Prince of Wales
For all his piety, love and reliance on non-violence and ahimsa, it’s one of history’s indisputable facts that Mahatma Gandhi relied heavily on Indian capitalists’ funds to keep the Congress going in pre-Independence days.
Today, when we hear Rahul Gandhi shriek “Suit-Boot ki sarkar” as a barb to Narendra Modi and his NDA government, it seems so improper given the financial diet which kept Congress on its feet in pre-1947 era.
B.R. Nanda, a contemporary and a pre-eminent biographer of Mahatma Gandhi admits in his book: “In Search of Gandhi..,” that two thoughts dominated his early years in India in 1920s: “One, that capitalists kept Congress and Gandhi flush with funds…and as quid pro quo, Gandhi astutely checked the revolutionary aspect of his struggle against the Raj to suit the vested interests of the capitalists.”
The experience of “Deshbandhu” Chittaranjan Das was a bitter testimony to such a belief. Subhas Chandra Bose was a disciple of Das. In the latter’s biography “Brothers against the Raj,” hugely acclaimed author Leonard A. Gordon writes thus (condensed for brevity):
In 1920, Gandhi promised “Swaraj in one year” as he gave call for civil disobedience. The call was a massive success. When on November 17, the Prince of Wales arrived in Bombay, Calcutta was completely shut-down by protestors. Around India, some 25,000 Congress workers were arrested. Congress was declared unlawful. Thousands more now poured into British jails, including Das and Subhas Bose. But when British offered a proposal of roundtable meeting, Gandhi rejected. Das was angry with Gandhi. In Das’ own words:
“I myself led people to prison. I started the movement in Bengal. I sent my son first to jail. My son was followed by m wife, and then I went to prison…I knew that the spirit of resistance that manifested itself was mighty and the proudest Government did bend to it. You (Gandhi) bungled it, and mismanaged it. Now you turn round and ask people to spin and do the work of Charka alone.”
In 1922, the Chauri Chaura incident happened. The Congress working committee met and suspended the planned civil disobedience. Peasants were instructed not to withhold rent payments from landlords, who were informed that the Congress `in no way intended to attack their legal rights.’
Writes Gordon: “The Congress…when ending many non-coperation activities and calling off the planned civil disobedience action, opposed rent strikes by peasants against their landlords. The Congress wanted and needed the support of the wealthier strata in society and was not willing to challenge economic vested interest.” (Italics mine).
“He (Subhas Bose) was possibly the author of a leader for Bangla Katha journal of 7 February 1923 which read: `The swaraj which the Congress had so long knowingly or unknowingly wished to have, is the swaraj of the rich and middle class. We do not always properly realize the fact that the masses of the country are still lying outside the Congress arena.”
Among the historians and observers, there is a stream of thought which believes that civil disobedience and non-cooperation movements, burning of foreign clothes etc, directly benefited India’s own Capitalists. Another though premises that due to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which announced the arrival of Communism on world stage, Indian capitalists were fearful of a similar outbreak of resistance among its own workers. It was in their interests that such revolutionary methods were kept in check and Congress, being the leading party, alone could do it.
The above details is not to suggest a conspiracy between Congress and Capitalists. But personal interests perhaps guided both. Congress was close to bankruptcy when Gandhi arrived on the Indian scene. All it could do was to hold its’ annual sessions. It badly needed money and Gandhi proved to be a brilliant fund-raiser. It’s not to doubt Gandhi’s integrity or his commitment to his idea of India. Nor is to say that a few Indian capitalists were not genuinely inspired by Gandhi’s religious and political ethos. Both needed each other in those turbulent years.
But when Rahul Gandhi today accuses of Modi government siding with the Capitalists, it appears such a sham. He needs to go to libraries and read books to know more about his own Congress and its affiliation with capitalists.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
The popular history has Indian National Congress-Mahatma Gandhi-Ahimsa-Independence as a sequential thread embedded in the mind of free Indians. The disruptive truth of 1905-1920 is hardly in circulation; the parallel flow of revolutionaries beginning with Lal-Bal-Pal and extending till Subhas Chandra Bose are like distant relatives we haven’t been keeping in touch with.
Between 1905-1920, India buzzed with the cry of Purna Swaraj, Swadeshi, boycott and the educational reforms. The triumvirate of Lala Lajpati Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal shook the conscience of the masses with oratory, vision and action. The Moderates, who had controlled the levers of Congress from its inception since 1885, became a side story in people’s mind for this decade and a half.
The years 1905-1920 are not just about Congress in modern India; these are years where you could trace back the roots of Muslim appeasement and the horrors of the Partition.
The birth anniversary of Bipin Chandra Pal (November 7, 1858) affords us an occasion to view these times through the prism of this man who for his magnificent oratory was called the “Burke of India” and whom Sri Aurobindo was apt to refer as one of the “Mightiest Prophets of Nationalism.” His wealthy background in his birthplace Sylhet (now in Bangladesh); the remarkable pen he wielded as an editor and author; and his commitment for improving the lot of women—Pal married widows twice—pale in significance to his role in India’s freedom struggle, beginning 1905.
This catalyst of a year was when Bengal was partitioned between commercially rich but largely Hindu West Bengal and economically weak and largely Muslim East Bengal. British clearly had Hindu-Muslim divide in mind as Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, wrote in a letter to the then Secretary of State for India, St. John Brodrick on February 2, 1905:
“Calcutta is the centre from which the Congress party is manipulated throughout the whole of Bengal; and indeed the whole of India. Its best wire-pullers and its most frothy orators all reside here. The perfection of their machinery…are truly remarkable.” Curzon further wrote in the letter that if Bengal was divided, it would dethrone Calcutta “from its place as the center of successful intrigue.” Curzon assured the secretary that Indians “always howl until a thing is settled; then they accept it.” (1)
Pal, along with Lalaji and Tilak, was instrumental in ensuring ruling British didn’t meet with their objective and were forced to reunite Bengal only six years later in 1911. He travelled around the country and unleashed a wave of resistance from the masses with his subliminal oratory. Boycott wasn’t limited to British goods alone; it extended to even British public institutions. Groups and committees, gatherings and demonstrations, mass pamphleteering and rousing speeches had the country inflamed. The more British tried to repress the wave; the more it gained in intensity. Its froth extended to expressions in culture, literature and science. Rabindranath Tagore wrote Banglar Mati Banglar Jolas, a rallying cry to advocates of annulment of Bengal Partition. (2)
The fervour of this national response evoked anxiety and not a little envy from the Moderates who still controlled the Congress and who had believed all along in the philosophy of “prayers, petitions and protests.” Most of the Moderates were on good terms with the high-ranking British officials in 1905 and had also held cushioned jobs.
Six months after the Bengal Partition, The Congress session was held in Banares in December 1905. The division between Moderates and Extremists was out in the open. The Extremists wanted the visit of Prince of Wales to be boycotted in protest to the Partition; the Moderates opposed this move. Moderates invited one of staunchest in its ranks, Dadabhai Naoroji, a founder of Congress, a former MP in British Parliament and then living in England, to come and preside over the session in 1906. However, Extremists prevailed in the session and “Swaraj” was declared the aim of the Congress (against the wishes of Moderates who still preferred Constitutional reforms).
The Surat Session in 1907 was a monumental moment for Congress and India’s future. Moderates stood in opposition to Purna Swaraj and Swadeshi; Bal Gangadhar Tilak was not even allowed to speak by none other than Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya. The Extremists thereafter were debarred and ruling British moved in for the kill. (3)
British unleashed a brutal crackdown on the Extremists. Their newspaper was closed; Tilak was banished to Mandalay Jail for six years; Pal was arrested for not giving evidence against Sri Aurobindo and compelled to opt out to England between 1908-1911. British followed up this measure by snuggling up to Muslims and the Moderates and took the wind out of India’s resistance.
Pal returned to Congress in 1916 but by then the stage was set for the advent of Mahatma Gandhi on another moderate Gopalkrishna Gokhale’s invitation. Gandhi’s subsequent movement of non-cooperation, as an allied action to Khilafat Movement, was seen as fanning the Pan-Islamism, and introducing the religious element in India’s politics by the likes of Pal. Khilafat Movement, to the uninitiated, was launched by Muslims in support of restoration of Ottoman Sultan in faraway Turkey, fully backed by Gandhi and Congress in a bid to promote Hindu-Muslim Unity.
The envisioned unity was a pipe-dream and start of Muslim appeasements by Gandhi-led Congress. It fanned the ambition of Mohammad Ali Jinnah for a separate Muslim state. The resultant Partition and rivers of blood which flowed in its wake still carries scars and repercussions for India’s future. As for the British, they were all too happy to introduce “separate electorates” and fan the communal divide between Hindu and Muslims.
Pal turned his back on Congress but not before he made a scathing attack on Gandhi in the 1921 session. “You wanted magic. I tried to give you logic. But logic is in bad odor when the popular mind is excited. You wanted mantaram, I am not a Rishi and cannot give mantaram…I have never spoken a half-truth when I know the truth…I have never tried to lead people in faith blind-folded.” He was critical of Gandhi for his “priestly, pontificating tendencies.” Comparing Gandhi with Leo Tolstoy, Pal noted that Tolstoy “was an honest philosophical anarchist,” while Gandhi to him was a “papal autocrat.” (4)
Pal, who kept out of public life between 1921-1932, died in a state of penury.