Right hand for 20 years, helper in British rule… This letter of George Orwell on Mahatma Gandhi will surprise you

Ananya Shroff
6 Min Read

New Delhi: The iconic British author George Orwell is known for his outspoken views on political-social topics. He has expressed his views very openly on the relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and the British Raj. Orwell believed that Gandhi's strategy of non-violence was beneficial to the British imperialists. He argued that Gandhi's policy of non-violence had made it easier for the British government to rule India. Orwell wrote, 'Gandhi made it easier for the British Empire to rule India because his non-violent methods allowed the British to avoid using brutality or excessive force on Indians.'

Orwell said big things about Gandhi's policy of non-violence

George Orwell wrote a letter to Reverend Iorth Jones on April 8, 1941. Jones was a minister in the British government. Orwell talked about many issues in the letter written to him. In this sequence, he expressed his views on the relationship between the British Empire and Mahatma Gandhi under the title 'Gandhi and Pacifism'. He wrote, 'Perhaps I should not have said that pacifists are always people who have lived a personally secure life, although it is a fact that 'pure' pacifists usually come from the middle class and have grown up in somewhat exceptional circumstances. But it is a fact that pacifism as a movement exists only among those communities who do not fear foreign invasion and colonialism.' He further writes, 'This is why pacifist movements are always found in coastal countries. (I believe that many pacifist movements also have their roots in Japan). Government cannot be run in a 'pure' nonviolent way because any government that refuses to use force under all circumstances can be overthrown by anyone, even a person willing to use force. The pacifist refuses to face the problem of government and pacifists are always looked upon as people who will never be in a position of control, which is why I call them irresponsible.'

Was Mahatma Gandhi the right hand man of the British government?

George Orwell says, 'The British government has for 20 years regarded Gandhi as its right hand man. I know what I am saying. I used to be an officer in the Indian Police Force. There has always been the criticism that Gandhi made it easier for the British to rule India because nothing really made a difference because of his influence. Gandhi was always treated very leniently while he was in prison and sometimes when he took one of his fasts to dangerous lengths he was given some concessions. The reason for this is that the British authorities are afraid that he may die and be replaced by someone who believes less in 'confidence' and more in 'the bomb'.

Gandhi was constantly being used by the British: Orwell

Orwell also questions Gandhi's intelligence. He writes, 'Gandhi is personally too honest to realise how he is being used. His personal honesty makes him all the more useful (to the benefit of the British). I would not venture to say that his methods will not succeed in the long run. At any rate it may be said that by preventing violence, and thus preventing relations from escalating beyond a certain point, he has increased the likelihood that the problem of India will eventually be solved peacefully.'

India would never have become independent because of Gandhiji's policies!

He wrote, 'But it is hard to believe that the British could ever be driven out of India by these means, and certainly the British on the spot do not think so. To conquer England, Gandhi would certainly advise us to let the Germans rule rather than fight against them – in fact that is what he advocated. And if Hitler conquered England, I think he (Gandhi) would try to start a nationwide pacifist movement, which would prevent serious resistance and hence make it easier for him to rule.'

On what points did Orwell criticise Gandhi?

George Orwell was a great British writer and socialist thinker. He used to write 'Weekly News Commentary' for the British during the Second World War. He believed that the British authoritarian regime was about to end and socialism was going to replace it. Orwell closely understood the British history of his time and the major changes taking place in society. He presented Gandhi as a person who failed to understand the major changes taking place in his life. Orwell believed that Gandhi wanted to present a picture of the British Empire that was correct from his own perspective. Orwell believed that Gandhi's 'confidence' was a fatal method for the efficient people of the world.

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