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>>

The USA, Britain and India

I am taking this opportunity of addressing the English-speaking countries and particularly the United States of America because of the systematic propaganda carried on by British and pro-British agencies against the nationalists of India, against the leaders of the Indian people and against myself personally for our only trying for and demanding freedom for a nation of three hundred and eighty eight millions. Most of the Indian leaders against whom this propaganda is directed have been locked up behind prison walls. The people who are still out of prison and are carrying on the struggle for India's liberty find it difficult, if not impossible, to make themselves heard outside India. Consequently, it is the duty of people like myself who happen to be at the moment beyond the reach of the British police to speak for India to the nations abroad.

The well-known British publicist Mr Vernon Bartiert has, in his recent appeal to America in the Pacific Service of the BBC, attacked me by saying that I have been doing propaganda for the German radio. But I may tell Mr Bartlett that I do propaganda only for India and for the cause of India's freedom. I challenge him to point out where I have done propaganda for anybody else. If I have accepted the hospitality of the German radio for doing propaganda for India's freedom, I am perfectly justified in doing so. It does not lie in the mouth of an Englishman to object or to complain when the authorities in India and in England have not given me such an opportunity on even a single occasion during my 21 years of public life.

As a matter of fact, throughout his public career, even Mahatma Gandhi has never been invited to speak over the Indian Radio. The only occasion when he did speak to the outside world over the radio was due to the courtesy of an American agency. If the British radio authorities in England or in India had invited Indian nationalists to speak to the world from their studio, and if the offer had been declined, Mr Bartlett might have had some ground for complaining today. As the matter stands, the whole world is so flooded with British propaganda against India that it is our bounden duty to make the tallest use of what little opportunity we have of making India's case heard abroad.

Like Sir Stafford Cripps, Mr Bartlett is a further example of how most liberals and democrats in England have been blinded by the passions and prejudices arising out of war. In order to justify the India policy of the British Government, he has been employing, whether consciously or unconsciously, the self-same arguments which the die-hard conservatives have been using for ages He tells the world that if the Indian people had agreed about the basis of their independence, they would have achieved it long ago.

Surely, he of all persons should know that there is no unanimity even in England on any major political issue. He of all persons should know that there is more unanimity amongst Indians on the question of Indian independence than there is among English people on any problem. He of all persons should know with what marvellous unity Muslims and Hindus had fought side by side in India's first war of independence in 1857. He of all persons should know that ever since 1857, the first and foremost item in Britain's policy in India has been 'divide and rule’. He of all persons should know that Burma was separated from India against the will of the majority of the Burmese people, and he of all persons should also know that if Britain were somehow to win this war, both Palestine and India would be divided just as Ireland was after the last war

Mr Bartlett, who I met and whom I came to know both in London and in Calcutta, was a perfect gentleman. It is indeed painful to find that he should stoop to the same arguments which India's enemy No 1 Mr Winston Churchill has been using.

It is a tragedy for the British Empire that in its greatest crisis. Mr Churchill is at the helm of affairs. At the beginning of this century, it was the arch imperialist Lord Curzon, who whipped up the nationalist pride of the then slumbering Indian people. And forty years later, the last imperialist premier of Britain has been responsible for driving the Indian people to a mad desperation by lathi blows, floggings, bombs and machine guns. British politicians of all shades of opinion have, of late, been concentrating their anger on Mahatma Gandhi. Nobody has fought Gandhiji so hard since 1939 as I and my party in the Congress have. But today, all distinctions between the Right and the Left within the Indian National Congress have disappeared and the Indian people stand united in their demand for immediate independence.

British politicians, including so-called Socialists like Sir Stafford Cripps, may now condemn Gandhi, but did not the same Gandhi unconditionally help Britain in the last war, did not the same Gandhi make an exceedingly pro-British declaration on September 6, 1939 immediately after the outbreak of the war in Europe? Did not the same Gandhi postpone his ultimatum to the British Government from September 1939 to August 1942? Was not the same Gandhi called by British members of Parliament, like Miss Alan Wilkinson, as the best policeman the Britishers had in India? May I ask why has such a man, who is now 73 years old, demanded independence here and now?

There is no doubt that people like myself never expected the British Government to play the game with India and that is why we wanted to start the campaign as early as 1939. But it took Mahatma Gandhi three years of patient waiting to be finally disillusioned about Britain's war aims. And when Britain has at last antagonised Gandhi, she has antagonised the last moderate in India. And let it not be forgotten that the resolution, for which he was put in prison without any trial, was a resolution offering full co-operation in the war if India was granted independence at once. It was not a resolution which we left-wingers would have passed, if we had our way. If, for passing such a resolution, one has to be incarcerated in India, then there is no room for an honest politician outside prison in that country.

The Indian people have had an exceedingly difficult task in fighting such a powerful empire as that of Britain. Moreover, British propaganda, reaching every comer of the world, has deprived them of that sympathy which they would have otherwise received in so righteous a cause. Consequently, whenever the Indian people have received sympathy from outside, they have felt particularly grateful. Among the nations that have in the past sympathised with India's right for freedom are the people of the United States of America. It was, therefore, greatly encouraging for the Indian people to hear the other day that fifty seven prominent men and women of the States had raised their voice in support of India's independence in a representation addressed to President Roosevelt.

Though the Indian people know that they have to fight their own battle and must themselves pay the price of liberty, they cannot but be thankful for such expressions of sympathy. Whatever the Government of the USA may do now or in future, the peoples of the States have a duty to perform, if they are to live up to the traditions of which they feel so proud. They have a duty to perform to themselves, to their own history and to the world at large. The very least that they can do is to understand our point of view, even if they are unable to visibly help us.

Since September 1939, the British have been going round in the world exclaiming that they are fighting to establish, the reign of freedom and democracy in the world. They have been simultaneously accusing the Axis Powers of everything that is vile and nefarious. President Roosevelt has now come into the picture with his Atlantic Charter, just as President Wilson had come before the world with his 14 points in 1918. The Indian people naturally ask what place they have in the Atlantic Charter on the one side and in the new order of the Axis Powers on the other. They are particularly entitled to ask this, because they represent about one fifth of the human race and because they have been duped by wily British politicians during the last war.

They now find that because they have demanded freedom and democracy for their country and the application of the Atlantic Charter to India, they are faced not only with lathis and whips but also with bombs and bullets and with machine-gunning from the air, though they are thoroughly unarmed today, having been forcibly disarmed by the British after the first war of independence in 1857. In such an atmosphere, can anti-Axis propaganda have the slightest effect on the Indian people? If the present state of affairs in India continues, even the most weakly politicians in India, who have been pleading for a compromise with Britain, will soon decide that it is far better and far more honourable to face bullets and death than to remain alive in an enslaved India.

It has become the fashion in certain circles in England to give all sorts of abusive names, if an Indian stands up today for the motto ‘India First’. But such abuse does not help Britain. It only provokes more bitterness and more hatred towards Britain. We stand for nobody and work for nobody other than for a free India.

Britain has set up an alliance with numerous powers for maintaining the status quo and keeping India in slavery. Faced by such tremendous difficulties, it is but natural, it is but fair and proper that we too should seek assistance wherever possible and accept help from whichever source it may come. In doing so, we are acting in the best interests of India and our conscience is perfectly clear. India today is determined to have her liberty, not at some future date, but without delay. She is now engaged in paying the price of liberty, and she will go on paying, till freedom is achieved. The toll of her dead and wounded in this non-violent guerilla war will go on steadily mounting, but no amount of terror, brutality or barbarity will break the people's morale, and when necessity arises and the hoar strikes, the youth of India will find and will wield the arms to strike the last blow at the chains of servitude.

So there is today but one thought, that permeates their souls from the Himalayas to Cape Camorin — "Give me liberty or give me death.”