Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

Consign Wavell's Offer to the Scrap-Heap, Broadcast from Singapore

Sisters and brothers in India! During the last three days I have been speaking to you from a broader point of view, both national and international, and I have also been considering the Indian problem in its proper setting, that is, against the international background. Judging from the reports reaching us through various news agencies it appears that those who are giving vocal expression to their views today are approaching the Indian problem from a very narrow and short-sighted point of view. Most of those who view the Indian problem from the correct point of view cannot easily make their voice heard outside India, particularly because some of them are now in custody. If Mahatma Gandhi and the members of the Congress Working Committee had insisted on the release of all political prisoners prior to any negotiations with the British Government, then we would have had no cause for anxiety. If the release of all political prisoners had taken place and a full meeting of the All-India Congress Committee been held, then the opinion of the entire Congress organisation would have made itself heard. But the British Government, cunning as it is, has deliberately kept the rest of the political prisoners in custody and released only the members of the Congress Working Committee, so that the opinion of the entire Left wing of the Congress Organisation may be effectively muffled.

I have no doubt in my mind that public opinion in India, and in particular the Congress organisation, has moved much further in a revolutionary direction since the beginning of the present war in 1939. Consequently, if a plenary session of the Congress were held today or even a full meeting of the All-India Congress Committee, Lord Wavell's offer would be rejected by an overwhelming majority. The British Government and Lord Wavell know the Indian situation and they realise that if the British offer had been left to the verdict of Congressmen in general or even to the All-India Congress Committee, then there would not be the slightest chance of its acceptance. They have, therefore, created a situation in which only the members of theWorking Committee will decide about Lord Wavell’s offer on behalf of the Congress. According to the Congress constitution, the Working Committee cannot make a final decision on behalf of the Congress on such an all-important issue.

I am, however, prepared to admit that if the Congress Working Committee had represented all sections of the Congress or if there had been a real emergency, there might have been some moral, though not legal, justification for the Congress Working Committee to handle this all-important issue on its sole responsibility. But, it is well known that the Left wing of the Congress, which is quite influential, is not represented on the Working Committee at all. And, nobody can maintain that there is such an emergency in the country that the Working Committee is obliged to make a momentous decision behind the back of the All-India Congress Committee and of the rank and file of the Congress. I can understand that the British Government, to achieve its own ends, has manoeuvred in such a way that Lord Wavell's offer has been placed not before the All-India Congress Committee or a plenary session of the Congress, but only before the Congress Working Committee, but I cannot understand why members of the Working Committee are walking into the trap cleverly laid by Lord Wavell. Apart from the provision of the Congress constitution according to which the Working Committee is a mere executive body and not its deliberative or law-making body, from the purely moral point of view it is wrong and unfair for the Working Committee to dispose of a matter which will affect the entire future of the Congress and India for several decades. Even at this late hour, I honestly and humbly appeal to Mahatma Gandhi not to make a decision behind the back of the Congress. I make this appeal particularly because by accepting the Wavell offer we shall be receding from the progress already made and nullifying the fundamental principles and resolutions of the Congress, and we shall be undoing the work and sacrifices of the Congress over a long period.

I shall now say a few words as to what will be the effect of accepting Lord Wavell's offer. First and foremost, the goal of the Indian National Congress is complete independence, whereas Lord Wavell's offer scrupulously avoids even mentioning the word independence. Secondly, in 1938-39, the Congress had refused to participate in Britain's imperialist war and the Congress has suffered much because of its anti-war policy. But, the fundamental basis of Lord Wavell's offer is that all those who accept the offer will have to pledge themselves to whole-hearted participation in Britain's war in the Far East, and this war cannot be described by any stretch of imagination as a war for the defence of India. Thirdly, acceptance of the offer will mean the rescinding of the 'Quit India’ resolution of 1942. After the acceptance of the offer the Congress will have to give up the slogans, ‘Liberty or Death' and ‘Do or Die’ and devise other slogans which will express the ideas embodied in Lord Wavell's offer.

I should like to know how the Congress can be distinguished from the Indian Liberal Federation if it agrees to give up its fundamental principles and resolutions and accepts the present offer. As I have stated in my previous talks, under normal circumstances no Congressman would have even looked at Lord Wavell's offer, not to speak of giving consideration to it. The only psychological explanation of the present compromising attitude of several Congress leaders is that they probably feel that the Anglo-Americans are going to win the war and that there is no hope of our achieving our independence. This appreciation of the situation is entirely wrong. In spite of the recent successes of the Anglo-Americans in Europe and Burma, the Indian issue has become a live issue in international affairs. Whatever the ultimate issue of the war in East Asia may be, even the Anglo-Americans have had to admit that the coming campaign in East Asia is going to be a very long and bitter one and that the armed forces of Japan will fight every inch of the ground. Even in Burma, in spite of our recent reverses bitter fighting is going on in many sectors and in several parts of the country. While Japan will go on fighting with all its strength, tenacity and courage of which Japan is capable, Indians in East Asia will continue their fight against the British and their allies. In spite of the recent losses in Burma, the main force of the Azad Hind Fauj remains intact, and the Azad Hind Fauj will go on fighting to the last man and to the last round.

If Indians at home do not give up resistance to British imperialism, nothing can prevent the attainment of India's independence by the end of this war. By a combination of resistance inside India, armed struggle in East Asia and the adoption of a realistic policy in the international field, India will certainly emerge as an independent nation by the time this war ends. But, for the achievement of our liberation, internal struggle against the British has to be guaranteed. Armed struggle in East Asia I am in a position to guarantee. I can also give this assurance that if resistance to British imperialism is kept up inside India, then India will remain an international issue, and diplomacy in the international field will be able to help our cause considerably. For the present the British do not have much to worry about trouble inside India, but they are nevertheless afraid of two things. They are afraid that if moral resistance inside India continues India will remain an International issue. They are also afraid that if the Indian people remain hostile to the British, it will be impossible for them to obtain adequate help from India in men and resources for the coming campaign in the Far East. The British know that without India's help in a large measure and in particular without the help of India's manpower they cannot win the war in the Far East. Lord Wavell's offer is calculated to kill two birds with one stone: Firstly, the offer is a bait to guarantee India's whole-hearted participation in Britain's imperialist war; secondly, it will convert the Indian issue into a domestic issue of the British Empire and thereby bringing about a withdrawal of all help to India by the United Nations including Soviet Russia.

In this connection I should like to repeat what I said in a statement issued by me on the 19th instant. In that statement I disclosed information received from very reliable sources to the effect that the origin and the basis of Lord Wavell's sinister offer is the demand of the British Government that India should supply half-a-million troops for the coming campaigns in East Asia in regions beyond Burma and in the Pacific. If the British Government could have obtained from India that much needed help without the cooperation of the Indian people, Wavell's offer would in all probability not have seen the light of day. But, the British Indian Army, like the British Army, is war-weary and the British Government and Lord Wavell think that it is now necessary to win public sympathy and enthusiasm in India in order to obtain military aid in so large a measure

Before the members of the Working Committee decide to accept Lord Wavell's offer they should be prepared to sacrifice half-a-million Indian lives for Britain's imperialist war in the Far East. I have envisaged what the Congress stands to lose if it were to accept Lord Wavell's offer. Consequently, before deciding to accept the offer, members of the Working Committee will have to calculate carefully what they will gain thereby and whether that gain will compensate in adequate measure what we shall lose It stands to reason that if what we gain is much less than what we lose, we should reject that offer as we rejected Sir Stafford Cripps' offer in 1942. There may be Congressmen who think that what we are thinking of doing now, we shall have to do that in the long run. This view is entirely erroneous. I have already remarked in a previous talk that even if the worst happens and India fails to obtain her freedom during the course of the present war, then we shall have another opportunity as soon as the present war comes to an end.

The change-over from war to peace is a period of unrest. During this period of unrest even a victorious power is at a disadvantage because it needs rest and relaxation. That is why the revolutions of Ireland and Turkey after the First World War, revolutions which failed during the war period attained complete success after the termination of the war.

On reading a report which is before me today, I find that the Congress President, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, said: 'If the present negotiations fail the Congress will wait till the end of the war before launching a further attempt'. I cannot agree with the Congress President that we should not renew the struggle at home while the war is on, but I agree with him that at the end of the war, if India still happens to be enslaved, Indians will again have another opportunity of launching a large-scale offensive against British imperialism, and I have no doubt in my mind that in that post-war campaign the demobilised members of present British-Indian Army will play avery important role.

Since it is apparent that most of the Indian leaders who are now free are considering Lord Wavell's offer not from the broader but fromavery narrow and short-sighted point of view, I shall now consider what our comparative losses and gains would be if we were to accept that offer. What Lord Wavell has offered us if we agree to whole-hearted participation in the coming war in the Far East is as follows: (i) The promise of self-government; (ii) some jobs on the Viceroy's Executive Council; and (iii) the restoration of Congress Ministries in the Provinces. All these three things have always been before us. The British Government has always promised us self-government. We had eight Ministries under our control in the Provinces in 1939 and these we resigned voluntarily. Jobs in the Viceroy's Executive Council have always been open to such Congressmen as were prepared to sell themselves. It may be remarked that the Wavell offer gives us more seats in the Executive Council, but as against that there is an express stipulation that acceptance of the offer will mean whole-hearted participation in Britain's war. Was this not the reason why the Congress Ministries resigned in 1939? They could have remained in office after 1939 without giving a pledge of whole-hearted participation in the war. But, they preferred to resign rather than sacrifice the country's resources in fighting a war to keep British imperialism alive.

In Britain many people are waxing eloquent over the merits of the offer on the ground that a considerable advance has been made in the Indianisation of the Executive Council. I hope that no Congressman will adopt a similar attitudebecause the Congress demand is not Indianisation of the services or of the Executive Council, but the withdrawal from India of the British Power, wherein are included the Viceroy, as well as the British Commander-in-Chief. Lord Wavell has in fact made it quite clear that his offer does not imply any constitutional change. Moreover, the newly constituted Viceroy's Council will only be an advisory body and it is the Viceroy who will finally select these members who will be responsible not to the Central Legislature but to the Viceroy personally. Moreover, inside the Executive Council the will of the majority will not prevail and the Viceroy will have full powers to veto recommendations or proposals of the Executive Council. There is no question of collective responsibility or majority rule in the Executive Council. The Executive Council cannot, therefore, be called a Cabinet by any stretch of imagination. In the Executive Council the chief position will be held by the British War Member, namely, the Commander-in-Chief. What the War Member will demand the Viceroy will certainly endorse. Consequently, next to the Viceroy the War Member will be all-powerful. So long as the Viceroy and the C-in-C act in concert they will be able to control all the departments. The other Executive Councillors will not be able to object because they will be legally bound by their responsibility to the Viceroy and they will be morally bound by their pledge of whole-hearted participation in the war. The Department of External Affairs, which is to be run by an Indian, will prove to be an eye-wash because foreign affairs will be excluded from its jurisdiction. The Member in charge of this Department will become like the Indian Defence Member of the Viceroy's Council who is in charge of Army canteens.

I should like to ask those Congressmen who are today so keen about accepting Lord Wavell's offer, with what face we shall go back to the Ministries which we voluntarily gave up in 1939? I should also like to ask why the Congress condemned Mr Aney and Dr Khare who accepted jobs on the Viceroy's Executive Council, when the Congress is now going to do the same. The more I think of this, the more I am convinced that incalculable harm will be done to the status and prestige of the Congress and to India by accepting this offer. We shall be putting back the clock by at least 25 years. All that we shall gain in return for this wholesale sacrifice of principles will be a few jobs on the Executive Council for some ambitious and power-mad Congressmen.

I shall now try to show that if the Congress accepts the offer, the British Government and the Muslim League will profit at the expense of the Congress. It is, I believe, the intention of Lord Wavell to give to the nominees of the MuslimLeague all the seats in the Executive Council reserved for the Muslims if the Muslim League makes that demand. Similarly, he will give to the Congress all the seats reserved for caste Hindus if the Congress insists. The remaining members will be appointed by Lord Wavell according to his own sweet will, and it goes without saying that these members will be completely subservient to him. It follows, therefore, that if the Viceroy can win over to his side either the Congress bloc or the Muslim League bloc in the Executive Council, then he will have a permanent majority to stand by him at all times. I take it that the Congress bloc in the Executive Council cannot and will not consent to a pact with the Viceroy, because if it does it will be ridiculed by the rank and file of the Congress. But if the Viceroy throws a bait to the Muslims that the British Government will help them to realise their dream of Pakistan, then there is every likelihood of the Muslim League bloc making a pact with the Viceroy. The moment it is done, the Viceroy will have a permanent minority in the Executive Council to stand by him at all times and the Congress bloc will thereby be reduced to a permanent majority. Nevertheless, the Congress bloc will be constrained to maintain its pledge of whole-hearted participation in Britain's war by carrying out the Viceroy's policy. Thus, if the offer is accepted the British Government will profit by prosecuting the war with the help of the Congress and in the name of the Indian people. The Muslim League will also have succeeded in reducing the Congress to a permanent minority in the Executive Council and by realising its dream of Pakistan with the help of the British Government.

I have pointed out what we shall lose by accepting the offer. I shall now say something as to what more we shall lose if the Congress cooperates with the British Government for a period of time. Firstly, the independence movement as well as the freedom mentality of the Indian people will suffer a serious setback. By fighting Britain's imperialist war the Congress will forget its revolutionary purpose and lose its spirit of militant nationalism. And, lastly, by compromising with British imperialism the Congress will forfeit the sympathy of freedom-loving men and women all over the world and will lose the support of those friendly Powers like Soviet Russia who have full sympathy for our cause and willing to lend us active help.

Friends, up to today I have been considering Lord Wavell's offer from the purely political point of view but I have not considered its communal implications. But I shall do so now. By accepting the offer, the Congress will incidentally, though it may be indirectly, accept the principle of communalism in Politics. It will acknowledge the MuslimLeague as the sole representative of the Indian Muslims, and it will thereby betray all those Muslim organisations like the Azad Muslim League, Jamiar-uI-Ulema, Shia Conference, Majlis-i-Ahrar, Praja Party, Muslim Majlis, All-India Momin Party, etc., that have been following a nationalist line at very great sacrifice. Moreover, the Congress will be forced to admit that the word'Congress' is synonymous with the word 'caste Hindus' and not even only with the word 'Hindu.'

I am making this statement on the supposition that the seats reserved by the Viceroy for the caste Hindus will be given to the nominees of the Congress; and those reserved for the Muslims will be given to the nominees of the Muslim League, and that the member or members from Scheduled Caste will be appointed by the Viceroy himself. Now I would like to put a question to Lord Wavell. Amongst the Muslim members of the Executive Council, will he include outstanding Muslims of the type of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who are not members of the Muslim League, and since the vast majority of the Scheduled Caste votes were given to the Congress in the last elections, will the Viceroy leave it to the Congress to put up an Executive Councillor from amongst the Scheduled Caste and not make the selection himself? If he does not do these, then it will be crystal clear that the Viceroy's sinister intention is to reduce the Congress into an organisation of the caste Hindus. Let somebody apply this acid test to Lord Wavell. The result of this test will then speak for itself.

Whatever the other objections to the Viceroy's offer may be, this single objection, namely, the communal implications of it, is enough to condemn that offer and render it totally unacceptable to any nationalist party. The Congress is a national institution representing Indians of all religious faiths and it has fought hard and suffered much to maintain its national character. It will commit veritable suicide if at this stage of its career the Congress were to renounce its national character and accept a communal label. Likewise, it will stultify itself once and for all if it gives up its role as a representative of Indian Nationalism and if it accepts the position of one party among many parties in India. I should like to repeat what I said the day before yesterday that the Conservatives are keen on bringing about a compromise with the Congress and Lord Wavell is anxious to get a decision before July 5. The acceptance will help the Conservative Party considerably at the polls and possibly ensure its return to power. If Lord Wavell succeeds, and the Conservatives fail to return to office, he will then be able to prevent the Labour Cabinet from revising Britain's India policy because the British Government will have already been committed to the Wavell offer. It is likely that if we do not accept his offernow and the Labour Party comes to power then that Party is bound to take up the Indian issue when he shall be able to get better terms. And, if the Conservative Party returns to office it will also be constrained to make another offer, otherwise India will remain an international issue to the great disadvantage of Britain. But, we will get another chance, and a better chance, of bargaining after the war. I say this for the consideration of only those who are really in favour of a policy of compromise with Britain, and who are not prepared to fight for complete independence.

In conclusion, let me remind once again, as I said yesterday, that in this fateful hour the destiny of India lies in your hands and the responsibility is exclusively that of the Indian people and not the Congress Working Committee. Therefore, carry on a raging and tearing campaign against this sinister offer and see that this offer is consigned to the scrap-heap before July 5, 1945.