GANDHI’S LETTERS TO AMERICANS > Letter to American Friends, August 3, 1942
In 1942, Gandhiji called on Britain to withdraw from India in the interests of Allied cause. On July 14, 1942, the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress, meeting in Wardha, adopted a resolution in which it said that frustration in India over the intransigence of Britain as regards freedom of India had given rise to widespread ill-will against Britain and “a growing satisfaction with the success of Japanese arms.” It called for a withdrawal of British domination, followed by a provisional government representative of all important sections of the people of India and discussion by it with Britain on future relations and cooperation as allies in the common task of meeting aggression. The Congress, it said, was agreeable to the stationing of allied armed forces in India. “While… the Congress is impatient to achieve the national purpose, it wishes to take no hasty step and wishes to avoid, in so far as is possible, any course of action that might embarrass the United Nations.” The position of Gandhi and the Congress was misrepresented in the American media, influenced by British propaganda, and the comments were hostile. Gandhi wrote a letter to President Roosevelt (reproduced in Section I) and sent the following letter to American friends through the India League in New York.
On Way to Bombay, August 3, 1942.
Dear friends, As I am supposed to be the spirit behind the much discussed and equally well abused resolution of the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress on independence, it has become necessary for me to explain my position. For I am not unknown to you. I have in America perhaps the largest number of friends in the West – not even excepting Great Britain. British friends knowing me personally are more discerning than the American. In America I suffer from the well-known malady called hero worship. The good Dr. Holmes, until recently of the Unity Church of New York, without knowing me personally became my advertising agent. Some of the nice things he said about me I never knew myself. So I receive often embarrassing letters from America expecting me to perform miracles. Dr. Holmes was followed much later by the late Bishop Fisher who knew me personally in India. He very nearly dragged me to America but fate had ordained otherwise and I could not visit your vast and great country with its wonderful people. Moreover, you have given me a teacher in Thoreau, who furnished me through his essay on the “Duty of Civil Disobedience” scientific confirmation of what I was doing in South Africa. Great Britain gave me Ruskin, whose Unto This Last transformed me overnight from a lawyer and city-dweller into a rustic living away from Durban on a farm, three miles from the nearest railway station and Russia gave me in Tolstoy a teacher who furnished a reasoned basis for my nonviolence. He blessed my movement in South Africa when it was still in its infancy and of whose wonderful possibilities I had yet to learn. It was he who had prophesied in his letter to me that I was leading a movement which was destined to bring a message of hope to the downtrodden people of the earth.35 So you will see that I have not approached the present task in any spirit of enmity to Great Britain and the West. After having imbibed and assimilated the message of Unto This Last, I could not be guilty of approving of Fascism or Nazism, whose cult is suppression of the individual and his liberty. I invite you to read my formula of withdrawal or, as it has been popularly called, “Quit India,” with this background. You may not read into it more than the context warrants. I claim to be a votary of truth from my childhood. It was the most natural thing to me. My prayerful search gave me the revealing maxim “Truth is God” instead of the usual one “God is Truth.” That maxim enables me to see God face to face as it were. I feel Him pervade every fibre of my being. With this Truth as witness between you and me, I assert that I would not have asked my country to invite Great Britain to withdraw her rule over India, irrespective of any demand to the contrary, if I had not seen at once that for the sake of Great Britain and the Allied cause it was necessary for Britain boldly to perform the duty of freeing India from bondage. Without this essential act of tardy justice, Britain could not justify her position before the unmurmuring world conscience, which is there nevertheless. Singapore, Malaya and Burma taught me that the disaster must not be repeated in India. I make bold to say that it cannot be averted unless Britain trusts the people of India to use their liberty in favour of the Allied cause. By that supreme act of justice Britain would have taken away all cause for the seething discontent of India. She will turn the growing ill-will into active goodwill. I submit that it is worth all the battleships and airships that your wonder-working engineers and financial resources can produce. I know that interested propaganda has filled your ears and eyes with distorted versions of the Congress position. I have been painted as a hypocrite and enemy of Britain under disguise. My demonstrable spirit of accommodation has been described as my inconsistency, proving me to be an utterly unreliable man. I am not going to burden this letter with proof in support of my assertions. If the credit I have enjoyed in America will not stand me in good stead, nothing I may argue in self-defence will carry conviction against the formidable but false propaganda that has poisoned American ears. You have made common cause with Great Britain. You cannot therefore disown responsibility for anything that her representatives do in India. You will do a grievous wrong to the Allied cause if you do not sift the truth from the chaff whilst there is yet time. Just think of it. Is there anything wrong in the Congress demanding unconditional recognition of India’s independence? It is being said, “But this is not the time.” We say, “This is the psychological moment for that recognition.” For then and then only can there be irresistible opposition to Japanese aggression. It is of immense value to the Allied cause if it is also of equal value to India. The Congress has anticipated and provided for every possible difficulty in the way of recognition. I want you to look upon the immediate recognition of India’s independence as a war measure of first class magnitude.
M. K. Gandhi.