Mohandis Karamchand Gandhi

Place of BirthPorbandar

Gandhi is still famous for his ideas of passive resistance to British rule in India. However, in many ways he was a true child of the Empire training as a lawyer in London before living with the Indian diaspora in South Africa for a further 21 years of his life. In fact, the time that he spent in South Africa was a particularly formative period in his life as he was exposed to the Boer war and the racist policies of the white political parties. It was here that he realised that for all the talk of an empire of equals there was in fact a pecking order of groups and that the Europeans held colonies for their own benefit and not for the benefit of those they ruled over. He put his legal training to good use in the colony helping other Indians stand up to the discriminatory laws being passed by the White dominated parliament there.

Returning to India in 1914 he quickly adopted the idea of Swaraj (Home Rule) for India. His initial attempts at Civil Disobedience frequently turned into more violent events as the imperial authorities were not versed in the subtleties of passive resistance. He would be jailed frequently by the authorities with conspiracy to overthrow the Indian government.

1930 saw his symbolic Salt March as he walked 200 miles to the sea in symbolic defiance of the government monopoly. He was rearrested and released with increasing frequency during the 1930s but was able to build up his Congress party into a formidable and viable political party especially after 1937 when they agreed to participate in the provincial legislatures.

World War II was a defining point for the Indian National movement. There was serious debate as to whether to help their colonial masters Britain or to withdraw support and effectively aid the equally imperial Japanese forces. Gandhi moved away from the idea of self rule and moved more and more towards the idea of complete independence for India. He felt that only a free and independent India could give effective moral support to the British. This more strident position got Gandhi into more trouble of the authorities as they claimed that his disobedience was aiding the enemy. He returned to prison until May 1944. His political fortunes would rise with the end of the war and with the election of the Labour party to government back in Britain.

The newly elected Labour government was hostile to the ideas (and expenses) of Imperialism and quickly vowed to grant independence to India. Gandhi referred to this about turn in Imperial policy as "The noblest act of the British nation." However his dreams were not to be fully realised as the last days of British rule and the first days of Independence were shrouded by communal violence and bickerings between Hindus and Muslims. He resorted to fasting to attempt to calm down some of the excesses of the instigators of the strife. It was deeply ironic that a Hindu fanatic assassinated him in 1948.


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by Stephen Luscombe