Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi was born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on the 2nd October 1869. (He was also eventually to become known as Bapu, or father of the nation.) His fame rests upon his leading the Indian nation to independence from Britain.

Background And Early Years

Gandhi was the son of a senior government official named Karamchand Gandhi and his fourth wife Putlibai. (Karamchand's three previous wives had died while giving birth to children.) Gandhi was born in the coastal town of Porbandar which was then in in what was known as the Bombay Presidency. Coming from a middle-class background, he was born in his ancestral home. This place is now known as Kirti Mandir.[12] His father (1822–1885) was the diwan, or chief minister, of Porbander state. This was a small prince-ruled 'salute' state coming under the Kathiawar Agency of British India.

Gandhi's grandfather was Uttamchand Gandhi (also known by the name of Utta Gandhi. Gandhi's mother was from a Pranami Vaishnava family.

Gandhi was strongly influenced in his early by reading Indian classics such as the stories of Shravana and of King Harishchandra. Gandhi seems from these early learnings to have become obsessed with the notions of truth and love.

Gandhi married at the age of thirteen. He got married in May 1883 to a 14-year-old girl called Kasturbai Makhanji (known to him as Kasturba, or even just as Ba). In practice, because it was merely an arranged marriage, Gandhi and his bride didn't actually spend much time together, living in their respective parents' homes. yet clearly they spent enough time together to produce children. Gandhi's first child was born in 1885 when Gandhi was 15. Unfortunately Gandhi and Ba's first child survived for only a few days.

In 1885 Gandhi's father Karamchand Gandhi also died.

Gandhi and Kasturbaa later had another four children. All their children were boys. Harilal was born in 1888. Manilal was born in 1892. Ramdas was born in 1897. Devdas was born in 1900.

Gandhi was not a gifted school student, academically or physically. He went on to attend senior school at Samaldas College, Bhavnagar, Gujarat. His family hoped he would become a barrister, because it would make it more likely that he would be able to take over his father's government post. Of course even today nepotism helps people in India secure lucrative and secure government positions.

Training To Become A Lawyer

Gandhi went to London, England, to study law in 1888 at University College, London University (UCL). He studied Indian law and jurisprudence. The intention was eventually to become a barrister. All barristers have to join a 'Temple', and his intention was to join the Inner Temple. He had vowed before leaving India to be teetotal and vegetarian, and not to have sex while away from his wife. In London, however, to get on socially, Gandhi did learn how to dance.

These days there are of course plenty of vegetarian restaurants in London, but in those days there were very few, and that could sometimes make eating out rather difficult for Gandhi. Having read the pro-vegetarian writings of Henry Salt, he joined the Vegetarian Society, and was even elected to its executive committee. In Bayswater, where he lived, he started a local chapter of the society.

Some of his fellow vegetarians were members of the Theosophical Society, a group that was devoted to the study of Buddhist and Hindu literature. These people led Gandhi to read the Bhagavad Gita, which he did both in English and in the original Sanskrit. He became interested in religious notions through this. (The Bhagavad Gita, or The Song of the Bhagavan, is made up of seven hundred verses and forms part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. It details a conversation between the Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide Lord Krishna on various theological and philosophical issues. Faced with fighting his brother, Arjuna turns to his Krishna, his charioteer, for advice as they prepare for battle, and Krishna teaches Arjuna about wisdom, devotion, and selflessness.)

In June 1891 Gandhi was called to the bar (i.e. he was allowed to practice as a barrister). He then left London to return to India. While he had been away, his mother had died.

Gandhi failed to establish a law practice in Bombay. His weakness was that he was too shy to speak up in court. He then went to Rajkot and worked on drafting petitions for people who wanted to take legal action. This too was not successful. He then went to work, under a one-year contract, for the Indian firm of Dada Abdulla & Co. This meant he had to go to the Colony of Natal in South Africa, which, like India, was part of the British Empire.

South Africa

By this time Gandhi was 24. His job was legally to represent Muslim Indian traders in the city of Pretoria. In total he was to spend 21 years in South Africa. The Muslims were the wealthy Indians in South Africa. Gandhi also represented the poor Hindu laborers, who were indentured and who had their legal rights severely curtailed. Gandhi seems to have taken a 'we are equal, in law if not in money or caste' view. If you were Indian, he was interested in legally representing you.

Coming across these legal rights limitations made Gandhi appreciate that there were similar problems in India, from which his privileged upbringing had shielded him and to a large extent had made him unaware of them. In effect he learnt more about India and its social, economic and legal problems from being in South Africa than he learnt when he was being brought up in India.

Gandhi faced the same racial discrimination in South Africa that all non-white people had to put up with. There was, for example, an incident where he was thrown off a train because he refused to move from the first-class carriage he was in. Afterwards he protested. The next day he was then allowed into the first class carriage.

Another incident occurred when he was travelling by stagecoach. He refused to move to make room for a European passenger who had got into the stagecoach, and consequently he was beaten by the driver.

Sometimes he would be barred from staying at hotels because of the color of his skin.

Once when he was representing a client in a court in Durban he was ordered to remove his turban, but he refused. We get the impression of Gandhi, despite his physically slight and unimpressive appearance, already having a steely, determined and principled character.

All such incidents aroused in Gandhi an awareness of social injustice and a desire to become active in instigating social change. He also began to question the British Empire and whether it was right for countries such as India and South Africa to be a part of it and to be governed, controlled and ordered in the way that they were.

Gandhi stayed on in South Africa beyond the period of his original contract. He worked to assist Indians in their opposition to a proposed bill which would deny them the right to vote. Gandhi even wrote to the British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, requesting that he reconsider introducing this bill. But ultimately the bill was passed. However, Gandhi's public stance at least drew attention to complaints of Indians in South Africa about how they were unfairly treated and discriminated against.

In 1894 Gandhi helped found the Natal Indian Congress. He used this to bring the Indian community of South Africa together and give them a significant political voice.

When Gandhi arrived in Durban in January 1897 he was attacked by a gang of white settlers. He was only able to escape because he was helped by the wife of the police superintendent. He refused, however, to press charges against the gang members as he said it was against his principles to seek redress through the legal system for personal wrongs. The Transvaal government introduced a new law in 1906 that compelled all Indians in the colony to be registered. Indians held a mass protest meeting in Johannesburg on the 11th September at which Gandhi urged his fellow Indians to revolt against the new law. If they did this, they would be punished, but he believed this was a price worth paying to get across the strength of their opposition to this law. He was supported in this proposal, and the next seven years thousands of Indians were sent to jail, or flogged, or even shot, because they refused to register, burnt their registration cards, went on strike, and engaged in other non-violent forms of protest. The government continually put down these protest actions, but there was such a public outcry over the government's brutal treatment of these peaceful Indian protesters that Jan Christiaan Smuts, the leader of the South African government, negotiated with Gandhi until a compromise was reached that satisfied both the Indians and the South African government.

Indians and native Africans were discriminated against equally in South Africa and Gandhi was against such discrimination, and yet he initially expressed the view that 'the white race of South Africa should be the predominating race'. However, after he himself suffered from discrimination and abuse from whites, he changed his view. At the same time his interest in politics and political activism grew. He felt that the policy of segregating whites and non-whites gave rise to conflict between the two groups and their various communities. He began to realize that he needed to take an interest in the plight of blacks as well as of Indians.

The second Anglo-Boer War raged between 1899 and 1902. (The First Anglo-Boer War, in 1880/81, was a rebellion by Boers against British rule in the Transvaal. The British had annexed Transvaal in 1877, angering the Boers. When the British were defeated by Zulus at the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879, it encouraged the Boers to rise up against the British. The Second Anglo-Boer War was a bigger affair that involving Britain sending large numbers of troops to turn the Boer republics back into British colonies. The Boers were promised a limited degree of self-governance. The British fought against the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, eventually defeating them, but because of high British and the imprisoning of civilians in concentration camps, support for Britain's actions waned even in Britain.) During the war, in 1900, Gandhi volunteered to form a group of ambulance drivers. In total, he signed up eleven hundred volunteers. His aim in part was to show that Indians could be as useful and competent as whites. These volunteers were medically trained and given certificates allowing them to serve on the front lines. At the Battle of Spion Kop, Gandhi and his volunteers carried the wounded by hand over miles of rough terrain to the nearest field hospital because it was impossible to use ambulances on the rugged ground. Gandhi was delighted to be told that European medics could not have managed this as the Indians had done, without food or water and in searing heat. In a dispatch, General Redvers Buller praised the courage of the Indians, and Gandhi and thirty seven other Indians were awarded the War Medal.

When the British declared war against the Zulu Kingdom in Natal in 1906, Gandhi suggested that the British South African government recruit Indians. To the Indians he said that it would be to their advantage to support the British because it would encourage the British to approve the Indians' request to have full citizenship. The British gladly accepted Gandhi's offer, and they let twenty Indian volunteers form a detachment of stretcher-bearers. This detachment was commanded by Gandhi. However, it only operated for under two months before being disbanded.

Gandhi was very aware that it was futile to challenge directly the might of the British - Britain then being the world's dominant military and economic force - and that realization strengthened his resolve to resist, confront and negotiate with them through peaceful, non-violent means, and with honesty and good intentions.

Later, when eventually in South Africa the black majority came to power, Gandhi was declared a national hero. Many monuments were put up to him.

Return To India

Gandhi returned to India in 1915 with an international reputation stemming from his political activism in South Africa. Once back home, he joined the Indian National Congress. There he began to get to grips with political issues. He was aided in this by one of the leaders of the Congress Party, Gopal Krishna Gokhale. This man like Gandhi was known for being in favor of employing peaceful means to oppose politically undesirable laws and to put forward positive alternatives. Both he and Gandhi believed that the best way to change an undesirable system was to be part of it and to work on changing it from within.

Gandhi became the leader of the Indian National Congress in 1920. He began to put pressure on the British to cede power, bit by bit, to his fellow countrymen. Often he would negotiate. Occasionally he would cease making demands so as to lull the British into a state of unpreparedness for his next set of demands. Then on the 26 the January 1930 the Indian National Congress declared India's independence. Naturally the British refused to recognize it, but Gandhi was at least able to start negotiating seriously with them about independence. In the late 1930's the Indian National Congress was allowed to become involved in government.

In September 1939, Gandhi and the Indian National Congress stopped supporting the Raj - the government of Britain's Indian colony - when its Viceroy, Victor Alexander John Hope, the 2nd Marquess of Linlithgow, declared war on Germany on the 3rd September 1939 without bothering to consult Gandhi or his party. In 1942 Gandhi demanded independence for India. The British response was imprison him, along with tens of thousands of other Indian National Congress leaders and members.

At this time, the Muslim League, seeing an opportunity, sided with Britain and opposed Gandhi's stance, but in return they demanded that Pakistan become an independent Muslim state. In August 1947 the British divided up India and Pakistan and gave each independence, but on terms of which Gandhi disapproved.

The First World War

Towards the latter stages of the First World War, in April of 1918, Linlithgow invited Gandhi to attend a war conference being held in Delhi. There Gandhi agreed to recruit fellow Indians to become troops aiding the British war effort. In June 1918 he had a leaflet distributed entitled 'An Appeal for Enlistment'. Gandhi the person of peace was now recruiting Indians to engage in violence on behalf of the British government. He himself, however, sent a letter to Linlithgow's private secretary, John Maffey, 1st Baron Rugby, stating that he 'personally will not kill or injure anybody, friend or foe'. This rather paradoxical attitude of recruiting other Indians to engage in violence, but then saying that he himself would not do the same, brought some people to question his integrity, or at least his consistency. Indeed his friend Charlie Andrews said, “Personally I have never been able to reconcile this with his own conduct in other respects, and it is one of the points where I have found myself in painful disagreement.” Also Gandhi's private secretary, Mahadev Desai, said that, “The question of the consistency between his creed of non-violence and his war-recruiting campaign was raised not only then but has been discussed ever since.”

The Champaran and Kheda agitations in Bihar and Gujarat in 1918 enabled Gandhi to raise his profile even more. In the Champaran agitation, the local peasantry fought against their landlords who were predominantly British, and who were supported by the local British government-backed administration. The reason was that the peasants were forced to grow indigo, which was a crop for which the demand in recent years had been consistently falling. They had to sell their crops to their landlords - the plantation owners - at a set price that barely left them with a subsistence income. The peasants approached Gandhi - at that time he had an ashram in Ahmedabad - and he arranged peaceful protests that succeeded in winning concessions from the authorities and plantation owners.

That year Kheda suffered floods and famine. The peasantry there wanted the taxes demanded of them to be reduced or abolished to help them cope with the situation. They approached Gandhi and he moved his headquarters to Nadiad. There he gathered together volunteers and supporters, one of whom was Sardar Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel. Like Gandhi he was a barrister. With Gandhi he organised the peasants of Kheda, Borsad, and Bardoli in Gujarat in non-violent civil disobedience against the oppressive policies of the British Raj. He went on to become one of the most influential leaders of the Indian National Congress in Gujarat. He helped organize the party so it was ready for the elections in 1934 and 1937. He was active in promoting the 'Quit India' movement. He then went on to become the first Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of India. He organized relief for refugees in Punjab and Delhi, and he was active in leading efforts to restore peace across the nation. He brought the Indian British colonial provinces, along with more than five hundred self-governing princely states that were released from British suzerainty by the Indian Independence Act of 1947, together and helped create a unified India out of them. Only those states that had a Muslim majority did not accede to India. He was sometimes known as 'The Iron Man of India' or 'The Bismarck of India'. He is also now known as the patron saint of India's civil servants because he established the modern 'All India' bureaucracy.

Gandhi employed the technique of non-cooperation to protest against and resist the authorities and those with wealth and power. He got the peasants to agree not to pay taxes and other demands even if they were threatened with the confiscation of the land they farmed. He also persuaded the districts revenue officials - known as mamlatdars and talatdars - to refuse to collect taxes. Gandhi campaigned vigorously to secure support from the public throughout India. For several months the local administration refused to give way, but eventually, at the end of May 1918, the Government gave in on various issues. They reduced the demand for taxes until such time as the famine had ended. Imprisoned protesters were released. Along with Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel worked to represent the peasant farmers in their negotiations with the local administration.

Post-First World War

In 1919 Gandhi decided to appeal to Muslims so as to broaden his political base in the Indian National Congress, which was weakening. This opportunity presented itself with the creation of the Khilafat movement. This was a worldwide protest movement by Muslims against the declining status of the leader of their religion who was known as the Caliph. The Ottoman Empire had lost the World War and was being broken up. Consequently Muslims feared for the safety of their holy places. They also feared that their religion was losing the prestige it had previously held. Although it was Vallabhbhai Patel rather than Gandhi who instigated the All-India Muslim Conference, Gandhi nonetheless managed to become one of its foremost representatives. He attracted a lot of support from Muslims in those chapters of his party that were in the main Muslim centers of India. Indeed he was so successful that he became the first party political leader in India to have multi-faith support. This enabled him to rise up through the Indian National Congress and secure more political power and influence for himself. In 1920 Gandhi became one of the Congress's most important leaders. By the end of 1922 the Khilafat movement had collapsed, but by then Gandhi was in an unassailable position.

Gandhi was against inter-faith conflict as he knew it weakened the political power of India's people. Hindus and Muslims, he believed, needed to work together to achieve their aims. Yet despite his urgings to the people, religious rioting being commonplace throughout India. Muslim membership of the leadership of the Indian National Congress fell away sharply. In 1921 it had been 11%. By 1923 it was less than 4%.

In his attempt to weaken the British Raj, Gandhi continued to use the same technique of non-violent, peaceful protest and resistance. His focus was entirely on getting independence for India. He was popular with both Muslims and Hindus, and that was what enabled him to remain leader of the Indian national Congress. He was even able to persuade the more extreme Muslim factions to desist from violence and adopt his non-aggressive ways.

In 1919, however, there was a national uprising ignited by mass anger over the Jallianwala Bagh (or Amritsar) massacre. This was when hundreds of peacefully protesting civilians were slaughtered by British troops in the Punjab city of Amritsar.

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre (also known as the Amritsar massacre) happened in the Jallianwala Bagh public garden in the north India city of Amritsar on Sunday the 13th April 1919. Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer gave orders for the shooting. Dyer believed a major insurrection was about to take place, so he banned all public meetings. When he heard that a meeting of between fifteen and twenty thousand people, including women, old people and children, was taking place at Jallianwala Bagh, he went there with fifty Gurkha troops. Positioning them on a raised bank, he ordered them to shoot into the crowd. This went on for something like ten minutes. Probably the only reason for ceasing was that the troops' ammunition was running low. Afterwards Dyer said that 1,650 bullets had been fired. This number was arrived at by counting the empty cartridge cases that the troops picked up afterwards.

Officially the British said there were three hundred and seventy-nine people killed, and about one thousand one hundred people wounded. The Indian National Congress said there were more than one thousand five hundred people wounded, and about one thousand people killed. Not surprisingly, Dyer was removed from his post and made to retire by the British parliament. Yet the members of the British Raj approved of his actions, and he was praised in the House of Lords. The House of Commons, however, - more representative of the people - condemned him, and proposed that in future Britain should use 'minimum force' in dealing with protests and uprisings in its colonies.

The British public to a large extent was supportive of Dyer's actions because they felt it was necessary in order to avoid another violent uprising like the Rebellion of 1857. This public reaction further strengthened the resolve of Gandhi and other Indian political leaders to push for independence for India. Standing by his principles, however, Gandhi also criticized his fellow countrymen for retaliating violently against the British after the Amritsar incident. Indeed he offered sympathy to British civilians who had been caught up in the event.

Note On The Indian Rebellion Of 1857

This began on 10th May 1857 as a mutiny of the sepoys of the army of the East India Company. It happened in the town of Meerut. From there it spread, giving rise to mutinies and civilian uprisings throughout central India and also within the upper Gangetic plain. The greatest conflict took place in what is now Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, the area around Delhi, and what is now Uttar Pradesh. Sometimes the rebellion is known by the following names: The Great rebellion, India's First War of Independence, the Sepoy Rebellion, the Sepoy Mutiny, the Indian Mutiny, the Uprising of 1857, or the Revolt of 1857. The east India Company was a huge money-making machine, and it could not afford to yield power. The rebellion was quashed with the defeat of Gwalior, which took place on the 20th June 1858.

The sepoys had various grievances, but what seems to have triggered the mutiny is that they were told to bite off the ends of the paper cartridges they used in their rifles, and these cartridges were believed to be greased with animal fat - either pork or beef. This was, and of course still is, against Hindu and Muslim religious beliefs. Interestingly, Indian leaders - e.g. princes - supported the East India Company for the simple reason that they benefited financially from the presence of the Company. They even supplied troops to suppress the mutiny. However, the rebellion led to the dissolution of the East India Company. This happened in 1858. It also prompted Britain to reorganize its bureaucracy and its army so as to be able to deal better with such incidents.

Gandhi was propelled by the massacre and its aftermath to dedicate himself even more strongly to gaining independence and self-governance for the whole of India. The word for complete personal, economic and political independence was 'Swaraj'. Non-cooperation with the British authorities was the means of achieving this, Gandhi declared. He even said it was the duty of Hindus to employ this tactic. At this time Gandhi lived in Gujarat, in his Sabarmati Ashram.

Gandhi In The 1920's

Gandhi was given executive control of the Indian National Congress in December 1921. He then created a new constitution for it which directed it towards achieving Indian independence. Anyone could join the Indian National Congress so long as they paid a small fee. Even Gandhi was not immune to the need for money. He made the Congress more structured, organized and hierarchical. Instead of being a party open only to middle-class people such as Gandhi, he now opened it up to the lower orders. Gandhi then introduced the policy of 'swadeshi' - refusing to buy foreign-sourced goods, but in particular British goods. He also said that Indians should only wear clothes made from 'khadi', which means homespun cloth. Gandhi, a typical middle-class person and lawyer who had never done manual work in his life, urged Indians to spin their own 'khadi' so as to support his notions of independence. To this end, Gandhi invented a little portable spinning wheel for ordinary people to use. Gandhi also told Indians not to attend British educational institutions and law courts, and to resign from government employment, and to forsake British titles and honours. Of course Gandhi himself had only been able to enjoy his privileged upbringing because his father worked for the Raj, and he himself had enjoyed the benefits of British schooling. Like many socialists, however, he did not want people from backgrounds less privileged than his to enjoy similar benefits.

Because 'non-cooperation' basically involved doing nothing, it became very popular. But then the movement reached its own inevitable conclusion in bringing on itself a ferocious backlash from people more inclined to action. In February 1922 there was a violent clash in the town of Chauri Chaura in Uttar Pradesh. Gandhi was afraid that people would react violently, undoing his work, so he told people to stop the campaign of mass civil disobedience. This was the third time he had done this, which obviously undermined his reputation for being a man of principle rather than a man of political expedience. On 11th March 1922 he was arrested by the British authorities, tried for sedition, and sentenced to six years in jail. He went to jail on the 18th March 1922. The British let him out early on, health grounds. Gandhi was let out in February 1924 because he had appendicitis. So Gandhi served only 2 years of his 6 year sentence.

While he was imprisoned, the Indian National Congress fractured and weakened. It divided into two factions. One faction was led by two men, Chitta Ranjan Das and Motilal Nehru. They wanted the party to be involved in the British state apparatus. The other faction was led by Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. They took a more confrontational approach to achieving their political ends. In addition to this, cooperation between Hindus and Muslims began to unwind. To make his feelings felt against this, Gandhi fasted for three weeks in the autumn of 1924, but this had little impact.

In 1924 Gandhi agreed to preside over the Congress meeting that was held in Belgaum, but he stipulated one condition - that everyone should attend wearing 'khadi'. Perhaps this was a rather pointless gimmick considering that Congress members were generally affluent people who had no need or desire to masquerade as peasantry. However, it nominally made a political point that Congress wanted all people to be seen as equal (although in practice this was never going to be the case in anything other than the very long term, not just because of rules laid down by the British, but because of India's own rigid caste system). This was the only Congress session that Gandhi presided over.

For much of the 1920's Gandhi kept a low profile, focusing on trying to lessen the differences between the Indian National Congress and the Swaraj Party. He also campaigned against alcohol abuse, poverty, poor education, and the system of one caste of people being treated as 'untouchable'.

In 1927 the British government had created a new constitutional reform commission headed by Sir John Simon. However, there were no Indians on the commission. Consequently India's political parties, including Gandhi's, boycotted it. In December the following year, at a meeting of the Indian National Congress in Calcutta, Gandhi successfully proposed that the British government should be called on to make India into a dominion. If they didn't cede to this request, then a new campaign of non-cooperation should be started, with the aim of not letting up unless complete independence was granted. To get this resolution through, Gandhi had to persuade hard-liners like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose not to press for immediate independence. But he also compromised by saying they should only wait one year to make such a demand, rather than the two years that he had originally proposed.

The British ignored the calls for India to become a dominion. Then on 31st December 1929 in Lahore, the Indian National Congress raised the Indian flag, and on 26th January the following year the Congress, at their meeting in Lahore, declared that day to be India's Independence Day. Other political parties supported this move.

The Salt March

In March 1930 Gandhi organized a march in protest against the tax that the British levied on salt. Between the 12th of March and the 6th of April, he and thousands of his supporters marched almost four hundred kilometers from Ahmedabad to Dandi in Gujarat. Britain jailed over sixty thousand people for this protest.

Gandhi wanted to see women emancipated. He was against forced marriages, particularly child marriages. He was also against 'purdah', which is the segregation of women, keeping them out of sight, and making them cover themselves up entirely or as nearly entirely as is practicable.

Gandhi invited women to take part in his movements and campaigns. It is fair to say that by the time the 1930's arrived, Gandhi was a highly revered figure, especially amongst women and among the poorer and more disadvantaged members of society. He was seen as being the most important person in the Indian National Congress.

The British, seeing the strength of feeling against them, chose to negotiate with Gandhi. They appointed Lord Edward Irwin to do this, and in March 1931 the Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed. In return for Gandhi ceasing his non-cooperation movement, the British government freed the people it had imprisoned on political grounds or for civil disobedience. Gandhi was invited to London as sole representative of the Indian National Congress, but talks there were disappointing because they didn't focus on the matters that most concerned Gandhi. Even worse, however, was that Irwin's successor, Lord Willingdon, was against Indian independence, and he acted to suppress the nationalist movement. He had Gandhi arrested, and tried to keep him isolated from supporters and the media, but Gandhi still commanded a great following and support.

The 1930's

In September 1831, Gandhi was sailing to London on the SS Rajputana for the Second Round Table Conference (the first one of which had proved so disappointing for him). On the 8th September he met Meher Baba on board the ship. The two men discussed the situation with the Dalits (otherwise known as the untouchables), and also the progress towards Indian independence. Additionally they talked about spiritual matters and political matters generally.

The Dalits, or untouchables, were led by B. R. Ambedkar, and under pressure from him the British government allowed the Dalits to have a vote under the new constitution, but they had to vote separately from everyone else. Gandhi considered this unfair, so he went on hunger strike for 6 days from 20th September 1932 while he was in the Yerada jail in Pune. The publicity from this forced the British government to sign the Poona Pact which gave the Dalits fairer treatment. This pact was negotiated under the mediation of Palwankar Baloo. As Gandhi campaigned for further concessions for the Dalits, he renamed them the Harijans, or Children of God.

Gandhi had not supported the untouchables in 1924 and 1925 when they had been campaigning to be allowed to pray in temples, but now, in 1933, he started a campaign to gather support for his 'Harijan' movement. On the 8th May he began a twenty-one day fast. Ambedkar and the Dalits were not totally supportive of Gandhi because his naming of the Dalits as 'Children of God' seemed to imply they were immature and needed to be looked after by the higher castes. Ambedkar even went to far as to describe Gandhi as being 'devious and untrustworthy'. Gandhi's own caste was 'Vaishya', but he felt he was able and entitled to represent the Dalits even though they seemed to have a perfectly good representative in Ambedkar. Gandhi and Ambedkar differed in that the former wanted the Dalits to remain in the Hindu community but not be regarded as untouchable, whereas the latter wanted the Dalits to separate from their Hindu communities. Some Hindus themselves were against Gandhi because they believed he did not adhere fully to the scriptures.

Assassination Attempts

In 1934, in the summer, three assassination attempts were made on Gandhi's life.

Gandhi resigned from the Indian National Congress in 1934. It wasn't that he fell out with the Congress or disagreed with its stance on important issues, but rather that he felt that if he got himself out of the way, it would allow the various members of the Congress with their different concerns to have their voices heard. There was also a risk that because he had in part worked collaboratively with the British government, they could use this for propaganda purposes against the Congress if he remained a member of it as they pushed for independence.

Gandhi rejoined Congress when Jawaharlal Nehru became President of it in 1936. That year, Congress met at Lucknow. Gandhi's focus was still predominantly on achieving Indian independence, but he did not go against Congress's drive towards socialism. In 1938 Subhas Chandra Bose was appointed President of the Congress. He was against Gandhi's use of non-violent means to achieve political ends. When he was re-appointed to a second term as Congress President, the All-India party leaders all resigned to show their support of Gandhi and his principles. Gandhi had nominated Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, and when his nominee was defeated, Gandhi said that he himself had in effect been defeated.

The Second World War

In 1939 when Britain entered the Second World War and unilaterally (without consultation) included India in its war commitment, all the Indian National Congress's leaders resigned. Gandhi decided that Congress could support a war that was supposedly being fought in defense of democracy when India itself was not being treated democratically. He continued to press for Indian independence. On the 8th August 1942 he made the 'Quit India' speech. This was made at Gowalia Tank Maidan (now also called August Kranti Maidan) which is a park in the centerof Mumbai (then called Bombay). He said that the British should get out of India straightaway. If they did not, he said there would be civil unrest . This time he was not called the people to practice civil non-cooperation, but rather to engage in deliberate civil disobedience. The British for their part said they would not grant independence until the war was over. After this speech of Gandhi's there was considerable violence and many arrests. Gandhi was criticized on the one hand for not supporting the British in their war effort, and on the other hand for not urging even more direct action against Britain to secure India's independence.

Gandhi continued broadly to favor non-violent forms of protest, but he said he would not condemn individual acts of violent as the current regime was so manifestly inappropriate and unfair that such acts were fully understandable.

On the 9th August 1942 in Bombay the British arrested Gandhi and the whole of the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress. For the next two years Gandhi was kept imprisoned in the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. Six days later his fifty-year old secretary Mahadev Desai suffered a heart attack and died. When Gandhi was eighteen months into his imprisonment he was dealt another blow when his wife died. This happened on the 22nd February 1944. A few weeks later, Gandhi suffered a bad attack of malaria. Because of his deteriorating health he was released on the 6th May 1944. Politically it would have turned him into a martyr if the British had let him die in captivity.

Things had changed politically while Gandhi had been imprisoned. Muhammad Ali Jinnah's campaign for an independent Pakistan was gathering momentum. (He was born Mahomedali Jinnahbhai on the 25th December 1876, and he died on the 11th September 1948. He was the leader of the All-India Muslim League from 1913 until Pakistan's independence was achieved on the 14th August 1947. He then became Pakistan's first Governor-General, remaining in office until he died.)

The All-India Muslim League had not been of any great significance when Gandhi had started his imprisonment, but now it was the dominant political force. In September 1944 Gandhi met Jinnah. Gandhi suggested that Muslim provinces could opt out of certain provisions that would apply to a united India-Pakistan, but Jinnah was fixed on achieving total independence for Pakistan.

When the war ended, Britain said it would transfer power from themselves to India. About one hundred thousand political prisoners were set free, including the leaders of the Indian National Congress, and Gandhi declared to the people that civil disobedience and violence should cease.

The Partition Of India And Its Independence

The difference between Gandhi's Indian National Congress and Jinnah's All-India Muslim League was that the former wanted the British to 'quit India' but leave it united with Pakistan whereas the latter wanted the British to separate Pakistan from India and then quit. On the 16th August 1946, Jinnah urged people to use violence to secure the partitioning of Pakistan. Gandhi tried unsuccessfully to intervene in those areas where the rioting and killing was worst.

In 1947, Pakistan was partition from India. This was done on the 14th and 15th August by means of the 'Indian Independence Act'. About ten million people or more who lived near the new border swapped from one side to the other, and hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the riots and massacres that took place between the different religious and political groups.

Gandhi may have perhaps allowed himself to be blinded by his own idealism so that he was unaware that other politicians (and citizens) were more focused on gaining power and material benefits for themselves even if they could only achieve that through violent means.

Gandhi's Assassination

Gandhi was moving towards a stage to address a prayer meeting in New Delhi on the 30th January 1948 when he was shot point blank three times in the chest by Nathuram Vinayak Godse.

Godse (born 19th May 1910, executed 15th November 1949) was a Hindu nationalist from Pune, Maharashtra, who had in the past been a member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. This was a Hindu group that, amongst other aims, was opposed to Pakistani Muslim separatism. Godse left the group in the early 1940's. It seems that Godse's grudge was Gandhi's desire to work with the Muslims and the separatists, rather than stay separate from them and in opposition to them. He plotted the assassination with fellow conspirator Narayan Apte and with the assistance of six other people.

Godse's trial lasted more than a year, at the end of which, on the 8th November 1949, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Jawaharlal Nehru (the Indian Prime Minister) and Gandhi's two sons asked for this to be commuted to a prison sentence on the grounds that the death sentence went against Gandhi's commitment to non-violence, but the request was turned down and Godse (along with Apte simultaneously) was hanged on the 15th of the month in Jambala Jail.

Gandhi's memorial at Raj Ghat in Delhi has the words 'Oh God' on it, which are alleged to have been his final words. More than two million people joined a five-mile long funeral procession to Raj Ghat from the spot where he was assassinated. His corpse was raised up and left uncovered as it was transported to where it would be cremated, allowing people to see it and to pay their respects and share their grief. The adapted weapons carrier on which it lay was pulled by two hundred people, with fifty people each pulling on one of four ropes.

Inter-religion violence increased, and there were calls for Pakistan to be invaded as some form of retaliation, but the government and the Indian National Congress called for peace and calm. They also made it clear that the assassin was not a Muslim, but a Hindu. The government suppressed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Khaksars and the Muslim National Guard. In total they had about 200,000 arrested so as to help quell rebellion and violence.

Gandhi's ashes were put in urns and distributed across India for memorial services and subsequent scattering.

Politics | People

QR Code
QR Code mahatma_gandhi (generated for current page)