The life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a unique journey along the path of greatness. He courageously proclaimed that his life was his message. A simple man clad in a handwoven dhoti, he believed that the greatest weapon is one’s own character.
Gandhiji lived in troubled times when India’s social and political existence was crushed by the mighty British Empire. His clarity of vision and his mission ignited the minds of thousands of people. Under his leadership, the freedom struggle of India, for the first time, became a truly mass movement. He had no armies to command, yet the mightiest empire of the times was no match for his determined leadership, clear vision, and strength of character.
Mahatma Gandhi’s Life Timeline
1869: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi born on October 2 in Porbandar.
1882: Married Kasturba. Both aged 13.
1888: Gandhi’s first son Harilal is born, Gandhi sails to England to study law.
1891: Returns to India after being called to bar.
1892: His second son Manilal is born.
1893: In April, sails to South Africa to work for Dada Abdullah & Co.
1896: Return to India to collect his family.
1897: His third son Ramdas, is born.
1899: Boer War: Gandhi supports the British and organizes Ambulance Corps.
1900: His youngest son Devadas, is born.
1904: Phoenix Farm purchases and Gandhi sets up his Ashram.
1906: Zulu Rebellion: Gandhi again organizes Ambulance corps.
1906: First Satyagraha campaign begins in South Africa. Gandhi is sent to prison four times during the next five years.
1913: South Africa repeals some of the discriminatory legislation against the Indian community.
1915: Gandhiji returns to India and founds an Ashram at Ahmedabad.
1919: Gandhiji calls for a hartal on March 30 and April 6.
1922: Gandhiji jailed in March for 6 years. Released in February 1924.
1928: Congress calls for Independence for India.
1930: March: the Salt March to Dandi. Gandhiji arrested in May just before the congress organizes the demonstration at the Dharasana Saltworks.
1931: Gandhiji released in January and leaves for Round Table Conference in London.
1932: On his return to India, Gandhiji is re-arrested. Released in May
1933: In September, he starts fast to death on ‘untouchable issue’.
1942: “Quit India” resolution passed by the Congress. Gandhiji and other leaders arrested.
1944: Kasturba dies in prison on February 22nd. Gandhiji released in May.
1946: April: Jinnah calls for a separate Pakistan. August: Communal riots in Calcutta. Gandhiji goes into troubled areas.
1947: February: Lord Mountbatten appointed as the last Viceroy of British India. August 15: Independence declared. September: Gandhiji undertakes fast to the death against communal violence.
1948: January 30: Gandhiji assassinated by Nathuram Vinayak Godse.
Childhood of Gandhiji
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Porbandar, Gujarat, on 2nd October 1869. His parents were Karamchand Gandhi and Putlibai. His father worked as a prime minister in Porbandar and in Rajkot.
Putlibai was a deeply religious woman. She was also a vegetarian as per tradition and used to fast to cleanse herself of the craving for food. Neither fancy clothes nor jewelry attracted her. At the same time, she was a woman of great common sense and was well informed about all matters of state. She left a strong impression on young Mohandas, and he had great admiration for his mother. She treated all living creatures equally and respected them all. Putlibai valued the opinions of others. Now, it is clear that she laid the foundation for the values Gandhiji upheld. She was a role model for his life and principles.
Gandhiji’s life as a student began at Rajkot where he studied the basics of arithmetic, history, geography, and the Gujarati language. As a student, he did not show exceptional merit. He did not excel in the playground either. He was a boy who adored long walks rather than playing games.
Mahatma Gandhi matriculated from Bombay University in 1887. Gandhiji’s honesty finds mention in the pages of history. Once, during his school days, an inspector visited his school. The children have dictated five English words. His teacher encouraged young Mohandas to copy from his fellow student a word he had misspelled. He refused to do this, despite inviting the displeasure of his own teacher. Thus, though he was an ordinary student he had strongly embraced high values.
Gandhiji got good role models through reading. He came to know about many great characters in Indian mythology through reading. Among them were some who won his admiration like Raja Harischandra, a virtuous king who went through harsh tests, yet never deviated from the truth. He was also motivated by the story of Prahlad, the boy prince who showed his father the greatness of God. Such great characters had an overwhelming influence on young Gandhi. There is no doubt that these heroes had a great role to play in molding Gandhiji’s principles like truth and honesty.
Can you believe that there existed a time in India when child marriages were so common? Mahatma Gandhi was himself a victim of this practice. It may seem curious now, that most of the time these marriages took place without the children knowing they were entering a new life.
After marriage, these children would be happy to get a new playmate! Kasturbai Makhanji, later known as Kasturba Gandhi, and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi got married in the year 1883. Due to his marriage, he lost a year at school, but he later made up for this.
Life was a little bit confusing for both of them in the beginning. Young Mohandas often tried to control his wife with strict rules, but that didn’t work well. In his later life, Kasturba became an ardent supporter of Gandhiji’s public life.
Gandhiji had qualified for college education after his matriculation in 1887. His father had been a Diwan in Porbandar, and everybody in the family was expecting Gandhiji too, to become a Diwan. At that time, a degree in law was a must to occupy this coveted post.
A family friend advised Gandhiji to pursue his study of law in England. This kindled a keen interest in Gandhiji, but there were a lot of hurdles in taking up studies in a foreign land. Foremost among them was the question of money. His family was not financially sound at that time. But this problem was solved when Gandhiji’s elder brother made arrangements for monetary support.
His mother was very particular about keeping his religious purity in food and other habits and he even had to take an oath to remain a strict vegetarian in England, and to keep his morals. The community to which he belonged also opposed Gandhiji’s journey to a foreign land. He was later declared an outcast by the community. In any case, he set out on his journey on September 4th, 1888.
Gandhiji in London
Gandhiji went to London to pursue his studies in law and to become a solicitor. The main problem he faced was food. Gandhiji was a vegetarian, and he had a tough time finding proper food. Even the vegetarian food he got was tasteless. He was in effect starving, and very reluctant to ask his landlady for extra rations of bread. Like any other Indian student who was studying abroad, Gandhiji was homesick, too.
English was an alien language for him. The English ways of dressing and etiquette appeared strange to Gandhiji. He was influenced by Henry Salt’s writing, and he joined the vegetarian society. He was also nominated to its executive committee. Some of the vegetarians he met were members of the Theosophical Society. This organization, founded in 1875, to expand the horizon of universal brotherhood, had a great influence on him.
Gandhiji overcame initial difficulties with sheer willpower abroad. He made efforts to blend into the ways of English society. He tried to modify his attire. Gandhiji even asked his brother to send him a gold watch and made changes in his hairstyle by parting it.
Mahatma Gandhi also collected a top hat, evening suit, and walking stick. Can you believe, that in spite of his meager budget, he signed for dance lessons which he quit later, as he could not cope with them? Mahatma Gandhi thought that mastering the violin was a better option, so he invested money in that.
He even attended classes in public speaking. He also decided to take up the London matriculation exam with his studies. But the courses at University College London were not simple. Gandhiji finally passed his law examinations in January 1891 and enrolled as a barrister. Thus his student years in London came to an end and he sailed for India on 12th June 1891.
Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa
After his return from London, Gandhiji hunted for a job. He moved to Bombay, hoping to build up a career, but he could not find success there as a lawyer. Life became even more troublesome when he tried to be a part of a court case related to his brother, Laxmidas. That is when he received a job offer from an Indian business firm in South Africa named Dada Abdulla & Co. He had no choice other than to accept it.
He started his journey to South Africa in April 1893. This was a turning point in his life. He came to finish a single assignment but was to stay there for twenty-one years. On reaching South Africa, he was horrified to realize the condition of Indians there. This was a time when many Indians in Africa were deprived of their fundamental rights, because of their skin color. While practicing law, Gandhiji began to work for the Indians in South Africa.
Racial discrimination was common in the then South African society. Thousands of people were denied their basic rights on the basis of their skin color. Indians migrated to South Africa to work in the British plantations and farms. The driving force behind their migration was mainly monetary benefits, but the condition of the Indians was very poor compared to their lives in India.
They had to struggle to get a meager amount of money and even a loaf of bread. But some of them were able to overcome these struggles, and become as successful as the whites and they became a source of fear for the whites. The whites tried hard to exterminate the Indians in many ways. Various laws were introduced to attack the Indians and to curtail their fundamental rights. This racial segregation in a way touched every aspect of their life. Indians were given the status of ‘coolies’. Merchants were mocked as coolie merchants. For pretty long years, colored people could ride only in third class cars on South African trains.
Gandhiji got to know about the condition of Indians living there, and soon, he experienced the horror of the conditions himself.
One day, Gandhiji was on a business trip from Durban to Pretoria. He purchased a first-class ticket. Soon after Gandhi settled into the first-class carriage, a European passenger on that train complained to the conductor that an Indian was on board. This white man was very reluctant to share his compartment with Gandhiji. Gandhiji was told to move out of the compartment. He was pushed out of the train by the railway officials, along with his luggage.
Gandhiji spent the whole night in the station, shivering in the cold. He then took the firm decision to fight against racial discrimination. This journey was a turning point in the life of Gandhiji.
At Natal Indian Congress
Gandhiji while living in a place called Natal in South Africa, founded an organization known as the Natal Indian Congress. He was a tireless secretary of the congress. The prime aim of congress was to unity Indians, and make them aware of their rights. They struggled against the discrimination Indians faced at the hands of the British.
The constitution of the organization was officially launched on 22nd August 1894. In its infant years, the Natal Indian Congress submitted many petitions for changes in discriminatory laws. Gandhiji imparted a harmonious spirit in the diverse Indian community.
He plied all the government offices, legislature, and the media with logical statements of the grievances of the Indian community. Gandhiji and his organization stood for the cause of the upliftment of the Indian working class. Thus it became a burning issue in newspapers like ‘The Times of London’, and ‘Englishman’ of Calcutta.
Do you know who the Boers are? ‘Boer’ is the Dutch word for farmer. It was used to designate the progenies of the Dutch-speaking settlers of the Eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 18th century. Boer War was fought between the British and Boers. This war was a symbol of the imperialistic greed of the British over its colonies. The British decided to mine gold and diamonds in the land of Boers. The Boers became so offended by this decision, that they declared war against the British. Eventually, the Boers lost the war against the British.
Surprisingly, the Indians in South Africa, along with Gandhiji, supported the British, during the war, though they sympathized with the condition of the Boers. This was because they believed that only then could they survive, or earn their rights in the territory of Britain. The service provided by the Indians in the Warfield was appreciated by the British officers.
First Experiment with Satyagraha
Gandhiji was an ardent believer of Satyagraha as a powerful weapon. The word Satyagraha means truth-force. It embraces civil disobedience and relentless pursuit of truth and peace. This inspirational concept, which completely changed the face of the Indian struggle for independence, was first tested in South Africa.
Gandhiji proposed certain rules for satyagrahis to follow. He trained the Indians during the South African passive resistance campaign. In short, this was a trial run for his future campaigns. No worship of violence, and belief in suffering the insults patiently, etc. are the mottos of a satyagrahi.
Satyagraha does not aim at humiliating rivals but aims to soften their heart by peace. Satyagraha was fruitful in South Africa and along with this, Gandhiji practiced self-reliance. It was compulsory for him that his family should also be self-reliant. He used to wash his clothes by himself. He cut his own hair, and that of his children as well. In short, it is clear that the Indian freedom struggle was a much bigger test for Gandhiji and his idea of Satyagraha.
Influence of John Ruskin
John Ruskin and his magnum opus ‘Unto This Last,’ were an influential force in Gandhiji’s life. Ruskin argued in his writing that true wealth is not earning more and more money but accustomed more to peace in one’s life. He also held that being peaceful is more imperative than being powerful.
Motivated by this idea, Gandhiji began a farm outside Durban-the Phoenix settlement. It was Gandhiji’s first experimental ashram. In the ashram, Gandhiji and his supporters lived a life of no luxuries. They cultivated and ran a printing press for the Indians to express their opinions.
They published a weekly journal founded by Gandhiji. It featured informative articles on various topics like politics, diet, health, and sanitary habits. The Tolstoy Farm was another community started by Gandhiji near Johannesburg. Gandhiji urged proper hygiene in his ashrams, as he believed that being hygienic is important for a healthy spiritual life.
Return from South Africa
Gandhiji was a popular figure when he returned to India from South Africa. He returned along with his family in 1915. He received a warm welcome from his people. Gandhiji was not aware of the existing conditions and key problems in India. So, he was certain not to campaign for the rights of Indians until he got to know the context clearly.
Gandhiji built an ashram at Sabarmati in the heart of Ahmadabad. About 200 people including men and women promised to live in the ashram, according to the principles of Gandhiji. They had to follow a simple vegetarian diet, with prayer and social service. There were no luxuries. Weaving was their major vocation. Gandhiji encompassed the castaways also. This caused great disapproval among the inhabitants of the ashram itself. Even in the contemporary world, there are ashrams around India, where people still follow the Gandhian philosophy of life.
Role of Gopal Krishna Gokhale in Gandhiji’s life
Gopal Krishna Gokhale was a social and political leader of the Congress party, known for his restraint and moderation, and his determination to work inside the system. Gandhiji admired Gokhale a lot, and his liberal outlook impressed him very much.
Gandhiji knew Gokhale from his South African days. When he came back to India, Gandhiji went to see Gokhale. Gokhale urged him to get a better understanding of India’s present status and problems so that he could practice Satyagraha in the Indian struggle for freedom.
In his autobiography, Gandhiji talked about Gokhale as his greatest supporter and guide. Gandhiji had an admiration for Gokhale being a political leader as well. He respected the principles of Gokhale. Gandhiji described Gokhale as being pure as crystal, gentle as a lamb, brave as a lion, and chivalrous to a fault. But, regardless of Gandhiji’s extreme reverence for Gokhale, he also had differences of opinion with him.
The Champaran and Kheda agitations of Bihar and Gujarat in 1918 were the first golden feathers in Gandhiji’s crown. What was the Champaran agitation? It was piloted by the local agrarians of Champaran in Bihar. They were enforced to cultivate indigo, whose demand had been declining over two decades, and were forced to sell their crops at a fixed price. Unhappy by this condition, they asked for Gandhiji’s help. Gandhiji proclaimed civil disobedience, and his fight for justice was rewarded.
The government compelled the landholders to refund a portion of the rent to the farmers, and the enforcement of indigo cultivation was also abolished. The Kheda Agitation took place when Kheda was affected by famine in 1918, and planters were demanding liberation from the levies. Gandhiji, along with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel battled for this cause, using non-cooperation as a weapon. The deadlock lasted for five months as the authorities were not ready to compromise. But finally, at the end of May 1918, the government relaxed the conditions of reimbursement of the taxes up until the famine ended.
Mahatma Gandhi supported the British in World War I
Many Indian soldiers flocked to participate in World War I. It was for them Gandhiji extended his support. This was partly due to the promise of the British government to reciprocate by supporting the Indian dream of Swaraj, after the end of World War I. The largely relocated Indian soldiers fought along with British soldiers. They struggled in numerous areas like Mesopotamia and Europe. Many lost their lives in the battles.
Britain and her allies emerged victoriously. But Indians lost their hearts as the British retreated from their promise of self-government after World War I. Instead of self-government, they offered minor reforms, but most of them were disappointing to Gandhiji and his followers. In short, Indians felt embittered. Then, it became clearer to Gandhiji and his men that the British would not free India, at any cost.
When Gandhiji entered the Indian political scene, there was great communal disharmony among the people. Gandhiji asserted that Indians should be united to fight against the mighty imperial power of the British. It was in this background that the Khilafat issue came up. After Turkey was defeated in the First World War, its territories were divided among European powers.
The Ottoman emperor in Turkey was also the Sultan-Khalifa of the global Musli m community. There was great worry among the Indian Muslims over the fate of the holy places of Islam which were under the custodianship of the Khalifa. Gandhiji feared that their resentment would turn into violent channels, and he wanted to prevent this.
Therefore, he offered to lead the Muslim community on this issue, if they accepted his nonviolent methods. His decision to help the Khilafat Movement was questioned by many. After the termination of the Khilafat Movement when Turkey gained a more favorable diplomatic position, communal riots started in many places in India, much to the displeasure of Gandhiji.
The Rowlatt Act was the legislation passed by the Imperial Legislative Council, and it was officially named the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act. It was passed on March 18th, 1919. The act was based on the report of the Rowlatt committee, and it was also named after its president, British judge, Sir Sidney Rowlatt. The act aroused protests among Indians. It endangered the basic civil rights of people who participated in political activities against the government.
This act gave enormous powers to the police for inspection, and to arrest any person on any grounds without a warrant. It aimed at curtailing the freedom of the Indian citizens, and to suppress any nationalist uprising in the country. The act injured civil rights and even the nationality of the Indians. Gandhiji was extremely critical of this act. It caused the government to enact repressive measures against the Indian citizens.
The legal fight against the Rowlatt Act seemed futile. Do you know what Gandhiji did? Gandhiji accepted this fact and decided to conduct a hartal or a general strike as a way of demonstrating his objection to the implementation of this act.
A day of hartal was declared, where everything came to a stand-still. Stores had to be closed. Employees went on strike. These were attempts of civil disobedience on a mass scale. The Indians hoped that these actions would deliver a message of repudiation and resistance to the Britishers. Remarkable support against the unfair law received from all streams of the society was appreciable. But Satyagraha was an unfamiliar weapon to many in India.
In many places, people turned violent. Gandhi recognized the seriousness of the situation and canceled the hartal. Then, Gandhiji launched a 72-hour fast as a penance for the violence in the hartal.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
We cannot trivialize the Rowlatt Act as a black act. The introduction of this act acted as a catalyst for many other events that led to India’s Independence. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre was one such event. On April 13th, 1919 a peaceful protest meeting was going on in Amritsar, in a garden surrounded on three sides by high walls. This place was called Jallianwala Bagh.
The crowd consisted of some non-violent protesters and pilgrims who had come for Baishakhi celebrations. The British commander General Dyer decided to crush the meeting with utmost brutality. The innocent crowd was fired without giving them the warning to disperse. About 379 lives were lost in the massacre and more than 1200 were injured.
This brutality traumatized Indians. Many Indians who were at once staunch believers of peace, took to weapons, in reaction to the callous attitude of the British. Gandhiji was horrified and was determined to free India from the pitiless hands of the British without bloodshed. As an act of protest, he returned the medals which he was given by the British during the Boer War.
Changes in Indian National Congress
The Indian National Congress was founded in 1885, by a British named A.O. Hume. It started as an elitist organization and was an association of intelligentsia. In 1924, Gandhiji emerged as the president of the Indian National Congress. He put forth a number of reforms within the party.
The first major change was in the party’s reach to the masses who resided in the remote villages of India, thereby eliminating the elitist status of the party. Gandhiji famously stated that the soul of India lies in our villages, both in monetary and in logistical terms. Hence, no movement can be truly fruitful without the wholehearted support of the dwellers of the Indian villages.
After taking the presidential ship of the Indian National Congress, he introduced the principles of Satyagraha. The party witnessed the birth of many charismatic leaders with great public appeal. They were also loyal to Gandhiji. Thus the non-cooperation movement naturally reached massive national dimensions with a huge number of followers. This movement marked the beginning of the life of Gandhiji as the leader of the masses.
Newspapers published by Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi published two journals, ‘Young India’ and ‘Navjivan’ to air his views and to educate the public about Satyagraha. Educating his countrymen was his priority when he started these newspapers. Young India was one of the prominent newspapers introduced by Gandhiji. He used Young India to propagate his unique propaganda regarding the use of nonviolence in organizing movements. Mahatma Gandhi urged the readers to consider, organize, and plan for India’s eventual struggle for Independence from British imperialism. He began publishing another weekly newspaper called Harijan in 1933 in English.
The word ‘Harijan’ means ‘the people of God’. The newspaper lost its popularity in 1948. During this time, Mahatma Gandhi also published Harijan Bandu in Gujarati, and Harijan Sevak in Hindi. ‘Young India’ and ‘Harijan’ became the influential voices of his own views on all subjects. The language in which he wrote in newspapers was passionate and powerful, and he wrote about burning issues of the time.
The Swadeshi policy was part and parcel of the non-cooperation movement. Gandhiji urged people to boycott British goods and to throw their foreign clothes into the fire. Gathering at crossroads, people burnt their imported clothes. They picketed the shops selling western goods. People took firm decisions like using only goods made in India, and this was famously called the Swadeshi movement.
Gandhiji always wanted Indians to spin their clothes by themselves. He promoted Khadi products as an alternative to British made clothes. Every day Gandhiji would spin 182 meters of yarn. He would never take rest without completing his daily chores. He perceived the spinning wheel as a symbol of liberation. It was common in the congress meetings and also wherever nationalists gathered. The spinning wheel was viewed as one of Gandhiji’s efforts to revive the village economy and to help the village folk to come out of their poverty.
Chauri Chaura incident
The Chauri Chaura incident is a black mark on the pages of Indian history. This happened on 5th February 1922. On this day, a large group of peaceful protesters participating in a procession had an encounter with the police, who opened fire. Combat broke out between the police and the mob. Then, the demonstrators set fire to a police station in Chauri Chaura, killing all of its occupants.
This incident led to the deaths of three civilians and 22 policemen. Mahatma Gandhi was disheartened by this incident and halted the non-cooperation movement on the national level. On the other hand, the British declared martial law in response to the incident. Numerous raids were conducted, and hundreds of people were arrested. Gandhi went on a fast for five days after this incident. Thus, Chauri Chaura became a backlash for the Indian way of peaceful resistance.
The British authorities were worried about the consequences of arresting Gandhiji. However, when the unhappy incident occurred at Chauri Chaura, they seized the opportunity to arrest him. Gandhiji was taken into custody on the evening of March 10th, 1922 from his ashram. He was accused of revolting against the government and was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment.
Gandhiji spent his prison days in a fruitful way. He got acquainted with many books, and he found time also to spin his charka. Some of the books that dominated his reading time were Bernard Shaw’s ‘Man and Superman’, Buckle’s ‘History of Civilisation in England’, H. G. Wells’ ‘Outline of History’, Goethe’s ‘Faust’ and Kipling’s ‘The Barrack-Room Ballads’. His interest in literary studies that had been neglected due to his busy schedule, was revived during these prison days. He was released in 1924 for an operation for severe appendicitis.
The British Government decided that a commission should be sent to India to examine the effects and operations of the Montagu-Chelm’s-ford reforms, and also to suggest more reforms in India. The commission was a group of seven Members of Parliament of the United Kingdom, under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon, assisted by Clement Attlee.
The Simon Commission arrived in India, in 1928. They came to study the constitutional reforms in India, but the Indian political parties were completely ignored in this process. They were neither approached nor asked to participate in the discussions.
The Indians felt insulted and took a decision to boycott the Simon Commission. This decision was taken at the meeting of the Indian National Congress in Madras. They also challenged Lord Birkenhead, the Secretary of State for India, to draft a constitution that would be satisfactory to the Indian masses. Gandhiji was frustrated by the approach of the Simon Commission towards Indians.
Everywhere, the Simon Commission was received by angry protesters waving black flags and shouting the slogan, ‘Simon Go Back!’. The conditions in Punjab were even worse, where Lala Lajpat Rai, the prominent leader, died during the protests.
Simon Commission had arrived in Lahore on 30th October 1928, and the protest there was headed by Lala Lajpat Rai. He had risen to fame through his resolution against the Commission in the Legislative Assembly of Punjab in February 1928. In order to make way for the Commission, the local police force began to beat protesters in which Lala Lajpat Rai was killed. This made the Commission even more infamous. The commission published its two-volume report in May 1930. But the report was not accepted by the Indians.
Indians dreamt of a free nation. But the Simon Commission instigated a difference of opinion among Indians regarding self-government. Only Gandhiji was capable of mending this gap. Despite the fact that Indians were suspicious of the intentions of the British, they were unified in their desire for the making of a free India.
Thus, Congress decided to celebrate the Purna Swaraj declaration or the announcement of the Indian Independence. Mahatma Gandhi hoisted the Indian flag on 31st December 1929, in Lahore. The Indian flag was hoisted publicly everywhere by the congress volunteers. People were asked to celebrate Independence Day on 26th January. Gandhiji and other Indian leaders began to plan for a massive non-violent campaign to encourage the common people to embrace peace, even if they were attacked by the British.
Mahatma Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience Movement
The civil disobedience movement of the year 1930 was a landmark in the history of Indian nationalism. Disobeying British laws was the core of this movement. Indians had lost faith in the British and their government because of their continuous neglect of the local people. Congress had no option other than to launch the civil disobedience movement.
It was then that Gandhiji wrote a letter to Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India narrating the many injustices of British rule. The decision to launch the ‘satyagraha’ campaign by producing salt at Dandi was also conveyed through the letter. The British ignored the letter. Therefore, Gandhiji and Congress decided to launch the massive civil disobedience movement to defy the British.
Gandhiji inaugurated the movement in 1930, by violating the salt law. Salt was produced everywhere. Indians dared to do anything, even at the cost of their lives, for their dream of a free India. The Dandi Salt March with its spirit united Indians and had an immense effect on the whole nation.
Salt March aka Dandi March
Salt has enormous significance as it is an indispensable ingredient in our food. Ever since the East India Company established its power, it became a criminal offense for Indians to produce and sell salt. Gandhiji disobeyed this law laid down by the British.
The ruling government-imposed tax even on salt, and earned a large profit from that too. Not surprisingly, the salt tax represented 8.2 percent of the British Raj tax revenue. The British believed that they would be able to establish their full control over natural resources by manufacturing salt.
Indians found this hard to digest. Many were skeptical of Mahatma Gandhi’s choice of salt as a means of civil disobedience. But some leaders like C. Rajagopalachari understood Gandhiji’s viewpoint. After the protest gathered momentum, leaders recognized the value of salt as a symbol and appreciated Gandhiji’s genius in choosing salt.
The Dandi March was indeed a march towards India’s Independence. It was covered extensively through newspapers and documentaries. This historic event grabbed the attention of newspapers internationally, and they wrote editorials about it. It gave momentum to the nationwide civil disobedience. This march was an organized challenge to the British authority, and in a way, a blow to their esteem.
The Dandi March, which was followed by the Noncooperation movement and the declaration of Purna Swaraj, also occupied a significant place in the pages of India’s history. Do you know what happened on that day? Gandhiji started a march from his ashram in Sabarmati, to Dandi Beach in Gujarat. The march lasted for 24 days. It began on 12th March 1930 and ended on 6th April 1930. About 79 people accompanied Gandhiji for the march of 390 Km to the Dandi.
The participation of women in the freedom fight was not notable, until the Dandi March. But the Salt Satyagraha changed the whole scenario. Thousands of women, from urban to rural areas began to actively participate in Satyagraha. Gandhiji had asked only men to be part of Dandi March. But the radical action inspired the women of the country as well.
Sarojini Naidu, the nightingale of India, led 2500 volunteers in a march to Dharasana salt works on 21st May. The salt work was guarded by the police. They attacked the satyagrahis with lathis. Not a single person raised his hand against the police. Sarojini Naidu was arrested and sent to jail. The participation of women in Salt Satyagraha was rapidly growing day by day. The Salt Satyagraha earned glory because of the massive participation from all walks of society.
First Round Table Conference
The round table Conferences were a series of conferences aimed to discuss the future of India. Demands for Swaraj or self-rule had been growing across India. By the 1930s, many British politicians believed that India needed to move towards dominion status. In order to make decisions regarding this, they conducted three Round Table Conferences in London.
The first one among these was organized in England on November 12th, 1930. There were 89 delegates from India who attended the conference. Indian delegates also made their presence felt at the conference, but no member of the Indian National Congress was invited. It was also true that many of the Indian leaders were imprisoned for their participation in the civil disobedience movement. Later, the British realized that they would have to work with the Congress as it was India’s most prominent party. As a gesture of goodwill, Mahatma Gandhi and other Congress leaders were released.
Gandhi Irwin Pact
The rising intensity of the civil disobedience movement worried the British. Lord Irwin, the then Viceroy of India, initiated negotiations with Gandhiji, which led to the signing of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact on 5th March in 1931 before the Second Round table Conference in London.
There were many provisions in the pact. One of the main provisions was to stop the civil disobedience movement. Another proposal was the participation of the Indian National Congress in the Round Table Conference. The pact also stated that the British government was also ready to lift the ban on the Indian National Congress. Peaceful picketing was allowed, but picketing for the boycott of foreign goods was not to be allowed beyond a limit permitted by law.
The Congress agreed to join the Second Round Table Conference to sketch the constitutional reforms. Some of the other conditions were that the British would retract all orders imposing curbs on the activities of the Indian National Congress. They also agreed to withdraw trials except those involving violence and to release prisoners arrested for participating in the civil disobedience movement. It was believed that they would identify him as one among them only when he wore simple clothes. He stuck to this attire even when he traveled on trips abroad, and until his last breath.
When he attended the round table conference, Mahatma Gandhi was in a dhoti and a shawl. Once, when he visited Buckingham Palace, he was asked whether he felt unclothed compared to King George V. Gandhiji retorted humorously that the King had enough on him for both of them! Gandhiji was appreciated by many, in spite of his dressing style. In short, Gandhiji’s personal habits, his attire, and his diet fascinated the English people.
Gandhiji’s visit to Lancashire
Lancashire was the heart of Britain’s textile industry, which was greatly affected by the boycott of foreign clothes by Indians. Therefore, Gandhiji’s visit to this place was a significant move. Gandhiji proclaimed at Springvale Garden Village, There is no boycott of British cloth, as distinguished from other foreign cloth, since the 5th of March when the truce was signed.
As a nation, we have pledged to boycott all foreign cloth, but in case of an honorable settlement between England and India, I should not hesitate to give preference to Lancashire cloth over all other foreign cloth, to the extent that we may need to supplement our cloth and on agreed terms”. He spoke of being the “representative of half-naked, half-starved dumb Indians”. He was pained by the unemployment created in the Lancashire cotton mills as a result of the boycott of foreign clothes in India. Mahatma Gandhi did not fail to meet a single group of workers in the factory. And, he went on to explain the fact that there was no starvation or semi-starvation among Lancashire workers. But, he said, “we have both”. He told them about the poor standard of living of the Indians compared to the high resources they enjoyed.
Gandhi’s view on World War II
The British tried to lure India with the promise of a free state in return for their valuable support during wartime. But the Indians were rebuffed when they were asked for Independence. Gandhiji did not accept this offer as he firmly believed in non-violence. The period of the Second World War was not only a period of external tensions but also internal conflicts.
The great famine of Bengal of 1943 was one of the many disasters India faced during the war. Despite the disastrous effects of World War II, it brought about a golden age in the colonies of Britain. The age of anxiety paved the way for the age of hope and freedom. Despite its many aftermaths, the end of the imperialistic era was glorious. The repercussion of the war occurred in all its colonies. India lost the lives of many army men. The cries for self-government and the loss of faith in the ruling imperialists were heard everywhere.
Although Mahatma Gandhi works for India’s freedom from the British Empire since 1915, it was not until Britain was embroiled in World War II that the goal of Indian independence finally came within reach. In August of 1942, the All India Congress Committee gathered in Bombay, to formally endorse the Quit India movement, which called for an immediate end to British imperialism.
Winston Churchill’s declaration in the British Parliament to send Sir Stafford Cripps to India seemed a good decision Sir Stafford Cripps arrived in Delhi on 22nct March 1942 and immediately started his discussions with the Governor-General and the counselors. The leaders of different parties met him, and consultations and discussions went on for twenty days. Nehru and Maulana Azad represented the Congress.
Muhammed Ali Jinnah represented the Muslims, and B.R. Ambedkar represented the socially backward classes. Leaders from all the communities of Indian society were represented. Cripps had prepared a draft declaration for Indian leaders which included terms like the establishment of dominion status for India, introduction of a constitutional assembly, and the granting of rights to the provinces to make separate constitutions. These offers would be granted only after the conclusion of the war.
The Congress committee rejected the proposals because they were related primarily to the future. Cripps proposals were suddenly withdrawn on 11th April 1942. The whole drama of the Cripps Mission to India seemed to be only a propaganda move, without any intention of acceding to India’s demands. Cripps Mission’s proposals were unacceptable to Gandhiji and Congress. Commenting on this, Mahatma Gandhi said, “It is a post-dated cheque on a crashing bank.”
Quit India Movement
The Quit India Movement was a civil disobedience movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi on 8th August 1942, at the Bombay Session of the All India Congress Committee. A resolution was passed demanding an immediate end to the British rule. A mass non-violent struggle was organized on the widest scale possible. Gandhiji’s slogan of ‘Do or Die’ inspired millions of Indians, and strengthened their determination to die, rather than give up the goal of freedom.
The British response to the movement was quick. Congress was banned, and most of its leaders were arrested before they could start mobilizing the people. The people, however, were unstoppable. They attacked all the symbols of the British government such as railway stations, law courts, and police stations. Railway lines were damaged, and telegraph lines were cut. In some places, people even formed alternative governments. The British responded to this with terrible brutality. However, though they could oppress the people, they could not suppress the people’s demand that foreign rulers should quit India.
Impact of Kasturba Gandhi’s Death on Mahatma Gandhi
One of the most devastating incidents in Gandhiji’s personal life was the demise of his wife, Kasturba Gandhi in 1944. Kasturba was an unlettered woman when she entered Gandhiji’s life in 1883. It was Gandhiji who gave her the first lessons in learning how to read and write. She respected the ideals of her husband, though she had disagreements with him on many grounds. Kasturba, an ardent supporter of Gandhiji throughout his life, was affectionately called ‘Ba’ by Gandhiji. Kasturba worked alongside her husband. When Gandhi became involved in the agitation to improve the working conditions of Indians in South Africa and gave them the power to represent themselves, Kasturba eventually decided to join the struggle.
In September 1913, she was arrested, and sentenced to three months, imprisonment with hard labor. After Gandhiji’s return to India, Kasturba took Gandhiji’s place when he was under arrest and was always closely associated with the freedom struggle of India, giving encouragement to women volunteers. Kasturba was active in supervising the activities of the ashram and lived like a satyagrahi. She joined the Quit India Movement along with Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhiji was arrested during the Quit India Movement in 1942. Later, Kasturba too got arrested along with many followers of Gandhiji. She was confined in the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. Kasturba Gandhi spent her last hours in the prison, and she breathed her last in the lap of Gandhiji on 22nd February 1944. After her death, Gandhi indeed lost a pillar of strength in his life. “I cannot imagine life without Ba … her passing has left a vacuum which will never be filled,” Gandhi wrote.
Formation of Interim Government
The Interim Government of India was formed on September 2nd, 1946, to help the transition of India from British rule to independence. In August 1946, the Congress decided to join the Interim Government in response to the call of the British Government to facilitate the process of transfer of power. The Interim Government was headed by the Viceroy, Lord Wavell.
Jawaharlal Nehru was the Vice-President of the Council, with the powers of a Prime Minister. Leaders like Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Jagjivan Ram, C. Rajagopalachari, etc. also held prominent positions. This government was entrusted with the mission of assisting the transition of India and Pakistan from British rule to independence as two separate nations.
The Interim Government was in place till 15th August 1947, when the nations of India and Pakistan received independence from colonial rule. Until August 15th, 1947, India continued under the rule of the United Kingdom and the Interim Government set out to establish diplomatic relations with other countries, such as the United States of America. For the time being, the Constituent Assembly, from which the Interim Government was created, had the challenging task of drafting the Constitution for Independent India.
Idea of Partition
During the second half of the nineteenth century, when British dominance had been firmly established throughout the Indian subcontinent, some novel trends were in the making. Colonialism boosted a spirit of nationalism, but at the same time, also caused feelings of communalism to rise up. Thus, the colonial rule had a dubious role in the making of India. The flare-up of the communal issue ultimately resulted in the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan.
In fact, the Congress opposed the partition up to 1945, but it had to accept it subsequently, as a remedial measure. Nationalist historians blame this on the colonial policy of divide and rule, but imperial ideologues maintain that the Indian socio-cultural milieu caused it.
The demand of the Muslim League and Jinnah for a separate nation was found unreal by Congress leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru. But when the League rejected long term provisions of the Cabinet Mission plan and announced the ‘Direct Action’ from 16th August 1946, the Congress leaders were compelled to reconsider their approach towards the demand. The League envisaged the Congress as a Hindu elitist group and was fearful of the Hindu Swaraj. This led to the partition of India, despite all of the peace-making efforts of the Congress Party.
Lord Louis Mountbatten
Shortly after his arrival in India on 24th March 1947, Lord Mountbatten took part in discussions with Indian political leaders. He had free and frank discussions with Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhiji, and other prominent leaders. He had talks with the members of the Muslim League too.
Mountbatten worked sincerely with the goal of persuading the Congress and the League to agree to an acceptable plan, to end the rule of the British Raj, and to work out the modalities for the withdrawal of the British. He also wanted to keep India in the Commonwealth of Nations. The time was also favorable for his plans. India was tormented by communal wars.
Brutality and human sacrifice were spiraling beyond human endurance. Being the last British Viceroy in India, Mountbatten got abundant freedom to solve the prevailing issues without any interference from Britain. Since the time at his disposal was very short, he wanted to prepare for the transfer of power without wasting time. Mountbatten knew the art of dealing with the political leaders of India in a dignified way. Mahatma Gandhi alone opposed the idea of partition among the leaders. But ultimately, he too accepted the decision with a deep sense of sorrow.
Mahatma Gandhi and First Independence Day
On 15th August 1947, when the day of independence finally arrived, it was celebrated with gusto everywhere in the country. Jawaharlal Nehru, who had become the first Prime Minister of India, hoisted the Indian national flag at the Red Fort in Delhi. But in Calcutta, disturbed by the partition, Gandhiji was on his tireless pursuit to end the violence that had torn the nation apart.
Gandhiji refused to participate in any merriment along with his protege Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who was the last person to fight partition till the very end. He believed that the kind of freedom India had got contained the seeds of future conflict between India and Pakistan. Gandhiji’s fears came true at the time of partition. Many people lost their lives. India and Pakistan witnessed fifteen crores of its citizens migrating from one place to another. Soon communal riots broke out.
On 9th August, Gandhi reached Calcutta ready to move on to Noakhali, a place torn by communal riot. Gandhiji decided to stay at Hyderi Manzil, adjacent to a Muslim dominated slum called Miabagan. There, he held prayer meetings.
Mahatma Gandhi’s Last Fast
Gandhiji began his last fast on 13th January 1948. He announced his intention to fast till death. He was then aged 78, and it was his eighteenth fast. Gandhiji’s health declined very quickly during this time. On 18th January, after five very difficult days, political and religious leaders came to assure Gandhiji that attacks would end.
They promised to restore communal peace and friendship by every possible effort. Gandhiji broke his fast on the sixth day. But, without giving time for his body to recover from the fast, he again started working. But, there was a fraction of a society that disliked Gandhi, and slowly, their number was growing.
On one of his evening prayer meetings, a bomb was thrown. It didn’t injure anyone. But it was clearly a warning sign that Gandhiji’s life was under threat. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then minister of home affairs, was fearful that Gandhiji would be killed. He wanted to search for everyone attending the prayer meeting. But Gandhi refused to agree to this proposal.
The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 30th January 1948, by Nathuram Godse at Birla House in New Delhi. At 5:17 pm on 30th January 1948, Gandhiji walked to the prayer grounds. His grandnieces held his arms, as he had trouble walking alone. Gandhiji was weakened by fasting. Hundreds of people had assembled for the prayers. Gandhiji reached the stage and greeted the audience.
Suddenly, a young man rushed forward. He kneeled before Gandhiji, and then rose to pull out a pistol and fired three bullets. Everything finished within minutes. Gandhiji fell down dead. His last words were “Hey Ram”. The assassin was Nathuram Godse. He was an extremist who believed that Gandhiji was associating with Muslims, against Hindus. Nathuram Godse was seized immediately. Godse had planned the murder along with Narayan Apte, another extremist, and six others. Both Godse and Apte were executed in 1949. The other conspirators were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mahatma Gandhi’s funeral procession took place on January 31st. The Mahatma had specified before he died, that he did not want his body preserved, but instead, wanted a traditional cremation. Gandhi’s body was placed upon a flower-bedecked military weapons carrier, which was pulled, using ropes, by two hundred men from the Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force. The vehicles had their engines switched off. It took four and a half hours for the procession to cover eight kilometers, beginning at the Birla House and proceeding to the banks of the Yamuna River.
Ramdas, the third son of Gandhiji, lit the funeral pyre. People shouted the slogan ‘Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai’. The next day, the second service was held by his friends and relatives by collecting the ashes in a khadi bag, and then, the bag was placed in a copper urn. Ashes of Gandhiji were carried through the streets of Allahabad in procession.
After thirteen days of mourning, Gandhiji’s ashes were sprinkled in seven sacred rivers of India. On his death, Nehru remarked, “the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere . . .” Gandhiji’s monument at Raj Ghat attracts visitors from around the world, as well as noted personalities who wish to pay their respects to the father of the nation. People around the world adopted the idea of Gandhiji and became famous as Gandhi of their country.