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2nd October: Incarnation of Mahatma

Image Source: Indian Express
On this day, 150 years ago, was born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the saint of non violence and tolerance. After leading Indian immigrants in South Africa in their struggle for civil rights, Gandhi took up the mantle of India's freedom struggle and converted it into a mass movement. Through his persistent use of Satyagraha' and Civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to freedom. Gandhianism is the solution to the problems the world faces today.

What comprises the ideology of Mahatma Gandhi?

Gandhi introduced to the world the concepts of ahimsa (nonviolence) and satyagraha (peaceful civil disobedience). Gandhi did not invent nonviolence or peaceful civil disobedience. He drew on a variety of sources for his philosophy, including the Bhagavad Gita and writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy.

But he was perhaps the first person in history to apply these principles to a large political movement, bringing the supposedly invincible British Empire to its knees by his success. These principles, plus his constant striving for religious harmony, social justice and eternal truth, raised the consciousness of millions of Indians.

When Gandhi went on a fast in 1947 in Calcutta to stop deadly riots in the city between Hindus and Muslims, the killings actually stopped. It was a tribute to the man who consistently stood for religious tolerance. British historian E.W.R. Lumby has called the effect of this fast “perhaps the greatest (miracle) of modern times”.
Martin Luther King Jr. was among Gandhi's biggest disciples. King stated that while Jesus gave him his message, Gandhi showed him the method.

Why is Gandhi revered around the world?

He loved people:
Even as he asked for Indians to boycott British clothes, he took it upon himself to visit the mills in Manchester to apologize to the workers. In an interesting twist, the British weavers celebrated his presence, and cheered the boycott.

Ideas that can move the world:
Gandhi's ideas have appealed to the greatest minds of the world, including Charlie Chaplin, Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King (Jr), Steve Jobs and Barrack Obama.

Got his hands dirty:
Gandhi made people manufacture salt in the coastal areas to curb British monopoly. He made them knit their own clothes. His way of protesting involved a lot of ‘doing it ourselves’. Gandhi was living out the words of Rabindranath Tagore: You walk alone if nobody listens to your call. The man walked, the people of India followed. Gandhi, the apostle of peace, was not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Gandhi was nominated five times between 1937 and 1948. Later, Geir Lundestad, Secretary of Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2006 said, n"The greatest omission in our 106 year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace Prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, whether Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question".

Gandhi was never conferred the highest civilian honor of India – the Bharat Ratna. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in Karnataka High Court to issue a direction to the Ministry of Home Affairs to consider Gandhi for Bharat Ratna. The court remarked n“Why this atrocity on our father [of the nation]? He is above all…and does not require a certificate”.

When did Gandhi return to India?

Birth and Early Life
Mahatma Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 at Porbandar in coastal Gujarat. His father, Karamchand, held the position of a diwan (chief minister) at Porbander state. When he was barely into his teens, Gandhi was married to Kasturba, a child like him. After his father’s death Gandhi sailed to England to study law. He was a shy boy who found it difficult to adjust to in London.

Formation of philosophy and turning point
After his studies he went to South Africa for practicing law. His exposure to the brutal racist culture of South Africa had a deep impact on his psyche. The turning point of his life was the unfortunate event when he was thrown out of a train compartment reserved for white people. He began to question the place of Indians in a British Colony (both India and South Africa were British colonies).
Gandhi soon became a leader of the Indian community and started voicing his opinions on the unjust and unfair treatment met to Indians and black community. Gandhi extended his original period of stay in South Africa to assist Indians in opposing a bill to deny them the right to vote. Though unable to halt the bill's passage, his campaign was successful in drawing attention to the grievances of Indians in South Africa. In South Africa Gandhi adopted his still evolving methodology of Satyagraha (devotion to the truth), and nonviolent protest.

Return to India
Gandhi’s efforts in South Africa to unite Indian community made him a known figure in India too. On the request of his mentor Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Gandhi returned to India in 1915 to take charge of India’s freedom movement against the British. By this time he had evolved as an eloquent speaker. His theory of Satyagraha — resisting oppression in all its forms but never at the cost of truth and non-violence and non-violence - became the cornerstone of India’s freedom struggle for the following three decades.

Where did Gandhi launch his famous movements?

Champaran and Kheda:
Gandhi's first major achievements came in 1918 with the Champaran and Kheda agitations of Bihar and Gujarat. Champaran movement pitted Indian farmers against landlords who were backed by British authorities. The peasantry was forced to grow Indigo, a cash crop whose demand had been declining over two decades, and were forced to sell their crops to the planters at a fixed price. Gandhi took up their cause and through a nonviolent protest he won concessions from the authorities. In 1918, Kheda was hit by floods and famine and the peasantry was demanding relief from taxes. Using non-co-operation as a technique and social boycott revenue officials within the district, Gandhi along with Vallabhbhai Patel was able to win concession for the farmers.

Khilafat Movement and Non-Cooperation Movement: 
In 1919 Gandhi supported the Khilafat movement, a pan-Islamic, political protest campaign launched by Muslims in British India against the collapsing status of the Caliph of Turkey, the leader of their religion. His main aim was to unite Hindus and Muslims. He also launched the Non-Cooperation Movement in response to the draconian Rowlatt Act introduced by the British. Gandhi attempted to couple the Khilafat agitation with the Non-Cooperation Movement. He gained India-wide support for his movements and became a national hero.

Social Campaigns: In 1921, he assumed leadership of Congress and led a nationwide campaign for easing poverty, expanding women's rights, building religious and ethnic amity, ending untouchability, but above all for achieving Swaraj or self-rule.

Dandi March:
On 12 March 1930, Gandhi began his famous Dandi March, seeking to break the monopoly the government had over the manufacture and sale of salt. As a result of this, he and thousands of other activists were put behind bars. This led to the Civil Disobedience Movement, the biggest mass mobilization of Indians in favor of their independence.

Quit India Movement:
The final mass movement launched by Gandhi to nudge the British out of India was the ‘Quit India Movement’. The movement was not successful, but it made sure that the independence of India would only be a matter of time.

Who killed Gandhi?
On 30 January, 1948, Nathuram Vinayak Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi during his evening prayer, thus destroying the greatest symbol of peace and secularism in a single stroke of fanaticism.
As per Godse, he assassinated Gandhi out of nationalism and political reasonsGodse was a Hindu nationalist who joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha and was against the Gandhian ideas of pacifism and nonviolence. He thought that the ideas were emasculating the Hindus and turning them effeminate.

Godse justified his action of assassinating by putting forth certain arguments:
  • Gandhi supported the idea of a separate state for Muslims. In a sense he was responsible for the division of India.
  • In spite of Pakistani aggression in Kashmir, Gandhi fasted to compel the government of India to release an amount of Rs. 55 crores due to Pakistan.
  • The belligerence of Muslims was a result of Gandhi's policy of appeasement.

Each of Godse’s arguments was flawed:
Gandhi always opposed the two-nation theory. It was only when the bloodshed between Hindu-Muslims over the uncertainty of partition started and took gargantuan proportions that he agreed for the partition. Nehru and Jinnah were so eager to assume leadership roles that they could not come to an agreement. Gandhi had walked out of the final meeting – he refused to be party to the division of India. In fact, he refused to even look at the map of divided India.

Gandhi actually took the fast unto death to restore communal amity and sanity in Delhi. It is coincidental that the decision of the government of India to release Rs. 55 crore to Pakistan came during this period.

Gandhi was secular to the core and he was not the first leader be so. More than the Muslims, Gandhi is known to have worked for the downtrodden Hindus who faced heinous exploitation and atrocities at the hands of upper caste Hindus.

Godse was hanged to death on 15 November 1949 for killing the Mahatma.
Today, there are certain people in India who believe that Godse is a misunderstood brave patriot. They are as wrong in understanding Godse as Godse was in understanding Gandhi.

Precisely what did Godse achieve by killing a frail old man, who was a greater Hindu than Godse could manage to be? He killed an eighty year old unarmed man who was returning from his prayers. How could this be a “brave” act?

Anyone could have killed Gandhi. Just anyone. Godse was just that – anyone.

How relevant is Gandhian ethics in the twenty-first century?
Today globalization is the magic wand that is leading economic growth. The rich and the not-so-rich, the developed and the emerging, all are getting integrated – often one at the expense of another. Nature’s resources are now subservient to the greater goal of economic success. Rampant greed, widespread intolerance, and consumptive style of living are not just accepted; they are celebrated.

Gandhiji did not belong to an era or a country. He belongs to the humanity for eternity. More than ever before, the world needs Gandhi and his ethics today.
Here is a snapshot of what the Mahatma believed in:
A man does some good deed…not…to win applause, but he does it because he must. It is a man's purpose for existence; we are what we do.
True morality, that is, life based on following ethical rules, then, for Gandhi, consisted not in conformity but in discovering the true path and in fearlessly following it.

The "highest form of morality" in Gandhi's ethical system is the practice of altruism – to dedicate one’s life for the cause of others. Gandhi was firmly convinced that to suffer wrongs was less degrading than to inflict them, and he felt that degradation was most complete when injustice provoked individuals to fight back with further injustice.

The individual is of too great an importance to be disregarded in favour of the abstract "good of the many” (the Utilitarian perspective). Truth cannot be measured by majority vote.

He believed in the greatest-good-for-all principle. (Sarvjana Hitay)



  1. Mahatma Gandhi
  2. 2nd October 1869: Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, is born
  3. Bharat Ratna for Mahatma Gandhi?
  4. Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi
  5. Gandhi Documentary - Biography of the life of Mahatma Gandhi

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