American diplomats used to complain that their |Indian counterparts were always eager to reach an agreement. Sadly, this was only so they could disagree the more loquaciously about what had been agreed to.
Woodrow Wyatt, at that time a Labor MP, was quite close to Mahatma Gandhi during the run up to Independence. He says that Gandhi believed that his 'sharp lawyer's mind' could find something in the agreement Congress had made which nobody else knew was there.
In law, an agreement is a meeting of minds. If one side says that what was agreed was different from what the other side believes, then there was no agreement. However, there may be an enforceable contract. But that is a justiciable matter.
Gandhi's political philosophy appears Socratic. An agreement has been reached. One side can say that it actually means much more than either side envisaged. The other side may welcome this interpretation. We have moved beyond anything transactional or contractual or protocol bound. This is a burgeoning of a relationship of a mutually supportive type. I am tempted to use the Aristotelian word 'sumphusis' to describe it. There is a growing together which is also a growing towards and within each other. As the Good Book says 'can two walk together except they be agreed?'
However, if either side says the agreement actually means something adverse to the other, then far from there having been an agreement, there was merely an exercise in deception and treachery.
More generally, an agreement which does not involve agreement as to what has been agreed is subject to a Zeno type paradox. There is an infinite regress which paralyses movement. "Diogenes the Cynic", is said to have replied to Zeno's paradoxes on the unreality of motion by standing up and walking away. This gives rise to the Latin phrase- solvitur ambulando- it is solved by walking.
Consider the following 'Address to American newspaper readers' given by Mahatma Gandhi published in 1937
Notice that every paragraph in it is sophistical and self-contradictory. Gandhi simultaneously claims to have no power and total power over Congress. Remarkably, he claims to have invented and patented 'non-violence' as a political technique! Thus so long as Congress is non-violent (and it would have been slaughtered if it were not) Gandhi guides it.
In the second paragraph, Gandhi says the Secretary of State for India thinks the 1935 Act was only implementable by force. This is utterly mad. Indians were eagerly queuing up to stand for elections so as to gain the fruits of office. Gandhi pretends that Indians were being dragged from their homes and forced onto the hustings. They would only form Ministries and feather their own nests at the point of a bayonet.
The Brits had imposed a solution on India which minimized the headache for themselves while maximizing their ability to borrow from India and use its resources for the coming War. This may not have been their intention, but that was the outcome.
The truly bizarre aspect of Gandhi's peroration is his claim that Zetland, who helped pass the 1935 Act and who was answerable, as Secretary of State of India to Parliament, was being presumptuous in interpreting that Act. Gandhi goes further. He says no Parliament can interpret its own Acts. But if it can't interpret it, that it can't understand it and had no business passing it in the first place.
Americans knew very well that in their system, there is a separation of powers. The Bench can strike down a Law. But England had parliamentary sovereignty. Gandhi was displaying his ignorance to a nation of lawyers at a time when FDR was having to pack the bench to push through his New Deal. Gandhi says no man can take the law into his own hands- yet, his Salt March (which the Americans had seen on their newsreels) had shown him doing precisely that. He had made salt when the law said he must not make salt. By contrast, because of Parliamentary Sovereignty, Zetland was welcome to exercise the law as he saw fit subject to Parliamentary oversight.
Gandhi could have said- 'the British are wrong to have Parliamentary Sovereignty. They should become like America and have separation of powers. Also they should get rid of their monarch and their hereditary peerage'. That would have been a reasonable assertion. But pretending Britain did not have Parliamentary Sovereignty was simply ignorant and stupid.
Of course, if Congress had really boycotted the Assemblies and refused to form Ministries, one might say Gandhi was speaking of some ideal constitution which the Indians wanted for themselves. But, as a matter of fact, Congress formed Ministries wherever it could.
Gandhi was popular in America but statements of the sort given below caused the Americans to view him as a fool. No doubt, had he been born White, he would have been better able to make an argument. But God had caused him to be born as black as any pickaninny.
Congress was asking for assurances that the 'reserved powers' of the Governors would not be misused. The problem was that Governors needed those 'reserved powers' to prevent Elected Ministries misusing their own powers.
Popular politicians had some coercive power- that of mobs running riot at their command. Governors had some coercive power at their command- that of disciplined soldiers shooting the rioters while the police arrested seditionists and Judges sentenced them to long spells in prison.
This was the reality. However, this reality had not come into existence as a result of an agreement made between Gandhi, or Congress, and the Brits. Rather it had been imposed unilaterally by Westminster. The Marquess of Zetland was a member of the British Legislature. He was answerable to it as Secretary of State of India. When Churchill became Prime Minister, he resigned. Why? Churchill hated the fucking Hindooooos and their 'naked fakeeeeers'. By contrast, Zetland- who had published a book in 1904 about his travels in the Far East- had come to the conclusion that Islam was incompatible with Constitutionalism whereas the Eastern Religions- once you got past priestly elites (e.g. Brahmins in India) and once modern education had begun to reach the masses- permitted rapid progress towards the Western ideal.
In fairness to the Mahatma, it must be said that his illogical interjections seldom represented his own political instincts. Zetland knew that Gandhi had been initially very conciliatory with regard to the 1937 elections as well as the declaration of War two years later. Thus Zetland always referred to Gandhi, when addressing Parliament, in the most laudatory terms. By so doing, Zetland was keeping his real enemy- Churchill- in check. Indeed, his own party had come to see Churchill's views on India to be those of a crackpot. Sadly, Churchill became Prime Minister just as the Congress Ministries resigned. This was a 'day of deliverance' not just for the Muslim League but also Churchill who imagined that he could somehow reverse all the progress that had been made over the previous twenty years and preserve India for the King Emperor.
Furthermore, in drawing attention to Gandhi's lies, we have to admit that other Indian politicians were not just liars, they had an inveterate hatred of anything that might, in howsoever aleatory a manner, pass for veracity. My favorite example is Satyamurthy telling the Secretary of State that 'A purely communal Party, with no political faith or programme, has been put in power' and the inevitable result would be that a peaceful province would soon 'become the Ulster of India'. Was Satyamurthy complaining about the Muslim League? Did he foresee the ethnic cleansing of people of his own religion? No. The guy was talking about the Justice Party in Madras which was Hindu but, quite rightly, objected to a bunch of arrogant and ignorant Brahmins pretending they were superior to their own erstwhile patrons- the aristocrats and merchants and prosperous cultivators. Brahminical arrogance could be called 'elitism' but it was not 'communal' because a community is bound together by a common religion. Hinduism requires the Brahmin to subsist on alms freely donated by members of ruling, mercantile or productive communities. Indeed, a person of Brahmin heritage who takes up employment as a bureaucrat or lawyer is not a Brahmin at all though, for purposes of arranged marriage, this can be overlooked. On the other hand, Scripture shows that non-Brahmins can become Priests by performing certain ceremonies. But few would want to do any such thing.
Olivier, like Chirol, Zetland etc. was under the impression that Brahmins- for reasons of religious fanaticism- were behind every extremist movement against the British. He told Parliament
'In the Madras Council, owing to the enormous preponderance of non-Brahmins, a wholly non-Brahmin Ministry has been set up, and I noticed a movement in the Madras Council to protest that the interests of minorities were not being properly considered; that is to say, that the communal system, giving an enormous preponderance of non-Brahmin voters in Madras, was, in the opinion of the Swarajists, being somewhat misused.
It is clear, from the context, that Olivier thought Brahmins should be included so that some common-sense might rub off on them and their fanaticism might be moderated. However, it is ludicrous to suggest that Brahmins- by definition a priestly Hindu class- belonged to a different community to other South Indian Hindus. Why on earth did Satyamurthy make such a strange suggestion? He was a good man, but in this case parochial prejudices blinded him.
The reason Indians found it easy to agree only so they could then disagree as to what had been agreed was because their recent History had made them pessimistic. Fears for the future overmastered hope. Everything might turn out to be the thin edge of the wedge. Thus the 'argumentative Indian' preferred stasis to motion of any type because, recent history had taught them, change tended to be for the worse- at least as far as they were concerned.
Olivier, who had repudiated a similarly paranoid type of Socialism in his youth, told Parliament-
The Party to which I belong did not start off as did the earlier Socialists. The first thing it had to have was an intelligent and understanding constituency which would know what they were driving at and would support unitedly their representatives in Parliament. Here, as in all our political developments, we did not begin at the top but at the bottom. We saw that there could he no Parliamentary stability whatever and no progress in any kind of change or revolution unless the Parliamentary constitution and representation were based upon a real, vital, organic constituency of common interests and understanding, which, as I have said, is singularly absent in India.
Olivier was aware of this. He thought Indian politics would start at the village level and expand upwards and outwards.
We say that it is impossible for the Indian people, for the Indian politicians, at once to leap into the saddle and administer without disastrous religious and other dissensions the most ideal constitution which might be framed. When we contemplate the interval which shall occur before the revision of the Constitution, we do not look at it in this way, We do not say. I mention that some offence has been taken at this—: "We will make you a nice little half-way Constitution, we will put in nice Governors and intelligent officials to show you how to work British Parliamentary institutions." We say : "You have to arrive at the other side of the river. You have to arrive at responsible Government. We provide you, according to the best of our abilities, with what we think, and what many of you think so far as we can make out, is a seaworthy boat. The only way you can get to the other side of that river is by getting into the boat and rowing. It is no use whatever to stand on the bank, to refuse to get into the boat, and to say : ' We are not going to go anywhere without responsible Dominion Government.' "
This is a case of solvitur ambulando. You must get into the boat. If you want to make a political constitution stable you must become a member of Parliament and have a constituency. You must learn to work with persons who differ from you without at once calling for a holy war from your followers—an experiment, however, which has been largely followed in Ireland, where they resorted to methods which seem likely to be popular in India. There is, of course, that danger, and it is the view of the Labour Party that you must build up not only your political party, but your political constituency. That can only be done by Parliamentary experience ranging over a certain number of years