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Gandhi and the Viceroys

From the first British Viceroy whom he encountered Gandhi received a decoration; the last, ten years ago, sat beside his funeral pyre. During the stormy intervening period he came into contact, and often into conflict, with six others; Francis Watson describes how each relationship marked a different stage in the long historical process that culminated in 1947.

It is ten years since Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was assassinated by one of his own countrymen in the capital of an independent India. It is nearly twenty-seven years—no more—since that other New Delhi event, during Lord Irwin’s Viceroyalty, characterized in the House of Commons by Winston Churchill as “the nauseating and humiliating spectacle of this one-time Inner Temple lawyer, now seditious fakir, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceroy’s palace, there to negotiate and to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.”

In the course of Gandhi’s Indian career (he was in his forty-sixth year when he returned to his homeland early in 1915), he had contacts of some kind with the last eight Viceroys and Govemors-General of British India—three before the Irwin watershed (Hardinge, Chelmsford, Reading), and four afterwards (Willing-don, Linlithgow, Wavell, Mountbatten).

The first of these gave him a decoration. The last sat by his funeral pyre. Between lie those extraordinary years of spasmodic evolution, which the historian may hesitate to assess until the formidable archives already available are supplemented by the release of State papers. But Gandhi was not the man to keep his personal relationships in the filing-cabinet. They are already a part of the story.

With Lord Hardinge—Viceroy from 1910 to 1916 and the host of King George V and Queen Mary at the fabulous Durbar of 1911—Gandhi had no intimate dealings: he was in South Africa for most of the period. But there was indirect communication through G. K. Gokhale and the Rev. C. F. Andrews. The moderate Gokhale, leader of the opposition in the Imperial Legislative Assembly, such as it then was, was esteemed by Hardinge and revered by Gandhi.

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