Mohandas Gandhi was known as one of the chief architects for paving our nation’s way towards independence from two centuries of British rule. His noble thoughts of practising ahimsa (non-violence) and non-cooperation transcended beyond India and have been adopted by modern leaders who led successful mass movements all across the globe such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and many others.
It was not that the concept of swaraj (self-rule) or non-violence was indigenous to Gandhi. Such ideals are the basic foundation of all the religious scriptures. Even peaceful mass mobilisation was practised by leaders such as Lokmanya Tilak way before Gandhi became an active member of India’s independence struggle. However, Gandhi became the mouthpiece and a brand ambassador of such noble ideas by mobilising people beyond region, religion, culture and language, traversing through vast expanses of our country at that time.
In fact, Gandhi adopted his methodology of satyagraha (devotion to truth), or non-violent protest at a mass gathering, for the first time in Johannesburg on 11 September 1906. He called all fellow Indians to defy the new law and suffer the punishments for doing so rather than resist through violent means.
Gandhi set his foot in India in 1915. He had fought on removing untouchability and inequality based on religion and caste, and had promoted the idea of self-reliance and cleanliness. Gandhi was very active when it came to protecting the farmer’s rights to working towards the upliftment of the villages. He believed in swaraj and felt that there should be a decentralised form of governance where self-reliance would permeate to the grassroots. This idea of self-reliance holds a great importance for our nation’s economic progress and equitable development till date.
Gandhi led a unique nationwide movement based on the collective strength and unity of the immense will and determination which laid untapped in human souls. His idea was to be spiritually strong and win the enemy over by love. The same sentiments could also be traced in the Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s letters to Gandhi. We have seen, time and again, great seers and sages such as Krishna, Jesus Christ, Vivekananda and others, all harping on love as a tool of binding and not divisiveness.
Nevertheless, it was necessary at that point of time to adopt a non-violent mass national movement. Such a revolution was all about peaceful ideas, iron will, inspiring words and the action of acceptance and loving. At the time when the World Wars were pushing humanity towards all kinds of barbarous acts and the belief that no independence struggle can be won without brutality (American and French Revolution), Gandhi provided the answer – love and non-violence.
Such a utopian ideal is hard to apply in the times we are living in. Gandhi too faced a lot of challenges and failures, but he stuck to his ideals which translated into a future hope of an alternative to violence for a change.
India’s first Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who also conferred the title of ‘Mahatma’ (Great Soul) to Gandhi, was critical of Gandhi’s ideals. In one of his numerous letters to Gandhi, he wrote:
I know your teaching is to fight against evil by the help of good. But such a fight is for heroes and not for men led by impulses of the moment. You have said as Lord Buddha has done in his time and for all the time to come: Akkodhena jine kodham, asadhum sadhuna jine (Conquer anger by the power of non-anger and evil by the power of good).
Gandhi maintained in his ‘Quit India’ speech in 1942 that his fight was not against the British but against their idea of imperialism. One can never kill an idea but superimpose it with a superior one. Gandhi harped on forgetting differences and being one’s own master.
Gandhi gave birth to a new kind of revolution keeping in line with our nation being a country which has always been warm and receiving and never aggressive in nature.