Author, Burning for Freedom

Author, Burning for Freedom
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Thursday, October 4, 2012

“Non”Violent Gandhi: recruiting agent-in-chief in WWI Part I

Hi, Everyone! By beating the drum of nonviolence Gandhi had stripped the Hindus of their virility, but even in that he had done a volte face!

On April 28, 1918, Gandhi gave Viceroy Chelmsford’s War Conference resolution his full support.

April 28, 19I8

I consider myself honoured to find my name among the supporters of the resolution. I realize fully its meaning and I tender my support to it with all my heart.

(From a photostat of the original in Gandhiji’s hand: G. N. 2225)”

Gandhi further writes in his An Autobiography:

“Gandhiji has referred to his speech in the Man-Power Committee in his autobiography as follows: “So I attended the Conference. The Viceroy was very keen on my supporting the resolution about recruiting. . . . I had no speech to make. I spoke but one sentence to this effect, “With a full sense of my responsibility, I beg to support the resolution.” Vide An Autobiography, Part V; Ch. XXVII.”

On April 29, 1918, he goes much further and offers to become a recruiting-agent-in-chief himself . . . !

I shall give you a quote from my own novel Burning for Freedom, page 100—I have put the whole situation of Gandhi as a recruiting agent for the WWI in a nutshell:

“In early 1918, Gandhi had the people of the Kheda district stage a satyagraha[1] protesting the increase in their tax. The Government promptly began to confiscate and sell their property in lieu of the taxes. This made the peasants of Kheda very restive—the Satyagraha was in danger of coming apart at the seams …! Something needed to be done—and fast. On April 29, Gandhi, in a letter to the Viceroy Lord Chelmsford, suggested a bargain that if the Government were to relieve him of his Kheda trouble, he would “as a recruiting agent-in-chief, rain men on them” in the war. The Viceroy willingly accepted Gandhi’s recruiting services and granted just enough relief to the peasants for Gandhi to make a tall claim of a successful satyagraha and save face …! Then, swiftly discarding his principle of nonviolence, Gandhi began desperately recruiting Indians for the British army.”

Reference to an offer submitted to Viceroy Chelmsford in Gandhi’s letter of April 29, 1919:

“I hope to translate the spoken word into action as early as the Government can see its way to accept my offer, which I am submitting simultaneously herewith in a separate letter.”

The offer is not mentioned in the letter itself, which is intended to be published (as so many of Gandhi’s letters were.) It is mentioned in the cover letter addressed to J. L. Smalley that accompanied the letter to the Viceroy. The actual letter is not available.

“Further I desire relief regarding the Kaira trouble. Relief will entirely disengage me from that preoccupation which I may not entirely set aside. It will also enable me to fall back for war purposes upon my co-workers in Kaira and it may enable me to get recruits from the district.”

What the offer is about is in Gandhi’s letter to J. L. Smaffey re his April 29 letter to the Viceroy:

“The other enclosure 3 contains my offer. You will do with it what you like. I would like to do something which Lord Chelmsford would consider to be real war work. I have an idea that, if I became your recruiting agent-in-chief, I might rain men on you. Pardon me for the impertinence.”


This offer was kept secret and hidden from the Indians. When questioned about his two letters to the Viceroy, he said:

“‘I do not admit that, as a representative of the people, I am in duty bound to place before the public all the letters that I write to the Viceroy.

All through my life, there have been a good many, and to my mind important, actions of mine in my representative capacity which have remained, and will ever remain, unknown. My first letter to His Excellency the Viceroy was meant for him alone. I cannot give publicity to the views which I expressed to him as to a gentleman and a friend. . . . I have given publicity to such part of my conversation with him as would bear being made public.’

[From Gujarati] Mahadevbhaini Diary, Vol. IV”

Gandhi’s relevant letters (for the posts on this topic) are to be found on pages 1-54 on the link:

Mahatma Gandhi Facts: Gandhi Revealed

[1] Term coined by Gandhi; he gave it the misnomer “soul-force.” Literally the word means “insistence on truth.” By implication it has come to mean nonviolent civil disobedience.

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