John Linton, MA (Oxon), is 97 years young and lives in Oxford. He is weaving a rich tapestry through his life with a varying career, prose & poetry writings, travels, marriages – and much else besides. He has lived in India and has a great love of the country. As a young man he abandoned an Anglican theological training when he could no longer accept the Creed, and much later in life found a spiritual home with the Quakers. He went on to found the Quaker Universalist Movement, embracing Quakers from a non-Christian background. I [Denise Moll] went to meet him in Oxford and admired his lively mind and keen intellect. When he started to talk about Gandhi I said “please stop! let me find paper and pencil . . .”:
In August 1942, when I was an officer in the Indian Army and attending a course at the Intelligence School, Karachi, I learnt that Sir Stafford Cripps, a leading member of the British war-time Government, had been sent to India with what was called the “Cripps Offer”. In a nutshell, the Offer asked India to cooperate with Britain in the war effort, and in return Britain would grant India independence on the cessation of hostilities. Gandhi was asked if he agreed with this Offer and said
“No – it was an offer on a post-dated cheque”.
The Cripps Offer was turned down. Gandhi then started the ‘Quit India’ Movement – a serious threat as it meant that all services were disrupted. The Army had to take suitable action and my Unit was posted to Bengal, where dissidents wanted to interfere with our activities, and our journey there from Karachi was badly held up and delayed.
In my view, Gandhi’s Quit India movement was unfortunate because by turning down the Cripps Offer, it meant that instead of India becoming independent after the War, there was a 2-year gap during which time the demand for Partition took place. There were others in India too who felt it was a mistake and that the tragedy of Partition between India and Pakistan could have been avoided.
My wife Erica and I served as Quaker International Affairs Representatives in Delhi from 1961-3 and 1971-5. We had an interesting time, organising meetings between all the international representatives, and became known to eminent foreign visitors who could talk about the Indian situation from an English viewpoint. Among those were Archbishop Coggan, Barbara Ward, Vera Brittain, etc. Also, Kingsley Martin, who as its Editor made The New Statesman essential reading for Labour Party members. Although I never met Gandhi, a Major friend of mine had the job of looking after him in jail and grew to admire him greatly. I did meet his son, Devadas, his wife and two children, and learned about his remarkable father.
As an Indian Army officer I could not take part in politics. But I studied everything to do with Mahatma Gandhi with the greatest interest. Following his launch of the Quit India movement in August 1942, Gandhi was immediately arrested by the British authorities and spent the rest of the war in jail. In the case of India, this meant till August 1945, with the surrender of the Japanese following the dropping of the atomic bombs on two Japanese cities.
In August 1947 India gained its independence, but with the loss of two Muslim majority areas to Pakistan. I have always regarded the partition of India as a most unfortunate decision. There are as many Muslims in India as there are in Pakistan, and they are all the same people.
When I was back in England, with a job in the old India Office, the news came on 30th January 1948, of the assassination of Gandhi by a Hindu fanatic. The only good thing that can be said about that is that many people became aware for the first time of his greatness. Pandit Nehru made a most moving speech to the nation, saying that
“a great light has gone out of our lives.”
In September 1948 I started my job as BBC Indian Programme Organiser, meaning that I was in charge of Indian language broadcasts. In my very first week in the job the news came of the death of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Though I was opposed to partition, I had a great respect for Mr Jinnah. In an early speech he had said that everyone in Pakistan would be treated as equal, whether they were Muslim or not. He had of course been a colleague of Gandhi.
When my wife Erica and I were appointed, by both British and American Friends, as Quaker International Representatives for South Asia, based in Delhi, we soon made contact with the Gandhi Peace Foundation, the equivalent in India of our Gandhi Foundation. We got to know well Gandhi’s political heir, Jaya Prakash Narayan, JP as he was affectionately known, and visited him and his wife at their home in Patna, Bihar. My wife got to know Gandhi’s spiritual heir, Vinoba Bhave, and thoroughly enjoyed her conversation with him, finding him likeable and amusing.
Quakers had always been popular in India, because they had supported the Indian independence movement. After the death of Charlie Andrews, Gandhi’s best English friends were Horace Alexander and Agatha Harrison, both Quakers. I myself never met Gandhi. It was not appropriate for an army officer to meet a jail-bird ! But I’m sure I would have fallen for him, as many British people did.
My thanks to John for editing this piece and for a most enjoyable visit.
His book: Athwart the Storm, Prose & Poems compiled by Eleanor Nesbitt.
(William Sessions Ltd, York – ISBN 1 85072 153 X)