A fascinating letter from Mahatma Gandi, estimated to sell for £8,000 to £10,000 at Bonhams
in London on March 29th, makes reference to his belief in passive resistance and the need for unity between Hindus and Muslims.
Lot 441 in the Papers & Portraits: The Roy Davids Collection Part II at Bonhams, is a part of Indian history. Mahatma Gandhi,(18691948, political leader and religious and social reformer), wrote this letter, clearly for publication on 15th December 1919.
In it he states: I venture to claim that I have rendered a service of the highest order by advising the Mohamedans of India to express their sentiments in a restrained manner and by advising the Hindus to make common cause with them... And, declaring his 'Relentless pursuit of truth', Gandhi also explains his attitude towards and actions vis a vis the British and his position in relation to the Khilafat question [the attempts by the Muslims of India to help safeguard the holy places in newly-conquered Turkey and support for their Khalifah, the spiritual head of the worldwide Islamic community, who was opposed to the British and their allies]. It is written in English in a secretarial hand with a few minor autograph corrections. The address is 2 Mozang Road, Lahore.
This one of the most important single letters/articles by Gandhi to come on the market in thirty years and more, containing as it does answers to Candler's questions, which as Gandhi himself says, 'enable me to explain my position more fully than perhaps it has been by my writings & speeches' and references to his central concepts of satya(Truth), ahimsa or Satyagraha (non-violence) and the need for unity between Hindus and Muslims. It was the failure of Hindus and Muslims to unify that led to the communal riots and wide-spread murders when India gained its independence from Britain in 1947 and the formation of the Muslim-majority state of Pakistan with mass migrations of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs to different areas. It was a fellow Hindu, Nathuram Godse, offended by Gandhi's work for peace and unity, who assassinated him on 30 January 1948.
The year 1919/1920 was critical for both Gandhi and India's national identity. He took a great step towards becoming a national communicator and leader through the press and Congress with a new message and new style. This marked the turning point of his nationalist commitment and participation based on the combination of two wrongs: the treatment of the Sultan of Turkey, despite Indian Muslim sensitivity [the Khilafat question], and the incident in 1919 in the Punjab at Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar, and its consequences, when General Dyer ordered the shooting of unarmed civilians (400 died and thousands were injured) in a walled area from which there was no escape. In addition, the subsequent Hunter Report stirred up political and public support for Dyer in Britain. In 1919 Gandhi still had hope as a 'staunch loyalist'; by 1920 he had become 'an uncompromising disaffectionist and non-co-operator'.
i) ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE BRITISH: '...I do not wish & have never wished to embarrass the government and I have never worked up an anti-British campaign for any cause whatsoever. My personal religion would forbid me to do either the one or the other. But sometimes one's right conduct does embarrass those who do not for the moment appreciate it and in that sense I admit that my conduct like that of any reformer has embarrassed people. But I cannot be accused of partiality. Relentless pursuit of truth and conduct flowing from it have embarrassed the dearest ones not excluding my wife and children. But I was no more anti-the-dear ones than I am anti-British...My stubborn opposition to some acts of the British Government must not be mistaken for unfriendliness. Such peculiar notions are entertained about friendliness and loyalty in India that any strong expression of displeasure in regard to acts of Government passes for disloyalty. You will agree with me that real loyalty that dares to utter unpalatable truths must in such an atmosphere be a rare virtue...'
ii) ATTITUDE TO THE KHILAFAT QUESTION: '...my regard for the claims of the Turk is derived totally from my regard for my fellow-countrymen the Mohamedans. I should forfeit the right to call them fellow-countrymen if I did not feel for them in everything vitally affecting them provided that the cause was just. The peace of my country is likely to be placed in jeopardy not by my earnest effort to guide the Mohamedan feeling in the right channel but it certainly will be by any thoughtless or ignorant action of British ministers....But the necessity for the question really arises from your not knowing the Mohamedan claim for Turkey...They ask for nothing that has not been granted to the other powers or that was not vouchsafed to them by the British ministers themselves. Their claims as you may be aware has been backed by the majority of the ex-Governors and other distinguished Anglo-Indians. What has the treatment or ill-treatment by the Turks of subject races to do with the Khilafat question i.e. the integrity of Turkey and the Turk's custody of the Holy places of Islam? Must Constantinople be wrenched from the Turks in order to safeguard the rights of subject races? If you...would preserve the peace of India and would have India celebrate peace in a true manner, you would ask Englishmen living in India to make common cause with the Mohamedans and thus let the British Ministers know the real feeling of India so that justice might be done whilst there is yet time...'
Edmund Candler (1874-1926) was an English journalist, adventurer, novelist and teacher in India from 1896 and from 1904 to 1914 he was Principal of Mohindra College in Patiala. After wartime service he became Director of Publicity in the Punjab. As a novelist he has been compared favourably with Kipling, Conrad and Forster all of whom he knew. After meeting Gandhi, Candler was drawn into controversy with him and exchanged several open letters, primarily around the Khalifat question. The present letter clearly forms part of that exchange: '...As you have permitted me to publish your letter I am sending it and my reply [this letter] to the press...' It was published in the Tribune, 18 December 1919.
In July 1922 Candler published an important article about Gandhi in The Atlantic Monthly in which he quoted from the present letter: 'sometimes one's right conduct does embarrass those who do not for the moment appreciate it'; and 'My stubborn opposition to certain [instead of some] acts of the British Government must not be taken [instead of mistaken] for unfriendliness.'
Also in 1922, Candler published Abdication, a novel set in India during the years of nationalist struggle, and containing, in the words of a contemporary review, 'a brilliant description of Gandhi and his command of the multitude' (New Statesman, 12 August 1922). Candler had very liberal and sympathetic views about Indian nationalism and he expressed considerable admiration for Gandhi.
While technically meeting all the requirements of a letter signed, it is not improbable that this manuscript was in fact either a retained copy of the letter that Gandhi sent or, alternatively, it could have been the text sent to the Tribune for publication. Being either of these does nothing to diminish the importance of it, indicating rather that Gandhi thought so highly of it that he kept a copy himself or it was the copy-text for a publication. The autograph corrections necessitated by Gandhi are mostly of errors that a copyist might have made, including the anticipation of a word subsequently deleted; and Gandhi's signing over a secretarial 'signature' seems a very unlikely usage on a 'letter' that was to be sent.
As Gandhi suggests in the conclusion to this letter, the present letter was published in the issue of the Tribune of 18 December 1919 and is included in the Collected Works of Mahatma