FederatedIndia should enjoy some common elementary rights. And if there arerights, there must be a common court to give relief from anyencroachment upon them. Nor can it be too much to expect that the subjects of the states should be to an extent directly represented onthe federal legislature.
COMMUNAL UNITY ESSENTIAL
But before all else comes the question of Hindu Muslim or rathercommunal unity. The position of the Congress was defined at Lahore.Let me recite the resolution here
In view of the lapse of the Nehru Report, it is unnecessary to declare the policy of the Congress regarding communal questions, theCongress believing that in an independent India, communal questions can only be solved on strictly .national lines. But as the Sikhs, in particular, and Muslims and other minorities, in general, had expresseddissatisfaction over the solution of the communal question proposed in the Nehru Report, the Congress assures the Sikhs, Muslims, and otherminorities that no solution thereof in any future constitution, can beacceptable to the Congress that does not give satisfaction to theparties concerned.
Therefore, Congress can be no party to any constitution that does not contain a solution to the Communal question that is notdesigned to satisfy the respective parties. As a Hindu, I adopt mypredecessor’s formula and present the minorities, with a Swadeshi fountain-pen and paper and let them write out their demands. And,I should endorse them. I know, that it is the quickest method. Butit requires courage on the part of the Hindus. What we want is a heartunity, not parched-up paper-unity that will break under the slightest strain. That unity can only come when the majority takes couragein both the hands and is prepared to change places with the minority.This would be the highest wisdom. Whether the unity is reached thatway or any other, it is becoming plainer day after day that it is uselessto attend any conference unless that unity is achieved. ‘ The Conference can give us an agreement between the British and us, it can perhapshelp us to come nearer to the Princes but it can never enable us toachieve unity. That must be hammered into shape by ourselves. Congress must leave no stone unturned to realize this much-desired end.
CALL TO PEOPLE
It must be clear to all of us that Congress can be useful for’attaining Purna Swaraj only to the extent that it has gained power.The past twelve months have undoubtedly given it a power which hewho runs may see. But it is not enough and can be easily frittered away by hasty action, or by pride. He is a spendthrift who lives onhis capital. We must, therefore, add to our power. One way to do sois on our part to fulfill to the letter the conditions of the settlement.The other is to consolidate our gains. therefore propose to devote afew lines to this part of our activity.
We have made much headway in the matter of t ho boycott foreign cloth. It is a right as well as a duty. Without it, the impoverishedmillions of India must continue to starve. For if cheap foreigncloth continues to be dumped down in the villages of India, the Charka cannot flourish. The foreign cloth must, therefore, be banished from the land.It is, therefore, want of easy employment in their villages that leadto starvation. Incessant propaganda is necessary to rid the country ofchronic unemployment, which has become second nature with ourpeasantry. The best propaganda is to do sacrificial spinning ourselvesand wear khaddar (Khadi). The All-India Spinners” Association hasdone much valuable work. But it is for the Congress to create thisspinning and the khaddar atmosphere. This to my mind is the bestand the most effective propaganda of Boycott.
It has been suggested that the argument against foreign clothapplies to indigenous mill cloth. But our mills do not produce all thecloth we need. For years to come, they may continue to supply thebalance that may be required over and above the hand-spun cloth. But even our mills may prove a hindrance if they compete with khaddar or resort to questionable devices to push their wares. Fortunately, manymills are patriotically working in co-operation with the Congress andare beginning to appreciate the virtue of khaddar in the interest of thetoiling millions. But I can certainly say that if our mills unpatriotically hurt khaddar instead of complimenting it, they must face an oppositionsomewhat similar to that against the foreign cloth.
The foreign cloth merchants will do well to bear the Congress’the attitude in mind in this regard. Foreign cloth boycott is- a permanentthing, not conceived as a political but as an economic and social measure of permanent value for the welfare of the masses. These merchants, will do well to jive up their foreign cloth trade. Everything possible is being done to help them but some very big sacrifice on their part is essential.
English, Japanese, and other foreign merchants will, I hope, not misunderstand Congress attitude. If they will help India, they will deny themselves the India trade in foreign cloth. They have othermarkets and other enterprises.
PICKETING NOT COERCION
This brings me to picketing. This has not been and cannot begiven up. I give below the relevant clause of the Settlement.
Picketing shall be unaggressive, and it shall not involve coercion,intimidation, restraint, hostile demonstration, obstruction to the public, or any offense under the ordinary law, and if and when any of these’ methods are employed in any place, the practice of picketing in that placewill be suspended.
Picketing ‘is a common law of right. Its function is gentle persuasion,never coercion or violent restraint on liberty. I use the adjective’violent’ a, advisedly. The restraining force of public opinion there always,’ will be. It is healthy, elevating, and conducive to the growth of liberty as distinguished from a license. Non-violent picketing is designed to create public opinion, an atmosphere that should become irresistible.
This can best be carried on by women. I hope therefore that theywill continue the marvelous work begun by them and earn the eternalgratitude of the nation and, what is more, the blessings of the starvingmillions.
The idea of a boycott of British goods is almost as old as the Congress.We know that after- the advent of Gandhiji on the political platform,boycott of British goods was replaced by that of foreign—not onlyBritish—cloth. He interpreted it in terms of economic and social uplift, whereas the boycott of the British goods as such is a political andpunitive measure. We must withdraw the political weapon. We cannotbe sitting at the friendly conference table and outside making designsto hurt British interests. Whilst, therefore, we must for the time beingwithdraw British goods’ boycott, we must intensify Swadeshi, which is the birthright of every nation. Whatever we produce in our countrywe must encourage to the exclusion of foreign whether British or other.This is the condition of national growth. Thus we must encourage andcarry on banking, shipping and the like. We may not belittle or neglectthem on the ground of their inferiority or dearness. Only by wide use and helpful criticism may we make them cheaper and better. Equalityof treatment in the case of hopeless un equals ought to mean raising the less favored up to the ‘level of the most favored. Thus equality of, treatment for suppressed classes on the part of the so-called superior’ classes means raising the former to the latter’s level; the lattersacrificing their substance and stooping to conquer. In relation to theBritish we have hitherto occupied a position in some respects lower even than the suppressed classes.
Protection of Indian industries and enterprise to the exclusion „ofBritish or foreign is a condition of our national existence even under astate of partnership. Protection within even the British Commonwealthis no newfangled notion. It is in vogue in the Dominions to the extentnecessary for their growth.
Just as a boycott of foreign cloth is an economic necessity f6r thesake of the starving millions, a boycott of intoxicating drink and drugs a necessity for the moral welfare of the nation. The idea of totalprohibition was born before its political effect, was thought of. The Congress conceived it as a measure of self-purification! Even if theGovernment ear-marked the revenue from this traffic for purelyprohibition purposes, our picketing of these shops would continue, no doubt subject to the same severe restrictions as in the case of foreigncloth. We cannot rest still, so long as there is a yard of foreign clothentering the country or a single liquor shop corrupting our misguidedcountrymen.
The salt raids must stop. Defiance of salt laws for the sake ofdisobedience must stop. But the poor, living in the neighborhood ofsalt areas, are free to make and sell salt within that neighborhood.The Salt Tax is not gone, it is true. In view of the likelihood of the Congress participating in the Conference, we may not press for theimmediate repeal of the tax which is bound to come very soon. Butthe poorest on whose behalf the campaign was undertaken is nowvirtually free from the tax. I hope that no traders will seek to takean undue advantage of the relaxation.
The foregoing perhaps shows you how uninterested I am in manythings that interest the intelligentsia. I am not interested in loaves andfishes, or legislative honors. The peasantry does not understand these,they are little affected by them. I believe that Gandhiji’s eleven pointsmean the substance of Swaraj. That which does not satisfy them is noSwaraj. (Whilst I would respect the rights of landlords, Rajas,Maharajas and others to the extent that they do not hurt the sweating millions, my interest lies in helping the downtrodden to rise from theirstate and be on a level with the tallest in the land). Thank God, thegospel of Truth and Non-Violence has given these an inkling of theirdignity and the power they possess. Much remains to be done. Butlet us make up our minds that we exist for them, not they for- us. Letwe shed our petty rivalries and jealousies, religious feuds and let everyone realize that the Congress represents and exists for the toiling millions and it will become an irresistible power working not for greedor power but for the sake of common humanity.
There is one part of the constructive program which I have notdealt with already; that is the all-important work of removinguntouchability. The recent heroic struggle on the part of the nationwould have been more glorious if Hindus had purged Hinduism of this evil. But heroism or glory apart, no Swaraj would be worth havingwithout this supreme ”act of self-purification, and even if Swaraj is wonwhilst this stain continues to blacken Hinduism, it would be as insecure’as a Swaraj without a complete boycott of foreign cloth.
In, conclusion, I may not forget our brethren overseas. Their lotin South Africa, in East Africa and in the other parts of the world isstill hanging in’ the balance. Deenabandhu Andrews is happily in South Africa helping our countrymen. Pandit Hirdaya Nath Kunzru has specialized in the Indian question in East Africa. The onlyconsolation the Congress can give is to assure them of its sympathy.They know that their lot( must automatically improve to the extent that we approach our goal. In your name, I would appeal to the Governmentsconcerned to treat with consideration the members of a nation whichis bound at a very early date to, enter upon her heritage and which means ill to no nation on earth. We ask them to extend to our nationalsthe same treatment they would have us, when we are free, to extend totheirs. This is surely not asking too much.
I invite you to conduct your proceedings, over which you have askedme to preside, in a manner befitting the grave occasion at which wehave met. Differences of opinion are bound to exist, but I trust that everyone here will co-operate to make our deliberations dignified andconducive to the attainment of our goal.