The man who altered the character of the national movement through a new ideology was Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi. He was one of the greatest Indians of all times and was a remarkable personality of world history.
He did not merely guide a political struggle; he imposed upon it a unique moral code and a new technique of action that of non-violence in the age of violence while every national movement for liberation involved violence, his struggle for freedom was purely non-violent.
He brought idealism into the realm of practical politics and demonstrated its validity. In this approach he spanned East and West.
Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi was born on 2nd October 1869 in a small town Porbandar situated on Western coast of India in the Kathiawar or Saurastra region of Gujarat. He belonged to Vaisya caste. His father Karam Chand Gandhi was the ‘dewan’ of Porbandar a small princely state ruled by a Rana. Karam Chand did not have high formal education but as a dewan he proved himself able, honest, dutiful, virtuous, truthful and courageous man. Gandhi’s mother was Putli Bai. She was pious and religious. Her innocence, goodness and saintly qualities had tremendous impact on Mohandas. Gandhi began his school days as a meek, mild and innocent boy.
Gandhi entered in a school at Rajkot. He was purely a vegetarian. One day a young friend of Gandhi advised him to eat meat to have a strong body like an Englishman. Young Mohandas being seduced decided to eat meat secretly. After taking a piece of meat his conscience revolted and he felt as if “a living goat was bleating within me”. That was the first and last time he tasted meat. That timid boy one day became one of the bravest men in history.
Gandhi got married at the age of 13 to Kasturba Bai who was simple, virtuous and a pious lady. She served Gandhi with devotion till last and suffered hardship with him. Gandhi lost his father at the age of 16. At the age of 18 he passed matriculation and entered into a college. During his college days some of his friends and well wishers advised him at that time to study law in England and to be a barister. Gandhi was at that time not in a position to spend that huge amount to go to London. Fortune favored him. Money was arranged by loan.
At the time of his departure his mother was unwilling to send him with a fear that her son would be impure in that impure land in England. Gandhi took on oath on the feet of his mother to remain pure in that impure land and not to touch wine or meat. Putli Bai gave him permission to go abroad.
In 1888, Mohandas left for England and there studied law and came out successful as a Barister. During his stay at London for three years he acquired wide knowledge through deep study. The English version of Gita translated by Edwin Arnold impressed him too much. The book “Life of the Buddha” changed his attitude towards life. He also studied the Bible and works of Prophet Mohammad. Through this he could synthesize different religions of the world. Gandhi returned to India in 1891. Before his arrival his mother died.
Mohandas selected Bombay for his legal profession but that profession did not bring self-satisfaction for him. He felt depressed. At that time a Muslim gentleman requested him to take up his case in South Africa concerning his business. Gandhi agreed and went to South Africa in 1893 in a remote corner of that Dark Continent the beginning of a great career awaited him.
Gandhi arrived in South Africa at a small town at Port Natal. South Africa at that time was a British colony. The Englishmen even if their number was very small regarded the black Africans and the brown Indians as inferior uncivilized and barbarians. Many Indians were working as businessmen merchants and labourers but the white people looked at them and called them as ‘coolies’.
One evening Gandhi was travelling in a train in first class with a valid ticket. A Whiteman entered into that compartment and became extremely furious to see a coloured man in the first class compartment which was only meant for white people. Gandhi then was forced out of that compartment and thrown into the platform.
In that platform in a winter night trembling in cold Gandhi was sitting for the whole night. Gandhi began to think over the nature of the English racialism and began to revolt. His conscience prompted him to fight for the cause of human dignity. Gandhi also received in another occasion a serious blow from a English man. He therefore stood up to challenge the inhuman behaviour of the white people.
Gandhi decided to take this matter with the Indians living in South Africa. He summoned a meeting of the Indian community at Pretoria and addressed the gathering. That was his first public speech in life. In his address he convinced the Indians about the dignity of a human being and asked them to uphold their own honour as well as the honour of their country. He stood against the Government which believed in racialism. He demanded social justice for his countrymen. His political career thus started.
The laws of the land were severe against Indians. Gandhi organized a movement against those laws. In return the white government became more oppressive and in 1906 issued an ordinance that every Indian-man, woman or child should possess a registration card for identification.
That card must contain the thumb impression. Police was given the power to enter into any house at any time to check the card. Gandhi described that as a Black Ordinance. In a meeting of the Indians, he declared, “There is only one course open to me namely to die but not to submit to the law.” It became a great challenge to one of the mightiest powers on earth. He did not challenge the Government with arms but with courage for a right course.
The weapon that Gandhi used in that war against*that Natal Government was Satyagraha. By willingly courting punishment and imprisonment and hence by concretely demonstrating his self-suffering the Satyagrahis hoped to convert those in the authority to right ways of thinking. The use of non-violence by the Satyagrahis directed by Gandhi indicated internal strength not cowardice.
There had been passive resistance movement by the Indians in the past but they had failed to achieve their objectives. Gandhi’s non-violence because it was based on strength and acceptance of self-suffering must be chained eventually succeeds. At many points Gandhi’s campaign achieved significant success by steaming the rising level of discrimination against the Indian community.
During the period of non-violent agitation Indians were asked not to obey that Black Law. Volunteers were raised in large number and the people were asked by these volunteers not to fear punishment.
On the other hand, the Government came forward with a heavy hand. Many satyagrahis were thrown into prison and some were deported and some others were fined heavily. Gandhi was sent to jail at Johannesburg. Indians then defied the law and did not form lines before the registering office for registration.
Gandhi’s passive resistance proved its strength. In far-away South Africa where Indians mostly worked as labourers and were hated as ‘Coolies’, a new awakening was marked among the depressed Indians that astonished the whole world.
The powerful South African White Government headed by General Smuts finally bowed down. Early in 1914, Gandhi and Smut came to an agreement and the government agreed to grant substantial concessions to the Indian Community which were acceptable to the people.
This was a great victory of a brown Indian to achieve social justice for Indian Community living in that dark continent of South Africa. Gandhi left South Africa in 1914 and on his way to India he sailed to England. He organised the Indian Ambulance corp. in England.
At the close of 1914, Gandhiji left England for India. He did not know what actually he was going to do in his motherland. In January 1915, Gandhi landed in India. He came back at a critical juncture of Indian history to make the destiny of Indians. At that time he was quite unknown to most of his countrymen except some Congress men like Gokhale. Gokhale had high estimation of Gandhi. Gandhi accepted Gokhale as his political Guru.
Gandhiji became a legend among Indians in no time for his personality and principles. Rabindra Nath Tagore described him as Mahatma. Mahatma Gandhi became almost a magical name among Indian teaming millions.
India and the War:
In August 1914, the First World War broke out in Europe. Great Britain entered in this global war thus India automatically became involved in this fight between imperial powers. Indian politicians supported British Government with a hope of getting reforms after the war as return. Britain and her allies loudly declared that they were fighting to preserve the right of all nations to determine their own destinies.
They assured best possible reforms for India after the end of the war. Tilak after his release from jail in June 1914 gave their support to the British war effort. Young Indians were urged to enlist in the army. In the war 2, 10,000 Indian officers were sent from India during the first six months of the war.
Thousands were dead or injured in Europe and Mesopotamia. India thus made a significant contribution to England’s victory. After the war a top British official admitted “without India the War would have been immensely prolonged if indeed without her help it could have been brought to a victorious conclusion”.
For this help, Indian leaders hoped to gain more of political rights. The Congress represented the hope of the nation and demanded reforms. At this critical time, Gokhale died in 1915. Gokhale was the best hope of the British in those worst days of the war. Tilak’s ascendancy became inevitable. The Congress was also leaning towards extremism. This alarmed the government.
In the meantime, the wave of nationalism was bringing the National Congress and the Muslim League nearer to each other. Both the organizations agreed for a joint action for political demands. Gandhi attended the Bombay Congress Session in that year. He devoted himself to unite all communities. Hindus, Muslims and Parsis as members of the one Indian nation.
The British Government at that time became deeply disturbed at the spread of terrorist activities and directed stern action to suppress it. Gandhi advised the Government for the change of the attitude. The war progressed. Indian help towards War efforts also increased enormously. But there was no sign of sympathy from the British side towards Indian hopes.
Demands for reforms from all quarters continued to increase. Tilak and Dr. Annie Besant went ahead with Home Rule Movement for self-government. The National Congress also recognized that movement and welcomed Tilak and his followers back to the Congress main stream.
The Congress and the League jointly issued a charter of demand for self-government. Indian nationalism assumed a more formidable character. Political excitement was get going quickly like wild fire to almost all parts of India. The people were becoming more disloyal to the government for the war time repressive measures.
In view of this, the Congress and other nationalist leaders demanded that Britain should declare her definite policy towards India without further delay. British statesmen became afraid of the situation and finally on 20th August 1917, E.S. Motagu, the Secretary of State made his famous announcement in the British Parliament.
He declared “The policy of his majesty’s government with which the government of India are in complete accord is that of the increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire”. This declaration however was received with mixed reaction. To Gandhi, though the British promise was vague and for short of expectation yet it was a sign of good gesture.
While Indians were waiting with high hopes for reforms one English man was deputed to investigate if India would remain calm after the war. The British government wanted to be ready with severe laws to keep Indians in their knees.
In the month of December 1917 and early months of 1918 Motagu toured India to understand the political desire of the people. He had an extensive talk with Chemsford the then Viceroy of India and with many eminent leaders about the political concession the Indians should get.
On the other hand, the British cabinet felt that definitely there would be political unrest at the end of the war. To face that challenging situation the cabinet decided to take steps much in advance. During the war period, the government suppressed anarchism by the Defence of India Act and other harsh laws. Those laws were bound to go after the war.
Indians were deeply moved by the Russian Revolution and consequent upon that event the British anticipated anarchism in India. The cabinet therefore sent to India Sir Sydney Rowlatt a judge of the Supreme Court of Judicature in England to study the nature of future agitation and to suggest measure against future dangers.
The Rowlatt Committee worked for a month and prepared its report. He framed a new set of laws which became famous as Rowlatt Bills. By this anarchical offences could be tried forthwith with no right to appeal. People could be arrested on the ground of suspicion.
Local Government’s were entrusted with enormous powers to punish any suspected revolutionary in any manner suitable to them. Freedom of Press was restricted. The Government felt satisfied that the Rowlatt Bills when made law would stamp out sedition and rebellion. After the war the British Government being Victorious became inspired and felt bold to use the Rowlatt laws in India. It was a great betrayal. The laws were described as lawless against the entire nation.
It was at this crucial time Gandhi came out as a man of destiny for future. Gandhi in the Congress meeting suggested for open defiance by not paying taxes till the Rowaltt Laws were withdrawn. Everyone got astonished on Gandhi’s suggestion.
But Gandhi was determined for a revolutionary step to show the world that Indians had the potentialities for resistance to autocracy to tyrannical rule. Dr. Annie Besant warned Gandhi against such movement. But Gandhi had absolute faith on the people of India that they would rise up to defend the honour of the country.
He thus decided to start satyagraha which was the moral crusade against injustice based on non-violence. Gandhi gave a call to the nation to observe one day hartal on 6th April, 1919. Mahatma Gandhi’s call to the nation worked like a magic.
Millions of men ceased their work, shops were closed, offices and educational institutions became desert. Gandhi’s leadership came at a right time. For the first time, the British saw in India silent opposition of an entire people to a mighty Government.
During the day of hartal, some incidents took place at Delhi. Hearing the news at Bombay, Gandhi tried to rush to Delhi but he was not allowed to proceed to Delhi. This news spread like wild fire and people in different parts organised protest meetings in anger and excitement.