There is another wonderful essay in the book, ‘Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on his life and works’, published in 1939 to commemorate the seventieth birthday of Gandhi.
This essay is by the same man, who exclaimed with relief when Gandhi left South Africa, “The saint has left our shores, I sincerely hope forever.”
A man to whom, Gandhi allocated an entire chapter in his ‘Satyagraha in South Africa’, with the rather uncharitable heading, “General Smuts’ Breach of Faith (?)”. At great risk to his reputation, and life, as he came to know later when he was attacked by Mir Alam, Gandhi had arrived at a compromise with General Smuts, after he had launched the first satyagraha in South Africa against the Asiatic Act and Indians went to jail en masse for the first time there. He had agreed for voluntary registration of Indians after coming to an understanding with General Smuts that the Asiatic Act will be repealed. But the act was not repealed. The struggle was resumed by making a bonfire of the certificates. Gandhi wrote of his experience with Smuts:
“When I was corresponding with him and writing in the paper against him, I remember I had taken General Smuts to be a heartless man. But this was only the beginning of the struggle, only its second year, while it was to last as long as eight years, in course of which I had many occasions of meeting him. From our subsequent talks I often felt that the general belief in South Africa about General Smuts’ cunning did him perhaps less than justice. I am however sure of two things. First, he has some principles in politics, which are not quite immoral. Secondly, there is room in his politics for cunning and on occasions for perversion of truth. “
But he opened the chapter by qualifying his harsh words with these conciliatory remarks to explain the ‘mark of interrogation’ that he had placed after the heading: ” I am ashamed of writing the caption of this chapter as well as the chapter itself, for it deals with the obliquity of human nature. Already in 1908 General Smuts ranked as the ablest leader in South Africa, and today he takes a high place among the politicians of the British Empire, and even of the world. I have no doubt about his great abilities.” He added, “My experience of General Smuts in 1913-14 did not then seem bitter and does not seem so theme today, when I can think of the past events with a greater sense of detachment. It is quite possible that in behaving to the Indians as he did in 1908 General Smuts was not guilty of a deliberate breach of faith.” (1)
Later, in 1931, he spoke of Smuts in a different light, “With reference to the question of race and colour prejudice there, Genera] Smuts once related me a story which impressed me very much. ‘When I was about the same time as you studying in England,’ he said, ‘I had no race prejudice or colour prejudice against your people. In fact, if we had known each other, we should have lived as friends or brothers. Why is it then that now we have become rivals, that we have conflicting interests? It is not colour prejudice or race prejudice, though some of our people do ignorantly talk in those terms, but there is one thing which I want you to recognize. It is this. I may have no racial legislation, but how will you solve the difficulty about the fundamental difference between our cultures? Let alone the question of superiority, there is no doubt but that your civilization is different from ours. Ours must not be overwhelmed by yours. That is why we have to go in for legislation which must in effect put disabilities on you. I understood what he said and I recognized that we could not have any other standard there. I also appreciated the fear of being swamped in these days of swift communications. If, therefore, we wanted to reside in South Africa, I said to myself, we must adopt their standard of life, so long as it was not against morality” (2)
Gandhi did have a knack of converting the most extreme adversaries into friends and associates, and Smuts is a primary example. Though the saint left the shores, his relationship with the General did not end there.
‘During the Round Table Conference of 1931, Gandhi and the Viceroy both sought Smuts’s aid, although he was out of office at that time and was in England merely for an academic occasion.’ (3)
After the failure of the Round Table Conference, when Gandhi was arrested on his return to India, Smuts had recorded his objections in August 1932.
“It seems to me a sheer muddle to put the Congress in jail, to alienate the Moderates, and yet to think of going forward with the grant of a new constitution. Who will work this constitution and who will have any responsibility for its success? I can understand frank Reaction or the Strong Hand. I can also appreciate a more or less liberal policy of trust such as that of Campbell-Bannerman. But what is this monstrosity…? Gandhi is and remains the best friend and should be dealt with as such….What a waste to keep such a power and influence for good in jail at such a time. And without Gandhi’s cooperation the new institutions will never even begin to function properly.” (3)
In 1933, when Gandhi was about to begin a 21-day fast from jail, he said, “General Smuts has made a pathetic appeal to me to desist from the impending fast.” (4)
It is probably due to the friendship with Gandhi that Smuts was vocal about his stance on India, though his battle with Indians in South Africa was not yet over. He wrote to Lord Linlithgow in August 1941: “Dominion status in its full implications should not be denied them, but rather should be given freely and graciously, as it is in any case inevitable.”
Smuts paid glowing tributes to Gandhi when he was assassinated: “A prince of men has passed away and we grieve with India in her irreparable loss.”
It is in this context of almost half a century’s roller-coaster relationship that this essay, and his famous lines from the essay assume significance: “In gaol he had prepared for me a very useful pair of sandals which he presented to me when he was set free! I have worn these sandals for many a summer since then, even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man!”
The essay in full is given below.
- M.K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, 1924.
- Speech to Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Delhi, April 7, 1931, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 51…Young India, 16-4-1931
- (W.K.Hancock, A Paradoxical Friendship) Mahatma Gandhi 100 Years (Edited by Dr.S.Radhakrishnan), Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1968.
- D.G.Tendulkar, Mahatma – Volume 3, The Publications Division, 1951, Page 272.
GANDHI’S POLITICAL METHOD
By The Rt. Hon. J. C. Smuts, M.A., LL.D., D.C.L.
(House of Assembly, Cape Town)
It is fitting that I, as an opponent of “Gandhi a generation ago, should now
salute the veteran as he reaches the scriptural limits of three score years and
ten. May the further allotment which the Psalmist grudgingly allows also be his,
and may they be years of fruitful service to the world and of a peaceful mind
to himself! I join most heartily with the other contributors to this volume in
recognition of his great public services and in paying tribute to his high
personal qualities. Men like him redeem us all from a sense of
commonplaceness and futility, and are an inspiration to us not to be weary in
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