Saturday, July 02, 2005

History: Wavell on Gandhi, and on Primary Education

Lord Wavell, in his letter to King George, February 24, 1947; the last of his periodical letters as the Viceroy, wrote about the political history of India during his tenure. The following is a conclusion that Wavell had reached some time before September 1944:

"....A third conclusion, which only came to me some time later, was that Mr. Gandhi was a most inveterate enemy of the British, and did not desire a peaceful transfer of power; he wished the British to be finally driven from India by the force of a popular uprising. I think he still does".

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Nowadays we wonder why the first government of independent India did not place more emphasis on primary education and basic literacy. Wavell, in the same letter, offers a clue:

"I have taken only a limited interest in education; partly because I found myself at variance with official Indian opinion on education policy, and partly because I could see little hope of much progress. The official attitude is that the stigma of illiteracy must be removed from India at once by giving elementary education to everyone. My own view is that this is quite impracticable and quite useless. India can only afford to spend a limited amount of money on education and it should be spent on providing technicians of all kinds, both for industry and agriculture, which India needs so sadly. Literacy for the whole population is unattainable for several generations; and can only be extended as India's wealth is increased by her technical progress. In conversation sensible Indians admit this, but say that for sentimental reasons they must maintain the slogan of universal literacy at once."

This thinking seems to have survived the British Raj. While a directive principle of the Indian Constitution that the government must provide for universal primary education, in practice, the Congress government and subsequent governments accomplished relatively little.

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The excerpts are from "The Transfer of Power 1942-47" Volume IX, edited by Mansergh and Moon.

1 comment:

pennathur said...

This is very interesting. So Wavell thought that Gandhi wanted to drive the British out by force (violent or otherwise) while today some would fault Gandhi for not being forceful enough. I wonder what he felt other warriors like him paid these tributes to Gandhi 40 months later

In the evolution of civilization, if it is to survive, all men cannot fail eventually to adopt Gandhi's belief that the process of mass application of force to resolve contentious issues is fundamentally not only wrong but contains within itself the germs of self-destruction.
- General Douglas MacArthur, supreme Allied military commander in Japan
Mahatma Gandhi was the spokesman for the conscience for all mankind.
- General George C. Marshall, U. S. Secretary of State
A prince among men has passed away. - General Smuts