Eyewitness accounts
Kaviti Soni Sharma

Civil Disobedience Movements in India
India’s Case for Freedom
by C V H Rao. Frog Books, Mumbai. Rs 250 each.

The two books under review were first published in 1945. The author was a veteran journalist of the pre-Independence era who had the privilege of interacting with the leaders of the Independence Movement and has provided an excellent eyewitness description of the political drama that unfolded.

The book entitled Civil Disobedience Movements in India chronicles the non-violent Civil Disobedience initiated by Mahatma Gandhi who brought this method into popular and extensive use to induce Britain to liberate India from her political grip by bringing moral pressure on the British Indian Government. The non-violent non-cooperation facilitated the development and consolidation of the inner strength of the teeming mass of Indians fighting for their freedom and also their strength and capacity to retain it when won. Rao pays tribute to Gandhi’s spiritualization of politics which heightened the self respect, the spirit of sacrifice and suffering and the intense, nationwide desire to attain the national goal and refers to it as "the most distinctive contribution that the Mahatma has made to the world politics of the present century".

Gandhi’s continuous insistence on non-violence (ahimsa) and truth (satyagraha), non cooperation, swadeshi, boycott and civil disobedience, all of which were intimately inter-connected, had engendered in the masses feelings of disaffection against the British in general . Rao reaffirms his faith in the political and individual philosophy of Gandhi which came to be synonymous with peaceful violation of specific laws, mass courting of arrests, occasional hartals and spectacular marches .He talks of the Gandhian appeal which drew in the masses while at the same time keeping mass activity strictly pegged down to certain predetermined forms.

Gandhi’s ideology and methods transformed the Congress into the biggest and most influential political organisation in India and its prestige with the masses had greatly increased. These also called the attention of the world to India’s grievances and India’s national demand and kept the country before the world’s eyes. The transfer of power to Indians was thus made possible.

In India’s Case for Freedom, Rao emphasises that India’s freedom was not only an imperative necessity but that it constituted an integral part of the peace plans of the United Nations—the establishment of a lasting and permanent peace based on a democratic world order. This ‘world order’ was to assure political freedom for small as well as big nations, iron out economic disparities among people and economic inequalities among countries and prevalence of social justice so that man will be able to speak to man as well as nation to nation not in a spirit of inferiority or superiority, dependence or hegemony, but each person and each nation can function as entities contributing individually to the sum total of human happiness .This world order was to systematically inculcate in the peoples of the world everywhere broad based principles of national and cultural synthesis and cooperation, as opposed to those of cultural isolation or political domination of one country over another.

In Rao’s perception thus the justice, relevance and importance of India’s demand for immediate transfer of powers to her own leaders and complete freedom from extraneous control were impossible to ignore. He was convinced that India’s independence would mean a more intensive and purposeful participation on her part in world affairs and in the shaping of policies which could contribute to world peace and democracy because of her adherence to the principles of non violence, arbitration and negotiation as the means of settling international disputes instead of resorting to wars.

The writer has sensitively dealt with several facets of Indian freedom including the problem of Hindu – Muslim differences, of British commercial interests, of Indian Princes and of India’s role in a prospective Asiatic Federation which was to comprise the free people of Asia—the Chinese, the Indians, the Siamese, the Afghans and the Tibetans.

From the objective angle of an Indian nationalist, Rao offers his concise analysis of the pre-Independent problems of India and discusses the value and significance of the satyagrah experiment. A book recommended for reading.