Interviews with Indian freedom fighters - Dorai Swamy
Duration: 00:46:19; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 33.954; Saturation: 0.194; Lightness: 0.146; Volume: 0.122; Cuts per Minute: 0.345; Words per Minute: 96.189
Summary: Freedom fighter Doraiswamy reflects on independence, and India.
Q: In your opinion, when you look back 61 years at Gandhi's and Ambedkar's opinions on the caste system, how do you feel?
A: When I think about it today, I remember two-three tales. The assessment that Gandhi made about the Harijans is not open to questioning. The way I see it, it just must not be questioned. However, Ambedkar was born of their same caste and bore the same difficulties and insults… he's a man who's done so much. There's that difference. There's a lot of difference between my making a picture on the Harijans, and a Harijan himself making one. It's because he would have experienced it. He would have experienced the difficulties and joys every day… the pain and the circumstances. That's why his picture is more realistic. I might be emotional, I might be sentimental, or there could also be a sense of justice or dharma to it. But from this perspective, when Ambedkar expressed his pain, it came from experience and so it must be given importance. Another thing to look at is the way in which Ambedkar expressed his pain. At a round table conference with the English, he said, "Don't give this country independence first. First, make the wrongs that are done to us right. After this is done, then give the independence. Otherwise these people won't do it. And we will remain the same." At that time we felt bad; Gandhi felt bad, we also felt bad. "What sort of person is this, he's saying let's not have independence! After we get the fundamental freedom, why can't we sit down and make the wrongs right?" we felt. But today, 60 years after independence, when I look at the state of the Harijans, the Dalits, I wonder whether what Ambedkar said was right: first correct the wrongs… Of course, there was no guarantee that the English would do this. Because the English aren't doers; they are combaters. Would they have helped? They wouldn't have. But in case it had happened, if it had been sorted out before independence, we probably wouldn't be facing many of the difficulties that persist till today.
Q: I feel the question is: Gandhi trusted the inherent goodness of humanity. He trusted it to bring about a transformation of the upper castes. Even in dealing with the British, he believed we would win with in a non-violent approach, and he practiced it. He also gave trusteeship of the country to the capitalists so they would distribute their excess wealth amongst the common people. Bourke-White, an American writer, has written her impressions on what happened here between '46 and '48. There she has questioned the effectiveness of Gandhi's trusteeship policy. She interviewed Birla, who was Gandhi's closest capitalist friend, and he himself didn't have faith in the trusteeship policy, he spoke against it. So if you look at it that way, 60 years later, does Gandhi's approach seem problematic?
A: Gandhi did not accept Birla as a trustee at all. Even the man who tossed checkbooks for people to fill as they pleased - Jamnalal Bajaj, was not accepted by Gandhi as a trustee. When Gandhi spoke about the capitalist view, he said a capitalist must not claim ownership over anything. When the capitalist has earned his money from the society, he should keep only how much he needs and give the rest to society. He got his wealth from society so he should give to society. This was Gandhi's view. Jayaprakash (Narayan) also says this. I believed that the capitalists took to charity as a tactic to build a reputation for themselves. This was my slogan, this was what I felt – that this was only a tactic that Gandhi has ensured and gone. So the Bhoodan Gramdan Movement came about. When the Movement arose, I was working with Vinobha Bhave in Bihar. At the time, huge numbers like 1,000 and 2,000 acres of land were being donated together. Men who had kept land for their own convenience gave away their land. That's when I thought about the possibility of success in this system. Vinobha didn't ask for all of a man's inheritance, he only asked for the poor, hungry man's share. Vinobha said he wasn't asking for charity, he was offering divine initiation (deeksha). The Upanishads also say that if you don't give, you won't last.
Q: Did you feel this was right?
A: Yes, I did. According to the Upanishads, even if you give from fear, it's still charity. Because tomorrow they'll kick you and snatch it from you anyway. So if you feel that you might as well give today, it's still counted that you have been converted.
Q: Gandhi was clear about his ideals at that time and we had stood by him. But 61 years later, what do you feel about the political and overall situation in the country?
A: This way has turned out wrong. The fundamentals have been forgotten. If 30% of the population remains hungry, if they are below the poverty level, it is clear that they have not been given justice. The aim of independence is being negated. It seems like the independence we got was only for 10% of the population that actually gains from it. It seems like even the government thinks of only that 10%. I have written about this in several places. The government has built roads, hotels, golf clubs and international airports for the well-off. But for the man in the hut, didn't they feel that there should be a corner to sleep, a kitchen, a niche to work in, a toilet and a bathroom? Are you (the government) really working for the poor? With your Slum Board, if you don't even think about him as a man who deserves to live, who deserves a house and a chance to live with dignity, to have basic amenities, what sort of government are you? It's clear for us to see that they have reserved themselves and the rest of the country to the benefit of the 10%. Of course, it's not like nothing is being given to the poor; they get a small share.
Q: When do you think the seeds to this were sown? Because Gandhi wanted to cancel the Congress and found an organization that serves people. But his ideals weren't realized, and it wasn't only because he died. His ideology didn't last. Was that the only reason for these seeds to be sown? Or was there something that caused this from even before the freedom struggle?
A: What has happened is, this tradition should have grown from then itself. From then itself we should have retained the cause for which we wanted independence. And we should have worked towards it from then itself. They have forgotten that completely and are doing as they please. This means they don't have the experience from the past, nor do they have an understanding of what Gandhi was about. They're simply working as they go along from their father's inheritance. But we can't blame people from the past for this. We can't ask them why they got us independence. Nor is there any sense in asking me what I was doing while watching all this happen. I have done my part. Whether it's right or wrong—
Q: I have another question: After 1947, you didn't stand for the General Elections. Did you remain a member of the Congress?
A: Yes, I was a member for quite a while.
Q: Why weren't you active, though?
A: No, the question of money arose. One election happened here where one Venkajaraya stood for the Assembly. Before that when we were asking for Congress votes, we used to eat at home and then go from house to house campaigning, doing the enrollment, etc. Then they called us for a workers' meeting where they told us they want 100 volunteers and they'd pay Rs 15 a day. So I decided this isn't work for me and I came away.
Q: This was the first election?
A: Yes, it was the first election.
Q: The one in '52?
A: Yes. Oh, no, not '52, this was later. Moving on… So till then there had been no money involved. Not this much, at least. Sure, even now there are people who win without spending money. There are such cases also. Anyway, then they ended up paying Rs 15 and even won. We didn't do work for them, and they won. This encouraged them into spending more and more on the elections. Each was trying to outdo the other. So now that the money has come in, and so much is being spent, who can win? Only a fool who is willing to spend can win. And back then the Congress wanted us to make weaklings win. They used to bring random people to contest the elections. Why? Because the man had fought for the country's independence. So all we had to do was ask and people would vote for him.
Q: So when you talk of "back then", you mean before '47?
A: Before '47, yes. Even after '47, too, for a couple of elections. This much money was not spent – only a little. And even before that when the Prajapaksha (People's Party) and Congress won the elections together, they got hundreds over hundreds of votes, hundreds over hundreds of seats.
Q: For the Congress.
A: Yes, for the Congress. They used to win without spending money, just by giving speeches.
Q: As you're saying, the elections were corrupted so early. In these 61 years, what do you think were the important turns in the country's politics?
A: There did come a movement to set the corruption right. There were two instances. One was in Assam. Of course, now it has been spoiled. The students in Assam protested that their presence has lost importance. They said they were being harassed by Bengal and the Pakistanis, and that in the vote registers the Assamese themselves were being seen as a minority. So how did they protest? The used to put a People's Curfew. Not a government's curfew, it was the people's curfew. So not a single man would leave his home and come out. Indira Gandhi had a election and there was just a 10% vote count. The people had rejected the election. Then Indira Gandhi took the challenge and sent people from Delhi. She sent them to assure the people insurance in case of trouble or death. That's how they got the 10% to vote. And the Congress declared itself the winner with the majority even though only 10% voted. So anyway, in this way there is opportunity for us to protest in this country. If people are true of heart and work for a good cause, then the youth, these people, those people, all of them… if the whole of Assam works as one… of course, there will always be that 10%, even during the time of independence there was that 10%. Forget them. But the bulk of the people have this interest. In the same way, when Jayaprakash (Narayan) was working in Bihar, when the students protested against the alleged corruption of the Chief Minister. It was a wonderful protest. When the Chief Minister was threatened, he challenged them (Jayaprakash) to face him at the elections. That was when they turned to the elections. I felt that turning point was a mistake. It seemed unnecessary. The Chief Minister laid out this challenge and went on his way. Then at its publicity conference in Bangalore at the Gandhi Bhavan, seating the 500 people that came to was quite a difficulty for us. And when Jayaprakash himself arrived at the railway station there were one lakh people waiting for him. At the National High School field there were two lakh people. The same kinds of numbers were collected in neighbouring regions such as Hubli, Belgaum, etc. When I saw all this, I felt that our people have got that vigor. All of us are beset with troubles; nobody has been spared. Everyone has one or the other problem. But there is no unity to fight this. One who is faced with discontent scratches his own body. In order to fight with unity, a leader is needed. The lack of leadership is a big issue.
Q: You're talking about the positive turns that you have seen so far.
A: Yes, yes.
Q: What about the negative turns that were taken?
A: Take globalization. When Narasimharaya was the Prime Minister, he attended the meeting at Duncan but he didn't take a mandate with him. When he got back, he said he signed and came. He said this at the Parliament. The people in Parliament were of all kinds, including Communists. But not a single man said a word. "How did you go sign it? Without taking the people's mandate how did you make a commitment there and come? Go, we cannot accept this." Not a single person said this. Because of this mistake, things are going awry now. Things have gone to such an extent that today in a village there is "consolidate of holdings" (sic). Those with one or two acres of land have bought more and made it 50 and 100 acres so they can sell it to a "corporate company" (sic). It has come to this. There are no small shops anymore. They're all being broken down and big shops take their place. Where did the small shop keepers go? With 5,000-10,000 rupees in savings, where did they go? Like this there are so many unfortunate stories that go unheard. The reason for all this is that wrong step that he took, the indifference of the people and the failure of the ministers.
Q: About the issue of unity, you said that you wanted Uttara Karnataka to come under the King's rule again but the people of the Old Mysore State were against it, weren't they?
A: The reason is that there were a lot of Vokkaligas here (Old Mysore State). As with the English where they were all in the higher administration posts, here the Vokkaligas were in the high-level administration. The government was in their palms. The Vokkaligas were afraid because in Uttara Karnataka there was a larger population of Lingayats. They were afraid that their power would be taken away by that majority. That they would become secondary. This is why they opposed the idea. Beeranne Gowda, J.J. Ramachandra… G. Narayana was also with them.
Q: Oh, G. Narayana was also with them?
A: Yes. Wasn't he his student? He was working in his office.
Q: Beeranne Gowda supported the unification, I think.
A: No, Beeranne Gowda opposed it. He had a conference in Mandya about it. And there were some Lingayats in Uttara Kannada who did have such ulterior motives. Some of them wanted to come and gain power here by their majority of numbers. So because these people were afraid and those people had those ulterior motives, there were some issues. But Ramkrishna Hegde came, and Gundu Rao came, Bangarappa came, but things weren't steady. Temporarily, out of fear, some work was done and they must have felt that it was right.
Q: Mahatma Gandhi was killed by Godse who was from the Hindu Maha Sabha. It's alleged that the RSS was associated with it…
A: That's a lie. RSS says they have no connection with Godse. I've written about this in my memoirs. I've written about Godse coming to Bangalore. He came to Bangalore 15 days before Gandhi's death. At that time nobody knew who he was. He became famous only after he committed the murder. But when he came to Bangalore, our newspaper carried a piece about it. Our associate gave us news that he has come for a conference that is being held by the Rashtriya Swayam Sevaka Sangha (RSS). Beli Vasudev Murthy, who later became a judge, was the chairperson. At that time, no matter who called he would accept their invitation to be their chairperson. Subramanya Iyer, the IGP, used to preside over everything. If he could he would have presided over the independence of the country also! They were that kind of people. Godse came and stayed with the chairperson in his house. I wrote (a book) about this. And it became a court case. But it didn't become a big deal because the lawyers decided to reach a compromise without any fuss. So it didn't reach a verdict. One year after the book came out, one of their prominent people called Sudranarayana Rao wrote to us. He was a hefty RSS man who used to ride on a Bullet motorbike. He used to work well. In '75 he went underground in Madras and did good work there. So this man brought Jayadev to my house and gave me the letter. He said, see, you've written that we were involved in something that has brought disgrace to us. He (Godse) is not of the RSS. He used to be with us long ago when he was younger but he left us. He had even written newspapers criticizing us. Issues that took place later had nothing to do with us. So please help us. I said I would look into it, and in the next edition (of the book) I have written one or two appendices about it. I've written about why he was assumed to be from the RSS even though he wasn't a member. Because no one had known or cared who he was but since he had stayed at the chairman's house he must be someone important, someone important in the RSS itself. How can it mean anything else? That's why our associate had brought it to our notice. That's why there's no question of us retracting that report. The report is alright. "Muse is sacred." In this view it won't be possible to change this.
Q: People like that are now trying to take over the country's power. There are people like this in Karnataka as well. Not just this, the Hindu-Muslim unity that was there before independence during the revolt against the British has been broken and these people have played a part in it. The Muslim League has also played a role. Today this has escalated and there are acts of terrorism that are taking place. How do you feel about the situation?
A: Now we have allowed them to form a party and to contest the elections. They have also got political knowledge and other kinds of knowledge with which they can cause Hindu-Muslim trouble. Who are you to prevent him from coming to power? How will you prevent it? People are voting for them. People are placing them on that seat. Those who used to be the minority are now the majority. Between what you would do and what they would do there might be a small difference. They might spend crores and you might spend lakhs to ruin someone. This way, if you look at it ethically, you can see no difference between political parties. Do we need these political parties? This is my question. Do we need these parties, is the party system beneficial? The fundamental question to be asked is, is the party system needed? England has not accepted the party system. They are following it and suffering it as an "inevitable evil". "The party system is an inevitable evil."
Q: What do think we should do, sir?
A: No, no, they just can't figure out an alternative and that's why they're continuing with that system. But they know it's an evil. What are the evils we can see? One is, in a single party two leaders will be born. They will both contest to be the Chief Minister. One will win and one will lose. What will the loser do, he's go on to form groups to oppose the winner. He will look for where this man has made mistakes, he will wait for him to make a mistake. He will highlight all his mistakes and bring him down so he himself can come sit in his place. What will a man in the opposition party do? He will look to annihilate this party itself and take its place. So he will search for this party's mistakes, bunch them all up and make an issue out of it. Then either through the court or people's votes or some manipulation he will achieve his goal. This is what is happening. This we see as some very good democracy. We have seen different kinds of democracy being implemented in different countries. Is the democracy of our country really democracy? We need to think about this. England has got a shadow cabinet, they train their future generations, and people with experience also come there, they have only three parties… despite all these precautions it has been ruined. And we have hundreds of parties with each contesting the elections, participating in corruption… I recently wrote about how the election commission got hold of illicit liquor, clothing, etc. What they found was 1% of the 100%. 99% had been distributed to those people. You have conducted such an election. You should have said, we have visibly found so many things, what sort of election is this, can this be called an election? which party is alright, we have caught every party red-handed, we are not ready to conduct this election. Why didn't you say this? Why didn't you cancel the elections? Instead they allowed the police to conduct the elections. Otherwise give this election's responsibility to the mining lobby or the illicit liquor lobby. Why will you do it? What's the point of you doing it? We should ask this. The political parties have got no credibility. If you ask people, they have no answer. They'll say there's no other alternative to this. But if we really want to do something, we have to wipe out the political parties. One solution was given by Jayaprakash that is practical. He says make a voters' council in every village. Let the people of a village select some people from amongst them to form the council. They'll hold the elections and they themselves will vote and bring them. Look at the Farmers' Union. I'm not talking about those with ulterior motives who join the Union and then collaborate with other political parties. I'm talking about a true Farmer's Union that can stand for the Panchayat itself. Because they are the ones who vote and they themselves will be the ones who select contestants for the elections. If there are four people they can take turns every year, otherwise they can all stand and one will be voted for this year. That man can stand and can be made to win. Can we withhold this kind of voters' council? There's one problem with the voters' council. If we keep the political parties and make the voters' council, they will select the candidate and go. We have experienced this. But it's inevitable, and we have to face it and test it till we find something that will prevent that kind of injustice. There are no readymade answers for this. We'll have to experiment and see. Make permutations and combinations. We'll have to think about that. It's not like this is the only alternative. But what's happening today is if one has to stand for elections here, it has to be decided in Delhi and Bangalore, not in the village. What sort of system is this? And even though it has been decided that political parties must not contest Panchayati elections, they disguise themselves and make it known who their candidates are. Each party will introduce their candidate and campaign for him at the elections. We'll have to think about how to eradicate all this. I was telling Nanjun Swamy this. I have gone to their training centres and discussed these things. I'm saying stand for the Panchayati not for the Parliament. Who will contest for the Parliament? Someone who is in Bangalore will. Someone who is Mysore or Dharwad will. He's not of the village. He has a village name but has set up base in Bangalore. He lives here (in Bangalore) and hasn't even gone to the village. Once they had made Sadashiva stand (for elections). Sadashiva who was a lawyer. In Mandya. How will he win? Nobody won that time. If your people are in the Panchayati and if you've got a majority of farmers… you can make it there. So we have to think carefully about this party system in the elections.
Q: In '47, you thought the future would be different. You were about 30 years old then. You have seen what has happened for 61 years since then. We are now 30-35 years old. What should we imagine the future to be?
A: No matter which youth calls me I go, no matter which party calls me I go. I haven't gone to the BJP a lot, but the few times they've called I've gone. What I say to them is, with a Congress, a Socialist and a Communist party we can bring independence to the country. The Communist Party had their own idea, they had their own programme. The Socialist Party had something else and the Congress had something else. But when it came to the issue of the country's independence, all three of us fought together. If Gandhi had a programme, the Socialist and Communist parties would sit with him.
Q: Everyone bade each other's call.
A: Like this even the communal parties like Navami who was a Sikh, Arya Samaja, Hindu Samaja… all of these used to give support. Today we haven't learnt how to work together. Back then there were three organizations. Today there are ten thousand organizations in Bangalore. With the ten thousand organizations in Bangalore we can't solve even one basic problem. We're not even in a state to say that we don't know why independence was fought for. Who do we ask for freedom? Why did we get independence? For whom? There's no one we can ask this to. This is what it has come to. To ask this at least mustn't we unite? You can continue doing your own thing, whatever you want, take any reports you want, but just to solve the basic problems of the country shouldn't we unite? Shouldn't we work together? They're afraid somebody else will become the leader, that somebody else will become famous and they'll be left behind. Back then nobody thought about these things; not even the leaders did. Not even the leaders thought that way. Each one was bigger than the other but none of them was afraid of these things. They just thought about solving the basic problems. To do something about that. This is what we should think about.