The Proudest Day: India's Long Road to Independence

By Anthony Read; David Fisher | Go to book overview

13
'A Butchery of Our Souls'

Gandhi was released from prison in Poona on 5 February 1924, to be operated on for appendicitis. Although he had served only two years of his sentence, he was not sent back to prison. There was no need. The movements he had led were dormant if not dead, and there seemed little chance that they could be revived. In fact, they had been in a bad way long before his arrest: many Indians as well as Anglo-Indians believed he had used the Chauri Chaura incident as a convenient excuse for calling off non-co-operation before it turned into a débâcle, and that by arresting him, the government had rescued him from political ignominy.

The world had not stood still during the two years Gandhi had been in gaol: there had been developments some welcome, some which he disliked intensely both in government and in Congress. There had even been some progress towards self-government, under the intelligent guidance of Lord Reading, who had shown himself to be one of that rare sub-species, the listening viceroy. Reading was always prepared to lend a sympathetic ear to Indian aspirations, even while determined to keep them under control. In doing so, however, he unwittingly brought about the downfall of a secretary of state who was also prepared to listen, Edwin Montagu.

On I March 1922, Reading sent a telegram to Montagu urging a revision of the harsh terms of the Treaty of Sèvres, which was causing so much bitterness among Indian Muslims and adding fuel to the Khilafat fires. Later in the day, he telegraphed Montagu again, asking for permission to publish his recommendations. Montagu gave his consent at once, without waiting to consult his Cabinet colleagues. Some of them were furious, none more so than Lord Curzon, now foreign secretary, who claimed that the disclosure had weakened his hand in the negotiations he was about to begin for a revision of the treaty after Turkey's victory in its two-year war with Greece. Montagu was forced to resign. Two years later he was dead.

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