Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi popularly remembered as Baapu (Father of the nation) was the most prominent and dynamic political and spiritual leaders in Indian Independence Movement.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or Mahatma Gandhi as he is popularly known was a pioneering leader of the Indian Nationalism in British ruled India.
It is due to the efforts of Mahatma Gandhi which led India to gain its independence. Gandhi led the principle of non violence and also inspired movements for civil rights, freedom and non violence across the globe.
Life of Gandhiji
Mahatma Gandhi Mahatma Gandhi was born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2nd October, 1869 in the coastal town of Porbandar in Gujarat. Porbandar was at that time a part of the Bombay Presidency in British ruled India.
Gandhiji’s father was Karamchand Gandhi and mother was Putlibai. His father, Karamchand Gandhi belonged to the Hindu Modh community served as a diwan of the Porbandar state in the Kathiawar Agency of British India.
Gandhiji’s mother, Putlibai was Karamchand’s fourth wife. On May 1833, when Mahatma Gandhi was 13 years old, he was married to 14 year old Kasturbai Makhanji in an arranged child marriage. However, Kasturba Gandhi spent most of her time in her parent’s house and was away from Mahatma Gandhi in the initial years of marriage as per tradition.
In the year 1885, when Mahatma Gandhi was 15 years old, the couple had their first child which died few days later. Gandhiji’s father, Karamchand Gandhi too died in the earlier part of that year. Gandhiji was a mediocre student during his school days.
In his middle school in Porbandar and high school in Rajkot, he shone neither in classroom nor on the playing field. Gandhiji passed his matriculation examination from Samaldas College in Bhavnagar in Gujarat with difficulty.
His family wanted him to be a barrister as it would increase his chanced of succeeding to his father’s post in time.
Gandhiji’s Days in England
In the year 1888, Mahatma Gandhi travelled to London in England to study law in University College in London where he studies Indian law and jurisprudence and to train as a barrister in the Inner Temple in London. Gandhiji’s time in Londonwas influenced by a vow he made to his mother when he left India.
During the time in England, Gandhiji tried to adapt to English customs initially taking dancing lessons. He was influenced by Henry Salt’s writings and joined the Vegetarian Society and was elected to its executive committee.
This society was founded in the year 1875 to promote universal brotherhood and was devoted to the study of Buddhist and Hindu literature. Mahatma Gandhi was called to the bar in on June 1891 and he left for India where he came to know about his mother’s death during his stay in London. His family kept the news from him.
After returning from London, Gandhiji’s attempts to establish a law practice in Bombay failed as he was too shy to speak up in the court. He then returned to Rajkot to make a modest living by drafting petitions for litigants but was forced to close it due to an issue with a British officer.
In the year 1893, Gandhiji accepted a year long contract from an Indian firm named Dada Abdulla & Co. for the post in the Colony of Natal in South Africa. It was then a part of the British Empire.
Gandhiji’s Time in South Africa
Mahatma Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa and developed his skills during his stay there. He developed his political, ethical and political leadership skills in due course of time. The Indians who stayed in South Africa at that time were led by the wealthy Muslims who employed Gandhiji as a lawyer.
During his stay in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi faced discrimination which was directed people of all color. Gandhiji was once thrown off a train in Pietermaritzburg after he refused to move from the first class coach. On that act, he protested and later was allowed to travel by the first class coach the very next day.
On his further travel by the stagecoach, Gandhiji was beaten by a driver after he refused to make room for a European passenger. He also suffered other hardships including being barred from several hotels. He was also ordered by a magistrate of a Durban court to remove his turban, which he refused to accept.
These events of discrimination modified his social activism and made him look up to social injustice. He witnessed events of racism, prejudice and injustice against the Indians in South Africa and he gradually began to question his place in the society and of his people’s standing in the British Empire.
In the year 1906, the Transvaal Government promulgated a new act compelling registration of the colony’s Indian population. In a mass protest on 11th September in Johannesburg that year, Gandhiji adopted the method of ‘Satyagraha’ or non violence protest.
Gandhiji’s Role in Indian Freedom Movement
In the year 1915, Mahatma Gandhi permanently shifted to India. By then, his reputation as a nationalist leader has already taken shape and he joined the Indian National Congress. He was made aware of the politics, Indian issues and the Indian people primarily by the political leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale.
He was the key leader of the Congress party and was best known for his restraint and moderation. He was effective in working inside the political system. Gandhiji accepted this liberal approach of Gokhale and transformed it to make it look wholly Indian.
Gandhiji took the leadership of the Congress party in the year 1920 and started demanding the British until 26th January 1930 when the Indian National Congress declared the Independence of India. The British Government could not recognize the steady demanding nature and as a result more negotiations took place until 1930.
Later Gandhiji and the Congress party withdrew the support of the raj when the Viceroy declared war on Germany in September 1939 without consulting anyone. Tensions started to escalate in the country and at that time Gandhiji demanded immediate independence in 1942.
The British responded by imprisoning him and thousands others. The Muslim League cooperated with the British and moved on against Gandhiji in demanding a separate Muslim country of Pakistan. In August 1947, the British partitioned Indian and Pakistan on terms which Gandhiji strongly disapproved.
In the year 1919, when Gandhiji was in his weak position, he decided to broaden his base by appealing to the Muslims. During the time of the Khalifat movement, Gandhiji succeeded in gaining the support of the Muslims and he soon became the most prominent spokesman of the All India Muslim Conference.
However, by the end of the year 1922, the Khalifat movement collapsed and the Muslims support for Gandhiji and the Congress party declines. On December 1927, Gandhiji was entrusted with the executive authority on the behalf on the Indian National Congress.
Under Gandhiji’s leadership, the Congress party formed newly with the aim of Swaraj. Gandhiji spread the message of acceptance of non violence platform to include the Swadeshi policy which was the boycott of foreign made goods and British goods.
He told the Indian mend and women to spin khadi and accept khadi goods.This later led to the violent clash in Chauri Chaura in Uttar Pradesh on February 1922. Gandhiji feared more violence and called off the campaign of mass civil disobedience movement.
Dandi March and the Gandhi-Irwin Pact
Later on March 1930, Gandhiji launched a new Satyagraha against the tax on salt. This was highlighted by the famous Salt March to Dandi from 12th March to 6th April where he marched 388 kms from Ahmadabad to Dandi in Gujarat to make salt himself.
He was joined by thousands of Indians on the way. This march was successful and upset the British who responded by imprisoning many people. Gandhiji also opposed practices like purdah, child marriage, untouchability, sati and the extreme oppression of Hindu widows which were done on womenfolk.
The Government represented by Lord Edward Irwin decided to negotiate with Mahatma Gandhi. Subsequently, the Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed in March 1931 where the British Government agreed to release all political prisoners in return for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement.
As a result of the pact, Gandhiji attended the Round Table Conference in London as a sole representative of the INC. later the successor of Lord Irwin fought back hard against the negotiation and arrested Gandhiji.
Gandhiji also went on fast for the benefit of the Harijans. Later when the Congress party chooses to contest elections and accept power under the Federation scheme, Gandhiji resigned from the party. He returned to active politics again the year 1936 with the Nehru presidency and the Lucknow session of the Congress.
Quit India Movement
During the year 1934, three attempts of assassination also took place on Mahatma Gandhi’s life. During the break out of the Second World War, Gandhiji favored in offering ‘non violent moral support’ to the British. The Congressmen criticized his decision strongly.
He started the Quit India Movement which was the most forceful movement in the history of Indian struggle. During this movement thousands of protesters were killed and arrested. Gandhiji made it clear that they would not support the war effort unless India was granted immediate independence.
He called on all the Congressmen and the people to maintain disciple through Ahimsa and go with the Quit India Movement. Gandhiji and the entire Congress working committee were arrested in Bombay by the British on 9th August 1942. Gandhiji as held for two years in Aga Khan Palace in Pune.
During his arrest there, he suffered two setback blows in his life. One was the death of his secretary Mahadev Desai who died of a heart attack and second was the death of his wife Kasturba Gandhi on 22nd February 1944.
He was released on 6th May 1944 because of his ailing health. Gandhiji came out in the middle of an altered political scene. He then met Muhammad Ali Jinnah in September 1944 in Bombay for talking grounds.
Gandhiji proposed that the tight of the Muslim provinces be opted out of substantial parts of the forthcoming political union. However, Jinnah rejected on the grounds that it fell short of a fully independent Pakistan.
Partition of India
During that time, when the Congress leaders were in jail, other parties supported the war and gained organizational strength. After the end of the war, the British gave indications that the power would be finally be transferred to the Indian hands and Gandhiji then called of the struggle.
All the political prisoners were subsequently released including the Congress leadership. Gandhiji was opposed to the concept of partition as it would divide and harm sentiments of the people.
Concerning the partitioning of India to create Pakistan, while the Indian National Congress (INC) and Gandhi called for British to quit India, the Muslim League passed out a resolution for them to divide and quit in the year 1943.
Gandhiji then suggested an agreement which required the Congress and the Muslim League to cooperate and attain independence under a provisional agreement rather than portioning both countries. When Jinnah called for direct actions on 16th August 1946, Gandhiji was raged and visited the prime riot areas to stop the massacres.
Mahatma Gandhi made strong efforts to unite the Indian Hindus, Muslims and the Christians and struggled for the emancipation of the untouchables in Hindu society.
On 14th August and 15th August 1947, the Indian Independence Act was invoked which led to riots in the border areas. The communal riots lead to killing of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims.
Death of Mahatma Gandhi Mahatma Gandhi
On 30th January 1948, Gandhiji was shot dead while he was walking to a platform to address a prayer meeting. He was killed by the assassin, Nathuram Godse who was a Hindu nationalist. Nathuram Godse approached Gandhiji and bowed and were tried to put off by the girl accompanying Gandhiji saying he was late for the prayers.
However, Nathuram Godse pushed her aside and shot Gandhiji thrice on his chest from point blank range. The final words of Gandhiji were ‘Hey Ram’ who fell backwards by the bullet impact. Godse who had links with the extremist Hindu Mahasabha held Mahatma Gandhi responsible for weakening India by insisting upon a payment to Pakistan.
Nathuram Godse and his co-conspirator Narayan Apte were later tried, convicted and executed on 15th November 1949.
Gandhiji was cremated in Raj Ghat where a memorial or Samadhi bearing the epigraph ‘Hey Ram’ bearing on the memorial. Gandhiji’s death was mourned worldwide. His funeral procession was joined by more than two million people.
Awards and Portrayals of Gandhi
The title ‘Mahatma’ was accorded by Rabindra Nath Tagore to Gandhiji. The Time Magazine portrayed Gandhiji as the ‘Man of the Year’ in the year 1930. Gandhiji was also the runner up to Albert Einstein as the ‘Person of the Year’ in the year of 1999.
The Indian Government annually awards the Gandhi peace Prize to distinguished social workers in regard to Gandhiji’s work. Nelson Mandela, a leader of South Africa’s struggle against racial discrimination is a prominent non Indian recipient.
In the year 2011, the Times magazine named Mahatma Gandhi as one of the top 25 political icons of all time. Gandhiji was nominated five times in between the years 1937 to 1948 for the Nobel Peace Prize, although he did not get it.
Mahatma Gandhi is portrayed in film, literature and theatre. Actor Ben Kingsley portrayed Gandhiji in the 1982 film ‘Gandhi’ which won the Academy Award for the best picture. The 2007 film 'Gandhi, My Father' explores the relationship between Gandhiji and his eldest son Harilal.
Gandhiji also was a central figure in the 2005 Bollywood superhit comedy film ‘Lage Raho Munna Bhai’. The 1996 film The Making of the Mahatma documents Mahatma Gandhi’s time spent in South Africa and his transformation from an inexperienced barrister to a recognized political leader. There are many biographies which portray Gandhiji.
D.G. Tendulkar’s ‘Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’ portray him in eight volumes. Apart from that, there is also Pyarelal and Sushila Nayyar’s ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ which portray Gandhiji in ten volumes.
There is also a documentary titled ‘Mahatma: Life of Gandhi, 1869-1948’ which portrays Gandhiji in 14 chapters and has a duration of six hours.
The biography ‘Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India’ written by Joseph Lelyveld and published on April 2010 contained controversial content speculating Gandhiji’s sexual life. This book was subsequently banned in Gujarat, Gandhiji’s birthplace.