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>>

Comment on First Wavell Offer

Statement broadcast by the Provisional Government of Azad Hind Broadcasting Station, Saigon

Sisters and brothers! I listened with great attention to the speech which the Viceroy of India, Lord Wavell, broadcast on June 14, from New Delhi conveying the offer of the British Government to India. That was the offer to bring which Lord Wavell made a long pilgrimage to London. Though the manner and tone of the Viceroy's speech gave one the impression that he himself had very little hope that nationalist India would accept this offer, I have no doubt that the Indian public is now busy discussing the offer.

At such a juncture it would neither be untimely nor out of place to inform my countrymen at home as to how Indians in East Asia have reacted to the British Government's offer. First of ail, we found out, as the Viceroy has himself confessed, that the only motive of the British Government is to mobilise India's support in the war against Japan. The British people are war-weary and after the termination of the war in Europe they badly need rest, and as such, they want others to fight their battles while they themselves reap the fruits of victory. But the British Indian troops, too, are war-weary, and after the recent successes of the Anglo-Americans in Burma they also desire rest and relaxation. It is, therefore, vital for the British to make the Indian people pour out their money and shed their blood for the preservation of the British Empire. While the fighting was going on inside India and along the Indo-Burma border the British could bluff the British Indian Army with the preaching that it was their duty to fight for the defence of India. The British could also bluff them later on by preaching that the Burma campaign was merely a continuation of the campaign for the defence of India.

But now that the British want India's blood and money for the campaigns beyond Burma and for the campaigns in the Pacific, a new scheme must be found in order to obtain India's support for such campaigns. That is why the British Government has now put forward this new offer which is in reality Sir Stafford Cripps' old offer in a slightly altered garb.

In deciding what reply we Indians should give, we will have to consider what we stand to gain by fighting Britain's war against Japan. It is one thing for Britain to forcibly exploit India for her war of aggression but it is quite a different thing for Indian nationalists to voluntarily fight Britain's war. To cooperate in Britain's war effort at this stage will mean that we have completely nullified our moral struggle againstthe British. It will mean political suicide on the part of the Indian National Congress and for us Indians as well.

At an earlier stage of the war British propagandists and their Indian trumpeters could possibly bluff and bamboozle the Indian people that India's defence was at stake as the Japanese were then knocking at India's gates. But now with the change in the war situation in East Asia, no Indian can have the slightest interest in fighting Britain's war against Japan. It is, therefore, crystal clear that any acceptance of Lord Wavell's offer will be tantamount to a voluntary shedding of precious Indian blood and draining our resources in fighting Britain's imperialistic war. But what would India gain in return? Nothing except a few jobs on Viceroy's Executive Council.

We cannot even argue that by accepting the offer we shall be reaching the 'goal of self-government', which Lord Wavell and the British Government want us to believe. India does not care any longer for self-government within the British Empire, and India will never be content with anything less than complete independence. But even if any Indian is prepared to accept self-government he would have a much better chance of achieving that objective by continuing the resistance now than by accepting the present offer. The moment we accept the offer it will be inferred by the British Government that we are prepared to compromise by taking something very much less than even self-government. I have no doubt in my mind that the acceptance of this offer will seriously jeopardise all chances of securing even self-government in future, not to speak of complete independence. In short, by accepting the offer we shall gain nothing but we shall lose a lot, and it is Britain that will profit by our lack of strength.

Under normal circumstances there would not be even a ten to one chance for any Indian nationalist to be enamoured of the present offer, but the British are cunning politicians and they have chosen the proper psychological moment for aiming this offer at India. British politicians are hoping that the Indian people are now overawed by recent Anglo-American victories. The Indian people may, therefore, feel that we stand no chance of achieving independence during the course of the present war and might as well make the best of a bad bargain and take whatever is being offered by the British. This is going to be the attitude of pessimists and moderate politicians like Sri Rajagopalachariar, but this attitude is entirely mistaken and unjustified, and will inevitably result in putting back the clock of freedom by many years.

The first surprise of this war has been the defeat of Germany. But there are many other surprises in store for us, and some of them will not be welcome to our enemies. Although the war in Europe has ended, the war in East Asia will go on for a long time and India will have plenty of opportunities in future for working for and achieving her liberation. There is, accordingly, no reason whatever to enter into a humiliating compromise which British imperialism has offered us in the hope that, in view of her strong position, we will be overawed into accepting it. Firstly, Britain has not yet won the war; and, secondly, even if we fail to win independence during the course of the present war, we shall still get a last opportunity when the present war terminates and the change-over from war to peace takes place. History affords similar instances of successful revolutions which have broken out immediately after a big war and on several occasions the revolutionaries have emerged victorious out of the place following the war. For instance, in Ireland, the Easter Rebellion of 1916 was crushed but the Irish Revolution of 1919 after Britain's victory in the First World War was successful. Similarly, Turkey was badly defeated during the First World War, but after her defeat in 1918, she launched a war of liberation and came out triumphant in 1921. After the Allied victory in Europe in the present war Syria and the Lebanon are already waging their war of liberation, and I have no doubt that they will ultimately come out victorious. Consequently, there is no reason whatsoever why we should humiliate ourselves by accepting the offer which we proudly rejected in 1942 when Sir Stafford Cripps brought it to India.

I shall now refer to the merits of the British proposal. On close and careful analysis it will be found that the present proposal is in essence and in substance identical with that of Sir Stafford Cripps' offered to us in 1942. Three more seats on the Viceroy's Executive Council have been offered to us this time, for example, those of Home, Finance and External Affairs; for these and other portfolios and the others will be appointed by the Viceroy and will be responsible to him and not to the representatives of the people. On the other hand, the most important portfolio, that of the War Member, has been reserved for a Britisher namely, the C.-in-C. While the present offer is the old offer of Sir Stafford Cripps appearing in a slightly altered form, there are other obnoxious features which render the offer totally unacceptable. In his speech the Viceroy has clearly indicated that he regards the Congress as one among many parties as has been the traditional policy of the British Government. This attitude was indignantly repudiated by Mahatma Gandhi at the Round Table Conference in London in 1931 when, as representative of the Congress, he represented the Indian people. If the Congress accepts the offer now it will repudiate once for all what it has consistently maintained, namely, that it represents the people of India; and it will accept what the British Government has repeatedly held, namely, that the Congress is one among many parties in India. I cannot, for the slightest moment, imagine how any Indian nationalist can think of accepting this offer.

There is another mischievous feature in Lord Wavell's offer. He has ordered the release of the members of the Working Committee of the Congress, but has maintained that unless his offer is accepted, all those who participated in the rising of 1942 will have to remain in custody. There is, nowhere, mentioned in his speech that even if his offer is accepted, those who were imprisoned in the year 1939 and 1942 will be set free. It is a well-established convention in all democratic countries that a constitutional change is heralded by an amnesty for all political prisoners. In the case of India, however, this convention has been given the go-by.

The British Government has been telling us that no constitutional changes can be introduced during the course of the war though we have seen that throughout the world far-reaching political changes are being carried out. Here in East Asia we have seen quite a different state of affairs. Right in the midst of the war, several independent governments have been set up and power has been handed over to people. So, you see that this British plea is completely hollow and it is intended to delay and deny the Indian demand. If Britain really wants to set up a responsible government she should lose no time in declaring India a self-governing nation and hand over power to the people's representatives.

Sisters and brothers in India! You have suffered long and suffered much from the political persecution and economic exploitation of British capitalism. Let us suffer a little longer. We have to resist British imperialism by all the moral and material means at our disposal, and above all, let us keep the flag of independence flying. By continuing our fight against imperialism, and by refusing to compromise over independence we shall be able to keep burning the question of India's freedom before the bar of world opinion. That is the way to freedom. On the other hand, by accepting the offer we will be humiliating ourselves and losing the moral sympathy of the world.

It may be that some of you are asking what is the best way for achieving the liberation of India. To that my answer is perfectly clear. Firstly, from outside India we shall carry onthe armed struggle for our freedom to the last man and to the last round. Secondly, there are numerous friends of India abroad who advocate our cause before the bar of world opinion and in all international conferences. And, lastly, my countrymen, you too must be prepared to launch a revolution at the opportune moment which will spread like the wild fire of the prairies and may even be supported by the British Indian forces.

Sisters and brothers! In conclusion, I appeal to you not to give up hope. I repeat that the forces that are now working inside India and outside are irresistible. There is no earthly power that can stop the Indian people from achieving their goal of freedom. With patience and determination we shall achieve our goal. The Viceroy has asked for your goodwill and cooperation. Tell him that your goodwill and cooperation has been reserved for India's struggle for liberty and for none else.