On October 2nd, we celebrated the 153rd birth anniversary of Gandhiji, popularly known as “Gandhi Jayanti.” We celebrate the day to recall and cherish his preaching and lessons of non-violence, truthfulness, and brotherhood and to pay homage to his selfless life dedicated towards peace, tranquility, and natural justice during the grim time when the world had witnessed two catastrophic global wars and nothing was sedentary except for the “crisis of peace”. It’s very disheartening that in the recent past, a new kind of brouhaha has erupted over the name of Mahatma Gandhi. A few fringe elements, for their personal and political sake, started maligning the name of Gandhiji and misleading people against him through propaganda of various natures. Moreover, we can find scores of articles and blogs over the Internet depicting the portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi as an “antagonist” in Indian national history. So, it is very important to counter the distorted narrative and make people aware of his actual personality, especially his contribution towards the Indian National Movement, by highlighting the facets and phases of his life.
Mahatma Gandhi was born on the 2nd of October 1869 in the town of Porbandar (Gujarat). At a very young age, he was influenced by a Jain devotee who imbued in him the teaching of Ahimsa, or non-violence. This teaching remained intact within him for the rest of his life. He moved to London in 1888, at the age of nineteen, to study law and become a barrister at Inner Temple College. After the degree, he returned back to India to pursue his law profession, but it didn’t turn up as he thought.
Soon after, he went to South Africa when he got an offer to help an Indian client in a legal suit. His visit to South Africa transformed the very course of his life. Witnessing the pathetic condition of his fellow countrymen in colonial South Africa, he made up his mind to stay and help them. He fought for his countrymen and other marginalised victims of the racial policies of the South African government. Gandhi began his passive resistance, known as “Satyagraha,” in South Africa against the discriminatory rule of “Compulsory Registration and Passes” for Indians in the Transvaal. Then they launched another Satyagraha in Natal against emigration and “restriction” policies, which too had prejudices against coloured people. He also initiated yet another peaceful movement against the “Cape Supreme Court” ruling that all marriages not performed pursuant to Christian rites were invalid. Fortunately, Gandhi emerged victorious in all his resistance movements, and he had become a prominent mass leader and political strategist. After staying for more than two decades in South Africa, Gandhiji eventually returned to India in 1815. The advent of
Gandhi on the Indian political horizon posed ample reasons to excite as well as attract thousands of Indians towards him and more towards his brand of Satyagraha. But, before officially joining the national movement, Gandhiji was advised by his political mentor, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, to go on a countrywide tour to understand the actual condition and circumstances of our people, as well as their perspective on the severity of the repercussions of colonial policies on them. It was during his tour that Gandhiji was approached by an indigo farmer, Rajkumar Shukla, who persuaded him to make a visit to Champaran to learn of the peasant plight there. Gandhiji went to Champaran to investigate the conduct of Indigo planters there. He got to know that farmers were suffering under exorbitant taxes and the exploitative Tinkathia system. His investigation was stopped midway by British authorities, and it was at that moment that Gandhiji launched his first civil disobedience movement, called “Champaran
Satyagraha”. With the peaceful protest, Gandhiji forced the authorities to agree with his (peasants’) terms, and eventually the regressive Tinkathia system was abolished. Moreover, peasants were also compensated with a part of the money that had been extracted from them. The Champaran Satyagraha was a turning point in Indian history because it was the first time an Indian leader made a direct deal with the British imperialist government, and it was in their favor.
Just a year after the Champaran episode, Gandhiji went to a place called Kheda in Gujarat in 1918. Here, Gandhiji was told by the farmers that, as per the rules, they were entitled to remission from paying land revenues in the condition where harvested yields were less than a quarter of normal production, albeit the government refused to grant any remit. Gandhiji launched another movement, i.e.,Kheda Satyagraha, and behested cultivators to refrain from paying any taxes. The Satyagraha was peaceful but effective as farmers showed unprecedented valour even in the face of adversities, including imprisonment and confiscation of their land and assets. Again, the Gandhi mantra worked, and finally the state granted the remission and provided farmers with some adequate concessions. In the same year, again in Gujarat, in the city of Ahmedabad, Gandhiji launched yet another resistance movement in support of workers during an industrial dispute between the mill owners and workers. The workers were clamouring for the plague bonus, which the owners refused to pay. Since the owners were adamant and still not ready to pay, Gandhiji underwent a hunger strike. Finally, mill owners had to accept the demand and pay the 35% bonus. This was the third time in a row that Gandhiji launched Satyagraha successfully and came out on top.
However, the first large-scale civil disobedience movement launched by Gandhiji was the Non-Co-operation Movement (NCM), which was coupled with pro-khilafat demands. The movement basically arose when the British Raj did not provide Indians with ample concessions to satisfy their demands in the time when Indians, especially the INC, cooperated with the British Empire in World War I. The passage of the Rowlatt Committee’s Black Act, which removed even the most basic human rights of “habeas corpus” from Indian citizens, and the callous incident of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, infuriated Indian leaders, particularly Gandhi, who was still willing to work with the Raj. Meanwhile, the British and other allied powers’ pathetic treatment of the Ottoman Empire, as well as its dismemberment and the security of the Ottoman Sultan, who was also considered the “spiritual leader” of the Islamic world, mobilised Muslims in India against imperial rule. Gandhiji found this as a great opportunity to organise a united front against the British Raj. Hence, the Khilafat-Non-Cooperation movement was launched to induce the colonial government to grant self-rule or swaraj to India on the lines of its other commonwealth colonies like Canada and Australia, and also to give an assurance pertaining to the protection of the Caliphate. The movement was also a non-violent one and was quite effective, with the government on the absolute backfoot within a couple of years of countrywide protests and demonstrations. However, in February 1922, an unfortunate event happened at Chauri-Chaura (U.P) in which an Indian mob burnt a police station and killed as many as 22 policemen in retaliation for police brutality against the protesters earlier. News of the incident of the non-cooperation movement turned violent in many other places started arriving. Hence, Gandhiji, an ardent follower of non-violence, called off the NCM. The abrupt annulment of the movement at a time when the government was looking hopeless attracted a severe backlash against Gandhiji, especially from young cadres. But many people agreed with and supported this decision, since violent incidents could give the most powerful military force at the time the right to put down the protests with the most force possible.
After the chauri-chaura episode and subsequent calling off of NCM, the Indian National Movement was enveloped in the vicious cycle of vaccum, at least for half a decade. However, Gandhiji, in March 1930, launched a new civil-disobedience movement (CDM) against the Salt Law, which reignited the lost fervour in the national movement. The Salt March was part of a larger independence movement in which Gandhiji, along with his followers and other nationalist leaders, marched for almost three hundred miles from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi (Gujarat)to break the salt law by manufacturing it. CDM was quite successful, with hundreds of thousands of Indians across the length and breadth of India violating various colonial laws and effectively bringing governance to a halt.It was also realised that Indians were no longer willing to live peacefully under British-made laws and desired their freedom.The Quit India Movement (QIM), which began in 1942, was the last large-scale movement launched by Gandhi to oust the British from India. Gandhiji was committed to inflicting upon the British Raj a last final blow that would ensure Independence for India. The failure of the Cripp mission was the major causal factor behind the launch of the Quit India Movement as it embittered the INC in general and Gandhiji in particular. Gandhiji, while he still fully sympathised with the anti-fascist forces in WWII. He got very angry that even in this grim situation of war, the British Empire was not ready to give any fruitful concession, let alone the “freedom” or Poorna Swaraj to Indians. He gave the call “Do or Die” and further maintained that “We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery”. Although almost all the prominent Congress leaders, including Gandhiji, were arrested on the very next day of the announcement of QIM, a spontaneous movement of protests arose across the country. In many places, British authority disappeared and parallel governments were set up in its place. The QIM demonstrated the depth to which nationalist feelings had reached in the country with the help of the incessant struggles and mass mobilisation of Gandhiji and other freedom fighters. The British realised that they could not rule for long and, fortunately, within half a decade, India got its independence on August 15th, 1947. Even after India got its freedom, Gandhiji did not stop here. While all the people and leaders were celebrating Independence on the 15th of August with great pomp and splendor, Gandhiji was very disheartened by the partition and subsequent bloodbaths, and kept on visiting the riot-affected areas in order to alleviate the distress of partition by stopping the worst kind of barbarism the world had witnessed in the 20th century, worse than the cruelty of both the wars combined, according to some historians. In fact, he undertook a series of hunger strikes to stop the programme. Moreover, even in the last of his days, he dedicated his life to the cause of peace and harmony. Unfortunately, on the 30th of January, 1948, he was shot dead by a militant Hindu entremist, Nathuram Godse. Although negative forces were able to kill him, it was not his ideals and values of peace, non-violence, truthfulness, and universal harmony, which still inspire millions of people and give them courage to fight injustice and oppression.