Wednesday 13 September 2023

Cat and Mouse- Reading vs Gandhi

 In September 1920, Gandhi had promised Congress that Swaraj within one year was attainable. But he had no plan or even properly structured demands towards that end. Of course, it was possible that people would obey his call to give up government jobs and that the Brits would simply surrender and pass power to him. But few Indians were giving up their jobs. There was much talk but little action. The die-hard Tory element hoped Gandhi would commit another 'Himalayan miscalculation'- i.e. start an agitation and then call it off after violence broke out- but Gandhi was saying he would stick to his guns this time. The question was, would he actually do so? Sir Henry Wilson, head of the British General Staff, said the country did not have enough soldiers to hold India, the MENA (which was mainly garrisoned by Indian troops), Ireland, or even the home island in the case of a Bolshevik uprising. Thus, the Empire had never been more vulnerable. Indeed, after the poorer workers and some women got the vote, the future lay with the Labour party which was for independence for both Ireland and India. Sadly, after Gandhi's unilateral surrender in 1922, Labour decided Indian was not ready for self-rule when it itself came to power in 1924.

 Lord Reading, a former barrister, just like Gandhi, had resigned the post of Chief Justice in England which he found boring, so as to be appointed Viceroy, came to India in April of 1921. He thought Gandhi must be under a lot of pressure because the deadline he had given was fast approaching and the administration, as yet, was facing merely some annoyance but no crisis.

 Reading met Gandhi on the 14th of May. Gandhi's made 4 demands which were startling in their puerility- the pensions of O'Dwyer and Dyer (whom the Indians hated because of the Jallianwallah bagh massacre) must be stopped, all other officials involved in that atrocity must be dismissed from service, all political prisoners must be released, and all fines must be repaid. Reading refused because by getting Gandhi to talk to him, Reading had already won. 

Moreover, Indians only wanted Government jobs because such employment was secure and pensions were punctually paid. If one could be dismissed or lose one's pension just because some agitator demanded it, working for the GoI would be as bad as being the employee of some capricious Nawab or crazy Maharajah.

Still, though already having scored over his fellow barrister, Reading thought it worthwhile to string Gandhi along with the aim of getting the Ali brothers to apologize for their incendiary comments and thus discredit them. Gandhi managed to persuade the brothers  to state they never intended to incite violence and to apologize for the heated language they had used. But the appearance of avoiding arrest (which they only did to keep the alliance with Gandhi) damaged their standing. They reacted by becoming more extreme but, it transpired, few Muslim officers were quitting the Army. This meant that their own community got tired of their histrionics- Muhammad Ali Jauhar, in particular, was an Oxbridge educated blathershite- and this permitted their later prosecution and incarceration to pass off quite peacefully.

 Reading's strategy was that of a cunning prosecutor who gives the garrulous defendants in a conspiracy trial enough rope to hang themselves.  What was important was the state of mind of the Jury. Reading  had to discredit the agitators in the eyes of their respective constituencies and then divide those constituencies along religious lines. This meant there was a reverse 'Prisoner's dilemma'. The agitators were racing each other to get arrested and sentenced to a long spell in jail in the hope that this would raise their stature in the eyes of the masses and provoke widespread protests. In this game, the Nehrus came out on top. The decision to arrest them before the Prince of Wales's visit angered the people of Allahabad. The Congress boycott of the visit in the Hindi belt was successful. It wasn't in Pune and Calcutta and even Bombay. 

 The question was whether the Indians would call Reading's bluff by taking a more extreme line- i.e. by demanding immediate Independence at a time when British military resources were stretched too thin- in which case arresting the leaders would cause spontaneous uprisings to break out all over the country.  Something like this happened in Egypt with the result that the Brits had to accept a unilateral declaration of independence.

Spontaneous uprisings succeed because the C.I.D would have no way of knowing who were the ring-leaders or what their plans might be, precisely because the thing would not be organized in any way. Once such outbreaks began, a leadership would emerge and actions would be coordinated. But by then it would be too late. The administration would be overwhelmed and Dyer-like atrocities on civilians would merely enflame matters even further. 

Why did Reading take such a mad risk? I think the answer is that, as a skilful barrister, he had got the measure of Gandhi. Indeed, by getting Gandhi to talk to him, he had caused Gandhi to betray the very principle of non-cooperation! Similarly, the Ali brothers' apology showed they were men of straw. There is a reason smart people say 'no comment' or 'I plead the Fifth' when talking to a shrewd ex-prosecutor. 

Still, Reading was gambling on the Ali brothers instigating violence so as to regain their lost reputation. But this would lead to a break with the Hindus. As a matter of fact, it was Hindus- at Chauri Chura the next year- who slaughtered policemen. True, there previously had been the Moplah uprising but perhaps that was seen as a local problem unconnected to the rest of India. Still, as with the Ali brothers' fanatical harangues, the Moplah atrocities fanned Hindu fears more particularly in areas where they were the minority.

 Reading did finally crush the Moplahs and arrest the Ali brothers. This should have been enough to reassure the Hindus. Why then did Gandhi suddenly surrender, that too unilaterally, in February of 1922? I have previously, perhaps rather unfairly, suggested that launching Civil Disobedience meant that, from the legal point of view, Gandhi could be prosecuted for waging war on the King Emperor and thus sent off to the Andamans if violence broke out. The problem with this view is that the prosecution would have to work hard to make any such case. There was plenty of evidence that Gandhi was a genuine pacifist. Still, the fact remains, it is one thing to be acquitted of waging war because you are simply not war-like and it is another to be a mute spectator of an actual war which, regardless of the outcome, will leave you with no standing in politics. 

One explanation is that Gandhi understood that the only thing the peasants cared about was to own the land they tilled and not to have to pay the Government a penny for it. Thus, India was not ready for Swaraj not because of the Hindu Muslim problem but because of the peasant problem. It was all very well to say Indians should quit Government jobs and avoid Governments schools and courts. It was another to have no Government at all because the peasants refused to pay for any such thing. Another explanation is that Gandhi saw that Motilal and other Congress leaders had been right. Non Cooperation must mean not talking to the Viceroy. However, it also meant not cooperating in your own prosecution. You should refuse to plead. Gandhi, sadly, wanted to make a speech at his trial and this sealed his fate. The door was opened to Motilal and C.R Das who, fortunately for Gandhi, turned out to be even stupider than himself. Thus, the fundamental problem, was that the Indians didn't really want Swaraj. But then they didn't really want Khilafat or Khaddar or Nai Talim or Satyagraha or even Socialism. There were merely fads and slogans. Going to jail might be fashionable at some times and a mark of stupidity at other times. The only way for progress towards responsible self-government to be made was for the Brits to arrange matters in a manner convenient and profitable to themselves. This involved more Indians joining the Army and the Bureaucracy and attending Government Courts and Schools. The politics of boycott didn't just fail, it was diametrically opposite to what the Indians needed to be doing and what they were actually doing and would go on to do more and more of.

 Reading and Montague may have been Liberals but Reading, for one, on reaching India found the die-hard Tories were right. Though some of the British Governors of the Provinces complained that Reading had been too liberal (Willingdon would take a much harder line with Gandhi when he became Viceroy) the fact is he killed off the Congress/Khilafat combine. That's why India could not get what Egypt and Ireland and Afghanistan got in 1922. But this was because neither Gandhi nor the Ali brothers had any concrete demands which would have put India in a position to be self-governing. The future belonged to Jawaharlal Nehru because he did have a plan for India as a modern Nation State rather than a bunch of hysterical lemmings jumping off the cliff-edge or Khilafat or Khaddar or other such Cretinism. 

In terms of British politics, the big gamble Reading took was to permit the visit of the Prince of Wales to go ahead. The Bombay, Pune, and Calcutta legs were reasonably successful but the Madras excursion was disastrous despite the best efforts of the Loyalist Justice Party. This came as a surprise to the British who considered Madras a sleepy, rather conservative, place. All in all, the Prince's visit was a failure. However it was the Labour Party's victory in 1924 which made it obvious that, sooner or later, if the Indians had a non-crazy leader, then Britain would get shot of its Empire in India. But, Britain would get favourable terms because India needed the Royal Navy and British Capital and expertise more than Britain needed anything India could supply. After all, it could do a deal with Nepal to get Gurkha soldiers and similarly just hire Punjabi or Pathan mercenaries for duties in the MENA.  

What about Gandhi? If Reading had gambled and won, what had the Mahacrackpot actually done? The answer, I think, is provided by what Gandhi wrote to Hakim Ajmal Khan whom he had appointed as his successor after his arrest-

To me the visible symbol of all-India unity and, therefore, of the acceptance of non-violence as an indispensable means for the realization of our political ambition is undoubtedly the Charkha, i.e., khaddar. Only those who believe in cultivating a non-violent spirit and eternal friendship between Hindus and Mussalmans will daily and religiously spin.

The British did not spin cotton. Were they not worried about the non-violent spirit and the eternal friendship between the English and the Welsh or the Protestants and the Catholics? The answer is, they didn't worry about stupid shit. Mussalmans were not really quaking in their boots that the Hindus would roast and eat them. However, some Hindus- like Gandhi- were terrified by Muslims (but also Punjabis) and thought that without the British Army to protect them, they would be killed by fanatical jihadis or Moplahs or whatever.  

Universal hand-spinning and the universal manufacture and use of hand-spun and hand-woven khaddar will be a substantial, if not absolute, proof of the real unity and non-violence, and it will be a recognition of a living kinship with the dumb masses.

If Muslims spin cotton, they won't kill Hindus. The problem with this view is that Islamic countries had plenty of cotton spinners a thousand years ago. This hadn't stopped them from establishing vast Empires where kaffirs got short shrift.  

Nothing can possibly unify and revivify India as the acceptance by all India of the spinning-wheel as a daily sacrament and the khaddar wear as a privilege and a duty.

A daily sacrament, eh? So Gandhi was basically trying to convert the fanatical Muslim to a peaceful religion. The problem was that in the Hakim Sahib's native Delhi, Muslims were being attacked by Hindus. That is why his descendants are flourishing in Pakistan. In Delhi, when Nehru became Premier, the Muslim share of population fell from 33 percent to 5 percent.  

Whilst, therefore, I am anxious that more title- holders should give up their titles; lawyers, law courts; scholars, the Government schools or colleges; the Councilors, the Councils and the soldiers and the civilians, their posts, I would urge the nation to restrict its activity in this direction only to the consolidation of the results already achieved

which was absolutely nothing 

and to trust its strength to command further abstentions from association with a system we are seeking to mend or end.

By spinning cotton. 

Moreover, the workers are too few. I would not waste a single worker today on destructive work when we have such an enormous amount of constructive work.

Spinning cotton is very constructive- right?  

But perhaps the most conclusive argument against devoting further time to destructive propaganda is the fact that the spirit of intolerance, which is a form of violence, has never been so rampant as now.

Muslims are very intolerant. They should sit quietly spinning cotton. 

Co-operators are estranged from us. They fear us. They say that we are establishing a worse bureaucracy than the existing one. We must remove every cause for such anxiety. We must go out of our way to win them to our side. We must make Englishmen safe from all harm from our side.

Gandhi had very foolishly admitted to waging war on the Government in his defence speech. It was important that his letters from prison show he was actually committed to blowing kisses at Whitey.  

I should not have to labour the point if it was clear to everyone, as it is to you and to me, that our pledge of non-violence implies utter humility and towards our bitterest opponent.

Why not lick their arses? They might develop a taste for the thing.  

This necessary spirit will be automatically realized if only India will devote her sole attention to the work of construction suggested by me.

If Indians pay attention only to me then they will spin cotton instead of making impertinent demands from Whitey. 

The reason Reading prevailed over Gandhi was not just because he was smarter. Similarly Irwin (Lord Halifax) got the better of Gandhi not just because he was cleverer. The truth is Gandhi was terrified of Muslims (and Punjabis). In 1939 he explained that if the Brits departed without handing over the Army to Congress, the Muslims and Punjabis (regardless of religion) and maybe the Gurkhas would take over everything though the Ahimsa fairy might protect the Hindu Congresswallah from anal rape. 

Jinnah, whom Reading met, wanted Independence- which is why Reading didn't like him. Jawaharlal was viewed with suspicion by the Brits- he might want not just Independence but a Bolshevik alliance.  Still, by playing cat and mouse with Gandhi, the Brits and the Princes were able to enjoy twenty years of blissful slumber. But the reason for this was that the Gandhian mouse was terrified of the Muslim terrier and looked upon the British cat as a protector sent by whichever Hindu god has a thing for the spinning wheel. 

No comments: