All power to the hands of the people
Presidential Address at the All-India Anti-Compromise Conference, Ramgarh, Bihar, 19 March 1940
You have done me a very great honour by inviting me to preside over the deliberations of the All-India Anti-Compromise Conference at Ramgarh today. At the same time the responsibility you have thrown on my shoulders is onerous to a degree. This Conference is intended to focus all the anti-imperialist forces in the country that are now determined to resist a compromise with Imperialism. To preside over such a Conference is by no means an easy task. This task becomes all the more serious and arduous when the Chairman of the Reception Committee is no less a person than Swami Sahajanand Saraswati. It is in response to Swamiji's clarion call that we have assembled here today.
Comrades, I shall fail in my duty if before proceeding to discuss the problem of the day, I do not pay a tribute to those who are responsible for organizing this Conference. I happen to know something of the obstacles and the difficulties that had to be overcome before this Conference could meet and I can, therefore, speak with a certain amount of authority. These obstacles and difficulties were of a twofold character. In the first place, there were physical and material obstacles and difficulties to be overcome at Ramgarh before adequate arrangements for the Conference could be made. In the second place, president hostile propaganda all over the country had to be faced and counteracted by the organizers of the Conference. The most surprising and painful of this propaganda was the determined endeavor of a section of Leftists (or shall I say pseudo-Leftists) to make this Conference impossible by openly condemning it and also by trying to sabotage it. As a matter of fact, during the last few months it has become more and more evident that a number of Leftists have begun to play the role of apologists of the Rightists - but such a phenomenon is not new in history. Man lives to learn and the longer he lives, the more does he realize the aptness of the oft-repeated truism that history repeats itself.
It has been argued by the apologists of the Congress Working Committee that the Congress is itself the biggest Anti-Compromise Conference and that such a Conference is, therefore, unnecessary. The resolution of the last meeting of the Congress Working Committee which met at Patna is held up before our eyes in order to demonstrate that the Congress has adopted an uncompromising policy. One cannot but admire the naivete of such an argument, but is it meet and proper for politicians and political workers to be so very naive?
One has only to go through the whole of the Patna resolution and particularly through the latter portion of it in order to realize that there are loopholes which detract from the intrinsic value of that resolution. No sooner was this resolution passed than Mahatma Gandhi came forward with the statement that the door had not been banged on future negotiations for a settlement. Mahatmaji's subsequent lengthy remarks on Civil Disobedience do not assure us by any means that the period of struggle has commenced. In fact, what has distressed and bewildered us during the last year and a half is the fact that while on the one hand red-hot resolutions are passed and statements issued by members of the' Congress Working Committee, simultaneously other remarks are made and statements issued either by Mahatma Gandhi or by other Rightists leaders which create a totally different impression on the average mind. Then there is the moot question as to whether the Patna resolution would have been passed at all, but for the pressure exerted by the Left during the last six months.
The country eagerly awaits a clear and unequivocal declaration from the Congress Working Committee that the door has finally been banged on all talks of a compromise with Imperialism. But will the declaration be forthcoming? If so, when?
Comrades, those who aver that the Congress is the biggest Anti-Compromise Conference perhaps suffer from shortness of memory and their brains consequently need refreshing. Have they forgotten that as soon as the War began, Mahatma Gandhi proceeded to Simla without caring to consult.' the Congress Working Committee and informed His Excellency the Viceroy that he was in favor of rendering unconditional help to Great Britain in the prosecution of the War? Do they not realize that Mahatma Gandhi being the sale dictator of the Congress, his personal views necessarily have a far-reaching implication? Have they forgotten that since the outbreak of War, the Congress Working Committee has sidetracked the main issue - namely, our demand for Puma Swaraj by putting forward a demand for a fake Constituent Assembly? Have they forgotten that some prominent Rightist leaders, including members of the Congress Working Committee, have been continuously whittling down the implications of a Constituent Assembly and that they have gone so far as to accept separate electorate and the existing franchise for the Legislative Assembly as the basis for electing the Constituent Assembly of their dreams? Have they forgotten that after the resignation of Congress ministries several Congress ministers have been showing an inordinate desire to get back to office? Have they forgotten the consistent attitude which Mahatma Gandhi has adopted during the last six months in the matter of a compromise with the British Government? And do they not know that behind the smoke-screen of hot phrases, negotiations for a compromise have been going on apace?
Unfortunately for us, the British Government have ceased to take the Congress seriously and have formed the impression that however much Congressmen may talk, they will hot ultimately show fight. Since September 1939, there, has not been any dearth of resolutions and statements. Some members of the Congress Working Committee opine that these resolutions have impressed the world. But whether they have impressed the world or not, they have certainly not impressed the British, who are essentially a realistic race. During the last six months we have offered them only words and words and we have received the timeworn reply that so long as the Hindu-Muslim problem remains unsolved, Purna Swaraj is unthinkable.
Since September last India has been passing through a rare crisis when men's minds have fallen prey to doubt and vacillation. The first to fall were the leaders themselves and the demoralization that seized them has been spreading as a contagion throughout the land. A determined and widespread effort is needed if we are to stem the rot. To make this effort really effective, our activities should be focused at an All-India Conference of all those who are determined to have no truck with Imperialism.
The crisis that has overtaken us may be rare in Indian history, but it is nothing new in the history of the world. Such crises generally appear in periods of transition. In India we are now ringing down the curtain on an age that is passing away, while we are at the same time ushering in the dawn of a new era. The age of Imperialism is drawing to a close and the era of freedom, democracy and Socialism looms ahead of us. India, therefore, stands today at one of the crossroads of history. It is for us to share, if we so will, the heritage that awaits the world.
It is not to be wondered at that men's minds should be bewildered when the old structure is crashing under its own weight and the new is yet to rise out of the ashes of the old. But let us not lose faith in ourselves, or in our countrymen or in humanity in this hour of uncertainty. To lose faith would be a calamity of the first magnitude.
Such crises constitute the supreme test of a nation's leadership. The present crisis has put our own leadership to the test and the latter has been unfortunately found wanting. It is only by analysing and exposing the causes of its failure that we can learn the lesson of history and lay the foundation of our future effort and achievement. But such analysis and exposure will necessarily be painful to all concerned, though there is no means of avoiding it.
I may digress at this stage and draw an analogy with similar crises' in other climes and ages. When the October Revolution broke out in Russia in 1917, nobody had a clear conception as to how the revolution should be directed. Most of the Bolsheviks were then thinking in terms of a coalition with other parties. It was left to Lenin to denounce all coalitions and give out the slogan - 'All Power to the Soviet'. Who knows what turn Russian history would have taken but for this timely lead of Lenin's during a period of doubt and vacillation? Lenin's unerring instinct (or intuition) which ultimately proved to be prophetic, saved Russia from disaster and from a tragedy similar to that which overtook Spain the other day.
Let us now take a contrary case. Italy in 1922 was to all intents and purposes, ripe for Socialism. All that she needed was an Italian Lenin. But the man of the hour did not arrive and the opportunity slipped out of Socialist hands. It was immediately seized by the Fascist leader, Benito Mussolini. By his march to Rome and his seizure of power, Italian history took an altogether different ~ turn and Italy ultimately went Fascist instead of going socialist. Doubt and vacillation had seized the Italian leaders and so they failed. Mussolini had one supreme virtue which not only saved him but brought him the laurels of victory. He knew his mind and he was not afraid to act. That constituted the essence of leadership.
Today our: leaders are wobbling and their vacillation has demoralized a section of Leftists as well. 'Unity', 'National Front', 'Discipline' - these have become cheap slogans which have no relation to reality. Befogged by such attractive slogans, they seem to have forgotten that the supreme need of the hour is a bold, uncompromising policy leading us on to a national struggle. Whatever strengthens us for this purpose is to be welcomed. Whatever weakens us is to be eschewed. Unity which ties us to the apron-strings of Rightist politicians is by no means a blessing. We might as well induce the Congress to effect unity with the Liberal Federation - if unity is to be desired under all conditions and circumstances.
In the present crisis, the most distressing phenomenon is the disruption within the ranks of those who were hitherto regarded as Leftists. The immediate future will prove to the acid test of Leftism in India. Those who will be found wanting will be soon exposed as pseudo-Leftists. The members of the Forward Bloc, too, will have to demonstrate by their work and conduct that they are really forward and dynamic. It may be that in the ordeal that is "ahead of us, some of those who are branded as Rightists today, will prove to be genuine Leftists - Leftists in action, I mean. '
A word is necessary here in order to explain what we mean by Leftism. The present age is the antiimperialist phase of our movement. Our main task in this age is to end Imperialism and win national Independence for the Indian people. When freedom comes, the age of national reconstruction will commence and that will be the Socialist phase of our movement. In the present phase of our movement, Leftists will be those who will wage an uncompromising fight with Imperialism. Those who waver and vacillate in their struggle against Imperialism - those who tend towards a compromise with it - cannot by any means be Leftists .. In the next phase of our movement, Leftism will be synonymous with Socialism - but in the present phase, the words 'Leftist' and 'Anti-imperialist' should be interchangeable.
The problem of the hour is - 'Will India still remain under the thumb of the Rightists or will she swing to the Left, once for all?' The answer to this can be furnished only by the Leftists themselves. If they adopt a bold, uncompromising policy in their struggle with Imperialism, regardless of all dangers, difficulties and obstacles, then the Leftists will make history and India will go Left.
To those who may still be thinking of a compromise, the recent history of Ireland and the sequel to the Anglo-Irish Treaty should prove highly instructive and edifying.
A compromise with Imperialism will mean that an anti-imperialist national struggle will soon be converted into a civil war among the people themselves. Would this be desirable from any point of view?
In the event of a compromise being effected with Imperialism in this country, Indian Leftists will in future have to fight not only Imperialism, but its newfangled Indian allies as well. This will necessarily mean that the national struggle with Imperialism will be converted into a civil war among the Indians themselves.
Let us take time by the forelock and let us act while it is not too late. Swami Sahajanand Saraswati has sounded the clarion call. Let us respond to it with all the strength and courage that we possess. From this Conference let us send out a warning to both Imperialism and its Indian allies. The success of this Conference should mean the death-knell of compromise with Imperialism.
Before we part, let us also set up a permanent machinery for implementing the resolutions of this Conference and for waging an uncompromising war with Imperialism. Everybody now realizes that if the Working Committee of the Congress does not give the call for launching a national struggle, others will have to do so. It would, therefore, be in the fitness of things for this Conference to set up a permanent machinery for undertaking this responsibility - should the Working Committee fail us in this crisis. I hope and trust that the deliberations of this Conference will be a prelude to work and struggle on a nation-wide scale and on an All-India front.
ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Presidential Address at the second session of the All-India Forward Bloc Conference held at Nagpur, June 18, 1940.
Early in May, 1939, the Forward Bloc of the Indian National Congress was inaugurated in Calcutta following a momentous session of the All-India Congress Committee. In the last week of June, 1939, the first session of the All-India Conference of the Forward Bloc was held in Bombay and the Constitution and programme of the Bloc were adopted there. Since then, a year has rolled by - a year which will be memorable not only in the history of India, but in the history of the whole world. We are, therefore, meeting at a most opportune moment and not a day too soon. We shall have to do at great deal It heart-searching as well as stock-taking. We shall then have to determine our course of action in the crisis which has overtaken India and the world - the crisis which is deepening and worsening, not only from day to day but also from hour to hour.
The first question which I shall pose before you is : 'Have our policy and line of action been a correct one? And have we acted in the best interests of the country by launching the Forward Bloc?' To that my reply is: 'Most certainly, yes.' I shall remind you that we were constrained to start the Forward Bloc in the light of four considerations. The Right-wing had definitely told us that they would not work in co-operation with the Leftists in future and they had rejected the proposal of a Composite Cabinet which was our demand. Secondly, Mahatma Gandhi and the Right-wing had told us that a national struggle in the near future was out of the question. Thirdly, the attempt to consolidate the anti-imperialist and radical elements in the Congress under the name of the Left Bloc had been given up by the Socialists and Communists. Consequently, a further attempt at Left-consolidation could be made only by us and for that the Forward Bloc had become indispensably necessary. Fourthly, the Gandhiites or Right-wingers had already consolidated themselves under the aegis of the Gandhi Seva Sangh and any further delay on our part would have meant the strangling of the Leftists elements in the Congress by the Rightists.
It was clear in 1939 that most of those who had entered the Congress as Leftists in 1920 and 1921 and had retained the leadership of the Congress in their hands for well-nigh two decades, had ceased to be revolutionary or even radical. Any further political progress under such circumstances pesupposed a consolidation of all anti-imperialist, radical and progressive forces in the country and particularly in the Congress.
Towards the end of April 1939, when I was seriously considering the idea of resigning the Presidentship of the Congress and inaugurating the Forward Bloc, I had an interesting and important discussion with a very prominent Leftist leader of the Congress who had since then thrown himself into the arms of the Gandhiites. He advised me to refrain from either course and he added that since an international storm was brewing, we should avoid everything in the nature of a split within the Congress. I replied saying that since a war was inevitable in the near future, it was all the more necessary that the Leftists should be organized and prepared in advance, so that in the event of the Rightists developing cold feet in a war situation, we at least could do something off our own bar. Differences had become so fundamental between the Right-wing and the Left-wing that a split, whether permanent or temporary, had become inevitable. That being the case, it was desirable that the internal crisis should come and should be transcended before the external or international crisis overtook us. I added that if I accepted my friend's advice and lay low for the present, the consequences would be far worse for us when the international crisis appeared. In such a crisis, we would never agree with the Rightists. But many people would blame us for causing a split, if we attempted to act on our own at that time. Moreover, If we did want to act independently, then we would have no organization behind us to fall back on. Consequently, the argument of my friend only strengthened my case.
Looking back on the last twelve months, can we not claim that events have justified our policy and line of action? Barring the Kisan Sabha of Swami Sahajanand (and Prof. Ranga, Comrade Yajnik, etc.,) and the Forward Bloc, who is there to stand up to the Rightists today? The Left-Consolidation Committee which came into existence in June, 1939, after the formation of the Forward Bloc, has disintegrated by now. The Royists (or Radical Leaguers), the Congress Socialists and the Communists (or National Fronteirs) have in turn deserted the Left-Consolidation Committee and only the Kisan Sabha and the Forward Bloc have been functioning as the spearhead of the Left Movement in this country. This was evident when we held the All India Anti-Compromise Conference at Ramgarh in March, 1940. There we found that the Royists, Congress Socialists and National Fronters boycotted that Conference and threw in their lot with the Gandhiites.
There can be little doubt today that if there had been no Forward Bloc and no Kisan Sabha, no voice would have been raised against the policy and line of action pursued by the Gandhiites during the last twelve months.
We shall consider another question: 'What has been our actual achievement during the past year?'
In the first place, we can claim to have successfully resisted the tendency towards Constitutionalism and compromise within the ranks of the Congress. Thanks to our efforts, the Congress ministries had to vacate office as a protest against the policy of the British Government. If they had not done so, they would have been carrying out the War-policy of the Government of India, as agents of British Imperialism. Inspite of all efforts made hitherto, no copromise has yet been made with the British Government and for this, we can legitimately claim some credit.
Secondly, we have so far frustrated all attempts to secure the co-operation of the Congress in the prosecution of the War. Friends will remember that in September, 1939, when His Excellency the Viceroy invited Mahatma Gandhi for a talk at Simla on the War-situation, the latter gave out that he was of the view that India should give unconditional help to Great Britain during the present war. This was reiterated by Mahatma-ji in a press statement issued soon after the above interview. Nevertheless, up till now, the Congress Working Committee, which usually follows Gandhiji blindly, has ignored his views on such an all-important issue. Would the same thing have happened if there had been no Kisan Sabha and no Forward Bloc?
Thirdly, we can perhaps claim that we have succeeded in creating an atmosphere of struggle. Today, we find Congress leaders drilling in shirts and shorts and Congress Committees being converted into 'Satyagraha' Committees. Moreover, the Rightist leaders have been constantly talking of a struggle. Would all these have taken place, if there had been no Forward Bloc and if the Anti-Compromise Conference at Ramgarh had not shown which way the wind of public opinion was blowing? There is no doubt that today the talk of a struggle is everywhere in the air and the more our people talk of it, the more will they move away from a compromise.
Lastly, we can claim that at Ramgarh we launched our struggle with such strength and resources as we possessed. During the last three months, a large number of our fellow-workers, including men of outstanding influence in the country, have been arrested and incarcerated. Nine members of the AllIndia Working Committee of the Forward Bloc are at present in prison or internment. In addition to them, leaders of the Kisan Sabha headed by Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, Prof. Ranga and others, are behind the bars.
The National Struggle we launched at Ramgarh has been steadily gaining in strength and volume. The campaign has made considerable headway in Bihar and the United Provinces. In Bengal, the struggle was launched as early as January 1940, over the question of civil liberty, which had been violated by the drastic ordinances promulgated by the Government in September, 1939. Thanks to the Civil Disobedience movement launched by Bengal Congress, we have restored in a large measure the 'status quo' which existed prior to September, 1939. The special Session of the Bengal Provincial Political Conference which met at Dacca on the 25th and 26th May 1940, took stock of the situation in the province and formulated a plan for intensifying the struggle and widening its scope. The Bengal Provincial Congress Committee will give effect to this plan.
Before I proceed to deal with the international situation, I shall refer to one or two criticisms which are constantly leveled at us. We are told, for instance, that we have created a split in the Congress. The fact, however, is that it is the Gandhiites who have created a split by refusing to co-operate with the Leftists. We have all along been strongly in favor of joint action and a Composite Cabinet for ensuring such action.
We are also told that we have brought disruption within the ranks of the Leftists. But it is not we who have caused disruption or disunity. The Royists, the Congress Socialists and the National Fronters (or Communists) - have, one after another, deserted the Left-Consolidation Committee. We stand today exactly where we did twelve months ago. During these months, we have passed through an ordeal. Suffering, persecution, banter, ridicule - such has been our lot. But we have gone ahead along the path of uncompromising struggle in a most unflinching manner. Numerous fellow-workers of ours have been persecuted by the Congress High Command and in the Province of Bengal, owing to the disaffiliation of the Provincial Congress Committee, all Congressmen of our way of thinking have been virtually thrown out of the Congress.
The question which will naturally arise at this stage is : 'Why have the Royists and others deserted us?' So far as I can judge, they are afraid of being expelled from the Congress and they feel perhaps, that once outside the Congress, they will be completely lost. What amuses me, however, is that these comrades had been hoping to fight the Rightists and had not anticipated that before being defeated by the Leftists, the Rightists would do their worst and would do all in their power to maintain their supremacy in the Congress. The backbone, the stamina and the toughness that are needed in order to fight the Rightists successfully - these Leftists (or shall I say pseudo-Leftists?) comrades do not possess. We are now passing through a phase of our struggle when history itself will put all of us to the test and declare to the world as to who the genuine Leftists in India are.
We are also told that without the help of the Gandhiites, the struggle we have launched will prove to be a failure. To this allegation, our answer is as follows. It is too early to say whether our struggle will be successful or not. That will depend on whether the masses will join it or not. It always takes some time to get the masses to rally round the banner of a nonviolent struggle. Let us, therefore, hold ourselves in patience yet a while.
But, supposing for argument's sake that the struggle will fail does that mean that it should not have been launched? Could we not argue, on the opposite side, that the campaigns of 1921, 1930 and 1932 should not have been launched because they had not brought us Swaraj? Failures are often the pillars of success. So what does it matter if we fail for the fourth time! Not to try at all is more dishonorable than making the attempt and failing to achieve success. The whole world is watching us today. What will the free nations of the world think of us if we miss the golden opportunity that has now come - an opportunity that is rare in the lifetime of every nation? But nobody will think ill of us if we fight and then fail.
There is another point which we should not overlook either. Shall we not consider what posterity will think of us twenty or fifty years hence, if we do not acquit ourselves manfully today? What do people today think of the leaders who mismanaged the affairs of the country between 1914 and 1919? I, therefore, make bold to say that if we do not rise to the occasion and join the struggle without delay, neither history nor posterity will ever pardon us.
Twelve months ago when the Forward Bloc was formed we were obsessed, as it were, with the idea of the coming struggle and how to prepare for it in advance. At that time we did not know how far, if at all, outside events and international developments would aid us in our efforts to win Puma Swaraj. Consequently, we had to make' self-reliance' our motto in life and action. Today, the situation has altered to some extent. In the war between rival Imperialisms, the old ones have been faring very badly indeed. During the last few weeks the Germans have carried on the campaign with1ightning rapidity. Kings and kingdoms have toppled down in the course of a few days and the German Army - the Reichswehr - has proceeded to the gates of Paris and occupied that queen of cities in a way which appears to the layman as a miracle in military warfare. What has been happening in Europe in a kaleidoscopic manner has had its inevitable repercussion on India. With every blow that she receives in Europe, the imperialist might of Britain is bound to loosen its grip on India and other dependencies. The wheels of history are grinding on, quite regardless of what we may be doing in India. Even a child should, therefore, understand that in order to win Puma Swaraj under the altered conditions of today, we need much less effort and sacrifice that we did twelve months ago. But in order to fully utilize the opportunity which international events have presented to us, we must have sufficient unity and solidarity among ourselves. If India could speak with one voice today, our demand would indeed be well-nigh irresistible. It follows, as a consequence, that while we should think of intensifying the national struggle and widening its scope, we should at the same time try to develop national unity and solidarity to the maximum limit. But a struggle is needed in any case. Without it, our rulers may not easily oend. We know from experience that imperialists never learn the lessons of history. Further, our own leaders may be induced to go in for a compromise with British Imperialism if the Leftist pressure, exerted through a national struggle, is withdrawn. You will, therefore, have to consider what steps you should immediately take in order to intensify and widen the struggle and simultaneously to develop national unity and solidarity. National unity will presuppose unity within the Congress on the basis of a dynamic-programme of struggle and at the same time unity between the Congress and other organizations like the Muslim League.
If we can develop sufficient unity and solidarity among ourselves in good time, we may very well hope that even if the country passes through a struggle and even if catastrophic events take place in Europe, the transference of power from the hands of British Imperialism to those of the Indian people will take place in a peacefut manner. It is not necessary that the Indian revolution should be a bloody one or that it should pass through a period of chaos. On the contrary, it is desirable that it should be as peaceful as possible and a peaceful transition can be ensured if the people are united and are determined to have their freedom.
My own suggestion to you is that we should immediately go out into the country with the rallying-cry - 'All power to the Indian people.' This will galvanize the masses in a moment. In order to put forward this demand in an effective and irresistible manner, we should leave no stone unturned in our effort to attain national unity. This effort will necessitate the setting up of a machinery which will preserve harmony and goodwill among the people under all circumstances. Such a machinery will be provided by a Citizens' Defence Corps organized on an all-party basis. But such a Corps should be quite independent of the Government and will not work for the safeguarding of an enslaved India. Our Citizens' Defence Corps will only aim at preserving internal peace, harmony and goodwill. The question of defending the country militarily from any other force or power is one which should concern the Government only and not the people, so long as India remains subjugated. What interest can we have in fighting for the perpetuation of our slavery, for that is exactly what is implied in fighting to defend an enslaved India.
Before coming to the epilogue of this address, which will be a consideration of the international situation of today and tomorrow, I should like to remind you of the historical role of the Forward Bloc. The Bloc has come into being as the result of historical necessity. It is not the creating of an individual or of a group of individuals. So long as it will serve a historical purpose, it will live and thrive - despite all obstacles, internal or external. We should also bear in mind that the Forward Bloc will have a role to play in the post struggle phase of our history. It will have to preserve liberty after winning it and it will have to build up a new India and a happy India on the basis of the eternal principles of Liberty, Democracy and Socialism. Let us not commit the fatal mistake of thinking that our mission will be over, once we win our freedom. The organization or party that wins freedom must undertake the responsibilities of post-war reconstruction. Only in this manner will continuity of progress be maintained.
Let us now proceed to consider the international situation as we find it today and as it will probably be tomorrow. After reading the outspoken statements of Messrs. Winston Churchill and Paul Reynaud we cannot blink the prime facts of the situation as they emerge from the quick tempo of war. Everyday makes it more clear that M. Paul Reynaud’s summing up of the situation in the Chamber of Deputies (that victory of the Allies could only be brought about by a miracle) was a true measure of the military conditions then obtaining. Dark as was the picture then, it has grown darker since. The prospect today is positively bleak. And when one remembers this is a totalitarian war, it dawns on us how impossible is the situation in which the losing side is placed.
We may also concede that Monsieur Reynaud's ringing resolution 'to intensify the struggle ... and not to give up' is brave and resolute, and his words not empty heroics. For all that, he fails to convince when he says : 'We will shut ourselves into one of our Provinces and if we are driven out we will go to North Africa and if necessary into our possessions in America.'
That is hardly the way to carry a war through to victory. If the Allies lose their foothold in Europe, they may conceivably fight on in Africa, in Asia, even in America; but it is for the ultimate aim of victory, useless.
Today we have every right to examine the stark realities of the War as it has developed until we see them in the white light of clarity. The leaders of the French and British peoples have been frank. We should also be frank with ourselves.
The cause of the Allies' continuous defeat seems today lodged somewhere in their system. It was a system which Mr. Cleinent Attlee, said had failed to meet the needs of the crisis. It was the fundamental weakness of a system in which slavery and freedom existed side by side that had resulted in Britain being 'decisively beaten' on the propaganda front. This was what the 'Daily Mail' said was happening. Propaganda radiocasts from the Reich, it wrote at the end of March, were 'influencing not only the civilian population of Britain, but also our armed forces ……'. 'Goebbels' it asserted, 'has had a walk-over.'
But we are not so much interested in a particular method as in the basic principles of action. And we are not to be dissuaded from pressing home our demand for the admission of our fundamental rights by a clouding of the issues and cry of 'saboteur'! We have too long been taken in by the cleverest Imperialist propaganda.
We cannot but ask ourselves where we stand in this international flux. Following the sombre thoughts of Allied statesmen and strategists, we cannot but ask ourselves what we should do if British resistance collapses. This is by no means impossible. In fact, the Premier, Mr. Churchill has already talked in terms of defeat for Britain. He talked much earlier in the strain in which Premier Reynaud has now talked ~ of dispersing to the far ends of the Empire to carry on the struggle. Some of our statesmen, it seems, have been possessed with the dream of India being converted into a bastion of democratic resistance against the dictators' hordes. What a grotesque picture!
Almost the whole of the English Channel coast on the French side is in the hands of the Germans, making ordinary communications difficult and hazardous and the transport of troops all but impossible. Some of the best industrial regions of France are in the hands of the invaders. Paris, the heart of France,· has ceased to throb. In the Champagne region a powerful German drive is developing to isolate the Maginot Line from the rest of France. In the South-East the powerful and fresh Italian legions are pressing, and everywhere the retreating French forces are harried by the admittedly superior air-arm of the admittedly superior Reichswehr. Such is the gloomy picture of the Allied position in Europe. From the Northern Arctic regions to the Atlantic, the Nazi eagle has spread its wings in an unbroken line. It is not surprising we should be told that there is no cause for optimism.
When the Nazi hordes crossed the German frontier into Holland and Belgium only the other day with the cry of 'nach Paris' on their lips, who could have dreamt that they would reach their objective so soon? A miracle in military warfare has happened, as it were, before our eyes and for an analogy, one has to turn to the Napoleonic wars or to the catastrophe at Sedan in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Whatever the French High Command may say, in the face of mechanized transport, innumerable tanks and dive-bombers, no resistance worth the name is possible after the capitulation of Paris. The days of trench warfare are over.
But what next? It is clear that Reynaud's Government will not make a separate peace with Germany, leaving Great Britain in the lurch. But how long will he be able to retain the confidence of the French people? The fall of his Cabinet, a tempting offer from Germany and Italy, a new Cabinet ready to make peace on those terms - these are events not altogether beyond the domain of possibility. The British Premier, Mr. Winston Churchill, made an ominous reference to this in his historic speech the other day.
And England? What is she likely to do, with or without France? The answer to this question could be furnished by that inexplicable factor - 'the public morale.' Unfortunately, the morale of the British people has been badly shaken and the speeches of the Premier and of other Ministers give ample proof of it. Why should it be necessary to tell the British people that they should not go about with long faces as if they were at a funeral? Why should it be necessary to tell the world that even if Great Britain is overrun by the Nazis, the Empire will go on fighting and in God's good time, the New World will come to the rescue of the Old World? The British people are famous for their dogged pertinacity and their unflinching nerves. They are now confronted with what is perhaps the severest ordeal in their history. Let us see how they will acquit themselves.
The Nazis have performed a miracle with the help of new military technique, invented by the younger Generals and military strategists. The Allies have fallen back on their war-renowned, hoary-headed Generals who have been found wanting, however. Have the Nazi Generals exhausted their new technique? Have the Allies any military secrets or any new technique up their sleeves? Much will depend on the answers to these two questions.
We used to hear much of the chemical preparations of the Reichswehr (German Army). Have they really perfected a new technique of chemical warfare? If they have, then we shall get evidence of it in the days to come. And it will then be seen how men's nerves behave under those new conditions. Will they collapse as the nerves of the brave Abyssinians did when attacked by Italian aircraft? Or will the soul conquer matter?
Judged from the realistic point of view, it is difficult to realise how the war can continue, if Great Britain is overrun. The United States of America cannot go beyond a certain limit in helping the Allies, lest Japan should make trouble in the Far East. And there is no hope, whatsoever, that Sir Stafford Cripps will succeed in dividing Germany and Soviet Russia. It is more than probable that there is a definite agreement between Soviet Russia on one side and Germany and Italy on the other. If I were to make a guess as to the terms of that agreement, I should hazard a statement of this sort:
(1) Germany will have a free hand on the Continent minus the Balkans.
(2) Italy will have a free hand in the Mediterranean region.
(3) The Balkans and the Middle East will be the Russian sphere of influence.
(4) The resources of Africa should be shared by all the Big Powers.
Since both Germany and Italy - and perhaps Soviet Russia - now regard Great Britain as Public Enemy No. I, it is also likely that they have a plan of carving up the British Empire. In this task they may invite Japanese help and co-operation, knowing that Japan has always cast longing eyes on the entire Archipelago, from the Dutch Indies right up to Australia.
Such being the situation, if Britain cannot save herself and her Empire from the German-Italian attack, it would be idle to expect, like Mr. Churchill, that the Empire would save itself and Britain on the top of it. Let us, therefore, cease talking of saving Britain with the Empire's help or with India's help. India must in this grave crisis think of herself first. If she can win· freedom now and then save herself, she will best serve the cause of humanity. It is for the Indian people to make an immediate demand for the transference of power to them through a Provisional National Government. No constitutional difficulties can be put forward by the British Government with a view to resisting this demand, because legislation for this purpose can be put through Parliament in twenty-four hours. When things settle down in India and abroad, the Provisional National Government will convene a Constituent Assembly for framing a full-fledged Constitution for this country.
Friends, these are some of my thoughts and suggestions today. I hope and trust that you will give them due consideration. In any case, I appeal to you not to leave Nagpur till you have in your pockets a concrete plan of action for winning Puma Swaraj in the immediate future ..
Let us proclaim once again - 'All power to the Indian people, here and now.'
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