London, August 5, 1942
"The Times," London, August 6, 1942.
Many hard comments have been made on my efforts in India from the side of the Congress party, yet I feel content in the deep conviction that the offer I traveled 22,000 miles to discuss with Indian leaders was a real contribution to a solution of our differences.
Concerning the attitude of the British Government there can be no doubt the Secretary of State for India made a statement last week which makes it plain that "His Majesty's Government stand firmly by the broad intentions of their offer in the draft declaration" which I took with me to India, and that they "reiterate their resolve to give the fullest opportunity for attainment by India of complete self-government."
It is, therefore, plain beyond doubt that Indian self-government is assured as soon as hostilities are over and it becomes possible to re-plan life in India upon a new basis. It is of no avail for protagonists of sectional interests in India to deny these simple facts. A promise has been made and that promise will be carried out.
Is it reasonable then for people of India, while hostilities are continuing, to demand some complete and fundamental constitutional change? Is it practical in the middle of a hard-fought war in which the United States, China and Britain are exerting all their strength to protect the Eastern world from domination by Japan?
Gandhi has asked that the British Government should walk out of India and leave the Indian people to settle differences among themselves, even if it means chaos and confusion. What would this chaos and confusion actually mean? All government which is based on the existing constitution would immediately cease. There would be no Viceroy, no executive council, no legislative assembly and no civil service with any legal authority.
The Governors of the provinces would cease to function; so would all the provincial governments and legislatures. There would be no authority to collect revenue and no money to pay for any government service. The police would cease to have any authority, courts of justice would no longer function, and there would be no laws and no order. The evil-minded could pillage the land, and disorder and crime could run riot.
In this chaos Gandhi proposes to set up a provisional government if he can, but as there would then be no electoral machinery and no law as to representation, it could at best be no more than a government nominated by themselves and such other leaders of Indian opinion as might be willing to work with him. Others might work against him and defy his provisional government.
Chaos in India at this moment would not affect India only. It would affect vitally the whole war against the Axis powers. Gandhi has more recently recognized the need for continuance of British, American and Chinese efforts in India and has suggested that these troops might remain by agreement with some new Indian Government.
But the difficulty of the situation does not lie in whether an agreement can be come to with an Indian Government, but whether in conditions of chaos and complete lack of law and order an Indian Government can establish itself, pass all the necessary laws, lay down a completely new Constitution, and get the agreement of all sections of Indian opinion so as to avoid an immediate civil war.
It was because of these difficulties, inherent in an attempt to change over control of a country so vast as India, that we have recognized that while the war lasts a complete change-over to an entirely new Constitution is impossible.
Apart altogether from our own vital interests, we cannot and must not desert those other nations who have already gone through so much tragedy and suffering to defeat the evil designs of the Axis powers. We have pledged ourselves, and of this the United Nations of the world are witness, to give the fullest opportunity for attainment of self-government by India as soon as hostilities are over. I repeat that that is beyond doubt.
I cannot believe that it is the desire of the Indian people-and I know that it is not the desire of many of them-to use this time of difficulty for the United Nations in order to extract compliance with the views of one section of opinion, however large and important.
Violent statements and threats cannot provide a solution to the problem. They can only exacerbate feeling and make a clash of forces inevitable. Reasoned arguments and suggestions which make allowance for the full difficulties of the state of war that exists may help, and will always be listened to with respect and sympathy.
Mr. Gandhi tells us in a recent issue of Harijan that "we know that if India does not become free now hidden discontent will burst forth to welcome the Japanese, should they effect a landing."
My answer to that proposition is that if Mr. Gandhi and his Congress colleagues were to explain to the Indian people that their freedom was assured before all the world as soon as hostilities cease and, further, that, as indubitably is the case, that freedom depends on the success of the struggle of the United Nations, then there would be no danger whatever of a burst of welcome to the Japanese.
The danger, if danger there be, arises from the attitude and propaganda of Mr. Gandhi and his friends.
Remember Mr. Gandhi's saying at some time in recent years that, once given the certainty of Indian freedom in the future, he cared little how long the period of transition lasted.
Certainly that has now been given, and the period of transition has been reduced to "while hostilities last." Is it not, then, unreasonable to demand suddenly that there should be no period of transition at all, and make that demand at a moment of peculiar difficulty for the United Nations?
No practical suggestion-by which I mean reasonable and capable of being carried out at a time of acute war danger-has been put forward since I left India.
No one will expect the British Government or the Government of India to give way to threats of violence, disorder and chaos; and, indeed, representatives of large sections of Indian opinion have expressly warned us that we must not do so.
We make no threats, but we must assert unequivocally our duty to India, to the great minority and to the United Nations to preserve law and order until hostilities cease, and we can then give, as we have promised, the fullest opportunity for attainment of self-government by the Indian people.
It is not yet too late for the Indian people to decide on rapid, ordered progress. I can assure them that the British people are as determined upon self-government for India as they are themselves. We ask the great masses of India to be patient a short time longer, while the cause of freedom is being fought out, not because we want to delay, but because the hard facts of war make a complete change impossible at the moment.
I sincerely hope we shall all of us face these difficult questions with calmness, sincerity and mutual trust, because I am convinced that if both peoples so exercise their will to solve our problems there need be no violence.
India has indeed a great and free future before her, in which she can make her special contribution to the well-being of mankind. The first and indispensable part of that contribution is to work with the United Nations for the defeat of fascism and of brutal aggression.