Strains in the Polak-Gandhi Friendship

Despite their closeness, Polak’s relationship with Gandhi was not that of an ‘uncritical disciple’.91 They disagreed over a number of things, including Gandhi’s support for the British war effort in World War One. Polak saw it as inconsistent with Gandhi’s non-violent beliefs, his ‘profession of ahimsa’.92 Concerned about the rise of communalism, Polak feared that Muslims were being marginalised by the INC.93 He preferred more conventional approaches to resistance, believing that Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement would easily descend into violence. When this more radical faction gained control of the INC in 1919, Polak felt unable to ‘conscientiously adopt or advocate that policy’.94 Gandhi went on to lead the Congress from 1920 and Polak surrendered his position of editor of India, the publication of the INC London committee. Despite their divergence, until the 1940s, they maintained a friendly, but sometimes fiercely critical, correspondence and fondly remembered their days of collaboration in South Africa. In 1930, Gandhi wrote to Polak, when the INC had declared Indian independence of Britain, ‘If you had lived here as I have during the past 15 years, you would have done what I have' continuing, ‘Anyway our love will stand the strain of any difference in views and actions'.95 In 1939 Polak wrote:

It must have been in our karma that this close link between us, which has

remained unbroken for so long, should have been forged.96

However, the Second World War posed challenges to thinking ‘beyond the nation’. Polak was critical of Gandhi’s failure to recognise the great danger posed by Nazism. Gandhi believed Polak was criticising him during a North American lecture tour, confiding to mutual friend, Agatha Harrison, ‘Everybody I have met is sore at heart about his doings in U.S.A.’ but continued, ‘please give my love to Henry and Millie’.97

Although they disagreed in these last years, Polak had sought to explicate Gandhi and Indian views to the world. In 1910, he contributed a biographical sketch on Gandhi to an edition of his speeches and writ- ings98; indeed he and his wife, Millie, were said to be ‘about the first in the West to interpret Gandhiji’s message’.99 Millie’s 1931 book, Gandhi: The Man sought to give a human picture of Gandhi. After Gandhi’s death, Polak was a co-author of Mahatma Gandhi: the father of modern India (1949). In 1956, he was invited to India to assist with the collection and preservation of Gandhi’s voluminous archive, identifying what Gandhi had written in early columns of Indian Opinion}00 A perusal of the 98 volumes of Gandhi’s collected works show that many original letters and other works were donated by Polak, enabling a fuller understanding of Gandhi’s life and work for posterity.

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