Everything You Need To Know About Emergence Of Gandhi
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The Emergence of Gandhi- UPSC Notes

The Emergence of Gandhi

The emergence of Gandhi in the Indian National movement is known for the beginning of the mass mobilisation phase. Before he arrived in India in 1915, he was in South Africa from 1893 to 1915, where his experiences made him take up the fight against colonialism.

Gandhi ji developed his philosophy during his struggle in South Africa, based on non-violence and Satyagraha to give a new direction to the mass movement.

Everything You Need To Know About Emergence Of Gandhi

Early Career and Political Experiments in South Africa

Gandhi went to South Africa in 1893 as a barrister for a Gujarati merchant, Dada Abdullah, on a one-year contract. His painful experiences of racial discrimination made him realise the suffering and humiliation faced by the Indians there.

Indians living in South Africa were mostly ex-indentured labourers and merchants. They lacked the education and political awareness to demand their right. Gandhi tried to raise political awareness and mass mobilise them for their rights and justice.

Gandhiji’s political journeys went through various phases. It can be seen in the following phases.

Moderate Phase

  • From 1894 to 1906, Gandhi was a proponent of the constitutional steps. He relied on drafting petitions to the authorities in South Africa, Britain and India.
  • He tried to unite the Indians and amplify their demand, for which he set up the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 and brought out a newspaper, Indian Opinion.

The phase of passive resistance

  • The period from 1906 to 1915 is marked by the experiment of passive resistance, civil disobedience, or Satyagraha, as Gandhi called it.
  • Satyagraha was against mandatory certificates of registration and restrictions on immigration. It was against newly enacted legislation in 1906, which made it compulsory for Indians to have registration certificates with their fingerprints on them and carry them all the time.
  • Gandhi mobilised the Indians in Johannesburg and appealed to them to defy the new law without indulging in violence. During the resistance, hundreds of Indians were imprisoned, including Gandhi himself.
  • Meanwhile, the government introduced new legislation in 1908 to restrict Indian immigration.
  • The ongoing running campaign was widened, and several prominent Indians from Natal crossed into Transvaal to defy the law.
  • In India, Gokhale toured the entire country to mobilise public opinion in support of Indians in South Africa.

Satyagraha against the poll tax and invalidation of non-Christian marriages

  • The ongoing resistance was widened to protest against the poll tax of three pounds on all ex-indentured Indians.
  • The resistance further included the issue of invalidation of all non-Christian marriages by the Supreme Court.
  • Indians took up this matter as an insult to the honour of their women; many women were also drawn into the movement because of this.

Finally, through a series of negotiations involving Gandhi, Viceroy Hardinge, General Smuts and CF Andrews, a settlement was reached in which the Government of South Africa conceded to the major Indian demands of the poll tax, registration certificates and marriages solemnised as per Indian rites.

Learning in South Africa

With the experience of the above political experiments, Gandhi was able to devise various strategies. Various strategies can be seen in the following points:

  • The success of non-violent civil disobedience in South Africa prepared Gandhi to play a bigger role in his homeland. He could evolve his own style of politics and leadership and try out new techniques of struggle.
  • In South Africa, he realised the capacity of the masses to participate and sacrifice for the cause they believe in.
  • He could unite Indians belonging to different parts of the country (mostly Tamils and Gujaratis) and different classes, religions, castes and languages.

Gandhi’s Political Philosophy

Gandhi’s political ideas were influenced by Indian cultural traditions in which he was born and brought up and by reading Western thinkers. He was inspired by Western thinkers like Leo Tolstoy, John Ruskin, and Thoreau. His political philosophy can be seen in the following paragraphs:

  • Satyagraha: It literally means “to firmly hold the truth. For Gandhi, Satyagraha goes beyond mere passive resistance. It is a weapon of the strong and does not profess violence in any circumstances. It involves appealing to the conscience of the oppressor. Instead of being forced to accept the truth, People have to be persuaded to see the truth because, ultimately, the truth alone prevails.
  • Ahimsa (non-violence): According to Gandhi, Ahimsa is essential to seek the truth. Ahimsa and truth are intertwined and cannot be separated. Ahimsa does not mean submitting to the will of the evil-doer, but it means pitting one’s whole soul against the tyrant’s will.
  • Swaraj: Literally, Swaraj means self-rule, but Gandhi saw it with an integrated approach that encompasses all spheres of life.
  • At the individual level, it means dispassionate self-assessment, continuous self-purification and achieving self-reliance (swadeshi).
  • Politically, it means self-government and the absence of government control, be it the foreign Government or even the national Government. It is the sovereignty of people based on pure moral authority.
  • Economically, Poorna Swaraj means complete economic freedom to the toiling millions.
  • In its fullest sense, Swaraj is not just freedom from all restraints; it is self-rule and self-restraint and could be equated with moksha or salvation.

Views of Gandhi on the methods of the extremists, the moderates and the revolutionaries

View of Gandhi on moderates:

  • While Gandhi acknowledged the contribution of the moderates in establishing the foundation of the national movement and their concern for social reforms, unlike moderates, he did not consider British rule as good and indispensable. For him, British rule was an evil rule.
  • He disagreed with the moderate’s approach of constitutional agitation, especially prayers and petitions, which admitted the inferiority of the Indians.
  • In the words of Gandhi, “the growing generations will not be satisfied with petitions ……Satyagraha is the only way”.

View of Gandhi on Extremists

  • Gandhi’s method of civil disobedience is similar to the political traditions of the extremists, like the idea of passive resistance, which had similarities with Aurobindo’s passive resistance movement in Bengal.
  • It can be said that Gandhi developed his political strategies on the foundation laid by the extremists.
  • Gandhi and the extremists differed on the conception of Swaraj; While the extremists wanted to expel the British but wanted to keep the institution built by them, Gandhi was not in favour of Western institutions like parliamentary democracy, secularism, army, etc.
  • Gandhi had disagreements with the extremists on the question of ends and means. He believed that means to achieve something should be pure, ethically right and non-violent; if not, the end itself would lose its value.

View of Gandhi on revolutionaries

  • Gandhi admired the courage, commitment, and sacrifice of the revolutionaries but considered their methods counterproductive and a wrong path for Swaraj.
  • He termed their methods as a ‘suicidal policy’. According to him, violence would only attract more violence and to achieve swaraj, we need a higher weapon.
  • He also criticised the revolutionaries’ view that there was no connection between end and means.

Arrival in India

  • Upon his arrival in India, he decided to take a countrywide tour to understand the condition of the masses.
  • His struggle in South Africa was well known among not only educated Indians but also the masses.
  • The national movement at that time was divided between the moderates, the extremists and the revolutionaries. Some Muslims had set up the Muslim League for the cause of Muslims alone.
  • Gandhi was not convinced by the politics of either moderates or the extremists to achieve freedom. He did not support the home rule movement because he thought it was not right to agitate for it when Britain was in the middle of the war.
  • His belief in his successful political experiments in South Africa convinced him to wait for the right opportunity to start a Satyagraha in the country.

Champaran Satyagraha 1917 (First Civil Disobedience)

Cultivators were agitated by the Tinkathia system in Champaran in North Bihar. Under this system, peasant were to grow Indigo on 3/20 parts of their total land. The planters also insisted on cultivating Indigo on the most fertile part of the land. The cultivators also had to face other economic and social exploitations, which agitated them. Rajkumar Shukla, a local Congress leader, invited Gandhi to take a look at the situation.

Involvement of Gandhi

  • On his arrival, along with Rajendra Prasad, JB Kriplani, Mahadev Desai, Mazhar-ul-Haq, Narhari Parekh and others, he was asked to leave the area, but he chose to defy the order.
  • Gandhi demanded an enquiry by the government into the peasants’ grievances and asked the government to stop illegal claims from the peasants.
  • Finally, the Bihar government decided to set up an enquiry committee, which also included Gandhi, to look into the grievances of the Champaran peasants.
  • In the committee, Gandhi convinced the authorities to do away with the Tinkathia system and to compensate the peasants for the extraction of the dues.

Outcome of Champaran Satyagraha

  • Finally, a compromise was reached with the planters. They agreed to a 25 per cent compensation for illegally extracted dues. In 1918, the Champaran Agrarian Act was passed, which abolished the Tinkathia system and partially solved the peasant’s grievances.
  • Even though the peasants were not fully satisfied, Gandhi successfully conducted his first satyagraha experiment in the Indian national movement.

Ahmedabad Satyagraha 1918 (First Hunger Strike)

It was the next Satyagraha organised by Gandhi in Ahmedabad, which is known for its textile industries. There was an outbreak of the Plague in Ahmedabad; there was a shortage of workers; as a result, the mill owners paid bonuses as high as 75 per cent. However, after the threat of the Plague receded, the mill owners discontinued the bonus.

  • This led to resentment among the workers who were facing a rise in prices caused by the war. They demanded a hike of fifty per cent and went on a strike.
  • But mill owners were only ready for a 20 per cent hike and started dismissing the workers.
  • The aggrieved workers approached Anasuya Behn Sarabhai, a social worker and sister of Ambalal Sarabhai, one of the mill owners.

Involvement of Gandhi

  • Anasuya Behn approached Gandhi, who was friends with Ambalal Sarabhai and asked to intervene to resolve the impasse.
  • Gandhi took up the issue and asked the workers to remain non-violent during the strike and reduce the demand to a 35 per cent hike instead of 50 per cent.
  • When talks between the workers and the mill owners did not progress, and workers were losing morale, he decided to go on a hunger strike to put pressure on the mill owners.

Outcome of Ahmedabad Satyagraha

  • Finally, the mill owners relented and agreed to submit the issue to a tribunal, which awarded the workers a 35 per cent hike.
  • This was Gandhi’s first use of fasting as a political weapon in India; he considered fasting as a means of self-suffering to put moral pressure on the opponent.

Everything You Need To Know About Emergence Of Gandhi

Kheda Satyagraha 1918 (First Non-Cooperation)

In 1917, due to drought, crops failed in the Kheda district of Gujarat, and the peasants demanded a remission of land revenue. As per the revenue code, if the produce was less than one-fourth of the normal yield, the peasants were eligible for total remission of land revenue.

Involvement of Gandhi

  • In the enquiries made by the Servant of India Society, Vithalbhai Patel and Gandhi, it was confirmed that the yield was less than one-fourth of the normal yield.
  • After appeals and petitions to the government failed to resolve the issue, Gandhi asked the peasants to withhold the payment of dues.
  • Vallabhbhai Patel and Indulal Yagnik joined Gandhi in touring the villages and urging the peasants to stand firm against the repressive measures by the government, such as the seizure of cattle, household goods, and even standing crops.

Outcome Kheda Satyagraha

  • Finally, the government relented and issued secret instructions to its officials not to confiscate lands and revenue be recovered from only those who could pay. As a result, Gandhi decided to call off the Satyagraha.

Evaluation of Gandhi’s new methods in Champaran, Ahmedabad and Kheda

These movements allowed Gandhi to apply his political experiments in Indian conditions. Gandhi successfully demonstrated that a non-violent movement could also succeed if done with moral courage.

  • His methods were conducive to a legitimate and peaceful mass struggle as opposed to the methods of moderates, extremists and revolutionaries. Consequently, it was difficult for the government to suppress these movements.
  • His interventions gave direction to the movements already started by the masses and gave them an effective and legitimate tool against their fight with the British.
  • He inspired young nationalist leaders like Rajendra Prasad, JB Kriplani, Vallabhbhai Patel, and Indulal Yagnik, who would later play an instrumental role in the freedom struggle.
  • Gandhi showed his ability to reconcile the conflicting interests (Mill owners and workers) in these movements.
  • These movements laid the ground for Gandhi’s greater role as a national

However, there were some limitations too:

  • There were some instances of violence which were influenced by the Champaran Satyagraha, but Gandhi could not control it.

Satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act

The British government was concerned about the increasing number of revolutionaries in Punjab and Bengal during the First World War. To deal with this, the government appointed a ‘sedition committee’ under Sir Sidney Rowlatt to suggest legislative measures to curb revolutionary activities after the end of the World War.

On the committee’s suggestions, the government passed the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919 or the Rowlatt Act, despite the unanimous opposition from the Indian members of the Imperial legislative council. The legislation was criticised widely due to the following issues:

  • It allowed the government to try political activists without juries and even imprison them without trial. It also allowed arrest without a warrant on mere suspicion of treason.
  • The legislation tried to take away the civil liberties of Indians, and there was strict control over the press.
  • This was seen as an insult to Indians, expecting significant constitutional concessions at the end of the war. Gandhi saw it as an open challenge to the Indians.


Gandhi decided to start Satyagraha to defy the law and communicated his decision to the Government of India. Gandhi took the following steps in this regard:

  • He addressed Indians in an open letter and urged them to join the Satyagraha against the law.
  • He set up a satyagraha Sabha in which the home rule league and an association of Indian Muslims provided the support base.
  • Gandhi himself visited several cities during the movement and got support from leaders like Rajendra Prasad, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajagopalachari, Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Saifuddin Kitchlu, Dr Satyapal, B. Kripalani etc.
  • Nationwide hartal or strike, fasting, and prayers were decided upon as the form of protest along with civil disobedience against specific laws.
  • Gandhi did not take formal support from the Congress since it was not yet ready for mass agitations.
  • Before the movement could be launched (supposed to be launched on 6 April), there were large-scale events of violence in Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Ahmedabad and especially Punjab, which was disturbed because of forcible recruitment during the war and severe war-time repressions.
  • After the tragic incident of Jallianwala Bagh, Gandhi withdrew the movement on 18 April, 1919.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

There was public resentment against the arrest of two nationalist leaders, Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal, who were holding a rally against the draconian Rowlatt Act. Soon, the protest against their arrest turned violent. There were attacks on post offices, telegraph lines were cut, and Europeans, including women, were beaten up. The government took the following repressive measures:

  • Brigadier General Reginald Dyer was given the responsibility of imposing martial law and restoring order. He issued an order prohibiting public gatherings.
  • On 13 April, a large crowd from the neighbouring villages came to the city to attend the Baisakhi celebrations. They attended a public meeting in the Jallianwala Bagh.
  • General Dyer ordered his men to fire upon the unarmed crowds without giving any warning. According to government estimates, 379 people died, with 1100 injured.
  • Jallianwala incident shook the entire nation, but severe repression in Punjab continued, including public stripping, flogging and one particular instance of Indians forced to crawl on streets as punishment.

Everything You Need To Know About Emergence Of Gandhi

Aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

  • The tragic incident shocked not just the Indians but even the British. Rabindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood, and Gandhi returned his Kaiser-e-hind medal in protest.
  • On 14 October 1919, the government ordered the constitution of the Disorders Inquiry Committee, also known as the Hunter Committee, to investigate the recent unrest in Bombay, Delhi and Punjab.
  • The committee also included three Indians: Sir Chimnalal Harilal Setalvad, Pandit Jagat Narayan and Sardar Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed Khan.
  • While the committee unanimously condemned the actions of General Dyer but did not propose any penal or disciplinary actions against him. The government had already passed an Indemnity act to protect his officers.
  • Gandhi and other big leaders of Congress boycotted the Hunter committee, and a parallel enquiry committee was constituted on behalf of Congress, which included Motilal Nehru, C R Das, Abbas Tyabji, M R Jayakar and Gandhi. The committee criticised Dyer’s actions as inhumane and said that the application of martial law could not be justified.

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