Gandhi - Page 2
By: Mick Yates
From 1905 to 1911, the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, had divided the province of Bengal into two - West Bengal, Bihar & Orissa, with a Hindu majority, and East Bengal & Assam, with a Muslim majority. He did this largely for relatively short term political reasons, but it had long term implications. Most importantly, it served to awaken the Indian population to the need for Independence, to control their own destiny. Clearly, as is evident from Gandhi's "Collected Works", he was well informed about these developments.
Return to India
In 1914, Gandhi left South Africa, first spending a few months in England, where he organized an ambulance corps of Indians to help Britain in Wor
ld War I. He arrived in India towards the end of 1914.
In 1915, he founded the Sabarmati ("Satyagraha") Ashram, near the Sabarmati River at Ahmedabad. (In 1936, he founded the Sevagram Ashram, near Wardha).
For a time, before launching into new action, he carefully studied the "Indian condition" and the political landscape. Then, in 1917 he launched his first "Satyagraha" campaign in India, for the rights of farmers on indigo plantations in Champaran, Bihar. He was arrested, but the case was not pressed. In 1918, he led a mill workers strike in Ahmedabad, reaching an agreement with the owners after a three day fast, his first "Satyagraha" fast in India. Events built momentum.
Considering it his duty, in 1918 he actively recruited Indian volunteers to fight in World War I.
April 1919, he organized a National "Hartal" or mass strike against the British authorities. He fasted for three days in penance for violence from Hindu activists, but unfortunately the Hartal partly set the stage for the infamous Amritsar massacre.
The Government banned public meetings in the Punjab, and when one such meeting took place, 379 unarmed Sikhs were massacred, and 1137 wounded – men, women and children. This followed the orders of British General Dyer. Unsurprisingly, this dreadful event polarized public opinion in India and in Britain when the facts became known. The resultant report from the Hunter Commission largely exonerated Dyer, and thus severely discredited the Colonial Raj.
In 1920, Gandhi became the leader of the All India Home Rule League, and he drafted the first constitution of the Indian National Congress. Not without dissent, "Satyagraha" was adopted as the policy of Congress, and it remained so until Independence.
It was thus in 1920 that the non-cooperation movement was first launched nationally. This included such powerful symbols as burning foreign cloth, although poet Rabrindranath Tagore (later a Nobel Prize winner) was amongst several key leaders who felt Gandhi was overly feeding nationalism. Tagore was a friend of Gandhi (he first called him "Mahatma"), yet still he felt that Gandhi should pay mores attention to the need for India to be properly integrated into the Global Community. Gandhi seemed to agree with this in principle, but believed it necessary to have an independent India in its fullest sense, as a pre-requisite to India's emergence on the global stage.
In Bardoli in 1922, Sardar Patel led a "Satyagraha" against unfair taxes. This was a positive and pivotal event in the story of independence, which demonstrated the power of a grass roots issue as a key to future actions. Unfortunately it also led to riots, and Gandhi fasted for five days in penance for this violence. 1922 was also the year Gandhi was arrested for the first time in India, for burning foreign cloth. At trial he so moved the Colonial judge that the judge admitted that "no one would be better pleased than he if the Government were to release him sooner" than the statutory 6 years he had placed as a sentenced on Gandhi. Gandhi thanked the judge in a most courteous exchange, and in fact he was released after 22 months.
From 1924 to 1928, Gandhi was relatively quiet. He even observed a "year off" in 1926, devoted to reflection and experimentation. During that time the Indian predicament worsened, and the political scene got yet more difficult.
It was in 1930 that Gandhi led the famous Salt March. The Colonial Government had taxed salt for many years, and unauthorized production of this essential mineral was illegal. So, this law affected poorer people even more than most other laws. Without doubt the march, which touched the poorest of Indians and gained global notice, was the most successful event of the entire independence campaign. Whilst the idea was not fully supported by all Congress Leaders, Gandhi had found a brilliant yet simple way of touching everyone’s heart. Of note, the march got widespread support from women, and Gandhi cleverly used both Indian and Global media to further the cause.
In 1915, he During the early days of the march, Gandhi made one of the most moving speeches of his life, berating his supporters for being overzealous in using the resources of villages on the way in supporting the marchers. Gandhi called for "personal purity", and an equality between marcher and suffering populace. He succeeded, and the march from that point was on the firmest moral ground, in his view.
It took 24 days and 241 miles to complete the march - from March 12th, departing from Sabarmati Ashram, to reach the coast at Dandi, on April 6th. He started with 78 followers, and ended with thousands. Gandhi was 60 years old when he symbolically picked up salt on the beach, and broke the law. He and thousands of others were arrested, but he was not put on public trial.
Unfortunately the Salt Tax was not abolished until October 1946, during Nehru's interim Government.
Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, was ambivalent about the arrest of Gandhi, especially given the Government’s defeat at Bardoli, and also partly because he agreed with Gandhi about the unjustness of some laws. Still, Gandhi and other leaders of Congress were arrested, and only released in January 1931.
March of that year Gandhi and Irwin came to an accord and civil disobedience ended. In August 1931 Gandhi attended an unsuccessful conference in London, and on his return "Satyagraha" restarted. During that trip he met many Leaders from all spheres of activity, including the King, and it was at that time he addressed mill workers in Lancashire – explaining that his rejection of foreign cloth was not an attack on them. He won their support.
Churchill called him shortly afterwards "a half-naked fakir", for which Gandhi thanked him and remarked
"(I) would love to be a naked fakir, but was not one as yet".
"Children of God"
1932 Gandhi was arrested again (in all, he spent 2338 days in prison in India and South Africa), but was released without trial. In 1933 he launched his weekly "Harijan", and started a major campaign in support of the Untouchables, or "Children of God", as Gandhi preferred to call them.
It was clear to Gandhi that the whole issue of caste and Untouchability was a potential disaster in the making for India, and it became one of his main themes. His efforts were not always accepted by the Untouchables themselves, and at the end of his life he saw his work for the Untouchables as incomplete. In this instance, after heavy negotiation and another fast, he did however secure a three-way agreement between Congress, the Untouchables Leader Ambedker, and the Government.
Hindu & Muslim
Gandhi was much less successful with Hindu / Muslim relations, which continued to deteriorate through the end of the decade. Jinnah, the Muslim Leader, and eventually Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, was in many ways Gandhi’s greatest intellectual adversary. Muslims had ruled over Indian for many centuries in its past, and there was much fear of reprisal by a Hindu majority state. To some extent, Gandhi’s pote
nt use of Hindu history and imagery actually helped the Muslim separatist cause.
In 1934 Gandhi inaugurated the All India Village Industries Association. He also resigned his Congress position, at which time Jawaharlal Nehru became Congress’ Leader (and later India’s first Prime Minister). Also that year three attempts were made on Gandhi’s life, something he just shrugged off.
There were provincial elections in 1937, which gave much power to the States, and also gave Congress a strong platform. The Act of 1935 which made this possible was generally accepted to be the forerunner of Independence. But elections also served to deepen the rift between Hindu and Muslim.
In 1939 Gandhi returned more vigorously to Political Life. With Congress, he decided not to support Britain at the outbreak of World War II, unless India received unconditional independence. He was interned in 1942, but released two years later because of his poor health.
In 1942 Churchill sent left-winger Sir Stafford Cripps to India, and he came up with a plan for conditional but rather limited Indian Independence. Congress rejected the British proposal, and in August the final national "Satyagraha" was undertaken. The British blamed Gandhi for the breakdown in negotiations, and it was in November 1942 that Churchill said:
"I did not become the King’s First Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire".
It was in August 1942 that Gandhi demanded that the British "quit India" unconditionally, and told Congress workers to consider themselves free of British rule from that moment. Gandhi and other Congress Leaders were arrested, and held at the palace of the Aga Khan at Poona. Disobedience soon became violence, for which Viceroy Lord Linlithgow accused Gandhi of being responsible. Gandhi was shocked by this, and attempted to engage the Viceroy by letter. With no positive response, in February 1943 Gandhi fasted for 21 days to help break the deadlock. He survived but his health was seriously affected from then on.
On February 22nd 1944, whilst they were together in prison for the last time, Gandhi’s wife Kasturbai died, at age 74. On May 6th Gandhi was released from prison. He had spent 5½ years in British Jails in India.
In 1944 the British Government formally agreed to Indian Independence. One of the conditions of this was that the Hi
ndu Congress Party and the Muslims resolve their differences. Despite Gandhi’s implacable opposition (including a four month 116 mile walk through East Bengal late 1946), this led to the partition of India and Pakistan at independence in 1947. In fact in March 1947, at a conference with Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, and Jinnah, Gandhi opposed Congress’s agreement to this partition.
In August, the month of Independence, Gandhi started a "fast until his death" to stop the incredible Hindu versus Muslim violence in Calcutta. His success prompted Mountbatten, a firm supporter of Gandhi, to write:
"In the Punjab, we have 55 thousand soldiers and large scale rioting on our hands. In Bengal, our forces consist of one man, and there is no rioting.
As a serving officer, as well as an administrator, may I be allowed to pay my tribute to the One Man Boundary Force, not forgetting his Second in Command, Mr. Suhrawardy.
You should have heard the enthusiastic applause which greeted the mention of your name in the Constituent Assembly on the 15th of August when all of us were thinking so much of you"
August 15th was Independence Day, and Gandhi refused to attend the celebrations because of his opposition to partition. After Calcutta, he went to Delhi, and mingled with both Hindu and Muslim in an attempt to heal wounds. He also visited refugee camps, alone and without guards.
When the Government of independent India later agreed (with popular support) to renege on earlier promises of transfer of assets to Pakistan, Gandhi successfully protested with a fast. This aggravated extremist opposition to Gandhi, and a bomb went off at one of his prayer meetings in January 1948.
Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu extremist. Godse first bowed to him, them shot him three times at close range, on January 30th 1948. It was the day after he wrote a draft constitution of the Indian National Congress.
Albert Einstein, in tribute, said Gandhi
"… demonstrated that a powerful human following can be assembled not only through the cunning game of the usual political maneuvers and trickeries, but through the cogent example of a morally superior life".