Gandhiji was not a religious preacher. But he was a man above all pretention and littleness—the petty jealousies and prejudices that afflict the ordinary man. He was dedicated to a noble ideal, entirely selfless, free from all narrowness, truthful in speech, fearless in action, but polite in manners, and yet a lion in spirit. He appealed to the noblest elements of our nature. He maintained his faith in fundamental values. He was a dreamer of dreams and at the same time a doer of deeds.
Such a man—whose full name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi—was born at Porbandar in Gujarat in India on the 2nd October 1869. His father was the Dewan of the State. Of his early life, he has given us a faithful record in his autobiography, It is a record that exhibits a peculiar moral sensitivity unusual for one of his age. He was not a very bright student at school. After passing the Entrance Examination, he entered a college at Bhavanagar. While at college, he started for England in 1888 to qualify for the Bar. When he left for England, he has already married and the father of a child. He had vowed to his mother to abstain from animal food and wine. While in England, no temptation or inducement could make him false to his vow. A pledge once given was, for Gandhiji, a sacred trust.
Gandhi returned to India early in 1893 and started practice as a lawyer at the Bombay High Court. He was a shy nervous man in those days. He did not make his own way at the Bar as he refused to plead in support of any case which was manifestly false or unjust. In fact, law was not the profession for him. At this time an Indian merchant of South Africa asked him to go there to help him with legal advice. He accepted the offer and went to South Africa.
This visit to South Africa was an important turning point in his life. There he discovered his true vocation. He found the Indian community suffering under the most humiliating indignities. He founded a colony of ‘passive resistance’ on Tolstoyan principles in Durban and devised a technique of non-violence as a weapon to fight for their rights. At this time (1908- 1910) he comes in touch with Tolstoy and also wrote his famous book ‘Hind Swaraj’. CF Andrews, Willie Peterson and many others became his devoted disciples. At last, an honourable compromise with the South African Government was settled and Gandhi felt himself free to return to India.
In 1915 he returned to India. In the course of the next few years, he became a political leader whose spirit and integrity could not be resisted by the British rulers. To the unarmed people of India, he brought the weapons of non-violence through non-cooperation and Civil Disobedience movements. He spoke without rhetoric, but his eloquence touched the inmost chords of the people’s heart. The terrible Jalianwalabag Massacre took place in 1919. It was a great shock to Gandhiji and all right-thinking persons. He resolved not to cooperate with the Government. He started his famous Non-cooperation movement in 1921 and received a great response from his countrymen. Thousands of people went to jail accepting arrest. The whole country was very soon electrified. But when he heard that a mob in the village Chauri Chaura had burnt a police station with the policemen in it, he was so shocked that he called off the movement. He was now arrested and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. He was released in 1924. For the next few years, he gave up active politics. But in 1930 he started the Civil Disobedience Movement. He began by disobeying the then-existing Salt Law at Dandi. The movement soon spread all over the country. Lord Irwin, the then Viceroy of India, made a pact with him for restoring peace. Then at the Second Round Table conference in London, Gandhiji represented the Congress. But nothing fruitful came out of it. Gandhiji came back to India. He was imprisoned with other Congress leaders.
In the meantime, the British Government introduced some political reforms to separate the law between the Hindus and the Muslims and depressed classes of the Hindus from the caste Hindus. Gandhiji heard about this in jail. He undertook a fast unto death to undo the evil. However, he was released and he called off the fast as his wishes were fulfilled. Then the Congress took office in the provinces under the new Constitution in 1937. Gandhiji himself did not take any office. He only advised the Congress in times of need. He devoted himself to the task of eradicating untouchability of the Harijans and improving a lot of the people of depressed classes.
Then came the Second World War in 1939, The British Government offered the Congress fresh proposals of self-determination on condition that Indian leaders would help the British Government in their war efforts. Gandhiji advised the Congress not to accept the offer. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose escaped to Germany and then Japan, forming his Azad Hind Fauz for the freedom fight in Burma against the British Government. Gandhiji also started his ‘Quit India Movement’. Gandhiji and other Congress leaders were arrested on 9 August 1942. At the end of the war in 1945, Gandhiji was released. The British Government now thought it wise to give freedom to India to win her friendship. At this time there began violent communal disturbances between the Hindus and the Muslims in several parts of India. Gandhiji was greatly shocked. He visited the disturbed areas like Noakhali with his message of love and tolerance to establish a happy relationship between the two communities.
At last, India was given independence on 15 August 1947, but India was divided into two separate states—India and Pakistan. This was done to meet the demand of a class of Muslims who wanted a separate state for the Muslims. Gandhiji did not want this partition. But his efforts were not liked by a section of the political leaders. They accepted the partition of India, and communal riots broke up in various parts of India and Pakistan. In Delhi Gandhiji used to send his message of love and communal amity in his postprayer meetings. In one such meeting on 30 January 1948 a young fanatic Nathuram Godse shot him dead. It was a noble death, much like that of Christ’s crucifixion.
Gandhiji is dead, but he will ever remain in the hearts of millions of Indians. They will cherish his memory with love and reverence.
Out of many, we can quote his two unforgettable sayings: “I want world sympathy in this battle of RIGHT against MIGHT” and “I do not want my house to be walled-in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want cultures of all lands to be flown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be flown off my feet by any”.