Date: 21 Jan 2009



                          by Dr Radhasyam Brahmachari 

The January 5, 2009 edition of the renowned daily The Times of India carried a press report titled “Gandhi donned army uniform for the British”, that said, “It might seem surprising but it is that in the year 1899, Mahatma Gandhi donned a uniform. This uniform belonged to a voluntary ambulance unit, which he created” (article by J P Chaturvadi published in the Sainik Samachar edition of October 9, 1977). The article contained a rare picture of Gandhi sporting the British Army uniform during the Anglo-Boer war that broke out in South Africa in 1899. It should be mentioned here that the Dutch had their own colony in South Africa and in 1899, a clash of interest began between these two colonialists which turned into a military confrontation in December, 1899 and simply to please the British Government, Gandhi created the said 1,100 strong Indian volunteer and the stretcher bearer corps. During the war Gandhi was personally sympathetic to the Dutch. But, he later on confessed that, to please the British he sacrificed his conscience. 

“The performance of his voluntary ambulance unit was appreciated by all when the Anglo-Boer war ended in 1902, after the capture of Transvaal. The commander-in-chief of the army mentioned the heroic deeds performed by this ambulance unit, whose workers walked 20 to 25 miles a day to carry out voluntary duties to help the injured”, says the article. After the victory in the war, British Government presented a medal and a citation to Gandhi which he preserved with great respect till his death. It should be mentioned here that Gandhi strongly believed that the British Empire was for the welfare of the entire world and he maintained this view till his death. Later, Gandhi proudly recalled how he loyally served the British during the Boer War and put his life in peril, particularly while his ambulance corps was working at the battle fields of Colenso, Spion Kop and Vaalkranz. 

            While in South Africa, Gandhi did not miss a single opportunity to please the British crown. Just after the Boer war, Gandhi expressed his loyalty by sending felicitation to Queen Victoria on her birthday. Queen Victoria died in January, 1901 and Gandhi sent a condolence message to the Colonial Secretary in London, laid a wreath on the pedestal of the Queen’s statue in Durban and distributed picture of the Queen among the school children. Later on, when George-V was coroneted as the king of England, Gandhi expressed his loyalty by sending congratulatory telegram to England that read, “The Indian residents of this country (i.e. South Africa) sent congratulatory cablegrams on the occasion, thus declaring their loyalty”. 

            To please the British colonialists, Gandhi used to sing National Anthem of England in public meetings though he could discover violence in the following two lines of the song 

                          “Scatter her enemies, and make them fall; 

                                 Confound their politics; 

                                         frustrate their knavish tricks”. 

When Gandhi lived in South Africa, a violent form of apartheid was in vogue there. In some occasions, Gandhi himself was a victim of that discrimination. The Negroes or the original inhabitants of South Africa were divided in many tribes, e.g. the Zulus, the Swazis,  the Basutos and the Bechuanas. Among them, the tallest and the most handsome were the Zulus. In February, 1906, the Zulus rose to revolt against the Natal Government. The Zulu chief advised members of his tribe non-payment of new tax imposed upon them. This resulted in assassination of a sergeant and the clash that followed developed into a rebellion. 

            Being a black himself, Gandhi should have sided with the Zulus, but he supported the British. “His lip sympathy was for the Zulus, but his head was with the British Empire”. The British Government of Natal ruthlessly put down the rebellion. Though Gandhi confessed that it was not a war but a man-hunt, he sided with the British. Later on he said, “But I then believed that the British Empire existed for the welfare of the world. A genuine sense of loyalty prevented me from even wishing ill to the Empire”. 

            In 1909, Lord Ampthill visited South Africa and Gandhi was out to please him by whatever means he could. The British statesmen and rulers always wanted a man who condemned extremists and revolutionists in India and Gandhi took the opportunity to please Armphill by denouncing the revolutionaries of India and their policy. Through several letters, Gandhi tried to convince him that his doctrine of passive resistance or nonviolent Satyagraha has no intention to hurt others – ‘a satyagrahi do not inflict sufferings on others, but he invites it on himself’. Many believe that it was the most important cause that inspired the British to bring Gandhi to India, made him the topmost leader of Indian freedom movement and his creed of Satyagraha was projected as the only mode of freedom struggle in India. 

 At that time, British in India were terribly afraid of violent freedom struggle launched by the patriots of Bengal, Maharastra and Punjab and particularly in Bengal, where life of an Englishman was not safe. So in 1911, the British Government on India had to shift its capital from Calcutta to a safer place in New Delhi. But it has been pointed out above that Gandhi, through his speeches and writings, could have managed to expose that he was against any sort of violence in Indian freedom movement. At that historic hour, people of this country saw Sri Gopal Krishna Gokhale to sail to London and visit South Africa on his return journey. He landed at Cape Town on October 22, 1912, and pressed Gandhi to return to India. While in London, Gokhale pleaded to the Prime Minister Mr. Gladstone to repeal the so called Black Act of South Africa, an unjust and discriminatory tax of £ 3 imposed per Indian, for which Gandhi was then fighting. Mr. Gladstone agreed just to glorify Gandhi and the followers of Gandhian nonviolence usually highlight this fact as a great victory of Gandhi and his creed. 

After reaching South Africa, Gokhale, whom Gandhi revered as his political guru, communicated this piece of news to Gandhi and said that he (Gandhi) would have to return to India within a year (according to the plan of their British master). Apart from his unwavering loyalty to the British Empire, Gandhi was chosen by the British as the new leader of India’s freedom struggle due his newly invented doctrine of nonviolence. It was not difficult for the British to understand that his harmless and nonviolent Satyagraha would pose no threat to the British Empire. 

Why Gopal Krishna Gokhale took so much interest in bringing Gandhi back to India? The reader would recall that on 28 December 1885, British government of India formed the Indian National Congress with Allan Octavian Hume as the president and few other eminent, loyal and English educated Indians like Dadabhai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Phirozeshah Mehta and so on. The sole intention was simply to get prior information of what the Indians were thinking and going to do in near future so that another Sepoy Mutiny might not recur. At the beginning it was like an elite club dominated by the loyalists. But later on, appearance of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bepin Bihari Pal (popularly known as Lal Bal Pal), the scenario changed considerably. Lokamanya Tilak was first to embrace independence of India from British rule as the national goal and it aroused the first spurt of nationalism among the members of the Congress. 

In 1906, the Congress was split into two.. The group led by Tilak and supported by Lala Lajpat Rai and Bepin Bihari Pal was known as the extremist group, while the loyalists were called the moderates. Gradually, the extremists, with the help of mass support, gained popularity and emerged as the dominant group while the moderates lost their control over the Congress. So, when the British took Gokhale into confidence and disclosed their plan to bring loyalist Gandhi to India and make him the sole leader of Congress, Gokhale found to ray of hope to regain their hegemony in the Congress. He readily supported the intrigue and agreed to play a mediator between Gandhi and the British.  

So after one year and nine months he had met Gokhale, Gandhi, after staying 21 years in South Africa, came to India, via London. He left Cape Town by S.S. Kinfauns Castle on July 18, 1914, accompanied by his wife Smt. Kasturva and his German friend Mr. Kalenbuch, and reached London on August 6. He again sailed from London on December 19, 1914, for India and landed Bombay on January 9, 1915. Thus he stayed nearly 5 months in England on his way back to India. After landing at the Mumbai port, he, as the most important British loyalist, wrote a letter to the Governor of Bombay Presidency expressing his promise that he would always abide by his instructions. Many believe that he went to London to receive the parting instruction from his British master. 

During his brief stay in London, Gandhi, the apostle of nonviolence, deplored Madanlal Dhingra and other revolutionaries to please the British, declared them anarchists and said, “Is killing honourable? Is the dagger of an assassin a fit precursor of an honourable death?” He also said that he wanted to purge India of the atmosphere of suspicion on either side and there was no reason for anarchism in India. 

The reader should recall the First World War began in Europe on 28 June 1914, and Gandhi, immediately after reaching India, started to recruit Indian soldiers for the British army, simply to express his loyalty to the British Empire. It is important to note that, Gandhi, the apostle of nonviolence, who claimed to have discover a weapon on nonviolence to end violence in the world, supported war and according to his promise to the British master, recruited Indians to be sacrificed in the violence of the war. He used to travel about 20 miles a day and addressed meetings at Nadiad, Kathlal, Karamsad, Godhra, Jambusar, Vadlhal and other places for recruitment, under the presidentship of the Commisionar Pratt. People used to ask him, “You are a prophet of nonviolence, how can you ask us to take up arms? What good has the British Government done for India to desrve our cooperation?” But Gandhi had to keep mum. It was not possible for him to say that he was doing all these things as the most loyal slave of the British crown. It should be mentioned here that the staunch followers of Gandhi, even today, refuse to acknowledge this glaring example of hypocricy of Gandhi. 

He then took up the other important task to please his British master and that was  disarming the revolutionaries of India. It has been said earlier that at that time violent freedom struggle was going on in Bengal, Punjab, Maharastra and elsewhere and the patriots of Bengal were playing the leading role in this direction under the leadership of Sri Aurobinda Ghosh, Barin Ghosh, Jatin Das, Surya Sen and others. The British Government was terribly afraid of the revolutionaries of Bengal. So gandhi visited Bengal to extuinguish the fire of violent freedom struggle with his false creed of nonviolence. 


        Such an effort was also necessary to for Gandhi, most loyal stooge of the British, to make India safe for the British Empire, when it was in its difficult hour like World War-I. So, as the first step, he went to Bengal and delivered the first blow against Indian Revolutionaries at a meeting of Bengal youth. Later on, on April 24, 1915, in a meeting organized by the Madras Bar Association, Gandhi proudly declared, “It gives me the greatest pleasure this evening at this very great and important gathering to re-declare my loyalty to the British Empire and my loyalty is based upon very selfish grounds. As a passive resister I discovered that I could not have that free scope which I had under the British Empire  … and I discovered that the British Empire has certain ideals with which I have fallen in love.” 

            That time onward, Gandhi renewed his effort of deploring the revolutionaries of this country to please the British. He asked the youths of Bengal and of other provinces to give up violence. On April 27, 1915, he asked the students of Madras to give up political assassination, political dacoities and conquer the conquerors not by shedding blood but by sheer force of spiritual predominance. He deplored Khudiram, Madanlal Dhingra, condemned Savarkar for supporting Dhingra and deplored other revolutionaries like Biplabi Rashbehari Bose. It should be mentioned that even an Englishman W S Blunt praised Dhinra and described him a great patriot (My Diary, Part-II, pp-288). On the contrary, Gandhi condemned violence and said that it was an evil path and the revolutionaries were anarchists. At that time, Lokamanya Tilak was arrested in Mumbai because he wrote three articles in the Kesari supporting Khudiram’s bomb explosion at Muzaffarpur, and was sentenced on July 22, 1908, to six years’ transportation. Gandhi deplored Tilak on the charge of inciting Indians against British rule. 

Gandhi strongly believed that India’s connection with the British was a blessing and used to say that “it would be a calamity to break that connection between the British people and the people of India.” Hence he used to say, “Satyagraha is not to hurt British and should never hurt the British.” He also assured the British that he would never adopt violent means against the British Empire and protection of British Raj was necessary for the interest of Swaraj. It has been mentioned earlier that Gandhi never fought for India’s freedom. On the contrary, he used to say that there was no need to end British rule in India and the Demand of INDEPENDENCE  was  DENIAL  GOD. Later, he himself confessed that he did not work for India’s independence. 

It has been pointed out earlier that he reproached the leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose and others because they were in favour of demanding independence. He also blamed C F Andrews for demanding complete independence. It is needless to say that all such utterances of Gandhi made the British colonialists extremely pleased. This made Sir Samuel Hoare, the Viscount of Templewood to comment that Gandhi was one of the best friends of the British. But later on in 1930, Gandhi was compelled to support the independence proposal simply to gain control over the Congress. Many believe that while in London on his way back to India, he promised that he will always inform the Viceroy in advance what he is going to do as his next step and take prior permission from him. There is no doubt that he kept the word of his British master up to his last breath.