Read this article to learn about the thoughts and the techniques of Gandhian mass movements for freedom of India!

Gandhi and His Thought:

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2, Oct. 1869 at Porbandar in Gujarat.

After getting his legal education in Britain he landed at Durban in 1893 on a one-year contract to sort out the legal problems of Dada Abdullah, a Gujarati.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi |

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In South Africa, Gandhi protested against the discriminating treatments meted out to the Indians, formed The National Indian Congress and suffered imprisonment. Gandhi soon became the leader of the struggle against these conditions and during 1893—1914 was engaged in a heroic though unequal struggle against the racist authorities of South Africa. Gandhi in South Africa developed the method of passive resistance or civil disobedience, which he named Satyagraha.

His principal mouth-piece was Indian Opinion (1903). He set up Tolstoy farm which was the precursor of the later Gandhian ashrams that were to play important role in the Indian National movement.

In 1914, he was awarded Kaisar-i-Hind gold medal for raising an Indian ambulance in England during the Boer war and 1st World War. After his arrival in India in January 1915, he founded the Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmadabad (1916), where his friends and followers were to learn and practise the idea of truth and non-violence. He also set out to experiment with his new method of struggle in the Indian freedom struggle.

Gandhiji was greatly influenced by the works of Leo Tolstoy’s essay, ‘Civil disobedience’ and Ruskin’s ‘Unto This Last’. Tolstoy’s ideal of non-possession was developed by Gandhiji in his concept of Trusteeship. He was also influenced by the life and teachings of Swami Vivekananda. His political guru Gokhale and Dadabhai Naoroji also influenced him.

Gandhi’s Thought on Politics:


Gandhiji had an experience of moderate phase of the struggle in South Africa (1894-1906) and the 2nd phase of passive resistance or civil disobedience which was named as Satyagraha (1906-1914). He followed moderate techniques of prayers and petitions in the struggle against racial discrimination. He believed in careful training of disciplined cadres.

His non-violent Satyagraha involved peaceful violation of specific laws. He resorted to mass courting arrest and occasional hartals and spectacular marches. He had readiness for Negotiations and Compromise at times leading to abrupt unilateral withdrawal. As a politician and not just a saint, Gandhi in practise sometimes settled for less than complete non-violence. Gandhi unified the national struggle against foreign rule.

Gandhian View on Society:

Although Gandhiji supported the Varna system without the element of hierarchical occupation, he was against the pernicious caste system including the practicse of untouchability. He emphasised on Hindu-Muslim unity and on the equality of man and woman. He was against purdah practice and child marriage. His ideal society was ‘Ram-Rajya.’

Gandhian View on Economy:

He advocated the concept of swadeshi and was opposed to large scale industries. He stressed the need for reliance on cottage industries as it would make India self-sufficient He encouraged Khadi for self-reliance and swadeshi, and gave importance to ‘Labour and Sweat’. Gandhiji fought for the interest of peasant in Champaran and Kheda, and labourers in Ahmadabad.


He was for balanced economic growth and decentralisation of economy. He tried to harmonise the relationship between the labourers and the capitalist by the concept of Trusteeship, where the profit of a factory is shared by both the capitalist and the labourers for common good. Thus, he was against capitalism and not the capitalist.

Gandhian View on Religion:

Gandhiji was secular in his approach and fought for Hindu-Muslim unity till his death. Religion, is the highest necessity of human life. For him religion was the basis of morality and morality was the guiding factor in politics.

Gandhiji said “My religion knows no political limits and my religion does not teach to hate one another. To him religion was the service of the helpless, the meek and the down trodden. According to him, further, the religion of love and service cannot be practised without Ahimsa or non-violence.

Gandhian View on Education:

Gandhiji gave a scheme of basic education, also known as Wardha scheme of education. The aim of true education, in his opinion, should be to make the students self-supporting and self-reliant and to realise the dignity of labour and manual work.

He was for the vocationalisation of education by teaching the pupil handicrafts and Hindi to be the medium of education till 7th standard. Education he believed was the most powerful instrument of human social transformation and should inculcate values like social service, service to the nation and ‘humanity.’

Gandhiji’s concept of ‘sarvodaya’ connotes “the greatest good of all.” In his view the highest objective of the state and of the individual should be the realization of this ideal.

His concept of Swaraj implied freedom from foreign domination and control of foreign powers. According to Gandhiji, the Government under Swaraj shall be one in which each individual, irrespective of his religion race, caste, sex and place of birth shall have as its motto the welfare of the people in general.

Emphasis on self-restraint and self-rule remained a significant corner­stone of Gandhiji’s moral dimension of Swaraj. Gandhiji saw a very close link between national­ism and internationalism, as internationalism could grow only out of true nationalism.

Gandhian Techniques of Mass Mobilisation:

Gandhiji’s first great experiment in Satyagraha came in 1917 in Champaran (Bihar) where the peasants were forced by the European planters to grow indigo on at least 3/20th of their land and sell it at prices fixed by the planters (tin-kathia system). Accompanied by Babu Rajendra Prasad, Mazhar- ul-Huq, J. B. Kripalani, Narhari Parekh and Mahadev Desai Gandhiji reached Champaran in 1917.

In 1918, Gandhiji intervened in a dispute between the workers and owners of Ahmadabad. It was here that he used the weapon of hunger strike and won for the workers a 35% increase in wages. In 1918, the Kheda peasant struggle involved Gandhiji and Sardar Vallabhai Patel. These three significant struggles brought Gandhiji in close contact with the masses.

The 1917 Sedition Committee headed by Justice Sydney Rowtalt led to the passing of Rowtatt Act (1919). Where by the committee made recommendations to arm the government with powers to suppress all unlawful and dangerous activities. Called the Black Act, it was widely opposed.

Along with other nationalists, Gandhiji was also aroused and in February 1919, he founded the Satyagraha Sabha whose members took a pledge to disobey the Act and thus to court arrest and imprisonment. March and April 1919 witnessed a remarkable political awakening in India. Gandhiji gave a call for an All-India hartal on 6th April 1919. The people responded with great enthusiasm.

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar on 13th April 1919, on the order of General Dyer stunned the whole nation. The unarmed crowd had gathered at the Bagh in defiance of the ban on public meeting to protest against the arrest of their popular leaders Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr. Satyapal. Tagore renounced his knighthood in protest.

The Khilafat and the Non-Cooperation Movement (1919-22):

The main object of the Khilafat movement was to force the British government to change its attitude towards Turkey and restore the Turkish Sultan (Khalifa) to his former position. A Khilafat committee was formed under the leadership of Ali brothers, Maulana Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Hasrat Mohani and a country-wide agitation was organised. In February 1920, Gandhiji suggested to the Khilafat committee to adopt a programme of non-violent non-cooperation to protest the government behaviour.

On 9 June, 1920 the Khilafat committee at Allahabad unanimously accepted his suggestion and asked Gandhiji to lead the movement. The Congress leaders, incoluding Gandhiji viewed the Khilafat agitation as a golden opportunity for cementing the Hindu-Muslim unity and bringing the Muslim masses into the national movement.

The Congress at its special session in September 1920 at Calcutta supported Gandhi’s plan for non-cooperation for three cause-redressal of the Punjab griev­ances, rectification of the Khilafat wrongs and the establishment of Swaraj.

The people were asked to boycott government educational institutions, law courts and legislatures, to give up foreign cloth, to surrender officially conferred titles and honours. Through these negative programmes, the Indians sought to refuse to cooperate with the British government.

The positive programmes of the non-coop­eration movement included establishment of national schools and colleges, setting up of panchayats, popularisation of swadeshi and khadi, development of Hindu-Muslim unity, removal of un-touch ability, etc. This decision of non-cooperation movement was endorsed at the annual session of the Congress held at Nagpur in December 1920 The Nagpur session also made changes in the constitution of the Congress.

The adoption of the Non-cooperation movement (initiated earlier by the Khilafat conference on 31 August 1920) by the Congress gave it a new energy and from January 1921, it began to register considerable success all over the country. The Tilak Swarajya Fund was started to finance the Non- cooperation movement (Earlier, Lokmanya Tilak passed away on 1 August 1920).

The visit of the Prince of Wales in November 1921 also led to the observance of hartal all over the country on the day the prince landed in Bombay. On February 1, 1922 Mahatma Gandhi announced that he would start mass civil disobedience including non-payment of taxes unless within seven days the political prison­ers were released and the press freed from government control.

The general mood of the people was also quite rebellious. On 5th February 1922 a Congress procession at Chauri-Chaura in Gorakhpur district of U.P. was fired upon by the police. The angry crowd attacked and burnt the police station causing death of 22 policemen.

Gandhiji was afraid that the movement might take a violent turn and at his insistence the Congress Working Committee on 12 February abruptly called off the movement. Gandhiji was arrested on 10 March 1922 but was released in February 1924.

Significance of Non-cooperation movement:

1. The Indian Nationalist movement acquired real mass base for the first time with the participa­tion of peasants, workers, students lawyers, teachers, etc.

2. The Congress became the organiser and leader of the masses in their freedom struggle.

3. It marked the height of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Very soon, the Khilafat movement also lost relevance due to the Kemalist revolution in Turkey which made it a secul7ar state.

Civil Disobedience Movement:

Civil Disobedience (1930-31) Phase I:

Civil disobedience of the laws of the unjust and tyrannical government is a strong and extreme form of political agitation according to Gandhi, which should be adopted only as a last resort. The Lahore Congress of 1929 had authorised the Working Committee to launch a programme of civil disobedience including non-payment of taxes. The committee also invested Gandhi with full pow­ers to launch the movement.

The 11 points ultimatum of Gandhiji to Lord Irwin after being ignored by the British Government made Gandhiji to launch the civil disobedience moment on 12th March 1930 with his famous Dandi March. (From Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi on Gujarat coast). On 6th April, Gandhiji reached Dandi, picked up a handful of salt and broke the salt law as a symbol of the Indian people’s refusal to live under British made laws and therefore under British rule.

The movement now spread rapidly. Violation of salt laws all over the country was soon followed by defiance of forest laws in Maharashtra, Karnataka and the Central Provinces and the refusal to pay the rural Chaukidari tax in Eastern India.

The people joined hartals, demonstrations and the campaign to boycott foreign goods and to refuse to pay-taxes. In many parts of the country, the peasants refused to pay land revenue and rent and had their lands confiscated. A notable feature of the movement was the wide participation of women.

In North-western provinces, under the leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as ‘Frontier Gandhi’ the Pathans organised the society of Khudai Khidmatgars (or Servants of God) known popularly as Red Shirts.

They were pledged to non-violence and the freedom struggle. In North-East Rani Gaidilieu raised the banner of rebellion against foreign rule. The government resorted to ruthless repression, lathi changes and firing. Over 90,000 Satyagrahis, including Gandhiji and other congress leaders were imprisoned and Congress declared illegal.

Gandhi-lrwin Pact was signed in March 1931 due to the efforts of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Dr. Jayakar and others to bring about a compromise between the government and the Congress. The Government agreed to withdraw all ordinances and end prosecutions, release all plitical prisoners, restore the confiscated property of the Satyagrahis and permitted the free collection or manufacture of salt. The Congress in turn agreed to suspend the civil disobedience movement and to participate in the Second Round-Table conference.

Phase II of Civil disobediance Movement (1932-34):

On his return to India after the 2nd Round Table Conference Gandhiji resumed the Civil Disobedi­ence movement in January 1932. The Congress was declared illegal by the government and it arrested most of the leading Congress leaders.

The movement was gaining strength when it was suddenly side­ tracked with the announcement of Communal Award (1932) by the British Prime-minister Ramsay Mac Donald. The movement gradually waned. The Congress officially suspended the movement in May 1933 and withdrew it in May 1934.

Significance of Civil disobedience movement:

1. It had the objective of achieving complete independence

2. It involved deliberate violation of law and was evidently more militant

3. There was wide participation of women.

4. It was not marked by the same Hindu-Muslim unity which was witnessed during Non-coopera­tion movement.

Quit India Movement (1942):

The failure of the Cripps Mission, rising prices and war time shortages and the Japanese threat forced the Congress to take active steps to compel the British for accepting the Indian demand for independence. The All-India Congress Committee met at Bombay on 8 August 1942 and passed the famous ‘Quit India’ Resolution. It proposed the starting of a non-violent mass struggle under Gandhi’s leadership to achieve this aim.

But before the Congress could start a movement the government arrested Gandhiji and other Congress leaders on 9th August 1942. Left leaderless and without any organisation, the people reacted in any manner they could. All over the country there were hartals, strikes in factories, schools and colleges and demonstrations which were lathi-charged and fired upon.

The people took to violent action and attacked the symbols of British authority—The police stations, post-offices, railway stations, etc. In some areas such as Ballia in eastern U.R, Tumluk in Midnapore district of Bengal and Satara district of Maharashtra the revolutionaries set up ‘parallel government’.

In general, the students, workers and peasants provided the backbone of the ‘revolt’ while the upper classes and the bureaucracy remained loyal to the government. In the end, the govenment succeeded in crushing the movement.