Mahatma Gandhi

Biography of Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi, byname of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, (born October 2, 1869, Porbandar, India—died January 30, 1948, Delhi), Indian lawyer, politician, social activist, and writer who became the leader of the nationalist movement against the British rule of India. As such, he came to be considered the father of his country. Gandhi is internationally esteemed for his doctrine of nonviolent protest (satyagraha) to achieve political and social progress.

Gandhi studied law at the University of Bombay for one year, then at the University College London, from which he graduated in 1891, and was admitted to the bar of England. His reading of “Civil Disobedience” by David Thoreau inspired his devotion to the principle of non-violence. He returned to Bombay and practiced law there for a year, then went to South Africa to work for an Indian firm in Natal. There Gandhi experienced racism: he was thrown off a train while holding a valid first class ticket and pushed to third class.

Later he was beaten by a stagecoach driver for refusing to travel on the foot-board to make room for a European passenger. He was barred from many hotels because of his race. In 1894, Gandhi founded the Natal Indian Congress. They focused on the Indian cause and British discrimination in South Africa. In 1897, Gandhi brought his wife and children to South Africa. He was attacked by a mob of racists, who tried to lynch him. He refused to press charges on any member of the mob. Gandhi became the first non-white lawyer to be admitted to the bar in South Africa.

Attitude to war

When war broke out in 1939 he was still the most influential man in India, and the mass of Hindus looked to him for leadership. His attitude during the war years was difficult to define. He could not be described as having opposed the basic cause for which Great Britain stood – popular government, the rights of the individual man, and national independence. Yet he could not bring himself to support the British in the war. For one thing, he would never compromise over pacifism.

War, for whatever cause, was in his view a bad thing. Though evil must be resisted, it could never be fought effectively by violence, for violence was the root of all evil. Resistance to Germany and Japan must therefore be by the same means of non-violence that he had himself used in India against the British.

But Gandhi was not content with withholding support for the British war effort. The war cut across his own struggle with the British for Indian independence. He could not help using the war in order to aid what he conceived to be India’s cause. If in doing so he increased the chances of a German or Japanese victory, which would, in the long run, have been fatal for Indian independence itself, that was an incidental effect of his actions and was never his intention.

Moreover, when he was reproached that by his actions he was weakening Great Britain, the main champion of the causes for which he stood, he replied that Great Britain, by its imperialist rule in India, was weakening itself morally. If this rule was liquidated, Great Britain’s moral stature would grow. In opposing Great Britain he was really working for its welfare. At times he seemed maddeningly incapable of realizing that, as the world then stood, a morally purified Great Britain would have been of little use to the cause of righteousness if it was also militarily weakened.

The Cripps Mission

The crisis in the war-time relations between Mr. Gandhi and the British Government came during the Cripps mission in the spring of 1942. Sir Stafford Cripps took with his proposals for establishing in India immediately after the war Dominion status of full self-government, with the right to declare independence, the minimum provision being made to render the scheme acceptable to Moslems. During the war the ultimate control of India’s war effort, and all that implied, was to rest with the British Government, Indian politicians were invited to form the Government of India, subject only to that ultimate control.

These proposals were rejected by the Congress Working Committee with Gandhi’s approval and, it seems, chiefly at his instigation. The crucial issue was “immediate independence,” on which Congress insisted. The manner in which British control was to be withdrawn and a provisional Government substituted was set out – along with a threat of mass civil disobedience, under Gandhi’s direction – in a remarkable resolution of the Congress Working Committee which formally summoned the British Government to act on Gandhi’s formula. “Leave India to God or anarchy.”

The Indian Government retaliated by publishing the original draft of a resolution drawn up by Gandhi for the Congress Working Committee on April 27, which showed that he expected India to use her independence to negotiate for peace with Japan. The effect on opinion was such that Gandhi felt impelled to explain away much that appeared on the face of the draft before the resolution of July 14 came before the All-India Congress Committee at Bombay in August. A few hours after the resolution had been carried he was interned, as he must have expected to be.

The last phase

His internment ended in April 1945. He was then 76 and though his hold over the country was unshaken, he allowed the leadership in policies to pass increasingly into the hands of Mr. Patel and Mr. Nehru. After the election of the Labour Government, Great Britain made absolutely clear that it would lay down its power in India, and the principal question was whether it should transfer power to a unitary India or to two separate Governments of Hindu and Moslem India.

Mr. Gandhi was known to believe that the division of India would be a calamity. At one time in the negotiations between Congress and the British, he seemed to acquiesce in the division, as the price of freedom, but later he reverted to unqualified opposition. Opinion in the Congress Working Committee was, however, for division as the only solution, and Mr. Gandhi, therefore, stood aside and left the decision to the younger men, believing that they were taking a disastrous course, but believing too that the leadership must now be in their hands.

His last few months he spent in continuous and not unsuccessful attempts to restore peace in one area after another as communal hostility flared up into massacre and calamity after the withdrawal of the British power. With a number of disciples, he made a progress through the disturbing parts of Bengal, awing the excited masses into peace by the prestige of his name and his asceticism.

His reply to a renewal of violence in Calcutta in September was a complete fast from everything but water. After three days peace was restored and his fast was broken. Again early this month he met communal disturbances in Delhi with another fast – of five days – which had a great moral effect and led to solemn assurances of consideration for the Moslem minority. Less than a fortnight later he was to meet his death while engaged in religious observances.

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