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>>

Wavell Offer Exposed, Broadcast from Singapore

Sisters and brothers in India! Iam going to speak to you today as I would have done if I had been with you at this critical juncture. I shall speak to you as one who has been with the Congress and has served the Congress with loyalty and devotion since 1921, through fair weather and foul. You remember very well, I hope, what political developments took place in India after September 1939 when the war broke out in Europe. At that time the British Government wanted to use the Congress Ministries in the Provinces for the prosecution of the war, but the Congress refused to cooperate in the war effort, and for two reasons: firstly, because India's national demand for independence had not been conceded by the British Government, and, secondly, because Britain's war was an imperialist war, in which India had no interest. At that time there was no question of Congress cooperation with the British Government at the Centre, but only in the eight provinces out of eleven where there were Congress Ministries. Since the Congress decided not to cooperate in Britain's war in 1939, the Congress Ministries resigned, although it was very clear to every Congressman that if these Ministries had remained in office they could have done a lot of good to the Indian people in other matters. After the resignation of the Congress Ministries the Congress gradually once again resumed the fight for freedom. The climax came in 1942 when the 'Quit India’ Resolution was passed, and when the people were given a new slogan in their renewed struggle for liberty: the slogan of 'Do or Die.'

Now in the year of grace 1945, we are confronted with Lord Wavell's offer. We are told that if the Congress agrees on whole-hearted participation in the coming campaign in the Far East, then the Congress can get two things now plus a promise of self-government for the future. These two things are: firstly, some jobs on the Viceroy's Executive Council, and, secondly, the restoration of the Congress Ministries in the Provinces.

From the reports coming from India, it appears that some Congressmen are very favourably disposed towards Lord Wavell's offer, which means that they, are satisfied with the promise of self-government, not independence mind you, provided the Congress Ministries in the Provinces are restored and a few jobs in the Viceroy's Executive Council are made available to Congressmen. But all these alluring offers have been before the Congress for a long time. First of all, the British have all along promised us self-government. Secondly,in the Provinces there were eight Ministries under our control in 1939, and it is we who decided that they should resign. Thirdly, jobs in the Viceroy's Executive Council have always been open to Congressmen who were prepared to sell themselves.

There are two new conditions in Lord Wavell's offer. Firstly, the number of jobs on the Viceroy's Executive Council has been increased. Secondly, there is the explicit condition that acceptance of the offer will mean their pledge of whole-hearted participation in the coming campaign in the Far East. This was not the case when the Congress Ministries tendered their resignation in 1939. The Congress Ministries, if they had so desired, could have accepted the offer after 1939, without giving a clear pledge of whole-hearted participation in Britain's war.

To those who are now eager to accept Lord Wavell's offer, I should like to put a few questions in order to clarify the issue before us. (i) What has happened to our goal of independence, to which there is not even a partial reference in Lord Wavell's offer? (ii) Does Purna Swaraj mean only Indianisation of the Viceroy's Council, or does it mean complete independence and a total severance of the British connection? (iii) Why did the Congress Ministries resign in 1939? (iv) What has happened to our slogan,"Do or Die"? (v) Why did we condemn Congressmen like Shri Aney and Dr Khare for accepting jobs on the Viceroy's Executive Council?

Friends! It cannot be argued by those who want a compromise today that the new Executive Council, as envisaged in Lord Wavell's offer, is fundamentally different from the Executive Councils of the past. The Viceroy himself has left no doubts on the matter. He has made it crystal clear that his proposal comes within the four corners of the existing constitution and that his plan does not imply a constitutional change. Further, it is the Viceroy who will appoint his Executive Council, and the members of that Council will responsible to him and not to the Legislature

The most appalling position is that in the Executive Council the will of the majority will not prevail, and the Viceroy will have full powers to veto the decisions of that Council. This is the type of freedom and democracy, this is the type of ‘newdeal’ that India is to receive at the hands of Britain. I have to add thatenough new jobs have been thrown open to us, for example, the Home, External Affairs, and Finance portfolios; nevertheless, the key position, namely, the War portfolio remains in the hands of the British C-in-C. The War Member will control not only his own Department but on the plea of war requirements, he will exercise effectivecontrol over all the other departments. Whatever the war Member will bring before the Council will, of course, be endorsed by the Viceroy, and all the other Executive Councillors will have to agree to it. The Executive Councillors will be legally bound by their responsibilities to the Viceroy and Governor-General and they will be morally bound by their pledge of whole-hearted participation in Britain's war.

Consequently, Lord Wavell's proposal may best be described, in the words of the late Vithalbhai Patel, as ‘Swaraj for the Viceroy,' but not even swarajfor the Executive Council. As to the Department of External Affairs being handed over to an Indian member, I feel that it will prove to be an eye-wash, because the affairs of Indian Slates, as well as those relating to tribal and frontier affairs will be outside the jurisdiction of this member. Though there is no question of collective responsibility or majority rule in the new Executive Council and though the Viceroy and Governor-General will remain the same autocrat as before, he has nevertheless to hide his autocracy in the new Executive Council through an ingenious political device or strategy. This stratagem consists in providing for a permanent majority in the Executive Council which will stand by the Viceroy in all circumstances.

It is, I believe, the intention of Lord Wavell to give to the Muslim League all the seats in the Executive Council reserved for 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. While the members from the other communities will be appointed by Lord Wavell according to his own sweet will, and it goes without saying that these memberswill be completely subservient to him. It follows, therefore, that if the Viceroy can win over either the Congress bloc or the Muslim League bloc in the Executive Council, then he will have a permanent majority to stand by himat all times. Now the question is, which of the two blocs is likely to sell itself to the Viceroy? It will be difficult for the Congress bloc to do so, because it will then be repudiated by the general public and by the rank and file of the Congress. But it will be possible for the Viceroy to win over the Muslim League bloc to his side by throwing a bait that if they behave like good boys and co-operate whole-heartedly in the war then the British Government will, as a reward, help them to realise their dream of Pakistan. On the other hand, if the Muslim League bloc gives him any trouble, the Viceroy will put out a threat that the British Government will lend its support to the plan of a unified India as against the Pakistan plan.

In this connection I shall venture the remark that it should be no surprise to anybody if there is already asecret understanding, whether explicit or tacit, between the British Government and the Muslim League that both of them will make common cause against the Congress in the Executive Council. If the above analysis is correct, as I am sure it is, then it follows that if the Congress accepts the offer, the Congress bloc in the Executive Council will become a permanent minority. Nevertheless, the Congress bloc will be constrained to carry out Britain's war policy in view of the pledge of whole-hearted cooperation in the war effort, which is an integral part of the compromise.

It is, therefore, incumbent on us to consider coolly and dispassionately at this stage what the Congress and the country will gain by accepting the offer, and what the inevitable consequences of such acceptance will be. So far as I can judge, the only thing that the Congress will gain by accepting the offer, will be a few jobs in the Executive Council, but both the British Government and the Muslim League will stand to gain much So far as the British Government is concerned, it will be able to prosecute the war with the help of the Congress and in the name of the Indian people, and it will thereby be able to exploit the country's resources in men and material much more than ever before. So far as the Muslim League is concerned, it will succeed in outwitting the Congress by reducing it to a permanent minority in the Executive Council. The Muslim League will also succeed in realising its dream of Pakistan with the help of the British Government.

When the British Government once succeeds in achieving her immediate objective, namely, the prosecution of the war through the help of the Congress, it will then have no further need for the cooperation of the Congress. The British Government will then keep off the Congress and openly embrace the Muslim League and bring about the vivisection of India. In the meantime, the Congress will have humiliated and debased itself, and made itself ridiculous in the eyes of the whole world. It would have to trade its fundamental principles and give a go-by to the goal of independence. Further, by fighting Britain's imperialist war, the Congress will have forgotten its revolutionary purposes and lost its spirit of militant nationalism. The Congress will also have committed political suicide by voluntarily accepting the position that it is not the representative of the Indian masses, but is only one party among many parties in India. Last, but not least, by compromising with British imperialism the Congress will have lost the sympathy of freedom-loving men and women all over the world and will also have lost the support of several friendly Powers including Soviet Russia.

Sisters and brothers! This is what you will lose by accepting Lord Wavell's offer. All that you will gain will be a few jobs in the Viceroy's Executive Council for some ambitious Congressmen. I shall not try your patience any farther today, but before I close I shall repeat d few salient points from my talk yesterday. Firstly, do not forget what the original motive of Lord Wavell's offer is. That motive is to bamboozle you and get half-a-million Indian troops to fight Britain's war in the Far East; that is, in regions beyond Burma and in the Pacific. Secondly, if you believein India's independence, then there is no reason to feel disheartened or discouraged because of the recent military successes of our enemies. India's position in the international field has never been so strong as it is today. By a combination of uncompromising resistance at home, armed struggle in East Asia and diplomacy in the international field, we shall win our independence by the end of this war. That will bring real independence, not self-government within the British Empire nor Indianisation of the Viceroy's Executive Council. Probably the greatest hindrance to independence has appeared in our life, namely, pessimism and defeatism. The people who fight and shed their blood do not succumb to defeatism. It is the armchair politicians and those who are cowards who easily fall a victim to pessimism and despondency.

Our Azad Hind Fauj has suffered many losses in the recent campaign in Burma, but this has made our determination to fight to the last man and to the last round more intense. The major portion of our army is still intact and will continue fighting. Fortunately, in spite of all the propaganda of the Anglo-Americans, their military position in East Asia is not what they have been trying to make out. In Burma, hard and bitter fighting is still going on and in the rest of East Asia the Anglo-Americans will have to face a long and bitter struggle before any decision can be reached.

Countrymen! Do not forget our comrades in prison and those who have suffered so much in the cause of independence. Remember also that the Viceroy has ignored all those who have been in prison before 1942, as well as those who were imprisoned from 1942 onwards but not in connection with 'Quit India' disturbances. Last, but most important of all, ifyou are determined to go on bargaining with the British Government for a compromise, then wait till the British general elections are over. Whether a Labour Cabinet comes into office or a Conservative Cabinet, you will get far better terms if you negotiate after July 5. Lord Wavell will move heaven and earth to come to a settlement of the issue before July 5, because that decision will help the Conservative Party. But you should not fall into the trap he has laid for you.

Sisters and brothers at home! At this critical hour the destiny of India lies in your hands. Now is your time for starting the 'Quit India' campaign all over the country and thereby making it impossible for anyone to arrive at a compromise. Jai Hind!