Mohandas Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 and he lived until 30 January 1948. He was a renowned marquee leader who led India to independence by rallying civil rights movements, laborers, peasants, and other organizations against excessive discrimination by the British rule in the country. In 1921, Gandhi took the leadership of the Indian National Congress, which was a key participant in the protests against the British taxes. Gandhi used his unshakable belief in the theory of nonviolent civil disobedience, which gave a clear understanding of civil protests to the locals.
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This paper will show that Gandhi’s strategies in the quest for Indian independence were critical in weakening the British rule and at the same time, they unified the Indians under the Indian National Congress (INC). Gandhi’s efforts were orchestrated towards the establishment of an inclusive platform in the struggle for Indian sovereignty through instigating the collapse of the British Empire in India. People of diverse backgrounds were moved by Gandhi’s ideology and they became followers despite their doubts about his political motives of opposing the colonial masters. The salt protests were the turning point in the quest for Indian independence.
Gandhi’s political history in India’s pursuit for independence
As a politician, after his return to India from South Africa in 1915, Gandhi did not directly engage in the course towards attaining self-rule in the country1. On the contrary, he sought to understand the problems of the natives both in the local village settings and across the cities. Through his extensive engagements with the poor, he was upset by the way locals were being mistreated and discriminated by the railway officials. The British control of the “Indian elites and soldiers in the management of the government and the masses compelled Gandhi to move to active politics”2.
He knew that it was a difficult task to organize the locals under a single movement to protest against the British rule on his own. He joined forces with the prominent figures and movements geared towards India’s quest for independence. He made efforts to unite the Hindus and Muslims coupled with raising the economic and social status of the natives.
At that time, the society lacked homogeny, the British Empire was gradually establishing divide and rule strategies, which posed a big challenge to the unification of native forces against it. Despite the challenges, Gandhi had a defined course and thus he started by weaving the divergent interests by Indians into a common problem whose cause was the British rule. Gandhi was keen to pursue his course for reform, whilst preserving the social and religious fabric of the Indian population. He did this by forming a powerful nonviolent plan referring to it as Satyagraha, which meant pursuit for truth.3
Between 1919 and 1922, “Gandhi started and led the noncooperation movement, the civil disobedience campaign, and the salt protests of the 1930-1931 as well as the Quit India movement from 1940-1942”4. These three campaigns were key in passing his message to the masses as well as the British rule that it was time for the constructive work towards easing discrimination and attaining self-rule.
He had learnt his vices of nonviolence from Jainism not to hurt others in the course of one’s objectives. Gandhi made a resolution seeking to end the British rule and he promised to lead civil disobedience to accomplish his demands. The INC acted “decisively by passing Gandhi’s resolution during its 1929 meeting in Lahore”5. One of the issues that Gandhi protested against was the imposition of the British salt tax, which was seen as a political aspect constraining the lives of Indians particularly the poor.
Salt was a necessity for life and its taxation was perceived as a way of ignorance from the British rule. Gandhi had designed the civil disobedience to appeal for support from the general civil society and radicals seeking violent engagements coupled with Indian elites who were allied to the British rule, thus opposing self-rule. Due to the reluctance by the British officials to respond, Gandhi reacted by leading a march, which embraced the need for self-rule and the necessity to spin in a bid to sabotage the British textile industry. This industry was the center of the British rule’s exploitation of India.
The strategic actions
Although the initial protests failed to realize the self-rule, it was critical in the way it motivated the Indians who for the first time started to realize the mistreatment from the British rule. Some of the sentiments that influenced Gandhi involved David Thoreau from whom he learnt the idea of civil disobedience and Leo Tolstoy where he borrowed the morals of reaching resolutions with love.6
Gandhi was very decisive in applying the salt strategy. This strategy was a broad-based campaign running beyond the protests and boycott of the British cloth. The salt campaigns formed a backdrop of sequential efforts designed to set an alternative following the British decline to honor the INC’s resolution of self-rule in 1929. Gandhi and colleagues aimed at popularizing the inequalities and discriminations of the British rule in an organized manner by defying the salt tax. The well-orchestrated campaigns moved from village to village to win support and give insights to the people who had little understanding of the course.
This move angered the British authorities, which moved swiftly and made significant arrests coupled with brutish killings in a bid to stop Gandhi. However, this response fuelled massive resistance, which eventually resulted in the arrest of Gandhi in an effort to silent all critiques of the colonial rule. Since the social formation of the salt protests entailed the new dispensation order, it was easy to set up leadership succession after Gandhi was arrested. Significant personalities such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Abdul Khan reenergized the movement, which saw the invitation of Gandhi to London for talks about the way forward towards an independent India. Examples of political strategies used by Gandhi during the Salt March are briefly discussed below.
Persuasion/ nonviolent involvement
Upon Gandhi’s release from prison, his moral soul-searching ideals such as the emphasis on truth touched many people. He used formal statements to address the public, letters responding to critiques, and organizing mass petitions. For instance, Gandhi wrote an article in 1920 claiming that he would no longer sustain interests in a colonial government that only focused on exploitative relationships against the natives7. Other INC leaders adopted these persuasive tactics by Gandhi to generate support from all quarters.
In addition, Gandhi employed the use of symbols, slogans, newspaper columns, and journal articles. For example, he helped mill workers of Ahmedabad in 1919 to have their wages increased. The textile owners had cut the wages of their workers, which provoked Gandhi to initiate a hunger strike that led to the acceptance of the workers’ demands. Gandhi also employed the precise use of leaflets and lectures to students and the local laborers, displays of flags implying independent India, advocacy for self-care, and marches, for example, the Salt March.
Gandhi also strategically led political mourning of the masses killed by the British army at Amritsar in 1919 during the nonviolent confrontations. His perspective on religion was another aspect that strengthened support from most Indians. Gandhi sought an independent India anchored on cooperation of all religious groups, as opposed to one defined by Hindu culture and traditions.
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Socioeconomic noncooperation included the isolation of those who opposed the end of the British rule, social boycotts of individuals cooperating with British authorities. This move was intentionally meant to compel the local opponents to join the course, which was meant to deliver all Indians from the British captivity. The locals formed the largest percentage of consumers of the British products especially textile goods. Gandhi and his supporters led boycotts for the British products, which could lead to losses and eventually economic closures, thus forcing the colonizers to withdraw their rule8.
By opposing the British view of India as a region of distinct societies, depicting homogeneity with diverse regions, hence lacking capacity to exercise independence, Gandhi led an India that expressed new heights of maturity, unity, and cooperation against anything prompting to separate the society. The integration of religion and politics was cultivating, as it provided a wide coverage and it reached the heart of diverse people. Unlike the previous movements that did not involve women, Gandhi identified the key roles that females would play in the pursuit of independence. He sensitized women to come out and fight for their rights by compelling the British government to withdraw. This feminist approach was critical for the much-needed support in the civil disobedience approach.
Although the poor Indians were not expected to refrain from public office and government benefits, the strategy worked because Gandhi had sensitized the locals about the impact of such actions. Indians resigned from the British industries, left government educational facilities, refused to comply with the authoritarian rules, and school boycotts became popular. Those opposed to Gandhi’s political strategies did not figure out how to stop him.
The course of noncooperation posed a dilemma to the British authorities on how to deal with this enigma. On previous occasions, the British had dealt with non-conformism in ways that raised no questions. However, Gandhi’s noncooperation forced the British authorities to rethink of a new strategy to stop nationalists without making the world perceive the rule as a structure of ruthless ruffians. Even during his trial in 1922, Gandhi shouldered all the responsibilities from his people’s deeds and against the expectations of the British authorities, he pleaded guilty.9
This aspect indicated his strong will to desist from the compromise of accepting the British course by any means. During the World War I, rules that gave excessive powers to the government were designed. After the war ended in 1919, the government used the same powers in a bid to silence the revolutionist efforts in the country. The government passed such laws in a bid to have the capacity to make arbitral arrests and trials without reasons. These Acts were opposed with huge discontent by Indians. Gandhi moved ahead and declared 6 April 1919 a day of revolts against the Rowlatt Act.
Gandhi’s ideology in response to war
Gandhi was positively driven by the need to transform the capitalist system, which was embraced by the British rule. The World War I led to economic instability and diseases emerged, thus adding pain to the effects of the war. He appealed to India’s wealthy merchants to represent and advocate the will of all by demanding an end to the capitalist self-interests. Gandhi concentrated on the sustenance of class harmony.
This aspect developed the political ambitions for the Congress for as long as class struggles did not exist among the Indians, working together would actualize self-rule.10 Most farmers and urban laborers backed the idea of harmonizing class disparities by embracing socialism, which advanced communal ownership of property as opposed to the private accumulation of material goods.
These appeals were further exacerbated by the great depression of the 1930 as farmers experienced losses and increased land taxes, which compelled them to engage civil disobedience such as evading tax paying. Confronted with the failure to reach an amicable solution, the Congress was becoming impatient. In August 1942, they sought to adopt Gandhi’s strategies of civil disobedience. They staged a massive act of disobedience, which was referred to as the Quit India movement. Unlike the Gandhi’s protests of disciplined movements, the uprising of 1942 disintegrated into uncontrollable squabbles, but proved critical to the attainment of independence later on 15 August 1947.
The Indian struggle for independence climaxed under Gandhi’s leadership. He joined forces with the masses to end the exploitation and oppression exerted by the British authorities. Guided by the principles of nonviolence, which were referred to as the truth-force, Gandhi succeeded in awakening the masses to join efforts against the British injustices. After a long fight coupled with sacrifices by Gandhi among other nationalists coupled with with relentless efforts from the natives, India attained its Independence on 15th day of August 1947.
Coward, Harold. Indian Critiques of Gandhi. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.
Dalton, Dennis. Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.
Kurtz, Lester. Gandhi and his Legacies. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2008.
Metcalf, Barbara, and Thomas Metcalf. A Concise History of Modern India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Weber, Thomas. On the Salt March: The Historiography of Gandhi’s March to Dandi. New Delhi: Rupa & Co, 2009.
- Dennis Dalton, Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 21.
- Ibid, 112.
- Lester Kurtz, Gandhi and his Legacies, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2008, 841.
- Dalton, 118.
- Kurtz, 844.
- Thomas Weber, On the Salt March: The Historiography of Gandhi’s March to Dandi (New Delhi: Rupa & Co, 2009), 34.
- Barbara Metcalf and Thomas Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 174.
- Dalton, 73.
- Harold Coward, Indian Critiques of Gandhi (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), 55.
- Ibid, 55.