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BIOGRAPHY OF MAHATMA GANDHI : Mohandas

Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869 in


Porbandar, India. He became one of the most respected
spiritual and political leaders of the 1900's. GandhiJI
helped free the Indian people from British rule through
nonviolent resistance, and is honored by Indians as the
afather of the Indian Nation.
The Indian people called Gandhiji 'Mahatma', meaning
Great Soul. At the age of 13 Gandhi married Kasturba, a
girl the same age. Their parents arranged the marriage.
The Gandhis had four children. Gandhi studied law in
London and returned to India in 1891 to practice. In 1893
he took on a one-year contract to do legal work in South
Africa.
At the time the British controlled South Africa. When he
attempted to claim his rights as a British subject he was
abused, and soon saw that all Indians suffered similar
treatment. Gandhi stayed in South Africa for 21 years
working to secure rights for Indian people.
He developed a method of action based upon the
principles of courage, nonviolence and truth called
Satyagraha. He believed that the way people behave is
more important than what they achieve. Satyagraha
promoted nonviolence and civil disobedience as the
most appropriate methods for obtaining political and
social goals. In 1915 Gandhi returned to India. Within 15
years he became the leader of the Indian nationalist
movement.
Using the principles of Satyagraha he led the campaign
for Indian independence from Britain. Gandhi was
arrested many times by the British for his activities in
South Africa and India. He believed it was honorable to
go to jail for a just cause. Altogether he spent seven
years in prison for his political activities.
More than once Gandhi used fasting to impress upon
others the need to be nonviolent. India was granted
independence in 1947, and partitioned into India and
Pakistan. Rioting between Hindus and Muslims followed.
Gandhi had been an advocate for a united India where
Hindus and Muslims lived together in peace.
Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi's ideas and strategies of


nonviolent civil disobedience (satyagraha--see
Glossary), first applied during his South Africa
days, initially appeared impractical to many
educated Indians. In Gandhi's own words,
"Civil disobedience is civil breach of unmoral
statutory enactments," but as he viewed it, it
had to be carried out nonviolently by
withdrawing cooperation with the corrupt state.
Observers realized Gandhi's political potential
when he used the satyagraha during the anti-
Rowlatt Acts protests in Punjab. In 1920, under
Gandhi's leadership, the Congress was
reorganized and given a new constitution,
whose goal was swaraj . Membership in the
party was opened to anyone prepared to pay a
token fee, and a hierarchy of committees--from
district, to province, to all-India--was
established and made responsible for discipline
and control over a hitherto amorphous and
diffuse movement. During his first nationwide
satyagraha, Gandhi urged the people to boycott
British education institutions, law courts, and
products (in favor of swadeshi ); to resign from
government employment; to refuse to pay
taxes; and to forsake British titles and honors.
The party was transformed from an elite
organization to one of mass national appeal.
Mahatma Gandhi's first nationwide
satyagraha was too late to influence the framing
of the new Government of India Act of 1919,
the magnitude of disorder resulting from the
movement was unparalleled and presented a
new challenge to foreign rule. Gandhi was
forced to call off the campaign in 1922 because
of atrocities committed against police. However,
the abortive campaign marked a milestone in
India's political development. For his efforts,
Gandhi was imprisoned until 1924. On his
release from prison, he set up an ashram (a
rural commune), established a newspaper, and
inaugurated a series of reforms aimed at the
socially disadvantaged within Hindu society,
the rural poor, and the Untouchables (see
Changes in the Caste System, ch. 5). His
popularity soared in Indian politics as he
reached the hearts and minds of ordinary
people, winning support for his causes as no one
else had ever done before. By his personal and
eclectic piety, his asceticism, his vegetarianism,
his espousal of Hindu-Muslim unity, and his
firm belief in ahimsa, Gandhi appealed to the
loftier Hindu ideals. For Gandhi, moral
regeneration, social progress, and national
freedom were inseparable.
Emerging leaders within the Congress--
Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel,
Rajendra Prasad, C. Rajagopalachari, Maulana
Abdul Kalam Azad, Subhas Chandra Bose, and
Jaya-prakash (J.P.) Narayan--accepted
Gandhi's leadership in articulating nationalist
aspirations but disagreed on strategies for
wresting more concessions from the British.
The Indian political spectrum was further
broadened in the mid-1920s by the emergence
of both moderate and militant parties, such as
the Swaraj Party (sometimes referred to as the
Swarajist Party), the Mahasabha Party
(literally, great council; an orthodox Hindu
communal party), the Unionist Party, the
Communist Party of India, and the Socialist
Independence for India League. Regional
political organizations also continued to
represent the interests of non-Brahmans in
Madras, Mahars in Maharashtra, and Sikhs in
Punjab.
The Congress, however, kept itself aloof from
competing in elections. As voices inside and
outside the Congress became more strident, the
British appointed a commission in 1927, under
Sir John Simon, to recommend further
measures in the constitutional devolution of
power. The British failure to appoint an Indian
member to the commission outraged the
Congress and others, and, as a result, they
boycotted it throughout India, carrying
placards inscribed "Simon, Go Back." In 1929
the Congress responded by drafting its own
constitution under the guidance of Motilal
Nehru (Jawaharlal's father) demanding full
independence (purna swaraj ) by 1930; the
Congress went so far as to observe January 26,
1930, as the first anniversary of the first year of
independence.
Mahatma Gandhi reemerged from his long
seclusion by undertaking his most inspired
campaign, a march of about 400 kilometers
from his commune in Ahmadabad to Dandi, on
the coast of Gujarat between March 12 and
April 6, 1930. At Dandi, in protest against
extortionate British taxes on salt, he and
thousands of followers illegally but symbolically
made their own salt from sea water. Their
defiance reflected India's determination to be
free, despite the imprisonment of thousands of
protesters. For the next five years, the Congress
and government were locked in conflict and
negotiations until what became the Government
of India Act of 1935 could be hammered out.
But by then, the rift between the Congress and
the Muslim League had become unbridgeable
as each pointed the finger at the other
acrimoniously. The Muslim League disputed
the claim by the Congress to represent all
people of India, while the Congress disputed the
Muslim League's claim to voice the aspirations
of all Muslims.
The 1935 act, the voluminous and final
constitutional effort at governing British India,
articulated three major goals: establishing a
loose federal structure, achieving provincial
autonomy, and safeguarding minority interests
through separate electorates. The federal
provisions, intended to unite princely states and
British India at the center, were not
implemented because of ambiguities in
safeguarding the existing privileges of princes.
In February 1937, however, provincial
autonomy became a reality when elections were
held; the Congress emerged as the dominant
party with a clear majority in five provinces
and held an upper hand in two, while the
Muslim League performed poorly.

Mahatma Gandhi Page


Data as of September 1995