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
Spouse(s) Kasturba Gandhi
Parents Putlibai Gandhi (Mother)
Karamchand Gandhi (Father)
Early life and background
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in his earliest known photo, aged 7, c. 1876
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 Vaishnava family, was Karamchand’s fourth wife, the first three wives having apparently died in childbirth. M. K. Gandhi had two brothers and one 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.
In May 1883, the 13-year-old Mohandas was married to 14-year-old Kasturbai Makhanji Kapadia (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”. In 1887, 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.
Gandhi and his wife Kasturba (1902)
In 1888, Gandhi travelled to London, England, where he studied law and jurisprudence and enrolled at the Inner Temple with the intention of becoming a barrister. His time in London was influenced by a vow he had made to his mother upon leaving India, in the presence of a Jain monk, to observe the precepts of sexual abstinence as well as abstinence from meat and alcohol. Gandhi tried to adopt “English” customs, including taking dancing lessons. However, he could not appreciate the bland vegetarian food offered by his landlady and was frequently hungry until he found one of London’s few vegetarian restaurants. Influenced by Henry Salt’s writing, he joined the Vegetarian Society, was elected to its executive committee, and started a local Bayswater chapter. Some of the vegetarians he met were members of the Theosophical Society, which had been founded in 1875 to further universal brotherhood, and which was devoted to the study of Buddhist and Hindu literature. They encouraged Gandhi to join them in reading the Bhagavad Gita both in translation as well as in the original. Not having shown interest in religion before, he became interested in religious thought.
Gandhi was called to the bar in June 1891 and then left London for India, where he learned that his mother had died while he was in London and that his family had kept the news from him. His attempts at establishing a law practice in Bombay failed because he was psychologically unable to cross-question witnesses. He returned to Rajkot to make a modest living drafting petitions for litigants, but he was forced to stop when he ran foul of a British officer. In 1893, he accepted a year-long contract from Dada Abdulla & Co., an Indian firm, to a post in the Colony of Natal, South Africa, a part of the British Empire.
Civil rights movement in South Africa (1893–1914)
Gandhi in South Africa (1895)
Gandhi was 24 when he arrived in South Africa to work as a legal representative for the Muslim Indian Traders based in the city of Pretoria. He spent 21 years in South Africa, where he developed his political views, ethics and political leadership skills.
Indians in South Africa were led by wealthy Muslims, who employed Gandhi as a lawyer, and by impoverished Hindu indentured labourers with very limited rights. Gandhi considered them all to be Indians, taking a lifetime view that “Indianness” transcended religion and caste. He believed he could bridge historic differences, especially regarding religion, and he took that belief back to India where he tried to implement it. The South African experience exposed handicaps to Gandhi that he had not known about. He realised he was out of contact with the enormous complexities of religious and cultural life in India, and believed he understood India by getting to know and leading Indians in South Africa.
In South Africa, Gandhi faced the discrimination directed at all coloured people. He was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg after refusing to move from the first-class. He protested and was allowed on first class the next day. Travelling farther on by stagecoach, he was beaten by a driver for refusing to move to make room for a European passenger. He suffered other hardships on the journey as well, including being barred from several hotels. In another incident, the magistrate of a Durban court ordered Gandhi to remove his turban, which he refused to do.
These events were a turning point in Gandhi’s life and shaped his social activism and awakened him to social injustice. After witnessing racism, prejudice and injustice against Indians in South Africa, Gandhi began to question his place in society and his people’s standing in the British Empire.
Gandhi with the stretcher-bearers of the Indian Ambulance Corps
Gandhi extended his original period of stay in South Africa to assist Indians in opposing a bill to deny them the right to vote. He asked Joseph Chamberlain, the British Colonial Secretary, to reconsider his position on this bill. Though unable to halt the bill’s passage, his campaign was successful in drawing attention to the grievances of Indians in South Africa. He helped found the Natal Indian Congress in 1894, and through this organisation, he moulded the Indian community of South Africa into a unified political force. In January 1897, when Gandhi landed in Durban, a mob of white settlers attacked him and he escaped only through the efforts of the wife of the police superintendent. However, he refused to press charges against any member of the mob, stating it was one of his principles not to seek redress for a personal wrong in a court of law.
In 1906, the Transvaal government promulgated a new Act compelling registration of the colony’s Indian population. At a mass protest meeting held in Johannesburg on 11 September that year, Gandhi adopted his still evolving methodology of Satyagraha (devotion to the truth), or nonviolent protest, for the first time. He urged Indians to defy the new law and to suffer the punishments for doing so. The community adopted this plan, and during the ensuing seven-year struggle, thousands of Indians were jailed, flogged, or shot for striking, refusing to register, for burning their registration cards or engaging in other forms of nonviolent resistance. The government successfully repressed the Indian protesters, but the public outcry over the harsh treatment of peaceful Indian protesters by the South African government forced South African leader Jan Christiaan Smuts, himself a philosopher, to negotiate a compromise with Gandhi. Gandhi’s ideas took shape, and the concept of Satyagraha matured during this struggle.
Gandhi and the Africans
Gandhi photographed in South Africa (1909)
Gandhi focused his attention on Indians while in South Africa and opposed the idea that Indians should be treated at the same level as native Africans while in South Africa. He also stated that he believed “that the white race of South Africa should be the predominating race.” After several treatments he received from Whites in South Africa, Gandhi began to change his thinking and apparently increased his interest in politics. White rule enforced strict segregation among all races and generated conflict between these communities. Bhana and Vahed argue that Gandhi, at first, shared racial notions prevalent of the times and that his experiences in jail sensitised him to the plight of South Africa’s indigenous peoples.
During the Boer War, Gandhi volunteered in 1900 to form a group of ambulance drivers. He wanted to disprove the British idea that Hindus were not fit for “manly” activities involving danger and exertion. Gandhi raised eleven hundred Indian volunteers. They were trained and medically certified to serve on the front lines. At Spion Kop Gandhi and his bearers had to carry wounded soldiers for miles to a field hospital because the terrain was too rough for the ambulances. Gandhi was pleased when someone said that European ambulance corpsmen could not make the trip under the heat without food or water. General Redvers Buller mentioned the courage of the Indians in his dispatch. Gandhi and thirty-seven other Indians received the War Medal.
In 1906, when the British declared war against the Zulu Kingdom in Natal, Gandhi encouraged the British to recruit Indians. He argued that Indians should support the war efforts to legitimise their claims to full citizenship. The British accepted Gandhi’s offer to let a detachment of 20 Indians volunteer as a stretcher-bearer corps to treat wounded British soldiers. This corps was commanded by Gandhi and operated for less than two months. The experience taught him it was hopeless to directly challenge the overwhelming military power of the British army—he decided it could only be resisted in nonviolent fashion by the pure of heart.
In 1910, Gandhi established an idealistic community called ‘Tolstoy Farm’ near Johannesburg, where he nurtured his policy of peaceful resistance.
After blacks gained the right to vote in South Africa, Gandhi was proclaimed a national hero with numerous monuments.
Struggle for Indian Independence (1915–47)
See also: Indian independence movement
At the request of Gokhale, conveyed to him by C.F. Andrews, Gandhi returned to India in 1915. He brought an international reputation as a leading Indian nationalist, theorist and organiser. He joined the Indian National Congress and was introduced to Indian issues, politics and the Indian people primarily by Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gokhale was a key leader of the Congress Party best known for his restraint and moderation, and his insistence on working inside the system. Gandhi took Gokhale’s liberal approach based on British Whiggish traditions and transformed it to make it look wholly Indian.
Gandhi took leadership of the Congress in 1920 and began escalating demands until on the 26th of January 1930 the Indian National Congress declared the independence of India. The British did not recognise the declaration but negotiations ensued, with the Congress taking a role in provincial government in the late 1930s. Gandhi and the Congress withdrew their support of the Raj when the Viceroy declared war on Germany in September 1939 without consultation. Tensions escalated until Gandhi demanded immediate independence in 1942 and the British responded by imprisoning him and tens of thousands of Congress leaders. Meanwhile the Muslim League did cooperate with Britain and moved, against Gandhi’s strong opposition, to demands for a totally separate Muslim state of Pakistan. In August 1947 the British partitioned the land with India and Pakistan each achieving independence on terms that Gandhi disapproved.
Role in World War I
See also: The role of India in World War I
In April 1918, during the latter part of World War I, the Viceroy invited Gandhi to a War Conference in Delhi. Perhaps to show his support for the Empire and help his case for India’s independence, Gandhi agreed to actively recruit Indians for the war effort. In contrast to the Zulu War of 1906 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, when he recruited volunteers for the Ambulance Corps, this time Gandhi attempted to recruit combatants. In a June 1918 leaflet entitled “Appeal for Enlistment”, Gandhi wrote “To bring about such a state of things we should have the ability to defend ourselves, that is, the ability to bear arms and to use them…If we want to learn the use of arms with the greatest possible despatch, it is our duty to enlist ourselves in the army.” He did, however, stipulate in a letter to the Viceroy’s private secretary that he “personally will not kill or injure anybody, friend or foe.”
Gandhi’s war recruitment campaign brought into question his consistency on nonviolence. Gandhi’s private secretary noted that “The question of the consistency between his creed of ‘Ahimsa’ (nonviolence) and his recruiting campaign was raised not only then but has been discussed ever since.”
Champaran and Kheda
Main article: Champaran and Kheda Satyagraha
Gandhi in 1918, at the time of the Kheda and Champaran Satyagrahas
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.
In 1919, Gandhi, with his weak position in Congress, decided to broaden his political base by increasing his appeal to Muslims. The opportunity came in the form of the Khilafat movement, a worldwide protest by Muslims against the collapsing status of the Caliph, the leader of their religion. The Ottoman Empire had lost the First World War and was dismembered, as Muslims feared for the safety of the holy places and the prestige of their religion. Although Gandhi did not originate the All-India Muslim Conference, which directed the movement in India, he soon became its most prominent spokesman and attracted a strong base of Muslim support with local chapters in all Muslim centres in India. As a mark of solidarity with Indian Muslims he returned the medals that had been bestowed on him by the British government for his work in the Boer and Zulu Wars. He believed that the British government was not being honest in its dealings with Muslims on the Khilafat issue. His success made him India’s first national leader with a multicultural base and facilitated his rise to power within Congress, which had previously been unable to influence many Indian Muslims. In 1920 Gandhi became a major leader in Congress. By the end of 1922 the Khilafat movement had collapsed.
Gandhi always fought against “communalism”, which pitted Muslims against Hindus in Indian politics, but he could not reverse the rapid growth of communalism after 1922. Deadly religious riots broke out in numerous cities, including 91 in Uttar Pradesh alone. At the leadership level, the proportion of Muslims among delegates to Congress fell sharply, from 11% in 1921 to under 4% in 1923.
Main article: Noncooperation movement
Mahatma Gandhi spinning yarn, in the late 1920s
In his famous book Hind Swaraj (1909) Gandhi declared that British rule was established in India with the cooperation of Indians and had survived only because of this cooperation. If Indians refused to cooperate, British rule would collapse and swaraj would come.
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.
Original footage of Gandhi and his followers marching to Dandi in the Salt Satyagraha
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.
Mahadev Desai (left) reading out a letter to Gandhi from the Viceroy at Birla House, Bombay, 7 April 1939
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, the 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.
A 1932 cartoon; Lord Willingdon goes on hunger strike to force Mr. Gandhi to admit the new constitution as “touchable”
The government, represented by Lord Edward Irwin, decided to negotiate with Gandhi. The Gandhi–Irwin Pact was signed in March 1931. The British Government agreed to free all political prisoners, in return for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement. Also as a result of the pact, Gandhi was invited to attend the Round Table Conference in London as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. The conference was a disappointment to Gandhi and the nationalists, because it focused on the Indian princes and Indian minorities rather than on a transfer of power. Lord Irwin’s successor, Lord Willingdon, taking a hard line against nationalism, began a new campaign of controlling and subduing the nationalist movement. Gandhi was again arrested, and the government tried and failed to negate his influence by completely isolating him from his followers.
In 1932, through the campaigning of the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar, the government granted untouchables separate electorates under the new constitution, known as the Communal Award. In protest, Gandhi embarked on a six-day fast on 20 September 1932, while he was imprisoned at the Yerwada Jail, Pune. The resulting public outcry successfully forced the government to adopt an equitable arrangement (Poona Pact) through negotiations mediated by Palwankar Baloo. This was the start of a new campaign by Gandhi to improve the lives of the untouchables, whom he named Harijans, the children of God. On 8 September 1931, Gandhi who was sailing on SS Rajputana, to the second Round Table Conference in London, met Meher Baba in his cabin on board the ship, and discussed issues of untouchables, politics, state Independence and spirituality
On 8 May 1933, Gandhi began a 21-day fast of self-purification and launched a one-year campaign to help the Harijan movement. This new campaign was not universally embraced within the Dalit community, as Ambedkar condemned Gandhi’s use of the term Harijans as saying that Dalits were socially immature, and that privileged caste Indians played a paternalistic role. Ambedkar and his allies also felt Gandhi was undermining Dalit political rights. Gandhi had also refused to support the untouchables in 1924–25 when they were campaigning for the right to pray in temples. Because of Gandhi’s actions, Ambedkar described him as “devious and untrustworthy”. Gandhi, although born into the Vaishya caste, insisted that he was able to speak on behalf of Dalits, despite the presence of Dalit activists such as Ambedkar. Gandhi and Ambedkar often clashed because Ambedkar sought to remove the Dalits out of the Hindu community, while Gandhi tried to save Hinduism by exorcising untouchability. Ambedkar complained that Gandhi moved too slowly, while Hindu traditionalists said Gandhi was a dangerous radical who rejected scripture. Guha noted in 2012 that, “Ideologues have carried these old rivalries into the present, with the demonization of Gandhi now common among politicians who presume to speak in Ambedkar’s name.”
In 1934 Gandhi resigned from Congress party membership. He did not disagree with the party’s position but felt that if he resigned, his popularity with Indians would cease to stifle the party’s membership, which actually varied, including communists, socialists, trade unionists, students, religious conservatives, and those with pro-business convictions, and that these various voices would get a chance to make themselves heard. Gandhi also wanted to avoid being a target for Raj propaganda by leading a party that had temporarily accepted political accommodation with the Raj.
Gandhi returned to active politics again in 1936, with the Nehru presidency and the Lucknow session of the Congress. Although Gandhi wanted a total focus on the task of winning independence and not speculation about India’s future, he did not restrain the Congress from adopting socialism as its goal. Gandhi had a clash with Subhas Chandra Bose, who had been elected president in 1938, and who had previously expressed a lack of faith in nonviolence as a means of protest. Despite Gandhi’s opposition, Bose won a second term as Congress President, against Gandhi’s nominee, Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya; but left the Congress when the All-India leaders resigned en masse in protest of his abandonment of the principles introduced by Gandhi. Gandhi declared that Sitaramayya’s defeat was his defeat.
Main article: Quit India Movement
Gandhi and Nehru in 1942
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 Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Bombay, 1944
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 Muhammad Ali 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
See also: Partition of India
Gandhi in 1947, with Lord Louis Mountbatten, Britain’s last Viceroy of India, and his wife Vicereine Edwina Mountbatten.
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.”
Memorial at the former Birla House, New Delhi, where Gandhi was assassinated at 5:17 PM on 30 January 1948 on his way to a prayer meeting. Stylised footsteps are shown leading to the memorial.
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 extremist Hindu 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 understand why religious parties were being suppressed during the transition to independence for the Indian people.
By Hindu tradition the ashes were to be spread on a river. Gandhi’s ashes were poured into urns which were sent across India for memorial services. Most were immersed at the Sangam at Allahabad on 12 February 1948, but some were secretly taken away. In 1997, Tushar Gandhi immersed the contents of one urn, found in a bank vault and reclaimed through the courts, at the Sangam at Allahabad. Some of Gandhi’s ashes were scattered at the source of the Nile River near Jinja, Uganda, and a memorial plaque marks the event. On 30 January 2008, the contents of another urn were immersed at Girgaum Chowpatty. Another urn is at the palace of the Aga Khan in Pune (where Gandhi had been imprisoned from 1942 to 1944) and another in the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Los Angeles.
Principles, practices and beliefs
Main article: Gandhism
Gandhism designates the ideas and principles Gandhi promoted. Of central importance is nonviolent resistance. A Gandhian can mean either an individual who follows, or a specific philosophy which is attributed to, Gandhism. M. M. Sankhdher argues that Gandhism is not a systematic position in metaphysics or in political philosophy. Rather, it is a political creed, an economic doctrine, a religious outlook, a moral precept, and especially, a humanitarian world view. It is an effort not to systematise wisdom but to transform society and is based on an undying faith in the goodness of human nature. However Gandhi himself did not approve of the notion of “Gandhism”, as he explained in 1936:
There is no such thing as “Gandhism”, and I do not want to leave any sect after me. I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems…The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not final. I may change them tomorrow. I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills.
Gandhi with famous poet Rabindranath Tagore, 1940
Historian R.B. Cribb argues that Gandhi’s thought evolved over time, with his early ideas becoming the core or scaffolding for his mature philosophy. In London he committed himself to truthfulness, temperance, chastity, and vegetarianism. His return to India to work as a lawyer was a failure, so he went to South Africa for a quarter century, where he absorbed ideas from many sources, most of them non-Indian. Gandhi grew up in an eclectic religious atmosphere and throughout his life searched for insights from many religious traditions. He was exposed to Jain ideas through his mother who was in contact with Jain monks. Themes from Jainism that Gandhi absorbed included asceticism; compassion for all forms of life; the importance of vows for self-discipline; vegetarianism; fasting for self-purification; mutual tolerance among people of different creeds; and “syadvad”, the idea that all views of truth are partial, a doctrine that lies at the root of Satyagraha. He received much of his influence from Jainism particularly during his younger years.
Gandhi’s London experience provided a solid philosophical base focused on truthfulness, temperance, chastity, and vegetarianism. When he returned to India in 1891, his outlook was parochial and he could not make a living as a lawyer. This challenged his belief that practicality and morality necessarily coincided. By moving in 1893 to South Africa he found a solution to this problem and developed the central concepts of his mature philosophy. N. A. Toothi felt that Gandhi was influenced by the reforms and teachings of Swaminarayan, stating “Close parallels do exist in programs of social reform based on to nonviolence, truth-telling, cleanliness, temperance and upliftment of the masses.” Vallabhbhai Patel, who grew up in a Swaminarayan household was attracted to Gandhi due to this aspect of Gandhi’s doctrine.
Gandhi’s ethical thinking was heavily influenced by a handful of books, which he repeatedly meditated upon. They included especially Plato’s Apology and John Ruskin’s Unto this Last (1862) (both of which he translated into his native Gujarati); William Salter’s Ethical Religion (1889); Henry David Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849); and Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894). Ruskin inspired his decision to live an austere life on a commune, at first on the Phoenix Farm in Natal and then on the Tolstoy Farm just outside Johannesburg, South Africa.
Balkrishna Gokhale argues that Gandhi took his philosophy of history from Hinduism and Jainism, supplemented by selected Christian traditions and ideas of Tolstoy and Ruskin. Hinduism provided central concepts of God’s role in history, of man as the battleground of forces of virtue and sin, and of the potential of love as an historical force. From Jainism, Gandhi took the idea of applying nonviolence to human situations and the theory that Absolute Reality can be comprehended only relatively in human affairs.
Historian Howard Spodek argues for the importance of the culture of Gujarat in shaping Gandhi’s methods. Spodek finds that some of Gandhi’s most effective methods such as fasting, noncooperation and appeals to the justice and compassion of the rulers were learned as a youth in Gujarat. Later on, the financial, cultural, organizational and geographical support needed to bring his campaigns to a national audience were drawn from Ahmedabad and Gujarat, his Indian residence 1915–1930.
Mohandas K. Gandhi and other residents of Tolstoy Farm, South Africa, 1910
Along with the book mentioned above, in 1908 Leo Tolstoy wrote A Letter to a Hindu, which said that only by using love as a weapon through passive resistance could the Indian people overthrow colonial rule. In 1909, Gandhi wrote to Tolstoy seeking advice and permission to republish A Letter to a Hindu in Gujarati. Tolstoy responded and the two continued a correspondence until Tolstoy’s death in 1910 (Tolstoy’s last letter was to Gandhi). The letters concern practical and theological applications of nonviolence. Gandhi saw himself a disciple of Tolstoy, for they agreed regarding opposition to state authority and colonialism; both hated violence and preached non-resistance. However, they differed sharply on political strategy. Gandhi called for political involvement; he was a nationalist and was prepared to use nonviolent force. He was also willing to compromise. It was at Tolstoy Farm where Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach systematically trained their disciples in the philosophy of nonviolence.
Truth and Satyagraha
“God is truth. The way to truth lies through ahimsa (nonviolence)”—Sabarmati 13 March 1927
Gandhi dedicated his life to the wider purpose of discovering truth, or Satya. He tried to achieve this by learning from his own mistakes and conducting experiments on himself. He called his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth.
Bruce Watson argues that Gandhi based Satyagraha on the Vedantic ideal of self-realization, and notes it also contains Jain and Buddhist notions of nonviolence, vegetarianism, the avoidance of killing, and ‘agape’ (universal love). Gandhi also borrowed Christian-Islamic ideas of equality, the brotherhood of man, and the concept of turning the other cheek.
Gandhi stated that the most important battle to fight was overcoming his own demons, fears, and insecurities. Gandhi summarised his beliefs first when he said “God is Truth”. He would later change this statement to “Truth is God”. Thus, satya (truth) in Gandhi’s philosophy is “God”.
The essence of Satyagraha (a name Gandhi invented meaning “adherence to truth”) is that it seeks to eliminate antagonisms without harming the antagonists themselves and seeks to transform or “purify” it to a higher level. A euphemism sometimes used for Satyagraha is that it is a “silent force” or a “soul force” (a term also used by Martin Luther King Jr. during his famous “I Have a Dream” speech). It arms the individual with moral power rather than physical power. Satyagraha is also termed a “universal force”, as it essentially “makes no distinction between kinsmen and strangers, young and old, man and woman, friend and foe.”
Gandhi wrote: “There must be no impatience, no barbarity, no insolence, no undue pressure. If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one’s cause.” Civil disobedience and noncooperation as practised under Satyagraha are based on the “law of suffering”, a doctrine that the endurance of suffering is a means to an end. This end usually implies a moral upliftment or progress of an individual or society. Therefore, noncooperation in Satyagraha is in fact a means to secure the cooperation of the opponent consistently with truth and justice.
Gandhi with textile workers at Darwen, Lancashire, 26 September 1931.
Although Gandhi was not the originator of the principle of nonviolence, he was the first to apply it in the political field on a large scale. The concept of nonviolence (ahimsa) and nonresistance has a long history in Indian religious thought. Gandhi explains his philosophy and way of life in his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Gandhi realised later that this level of nonviolence required incredible faith and courage, which he believed everyone did not possess. He therefore advised that everyone need not keep to nonviolence, especially if it were used as a cover for cowardice, saying, “where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.”
Gandhi thus came under some political fire for his criticism of those who attempted to achieve independence through more violent means. His refusal to protest against the hanging of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Udham Singh and Rajguru were sources of condemnation among some parties.
Of this criticism, Gandhi stated, “There was a time when people listened to me because I showed them how to give fight to the British without arms when they had no arms … but today I am told that my nonviolence can be of no avail against the [Hindu–Moslem riots] and, therefore, people should arm themselves for self-defense.”
Gandhi’s views came under heavy criticism in Britain when it was under attack from Nazi Germany, and later when the Holocaust was revealed. He told the British people in 1940, “I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions… If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.” George Orwell remarked that Gandhi’s methods confronted ‘an old-fashioned and rather shaky despotism which treated him in a fairly chivalrous way’, not a totalitarian Power, ‘where political opponents simply disappear.’
In a post-war interview in 1946, he said, “Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs… It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany… As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions.” Gandhi believed this act of “collective suicide”, in response to the Holocaust, “would have been heroism”.
One of Gandhi’s major strategies, first in South Africa and then in India, was uniting Muslims and Hindus to work together in opposition to British imperialism. In 1919–22 he won strong Muslim support for his leadership in the Khilafat Movement to support the historic Ottoman Caliphate. By 1924, that Muslim support had largely evaporated.
In 1931, he suggested that while he could understand the desire of European Jews to emigrate to Palestine, he opposed any movement that supported British colonialism or violence. Muslims throughout India and the Middle East strongly opposed the Zionist plan for a Jewish state in Palestine, and Gandhi (and Congress) supported the Muslims in this regard. By the 1930s all major political groups in India opposed a Jewish state in Palestine.
This led to discussions concerning the persecution of the Jews in Germany and the emigration of Jews from Europe to Palestine, which Gandhi framed through the lens of Satyagraha. In 1937, Gandhi discussed Zionism with his close Jewish friend Hermann Kallenbach. He said that Zionism was not the right answer to the Jewish problem and instead recommended Satyagraha. Gandhi thought the Zionists in Palestine represented European imperialism and used violence to achieve their goals; he argued that “the Jews should disclaim any intention of realizing their aspiration under the protection of arms and should rely wholly on the goodwill of Arabs. No exception can possibly be taken to the natural desire of the Jews to found a home in Palestine. But they must wait for its fulfillment till Arab opinion is ripe for it.” In 1938, Gandhi stated that his “sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became life-long companions.” Philosopher Martin Buber was highly critical of Gandhi’s approach and in 1939 wrote an open letter to him on the subject. Gandhi reiterated his stance on the use of Satyagraha in Palestine in 1947.
Vegetarianism and food
Stephen Hay argues that Gandhi looked into numerous religious and intellectual currents during his stay in London . He especially appreciated how the theosophical movement encouraged a religious eclecticism and an antipathy to atheism. Hay says the vegetarian movement had the greatest impact for it was Gandhi’s point of entry into other reformist agendas of the time. The idea of vegetarianism is deeply ingrained in Hindu and Jain traditions in India, especially in his native Gujarat. Gandhi was close to the chairman of the London Vegetarian Society, Dr. Josiah Oldfield, and corresponded with Henry Stephens Salt, a vegetarian campaigner. Gandhi became a strict vegetarian. He wrote the book The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism and wrote for the London Vegetarian Society’s publication. Gandhi was somewhat of a food faddist taking his own goat to travels so he could always have fresh milk.
Gandhi noted in The Story of My Experiments with Truth, that vegetarianism was the beginning of his deep commitment to Brahmacharya; without total control of the palate, his success in following Brahmacharya would likely falter. “You wish to know what the marks of a man are who wants to realise Truth which is God”, he wrote. “He must reduce himself to zero and have perfect control over all his senses-beginning with the palate or tongue.” Gandhi also stated that he followed a fruitarian diet for five years but discontinued it due to pleurisy and pressure from his doctor. He thereafter resumed a vegetarian diet.
Fasting, with young Indira Gandhi, mid-1920s
Gandhi used fasting as a political device, often threatening suicide unless demands were met. Congress publicised the fasts as a political action that generated widespread sympathy. In response the government tried to manipulate news coverage to minimise his challenge to the Raj. He fasted in 1932 to protest the voting scheme for separate political representation for Dalits; Gandhi did not want them segregated. The government stopped the London press from showing photographs of his emaciated body, because it would elicit sympathy. Gandhi’s 1943 hunger strike took place during a two-year prison term for the anticolonial Quit India movement. The government called on nutritional experts to demystify his action, and again no photos were allowed. However, his final fast in 1948, after India was independent, was lauded by the British press and this time did include full-length photos.
Alter argues that Gandhi’s fixation on diet and celibacy were much deeper than exercises in self-discipline. Rather, his beliefs regarding health offered a critique of both the traditional Hindu system of ayurvedic medicine and Western concepts. This challenge was integral to his deeper challenge to tradition and modernity, as health and nonviolence became part of the same ethics.
In 1906 Gandhi, although married and a father, vowed to abstain from sexual relations. In the 1940s, in his mid-seventies, he brought his grandniece Manubehn to sleep naked in his bed as part of a spiritual experiment in which Gandhi could test himself as a “brahmachari”. Several other young women and girls also sometimes shared his bed as part of his experiments. Gandhi’s behaviour was widely discussed and criticised by family members and leading politicians, including Nehru. Some members of his staff resigned, including two editors of his newspaper who left after refusing to print parts of Gandhi’s sermons dealing with his sleeping arrangements. But Gandhi said that if he wouldn’t let Manu sleep with him, it would be a sign of weakness.
Gandhi discussed his experiment with friends and relations; most disagreed and the experiment ceased in 1947. Religious studies scholar Veena Howard argues that Gandhi made “creative use of his celibacy and his authority as a mahatma “to reinterpret religious norms and confront unjust social and religious conventions relegating women to lower status.” According to Howard, Gandhi “developed his discourse as a religious renouncer within India’s traditions to confront repressive social and religious customs regarding women and to bring them into the public sphere, during a time when the discourse on celibacy was typically imbued with masculine rhetoric and misogynist inferences…. his writings show a consistent evolution of his thought toward creating an equal playing field for members of both sexes and even elevating women to a higher plane—all through his discourse and unorthodox practice of brahmacharya.
Nai Talim, basic education
Main article: Nai Talim
Gandhi’s educational policies reflected Nai Talim (‘Basic Education for all’), a spiritual principle which states that knowledge and work are not separate. It was a reaction against the British educational system and colonialism in general, which had the negative effect of making Indian children alienated and career-based; it promoted disdain for manual work, the development of a new elite class, and the increasing problems of industrialisation and urbanisation. The three pillars of Gandhi’s pedagogy were its focus on the lifelong character of education, its social character and its form as a holistic process. For Gandhi, education is ‘the moral development of the person’, a process that is by definition ‘lifelong’.
Nai Talim evolved out of the spiritually oriented education program at Tolstoy Farm in South Africa, and Gandhi’s work at the ashram at Sevagram after 1937. After 1947 the Nehru government’s vision of an industrialised, centrally planned economy had scant place for Gandhi’s village-oriented approach.
Main article: Swaraj
Rudolph argues that after a false start in trying to emulate the English in an attempt to overcome his timidity, Gandhi discovered the inner courage he was seeking by helping his countrymen in South Africa. The new courage consisted of observing the traditional Bengali way of “self-suffering” and, in finding his own courage, he was enabled also to point out the way of ‘Satyagraha’ and ‘ahimsa’ to the whole of India. Gandhi’s writings expressed four meanings of freedom: as India’s national independence; as individual political freedom; as group freedom from poverty; and as the capacity for personal self-rule.
Gandhi was a self-described philosophical anarchist, and his vision of India meant an India without an underlying government. He once said that “the ideally nonviolent state would be an ordered anarchy.” While political systems are largely hierarchical, with each layer of authority from the individual to the central government have increasing levels of authority over the layer below, Gandhi believed that society should be the exact opposite, where nothing is done without the consent of anyone, down to the individual. His idea was that true self-rule in a country means that every person rules his or herself and that there is no state which enforces laws upon the people.
This would be achieved over time with nonviolent conflict mediation, as power is divested from layers of hierarchical authorities, ultimately to the individual, which would come to embody the ethic of nonviolence. Rather than a system where rights are enforced by a higher authority, people are self-governed by mutual responsibilities. On returning from South Africa, when Gandhi received a letter asking for his participation in writing a world charter for human rights, he responded saying, “in my experience, it is far more important to have a charter for human duties.”
A free India did not mean merely transferring the established British administrative structure into Indian hands. He warned, “you would make India English. And when it becomes English, it will be called not Hindustan but Englishtan. This is not the Swaraj I want.” Tewari argues that Gandhi saw democracy as more than a system of government; it meant promoting both individuality and the self-discipline of the community. Democracy was a moral system that distributed power and assisted the development of every social class, especially the lowest. It meant settling disputes in a nonviolent manner; it required freedom of thought and expression. For Gandhi, democracy was a way of life.
A free India for Gandhi meant the flourishing of thousands of self-sufficient small communities who rule themselves without hindering others. Gandhian economics focused on the need for economic self-sufficiency at the village level. His policy of “sarvodaya” called for ending poverty through improved agriculture and small-scale cottage industries in every village. Gandhi challenged Nehru and the modernizers in the late 1930s who called for rapid industrialisation on the Soviet model; Gandhi denounced that as dehumanising and contrary to the needs of the villages where the great majority of the people lived. After Gandhi’s death Nehru led India to large-scale planning that emphasised modernisation and heavy industry, while modernising agriculture through irrigation. Historian Kuruvilla Pandikattu says “it was Nehru’s vision, not Gandhi’s, that was eventually preferred by the Indian State.” After Gandhi’s death activists inspired by his vision promoted their opposition to industrialisation through the teachings of Gandhian economics. According to Gandhi, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”
Young India, a weekly journal published by Gandhi from 1919 to 1932
Gandhi was a prolific writer. One of Gandhi’s earliest publications, Hind Swaraj, published in Gujarati in 1909, is recognised[by whom?] as the intellectual blueprint of India’s independence movement. The book was translated into English the next year, with a copyright legend that read “No Rights Reserved”. For decades he edited several newspapers including Harijan in Gujarati, in Hindi and in the English language; Indian Opinion while in South Africa and, Young India, in English, and Navajivan, a Gujarati monthly, on his return to India. Later, Navajivan was also published in Hindi. In addition, he wrote letters almost every day to individuals and newspapers.
Gandhi also wrote several books including his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth (Gujarātī “સત્યના પ્રયોગો અથવા આત્મકથા”), of which he bought the entire first edition to make sure it was reprinted. His other autobiographies included: Satyagraha in South Africa about his struggle there, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, a political pamphlet, and a paraphrase in Gujarati of John Ruskin’s Unto This Last. This last essay can be considered his programme on economics. He also wrote extensively on vegetarianism, diet and health, religion, social reforms, etc. Gandhi usually wrote in Gujarati, though he also revised the Hindi and English translations of his books.
Gandhi’s complete works were published by the Indian government under the name The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi in the 1960s. The writings comprise about 50,000 pages published in about a hundred volumes. In 2000, a revised edition of the complete works sparked a controversy, as it contained a large number of errors and omissions. The Indian government later withdrew the revised edition.
Legacy and depictions in popular culture
A wall graffiti in San Francisco containing a quote and image of Gandhi
The word Mahatma, while often mistaken for Gandhi’s given name in the West, is taken from the Sanskrit words maha (meaning Great) and atma (meaning Soul). Rabindranath Tagore is said to have accorded the title to Gandhi. In his autobiography, Gandhi nevertheless explains that he never valued the title, and was often pained by it.
Innumerable streets, roads and localities in India are named after M.K.Gandhi. These include M.G.Road (the main street of a number of Indian cities including Mumbai and Bangalore), Gandhi Market (near Sion, Mumbai) and Gandhinagar (the capital of the state of Gujarat, Gandhi’s birthplace).
In 2009, the search engine Google commemorated Gandhi in their Google Doodle.
Followers and international influence
Statue of Mahatma Gandhi at York University.
Mahatma Gandhi on a 1969 postage stamp of the Soviet Union
Mahatma Gandhi at Praça Túlio Fontoura, São Paulo, Brazil Statue by Gautam Pal
Gandhi influenced important leaders and political movements. Leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States, including Martin Luther King, James Lawson, and James Bevel, drew from the writings of Gandhi in the development of their own theories about nonviolence. King said “Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics.” King sometimes referred to Gandhi as “the little brown saint.” Anti-apartheid activist and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was inspired by Gandhi. Others include Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Steve Biko, and Aung San Suu Kyi.
In his early years, the former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela was a follower of the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi. Bhana and Vahed commented on these events as “Gandhi inspired succeeding generations of South African activists seeking to end White rule. This legacy connects him to Nelson Mandela…in a sense Mandela completed what Gandhi started.”
Gandhi’s life and teachings inspired many who specifically referred to Gandhi as their mentor or who dedicated their lives to spreading Gandhi’s ideas. In Europe, Romain Rolland was the first to discuss Gandhi in his 1924 book Mahatma Gandhi, and Brazilian anarchist and feminist Maria Lacerda de Moura wrote about Gandhi in her work on pacifism. In 1931, notable European physicist Albert Einstein exchanged written letters with Gandhi, and called him “a role model for the generations to come” in a letter writing about him. Einstein said of Gandhi:
Mahatma Gandhi’s life achievement stands unique in political history. He has invented a completely new and humane means for the liberation war of an oppressed country, and practised it with greatest energy and devotion. The moral influence he had on the consciously thinking human being of the entire civilized world will probably be much more lasting than it seems in our time with its overestimation of brutal violent forces. Because lasting will only be the work of such statesmen who wake up and strengthen the moral power of their people through their example and educational works. We may all be happy and grateful that destiny gifted us with such an enlightened contemporary, a role model for the generations to come.
Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood.
Lanza del Vasto went to India in 1936 intending to live with Gandhi; he later returned to Europe to spread Gandhi’s philosophy and founded the Community of the Ark in 1948 (modelled after Gandhi’s ashrams). Madeleine Slade (known as “Mirabehn”) was the daughter of a British admiral who spent much of her adult life in India as a devotee of Gandhi.
In addition, the British musician John Lennon referred to Gandhi when discussing his views on nonviolence. At the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in 2007, former US Vice-President and environmentalist Al Gore spoke of Gandhi’s influence on him.
Bust of Gandhi “Apostle of Non Violence” by Kenyan-born artist of Indian origin, Kirti Mandir, in Edinburgh, Scotland
I am mindful that I might not be standing before you today, as President of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared with America and the world.
Obama in September 2009 said that his biggest inspiration came from Mahatma Gandhi. His reply was in response to the question ‘Who was the one person, dead or live, that you would choose to dine with?’. He continued that “He’s somebody I find a lot of inspiration in. He inspired Dr. King with his message of nonviolence. He ended up doing so much and changed the world just by the power of his ethics.”
Time Magazine named The 14th Dalai Lama, Lech Wałęsa, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Aung San Suu Kyi, Benigno Aquino, Jr., Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela as Children of Gandhi and his spiritual heirs to nonviolence. The Mahatma Gandhi District in Houston, Texas, United States, an ethnic Indian enclave, is officially named after Gandhi.
In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly declared Gandhi’s birthday 2 October as “the International Day of Nonviolence.” First proposed by UNESCO in 1948, as the School Day of Nonviolence and Peace (DENIP in Spanish), 30 January is observed as the School Day of Nonviolence and Peace in schools of many countries In countries with a Southern Hemisphere school calendar, it is observed on 30 March.
Monument to M.K. Gandhi in New Belgrade, Serbia. On the monument is written “Nonviolence is the essence of all religions”.
Time magazine named Gandhi the Man of the Year in 1930. Gandhi was also the runner-up to Albert Einstein as “Person of the Century” at the end of 1999. The Government of India awarded the annual Gandhi Peace Prize to distinguished social workers, world leaders and citizens. Nelson Mandela, the leader of South Africa’s struggle to eradicate racial discrimination and segregation, was a prominent non-Indian recipient. In 2011, Time magazine named Gandhi as one of the top 25 political icons of all time.
Gandhi did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize, although he was nominated five times between 1937 and 1948, including the first-ever nomination by the American Friends Service Committee, though he made the short list only twice, in 1937 and 1947. Decades later, the Nobel Committee publicly declared its regret for the omission, and admitted to deeply divided nationalistic opinion denying the award. Gandhi was nominated in 1948 but was assassinated before nominations closed. That year, the committee chose not to award the peace prize stating that “there was no suitable living candidate” and later research shows that the possibility of awarding the prize posthumously to Gandhi was discussed and that the reference to no suitable living candidate was to Gandhi. When the 14th Dalai Lama was awarded the Prize in 1989, the chairman of the committee said that this was “in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi”.
Film, theatre and literature
A 5 hours, 9 minutes long biographical documentary film; Mahatma: Life of Gandhi, 1869–1948, made by Vithalbhai Jhaveri in 1968, quoting Gandhi’s words and using black & white archival footage and photographs, captures the history of those times. Ben Kingsley portrayed him in the 1982 film Gandhi, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The 1996 film The Making of the Mahatma documented Gandhi’s time in South Africa and his transformation from an inexperienced barrister to recognised political leader. Gandhi was a central figure in the 2006 Bollywood comedy film Lage Raho Munna Bhai. Jahnu Barua’s Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara (I did not kill Gandhi), places contemporary society as a backdrop with its vanishing memory of Gandhi’s values as a metaphor for the senile forgetfulness of the protagonist of his 2005 film, writes Vinay Lal.
Anti-Gandhi themes have also been showcased through films and plays. The 1995 Marathi play Gandhi Virudh Gandhi explored the relationship between Gandhi and his son Harilal. The 2007 film, Gandhi, My Father was inspired on the same theme. The 1989 Marathi play Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy and the 1997 Hindi play Gandhi Ambedkar criticised Gandhi and his principles.
Several biographers have undertaken the task of describing Gandhi’s life. Among them are D. G. Tendulkar with his Mahatma. Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in eight volumes, and Pyarelal and Sushila Nayyar with their Mahatma Gandhi in 10 volumes. The 2010 biography, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India by Joseph Lelyveld contained controversial material speculating about Gandhi’s sexual life. Lelyveld, however, stated that the press coverage “grossly distort[s]” the overall message of the book. The 2014 film Welcome Back Gandhi takes a fictionalised look at how Gandhi might react to modern day India.
Current impact within India
The Gandhi Mandapam, a temple in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu in India. This temple was erected to honour M.K. Gandhi.
India, with its rapid economic modernisation and urbanisation, has rejected Gandhi’s economics but accepted much of his politics and continues to revere his memory. Reporter Jim Yardley notes that, “modern India is hardly a Gandhian nation, if it ever was one. His vision of a village-dominated economy was shunted aside during his lifetime as rural romanticism, and his call for a national ethos of personal austerity and nonviolence has proved antithetical to the goals of an aspiring economic and military power.” By contrast Gandhi is “given full credit for India’s political identity as a tolerant, secular democracy.”
Gandhi’s birthday, 2 October, is a national holiday in India, Gandhi Jayanti. Gandhi’s image also appears on paper currency of all denominations issued by Reserve Bank of India, except for the one rupee note. Gandhi’s date of death, 30 January, is commemorated as a Martyrs’ Day in India.
There are two temples in India dedicated to Gandhi. One is located at Sambalpur in Orissa and the other at Nidaghatta village near Kadur in Chikmagalur district of Karnataka. The Gandhi Memorial in Kanyakumari resembles central Indian Hindu temples and the Tamukkam or Summer Palace in Madurai now houses the Mahatma Gandhi Museum.