The Extraordinary Life and Times of Mahatma Gandhi – Part 16: Visit, Programs of Prince of Wales are Boycotted


The story thus far…During the latter part of 1920 Gandhi advocated a triple boycott. He wanted an absolute boycott of the Government and all government institutions, including schools, colleges, and courts. If the people were free of these they could easily have their own schools, colleges, and courts, and the power of the British would collapse at once. There was much laughter and ridicule from the moderates and the supporters of British rule. But Gandhi paid no attention.

Gandhi’s activities made the British government nervous and panicky. They issued a warning that anyone who overstepped the bounds of law would be arrested and imprisoned. Gandhi thought that this warning was a victory for the campaign. He issued instructions, which the people were to follow if he were arrested.

On December 26, the Congress session was held in Nagpur. Though there were signs of opposition to Gandhi’s policies, his resolution was passed with an overwhelming majority.

The adoption of the new program at Nagpur was the signal to start the mass movement. Gandhi felt that the complete boycott of all government organizations would give a chance to the Congress to set up a parallel organization, a State within a State which would lead India to Swaraj. The Duke of Connaught was sent to India in 1921 to try to pacify the Indians. He came to open the four legislatures in the country which had been introducedas a result of the reforms announced by the King.

His coming and going passed off without any material change in the attitude of Indians towards Britain. Gandhi traveled far and wide, propagating the ideals of nonviolence and noncooperation. Day by day the Indians were getting more and more excited over carrying out Gandhi’s program. Many students left their institutions, many officers resigned their posts.

The boycott movement gained momentum. As the people’s morale grew, the morale of the government went down. Repression started. Gandhi advised the people to have patience, and he insisted on nonviolence. He saw the weaknesses of Indians and he urged them to improve. He wanted social reforms and constructive work to be intensively followed. It was announced that the Prince of Wales was to visit India. Functions were arranged at many places to enable him to meet his loyal subjects.

Gandhi was indignant when he read the announcement in the newspapers.  “Do the British think we are children?” he said. “Do they believe that parades for the Prince will make us forget atrocities in the Punjab or the perpetual delay in granting us Home Rule?” On Gandhi’s advice the Congress declared that all parades, receptions, and celebrations in honor of the Prince were to be strictly boycotted.

“We have no grudge against His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales,” said Gandhi, “but our ideas are against him as a symbol of oppression. We can show the world that such noncooperation is just the reverse of the European doctrine of the sword. Let us act in accordance with the holy prophets of old. Noncooperation without violence is the battle of the brave.”

Fearing that there would be disorder when the Prince of Wales visited various places, the government began severe acts of suppression. Thousands of people were arrested. The Indian people were so agitated that in city after city bonfires burned and the bonfires were made with foreign cloth, especially British cloth. On November 17, 1921, the Prince of Wales landed in Bombay.

Loyal stooges of Britain went to greet the royal visitor. Those who were observing nonviolent noncooperation did not stop them. However, religious and political hatreds fanned the flames. Riots started, many were killed, much property was destroyed. There was panic in the city.

Gandhi was in Bombay, and he rushed to the scene of disorder to stop the rioting. Order was finally restored. “Every man has the right to his religion and his own political opinion. Satyagraha will never succeed until man understands that,” Gandhi announced bitterly.  In other cities the boycott of the Prince’s visit was peaceful.

As the unfortunate Prince of Wales visited city after city, he- was greeted with empty streets. Not a shop was open.

The people remained behind closed doors and drawn curtains. This infuriated the British and they called upon the government of India to act. Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal, and other leaders were arrested and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. Yet the determined courage of the people did not abate.

They were ready to suffer any penalty for the cause of Home Rule. Demands had been made to Gandhi that he should start a mass movement for the attainment of Swaraj. Gandhi decided to act. Preparations were made to start satyagraha in Bardoli. But Gandhi had to stop the campaign suddenly because of what had happened ill Bombay and other places.

In Chauri Chaura, near Gorakhpur in U.P., some policemen fired on a crowd which was holding a demonstration against the government. This annoyed the demonstrators so much that they became very violent. They chased the police.

The police took refuge in the city hall. The angry mob surrounded the hall and set it on fire. Some policemen were burned to death. Others, trying to escape, were killed by the furious mob outside.

Gandhi was very upset. He thought that it was clear that the people were still not prepared for satyagraha. He stopped the intended satyagraha at Bardoli. His co-workers did not agree with him, but he was adamant. He wanted his followers to start constructive programs.

Many Indians were sorry for Gandhi’s action. They thought that Swaraj was now within their reach and the movement should therefore continue. The Government was playing a waiting game. Instead of thanking Gandhi for stopping the mass movement, they arrested him on charges of inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch and sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment. He was removed to Yeravda Central Jail in Poona.

In prison Gandhi settled down to a regime of spinning, writing, and meditation. The people were disappointed and the government tightened its hold. Almost all the leaders were put in jail. Then, in 1924, Gandhi fell ill. He was suffering from appendicitis and was in great pain. The government was alarmed. What would happen if Gandhi died in prison? An urgent operation was arranged, and Gandhi agreed.

The operation was successful, but his recovery was very slow. The government thought it best to release him, so he was set free. He went to Juhu, near Bombay, to recover.

— To be continued next week