Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, also known as mahatma Gandhi, was a Indian nationalist leader, who established his country’s freedom through a nonviolent revolution. Gandhi became a leader in a difficult struggle, the Indian campaign for home rule. He believed and dedicated his life to demonstrating that both individuals and nations owe it to themselves to stay free, and to allow the same freedom to others. Gandhi was one of the gentlest of men, a devout and almost mystical Hindu, but he had and iron core of determination. Nothing could change his convictions. Some observers called him a master politician. Others believed him a saint.
Gandhi became a leader in a difficult struggle, the Indian campaign for home rule. He worked to reconcile all classes and religious sects. Gandhi meant not only technical self-government but also self-reliance. After World War I, in which he played an active part in recruiting campaigns, he launched his movement of passive resistance to Great Britain. When the Britain government failed to make amends, Gandhi established an organized campaign of noncooperation. Through India, streets were blocked by squatting Indians who efused to rise even when beaten by the police. He declared he would go to jail even die before obeying anti-Asian Law.
Gandhi was arrested, but the British were soon forced to release him. Economic independence for India, involving the complete boycott of British goods, was made a result of Gandhi’s self-ruling movement. The economic aspects of the movement were serious, for the exploitation of Indian villagers by British industrialists has resulted in extreme poverty in the country and the virtual destruction of Indian home industries. As a solution for such poverty, Gandhi supported revival of ottage industries; he began to use a spinning wheel as a token of the return to the simple village life he preached, and of the renewal of native Indian Industries.
Gandhi became the international symbol of a free India. He lived a spiritual and ascetic life of prayer, fasting, and meditation. He employed propaganda, agitation, demonstration, boycott, noncooperation, parallel government, and strikes. He refused earthly possessions, he wore the loincloth and shawl of the lowliest Indian and lived on vegetables, fruit juices, and goat’s milk. Indians thought of him as a saint and began to call him Mahatma. Mahatma meant great soul, a title reserved for the greatest leaders.
Gandhi’s nonviolence was the expression of a way of life understood in the Hindu religion. By the Indian practice of nonviolence, Gandhi said, Great Britain would eventually consider violence useless and would leave India. The Mahatma’s political and spiritual hold on India was so great that the British authorities dared not to interfere with him. In 1921 the Indian National Congress, the group that spearheaded the movement for nationhood, gave Gandhi complete executive authority, with the right of naming his own successor.
A series of armed revolts against Great Britain broke out, culminating in such violence that Gandhi confessed failure of the civil-disobedience campaign he had called, and ended it. The British government again seized and imprisoned him in 1922. In 1930 the Mahatma proclaimed a new campaign for civil disobedience, calling upon the Indian population to refuse to pay taxes, particularly the tax on salt. The campaign was a two hundred mile march to the sea, in which thousands of Indians followed Gandhi from Ahmadabad to the Arabian Sea, where they made salt by vaporating sea water.
Once more Gandhi was arrested, but he was released in 1931, halting the campaign after the British made compromises to his demands. In the same year Gandhi represented the Indian National Congress at a conference in London. In 1932, Gandhi began new civil-disobedience campaigns against the British. Gandhi fasted for long periods several times; these fasts were effective measures against the British, because revolution might well have broken out in India if he had died. In September 1932, while in jail, Gandhi undertook a fast unto death to improve the status of the Hindu Untouchables.
The British, by permitting the Untouchables to be considered as a separate part of the Indian voters, were, according to Gandhi, aid an injustice. Although he was himself a member of the Vaisya (merchant) caste, Gandhi was the great leader of the movement in India dedicated to terminating the unjust social and economic aspects of the caste system. In 1934 Gandhi formally resigned from politics. He raveled through India, teaching nonviolence. A few years later, in 1939, he again returned to active political life because of the pending federation of Indian principalities ith the rest of India.
Public unrest caused by the fast was so great that the colonial government intervened and the demands were granted. The Mahatma again became the most important political figure in India. When World War II broke out, the congress party and Gandhi demanded a declaration of war aims and their application to India. As a reaction to the unsatisfactory response from the British, the party decided not to support Britain in the war unless the country was granted complete and immediate independence. The British refused, offering compromises that were rejected.
By 1944 the Indian struggle for Independence was in its final stages, the British government having agreed to independence on condition that the two contending nationalist groups, the Muslim league and the Congress party, should resolve their differences. Gandhi stood steadfastly against the partition of India but ultimately had to agree, in the hope that internal peace would be achieved after the Muslims demand for separation had been satisfied. India and Pakistan became separate states when the British granted India its independence in 1947.
During the riots that followed the partition of India, Gandhi pleaded with Hindus and Muslims to live together peacefully. Riots engulfed Calcutta, one of the largest cities in India, and the Mahatma fasted until disturbance ceased. On January 13, 1948, he undertook another successful fast in New Delhi to bring about peace. Religious violence soon declined in India and Pakistan, and the teachings of Gandhi came to inspire nonviolent movements elsewhere. Within fifty five years of his self awakening after being evicted from South Africa train compartment, Gandhi managed to evict the British Empire from India.