The Strength of Satyagraha
April 14, 1919
I regret that because of a heart weakness I am unable to speak to you personally. You have no doubt attended many meetings, but those of you who have been attending recently are different from others, in that at these meetings some immediate, tangible action, some definite sacrifice has been demanded of you for the purpose of averting the serious calamity that has overtaken us in the shape of what are known as the Rowlatt Bills. One of them -- Bill No. 1 -- has undergone material alterations and its further consideration has been postponed. In spite, however, of the alterations, it is mischievous enough to demand opposition. At this very moment, in all probability the Second Bill has finally been passed by the Council -- if, in reality, you can say that the bill has been passed by that august body when all its non-official members have unanimously and vociferously opposed it!
The Bills must be resisted, not only because they are in themselves bad, but also because the Government, which is responsible for their introduction, has seen fit to ignore public opinion -- and some of its members have boasted of so ignoring that opinion. Resistance to these bills is a common cause between the different schools of thought of the country. For my part, after much prayerful consideration, and after very careful examination of the Government's position, I have pledged myself to offer Satyagraha against the Bills, and have invited all men and women who think and feel as I to do likewise.
Some of our countrymen, however, including those who are among the best of its leaders, have uttered a note of warning, and have even gone so far as to say that this Satyagraha movement is against the best interests of the country. I have naturally the highest regard for them and for their opinion. I have worked under some of them. I was a babe when Sir Divshaw Wacha and Babu Surendranath Bannerji were among the accepted leaders of public opinion in India. Mr. Sastriar is a politician who has given his all to the country's cause. No one surpasses him in sincerity, probity and love of country. My upbringing draws me to the signatories of the two Manifestoes.
It is not, therefore, without the greatest grief and much searching of heart that I place myself in opposition to their wishes. But there are times when you have to obey a call which is the highest of all -- that is, the voice of conscience, even though such obedience may cost many a bitter tear -- even though it may cost separation from friends, from family, from the state to which you belong, from all that you hold as dear as life itself. For this obedience is the law of our being. I have no further defense to offer for my conduct. My regard for the signatories to the Manifesto remains undiminished; but my faith in the efficacy of Satyagraha is very great. I feel that if those who take the Pledge are true to it, we will prove, at the end of the struggle, that there was no cause for misgivings or alarm.
There is, I know, resentment over the Manifestoes, even on the part of some Satyagrahis. I want to warn Satyagrahis that such resentment is counter to the spirit of Satyagraha. I personally welcome any honest difference of opinion from any quarter, and the more so from friends, because it puts us on our guard. There is too much recrimination, innuendo and insinuation in our public life, and for the Satyagraha movement to purge itself of this grave defect would be a very desirable by-product. I wish further to suggest to Satyagrahis that resentment of the two Manifestoes is only a sign of weakness on our part. Every movement, and Satyagraha most of all, must depend on its own inherent strength, not upon the feebleness or silence of its critics.
Let us see, therefore, wherein lies the strength of Satyagraha. As the name implies, it is an insistence upon truth which, dynamically expressed, means love; and by the law of love we are required not to return hatred for hatred, violence for violence, but to return good for evil. As Shrimati Sarojini Devi told you yesterday, the strength lies in a definite recognition of the true religious spirit and of the action corresponding to that spirit. And when once you introduce the religious elements into politics, you revolutionize the whole of your political outlook. You then achieve reform, not by imposing suffering on those who resist reform, but by taking the suffering upon yourselves. And so in this movement we hope, by the intensity of our sufferings, to affect and alter the Government's resolution not to withdraw these objectionable Bills.
It has, however, been suggested that the Government will leave the handful of Satyagrahis strictly alone and not make martyrs of them. But this suggestion contains, in my humble opinion, bad logic and an unwarranted assumption of fact. For if the Satygrahis are left alone they will have won a complete victory: they will have succeeded in disregarding the Rowlatt Bills and even other laws of the country and will thus have shown that the Government accepts, as harmless, an act of civil disobedience. As for the unwarranted assumption of fact, the suggestion contemplates the restriction of the movement to a handful of men and women. My experience of Satyagraha leads me to believe that it is such a potent force that, once set in motion, it continues to spread until it becomes a dominant factor in the community in which it has been brought into play. And if it so spreads, no government can neglect it. Either it must yield to it, or it must imprison the workers in the movement.
But I have no desire to argue. As the English proverb says, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The movement, for better or for worse, has been launched. We shall be judged, not by our words, but solely by our deeds. It is, therefore, not enough that we sign the Pledge. Our signing is but an earnest of our determination to live up to it, and if all who sign the Pledge live up to it, I make bold to promise that we shall bring about the withdrawal of the two Bills and that neither the Government nor our critics will have a word to say against us. The cause is great, the remedy is equally great; let us prove worthy of them both.