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>>

Independence Day

On this day, January 26, Indians in every part of the world assemble to observe their Independence Day. On this day they gather together under their national flag for the purpose of reaffirming their undying faith in independence, and their unshakable determination to carry on the national struggle till victory is achieved. On this day in India, the tri-colour flag is hoisted in every home, processions are taken out everywhere and meetings and demonstrations are held all over the country, where the 'Independence Manifesto’ is read and solemnly adopted. Not always are the Indian people allowed to perform this national ceremony without let or hindrance. Again and again they are obliged to act in defiance of police prohibition and in direct opposition to the armed forces of the British Crown. Thus in 1931, just 12 years ago, while leading a peaceful procession on Independence Day as Mayor of India's largest city, Calcutta, I and my fellow processionists were attacked and brutally assaulted by British mounted police till permanent marks of injury were left on our persons. But our lot was nevertheless better than that of those who had to face the bayonet and rifle-shot.

 

Today my thoughts naturally go out to our people at home, who have to observe Independence Day in defiance of tear gas and police batons, bayonets and machine guns. So wonderful is the Atlantic Charter, for which the Allied powers are fighting, that in India all public meetings and demonstrations have been permanently prohibited, and a reign of terror has been let loose over the whole land, simply because the Indian National Congress had the audacity to demand freedom and democracy for the Indian people. To offer some kind of moral justification for British domination and exploitation of India, British propagandists have depicted it as a land where there is no unity, where the people are eternally fighting among themselves, and where the strong hand of Britain is necessary to maintain order and ensure progress. But these presumptuous Britishers conveniently forget that long before their forefathers knew anything about administration or national unity — in fact, long before the Romans came to Britain to teach culture and civilisation to the uncivilised Britons — India had not only an advanced culture and civilisation but a modern Empire founded by Chandragupta extending from Cape Comorin in the South to Afghanistan in the north — an empire that was geographically larger than the India of today. And, India is a country where the past has not been forgotten as in Babylon, Egypt or Greece, but where history and tradition live in our blood and in the marrow of our bones.

 

It is because of this national self-consciousness that neither political domination nor economic impoverishment have been able to kill our soul. Organised British rule in India dates from the year 1858 — that is, after the failure of the great revolution of 1857. If prior to this period India could live and prosper for thousands of years without the help of Britain, she can do the same in future, when she is free once again.

 

After the revolution of 1857, the British realised that they could not hold India long by sheer brute force. They, therefore, proceeded to disarm the country. Along with disarmament, the newly-established British Government, now controlled directly from London, commenced its policy of ‘divide and rule'. This policy of 'divide and rule' has been the fundamental basis of British rule from 1858 till today. For nearly 40 years the policy was to keep India divided by keeping three-fourths of the people directly under British control and the remaining one-fourth under the Indian Princes. Simultaneously, the British Government showed a great deal of partiality for the big landlords in British India. By the beginning of the present century, the British realised, however, that they could no longer dominate India by simply playing the Princes and the big landlords against the people. Then they discovered the Muslim problem in the year 1906, when Lord Minto was Viceroy. Prior to this there was no such problem in India. In the great revolution of 1857, Hindus and Muslims had fought side by side against the British, and it was under the flag of Bahadur Shah, a Muslim, that India's first war of Independence had been fought.

 

During the last World War, when the British found that further political concessions would have to be made to the Indian people, they realised that it was not enough to try and divide the Muslims from the rest of the population, and they then set about trying to divide the Hindus themselves. In this way they discovered the caste problem in 1918, and suddenly became the champions and the liberators of the so-called 'Depressed Classes.' Till the year 1937, Britain had hoped to keep India divided by posing as champions of the Princes, the Muslims and the so-called 'Depressed Classes'. In the General Election held under the new Constitution of 1935 they found, however, to their great surprise that all their tricks and bluffs had failed, and that a strong nationalist feeling permeated the whole nation and every section of it. Consequently, British policy has now fallen back on its last hope. If the Indian people cannot be divided, then the country — India — has to be split up, geographically and politically. This is the plan called 'Pakistan' which emanated from the fertile brain of a Britisher.

 

Though the vast majority of the Indian Muslims want a free and independent India, though the President of the Indian National Congress today is Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a Muslim, and though only a minority of the Indian Muslims support the idea of Pakistan, British propaganda throughout the world gives the impression that the Indian Muslims are not behind the national struggle for liberty and want India to be divided up. The British themselves know that what they propagate is quite false, but they nevertheless hope that by repeating a falsehood again and again, they will be able to make the world believe it.

 

I have taken so much of your time in analysing British policy in India, because I want to tell you that though we have in British imperialism a cunning and diabolical enemy, we know our enemy inside out and there is no possibility of our being deceived again in future. There is no possibility of a compromise between India and Britain. We have nothing in common, and our national interests are diametrically opposed. The Tripartite Powers are today at war with British imperialism, and India, too, is engaged in a struggle with her eternal foe, British imperialism.

 

British imperialism and Indian nationalism cannot exist simultaneously. One must die if the other has to live, and since Indian nationalism will live, British imperialism must die. The struggle which is now going on in India is in reality a continuation of the great revolution of 1857. In the last four decades of the 19th Century, the Indian movement expressed itself in agitation in the Press and on the platform. This movement was crystallised into one organisation, when the Indian National Congress was inaugurated in 1885. The beginning of this century saw a new awakening in India, and along with it new methods of struggle were devised. Thus, during the first two decades we see the economic boycott of British goods on the one side and revolutionary terrorism on the other. The Indian revolutionaries made a desperate attempt to overthrow British rule with the help of arms during the last war — at a time when Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey were fighting our enemy. But they, the Indian revolutionaries, were unfortunately crushed.

 

After the war India needed a new weapon of struggle, and at this psychological moment Mahatma Gandhi came forward with his method of Satyagraha or passive resistance. During the last 22 years, the Congress, under the Mahatma’s leadership, has built up a powerful organisation all over the country, including the States of the Princes. It has awakened political life in the remotest village and among all sections of the people. Most important of all is the fact that the masses of India have learnt how to strike at a powerful enemy even without arms, and the Congress, under Mahatmaji's leadership, has demonstrated that it is possible to paralyse the administration with the weapons of passive resistance. The younger generation in India has, however, learnt from the experience of the last 20 years that, while passive resistance can hold up or paralyse a foreign administration, it cannot overthrow or expel it without the use of physical force. Impelled by this experience, the people today are spontaneously passing on from passive resistance to active fighting, and that is why you read and hear today of the unarmed Indian people destroying railway, telegraph and telephone communications; setting fire to police stations, post offices and Government buildings; and using force in many other ways in order to overthrow the British yoke.

 

I have participated in all the campaigns from 1921 to 1941. During this period I have been in British custody eleven times, and on most occasions without any trial in a court of law. From this experience, as well as from the information that I possess regarding the present campaign in India, I can assert without any exaggeration that it is impossible for the British Government to suppress the movement this time. There are internal and external causes which account for my optimism. Among internal cause I may say that the campaign is spread all over India, that the people of the Indian States are also participating in this all-India fight, and that the movement has spontaneously developed from passive resistance to active fighting. Among the external causes, I may say: that India is not fighting alone this time The Tripartite Powers and their allies are also our allies In a common struggle against a common foe, and even the masses in India surely realise that India has now a glorious opportunity to achieve her liberty, which is indeed rare in history, and what is the most important of all is that there is a widespread conviction in India that this war will end only with the defeat and break-up of the British Empire.

 

We in India had always regretted that during the last war the then leaders had not utilised the war situation to our advantage. It was, therefore, necessary for me to leave India this time in order to establish direct personal contact with the enemies of British imperialism, and thereby link up India's fight for freedom with the struggle of the Tripartite Powers against our old enemy, Britain. Though the Indian people must rely primarily on themselves for achieving their liberty, anything that weakens Britain automatically helps them, and it would be indeed foolish of them not to take the fullest advantage of such assistance which fate and history has provided for them.

 

Regarding my activities abroad, I may say that what I have been doing outside India has the fullest support of the vast majority of my countrymen. As a matter of fact, there is now full accord between Indians fighting at home and those working abroad for the common goal of India's emancipation. I should not, however, give the impression that we are fully content with what has already been achieved at home. We are content only in so far as the movement is now a dynamic one and has developed into an active resistance, and that it is too powerful to be crushed by the armed forces of the Anglo-American Powers.

 

The present phase of the campaign has a two-fold object — to obstruct the administration of India and to destroy Britain's war production in that country. But, we must sooner or later pass on to the last phase of the struggle, namely, an armed revolution for destroying British imperialism in India.

 

It is my personal conviction that the present year, 1943, will be the year of decision, and that during this year India must do the maximum that is possible for our common victory. The Allied Powers probably realise the significance of this year, and that is why since New Year's Day they have been carrying on a terrific propaganda campaign. If one were to read or hear what London or New York now says, one would think that the Anglo-Americans have already won the war. The Anglo-Americans have also been conducting a bloodcurdling atrocity propaganda against the Tripartite Powers, just as they did against Germany in the last war. But that, too, is too transparent to deceive anybody for a second time. That the Anglo-Americans should be forced to adopt such methods in order to bolster up their own morale shows clearly what their position really is.

 

Anybody who takes a dispassionate and objective view of the entire war situation can come to only one conclusion, namely, that this war will end with the victory of the Tripartite Powers.

 

We, the people of India, are convinced that we shall be freed before long, we have right to exist, not only for ourselves, but for the sake of humanity, for India represents one-fifth of the human race. A free India will be able to contribute in a large measure to the culture and civilisation of the world. A free India will bring about the end of British imperialism, which has been responsible for the enslavement, impoverishment and exploitation of large sections of the human race. A free India will mean the end of all those wars which have taken place in the past in Europe and elsewhere in the attempt to dominate India. A free India will mean that the countries of the Near, Middle and Far East will breathe freely, for there will be no power to threaten their freedom and security any longer. And, last but not least, a free India will be responsible for initiating a revolutionary change in the present economic order of the world.

 

I have no doubt that, with the single exception of Great Britain, a free India will be a blessing to the whole world and an advantage to every other nation desiring to have cultural and economic relations with her. The industrialisation of a vast country like India, inhabited by 388 millions of human beings, will have colossal and far-reaching repercussions throughout the modern industrial world. We, who are engaged in the fight for India's liberation, know exactly what we shall do in a free India. We are, therefore, preparing plans for national reconstruction for building up a new India. The task of reconstruction in free India is one which will interest not only the people of India but the entire civilised world as well.

 

In conclusion, I thank from the bottom of my heart in the name of my country, all those generous men and women in different parts of the world who have demonstrated their sympathy for India's struggle for freedom. On our part, I assure them that we shall fight to the last till our enemy is overthrown and victory is achieved. In this struggle, which is for India a life and death struggle — a struggle for the vindication of justice and truth — there will be but one end, our victory and our freedom.