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Special to the tribune
Gandhi’s rare letter to go under the hammer in UK
Shyam Bhatia in London

A unique letter written by Mahatma Gandhi, including textual corrections in his hand and signed by him at the end, is being offered for sale by Mullock’s Auctioneers at Ludlow in the UK.

The type-written letter, valued between £10,000 and £15,000 (Rs 8 lakh to Rs 13 lakh), was written in 1943, 15 months after Gandhi and other leaders belonging to the All India Congress Committee (AICC) met first in Wardha and then in Mumbai endorsed the Quit India Movement calling for “an orderly British withdrawal” from India.

Gandhi told supporters in August 1942: “There is a mantra, short one, that I give you. You imprint it on your heart and let every breath of yours give an expression to it. The mantra is ‘do or die’.”

Relations between Congress and the colonial authorities deteriorated after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The Congress leaders believed they should have been consulted before India was brought into the war to support the Allies. The British were supported by Indian civil servants, including the army and police, the Muslims, the communists and the princely states.

Although Gandhi backed passive resistance, the Congress was divided, with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose siding with Germany and Japan.

The British responded to the Quit India call by arresting Gandhi and other Congress leaders, as well as 1 lakh others.

Gandhi was held at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune for the next two years and it was while he was in detention that his secretary, Mahadev Desai, and his wife Kasturba died. Gandhi was released in May 1944 because of his failing health and the need for surgery.

In his letter sent from Pune to the Additional Secretary of the Government of India in New Delhi, Gandhi calls for his and his followers’ release from arrest: “...it is unthinkable that when India’s millions are suffering from preventable starvation and thousands are dying of it, thousands of men and women should be kept in detention of mere suspicion when their energy and the expense incurred in keeping them under duress could at this critical time, be usefully employed in relieving distress... the huge place in which I am being detained with a large guard around me, I hold to be a waste of public funds. I should be quite content to pass my days in any prison...”

Referring to the AICC resolution of August 8, 1942, he adds: “...as the government is aware, I offered to meet the member of the Working Committee in order to discuss the situation and to know their mind. But my offer was rejected. I had thought and still think that my talk with them might have some value from the government stand-point. Hence I repeat my offer. But it may have not such value so long as the government doubts my bona fides. As a Satyagrahi, however, in spite of the handicap, I must reiterate what I hold to be good and of immediate importance in terms of war effort. But if my offer has no chance of being accepted so long as I retain my present views, and if the government thinks that it is only my evil influence that corrupts people, I submit that the members of the Working Committee and other detenues should be discharged...”

Gandhi was only too aware that the Congress had split between his followers and Netaji’s supporters who believed in armed struggle. His letter has been interpreted as a coded call to achieve independence by peaceful, diplomatic means.

Piece of history

  • The typewritten letter is valued around £15,000 (Rs 13 lakh)
  • Gandhi wrote it in 1943 while he was detained at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune for endorsing the Quit India Movement
  • Addressed to the Additional Secretary, Government of India, Gandhi calls for his and his followers’ release in the letter





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