February 1, 1922
His EXCELLENCY THE VICEROY,
Bardoli is a small tahsil in the Surat District in the Bombay Presidency, having a population of about 87,000 all told.
On the 29th ultimo, it decided under the presidency of Vithalbhai Patel to embark on mass Civil Disobedi¬ence, having proved its fitness for it in terms of the resolution of the All-India Congress Committee which met at Delhi during the first week of November last. But, as I am perhaps chiefly responsible for Bardoli's decision, I owe it to Your Excellency and the public to explain the situation under which the decision has been taken.
It was intended under the Resolution of the All- India Congress Committee before referred to, to make Bardoli the first unit for mass Civil Disobedience in order to mark the national revolt against the Govern¬ment of India for its consistently criminal refusal to appreciate India's just resolve regarding the Khilafat, the Punjab and Swaraj.
Then followed the unfortunate and regrettable riot¬ing in Bombay on the 17th November last, resulting in the postponement of the step contemplated by Bardoli.
Meanwhile, repression of virulent type has taken place with the concurrence of the Government of India in Bengal, Assam, the United Provinces, the Punjab, the Province of Delhi and, in a way, in Bihar and Orissa and elsewhere. I know that you have objected to the use of the word "repression" for describing the action of the authorities in those provinces. In my opinion, when action is taken which is in excess of the requirements of a situation, it is undoubtedly repression. The looting of property, assaults on inno¬cent people, the brutal treatment of prisoners in the jails including flogging can in no sense be described as legal, civilized or in any way necessary. This official lawlessness cannot be described by any other term but lawless repression. Intimidation by Non-co-operators or their sympathizers to a certain extent in connection with hartals and picketing may be admitted, but in no case can it be held to justify the wholesale suppression of peaceful volunteering or equally peaceful public meetings under a distorted use of an extraordinary law which was passed in order to deal with activities which were manifestly violent both in intention and action, nor is it possible to designate, as otherwise than repression, action taken against innocent people under what has appeared to many of us an illegal use of the ordinary law, nor again can the administrative inter¬ference with the liberty of the Press under a law that is under promise of repeal be regarded as anything but repression.
The immediate task before the country, therefore, is to rescue, from paralysis freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of the Press. In the present mood of the Government of India and in the present unprepared state of the country in respect of complete control of the forces of violence, Non-co-operators were unwilling to have anything to do with the Malaviya Conference whose object was to induce Your Excellency to convene a Round Table Conference. But as I was anxious to avoid all avoidable suffering, I had no hesi¬tation in advising the Working Committee of the Con¬gress to accept the recommendations of that Conference. Although in my opinion the terms were quite in keeping with your own requirements as I understood them through your Calcutta speech and otherwise, you have summarily rejected the proposal.
In the circumstances, there is nothing before the country but to adopt some non-violent method for the enforcement of its demands including the elementary rights of free speech, free association and free Press. In my humble opinion, the recent events are a clear depar¬ture from the civilized policy laid down by Your Excel¬lency at the time of the generous, manly and uncondi¬tional apology of the Ali brothers, viz., that the Govern¬ment of India should not interfere with the activities of Non-co-operation so long as they remained non-violent in word and deed. Had the Government's policy remained neutral and allowed public opinion to ripen and have its full effect, it would have been possible to advise post¬ponement of the adoption of civil disobedience of an aggressive type till the Congress had acquired fuller control over the forces of violence in the country and enforced greater discipline among the millions of its adherents. But this lawless repression (in a way unpar¬alleled in the history of this unfortunate country) has made the immediate adoption of mass Civil Disobedience an imperative duty. The Working Committee of the Congress has restricted it to only certain areas to be selected by me from time to time, and at present it is confined only to Bardoli. I may, under the said authority, give my consent at once in respect of a group of hundred villages in Guntur in the Madras Presidency, provided they can strictly conform to the conditions of non-violence, unity among different classes, the adoption and manufacture of hand-spun Khadi and untouchability.
But before the people of Bardoli actually commence mass Civil Disobedience, I would respectfully urge you, as head of the Government of India, finally to revise your policy and set free all the non-co-operating prison¬ers who are convicted or under trial for non-violent activities, and to declare in clear terms a policy of absolute non-interference with all non-violent activities in the country whether they be regarding the redress of the Khilafat or the Punjab wrongs or Swaraj or any other purpose and even though they fall under the repressive sections of the Penal Code or the Criminal Procedure Code or other repressive laws subject always to the conditions of non-violence. I would further urge you to free the Press from all administrative control and to restore all the fines and forfeitures recently imposed. In thus urging I am asking Your Excellency to do what is being done today in every country which is deemed to be under civilized government. If you can see your way to make the necessary declaration within seven days of the date of publication of this manifesto, I shall be prepared to advise postponement of civil disobedience of an aggressive character, till the imprisoned workers have, after their discharge, reviewed the whole situation and considered the position de novo. If the Government makes the requested declaration, I shall regard it as an honest desire on its part to give effect to public opinion and shall have no hesitation in advising the country to be engaged in further moulding public opinion without violent restraint from either side and trust to its work¬ing to secure the fulfillment of its unalterable demands. Aggressive civil disobedience in that case will be taken up only when the Government departs from its policy of strictest neutrality or refuses to yield to clearly expressed opinion of the vast majority of the people of India.
Your Excellency's faithful
servant and friend,
M. K. GANDHI
Young India, 9-2-1922