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Gandhi's Twin Fasts and the Possibility of Non-violence

Gandhi died a sorrowful man, following his discovery that the freedom struggle led by him was not non-violent. It was passive resistance, which is always "a preparation for active armed resistance". The violence which had lain repressed had erupted on the eve of Independence. Gandhi's insight seems to have left academic wisdom and popular memory unaffected. This study of two "twin" fasts by Gandhi is part of a larger attempt to use that insight to make sense of his 30-odd years in India and of his undying faith in non-violence. It asks: Can non-violence be more than an impossible possibility?

Gandhi’s Twin Fasts and the Possibility of Non-violence

Sudhir Chandra

Gandhi died a sorrowful man, following his discovery that the freedom struggle led by him was not non-violent. It was passive resistance, which is always “a preparation for active armed resistance”. The violence which had lain repressed had erupted on the eve of Independence. Gandhi’s insight seems to have left academic wisdom and popular memory unaffected. This study of two “twin” fasts by Gandhi is part of a larger attempt to use that insight to make sense of his 30-odd years in India and of his undying faith in non-violence. It asks: Can non-violence be more than an impossible possibility?

Sudhir Chandra ( is a fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Nantes.

andhi dared dream a dream for humankind. And he sought to realise it in real life. In the process, he even felt driven more than once to stake his own life. Unprecedented as his grand effort was, it ended tragically. I wish here to talk about two fasts of Gandhi’s to point towards the inherent tragedy of his dream. That tragedy, it would seem, inheres in the very state of humankind that Gandhi dreamed of altering. The two fasts, which Gandhi undertook within a space of eight months (September 1932-May 1933), were for him a single fast. The second fast (8-21 May 1933), in his reckoning, was actually a resumption of the first (20-26 September 1932).

The twin fasts met with contrasting fates. That contrast illustrates the tragic fate of Gandhi’s efforts on behalf of h umankind. It is significant that the first of these fasts is the best and the second the least known of Gandhi’s 17 public fasts. Ironically, the least known fast is the nearest Gandhi ever came to undertaking a pure non-violent fast. I shall discuss the fasts in some detail, quoting copiously from Gandhi so as to convey as accurate an idea as possible of his abiding inner agony.

Against Separate Electorates

The best known, and also the most written about, fast was undertaken by Gandhi with a view to negating the proposed introduction of separate electorates for the depressed classes. It was begun in the Yervada jail on 20 September 1932 as a fast unto death. It lasted a week, and ended on 26 September. The fast threw the whole of India into a commotion. Frantic parleys were begun with startling swiftness among leaders representing various sections of society and the political parties. With Gandhi’s life hanging precariously in balance, the most bigoted positions, hardened prejudices and antagonistic interests were quickly compromised. A solution – known as the Poona or Yervada Pact – was hammered out within a week and cabled for endorsement by the British government. Ramsay MacDonald, the prime minister, was then in Sussex to attend a funeral. He rushed back to London and held an emergency meeting of his cabinet. The meeting lasted till midnight before accepting the proposed solution.

An idea of how strongly many among the depressed classes resented Gandhi’s fast can be had from the remark made by their foremost leader, B R Ambedkar, as he was forced to parley with Gandhi in the Yervada jail. “Mahatmaji”, Ambedkar said, “you have been very unfair to us”. Little would his helpless ire have been assuaged by the Mahatma’s riposte: “It is always my lot to appear to be unfair. I can’t help it.” True, the depressed classes managed to get from the Yervada Pact greater representation than was proposed for them in the MacDonald Award. And they got it because Ambedkar pressed hard for it. The one thing he said, repeated and emphasised during his meeting with Gandhi was: “I want my compensation”. Gandhi understood: “I am with you in most of the things you say”. He even realised that Ambedkar was feeling constrained in concretely spelling out what in justice belonged to the depressed classes, and on his own conceded that extra bit as well (Pyarelal 59).

Astute politician though he was – maybe also because of that astuteness – Gandhi was involved in something other than p olitical bargaining. He was out to create an atmosphere of trust between the d epressed classes and the so-called caste Hindus. What Ambedkar demanded as “compensation” was for Gandhi an expiation by the caste Hindus, an earnest of their readiness to accept the depressed classes as equal members of Hindu society.

Withdrawal of separate electorates for the depressed classes – the “untouchables” whom Gandhi decided henceforth to name Harijan [God’s People] – was a necessary first step towards their integration within Hindu society. “What I want”, he had announced on the first evening of the fast, “and what I am living

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for, and what I should delight in dying for, is the eradication of untouchability root and branch” (CWMG, vol LVII: 96). An upsurge of elevated feelings swept across the country as the fast proceeded. Besides euphoric manifestations of interpersonal goodwill towards the “untouchables”, there were some more substantive measures also, like permitting the “untouchables” access to numerous schools and temples.

Gandhi was moved to describe this “wonderful manifestation” as “a modern miracle”. Yet, he refused, as he told C F Andrews four days after breaking the fast, to be “deceived” by the “mighty response from the orthodox”. He could not even feel certain that the temples and schools opened to the “untouchables” would remain open to them and the various other things done would persist (CWMG, vol LVII: 134.) Such, indeed, was Gandhi’s suspicion that, even as he broke his fast in the midst of much celebration, he felt it his duty to state categorically:

I should be guilty of a breach of trust if I did not warn fellow reformers and caste Hindus in general that the breaking of the fast carried with it a sure promise of a resumption of it if this reform is not relentlessly pursued and achieved within a measurable period (CWMG, vol LVII:123-25).

After Gandhi’s fast was over and the threat to his life averted, what surfaced was not a spirit of expiation but complaints from sections of the caste Hindus that undue concessions had been made to appease the depressed classes. Soon demands to amend the Yervada Pact began to be voiced.

Gandhi could not but have been upset by the caste Hindus’ attempts to resile from the conditions agreed to under the Yervada Pact. His worst fears had materialised. Clearly, those now anxious to somehow water down the Pact were not taking his warning seriously. Apprehending that Gandhi might any day resume the fast, Pyarelal hurriedly wrote and published his Epic Fast. In a preface, written within a month and a half of the signing of the Pact, he warned the people:

As this is being sent to the press the shadow of another penance on the part of Gandhiji is lengthening over the land. These pages shall have amply fulfilled their purpose if they help to soften men’s hearts and incline them

to turn the searchlight inward.

Pyarelal hoped, fondly, to soften hearts that had hardened to Gandhi.

Deliberately Unheard

Received wisdom, dalit revisionism apart, has uniformly valorised Gandhi’s 1932 fast. Recently, in his comprehensive and mostly convincing Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire, Rajmohan Gandhi has credited the fast with having “awakened Hindu society’s longdormant conscience”. I should like to suggest, rather, that the fast failed to fulfil its purpose. On the very first day of the 1932 fast, when he could not have known how events would unfold, Gandhi had stated clearly “that the withdrawal of separate electorates will satisfy the letter of my vow but will never satisfy the spirit behind it, and in my capacity of being a selfchosen untouchable, I am not going to rest content with a patched-up pact between the ‘touchables’ and the untouchables” (CWMG, vol LVII: 96). He reiterated on the eve of breaking the fast following the Y ervada Pact that annulment of separate electorate for the depressed classes was “but the beginning of the end”. The beginning made, sustained efforts were required to achieve the end, which was “the complete removal of social and religious disabilities under which a large part of the Hindu population has been groaning”. It was incumbent on all the caste Hindus who had accepted the Yervada Pact to “carry out to the letter and spirit every clause of the settlement with all its implications” (CWMG, vol LVII: 124).

That never happened. Even the small beginning that had been made was rendered false.

It seems, in retrospect, amazing how completely Gandhi was deliberately unheard even when he was perforce heeded. He could not have been more unambiguous than he was in saying at the commencement of the fast that (CWMG, vol

LVII: 96):

...if out of blind affection for me, they [caste Hindus] would somehow or other come to a rough and ready agreement so as to secure the abrogation and then go off to sleep, they will commit a grievous blunder and will have made my life a misery. For, while the

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abrogation of separate electorates would result in my breaking the fast, it would be living death for me if the vital pact for which I am striving is not arrived at. It would simply mean that, as soon as I called off the fast, I would have to give notice of another in

o rder to achieve the spirit of the vow to the fullest extent. Gandhi’s life saved, caste Hindus returned to their somnolence, not even heeding his pathetic exhortations. Just to provide a feel of that which left the millions of caste Hindus unmoved, here is what Gandhi – typically – said during those desperate days: “I have addressed this appeal to you, which proceeds out of my soul’s agony. I ask you to share that agony and shame with me and cooperate

with me”. And further (Tendulkar, vol III: 179-80):

The Government is now out of it. Their part of the obligation they have fulfilled promptly. The major part of the resolutions of the Yervada Pact has to be fulfilled by these millions, the so-called Caste Hindus, who have flocked to the meetings. It is they who have to embrace the suppressed brethren and sisters as their own, whom they have to invite to their temples, their homes and their schools. The ‘untouchables’ in the villages should be made to feel that their shackles have been broken, that they are in no way inferior to their fellow villagers, that they are worshippers of the same God as other villagers and are entitled to the same rights and privileges that the latter enjoy. But if these vital conditions of the pact are not carried out by the Caste Hindus, could I possibly live to face God and man?

The fast, if it has to come, will not be for the coercion of those who are opponents of reform, but it will be intended to sting into action those who have been my comrades or who have taken pledges for the removal of untouchability. The fast will be resumed in obedience to the inner voice, and only if there is a manifest breakdown of the Yervada Pact, owing to the criminal neglect of the Caste Hindus to implement its conditions. Such neglect would mean a betrayal of Hinduism. I should not care to remain its living witness.

The Expiation

Time passed, and whatever fear there was of the 1932 fast being resumed faded away. Gandhi, eager to avoid seeming to employ coercion, himself helped the process. When in early 1933 Rajagopalachari, with a view to providing an extra edge to the anti-untouchability campaign,

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referred to the prospect of a fast by Gandhi, the latter promptly issued a denial:

Such exploitation robs a spiritual act of all its value. The dreaded event may never come to pass. All I know is that there is, as far as I am aware, no possibility of its coming…. I, therefore, implore the public to dismiss from their minds and be unaffected by the remote possibility of fast by me in this campaign against untouchability and to accept my assurance that, if such a fast does come, it will have come in obedience to the call of Truth, which is God. I will not be a traitor to God to please the whole world.

It was in this atmosphere, when the fear of a renewed fast had receded from the public mind, that the call came to Gandhi on the night of 28-29 April 1933. This is what he says happened:

I had gone to sleep the night before without the slightest idea of having to declare a fast next morning. At about twelve o’clock in the night something wakes me up suddenly, and some voice – within or without, I cannot say

– whispers, ‘Thou must go on a fast’. ‘How many days?’ I ask. The voice again says, ‘Twenty-one days’. ‘When does it begin?’ I ask. It says, ‘You begin tomorrow’. I went off to sleep after making the decision.

The following day Gandhi issued a

statement that demystified the “call”. It

said (CWMG, LXI: 38):

A tempest has been raging within me for some days, and I have been struggling against it. On the eve of the Harijan Day, the voice became insistent, and said: ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I resisted it. But resistance was in vain, and the resolution was made to go on an unconditional and irrevocable fast for 21 days commencing from Monday noon, the 8 May, ending on Monday noon, the 29 May.

As they did in Gandhi’s time, people will make sense of this fast according to their own inclination. For Gandhi it was divinely ordained, a “sacred necessity” about which he could not say much. Speaking to Patel after the previous night’s ineffable experience, he said: “Does one tell another everything that is in one’s mind? Can one do that?” (CWMG, LXI: 40) As would appear from his uncertainty whether the voice came from within or without, Gandhi was closely scrutinising what was happening to him. He even considered the possibility that he was “under self-delusion, a prey to my own heated imagination made hotter by the suffocation produced by the cramping walls of the prison”. But he did not believe that to be the case, because (CWMG, LXI: 86-7):

I am a habitual prisoner. The prison walls have never been known to have warped my judgment, nor induced in me the habit of brooding. All my imprisonments have been periods of intense activity leaving me no time for brooding. I have undoubtedly brooded over the wrongs done to the Harijans. But such brooding has always resulted in a definite exaction on my part.… My claim to hear the voice of God is not new. Unfortunately, there is no way of proving my claim except through results. God will not be God, if He allowed Himself to be the object of proof by His creatures…. God’s ways are inscrutable. And who knows, He may not want my death during the fast to be more fruitful of beneficent results than my life?

Non-Coercive Fast

As a possible warning against dismissing Gandhi’s language out of hand, we may recall a few significant reactions. C F Andrews, the Christian priest who n ever proselytised, wrote: “Accept your decision. Understand” (CWMG, LXI: 116). And Romain Rolland assured: “Ever with you”. Going against the dominant sanatanist Hindu reaction, Madan Mohan Malaviya, the very epitome of Hindu sanatanism, cabled in response to Gandhi’s call for blessing:

God bless you… I am fully convinced that He has guided you in your decision. I have been praying that He may grant you strength to go successfully through your great vrata and have faith that He will…. Some great tapasvis are watching you with tender care, and vast millions are praying for you (CWMG, LXI: 57).

There was also Sardar Patel, an unlikely exception among the top Congress leaders in that he perfectly understood the impulse behind this fast. Even as he doubted if Gandhi would survive the 21-day ordeal – and agonised over that dreadful eventuality – Patel understood its unavoidability. He saw “the utter falsehood and deceit that is being practised in the name of the Hindu religion”, and the anti-Yervada Pact propaganda carried on by “certain orthodox Hindus, and also some educated Hindus”. “Under such circumstances”, Patel asked, “how long can Bapu remain indifferent? The very pledge he has given to millions of poor Harijans is jeopardised. Can you think of any other method of reforming religion, and if there is no other way then what else can a person like him do, to whom his religion is dearer than life itself?” (Chopra 1994:20-21).

Whatever difficulty one may have regarding Gandhi’s communion with God on grave public issues, it should be hard to not see the purity of this 21-day fast and the depth of his agony about the “untouchables”. Large sections of Hindus, prompted by their own suppressed guilt about the inhumanity that Gandhi found intolerable, did suspect a political motive even in this fast. But if there ever was a non-violent fast, this one was. For, as Gandhi explained (CWMG, LXI, 38):

The fast is against nobody in particular, and against everybody who wants to participate in the joy of it without, for the time being, having to fast himself or herself. But it is particularly against myself. It is a heart prayer for purification of self and associates, for greater vigilance and watchfulness.

This fast threatened no one. It set no tangible objective, the dire consequences of the non-realisation of which might coerce people to do what they otherwise would not. It was for a specified period, and no matter what happened, it would not end earlier. Moreover, Gandhi had requested people not to ask him “to postpone, abandon or vary the approaching fast in any way whatsoever”. Ten years earlier too, in September 1924 when serious Hindu-Muslim violence had broken out, he had undertaken a 21-day self-purificatory fast. But he had at that time hoped that the heads of all the communities would “meet and end this quarrel which is a disgrace to religion and to humanity”. This time it was a religious act undertaken for self-purification and, through his self, the purification of others. The only departure he had made from the mid-night call was to commence the fast not the following day, but a week later. He had, as a nonviolent prisoner, felt obliged to make that compromise to avoid serious problems for his captors.

Tagore’s Response

However, following his usual practice, he did ask certain individuals for their blessings. One of these was Tagore. “Dear Gurudev”, Gandhi wrote, “It is just now 1.45 am and I think of you and some other friends. If your heart endorses contemplated fast, I

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want your blessings again” (CWMG, LXI, 56). This time Gandhi got nothing like the effusive telegram that had blessed the fast of which this one was a sequel. Tagore had in that telegram said:

It is worth sacrificing precious life for the sake of India’s unity and her social integrity. Though we cannot anticipate what effect it may have upon our rulers, who may not understand its immense importance for our people, we feel certain that the supreme appeal of such self offering to the conscience of our own countrymen will not be in vain. I fervently hope that we will not callously allow such national tragedy to reach its extreme length. Our sorrowing hearts will follow your sublime penance with reverence and love (Bhattacharya, 133-34).

In fact, Tagore had, on that occasion, rushed to Poona, reaching Gandhi hours before the fast was broken. His meeting with Gandhi, according to Pyarelal’s eyewitness account, “was a most touching one. Without a word, he approached Gandhiji’s prostrate form and burying his face in the clothes on Gandhiji’s breast, remained in that position for several minutes overcome with feeling.” Later in the evening Tagore sang a song during the prayer before Gandhi broke the fast (Pyarelal, 77, 80).

But this time there was a letter telling Gandhi how handicapped Tagore felt because he did not have before him “the entire background of thoughts and facts against which should be placed your own judgment in order to understand its significance”. Further, unlike last time when he found precious life worth sacrificing, Tagore lectured Gandhi on the duty of not courting death “unless there is no alternative for the expression of the ultimate purpose of life itself”. Besides, Tagore warned: “It is not unlikely that you are mistaken about the imperative necessity of your present vow, and when we realise that there is a grave risk of its fatal termination we shudder at the possibility of the tremendous mistake never having the opportunity of being rectified” (Bhattacharya, 141).

What Tagore did not realise, or left unsaid, was that his inability to bless Gandhi on this occasion might have owed something to his simmering reservations – to which we shall presently return – about the Yervada Pact. Whatever the truth, Tagore, the poet, remained surprisingly unaffected by the outpourings of Gandhi’s agonising soul. Nor, as his protestation against courting death would suggest, did he take seriously Gandhi’s repeated reiteration during those days that he would continue to live beyond the dissolution of his mortal body.

Gandhi, as he had hoped, survived the fast rather well, although he lost 22 kilograms and became a skeleton during those 21 days.

The Neglect

In stark contrast to 1932, this time there were no rushed parleys, no emergency huddles of disparate leaders, no display of fraternisation with the “untouchables”, no throwing open of schools, wells or temples to them. Even the Guruvayur temple in Malabar refused to permit entry to the “untouchables” although it was known that Gandhi was seriously meaning to go on a fast unto death for that purpose.

For most sanatanist Hindus, Gandhi’s fast was a deep political move. They even detected coercion in it. Vainly did Gandhi hope (CWMG, vol LXI, 123):

When they [Sanatanist Hindus] realise that it cannot be broken before its period, even if every temple was opened and untouchability wholly removed from the heart, they will perhaps admit that it cannot be regarded as in any way coercive. The fast is intended to remove bitterness, to purify hearts and to make it clear that the movement is wholly moral, to be prosecuted by wholly moral persons.

Let alone those in other parties and the bulk of sanatanist Hindus, the fast could not sensitise even Gandhi’s friends and colleagues within the Congress. Their response ranged from incomprehension and apathy to bafflement and hostility. This is best summed up in Nehru’s reply to one of the most moving letters Gandhi wrote about the fast. Knowing of Nehru’s scepticism about matters religious, Gandhi had said in his letter (CWMG, vol LXI, 59-60):

As I was struggling against the coming fast, you were before me as it were in flesh and blood. But it was no use. How I wish I could feel that you had understood the absolute necessity of it. The Harijan movement is too big for mere intellectual effort. There is nothing so bad in all the world. My life would be a burden to me, if Hinduism failed me. I love Christianity, Islam and many other faiths through Hinduism. Take it away and nothing remains for me. But then I cannot tolerate it with untouchability – the highand-low belief. Fortunately Hinduism contains a sovereign remedy [fasting] for the evil. I have applied the remedy. I want you to feel, if you can, that it is well if I survive the fast and well also if the body dissolves in spite of the effort to live…. And surely death is not an end to all effort. Rightly faced, it may be but the beginning of a noble effort. But I won’t convince you by argument, if you did not see the truth intuitively.

Nehru’s laconic reply was: “What can I say about matters that I do not understand?” (CWMG, vol LXI, 60).

Even Rajagopalachari, Gandhi’s conscience keeper, considered the fast “a mistake” from which no good would result. Steeped in the Hindu tradition, he e ngaged Gandhi in a serious discussion. Besides emphasising the political futility of the fast, Rajagopalachari argued that “Hinduism does not sanction suicide”. It would be a “folly” to be certain that Gandhi would “pass through this sacrificial test”. Should the worst happen, “not only will the progress of the country be retarded but the progress of Harijan cause also be affected and skewed down” (CWMG, vol LXI, 475-78).

Most people viewed in the fast needless dissipation of political energies, an unnecessary digression from the struggle for freedom. They failed to appreciate, in this actual instance, something that – especially






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for the progressively inclined among them

– was otherwise self-evident – that the struggle for freedom could not be an exclusively political project.

The last straw, for many, was the suspension for six weeks, at Gandhi’s behest, of the already languishing Civil Disobedience Movement. However, because they considered Gandhi’s leadership to be still indispensable, most Congress leaders protested directly to him or among themselves. There were, though, two prominent exceptions. Subhas Chandra Bose and Vithalbhai Patel, who were then away in Europe, demanded Gandhi’s removal from the leadership of the Congress. Even as Gandhi – insisting that the age of miracles was not over – was hoping through his fast to touch the hearts at least of his colleagues and collaborators, the two eminent leaders declared to the whole world:

The time has now come for a radical reorganisation of the Congress on new principles with a new method for which a new leader is essential, as it is unfair to expect the Mahatma to work a programme not consistent with his lifelong principles (Tendulkar, Vol III, 205).

A Wide Chasm

Sufficiently illustrative as the above examples are, nothing reveals more starkly the powerlessness of Gandhi’s purest exercise in non-violence than its failure to appeal to Tagore. The two great men, even earlier, had serious differences. But those differences had arisen from Tagore’s acute understanding of actual or potential excesses in Gandhi’s world view, including his non-violence. This time it was different. So far as general principles were concerned, like recourse to fasting unto death for a worthy public purpose, Tagore had already been unabashedly overwhelmed by Gandhi’s 1932 fast. But the 1933 fast he refused to bless. Half of what he said to justify the refusal – duty to preserve precious life – was a reversal of the very argument he had advanced to bless the 1932 fast. The other half – about the insufficiency of information

– appears unconvincing. Beginning with the warning issued at the time of breaking the first fast to the endless subsequent appeals, Gandhi had said enough to explain his compulsion.

I am not detecting duplicity or bad faith in Tagore. My concern is different. Tagore was not exceptional in his response. He was, though, exceptional in his sensitivity and empathetic reach. If neither the eloquence of Gandhi’s pleas nor, following the failure of those pleas, the eloquence of the 21-day penance could touch one such as Tagore, what chance did, and does, pure non-violence have of succeeding on its own?

“Succeeding on its own” implies a success that comes from convincing the others

– followers as well as the adversaries – of the rightness of the cause at issue. It is not the result of such factors as convergence of interest or psychological coercion. Whatever limited success Gandhi’s 1932 fast achieved was not the success of non-violence. The fast, in terms of non-violence, was a failure. The Yervada Pact, thanks to which the fast ended, was precipitated by a universally shared anxiety to save Gandhi’s life. It was an internally differentiated anxiety in terms of its source, character and intensity. Taking them as emblematic figures, the anxiety of Tagore was not the same as that of Ambedkar. Also, the Pact had little to do with the various groups’ and individuals’ acceptance of Gandhi’s uncompromising and humane rejection of “untouchability”. Were it otherwise, the 1933 fast would not have been necessary. At the very least, there would have been greater understanding than there was of the compulsion of that fast for Gandhi.

The great enthusiasm among the caste Hindus for the 1932 fast was the result of a partial convergence of sentiment with Gandhi. That convergence is expressed in Tagore’s effusive telegram where he describes the fast as one undertaken “for the sake of India’s unity and her social inte grity”. There the convergence ended. It did not extend to what Gandhi understood unity and social integrity to be. In that regard, judging by Gandhi’s subsequent disillusionment, helplessness, and relative loneliness, there remained a wide chasm.

The convergence was about something – the form of India’s unity and social integrity – that, for caste Hindus, was precious enough to deserve the sacrifice of a life as precious as Gandhi’s. That with regard to which there was no convergence – expiation as a necessary beginning for social unity – did not deserve, in their view, even a fast for a limited duration. Over that all kinds of reservations and objections began to crop up. These ranged from theological arguments against suicide to political warnings against dissipating national energies, and psychologistic diagnosis that Gandhi might have lost the capacity for balanced thinking as a result of his prolonged incarceration.

As always, there was at work a fluid ensemble of different factors, such as material and ideal interests, reason and passion. It affected people powerfully and – adding to that power – more often than not stealthily.

Two months after the completion of the fast that he had refused to bless, and within less than a year of hailing Gandhi’s “sublime penance” on behalf of India’s unity and social integrity, Tagore disowned the Yervada Pact. Condemning it publicly for being detrimental to the “country’s permanent interest”, and finding it “terribly ominous” that neither the British government nor the Indian leaders were willing to amend it, he protested that he had been inveigled into endorsing the Pact. He said (Bhattacharya 199-200):

Never having any experience in political dealings, while entertaining a great love for Mr Gandhi and a complete faith in his wisdom in Indian politics, I dared not wait for further consideration, which was unfortunate as justice has certainly been sacrificed in the case of Bengal. I have not the least doubt now that such an injustice will continue to cause mischief for all parties concerned, keeping alive the spirit of communal conflict in our province in an intense form and making peaceful government of the country perpetually difficult.

Although Tagore announced his volteface on the Yervada Pact two months later, it is likely that he had started reconsidering his position when Gandhi asked him to bless the sequel to the Yervada fast. If so, his simmering reservations also must have held him back. Explicitly he did not say so in his reply to Gandhi. But it is plausible that in saying that he did not have “the entire background of thoughts and facts” against which to judge Gandhi’s new fast, Tagore had in mind the as yet not clear background that would, within the next two months, turn him against the Yervada Pact. Assuming that relevant material is available, a deeper study may perhaps tell us something more definitive.

Be that as it may, Tagore did not ask Gandhi for extra information. Nor did he

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think it necessary or proper to discuss his misgivings with “Mr Gandhi” before denouncing the Yervada Pact. Gandhi learnt about it from the newspapers, and wrote to “Gurudev”:

It caused me deep grief to find that you were misled by very deep affection for me and by your confidence in my judgment into approving of a Pact which was discovered to have done a grave injustice to Bengal. It is now no use my saying that affection for me should not have affected your judgment, or that confidence in my judgment ought not to have made you accept a Pact about which you had ample means for coming to an i ndependent judgment…. But I am not at all convinced that there was any error made (Bhattacharya 146).

Impossible Possibility

It may be pertinent to recall that Tagore, who was now complaining of injustice to Bengal and seeing in that injustice a perpetual threat to peaceful government of the country, had soon after the Yervada Pact written a glowing letter to Gandhi, asking him to do something similar to solve the Hindu-Muslim problem. Tagore had in that letter suggested that, following the generosity shown to the depressed classes in the Yervada Pact, some extra concessions could be made to the Muslims for the sake of forging communal unity. He had, besides, added that no one else but Gandhi possessed the power to accomplish this. The same generosity towards the depressed classes was now rankling as injustice because – though Gandhi would not agree – Bengal was to bear a little more than its proportional share of that generosity.

Tagore, we may further recall, was a professed humanist. He had in his fiction as also in discursive writing consistently exposed the hideousness of nationalism.

Once, for whatever reason, he was without an inner readiness to respond, even a Tagore missed the grandeur of that all-too-brief exercise in pure non-violence.

Even scholarship on Gandhi has not, in the intervening 75 years, discerned the historic importance of that moment. Seen from the perspective of the 1933 fast, much of our understanding of the possibility of Gandhian non-violence among humans will require serious revision. And that revision is likely to be rather pessimistic. The worst it can suggest is the impossible possibility of non-violence, not its impossibility. Gandhi, by virtue of having been, has ruled out that impossibility. At the same time, closely examined, his having been may not warrant the kind of hopes that are all too easily entertained. For, even he was not the success that both academically and popularly he is believed to have been. He himself had no illusions about the actual success of non-violence. But, then, we have neglected his final selfassessment as well. Despite that selfassessment, though, he never lost faith in the potential power of non-violence.

New from SAGE!


Bhattacharya, Sabyasachi ed. (1997): The Mahatma and the Poet: Letters and Debates between Gandhi and Tagore 1915-1941 (New Delhi: National Book Trust).

Chopra, P N ed. (1994): The Collected Works of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (Delhi: Konark Publications), Volume IV.

Gandhi, Mahatma (1999): The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Electronic Book) (New Delhi: Publications Division Government of India), 98 volumes [referred to as CWMG].

Gandhi, Rajmohan (2006): Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire (Penguin/ Viking, New Delhi).

Pyarelal (1932): The Epic Fast, Mohanlal Maganlal Bhat, Ahmedabad.

Tendulkar, Dinanath Gopal (1944): Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Bombay: Karnatak Publishing House), 8 volumes.




Building a Global Community New Tasks and Responsibilities

Fay Patel, Mingsheng Li

J V Vilanilam and Prahalad Sooknanan

Public Relations in India is a review of the history of PR and focuses on the Competence in communicating across importance of PR in India and othercultures is a prerequisite for success in developing countries. The author argues today’s fast-changing global community. In that business corporations have to

Intercultural Communication, Patel, Li and

maintain a close relationship with the local, Sooknanan draw on their deep intercultural regional and national governments of the experience to show us how to build country where they do business and adapt successful communication bridges across policies according to the needs of people from varying classes. Social diverse cultures.

responsibility, effective communication and dynamic management skills The book explores various theoretical positions on global communication are the intersecting points of this book.

ethics and norms by providing an overview of the contemporary socio-The book focuses on topics like Internal and External PR, Satellite and cultural situation and seeking ways in which common ground may be International Communication and Cross-cultural Communication and found between these different positions.

blends theoretical arguments with management case studies.

2011 / 232 pages / C 525.00 (hardback) 2011 / 318 pages / C 395.00 (paperback)
www.sagepub.inLos Angeles „ London „ New Delhi „ Singapore „Washington DC

june 4, 2011 vol xlvI no 23

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