Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (pronounced [ˈmoːɦənd̪aːs ˈkərəmtʃənd̪ ˈɡaːnd̪ʱi] ( ); 2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was the preeminent leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. The honorific Mahatma (Sanskrit: “high-souled”, “venerable”)—applied to him first in 1914 in South Africa,—is now used worldwide. He is also called Bapu (Gujarati: endearment for “father”, “papa”) in India.
Born and raised in a Hindu merchant caste family in coastal Gujarat, western India, and trained in law at the Inner Temple, London, Gandhi first employed nonviolent civil disobedience as an expatriate lawyer in South Africa, in the resident Indian community’s struggle for civil rights. After his return to India in 1915, he set about organising peasants, farmers, and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women’s rights, building religious and ethnic amity, ending untouchability, but above all for achieving Swaraj or self-rule.
Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India. Gandhi attempted to practise nonviolence and truth in all situations, and advocated that others do the same. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community and wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven with yarn hand spun on a charkha. He ate simple vegetarian food, and also undertook long fasts as the means to both self-purification and social protest.
Gandhi’s vision of a free India based on religious pluralism, however, was challenged in the early 1940s by a new Muslim nationalism which was demanding a separate Muslim homeland carved out of India. Eventually, in August 1947, Britain granted independence, but the British Indian Empire was partitioned into two dominions, a Hindu-majority India and Muslim Pakistan. As many displaced Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs made their way to their new lands, religious violence broke out, especially in the Punjab and Bengal. Eschewing the official celebration of independence in Delhi, Gandhi visited the affected areas, attempting to provide solace. In the months following, he undertook several fasts unto death to promote religious harmony. The last of these, undertaken on 12 January 1948 at age 78, also had the indirect goal of pressuring India to pay out some cash assets owed to Pakistan. Some Indians thought Gandhi was too accommodating. Among them was Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, who assassinated Gandhi on 30 January 1948 by firing three bullets into his chest at point-blank range.
Gandhi is commonly, though not officially, considered the Father of the Nation in India. His birthday, 2 October, is commemorated there as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and world-wide as the International Day of Nonviolence.
Early life and background
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 in Porbandar (also known as Sudamapuri), a coastal town on the Kathiawar Peninsula and then part of the small princely state of Porbandar in the Kathiawar Agency of the British Indian Empire. His father, Karamchand Gandhi (1822–1885), served as the diwan (chief minister) of Porbander state. His mother, Putlibai, who was from a Pranami Vaishnavafamily, was Karamchand’s fourth wife, the first three wives having apparently died in childbirth. M. K. Gandhi had 2 brothers and 1 sister. Mohandas was the youngest of them.
The Indian classics, especially the stories of Shravana and king Harishchandra, had a great impact on Gandhi in his childhood. In his autobiography, he admits that they left an indelible impression on his mind. He writes: “It haunted me and I must have acted Harishchandra to myself times without number.” Gandhi’s early self-identification with truth and love as supreme values is traceable to these epic characters.
|Born||Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
2 October 1869
Porbandar, Kathiawar Agency,British Indian Empire
|Died||30 January 1948 (aged 78)
New Delhi, India
Cause of death
|Assassination by shooting|
|Cremated at Rajghat, Delhi
|Other names||Mahatma Gandhi, Bapu, Gandhiji|
|Alma mater||Alfred High School, Rajkot,
Samaldas College, Bhavnagar,
University College, London(UCL)
|Known for||Leadership of Indian independence movement,
philosophy of Satyagraha,Ahimsa or nonviolence.
|Movement||Indian National Congress|
|Religion||Hinduism, with Jain influences|
|Parents||Putlibai Gandhi (Mother)
Karamchand Gandhi (Father)
In May 1883, the 13-year-old Mohandas was married to 14-year-old Kasturbai Makhanji (her first name was usually shortened to “Kasturba”, and affectionately to “Ba”) in an arranged child marriage, according to the custom of the region. In the process, he lost a year at school.Recalling the day of their marriage, he once said, “As we didn’t know much about marriage, for us it meant only wearing new clothes, eating sweets and playing with relatives.” However, as was prevailing tradition, the adolescent bride was to spend much time at her parents’ house, and away from her husband. In 1885, when Gandhi was 15, the couple’s first child was born, but survived only a few days. Gandhi’s father, Karamchand Gandhi, had also died earlier that year. The religious background was eclectic. Gandhi’s father was Hindu Modh Baniya and his mother was from Pranami Vaishnava family. Religious figures were frequent visitors to the home.
Mohandas and Kasturba had four more children, all sons: Harilal, born in 1888; Manilal, born in 1892; Ramdas, born in 1897; and Devdas, born in 1900. At his middle school in Porbandar and high school in Rajkot, Gandhi remained a mediocre student. He shone neither in the classroom nor on the playing field. One of the terminal reports rated him as “good at English, fair in Arithmetic and weak in Geography; conduct very good, bad handwriting.” He passed the matriculation exam at Samaldas College in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, with some difficulty. Gandhi’s family wanted him to be a barrister, as it would increase the prospects of succeeding to his father’s post.
Champaran and Kheda
Gandhi’s first major achievements came in 1918 with the Champaran and Kheda agitations of Bihar and Gujarat. The Champaran agitation pitted the local peasantry against their largely British landlords who were backed by the local administration. The peasantry was forced to grow Indigo, a cash crop whose demand had been declining over two decades, and were forced to sell their crops to the planters at a fixed price. Unhappy with this, the peasantry appealed to Gandhi at his ashram in Ahmedabad. Pursuing a strategy of nonviolent protest, Gandhi took the administration by surprise and won concessions from the authorities.
In 1918, Kheda was hit by floods and famine and the peasantry was demanding relief from taxes. Gandhi moved his headquarters to Nadiad,organising scores of supporters and fresh volunteers from the region, the most notable being Vallabhbhai Patel. Using noncooperation as a technique, Gandhi initiated a signature campaign where peasants pledged non-payment of revenue even under the threat of confiscation of land. A social boycott of mamlatdars and talatdars (revenue officials within the district) accompanied the agitation. Gandhi worked hard to win public support for the agitation across the country. For five months, the administration refused but finally in end-May 1918, the Government gave way on important provisions and relaxed the conditions of payment of revenue tax until the famine ended. In Kheda, Vallabhbhai Patel represented the farmers in negotiations with the British, who suspended revenue collection and released all the prisoners.
With Congress now behind him in 1920, Gandhi had the base to employ noncooperation, nonviolence and peaceful resistance as his “weapons” in the struggle against the British Raj. His wide popularity among both Hindus and Muslims made his leadership possible; he even convinced the extreme faction of Muslims to support peaceful noncooperation. The spark that ignited a national protest was overwhelming anger at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre (or Amritsar massacre) of hundreds of peaceful civilians by British troops in Punjab. Many Britons celebrated the action as needed to prevent another violent uprising similar to the Rebellion of 1857, an attitude that caused many Indian leaders to decide the Raj was controlled by their enemies. Gandhi criticised both the actions of the British Raj and the retaliatory violence of Indians. He authored the resolution offering condolences to British civilian victims and condemning the riots which, after initial opposition in the party, was accepted following Gandhi’s emotional speech advocating his principle that all violence was evil and could not be justified.
After the massacre and subsequent violence, Gandhi began to focus on winning complete self-government and control of all Indian government institutions, maturing soon into Swaraj or complete individual, spiritual, political independence. During this period, Gandhi claimed to be a “highly orthodox Hindu” and in January 1921 during a speech at a temple in Vadtal, he spoke of the relevance of noncooperation to Hindu Dharma, “At this holy place, I declare, if you want to protect your ‘Hindu Dharma’, non-cooperation is first as well as the last lesson you must learn up.”.
In December 1921, Gandhi was invested with executive authority on behalf of the Indian National Congress. Under his leadership, the Congress was reorganised with a new constitution, with the goal of Swaraj. Membership in the party was opened to anyone prepared to pay a token fee. A hierarchy of committees was set up to improve discipline, transforming the party from an elite organisation to one of mass national appeal. Gandhi expanded his nonviolence platform to include the swadeshi policy—the boycott of foreign-made goods, especially British goods. Linked to this was his advocacy that khadi (homespun cloth) be worn by all Indians instead of British-made textiles. Gandhi exhorted Indian men and women, rich or poor, to spend time each day spinning khadi in support of the independence movement.
Gandhi even invented a small, portable spinning wheel that could be folded into the size of a small typewriter. This was a strategy to inculcate discipline and dedication to weeding out the unwilling and ambitious and to include women in the movement at a time when many thought that such activities were not respectable activities for women. In addition to boycotting British products, Gandhi urged the people to boycott British educational institutions and law courts, to resign from government employment, and to forsake British titles and honours.
“Non-cooperation” enjoyed widespread appeal and success, increasing excitement and participation from all strata of Indian society. Yet, just as the movement reached its apex, it ended abruptly as a result of a violent clash in the town of Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh, in February 1922. Fearing that the movement was about to take a turn towards violence, and convinced that this would be the undoing of all his work, Gandhi called off the campaign of mass civil disobedience. This was the third time that Gandhi had called off a major campaign. Gandhi was arrested on 10 March 1922, tried for sedition, and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. He began his sentence on 18 March 1922. He was released in February 1924 for an appendicitis operation, having served only two years.
Without Gandhi’s unifying personality, the Indian National Congress began to splinter during his years in prison, splitting into two factions, one led by Chitta Ranjan Das and Motilal Nehru favouring party participation in the legislatures, and the other led by Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, opposing this move. Furthermore, cooperation among Hindus and Muslims, which had been strong at the height of the nonviolence campaign, was breaking down. Gandhi attempted to bridge these differences through many means, including a three-week fast in the autumn of 1924, but with limited success. In this year, Gandhi was persuaded to preside over the Congress session to be held in Belgaum. Gandhi agreed to become president of the session on one condition: that Congressmen should take to wearing homespun khadi. In his long political career, this was the only time when he presided over a Congress session.
Salt Satyagraha (Salt March)
Gandhi stayed out of active politics and, as such, the limelight for most of the 1920s. He focused instead on resolving the wedge between the Swaraj Party and the Indian National Congress, and expanding initiatives against untouchability, alcoholism, ignorance and poverty. He returned to the fore in 1928. In the preceding year, the British government had appointed a new constitutional reform commission under Sir John Simon, which did not include any Indian as its member. The result was a boycott of the commission by Indian political parties. Gandhi pushed through a resolution at the Calcutta Congress in December 1928 calling on the British government to grant India dominion status or face a new campaign of noncooperation with complete independence for the country as its goal. Gandhi had not only moderated the views of younger men like Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru, who sought a demand for immediate independence, but also reduced his own call to a one year wait, instead of two.
The British did not respond. On 31 December 1929, the flag of India was unfurled in Lahore. 26 January 1930 was celebrated as India’s Independence Day by the Indian National Congress meeting in Lahore. This day was commemorated by almost every other Indian organisation. Gandhi then launched a new Satyagraha against the tax on salt in March 1930. This was highlighted by the famous Salt March to Dandi from 12 March to 6 April, where he marched 388 kilometres (241 mi) from Ahmedabad to Dandi, Gujarat to make salt himself. Thousands of Indians joined him on this march to the sea. This campaign was one of his most successful at upsetting British hold on India; Britain responded by imprisoning over 60,000 people.
World War II and Quit India
Gandhi initially favoured offering “nonviolent moral support” to the British effort when World War II broke out in 1939, but the Congressional leaders were offended by the unilateral inclusion of India in the war without consultation of the people’s representatives. All Congressmen resigned from office. After long deliberations, Gandhi declared that India could not be party to a war ostensibly being fought for democratic freedom while that freedom was denied to India itself. As the war progressed, Gandhi intensified his demand for independence, calling for the British to Quit India in a speech at Gowalia Tank Maidan. This was Gandhi’s and the Congress Party’s most definitive revolt aimed at securing the British exit from India.
Gandhi was criticised by some Congress party members and other Indian political groups, both pro-British and anti-British. Some felt that not supporting Britain more in its struggle against Nazi Germany was unethical. Others felt that Gandhi’s refusal for India to participate in the war was insufficient and more direct opposition should be taken, while Britain fought against Nazism, it continued to refuse to grant India Independence. Quit India became the most forceful movement in the history of the struggle, with mass arrests and violence on an unprecedented scale.
In 1942, although still committed in his efforts to “launch a nonviolent movement”, Gandhi clarified that the movement would not be stopped by individual acts of violence, saying that the “ordered anarchy” of “the present system of administration” was “worse than real anarchy.” He called on all Congressmen and Indians to maintain discipline via ahimsa, and Karo ya maro (“Do or die”) in the cause of ultimate freedom.
Gandhi and the entire Congress Working Committee were arrested in Bombay by the British on 9 August 1942. Gandhi was held for two years in the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. It was here that Gandhi suffered two terrible blows in his personal life. His 50-year old secretary Mahadev Desai died of a heart attack 6 days later and his wife Kasturba died after 18 months imprisonment on 22 February 1944; six weeks later Gandhi suffered a severe malaria attack. He was released before the end of the war on 6 May 1944 because of his failing health and necessary surgery; the Raj did not want him to die in prison and enrage the nation. He came out of detention to an altered political scene—the Muslim League for example, which a few years earlier had appeared marginal, “now occupied the centre of the political stage” and the topic of Jinnah‘s campaign for Pakistan was a major talking point. Gandhi met Jinnah in September 1944 in Bombay but Jinnah rejected, on the grounds that it fell short of a fully independent Pakistan, his proposal of the right of Muslim provinces to opt out of substantial parts of the forthcoming political union.
While the leaders of Congress languished in jail, the other parties supported the war and gained organizational strength. Underground publications flailed at the ruthless suppression of Congress, but it had little control over events. At the end of the war, the British gave clear indications that power would be transferred to Indian hands. At this point Gandhi called off the struggle, and around 100,000 political prisoners were released, including the Congress’s leadership.
Partition and independence, 1947
As a rule, Gandhi was opposed to the concept of partition as it contradicted his vision of religious unity. Concerning the partition of India to create Pakistan, while the Indian National Congress and Gandhi called for the British to quit India, the Muslim League passed a resolution for them to divide and quit, in 1943. Gandhi suggested an agreement which required the Congress and Muslim League to cooperate and attain independence under a provisional government, thereafter, the question of partition could be resolved by a plebiscite in the districts with a Muslim majority. When Jinnah called for Direct Action, on 16 August 1946, Gandhi was infuriated and personally visited the most riot-prone areas to stop the massacres. He made strong efforts to unite the Indian Hindus, Muslims, and Christians and struggled for the emancipation of the “untouchables” in Hindu society.
On 14 and 15 August 1947 the Indian Independence Act was invoked. In border areas some 10–12 million people moved from one side to another and upwards of a half million were killed in communal riots pitting Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs against each other. But for his teachings, the efforts of his followers, and his own presence, there perhaps could have been much more bloodshed during the partition, according to prominent Norwegian historian, Jens Arup Seip.
Stanley Wolpert has argued, the “plan to carve up British India was never approved of or accepted by Gandhi…who realised too late that his closest comrades and disciples were more interested in power than principle, and that his own vision had long been clouded by the illusion that the struggle he led for India’s independence was a nonviolent one.”
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was assassinated in the garden of the former Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti) at 5:17 PM on 30 January 1948. Accompanied by his grandnieces, Gandhi was on his way to address a prayer meeting, when his assassin, Nathuram Godse, fired three bullets from a Beretta 9 mm pistol into his chest at point-blank range. Godse was a Hindu nationalist with links to the extremistHindu Mahasabha, who held Gandhi guilty of favouring Pakistan and strongly opposed the doctrine of nonviolence. Godse and his co-conspirator were tried and executed in 1949. Gandhi’s memorial (or Samādhi) at Rāj Ghāt, New Delhi, bears the epigraph “Hē Ram” (Devanagari: हे ! राम or, He Rām), which may be translated as “Oh God”. These are widely believed to be Gandhi’s last words after he was shot, though the veracity of this statement has been disputed. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the nation through radio:
Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the father of the nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that; nevertheless, we will not see him again, as we have seen him for these many years, we will not run to him for advice or seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow, not only for me, but for millions and millions in this country.—Jawaharlal Nehru’s address to Gandhi
Gandhi’s death was mourned nationwide. Over two million people joined the five-mile long funeral procession that took over five hours to reach Raj Ghat from Birla house, where he was assassinated. Gandhi’s body was transported on a weapons carrier, whose chassis was dismantled overnight to allow a high-floor to be installed so that people could catch a glimpse of his body. The engine of the vehicle was not used, instead four drag-ropes manned by 50 people each pulled the vehicle. All Indian-owned establishments in London remained closed in mourning as thousands of people from all faiths and denominations and Indians from all over Britain converged at India House in London.
While India mourned and communal (inter-religious) violence escalated, there were calls for retaliation, and even an invasion of Pakistan by the Indian army. Nehru and Patel, the two strongest figures in the government and in Congress, had been pulling in opposite directions; the assassination pushed them together. They agreed the first objective must be to calm the hysteria. They called on Indians to honour Gandhi’s memory and even more his ideals. They used the assassination to consolidate the authority of the new Indian state. The government made sure everyone knew the guilty party was not a Muslim. Congress tightly controlled the epic public displays of grief over a two-week period—the funeral, mortuary rituals and distribution of the martyr’s ashes—as millions participated and hundreds of millions watched. The goal was to assert the power of the government and legitimise the Congress Party’s control. This move built upon the massive outpouring of Hindu expressions of grief. The government suppressed the RSS, the Muslim National Guards, and the Khaksars, with some 200,000 arrests. Gandhi’s death and funeral linked the distant state with the Indian people and made more understood the need to suppress religious parties during the transition to independence for the Indian people.
Gandhi strongly favoured the emancipation of women, and he went so far as to say that “the women have come to look upon me as one of themselves.” He opposed purdah, child marriage, untouchability, and the extreme oppression of Hindu widows, up to and including sati. He especially recruited women to participate in the salt tax campaigns and the boycott of foreign products. Sarma concludes that Gandhi’s success in enlisting women in his campaigns, including the salt tax campaign, anti-untouchability campaign and the peasant movement, gave many women a new self-confidence and dignity in the mainstream of Indian public life.
Gandhi as folk hero
Congress in the 1920s appealed to peasants by portraying Gandhi as a sort of messiah, a strategy that succeeded in incorporating radical forces within the peasantry into the nonviolent resistance movement. In thousands of villages plays were performed that presented Gandhi as the reincarnation of earlier Indian nationalist leaders, or even as a demigod. The plays built support among illiterate peasants steeped in traditional Hindu culture. Similar messianic imagery appeared in popular songs and poems, and in Congress-sponsored religious pageants and celebrations. The result was that Gandhi became not only a folk hero but the Congress was widely seen in the villages as his sacred instrument.