Patna Surrender

The Patna Surrender was an event that took place during the time from 1922 to 1924 when Gandhi was in prison. A disagreement among Congress Party members over how to proceed in his absence led to a split that threatened to divide the party. Gandhi surrendered to the opposing side’s views in order to keep the party together, even though it meant letting go of a position he believed was correct.

The issue was spawned when the British set up local councils that the Indians were invited to join, but which had no real governing authority. Some in the Congress party, including Nehru, believed that cooperating with the British by joining the councils might lead to political gains. Gandhi was steadfast against joining because the invitation to join the councils was mostly for show and did not give them any meaningful participation in government. In the absence of Gandhi’s active leadership, the Party was threatened with destabilization and division, with some supporting Nehru’s position and others, the so-called “No-Changers,” supporting a continuation of Gandhi’s policy to refuse the councils.

Learning of the split from prison, Gandhi surrendered his position, thereby releasing his supporters to join with Nehru’s plan, thereby keeping the Congress Party from collapse. Gandhi still warned that he felt joining the councils was a poor strategic choice. Gandhi was subject to intense criticism for the compromise, as many saw it as a defeat and selling out of his principled position. Gandhi, however saw a higher priority in keeping the Party’s unity.  He correctly understood that his opponents were unlikely to be pushed into agreement with him at that particular moment.  By stepping back he opened a space for them to be pulled toward his position gradually. As the situation evolved over time and it became clear that the British were not offering them any concrete gains, Gandhi’s position became that of the majority of the Congress Party.  Of his detractors who did not understand the strategy, Gandhi said, “People see the fighter in me, but they miss my capacity to surrender, from which my power springs.”