Nothing less than Freedom

Speaking on the resolution after it was passed, Mahatma Gandhi said that he would want freedom immediately, "This very night before dawn if it can be had." The text of the speech follows.

"I congratulate you on the resolution that you have just passed. I also congratulate three comrades on the courage they have shown in pressing their amendments to a division, even though they knew that there was an overwhelming majority in favour of the resolution, and I congratulate the thirteen friends who voted against the resolution. In doing so, they had nothing to be ashamed of. For the last twenty years we have tried to learn not to lose courage even when we are in a hopeless minority and are laughed at. We have learned to hold on to our beliefs in the confidence that we are in the right. It behaves us to cultivate this courage of conviction, for it ennobles man and raises his moral stature. I was, therefore, glad to see that these friends had imbibed the principle which I have tried to follow for the last fifty years and more.

"Having congratulated them on their courage, let me say that what they asked this Committee to accept through their amendments was not the correct representation of the situation. These friends ought to have pondered over the appeal made to them by the Maulana to withdraw their amendments; they should have carefully followed the explanations given by Jawaharlal. Had they done so, it would have been clear to them that the right which they now want the Congress to concede has already been conceeded by the Congress.

"The Congress has no sanction but the moral one for enforcing its decisions. It believes that true democracy can only be the outcome of non-violence. The structure of a world federation can be raised only on a foundation of non-violence, and violence will have to be totally abjured from world affairs.

"The Congress has agreed to submitting all the differences to an impartial international tribunal and to abide by its decisions. If even this fairest of proposals is unacceptable, the only course that remains open is that of sword, of violence. How can I persuade myself to agree to an impossibility? To demand the vivisection of a living organism is to ask for its very life. It is a call to war. The Congress cannot be party to such a fratricidal war.

"I, therefore, want freedom immediately, this very night, before dawn, if it can be had. Freedom cannot now wait for the realization of communal unity. If that unity is not achieved, sacrifices necessary for it will have to be much greater than would have otherwise sufficed. But the Congress must win freedom or be wiped out in the effort. And forget not that the freedom which the Congress is struggling to achieve will not be for the Congressmen alone but for all the forty crores of the Indian people. Congressmen must forever remain humble servants of the people.

"It is not a make-believe that I am suggesting to you. It is the very essence of freedom. The bond of the slave is snapped the moment he considers himself to be a free being. He will plainly tell the master: 'I was your bondage till this moment, bur I am a slave no longer. You may kill me if you like, but you keep me alive, I wish to tell you that if you release me from the bondage of your own accord, I will ask for nothing more from you. You used to feed and clothe me, though I could have provided food and clothing for myself by my labour. I hitherto depended on you instead of on God, for food and raiment. God has now inspired me with an urge for freedom and I am today a free man and will no longer depend on you."

"You may take it from me that I am not going to strike a bargain with the Viceroy for ministries and the like. I am not going to be satisfied with anything short of complete freedom. May be, he will propose the abolition of salt tax, the drink evil, etc. But I will say: 'Nothing less than freedom.'

Here is a mantra, a short one, that I give you. You may imprint it on your hearts and let every breath of yours give expression to it. The mantra is: 'Do or Die.' We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery. Every true Congressman or (Congress) woman will join the struggle with an inflexible determination not to remain alive to see the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery. Every true Congressman or (Congress) woman will join the struggle with an inflexible determination not to remain alive to see the country in bondage and slavery. Let that be your pledge. Keep jails out of your consideration. If the Government keep me free, I will spare you the trouble of filling the jails. I will not put on the Government the strain of maintaining a large number of prisoners at a time when it is in trouble. Let every man and woman live every moment of his or her life hereafter in the consciousness that he or she eats or lives for achieving freedom and will die, if need be, to attain the goal. Take a pledge with God and your own conscience as witness, that you will no longer rest till freedom is achieved and will be prepared to lay down your lives in the attempt to achieve it. He who loses his life will gain it; he who will seek to save it shall lose it. Freedom is not for the coward or the faint-hearted.

A word to the journalists. I congratulate you on the support you have hitherto given to the national demand. I known the restrictions and handicaps under which you have to labour. But I would now ask you to snap the chains that bind you. It should be the proud privilege of the newspapers to lead and set an example in laying down one's life for freedom. You have the pen which the Government can suppress. I know you have large properties in the form of printing-presses, etc., and you would be afraid lest the Government should attach them. I do not ask you to invite an attachment of the printing-press voluntarily. For myself, I would not suppress my pen, even if the press was to be attached. As you know my press was attached in the past and returned later on. But I do not ask from you that final sacrifice. I suggest a middle way. You should now wind up your Standing Committee, and you may declare that you will give up writing under the present restrictions and take up the pen only when India has won her freedom. You may tell Sir Frederick Puckle that he can't expect from you a command performance, that his Press notes are full of untruth, and that you will refuse to publish them. You will openly declare that you are wholeheartedly with the Congress. If you do this, you will have changed the atmosphere before the fight actually begins.

"Soldiers too are covered by the present programme. I do not ask them just now to resign their posts and leave the army. Soldiers come to me, Jawaharlal and to the Maulana and say: "We are wholly with you. We are tired of the government tyranny." To these soldiers I would say: "You may say to the Government, 'Our hearts are with the Congress. We are riot going to leave our posts. We will serve you so long we receive you salaries. We will obey your just orders, but will refuse to fire on our own people."

"To those who lack the courage to do this much I have nothing to say. They will go their own way. But if you can do this much, you may take if from me that the whole atmosphere will be electrified. Let the Government then shower bombs, if they like. But no power on earth will then be able to keep you in bondage any longer.

"If the students want to join the struggle only to go back to their studies after a while, I would not invite them to it. For the present, however, till the time that I frame a programme for the struggle, I would ask the students to say to their professors: 'We belong to the Congress, Do you belong to the Congress or to the Government? If you belong to the Congress, you need not vacate your post. You will remain at your posts but teach us and lead us unto freedom.' In all fights for freedom, the world over, the students have made very large contributions.

"If in the interval that is left to us before the actual fight begins, you do even the little I have suggested to you, you will have changed the atmosphere and will have prepared the ground for the next step."

It is going to be a Fight to Finish

In his speech, Jawaharlal Nehru who had moved the resolution himself, said that it was going to be fight to finish.

"The conception of resolution is not narrow nationalism, but it not narrow nationalism, but it has an international background. The arguments for the resolution have already been sufficiently put before the public. I am sure the bona fides of the resolution have been fully understood by all friends. The resolutions is in no sense a challenge to anyone. If the British Government accept the proposal it would change the positions both internal and international, for the better from every point of view. The position of China would be improved. I am convinced that whatever change might come about in India, it must be for the better. The A.I.C.C. knows that Mahatma Gandhi has agreed that the British and other foreign armed forces stationed in India may continue. This has been agreed to in order not to allow the Japanese to come in."

"I am surprised how intelligent people in England and America could have misunderstood the Congress stand unless of course, they deliberately chose to misunderstand it. I have regretfully come to the conclusion that to some extent other governments are also following the British line of thought towards India. Today, the British Government is opposed to the Indian national movement for freedom. I am convinced that the British Government can never really think in terms of advancing the cause of the freedom of India unless, of course, the entire character of the present British Government is changed I am not personally concerned with such a change, but I stand for dissociating myself with that government and that country. It is not for me to advise the British people what government they should have.

"There is a great deal of criticism in America, too, about what India wants. We are accused, by some newspapers, that we are blackmailing. It is curious charge for a people to make who themselves had for generations carried on a struggle for freedom. If for demanding freedom we are called blackmailers then surely our understanding of the English language has been wrong. Whatever may happen in Whitehall, it is not going to stop us from working for our independence. We live for it and will die for it. I do not want to say anything at the present moment which might add to the feeling of bitterness that exists everywhere. I know that this War has produced great emotional reactions in people's minds which is one of the worst effects of the War and which makes it very difficult for the people to think straight and not to think in terms of violent hatred.

"Nobody in Whitehall can think straight, I suppose. There is falsity everywhere. You listen to the radios, London, Berlin or Tokyo. One does not know what is the truth. I am prepared to make many allowances for the emotional background in England and America. I do not really mind if people there get angry. But I feel sorry for the people in England and America who have a perverted way of looking at the Indian question. They are so wrong that they will certainly land themselves in difficulty. After all, just think what would have been the course of history, particularly that of Britain, if she had taken right steps with regard to India in the last two years. If Britain had acted rightly, the entire history of the War would have been different. But in spite of perils and disasters, England has stuck to her imperalism and Empire. The fact is patent to me that the British Government and, for certain, the Government of India think the Indian National Congress to be their enemy number one. If the Government of India is going to treat the people of India like this, then we also know how to behave with them. We have seen in the last few months an unparalleled example of inefficiency and incompetency of this government. The whole system is a rotten one. I do not want to associate myself with the creaking, shaking machinery that the Government of India is. As for the so-called National War Front, there is neither the nation, nor the war, nor any front in it. All that this front is now doing is opposing the Congress. I certainly do not mind that. The whole Government of India is built that way. The only occasion when it does function effectively and efficiently is when overnight it starts rounding up large numbers of people. One of these days some such efficient functioning will reappear against Congressmen!

'It is curious tangle that we are in. It is not going to be resolved by shouting or by the approaches of the British Government. May I, with all respect, suggest to the great people of America that they have all gone wrong in regard to India, China and the whole of Asia. Americans have looked upon India as an appendange to Britain, and Asia as the dependent of Europe and America. Some of them have thought in terms of benevolence towards these countries, but always with a taint of road superiority. They have always considered themselves, because of their inventions during this machine age, to be infinitely better than us and also that we are a benighted backwared people. But the people of Asia do not propose to be treated in that manner any longer. Asia is the mother continent of the world, and India and China constitute the real mother countries of the world. What is the good of such people; who simply because they have some very great material achievements to their credit, have forgotten or are not learning the very essence and art of living? They have built and are building better motor cars. This is a machine age. We will also learn to build machines-better machines. Americans have forgotten the magnificent achievements of China and India. It is China and India, with the experience of ages, who have learned the art of living decently even without the material achievements considered necessary for such living.

"I hate poverty. My grievance against the British is that they have made Indians miserable, poverty-­stricken wrecks of humanity. We are now taking a step from which there will be no going back. If there is goodwill on other side, then everything would be all right and the whole course of the War and future of the world would be changed. The change would be not merely emotional but in the material sense also. But that is not to be. There might be some difficulty. It is my conviction that this resolution is the only way, the effective way, in which we can help China and Russia and I know how terrible the situation is there. Britain and America must change their whole conception of the War. It is no good looking at Asia as a side-show. Asia is the centre of the War and it is Asia that is going to determine the final result of the War. Therefore, I want to prepare today, even at some risk and peril, so that the final result of the War should be the right kind of result. We must go forward even though it involves certain perils. I should like my friends, who do not agree with this resolution or who do not try to understand it, to respect our bona fieds. People should realise that if there is any trouble in India, it is we who would suffer. If there is internal trouble or an external invasion by Japan, it is we who would suffer. England might be distantly affected but we-will have to die immediately. The problem of meeting aggression concerns us deeply. How can I, after seeing the incompetence of the government, trust them? Their whole attitude is one of retreat. We, however, want to be valiant fighters. It is not a narrow nationalist resolution. I am proud of Indian nationalism because if is broadbased and has an international background.

"The movement contemplated is not for merely achieving national ends but for achieving world freedom. The Congress is plunging into a stormy ocean and it would emerge either with a free India or go down. Unlike in the past, it is not going to be a movement for a few days, to be suspended and talked over. It is going to be a fight to the finish. The Congress has now burnt its boats and is about to embark on a desperate campaign. I can never persuade myself to work with a government which has neither vision nor intelligence. Nor would I remain a passive spectator of the great happenings that are taking place in the world. It appears to me, perhaps, I would live in eternal opposition to the Axis powers, I repudiate the suggestion that the Congress and Mahatma Gandhi arc bargaining and haggling. In moments of excitement people are prone to say certain things, but this should not be dubbed as bargaining. How, by granting India's independence, would the war efforts of the United Nations be hampered or how would chaos and anarchy follow in India? The resolution docs not give out even one-­tenth of the real feelings of the Indians towards the .British Government.

"The debate on this resolution is over and I have also had my say. There are just a few points which I have partly said and partly not said-which I would like to say in English for the benefit of my friends who may not have followed me.

"What is the resolution? You have seen and read it. It is not a threat. It is not an invitation. It is an explanation. It is an offer of cooperation. It is all that. It is not a threat but still behind it there is the obious warning that certain consequences will follow if certain events do not happen. It is an offer of cooperation but of a free India with other free peoples. There is going to be no cooperation on any other terms. On any other terms this resolution can only promise conflict and struggle. Let that be dear. Some of our friends abroad may think that we arc acting unwisely. I do not blame them. They move in their own environment. I want them to realise what we are saying. We are in dead earnest about the course we are going to adopt. Let there be no doubt about it. You may occasionally cheer and clap but the fact is that we are on the brink of a precipice and we arc in dead earnest about it. I think this resolution of ours is not only a resolution of the All India Congress Committee but it does represent as on many other occasion our resolutions have represented-the voice of India. I would even go a step further and say that it represents the voice of the entire oppressed humanity. If, by a miracle, Britain had accepted this resolution and acted according to its demands you would have seen such a wonderful change, not only in India but all over the world. It would have changed the whole nature of the War.

"Now, remember that the essential thing about this War is that it is something infinitely more than a war; it is a World War. That is big enough; but it is bigger than that: it is a part of, and prelude to, and precursor of a vast revolution that is enveloping the whole world. This War may end or it may be carried on for sometime, but no peace will be established, no equilibrium attained until this revolution runs its appointed course. Our misfortune has been that the leaders in the West did not realize the revolutionary significance of this War, or if they realized, they did not act accordingly. They are still carrying on in the same old way and think only in terms of more tanks and more aeroplanes. Probably in their position I would have done the same thing. They are not thinking of the vast surge of the elemental emotion of humanity. Unless they do this, they can never attain success. I hope they will learn, but sometimes, I hear, that they will learn, it too late.

"Mr. Churchill and other Englishmen have not got over thinking in terms of the Anglo-Saxon race. In a recent speech Mr. Churchill visualized the day when the Anglo-Saxon race would march through the world in dignity and majesty. This is not a pleasant picture to contemplate and it is a thing not going to be tolerated by Asia at any rate. Let that be clear. There is too much talk of majesty and dignity of the Anglo-Saxon race or the German race or the Italian race. There are other races also in the world and we have had enough of such talks. This racial superiority can no more be tolerated. We are going to cooperate with the British when we think it right to do so and when there is a right cause; but we are not going to act with them if we think that the cause is not right. At the present time, the Allied cause is only negatively right in the sense that Germany and Japan are worse. But Indian freedom would change the whole nature of the War and make it right positively. Even the people of Nazi Germany and those who are helping the Germans would feel the impact of the change. It would be a turning point of the War. But they simply talk about their own problems which have no significance for us and ask us not to do this and that and go on in their own ruts.  The people in England, America and else where are looking at every question from the narrow standpoint of a soldier. And it does not matter to them how other people view the Indian question. India says something which, we believe-and I honestly believe-is not only in the interest of India but enormously in the interest of the Allied cause provided they accept it. They talk about blackmailing and threaten us. I can only tell them that we will not be deterred from our course by any amount of threats. On the other hand Westerners ought to realise that at this stage threats could only make the position infinitely worse and more difficult for them. We have decided to take this course on which there is no going back. I repeat again: we shall try to remain calm. We have got big tasks ahead-a big task for our country, and a big task for the world. Whether we function as Indian National Congress or not, time may come when each individual will represent the Indian National Congress and work on his own. We must not in the excitment of the movement forget our high aims and objectives-high aims for India whose freedom we consider precious, and high aims and objectives-with regard to the whole world. We are nationalists and we are proud of this fact. But we should not settle down to a narrow nationalism. We should always remember that we have to develop a right type of internationalism but not pseudo-internationalism of the present day world or of the League of Nations.

"I beg everybody to consider this resolution in this spirit. Whether there are internal perils or external perils, after all, if the Japanese reach this country, you and I will suffer and not the people in London and Washington. You and I will have to die, face the situation, may have to face untold miseries and sufferings-we will have to face all that. People talk to us from Washington, New York and various other places. You know what Japan is. We know what subjection is and we know it better than Americans and Englishmen. We have had it for about two  hundred years. We have come to the decision that it is better to throw off the fetters into the fire and come out as a free nation than be reduced to ashes.

“We are prepared to pay any price for unity except the price of independence. What obstructions have not been placed in our path which have had no relation to the real issue? I can talk and negotiate with anybody who recognises the need for democratic freedom for India, but I cannot negotiate with anyone who refuses to recognise the fundamental issue-the freedom of India. I was told during the Cripps negotiations that a certain leader insisted on behalf of Muslims that the Viceroy's power of veto should not be removed or in any way qualified. If any section wants that the British Viceroy should exercise his veto power against the decisions of his Indian cabinet, it means clearly that that section is against the freedom of India. I do not want to injure anyone's feelings especially at a time when we are about to launch a great struggle for freedom. I tried, for one whole year, to find out what the League wanted, but I was unable to understand what they wanted.

"I have not been able to find a parallel to such a situation in the history of the world. I have not come across anywhere else such a situation except in the land of Hitler. The Sudeten crisis bears similarity to the situation here. For purposes of negotiations we were not allowed to select our own representatives. We are told that we cannot send Muslims to represent the Congress. This is an insult to our great organization and to our revered President. We were prepared to stake everything consistent with our dignity and self-respect for finding a satisfactory settlement. Whenever we knocked at the doors we found them bolted, and we knocked ourselves against a wall. Are we beggers to be treated like this? Are we going to be so dishonourable as to sacrifice the mansion of Indian freedom which we want to build? Are we going to be kicked about by men who have made no sacrifice for the freedom of India and who can never think in terms of freedom at all?"

The broad outlines of the events of 1942 are quite well known by this time. The carefully prepared plan of the Government was put into operation and before day-break on August 8, Gandhiji and other leaders were spirited away to unknown prisons. The place of imprisonment of the Working Committee members was kept a well guarded secret for a long time. The A.I.C.C. members were arrested at Bombay or in trains on their way home. The Congress Committees everywhere were declared unlawful bodies and Congress Offices were seized and locked. Swaraj Bhawan was occupied and all provincial headquarters in all provinces were simultaneously taken possession of. Even social service organisa­tions like Khadi and Harijan centres were not spared.

At Bombay, the entire police and military force was mobilised. Tear gas and lathis were used and rally of Deshsevikas was one of the targets. This was repeated all over the country in various provinces.

The spontaneous resistance began from the people equally promptly. Mrs. Asaf Ali hoisted the flag at Bombay despite police warning and there were processions and demonstrations, not only in Bombay but in far off towns and villages against the arrest of the leaders.

Revolution Spreads

Bombay: The city of Bombay served as the focal point and the Headquarters of the movement. The Congress Socialist Party gave such guidance and co-ordination to the movement as was possible under the circumstances. Students and Labourers played a great role in Bombay. A few mills in Bombay remained closed for about a week but there was a complete strike for over three months in all the mills in Ahmedabad. 50,000 workers sacrificed and suffered and went back to their native places while the mill owners were carrying on war business. The students observed hartals, took out processions and played a hide and seek game with the police in a prolonged struggle.

Bihar: It was in the villages that the movement assumed a mass character. Bihar was perhaps the most widely affected province in the whole country. This province and the eastern parts of U.P. had a strategic position. The lifeline for war supplies to the eastern front passed through this area. The target of attack in Bihar was the communications, railway stations, roads and bridges as well as police stations and courts and other Government buildings. Trouble in Bihar started with the firing on a peaceful procession in Bihar Secretariat compound on the 10th August.

U.P.: After Bihar, the movement was most widespread in the United Province. The district of Ballia specially distinguished itself. On 10th August, the District Magistrate at Ballia under pressure of a demand from the people had to release the arrested Congress leaders of the district, and people took over the Government and the officials had to take refuge in the police lines in a panic. All communications with the outside world were cut off from the 11th. For 9 days the town and district was entirely ruled by the people. There was no crime during this period and there was all round peace. On August 19th the 'invasion' force appeared and Ballia was reconquered. The U.P. Government was headed by 'strong' man, Mr. Hallett and he wanted to teach a lesson to the rebels of Ballia and other equally rebellious places- Madhuban in Azamgar, Shaganj and other places in Gorakhpur. The police started a furious campaign of burning houses, shooting men, women and children and looting whatever they could get. A reign of terror now prevailed for a week. In the towns of U.P. at Lucknow, Meerut, Allahabad and Benares the same story repeated itself. The police provoked peaceful procession, opened fire and killed men to terroise them. The students including girls often faced lathi charges and many of them received bullet wounds. It is estimated that over three hundred girls received injuries. There was a procession at Allahabad headed by a batch of University girls.

C.P.: Like UP., the province of C.P. also brought some unknown places on the map of India. These are Chimur, Ashti, Ramtek, Yavli and others. Chimur is a jungle district with a population of 6000. On 16th August a peaceful procession in the district was greeted by lathis and bullets and the local leaders were arrested. Infuriated mob had a clash with the police and a S.I. was killed and Government buildings were burnt up and the bridges and roads were damaged and blocked. This brought the troops on the 17th. A similar sequence of events repeated itself at Ashti where highly respected Congress leaders were shot down by the police.

Maharashtra: In Maharashtra the district of Satara became famous in 1942 as a site of Patri-Sarkar. Satara had earned similar fame in the early Satyagraha movement of 1930-32. In 1942, when the resistance in the rural areas, as elsewhere, had been suppressed by ruthless repression, the underground workers organised a parallel Government at Satara. Such an experiment was possible in this hilly area, with various Indian States bordering on the British India districts.

The experiment of course did not last long and would have been completely crushed by military force of the Government but for the fact that the Working Committee members were released and the political atmosphere in the country took a different turn.

Punjab, Assam & Sind: Other provinces such as Assam, Orissa, Sind and the Punjab gave a good account of themselves. The pattern of events in all these places was similar. Mass demonstration were held against the arrest of the leaders, and police firing. Incidents of sabotage followed ruthless repression.

The conditions in the Punjab were particularly difficult and the task of the underground workers was specially hazardous. The district of Rawalpindi, which was, by-the way, the military Headquarters of the British Government, played the most distinguished part.

N.W.F.P.: Under the guidance of Badshah Khan, the movement remained perfectly peaceful in the land of the brave pathans. It began with mass demonstrations, processions and picketing of liquor shops, till 4th September, 1942, when the Congress and the Khudai Khidmatgars repudiated the British Raj in the province. Badshah Khan and his party started on fraternal marches in the villages and roused tremendous enthusiasm. Final phase of the movement, after a month, took the form of organised raids on Law Courts throughout the province, in a strictly non-violent manner Khudai Khidmatgars were injured in a large number by lathi charges and were later fired upon and killed. Efforts at demoralisation having failed, the Government was now forced to resort to arrests. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan headed a force of volunteers for 'raid' or for taking possessions of Mardan Law Court, as a symbol of the Government authority. He was severely beaten and had to be removed to jail in an unconscious state with his two ribs broken. Only one case of looting of a post office was reported in this province and this was condemned unequivocally when Badshah Khan came to know of it.

Bengal: In Bengal, serious trouble had developed by the ruthless action of the police in Calcutta and tram-cars and other traffic was completely dislocated. Roads were barricaded for a number of days. The police and the military opened fire several times in various parts of the city. A secret radio station also worked in Calcutta as in Bombay for a long time till all its workers were arrested. The movement in Calcutta was carried on mostly by the students and the enthusiasm was unprecedented even in the history of Bengal. The repression that followed was equally unprecedented. For six long months, people in Calcutta resisted doggedly the mighty concentration of the police and military. Jails were filled with the arrested men and women. There were workers' strikes in military workshops.

1942 movement revealed the strength and daring initiative of our people in the villages in a way that makes every Indian proud and happy, even those who might not like the incidents of murders and violence that marred the movement from the Congress point of view. The first place among various districts and provinces, that distinguished themselves in 1942, is that of Midnapore.

Although the movement did not bring about immediate gains, it prepared the ground for independence in 1947. After the revolt, no doubt was left in the minds of the British rulers that the days of their domination were numbered. It was only a question of time. The revolt marked the culmination of the Indian freedom movement. It have utterance to India's anger against imperialism and her determination to be free.