London, August 9, 1942
New York Times, August 10, 1942.
You have heard but yesterday that the All-India committee of the Indian Congress party committed itself to a mass struggle on the widest possible scale against the existing government of India unless that government was prepared to bow to Mr. Gandhi's demands that British rule in India should cease, immediately.
To understand the reason and purpose of this threat, not only to the internal peace of India, but to the whole Allied cause, I must ask you to cast your minds back some four months, to what is usually described or rather mis-described as the failure of Sir Stafford Cripps's mission.
I need not go into the details of the British Government's proposals. Those proposals received a warm welcome from democratic opinion all over the world. They offered to Indians the opportunity, immediately after the war, of attaining, under constitutional arrangements, freely arrived at by Indians among themselves, to the same independence, the same complete freedom from all outside control as is enjoyed by the dominions, or for that matter by the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, Indian political leaders were invited to come together-men in responsible positions-to participate in the task of governing India and carrying on her war effort, but within the existing constitution. The negotiations broke down, mainly owing to the intransigence-the "all or nothing" attitude-of the Congress leaders, who demanded that the government of India should be handed over immediately and unconditionally to a group of Indian politicians responsible to nobody, a group which they would have dominated.
This would have been the negation of democracy, and would not have been acceptable either to the 95,000,000 Moslems of India or to the many other elements in India's national life. Congress has, indeed, come to regard itself as the only mouthpiece of India's national aspirations, as the only party entitled to take over and control the whole of India, regardless of the views of all other factions.
The rejection of the British proposal profoundly disappointed public opinion in India, and has seriously shaken the credit of the Congress leadership. It is in this situation that Mr. Gandhi determined upon the kind of open clash with the government which is most calculated to arouse mass emotion and so regard prestige for himself and his associates and focus attention upon themselves as the champions of India against so-called British oppression. That, in sum and substance, is the real meaning of the latest move.
The Congress leaders are far too intelligent men to imagine that the present system of government in India could suddenly be brought to an end with no alternative in view, save the anarchy to which Mr. Gandhi seems to look forward with such complacency.
But India knows that there is not the slightest chance of an agreed provisional government coming into being on the disappearance of British rule. If they believe this, surely their obvious course would be to bring the members of such a government together now and let India know in advance to whom her fortunes are to be entrusted.
They know that for all their professions of zeal for the Allied cause they could not add a rifle or a recruit to the forces which India is putting in the field, but could only disorganize the whole of that splendid army of which India is so justly proud.
What we are really concerned with is not a demand which no one can take seriously, but the action which Congress had from the outset resolved upon. For that action, acts of preparation had for some time been in progress. It includes the fomenting of strikes, not only in industry and commerce, but in the administration and in law courts, schools and colleges; the interruption of traffic and public utility services, the cutting of telegraph and telephone lines, the picketing of troops and recruiting stations.
All this is to be done, so we are told, non-violently. But bitter experience has shown how easily the non-violent activity of excited crowds can lead to terrorism, riot and bloodshed.
The success of the proposed campaign would paralyze not only the ordinary civil administration of India, but her whole war effort. It would stop the output of munitions, the construction of aerodromes, and even of shelters against air attack. It would put an end to recruiting; it would immobilize the forces.
No worse stab in the back could be devised to all the gallant men, Indian or British, American or Chinese, now engaged on Indian soil in the task of defending India herself and of preparing, from India as their base, to strike at the enemy.
It would mean the betrayal of China and of Russia. It would mean the enslavement of India herself to the Japanese. That is what, in their reckless and irresponsible desire for party dominance, the Congress leaders are prepared to bring about.
In the face of such a challenge and of such a menace, there could be only one answer. That was for the government of India to take firm, and above all, swift action to deal with its authors before their preparations were further advanced, or before the campaign could gain momentum. This they have done.
The leaders, including Mr. Gandhi, have been detained and cut off from all communication with those who were to have been the instruments of their wicked folly. The press has been forbidden to do anything that would give publicity to them or to those who may attempt to carry on the movement without them.
There is abundant ground for punitive action. But the government of India have confined themselves to action which is essentially preventive. What they have in fact done is to disconnect Mr. Gandhi and his confederates, to cut out the fuse leading from the arch-saboteur to all the inflammable and explosive material which they had hoped to set alight all over India.
By their prompt and resolute action the government of India have saved India and the Allied cause from a grave disaster. In truth, there may yet be a certain measure of trouble. It is too early to speak with any assurance. But I believe it will not be trouble that cannot be dealt with by the government of India through the police and the courts.
You may have noted that I have spoken throughout of the government of India. It is that government whose authority has been challenged and which has acted in order to assert its direct and immediate responsibility for the internal peace of India and for India's security against aggression. His Majesty's Government to the United Kingdom stands, of course, unwaveringly in support of the action which the government of India are taking; but it is the government of India which has acted, and which deserves the gratitude of India, of the Empire, and of the United Nations for its courage and promptitude.
That government, may I remind you, is one the substantial majority of whose members-eleven, in fact, out of fifteen-are Indian, men in no way less wholehearted in their national convictions than the Congress leaders, but statesmen, men with wide political and administrative experience, and with a sense both of reality and of responsibility for the welfare of the people of India; and for the cause of human freedom in which we are all engaged. They will have the support in this issue of the vast majority of sober and responsible men and women in India.
Neither the responsible democratic Indian ministries in the Provinces, where Congress has not prevented the working of self-government-provinces with a population of nearly 100,000,000, nor the 95,000,000 Moslems, nor the 40,000,000 or more of the depressed classes whose leader, Dr. Ambedkar, holds the Labor portfolio in the government of India, nor the Indian Christians, nor all the varied elements that form the backbone of India's great voluntary Army, none of these but are deeply concerned to prevent the success of a movement which plans to paralyze the life of India in order to secure the ends of the Congress leaders.
The forces of stability and constructive patriotism will prevail in India, as in the world, over reckless, totalitarian methods and ambitions. When the hour of victory comes, as assuredly it will, then it will be for Indian statesmanship to make the fullest use of the opportunity to which we have pledged ourselves and to which we remain pledged to devise for India a constitutional framework within which she can live at peace and in unity of spirit within her own borders, and take her rightful place among: the free nations of the British Commonwealth and of the world.