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>>

"What would be Mon. Rolland's attitude," I asked at the end of my lengthy preface, "if the united front is broken up and a new movement is started not quite in keeping with the requirements of Gandhian Satyagraha?"

He would be very sorry and disappointed, said Mon. Rolland, if Gandhi's Satyagraha failed to win freedom for India. At the end of the Great War, when the whole world was sick of bloody strife and hatred, a new light had dawned on the horizon when Gandhi emerged with his new weapon of political strife. Great were the hopes that Gandhi had roused throughout the whole world.

"We find from experience," said I, "that Gandhi's method is too lofty for this materialistic world and, as a political leader, he is too straight-forward in his dealings with his opponents. We find, further, that though the British are not wanted in India, with the help of superior physical force, they have nevertheless been able to maintain their existence in India in spite of the inconvenience and annoyance caused by the Satyagraha movement. If Satyagraha ultimately fails, would Mon. Rolland like to see the national endeavour continued by other methods or would he cease taking interest in the Indian movement?"

"The struggle must go on in any case" - was the emphatic reply.

"But I know several European friends of India who have told me distinctly that their interest in the Indian freedom movement is due entirely to Gandhi's method of non-violent resistance."

Mon. Rolland did not agree with them at all. He would be sorry, if Satyagraha failed. But if it really did, then the hard facts of life would have to be faced and he would like to see the movement conducted on other lines.

That was the answer nearest to my heart. Here then was an idealist, who did not build castles in the air but who had his feet planted on terra firma.

"There are people in Europe," I said, "who say that just as in Russia there were two successive revolutions - a bourgeois democratic revolution and a socialist revolution - so also in India there will be two successive revolutions - a national-democratic revolution and a social revolution. In my opinion, however, the fight for political freedom will have to be conducted simultaneously with the fight for socio-economic emancipation. The party that will bring political freedom to India will be the party that will also put into effect the entire programme of socio-economic reconstruction. What is Mon. Rolland's opinion on the point?"

He found it difficult to express a definite opinion because he was not aware of all the facts of the Indian situation.

"What would be Mon. Rolland's attitude," I continued, "if the united front policy of the Indian National Congress fails to win freedom for India and a radical party emerges which identifies itself with the interests of the peasants and the workers?"

Mon. Rolland was clearly of opinion that the time had come for the Congress to take a definite stand on the economic issues. "I have already written to Gandhi," said he, "that he should make up his mind on this question."

Explaining his attitude in the event of a schism within the Indian National Congress, he continued, "I am not interested in choosing between two political parties or between two generations. What is of interest and of value to me is a higher question. To me, political parties do not count; what really counts is the great cause that transcends them - the cause of the workers of the world. To be more explicit, if as a result of unfortunate circumstances, Gandhi (or any party, for the matter of that) should be in conflict with the cause of the workers and with their necessary evolution towards a socialistic organisation - if Gandhi (or any party) should turn away and stand aloof from the workers' cause, then for ever will I side with the oppressed workers - for ever will I participate in their efforts *** because on their side is justice and the law of the real and necessary development of human society."

I was delighted and amazed. Even in my most optimistic moods, I had never expected this great thinker to come out so openly and boldly in support of the workers' cause.

The strain resulting from our animated conversation was great and I felt anxious for the delicate health of my host. However, a relief came when tea was announced and we all moved into the adjoining room.

Over cups of tea our conversation went on uninterrupted. Many were the problems that we rushed through in our two and a half hours' discussion. Mon. Rolland was greatly interested in the Congress Socialist Party and its composition. His concern for the continued incarceration of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and other politicals was profound. His interest in all the actions, speeches and writings of the Mahatma was astonishing. For instance, he pulled out from his old files a statement of the Mahatma in which he had expressed his sympathy for socialism. We talked at length of Mahatma Gandhi and his tactics. I ventured the remark that the Mahatma would not take a definite stand on the economic issues. Whether on political or social or economic questions, he was temperamentally a believer in 'the golden mean'. I then referred to what the younger generation regarded as some of the defects in his leadership and tactics, namely, his incorrigible habit of putting all his cards on the table, his opposition to the policy of social boycott of political opponents, his hope of a change of heart on the part of the British Government, etc. It did not afford us any satisfaction, I said, to oppose him or even criticize him - when he had done more for his country than any one else in recent history and had raised India considerably in the estimation of the whole world. But we loved our country more than any personality.