Mahatma Gandhi’s interview with The Spectator covers topics from India’s independence, the nation’s relations with the UK, and his own struggles with faith.
Mahatma Gandhi’s Interview’s to Evelyn Wrench
I am very glad to have this opportunity of having a talk with you, Mr. Gandhi, for the benefit of the readers of The Spectator.
GANDHI: One of the things I wanted to do while in England was to talk to the Editor of The Spectator, because we in India appreciate very much the part The Spectator has played in enlightening the people of Great Britain on Indian problems. I know that you may not necessarily agree with all the views I hold, but I recognize that you have repeatedly stated in the columns of The Spectator that the only satisfactory basis for the future relations of Great Britain and India is one of friendship, absolute equality and a recognition of the fact that the people of India must be the final arbiters of their destiny.
Q. Let’s see; when were you last in England, Mr. Gandhi? It was some time before the War, wasn’t it?
A. Yes, I visited England in 1909 and I was here again just two days after the outbreak of War. On that occasion I assisted in the organization of a Red Cross unit, but unfortunately I fell ill and a severe attack of pleurisy prevented my doing what I wanted to do before I returned to India at the end of November that year.
Q. What is your chief impression as regards the British understanding of the Indian problem today? Do you find that public opinion has changed much?
“I find a vast change in the attitude of the man in the street.”A. Yes, I find a vast change in the attitude of the man in the street, and I have made a special point of talking with all sections of the British people. I am very happy in London and I have received wonderful signs of affection from your ordinary folk. In the East End I have been greatly touched by the friendliness displayed. People come out of their houses and shake hands with me and wish me well. I was much gratified by the reception I received in Lancashire, where the people seemed to me to understand my position; and despite the fact that my policy in India was reported to have affected Lancashire so grievously, no grudge was borne me and I found genuine friendship both from operatives and employers alike.
Q. What about the so-called upper and official classes? Do you think their opinion has changed and are they ready to give India what it wants?
A. I fear they still do not understand the position and are not ready to give the freedom that we claim as our right. They think that India is not ready today to control her own affairs, and I fear not may of them would be prepared to admit our right to the same freedom that Great Britain possesses, that is, the right to control our armed forces, our finances and our external affairs.
Q. As you know, Mr. Gandhi, The Spectator has always been a great believer in what is called Dominion Status. We think it has achieved the apparently impossible task of reconciling two apparent opposites, co-operation and independence. Would India be satisfied, do you think, with the same status that South Africa has as a Dominion within the British Commonwealth?
A. I regard the status of India as unique. After all, we represent a fifth the human race. I do not think, therefore, that a political status which might suit other Dominions of the British Commonwealth would necessarily suit us. You must remember that India has been a subject nation for a very long time. If Great Britain approaches the question of the future relations between our peoples in a spirit of friendship with no reservations, she will not find India behindhand in coming to meet her proffered hand. We would be quite ready, once our right to independence has been recognized, to enter into an alliance or partnership on equal terms which would place the relations of Great Britain and India on a satisfactory basis.
Q. Once Great Britain has stated finally and once for all that the peoples of India have the same right to control their own destiny that we have, do you think that India would still want to employ, on terms within India’s means, British officials, British soldiers, British technicians, and to draw upon our experience in building up the Indian State of the future?
“I believe that we could make mutually satisfactory arrangements once there is no dictation on your side.”
A. Yes, most certainly. Once Great Britain recognizes what we consider our just claims, I certainly would not wish to remove all the British officials in India. I want to avail myself of all the experience you have gained. I believe that we could make mutually satisfactory arrangements once there is no dictation on your side.
Q. Is it true, as some of my more extreme nationalist friends have said, that India when she wants European advisers would rather turn to Continental Europeans such as Germans, French, Swedes, Dutch, in place of British?
A. No, I do not think this is true in general. We would certainly need advice and guidance from Europe in several things. If we could get these from Great Britain on terms that we can afford, we would welcome them. The only thing that would make us turn away from Great Britain would be if Great Britain refuses to grant what we consider our just demand. If you will play the game with us and recognize our right to control our own defence, we should confer with your experts and ascertain what is considered the minimum number of British troops necessary for our needs. I would regard the British Commander-in- Chief in India as my technical adviser on military matters, but the British Army in India would, of course, have to be under the Indian National Government.
Q. What about the statement that it would be undignified for British subjects to place themselves in the position of mercenaries to the Indian Government?
A. I have heard the argument, but I cannot appreciate it. Behind the objection is the lurking belief that partnership is to be partnership in name only and that in reality we are to remain a subject nation. Or else, how can British soldiers serving a partner nation are considered mercenaries? But if British soldiers will not serve the National Government, we must do without them.
Q. In terms of self-interest, therefore, from the British standpoint, you think that a friendly India in close alliance and partnership with Great Britain would be an asset to us.
A. You should be the best judges. In my opinion, the solution of the Indian problem in a manner satisfactory to Indian aspirations would largely help Great Britain to solve her own economic question. It would be good for Great Britain, India, and the world. If Great Britain enters into a free-will partnership with India, that is to say, a partnership of equals, she will have a friendly nation to trade with and all the boycotting of British trade would naturally cease, apart, of course, from cloth. I fear Lancashire cannot get much help as we are determined to make our own cloth, but there are many others goods required which we shall have to import from abroad. For instance, I think India imports eighteen crores worth of sugar and seven crores worth of hardware, and so on. We shall certainly not be able to manufacture all our own requirements for a long time to come.
Q. Then, Mr. Gandhi, I understand you to mean that you want India’s right to control her own destiny recognized now once for all. If this were done, you think that the whole atmosphere would change and that Great Britain would then find the India that you represent only too ready to work out the details of co-operation? Rather than that the Round Table Conference should fail, you think that the principle of India’s complete control of her destiny should be acknowledged and that such problems as the communal question should be left over to arbitration?
A. Yes, that is so. I think that once the British Government proclaimed to the world that India had as much right to freedom as Great Britain, we should be quite ready to accept the principle of arbitration on the difficult communal question. I do not think, however, that all the time which has been spent at the Round Table will be found to have been wasted. Believe me, Congress is not obstructive. Sir Geoffrey Corbett’s scheme has emerged from it. Sir Hubert Carr’s scheme, which practically gives to the Moslems what they want in the Lower Chamber and to the Sikhs what they want in the Upper Chamber, also deserves very careful consideration. But, as I have said, I think much the best method would perhaps be to leave the question of the adjustment of seats and separate or joint electorates to an impartial judicial tribunal which would only be called into being in the case of non-settlement.
Q. What about the untouchables? I know it is thought in some quarters that they ought to have separate electorates and that you are not qualified to speak for them.
A. I am glad you have dealt with this subject. I do not hesitate to say that, if the untouchables in all parts of India would record their votes, I should be their representative. Dr. Ambedkar is undoubtedly clever and enthusiastic. He has every reason to be bitter. I have spent the best part of my life in championing their cause, I have mixed with them east, west, north and south in India, I have many of them in my own Ashram, I adopted an untouchable girl. Many Congressmen think as I do and realize how serious the untouchable problem is. In the interests of the untouchables themselves I think it would be fatal for them to have a special electorate, or to have reservation of seats. If this were attempted, it would create opposition to them. I think their interests would be best safeguarded by their coming “through the open door”, to let them have the same voting rights as the ordinary Hindu. They will find that the leaders of Indian opinion are determined to improve their social status and give them the right to enter into temples and are ready to remove those other terrible disabilities under which they have suffered in the past.
Q. Readers of Miss Mayo’s book have never been able to understand the Indian treatment of animals. They know that the Hindu thinks it is wrong to take life, but they cannot understand a system which allows wretched animals in a diseased condition to be left to die on the roadside and not put out of their misery. What have you got to say on that subject?
A. You have dealt with one of the problems which reformers in India hope to rectify in time. In my Ashram, we had a dying calf. He had stinking sores and was lame. I put an end to his earthly existence by painless injections. I was bitterly attacked by some of my fellow countrymen, who in my view have yet to learn that ahimsa never meant that suffering which could be terminated should be permitted. I think that much of the animal suffering in India today is due to this travesty of what ahimsa meant.
Q. To move on to another subject. I would be interested to know something of your religious beliefs. Have you ever had religious doubts and when did you first firmly believe in God and since then have you ever been through dark nights of the soul?
A. When I was quite young I did go through a period of complete disbelief, I was an atheist in fact. This was when I was about fourteen. Since then, however, I have always believed in God.
Q. Do you then believe in the personal immortality of the soul?
“I believe in the immortality of the soul.” A. Yes, I believe in the immortality of the soul. I would like to give you the analogy of the ocean. The ocean is composed of drops of water, each drop is an entity and yet it is part of the whole, ‘the one and the many’. In this ocean of life we are all little drops. My doctrine means that I must identify myself with life, with everything that lives, that I must share the majesty of life in the presence of God. The sum total of this life is God.
Q. Did any book ever affect you supremely and was there any turning point in your life?
A. Yes, the book that affected me more than any other was Unto This Last by Ruskin. I was living in South Africa then. It was the reading of Unto This Last on a railway journey to Durban in 1904 when I was thirty-five; they made me decide to change my whole outward life. There is no other word for it, Ruskin’s words captivated me. I read the book in one go and lay awake all the following night and I there and then decided to change my whole plan of life. Tolstoy I had read much earlier. He affected the inner being.
Q. You were a fairly successful lawyer then, weren’t you Mr. Gandhi? Did your conversion mean then that you came to the conclusion it was wrong to enjoy the good things of this life? What income were you making then?
A. As far as I recollect, I was making something like 3,000 a year by my legal practice. My “conversion”, as you call it, decided for me that in future I would dedicate all my earnings to causes that I felt were for the benefit of my fellows, that in the future I would live simply and by physical labour, and imperfectly as I have tried to carry out that aim, I know that it is only by living thus that one achieves complete peace of mind.
Q. I have been very much struck with your wonderful vitality. Few men of sixty-two can be so full of energy. I have read in the papers some of the things about your diet. Would you tell me just what your daily bill of fare is?
A. Certainly. I am sure that most people eat much too much. I have never felt better than I do on my present regimen and I have a horror of drugs and medicines. This is my daily bill of fare: For my breakfast at 8 o’clock I have sixteen ounces of goat’s milk and four oranges, for my luncheon at 1 o’clock I again have sixteen ounces of milk, grapes, pears or other fruit. My evening meal is between 5 and 6 o’clock. I eat a teaspoonful of almond paste, twenty or thirty dates, several tomatoes and a lettuce or other salad. This avoids indigestion. As you will note, I eat no starch and no cereals.
Q. To sum up, Mr. Gandhi, if the Conference breaks down, do you think the people of India will be satisfied with partial Home Rule, with the possibility of a further conference in ten or twenty years when the British Parliament considers that India is in a position to control her own destiny?
A. I am sure you know what my answer will be. I have tried while I have been in England not to say anything provocative, but those of us who are giving our lives to India will never be satisfied with half-measures. If the people of India after this Conference become convinced that Great Britain is not genuine in her desire to give them immediate self-government, all the forces at their disposal will be used.
Q. What is your final word to the readers of The Spectator?
A. My final word to your readers is that they should use all the influence at their disposal to get their friends to see our point of view that they should work for the great cause of a real partnership between our countries on a basis of equality. I think that a free association of our two nations or groups of nations can be utilized for the solving of many world problems, not merely for the good of the greatest number, but for the good of all.