A LETTER TO GANDHI
By RANJEE G. SHAHANI DEAR GANDHIJI,
Reckoning by years, you might be my father or my great- uncle ; and I do not know how, if you were the one or the other, I should couch this letter to you. Perhaps you will read it with ironic impatience or with a wise, weary smile. I do not know. Young men's opinions are not much thought of in India. But, unless I greatly err, you are always open to truth, no matter where it comes from. It is possible that you will listen to me.
I should like, if I may, to write to you as a friend—that is, simply, frankly, in a spirit of complete trust and loyalty. I could wish that I had a chance of saying a few words to you between two silences under the spreading trees of your Ashram. It is always easier to utter certain things than to put them down on paper. Ink is cold. However, it is not possible to meet you personally just now. You are in India and I am in France. I am separated from you by many leagues of salt water. Yet I must act. Time presses. Great issues are at stake in the world today. Please listen.
We Indians are, with rare exceptions, a pacific people. We hate war and the makers of war. To shed blood, rich • human blood, seems to us a horrible and stupid crime. Asoka has said the last word on war for us. Yet you will agree that peace at any price belongs to the vocabulary of cowards. Evil must be resisted. Passivity, in certain cases, is nothing short of complicity.
You yourself have been all your life a gladiator. How often, and how bravely, you have fought Britain! When one thinks of your daring, your courage and your utter disregard for " safety first," one is obliged to use the much and ill used word " heroic." It is true that your weapon has been, not the sword, but soul-force. It is a terrible weapon, pro- vided that your adversary moves on the same moral plane as yourself. It would be useless, if not a sad mockery, before a primitive or a savage. No Nazi will understand it. Light is only for those who have eyes to see. Cave-dwellers prefer the miasmatic dark and the ways of the tiger and the ape.
Force—or war—is a fell necessity. Sometimes it would seem that there is no alternative to it. The Bhagavad-Gita recommends it in a righteous cause. Even Jesus, the gentlest of men, are obliged to have recourse to force.
The cause is important. Both the author of the Gita and Jesus are at one on this point. In brief, if it is a war of aggression or self-aggrandisement, we Indians must condemn it. If it is to preserve for man what makes life worth living, then we must support it ; for, whatever foolish philosophers may say, the safeguard of light, sweetness and reason is a collective enterprise. It is because there is no solidarity of human hearts that the world today is in such a chaotic state. Men think crookedly. They have split up the prismatic unity of life into an incoherent and meaningless multiplicity. There are the white, the brown, the yellow and the black races. As though this were not enough, there are now the " true Aryans." What is the difference between man and man? If you prick them, they all bleed. Shakespeare has said all this beautifully in The Merchant of Venice, so I need not linger over it. I will only say that if the earth were treated as a unit and as a city, and rationally organised as such, the Kingdom of Heaven would be with us tomorrow. But this is no time for high dreams. I wish to speak now of realities.
The British Empire is one such. We Indians have quarrels with Britain, but these are, if you will permit me to say so, family quarrels. In normal times we can be as bitter towards one another as you please (for it is good to let off steam occasionally); but in the hour of danger we must stand united. Just now Britain is engaged in a war that has been imposed upon her. There are no two opinions about this. She is simply doing her duty. The German " becoming " is beginning to swallow up the " being " of other nations and—Oh horror!—attempting to substitute itself for the " Being of Beings, the Light of Lights, the Soul of all things." To let Germany go ahead with her diabolical programme would be not only self-destructive, but the end of a civilisa- tion, of a conception of life, of certain human values. This must never happen. It concerns us all.
The British Dominions, having taken stock of the situa- tion, have declared against Germany. They are helping Britain as best they can. Are we to fall behind? I cannot believe it. It would be national disgrace. For this war is sui generis. It is a struggle against the forces of evil. It is clear that you understand the great issues involved. You announced in the first instance that India must give uncon- ditional support to Britain. You trusted to your strongest emotion and you were right. Why, then, have you changed?
I can well understand your difficulties. Some of your colleagues and collaborators have told you in effect: " We have been waiting for a conflict in Europe, and now that it has come, let us make the most of it. Let us strike a bargain with Britain. It is a question of now or never." I understand this attitude, though I do not share it. It seems to me to be based on a complete misunderstanding of the British character and aims. They have not given us Home Rule, not because they do not want to, but because they honestly think that we are not proficient in the delicate art of self-government. You will admit that the charge is not altogether unfounded. As a people, we have shown little aptitude for subordinating personal ambitions and interests to the general good.
But, happily, things are beginning to change. Provincial Autonomy is already a lusty child. We have been tried, and not found wanting. Soon we shall be able to manage our affairs as well as any other people. When that time comes, Britain will not disappoint us. I am sure of this. Why? Because I have discussed the matter with representative Englishmen. We must not take into account the tirades of some diehards and jingoes. These may well be ignored. The point I am labouring to establish is this : that Britain will give us Dominion Status if and when we are ripe for it. Neither terrorism nor non-co-operation, nor bullying nor blackmail will have any effect upon her. It is for us to prove that we are able to govern ourselves. That, as I see it, is the crux of the matter. It is, then, absurd to try to strike a bargain with Britain just now. This is not only in bad taste but intrinsically unwise.
Because everything that you or the other Congress leaders say will be examined under the microscope by the enemies of Britain and used to support their vile theses.
Because these words, carefully rehearsed,-will be turned against us some day.
Because, if there is nothing in the texts that might usefully serve their purposes, they will torture the phrases, twist them so as to extract from them a sense that no one ever intended to give them.
Hence the necessity of being very prudent. If there is to be any bargaining with Britain, let it be done without any fracas. Pandit Nehru is reported to have said a few days ago: " If this is all that the Viceroy has to offer us, then there is nothing in common between Britain and us." Brave words, but most unwise just now. There will be plenty of giggling in Goth. I know something of German and Russian methods of propaganda. They are terrible. They distil poison even from honey and flowers. So let us be most circumspect. This is not the time to express our differences with Britain or to obstruct her in any way in India.
There are other and deeper grounds for this. I will mention only two. First, because Germany has her eyes turned towards India. This is not a bobard, as the French would say. It is a fact. Hitler is pressing Stalin to descend upon India via Afghanistan. The plan is not as mad as it sounds. True, it is fraught with difficulties, but, then, has not the Fiihrer declared that nothing is impossible for him? Anyway, unless we unite with Britain and co-operate with her in every way, we give the two Dictators to understand that we are a house divided against itself and hence open to bribery and loot. We Indians are in no position to defend ourselves against a first-class military Power.
Secondly, the defeat of Britain and France would be a calamity for the whole world. It would mean the Rule of the Jungle. The " Blonde Beast " and his associate would stalk from continent to continent, devouring all before them. This would be worse than Hell.
For every honest man, for every honest people, the choice is already made : the " Blonde Beast " must be caged, if he cannot be tamed. It is everybody's job. To shirk it is to show physical and moral cowardice of the worst type.
India, the home of idealism, cannot remain passive or indifferent. It is a question of conscience. I, therefore, pray you to act. Put aside parochial interests. Tell India the great words : " What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul." She will under- stand. Her heart is in the right place.
You will say, with your customary modesty, that you are a " back number." This is not true. Your word carries immense weight in our country. Must you remain inactive while the soul of the world is at stake? No, no, no. It is not possible.
Believe me, yours most sincerely, RANJEE G. SHAHAN'.