- Born: 2 October 1869
- Birthplace: Porbandar, India
- Died: 30 January 1948 (assassination)
- Best Known As: Non-violent leader of Indian independence
Mohandas K. Gandhi studied law in England, then spent 20 years defending the rights of immigrants in South Africa. In 1914 he returned to India and became the leader of the Indian National Congress. Gandhi urged non-violence and civil disobedience as a means to independence from Great Britain, with public acts of defiance that landed him in jail several times. In 1947 he participated in the postwar negotiations that led to Indian independence. He was shot to death by a Hindu fanatic in 1948.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
(b. Porbandar, 2 Oct. 1869; d. Delhi 30 Jan. 1948) Indian; leader of Indian National Congress, religious leader Son of a Prime Minister of a princely state, Gandhi was educated in Gujarat and England, where he qualified as a barrister. On return to India he was unable to secure employment in the legal profession and then left for South Africa in 1883. In South Africa Gandhi was employed by a firm of Muslim lawyers in Pretoria and became involved in number of struggles against the authorities. During these agitations Gandhi perfected the technique of non-violent protest that he was to use later in India.
Gandhi returned to India in 1915. Immediately he joined in the task of building the Indian National Congress (Congress) as a mass movement. His simple style of a white loin-cloth, white shawl, and sandals appealed to rural masses who soon gave him the title “Mahatma” (great saint).
Gandhi’s political philosophy revolved around three key concepts: satyagraha (non-violence), sawaraj (home rule), and sarvodaya (welfare of all). Whereas satyagraha was essentially a tactic of achieving political ends by non-violent means, sawaraj and sarvodaya sought to encourage – through social work, spinning of cotton, rural uplift, and social welfare – ideas of individual and collective improvement and regeneration. Such regeneration, Gandhi insisted, was necessary if India was to rediscover her enduring historical and religious self and throw off British rule.
In 1919 Gandhi persuaded the Congress to launch a Non-Cooperation Movement (1919 – 22) that soon attracted the support of the Muslim community. This movement snowballed into a country-wide agitation which took a violent turn with the Chauri Chaura incident (1922). Following this incident he suspended the movement and was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. He was released in February 1924.
During the next five years Gandhi devoted himself to the “constructive programme” – social work aimed at uplift of the poor and building Muslim-Hindu unity. Following the Simon Commission (1927 – 30) and the Nehru Report (1928), he launched the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930 – 3) which began with the famous Dandi Marcha and the Salt satyagraha. This movement was suspended for a while as Gandhi participated in the Round Table Conference (1931) in London. During his visit to London he stayed with the poor in the East End. But as the conference failed to produce an outcome satisfactory to Congress, the agitation was resumed upon return to India. The failure of the Round Table Conference led to the announcement of the Communal Award (1932) by the British government which gave communal representation, including untouchable Hindus, in provincial legislatures. This award led Gandhi to undertake a fast that led to the Poona Pact (1932) by which untouchable leaders renounced separate representation for remaining within the Hindu fold.
Gandhi severed formal links with the Congress in 1934 but remained its guiding light. He moved to his ashram in Wardha and concentrated on the “constructive programme” until 1940 when he briefly resumed leadership of the Congress at a time when India had been declared to be at war. This declaration, made in 1939, was opposed by the Congress, which offered to support the war effort provided it was given a firm guarantee of independence. The rejection of such promise by the colonial government led the Congress to launch a Quit India Movement (1942). This national movement was ruthlessly suppressed and Gandhi was kept in detention at the Aga Khan Palace until 1944.
Between 1944 and 1945 Gandhi engaged in prolonged dialogue with M. A. Jinnha, leader of the Muslim League, for a political settlement that could accommodate both the Congress and the League. These discussions proved fruitless and, as the end of British rule loomed, Gandhi became increasingly sidelined in the discussions about the post-independence shape of India.
Gandhi’s last major act as a national political leader was to fast for peace amidst growing sectarian conflict between Hindus and Muslims. Twice he fasted in Calcutta (1946 and 1947) to protest against the religious killing that was taking place. After partition in August 1947, Gandhi returned to Delhi to help restore harmony among Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi’s activities had aroused much hostility among Hindu extremists. On 30 January 1948, Nathuram Godse, who was the editor of Hindu Mahasabah extremist weekly, shot Gandhi at point blank range while he was on his way to the evening prayer meeting. He died instantly.
Gandhi is revered in India as “the father of the nation”. Since his death he has become the source of inspiration for non-violent political movements such as the civil rights movement in the USA and Northern Ireland. Gandhi’s insistence that means were more important than the ends distinguished him from other great political leaders of the twentieth century, like Lenin and Mao, with whom he is often compared.
Critics of Gandhi have argued that his tactics unnecessarily delayed the departure of the British, precipitated the partition of India, and led to the Hinduization of Congress because of his over-emphasis on religion. His defence of caste especially annoyed the untouchable (outcastes) who were denied political independence due to astute political manœuvres. Few of Gandhi’s ideas were put into practice by independent India.