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Independence not a commodity, Gandhi to Scotland

Days after Scotland’s 18 September referendum, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi travelled to Edinburgh to say that independence was not just about having a constitution and a parliament of one’s own, but ultimately it was about being able to express one’s view without fear.

india Updated: Oct 01, 2014 19:01 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar

Days after Scotland’s 18 September referendum, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi travelled to Edinburgh to say that independence was not just about having a constitution and a parliament of one’s own, but ultimately it was about being able to express one’s view without fear.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday evening, former governor and diplomat Gopalkrishna Gandhi recalled India’s experience of independence from the British, and noted that ‘from fear we are yet to be set free’.

Scotland voted 55% against independence during the referendum. Gandhi’s address was part of week-long events in Scotland to coincide with Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary on 2 October, including events at the University of Edinburgh.

Gandhi said: “Those who have chosen to stay as they are, and those who still wish to be independent, may consider the fact that independence is not a commodity of trade. One does not settle for it. Nor is it an investment in stocks. One does not speculate on it”.

“It is a state of being at once political and civilizational, collective and individual. Independence is physical and metaphysical, it is as hard as a milestone and as subtle as a dream. Above all, independence is either there or it is not”.

Ultimately, Gandhi said, independence was “about holding a view and being able to express and propagate it without fear of being menaced by the midnight knock or the morning news”.

An independent Scotland would still have to remain closely involved with the rest of the United Kingdom (rUK), Gandhi told members of the Scottish Parliament, citing examples.

“Independent or not independent, Scotland would have to go with rUK’s debts and defence arrangements. Independent or not, it would have to participate in the retrenchment of rUK’s public debt of 1.3 trillion GBP…Scotland as part of Britain could not have asked nuclear stations to be removed. Scotland independent of Britain could not have been able to, either, if it was to remain in NATO”, he said.

Recalling the role of Scottish individuals in India’s colonial history, Gandhi noted that two Scottish governors-general ‘propelled’ India into its struggle for independence by the injustice of what they did – Lord Dalhousie and Lord Linlithgow.

But it was a Scotsman, A O Hume, who founded the Indian National Congress, Gandhi said, and added that ‘two great Scotsmen’ also played key roles: Thomas Munro, governor of Madras, who initiated peasant-based assessments of land revenue in India, and Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay, who founded state-sponsored education in India.

Scotland had also benefited from Indian surpluses during British rule: “Glasgow and Dundee owe much of their prosperity to India, to Indian jute in particular”, he said.