Gokhle Gandhi Parley in London Intriguing silence in Gandhi's autobiography


Gandhiji in his autobiography informs that "At the conclusion of the Satyagrah struggle in 1914, (in South Africa) I received Gokhle's instruction to return home via London. So in July I sailed for England". (An Autobiography or The story of my experiments with truth by M. K. Gandhi; Navjeewan Publishing Mouse, Ahmedabad, 2001; page 287).

Gandhiji does not tell the readers as to why Gopal Krishna Gokhle, the then leader of the Indian National Congress asked him to return to India 'via London'. There is a direct route to India from South Africa. No one will ever go to London from South Africa if he is to ultimately go to India, unless he has some special reason to do so. Gandhiji does not mention that 'special reason' for which he was asked by Gokhle to visit London on his way to India. If only Gokhle had to meet and talk with Gandhiji, he could have done so on latter's arrival in India. Then why did he ask Gandhi to take longer and circuitous route to meet with him in London, before his final return to India? The autobiography gives no answer to these questions. The only conclusion one can derive is that Gokhle wanted to meet Gandhiji along with some third party which was available only in London. Who could be that third party?

Normally one does not wind up his business or establishment at someone else's behest. It is always a difficult decision. One can never be sure of setting up a new establishment in a new, unknown place, particularly, if one has a large family to support. Such adventurism is possible only when one is young and without family responsibilities. Gandhiji not only had a large family to support, (he had four sons), he also had dozens of Satyagrahi's to take care of, who were being trained in his 'Phoenix' Ashram in South Africa. Though Gandhiji does not write it in so many words, but the autobiography indirectly conveys that Gokhle had given him assurance of full economic support for his family and his 'Ashram' inmates in India, if he moved bag and baggage from South Africa. This is also a fact that not only Gandhi's family was taken care of, but inmates of Phoenix Ashram were also given tickets to travel to India, and lodged in Gurukul Kangri in Haridwar and later in Shanti Niketan in Bengal, before finally being settled in an Ashram in Ahmedabad.

Thus Gandhi returned to India, not on his own, but under 'instruction' from Gokhle. This could be possible only with the financial support from Gokhle. Did he have sufficient funds to pay travel expenses and support Gandhi's large entourage of his family and 'ashramites' in India? If not, who was at the back of Gokhle with pots of money to spare?

What interest Gokhle had in the return of Gandhi from South Africa? What did he gain or could have possibly gained from it? If Gandhi's return was not to benefit Gokhle personally or his 'Servants of India Society,' who could have benefited from it? Did Gohkle ask Gandhi to return to India on behalf of some third party? Which could be that party?

The autobiography tells that Gandhiji left for London to meet Gokhle by sea and had booked tickets in 3rd class, yet he was given special facilities, not given to passengers travelling in third class. He was also given 'fruitarian diet' (food consisting of fruits and nuts only) as a special favour.

Gandhiji writes, "The steamship company had reserved closet accommodation for us, and as we were fruitarians, the steward had orders to supply us with fruits and nuts. As a rule, third class passengers get little fruit or nuts. These facilities made our eighteen days on the boat quite comfortable". (An autobiography by M. K. Gandhi, page 288).

Why was Gandhi given special facilities by the Steamship Company? Who had ordered stewards to supply fruits and nuts to Gandhi and his party? Who influenced the Steamship Company to treat Gandhi as a VIP? Surely, Gokhle could not have wielded influence with a foreign Steamship Company? Then who was operating behind the facade of Gokhle?

Gandhiji has devoted 14 pages of his autobiography about his stay in London. It is a masterly exercise in concealing the true reason, for which Gokhle had asked Gandhiji to meet him in London. He writes in great details about insignificant matters and persons and his reflections on the concept of 'Ahimsa', but not a word on the core issue: why had Gokhle asked him to return to India 'via London?

Because of out-break of First World War Gokhle was held up in Paris and could reach London only after sometime. After Gokhle's delayed arrival in London, Gandhiji tells us that "I used to go to him (Gokhle). Our talks were mostly about the war ... " Was it only to talk 'about the war' that the two had gone to London? Could they have not talked 'about the war' in India? Gandhiji takes his readers for a ride. He does not reveal the real motive of their being together in London. In the story of his experiments with truth, he does not reveal the truth. How sad!

Language is to express one's ideas, but Gandhiji has used it to conceal, like any seasoned diplomat. There is no dearth of words in full 14 pages. Words, words, and more words: all to deflect reader's attention from the core purpose of their planned meeting in London. As Gandhiji is not helpful in the matters, all intelligent readers can guess the truth.

In Chapter 38 of his autobiography entitled "My part in War" Gandhiji writes in his autobiography, "On arrival in England I learned that Gokhle had been stranded in Paris where he had gone for reasons of health, and communication between Paris and London had been cut off, (due to war) and there was no knowing when he would return". (page 289). So while waiting for his arrival from Paris, Gandhi tells that with the help of Indian students studying in London, "a meeting of the Indian residents in Great Brifain and Ireland was called. I placed my views before them". (page 289).

What were Gandhiji's views? Let us listen to Gandhiji himself. "I felt that Indians residing in England ought to do their bit in the war. English students had volunteered to serve in the army, and Indians might do no less. A number of objections were taken to this line of argument. There was, it was contended, a world of difference between the Indians and the English. We were slaves and they were masters. How could a slave co- operate with the master in the hour of the latter's need. Was it not the duty of the slave seeking to be free, to make the master's need his opportunity? This argument failed to appeal to me then. I knew the difference of status between an Indian and an Englishman, but I did not believe that we had been quite reduced to slavery. I felt then that it was more the fault of individual British officials than of the British system, and that we could convert them by love. If we would improve our status through the help and co-operation of the British, it was our duty to win their help by standing by them in their hour of need. Though the system was faulty, it did not seem to me to be intolerable ... The opposing friends felt that was the hour for making a bold declaration of India's demands and for improving the status of Indians.

"I thought that England's need should not be turned into our opportunity, and that it was more becoming and far sighted not to press our demands while the war lasted. I, therefore, adhered to my advice and invited those who would to enlist as volunteers. There was a good response, practically all the provinces and all the religions being represented among the volunteers". (Autobiography by M.K. Gandhi; page 289-290).

Thus we see in 1915, a 46 year old British loyalist Gandhi did not believe that Indians had been quite reduced to slavery. He thought that England's need should not be turned into an opportunity for India and that it was more, becoming and far-sighted not to press the demands while the war lasted. As he got busy in organising Ambulance Corps of Indians to help the British, he was criticized by many Indians and friends at that time. With the hind-sight, while writing his autobiography in 1927, he sought to justify his decision to serve the his colonial masters: "It was quite clear to me that, participation in war could never be consistent with 'ahimsa'. But it is not always given to one to be equally clear about one's duty. A votary of truth is often obliged to grope in dark". Gandhiji may have become wiser twelve years later, but in 1915 cringing loyalty to British was part of his personality.

In just two pages (Chapter 41: Gokhle's Charity) of his autobiography, Gandhiji narrates whatever transpired between him and Gokhle after latter's arrival in London. He informs us that "our talks were mostly about the war".

Gandhiji further informs in his autobiography that he had fallen sick and Dr. Jivaraj Mehta had asked him to take milk. Gokhle also pressurised him to take milk, but he did not budge. He told Gokhle-"I am willing to yield On all points except one about which I beg you not to press me. I will not take milk, milk-products or meat. If not to take these things should mean my death, I feel I had better face it". (An Autobiography by M.K. Gandhi, page 297- 98). Gokhle did not press Gandhi any further to take milk, and after a few days returned back to India.

Thus Gandhiji wants us to believe that during their stay together in London, what Gandhi and Gokhle discussed was only war and milk diet of the former, and nothing else of importance. If there was nothing important to deliberate, why did the two go to London? Gandhi's truth about their London visit does not inspire creditability.

What could have been the purpose of their visit to London? Since Gandhiji and Gokhle have left no evident clue to answer it, we will have to look for circumstantial evidence, bits of scattered statements and read between the lines to get a glimpse of the truth, concealed by self- professed votary of truth.

The Satyagrah of 1914 in South Africa

Gandhiji writes-"At the conclusion of the Satyagrah struggle in 1914, I received Gokhle's instruction to return home via London". What was the Satyagrah struggle of 1914? What did it achieve?

The South African Govt. had announced a three-member commission to look into the conditions and grievances of Indian settlers in South Africa in 1914. Gandhiji had demanded that one of the commission members should be an Indian. When the British did not pay any heed, Gandhiji declared launching of Satyagrah from Jan. 1, 1914. A few days before the date, the white employees of South African Rail-road Company went on strike to press their demands and indulged in vandalism, destroying government and rail-road property. When Gandhiji heard of this strike and violence, he promptly cancelled his Satyagrah 'Struggle' declaring that if one's enemy is in difficulty, a Satyagrahi does not take advantage of it. Thus the so called Satyagrah of 1914, which Gandhiji described in such grandiose hyperbole as "Struggle" was no struggle at all; it was only an aborted intention. But this pleased British masters immensely. The British Secretary of State telegraphically congratulated Gandhiji, so did a" members of South African Government. Gandhiji endeared himself to British, as no Indian had done so ever before.

Gopal Krishna Gokhle

It is well known that Gopal Krishna Gokhle was a liberal, unlike Tilak, who led the nationalist group of the Indian National Congress. In the Surat Congress Session (1907), in the conflict between the liberals and nationalists, there was free exchange of blows and fisti-cuffs between the two groups. The British decided to free the Congress dominations of nationalists. Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai were arrested and imprisoned. Field was left open for liberals.

The British manipulated to annoint Gokhle, their lackey, as the leader of Congress party. But by 1914, his health had started failing. British were desperately looking for his successor to foist on the Congress. They eyed Gandhiji in South Africa who swore his loyalty to British Crown, who served them in Boer War and Zulu War and who always withdrew his Satyagrahas in South Africa at the behest of British government. He was eulogised by British Govt. and people, when he refused to take advantage of Govt's difficulty in the wake of rail-road strike. From this point construction of sequence is easy.

British asked Gokhle to ask Gandhi to return bag and baggage to India. He promised Gandhi on behalf of British, that all travel expenses will be paid and that all care would be taken of his family, ashramites etc. in India. It is the British govt. that had ordered that steamship company to give special hospitality, including accommodation and 'fruitarian' diet, not given to other passengers. It is again British Govt. which had directed Gokhle to meet them in London alongwith Gandhiji, before his plunge in Indians politics. While his family members and ashramites were moved to India, Gandhi and Gokhle reached London to meet the British officials. Some agreements were arrived at. While Gandhiji must have reiterated his dual loyalty-one to British crown and other to 'Ahimsa', the British on their part would have assured him of British help and support in India in taking over the Congress, and propagating his creed of Ahimsa.

The conduct of Gandhij, subsequent to his London visit with Gokhle, confirms the above conclusion. As soon as he reached India, big welcome was arranged for him in Bombay by Gokhle (read British). A number of receptions were also held there. Gandhiji talks of one party given in his honour at Mr. Jehangir Petiti's place, 'in palatial sroundings of dazzling splendour' amidst 'pomp and splendour'. He also refers to another function,


In relation to Gandhiji, Gokhle served as go-between British Govt. and Gandhiji. Through Gokhle, the Governor of Bombay Lord Willingdon sent the message to Gandhiji, that he desired to meet him. The Governers did not usually meet all and sundry, particularly a small-time lawyer from a far flung British colony, unless there was a reason behind it. The reason was obviously the agreement between Gandhi and British Govt. as circumstantially concluded above. This inference is further confirmed by the sampling of their dialogue which finds mention in Gandhi's biography: "The moment I reached Bombay Gokhle sent me word that the Governor was desirous of meeting me... Accordingly, I called on His Excellency. After the usual enquiries he said:

"I ask one thing of you. I would like you to see me whenever you propose to take any step concerning Government.

"I replied: I can very easily give the promise, inasmuch as it is my rule as a Satyagrahi to understand the view point of party I propose to deal with and try to agree with him as far as it may be possible. I strictly observed this rule in South Africa and I mean to do the same here.

"Lord Wellingdon thanked me and said: 'You may come to me whenever you like and you will see that my Govt. do not willfully do anything wrong.' 'To which I replied. 'It's that faith that sustains me.' (An Autobiography by M.K. Gandhi; page 313).

What a bon-homie! What an understanding! What a meeting of minds! Gandhiji had 'faith' that British will never do 'anything wrong'. For Gandhiji British had done no wrong in subjugating India and reducing it to slavery.

From Bombay, Gandhiji went to Poona under instruction from his master. There Gokhle told him ... "you must look to me for the expenses of Ashram which I will regard as my own.” (An Autobiography by M.K. Gandhi, page 313). Gandhiji further reveals in his autobiography that Gokhle had instructed his accountant to open an account for him in Society's books and to give him whatever he might require 'for Ashram and other public expenses'. Gokhle, thus gave him proverbial key to Kuber's treasure. Gokhle was neither a industrialist, nor a businessman. He was not very rich either through inheritance or property. Then where did he get all the money for Gandhi? The answer is obvious. From British masters. Thus Gandhi's leadership was made and financed by The British.

Gandhiji did return the favours extended to him by Britishers. From 1915 to 1918, he worked relentlessly to recruit Indians to serve British army, notwithstanding his creed of 'Ahimsa'.

Much hyped Khilafat Movement (1920-21) was to restore the powers of Khilafat in Turkey. It had nothing to do with India's freedom. It only served to divert the freedom movement from its course. For the next ten years, no mass movement was launched to throw out the British. The British could breathe sigh of relief.

Similarly the Civil Disobedience Movement and Salt Satyagrah (1930-31) also did not seek to throw out British from Indian soil. These aimed only to get tax on salt abolished, which hardly figured in Govt.'s total revenue collections.

The Quit India Movement is one movement enthusiastically cited by Congressmen and historically illiterate middle class, as being a Gandhian movement which sought to overthrow foreign yoke. But the facts are otherwise.

The 1942 movement was never launched by Gandhiji or Congress Party. Gandhiji had only expressed his intention to launch the movement on 8th August 1942 at Bombay session of the Congress Party. He had said: "I congratulate you on the resolution (Quit India Resolution) that you have just passed ... Nevertheless, the actual struggle does not commence this moment. You have placed all your power in my hands. I will now wait upon the Viceroy and plead with him for the acceptance of Congress demand. This process is likely to take two or three weeks. What would you do meanwhile? .. As you know spinning wheel is the first thing that occurs to me ... (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 88).

Thus Gandhiji inspite of his bravado postponed the launching of movement by two or three weeks. For what reason? Was it to plead with the Viceroy, that please Viceroy, kindly quit India! Was Gandhiji as naive as he looked? Or it was a clever device to stem the tide of mass anger that was seething against British? Or, was it to ensure that the British are not caught unawares and they make adequate preparations in the interregnum of two or three weeks to crush the movement, when launched? Which way it may be, there in no dispute about the fact that Gandhi and the Congress Party had never launched the 1942-movement. All the Congress leaders, including Gandhiji were arrested in pre-down scoop on 9th Aug. The powerful and ferocious movement was led by restless Indian people, who were no more willing to carry the yoke of British rule and tolerate the double-speak and soft-pedalling of Congress party.

Thus the answer to the question when did Gandhiji or Congress launch a movement to free India of British rule, is an emphatic NEVER.

Gandhi did not launch any movement to overthrow the British rule; he also ensured that parallel freedom movement by the revolutionaries is discredited and wiped out. In his confidential letter to Viceroy Lord Irwin, dated 2.3.30, delivered to him personally by an Englishman, he boasted of his commitment and resolves to curb revolutionary movement by his creed of non-violence. He wrote. “It is common cause that ... the party of violence (i.e. revolutionary movement) is gaining ground and making itself felt... My experience shows that non-violence can be extremely active force. It is my purpose to set in motion that force (i.e. creed of non-violence) against the… growing party of violence. (i.e. revolutionary movement)".

Why did he write this letter to the Viceroy? Did he seek a pat on his back for his efforts to finish off the revolutionary movement by his creed of non-violence? Or was he reporting to the British masters that he was carrying on dutifully his part of agreement arrived at with British government in the year 1914, when he had gone to London under instruction from Gokhle?

That there was a secret understanding between Gandhi and the British Govt. is obvious from the foregoing facts. But, in some corner of my heart, I do not want to believe this. It hurts me to damage the icon, built so laboriously by Congressmen over the years. Rightly or wrongly he has come to be identified with India and Indians. But it is my Indianness that prompts me to look for the truth. I wish some Gandhi scholar proves otherwise and enlightens why did Gokhle ask Gandhi to return to India from South Africa 'via London'.

Email: dpsinha50@hotmail.com

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