Sunday, October 8, 2017

Gandhi on Christianity

Nowadays, Mahatma Gandhi's views on religion are considered to be responsible for Partition, responsible for many of India's ills, and so on.  In particular, Gandhi is considered by the modern mind as impossibly naive about Christianity and Islam.

I came across this in V.B. Kher's compilation of Gandhiana:

(From "Weekly Letter" — by M. D.)

Sir Chandrashekharan Venkata Raman came up the hill one afternoon with Professor Rahm from Switzerland, a reputed biologist.

"He has discovered," said Chandrashekharan introducing him, "an insect that can live without food and water for 12 years, and has come to India for further researches in Biology."

"When you discover the secret at the back of it," said Gandhiji, "please pass it on to me."
"But," said the biologist, "I am a scientist and a monk also, and when I decided to come to pay my respect to you, I thought of asking you a question or two. May I do so?"

"With pleasure," said Gandhiji.

Dr. Rahm was perplexed by the many warring creeds in the world and wondered if there was no way of ending the conflict.

"It depends on Christians," said Gandhiji, "if only they would make up their minds to unite with the others! But they will not do so. Their solution is universal acceptance of Christianity as they believe it. An English friend has been at me for the past thirty years trying to persuade me that there is nothing but damnation in Hinduism and that I must accept Christianity. When I was in jail I got, from separate sources, no less than three copies of the Life of Sister Therese, in the hope that I should follow her example and accept Jesus as the only begotten son of God and my Saviour. I read the book prayerfully but I could not accept even St. Therese's testimony for myself. I must say I have an open mind, if indeed at this stage and age of my life I can be said to have an open mind on this question. Anyway I claim to have an open mind in this sense that if things were to happen to me as they did to Saul before he became Paul, I should not hesitate to be converted"

"But today I rebel against orthodox Christianity, as I am convinced that it has distorted the message of Jesus. He was an Asiatic whose message was delivered through many media and when it had the backing of a Roman Emperor it became an imperialist faith as it remains to this day. Of course there are noble but rare exceptions like Andrews and Elwin. But the general trend is as I have indicated."

"There was held the other day in Bombay a parliament of religions. Now a positive bar to a real parliament of religions is the refusal to accept an equal basis and a mutual regard for one another's faith. We must not forget that it is a parliament of religions, and not of a few religious- minded men. Did Christianity enter the parliament on a par with the others? When they do not do so openly, they secretly criticize us for our having many gods, forgetting that they have also many gods'."

Dr. Rahm was not perhaps prepared for this reply. He made no answer. He put another question in reply. "If we cannot unite, can't we fight atheism which seems to be so much on the increase?"

Sir C. V. Raman who was sitting all this while as a passive listener now put in: "I shall answer your question. If there is a God we must look for Him in the universe. If He is not there, He is not worth looking for. I am being looked upon in various quarters as an atheist, but I am not. The growing discoveries in the science of astronomy and physics seem to me to be further and further revelations of God. Mahatmaji, religions cannot unite. Science offers the best opportunity for a complete fellowship. All men of science are brothers."

"What about the converse?" said Gandhiji. "All who are not men of science are not brothers?"

The distinguished physicist saw the joke and said: 'But all can become men of science."

Then said Gandhiji, "You will have to present a Kalma of science as Islam presents one."

"Science," said Sir C. V. Raman, "is nothing but a search for truth—truth not only in the physical world, but in the world of logic, psychology, behaviour and so on. The virtue of a truly scientific frame of mind is the readiness to reject what is false and untrue. It proclaims from the house-tops that there is no virtue in sticking to untruth. I think the latest biological discovery is that there is no fundamental cleavage between the life of man and the life of the lower creation and that salvation lies in the perfection of the biological instinct for the perpetuation of race—the instinct to sacrifice the individual for the sake of the species."

Several years ago a great religious-minded scientist, Dr. Henry Drummond, an F.R.S. like Sir C. V. Raman, had said the same thing in his book, The Natural Law in the Spiritual World. And does not the Gita teach the same thing? Does it not proclaim that with sacrifice God created man, and enjoined upon him sacrifice as the only means whereby to seek to grow?

Harijan,30-5-'36, p. 121 at p. 122

My comment: in the very end, 'sacrifice' is mangled, conjoining two very different senses of the word, that too, translating 'yajna' as sacrifice. 


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Secession in the Cabinet MIssion Plan

Some questions and answers about the Cabinet Mission Plan.

Q1. Where did the proposal allowing for secession after 10 years come from?

 From the Muslim League proposals of May 12, 1946 (here)
10. The Constitution of the Union shall have a provision whereby any Province can, by a majority vote of its Legislative Assembly, call for reconsideration of the terms of the Constitution, and will have the liberty to secede from the Union at any time after an initial period of ten years.
The Cabinet Mission Plan statement of May 16, 1946 (here) accommodated it as follows (also read answer to Q2)
(6) The Constitutions of the Union and of the groups should contain a provision whereby any Province could by majority vote of its Legislative Assembly could call for a reconsideration of the terms of the Constitution after an initial period of ten years and at ten-yearly intervals thereafter.

Q2. What was the Congress response to the above proposal?

 From the same link above, the relevant points

a.  from the Congress' proposals of May 12, 1946
8. The Constitution should provide machinery for its revision at any time subject to such checks as may be desired. If so desired, it may be specifically stated that this whole Constitution may be reconsidered after 10 years.

b. from the Congress response to Muslim League Proposals of May 12, 1946
(10) The Constitution of the Union will inevitably contain provisions for its revision. It may also contain a provision for its full reconsideration at the end of ten years. The matter will be open then for a complete reconsideration. Though it is implied, we would avoid reference to secession as we do not wish to encourage this idea."
 Q3. What would the strength of Muslims be in the proposed Central Legislature per the May 12 proposals?

The Muslim League: (here)
6. There should be parity of representation between the two groups of Provinces in the Union Executive and the Legislature, if any.
 7. No major point in the Union Constitution which affects the communal issue shall be deemed to be passed in the joint constitution-making body, unless the majority of the members of the constitution-making body of the Hindu provinces and the majority of the members of the constitution-making body of the Pakistan Group, present and voting, are separately in its favour.
 The Congress: (here)
(6 and 7) We are entirely opposed to parity of representation as between groups of Provinces in the Union Executive or Legislature. We think that the provision to the effect that no major communal issue in the Union Constitution shall be deemed to be passed by the Constituent Assembly unless a majority of the members of the community or communities concerned present and voting in the Constituent Assembly are separately in its favour, is a sufficient and ample safeguard of all Minorities.

We have suggested something wider and including all communities than has been proposed elsewhere. This may give rise to some difficulties in regard to small communities, but all such difficulties can be got over by reference to arbitration. We are prepared to consider the method of giving effect to this principle so as to make it more feasible.
Q4. What did the Cabinet Mission Plan statement of May 16 say about the composition of a Central Legislature?

It did not say much.  On the subject of the Central Legislature, here are the salient points:
(2) The Union should have an Executive and a Legislature constituted from British Indian and States' representatives. Any question raising a major communal issue in the Legislature should require for its decision a majority of the representatives present and voting of each of the two major communities as well as a majority of all members present and voting.
 Q5. Did Jinnah interpret the 10 year clause in the Cabinet Mission Plan as allowing for secession?

As per Jinnah's conversation with Major Woodrow Wyatt on May 24, 1946, Jinnah was upset that the Cabinet Mission Plan statement did not allow provinces to secede.

6. His general criticism of the Statement was that it had not settled any of the fundamentals. For example:-
(d) Provinces had not been given the right to secede after 10 years although the Congress had always been willing to give the right to secede and had raised no real objection this time at Simla.
 Q6.  Was Jinnah quite happy with the federal solution laid down by the Cabinet Mission Plan?

As per Jinnah's conversation with Major Woodrow Wyatt on May 24, 1946,  this is what Jinnah thought:

3. He considered that the Statement was not a practicable proposition. The machinery envisaged would not work and could not work mainly because there was no spirit of co-operation on the Congress side. The Mission had obviously not even fully appreciated the situation in India. What was required was a surgical operation. This Statement would settle nothing.....

5. He said that the preamble to the Mission's Statement had bitterly hurt the feelings of the Muslims. Not only that, it was inconsistent with the rest of the Statement. This onslaught was quite unnecessary and had been done in order to placate Congress. Indeed, the word Pakistan was an anathema throughout the Statement. This preamble made matters even more difficult for him than before.

6. His general criticism of the Statement was that it had not settled any of the fundamentals. For example:-

(a) The Muslim group of Provinces had not got parity with the others at the centre.

(b) There was no real protection for the Muslims in the Constituent Assembly, because from the very start the chairman would be a Hindu, unless the Muslims were to say that the election of the chairman was a communal issue, in which case the Constituent Assembly would break down straight away.

(c) The position of the States was left far too vague.

(d) Provinces had not been given the right to secede after 10 years although the Congress had always been willing to give the right to secede and had raised no real objection this time at Simla.

(e) The Union had been given the power to raise money. This was not a communal issue and would inevitably lead to taxation from the Centre with other subjects being added on the short list of the Union Government.

7. He explained to the Viceroy why there should be entirely separate Constituent Assemblies which only met together for the purpose of deciding the structure of the Union Government.

He thought the Viceroy had understood. This was a psychological matter and the Mission had created a single Constituent Assembly working in three sections only to please the Congress, ignoring Muslim feeling.

8. The only real safeguard for the Muslims was parity between Federations. The method of voting on communal issues would not work as there would always be dispute as to what was a communal issue and what was not.

9. He could not understand why the Muslim provinces had been split into two groups. He agreed that it was something to have the groups at all and without them he could not even have looked at the Scheme.

10. He disliked the Advisory Committee on which the Muslims would be in a minority, and as far as he could see would be unable to prevent the Union Constituent Assembly incorporating its recommendations as a part of the constitution of the Union Government, thus added another subject to those dealt with by the Union Government.

11. He dilated at considerable length on the attitude of Congress who had not conceded anything during the Simla Conference and would never approach the Constituent Assembly in a spirit of co-operation. They would aim the whole time to use their majority to steam-roller the Muslim League and sidetrack the provision as to safeguarding the Muslims on communal issues. It was inconceivable that such a Constituent Assembly could work at all.

12. He will not come down to Delhi until June 1st or 2nd. He can say nothing further until he has consulted the Muslim League Working Committee and Council. He is being bombarded with telegrams from his supporters protesting against the Statement and the Muslim reaction is very strong against it. My own impression is that he definitely wants to see where he is with the Muslim League before giving a decision on the Statement and he wants them to have time in which to absorb the two shocks which they have been given.

(a) His own letter agreeing to a Union Government
(b) The preamble to the Mission's Statement.

He is particularly hurt that the Mission have seized on this concession(which was an enormous one from his stand point) and have not taken his offer as a whole. None of the provisos that went with it have been accepted. I pointed out to him that everything that Congress had asked for had not been accepted either but he did not seem particularly convinced.
Q7.   Does the conversation of Major Woodrow Wyatt and Jinnah on May 24, 1946 prove "...that Muslim League’s resolution was aimed at saving face with its own constituents and did not have any serious ramifications in terms of the federation that was envisaged under the Cabinet Mission Plan, which Jinnah seemed to believe was workable"?

The answer to Q6 provides excerpts to this very conversation, which show that Jinnah did not believe the plan was workable.  Second,  there is nothing here about saving face:

13. I asked him, in view of the foregoing, whether he thought that the Muslim League Working Committee might possibly pass a resolution on the following lines:-

The British had exceeded their brief in pronouncing on the merits of Pakistan. They had no business to turn down what millions of people wanted. Their analysis of Pakistan was outrageous. But the Muslims had never expected the British to give them Pakistan. They had never expected anyone to give them Pakistan. They knew they had to get it by their own strong right arm.

The scheme outlined in the Cabinet Mission's Statement was impracticable and could not work. But nevertheless in order to show that they would give it a trial, although they knew that the machinery could not function, they would accept the Statement and would not go out of their way to sabotage the procedure-but they would accept the Statement as the first step on the road to Pakistan.

At this proposition he was delighted and said "That's it, you've got it", and I am completely convinced that that is what the Muslim League will do.
14. He will demand parity in the Interim Government if he decides to come into it.
 PS: Jinnah's public statement of May 22, 1946 on the Cabinet Mission Plan has pretty much the same complaints that he reiterated to Major Wyatt on May 24 (answer to Q6 above).

PPS: As to the sincerity of the June 5-6 acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan by Jinnah, also see this.

(Originally posted here.)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Wavell to Pethick-Lawrence, July 8, 1946

From Transfer of Power 1942-7, Volume VIII, #11,  Field Marshal Viscount Wavell to Lord Pethick-Lawrence (Secretary of State), July 8, 1946, L/PO/10/23.

5.  Menon will keep Turnbull informed of the progress of the elections to the Constituent Assembly.  Even the Sikhs appear to intend to elect their representatives to the Constituent Assembly, which is satisfactory.   There has however been insistence by the Ministries of Assam, Madras and Bombay that the declaration form for candidates should omit mention of paragraph 19, and it still appears that the Congress may try to move in the Constituent Assembly that the Assembly is a sovereign body and can changes its own rules of procedure, even include the one which requires a double majority for major communal issues.   They may even seek to elect a provisional Government in the Constituent Assembly.  If the Congress press their view as far as that, it is clear that the Constituent Assembly will break up at once, and all our efforts will have been in vain.  If that happens, it will mean I suppose that the Congress are prepared to attempt to take power by a mass-movement.  We must still recognize the possibility of this; and His Majesty's Government must give me as early as possible a definite plan to deal with a breakdown; it will take a considerable time to fill in details, when I know the general intention.   Only if the Right Wing of the Congress are unshaken in their control during the A.I.C.C. session shall we have any reason to hope that the Constituent Assembly will be worked in something approaching the way that we intended.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Gandhi on Hitler

"Hitler is not a bad man" - allegedly Gandhi wrote this;  the earliest reference that I can find to it dates to 1960:

The electronic version of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi has this as Gandhi's May 1940 letter to Linlithgow:

Gandhi had written this on November 20, 1938, that if there was ever a justifiable war it would be war against Germany to prevent the persecution of Jews.

A rich collection of books, however, claims that Gandhi wrote this, e.g.,

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Liaquat Ali Khan, July 9, 1946

This following is from The Transfer of Power 1942-7, Volume VIII, a footnote in #16 (#16 is about Jawaharlal Nehru's July 10th press conference).

On 9 July 1946, the Associated Press reported Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan as having said that it had been decided to convene a meeting of the Council of the All-India Muslim League at Bombay on 28 and 29 July.  The Council was to examine 'the whole position, and decide as to what course of action should be adopted by the Muslim League under the changed circumstances.'  The changed circumstances were: (1) that 'the Cabinent Delegation and the Viceroy have gone back on their word in postponing the formation of an interim Government. . . and have broken their solemn pledges given in writing to the Muslim League in the connection'; and (2) that 'Congress has accepted the long-term plan of the Cabinet Mission only conditionally with reservations', and that the Congress interpretation was totally opposed to the Mission's Statement of 25 May, 'particularly with regard to the grouping of Provinces, which is the corner stone of the long-term scheme." L/P&J/10/73:f334.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Nehru's Tryst With Destiny Speech

"Tryst With Destiny" is the famous speech given by Jawaharlal Nehru given to the Indian Constituent Assembly in the Indian Parliament building, just as India emerged into independence, on the midnight of August 14-15th.

The speech was given in English. A Hindi version was recorded, spoken by Nehru, and broadcast on All India Radio (Hindi text and audio available on this page.).

Poornam Viswanathan recounted here how he broadcast a Tamil version of the speech on All India Radio, around 5:30 AM on August 15, 1947.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Coming to terms with the Partition

Was the Partition of India avoidable?

Of course it was!

One simple course of action to avoid Partition would have been for all the non-Muslims of India to voluntarily, peacefully and immediately convert to Islam.  There would have been no Partition.

Of course, that is not what most people mean when they talk about this question.   The correct question is - "Was the Partition of India avoidable at a cost that was acceptable to the Indian nationalists?"   (The Indian nationalists included the Indian National Congress, the Hindu Mahasabha, and a multitude of other parties, all of whom favored a united  India.  The main separatists were the All India Muslim League, and they had some minor company  like the Communist Party of India, and some long-forgotten Dravidianists.)

"Was the Partition of India avoidable at a cost that was acceptable to the Indian nationalists?"

With the 20/20 vision of being able to look back at history, the answer to that question is - No. The nuanced answer is - most likely No.

Of course, no leader in 1946 could have known that answer with the certainty that we have today.  And the nationalists did try very hard to avoid Partition. 

So, e.g., when Tapan Ghosh‏ @hstapanghosh tweets
For Partition Nehru alone was not responsible. It was the defeat/failure of our the then collective leadership & elite class Hindus society.
what was the defeat/failure of the collective leadership and elite-class Hindu society?

In my opinion,  most of the leadership has still not grasped their failure.  The failure was not in avoiding Partition; but in not anticipating and planning for the contingency that Partition might be unavoidable.  B.R. Ambedkar is about the only leader who put some serious thought into that, and C. Rajagopalachari comes in a distant second in this arena.   Everyone else, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Sardar Patel, were in deep denial.   Many Indians today are still caught in the "those leaders could have avoided Partition, if only....".   E.g., if only Jawaharlal Nehru hadn't had his press conference on July 10, 1946.

Once you accept the possibility that Partition might be unavoidable, you start thinking about how to get the best possible result for the Indian union that remains.  We don't see much evidence of that happening except whatever little was possible in the very last couple of months of British rule.

Now, the British had their fingers on the scales, and it is not clear that any contingency planning to deal with an inevitable Partition would have been in any way fruitful.  But there was no such thinking or planning, and even today, far too many Indians are still in the deep denial that I've mentioned above. 


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Nehru's press conference, July 10, 1946

From the Annual Register, 1946, and The Transfer of Power 1942-7, Volume VIII, #16.  {The changes to the Annual Register account derived from T.O.P. are in blue}

Congress and the Cabinet Plan
Pt. Nehru Explains Issues

The Congress President, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in a 75-minute Press Conference at Congress House Bombay, on the 10th July discussed a number of important questions such as the position of Indians in Ceylon, the Constituent Assembly, the grouping of provinces as contained in the Cabinet Mission's statement of May 16, the subjects that will come within the purview of the Union Centre, what the Congress proposes to do in the Constituent Assembly, how the Kashmir Government's ban against his entry into that State has become an all-India issue between the Indian National Congress and the States' People's Conference on the one side and the Political Department of the Government of India and the Kashmir State on the other.  This last subject, he said, was likely to affect other matters including the whole question of the States in the Constituent Assembly.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


"Rashtrapita" or "Rashtra pita" translates to "Father of the Nation".  Somewhere along his career, Mahatma Gandhi acquired that appellation.

Per a 2012 article in the Hindustan Times, a ten-year old girl, under RTI (Right to Information) asked the government when Gandhi acquired "Father of the Nation" status,  and the government archivists were flummoxed.
Who named Mahatma Gandhi 'father of nation'? Govt foxed
April 4, 2012

A Lucknow girl's simple query to know if Mahatma Gandhi was ever conferred the title of 'The Father of The Nation' has come a cropper.

From the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to the ministry of home affairs (MHA) no one seems to really know the answer to the 10-year-old's question.

They coolly forwarded the RTI plea of class VI student Aishwarya Parashar to the National Archives of India (NAI), the body that claims to be the repository of the non-current records of the Government of India. Surprisingly, the NAI, after a hectic search in their records, was unable to find the desired information and requested Aishwarya to come and search for it in NAI's public records and library material herself.

Jayaprabha Ravindran, assistant director of archives and chief public information officer (CPIO) wrote back in a letter dated March 26: "As per search among public records in the National Archives of India, there are no specific documents on the information sought by you."
The maintainers of Gandhiana credit Subhas Chandra Bose: was Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose who first addressed him as such in his condolence message to the Mahatma on the demise of Kasturba.

Ba and Bapu had been interned at Aga Khan Palace, Pune in the wake of the Quit India Movement. It was while serving the prison term Kasturba passed away on 22 February, 1944.

Concerned about Gandhiji, Netaji sent the following message to the Mahatma on Azad Hind Radio, Rangoon on 4th June, 1944.
"...........Nobody would be more happy than ourselves if by any chance our countrymen at home should succeed in liberating themselves through their own efforts or by any chance, the British Government accepts your `Quit India' resolution and gives effect to it. We are, however proceeding on the assumption that neither of the above is possible and that a struggle is inevitable.

Father of our Nation in this holy war for India's liberation, we ask for your blessings and good wishes".
Note that this is after the death of Kasturba Gandhi.  But Women in the Indian National Movement: Unseen Faces and Unheard Voices, 1930-42, by Suruchi Thapar-Bjorkert (2006), mentions an article in the Hindi magazine Saraswati: Devidutt Shukla, Rashtra Mata Kasturba, Saraswati, September 1938.  "Rashtra Mata" translates to "Mother of the Nation".

This suggests that Mahatma Gandhi got this appellation earlier than 1944.

Note also that people called Gandhi "Bapu" or "Bapuji" - "father" - an honorific for an elderly man; and it might be an easy observation someone made that a nation calls him "father".