Routledge

M. K. Gandhi’s Address as Congress President (1924)

Introduction: After terminating his campaign in 1922, Mahatma Gandhi was sentenced to six years in prison, but was released prematurely after an operation (appendicitis). While he was in prison a conflict had arisen between the "no-changers" who wished to continue non-cooperation and the "pro-changers" who wanted to enter the legislative councils, converting their agitational prominence into success at the polls. Everybody expected Gandhi’s verdict and he was elected Congress President to give a new direction to the freedom movement. As he saw no prospect for a renewed campaign, he had to accommodate the "pro-changers". In his address Gandhi assessed this situation and reluctantly agreed to participation in the elections for which a special party, the "Swaraj Party" was formed so as not to compromise the National Congress.
(see also AHOI, Ch. 7, section: The return to the constitutional arena)

......From the September of 1920 the Congress has been principally an institution for developing strength from within. It has ceased to function by means of resolutions addressed to the Government for redress of grievances. It did so because it ceased to believe in the beneficial character of the existing system of government.
..... Though .... non-violent non-cooperation has not brought us Swaraj, though it has brought about certain deplorable results and though the institutions that were sought to be boycotted are still flourishing, in my humble opinion, non-violent non-cooperation as a means of attaining political freedom has come to stay and that even its partial success has brought us nearer Swaraj. There is no mistaking the fact that the capacity for suffering for the sake of a cause must advance it.
            But we are face to face with a situation that compels us to cry halt. For whilst individuals hold firmly to their belief in non-cooperation, the majority of those who are immediately concerned, have practically lost faith in it, with the exception of the boycott of foreign cloth. Scores of lawyers have resumed practice. Some even regret having ever given it up. Many who had given up Councils have returned to them and the number of those who believe in Council entry is on the increase. Hundreds of boys and girls who gave up Government schools and colleges have repented of their action and have returned to them. I hear that Government schools and colleges can hardly cope with the demand for admission. In these circumstances these boycotts cannot be worked as part of the national programme, unless the Congress is prepared to do without the classes directly affected. But I hold it to be just as impracticable to keep these classes out of the Congress as it would now to keep the non-cooperators out. They must both remain within the Congress without either party interfering or hostilily  criticising the other. What is applicable to Hindu-Muslim unity is, I feel, applicable to the unity among different political groups. We must tolerate each other and trust to time to convert the one or the other to the opposite belief. We must go further. We  must plead with the Liberals and others who have seceded to rejoin the Congress. If non-cooperation is suspended, there is no reason why they should keep out. The advance must be from us, Congressmen. We must cordially invite them and make it easy for them to come in. You are perhaps now able to see why I entered into the agreement with the Swarajists...........
...... I have ... dilated upon the spinning wheel because I have no better or other message for the nation. I know of no other effective method  for the attainment of Swaraj if it is to be by ‚peaceful and legitimate means’. ... I swear by Civil Disobedience. But Civil Disobedience  for the attainment of Swaraj is an impossibility unless and until we have attained the power of achieving boycott of foreign cloth ....
            Hindu-Muslim unity is no less important that the spinning wheel. It is the breath of our life. I do not need to occupy much of your time on this question because the necessity of it is almost universally accepted....
            Untouchability is another hindrance to Swaraj. Its removal is just as essential for Swaraj as the attainment of Hindu-Muslim unity. This is an essentially Hindu question and Hindus cannot claim or take Swaraj till they have restored the liberty of the depressed classes. They have sunk with the latter’s suppression. Historians tell us that the Aryan invaders treated the original inhabitants of Hindustan precisely as the English invaders treat us, if not much worse. If so, our helotry is a just retribution for our having created an untouchable class. But the priests tell us that untouchability is a divine appointment. I am certain that the priests are wrong. It is a blasphemy to say that God set apart any portion of humanity as untouchable. And Hindus who are Congressmen have to see to it that they break down the barrier at the earliest possible moment......
            But the spinning wheel, Hindu-Muslim unity and the removal of untouchability are only means to an end. The end we do not know. For me it is enough to know the means. Means and end are convertible terms in my philosophy of life....
....................
            Let me state my faith. As a Congressman wishing to keep the Congress intact, I advise suspension of non-cooperation, for I see that the nation is not ready for it. But as an individual, I cannot, will not do so, as long as the Government remains what it is. It is not merely a policy with me, it is an article of faith. Non-cooperation and Civil Disobedience are but different branches of the same tree called Satyagraha.... Satyagraha is search for Truth, and God is Truth. Ahimsa or Non-violence is the light that reveals that Truth to me. Swaraj for me is part of the Truth. This Satyagraha did not fail me in South Africa, Kheda or Champaran and in a host of other cases I could mention. It excludes all violence or hate. Therefore, I cannot and will not hate Englishmen. Nor will I bear their yoke............

(G.A.Natesan, Congress Presidential Addresses, 1911- 1934 (Madras, 1934) p.732 f.)

 

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