Speaking about Mahatma Gandhi, respectfully and affectionately called as the Father of Nation, evokes an avalanche of emotions rushing kaleidoscopically to our mind and bringing before us vivid memories of panorama of historical events and incredible sagas of the life of the world-reputed personality, famously recognized by universal features of loin-cloth-clad-up-to-the-knees, emaciated and frail physique, a thick-framed-bespectacled-long-face, slipper-shod feet, a chain-laced watch having been well-tucked into the waist, a sheet of loose cloth spread across the bust and moving with long strides with the support from a heavy wooden stick.
The birth of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on the 2nd October 1869 in a trading family at Porbandar in Gujarat was not simply the advent of a human being on the earth planet. In fact, it was the harbinger of a string of revolutionary and epoch-making events in the socio-political history of not only India but also of the nations across the world. Mahatma Gandhi’s descendance on the world stage was destined to coincide with the incarnation of a charismatic and divine personality whose sacrifice and undying courage played the most vital role in liberating India from more than 300 years’ yoke of the British Empire.
As the undisputed and arguably the most-cherished leader of the national independence movement against the British rule, Gandhi mirrors the uncountable dreams of the common masses of the country. Gandhi reflects the foundation of Swaraj, the democratic government of self-rule of crores of the people of the country. He also symbolises the common masses’ goal of what we may call bringing the nation onto the path of fast holistic development.
Hailing from a very ordinary family, Gandhi studied law in London. However, this did not come so easily for him. Gandhi was married at an early age of 13 to a 14-year-old Kasturba. His mother was not willing to permit her son to leave his wife and family for London to study law but after much persuasion and a serious vow of abstinence from meat, alcohol and women he was at last allowed to go abroad for the study. In fact, he wanted to become a barrister and for this he had got enrolled in the Inner Temple for the study of law.
The saga of Gandhi’s struggle for the independence of the country starts when he returned from England to India in 1915 on the request of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who later on became famous as his political guru. With the joining of Indian National Congress (INC), Gandhi embarked upon the politics of India symbolizing the beginning of the new chapter in the struggle of independence of the country from the British rule.
But the first active and substantial participation of Gandhi in the political and freedom struggle of the country started in 1917 only when he came to Champaran in Bihar to champion the struggle of the indigo cultivators against the British government. The farmers had been undergoing variety of exploitations and tortures like those of being forced to cultivate indigo and sell their products at a fixed price. Gandhiji’s initiative in this regard played a vital role and succeeded persuading the British government to concede much-needed concessions and relief to the peasantry. This proved to be the maiden success of Gandhi in the socio-political domain of India.
Then came the Kheda movement, started in 1918, supported by thousands of farmers and volunteers, in which Gandhi used the modus operandi of non-co-operation to provide relief to the peasants from the heavy burden of taxes on the ground of famine and floods. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel too extended substantial help to Gandhi in this movement. Gandhi did his best to garner public support for this agitation from across the country and finally the British Government acquiesced to grant the relaxation in the payment of revenue tax until the famine subsided.
After the World War I, there started the Khilafat movement in 1919 which proved to be another significant political movement in which Gandhi sought the co-operation from Muslims to fight against British imperialism to support the Ottoman Empire. The movement gave Gandhi initial success in the form of strong Muslim support that ultimately resulted in the reduction of Hindu-Muslim conflict which had been aggravating fast at that time. All these successes of Gandhi in various early movements and agitations catapulted him to the limelight and he rose to become the most prominent public figure and great national leader in the Indian politics.
Gandhi believed that only with the help of peaceful non-cooperation could India win the independence from the British rule and that is why non-cooperation movement proved to be one of the most effective weapons of Gandhi to fight against the British rule. This movement was launched in 1920 under the leadership of Gandhi.
The non-cooperation movement, based upon the philosophy of resisting the British rule via ahimsa (the non-violent movement), got accelerated further by the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and only after which Gandhi took pledge to achieve the Swaraj or self-governance, the ultimate motto of the India’s independence movement. Under this movement, protesters boycotted the British products and made earnest request to the people to adopt the indigenous and local products. This movement was the real litmus test of the leadership skills, acceptance and popularity of Gandhi.
Gandhi’s Dandi movement, also known as Salt March, proved to be an epoch-making event in the history of independence struggle of India. In the Calcutta session of Congress in 1928, Gandhi had declared that India must be accorded the dominion status or the country will adopt the path of revolution for the complete independence. But the British government kept playing with this demand and as a result, on December 31, 1929, the Indian tricolour was unfurled in Lahore and the upcoming January 26 next year was celebrated as the Indian Independence Day.
Consequently, Gandhi launched a Satyagraha campaign against the salt tax in March 1930 and moved from Ahmedabad to Dandi in Gujarat, covering a distance of 388 kilometres, to produce salt on the sea shore. Several thousands of the people joined and supported Gandhi in his pursuit to free the country from the hundred years of slavery of the British rule.
During the World War II, on 8th August 1942, Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement or the India August Movement at the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee which vociferously demanded the end of the British rule. In his address to the Congress, Gandhi made a clarion call to the people of the country to ‘Do or die’ which steeled the people’s determination for achieving the freedom from the British rule.
The life of Mahatma Gandhi has been an open book of precious values of morality and practical life. The gist of Gandhi’s philosophy of truth and non-violence can be well summarized in the following sentence, written on the plank of Sabarmati, “God is truth. The way to truth lies through ahimsa (non-violence).” Truth (satya) and nonviolence (ahimsa) were the greatest philosophies of Gandhi earning him popularity and fame which only a few of luminaries of the world have claimed in the world history. His straight and rarest of the rare confessions of the most embarrassing events of his life have made him the most respectable among the great personalities of the world.
Mahatma Gandhi dedicated his entire life to the pursuit of Satya and Ahimsa which were based upon the Vedantic and Upanishadic philosophies of self-realization, vegetarianism and universal love. Summarizing his own unshakeable belief in Satya, Gandhi had told “God is truth.” For Gandhi both God and truth were tantamount to each other. Satyagraha, the insistence or appeal for Satya, also called as ‘soul force’ or ‘universal force’ became the most powerful weapons which won the country freedom without having been shed even a single drop of blood.
In his autobiography, “The Story of My Experiments with Truth’ Gandhi explained the philosophy of ahimsa as the political means to achieve freedom for the people of the country. The concept of nonviolence (ahimsa) is said to be the greatest Dharma, a flawless way of life to be observed by all living beings (sarvbhuta), at all times (sarvada), in all respects (sarvatha) in action, words and thought.
Mahatma Gandhi was a great champion of empowerment and emancipation of women in the society. He always believed that a woman could not really be empowered unless she is self-conscious, educated, self-motivated and aware of her own rights. Gandhi opposed purdah system, dowry, sati, child marriage and other socio-gender abuses so widely prevailing in the society during the period of slavery of the country.
The jnana yoga, bhakti yoga and karma yoga discussed in the Bhagavad Gita had had a very big influence on the life of Gandhi. Abstinence, self-restraint, patience, honesty and other values enshrined in the Hindu scriptures also substantially influenced the life of Gandhi. Even after having been married, he took a vow to abstain from sexual relations and practise Brahmacharya (celibacy). He also practised abstinence from food and took fasting usually not as a political gimmick but as the diet and means for the strengthening the mind, body and soul.
For the foundation of an integrated social and national configuration of as plural country as ours, Mahatma Gandhi had a heart-felt concern and deep-rooted sympathy for the untouchables and the low-caste-dalit people who were called as Antyaja.. He considered untouchability as the greatest evil in the Hindu society. For him untouchability was the crime against God and the mankind.
According to him both the class and caste systems prevailing in the Indian society have been wreaking havoc upon the Indian socio-familial cohesive fabric which is exceptionally based upon the ethos of equality, brotherhood and communal harmony. He started a campaign to bring about much-needed transformation in the lives of the untouchables whom he later on referred to as Harijans, the children of god. For this he began a 21- day fast of self-purification in 1933 as a part of movement to eradicate the discrimination against the Harijans.
Mahatma Gandhi had a very pragmatic view of the education system and that was why he never supported the colonial version of English-medium-education system prevailing during that time in the country. Unlike basic education, Gandhi firmly believed that the western education system produced contempt for the menial work and gave birth to a multi-stage-hierarchical-elite-bureaucratic system. He emphasised upon the adoption of the sort of education system which taught the children the importance of the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of human life. This sort of education was called as the Nai Talim, that is new education.
The dream of attainment of Swaraj or self-rule was closest to the heart of Gandhi. By Swaraj he did not simply mean freeing the country from the bondage of the British rule. Nor did it simply mean transferring the British rule of the country into the hands of the common masses of the country. By Swaraj he meant the formation of such a democratic government which stressed upon the participation of the common masses in the various policy-making-processes and promoted the growth of all the segments of the people to finally establish an egalitarian society.
By Swaraj Gandhi also meant a government promoting inclusive growth and safeguarding the freedom of expression of thoughts and opinions. For this, he also advocated the sarvodaya model of economy which just meant the development of all, development of even the last man standing in the last queue of the society. He also supported such a development strategy which gave importance to the maximum use of indigenous technology and infrastructure. By the Gandhian model of development the emphasis was given on “greatest good for all” rather than ‘greatest good for the greatest number.”
Gandhi was exceptionally a prolific writer. He was also a journalist par excellence. His one of publications ‘Hind Swaraj’ proved to be an important intellectual guide for the freedom fighters. He also edited several newspapers like those of Harijan, Indian Opinion, Young India and Navajivan. He loved writing letters regularly to his friends and followers and the editors of the various newspapers.
Gandhi also wrote many books but his autobiography “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” succeeded to become the most popular among the readers and proved to be his masterpiece. His writing canvas ranged widely from vegetarianism to diet, from health to religion and from social reforms to the importance of ethical and moral values as dignified ways of life of the Homo sapiens.
With the charismatic personality and pragmatic life style, Gandhi considerably influenced not only the common masses but also the great leaders of the countries across the world. His philosophies like those of Satyagraha and non-violence earned him the global acceptance, fame, applauses and provided him the immense popularity and recognition which the leaders of his ilk so longingly dream to have. Martin Luther King, who called Gandhi as “the little brown saint”, was so much impressed with the ideology of Gandhi that once he had said, ‘Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics.”
The great anti-apartheid leader and the former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela and Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner and diplomat Aung San Suu Kyi too were very much in awe of Gandhi, the man with miraculous appeal and mesmerizing personality.
Even the thinkers and philosophers in European nations learnt valuable lessons from the life of Gandhi and spread them worldwide for the services of the humanity. Romain Rolland, the famous Nobel laureate, French dramatist, novelist and mystic became the first European personality who applauded the historical achievements and superb ideologies of Gandhi in his famous book Mahatma Gandhi in 1924. The great physicist Albert Einstein also had correspondence with Gandhi and called him as a role model for the generations to come.
Gandhi was assassinated on the 30th January 1948 by Nathuram Vinayak Godse, a Hindu fundamentalist at Birla House. In his demise, the world lost the greatest personality whose down – to – earth approach to life and the world substantially motivated the people across the nations. With his departure, there did pass away not only a human being, but an epoch, a treasure tavern of ethical, moral and socio-familial values which configured and contoured the lives of the mankind never witnessed earlier on the earth.
Gandhi is respected across the world not only for his ideologies of truth and non-violence but also for his simple life style and high thinking. Completely devoid of any tantrums of power and privileges, Gandhi’s simple living and high thinking way of life made Albert Einstein to glorify the life of Gandhi which has become one of the often-quoted statements, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”
Gandhi is no more among us today but the memories of his precious and timeless ideologies and philosophies have been so fresh in our mind even now and the lustre of which has continued to shine with more luminosity in our hearts.
The path shown, footprints left on the sands of time and principles preached by Gandhi would go on unfailingly lighting the world, enlightening the people and bailing the people out of the various trials and tribulations and vicissitudes of life with more vigour than ever in the centuries to come.
By Shreeprakash Sharma