‘Mahatma’ Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – the most morally and politically influential figure in India’s freedom movement
G. L. Batra, Writer & formerly Addl. Secretary, Indian Parliament and Chairman, Public Service Commission of the Indian State of Haryana
‘Mahatma’ Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
“Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there; they cause change. They motivate and inspire others to go in the right direction and they, along with everyone else, sacrifice to get there.” John Kotter
India being uniquely diverse in respect of caste, creed, lingual and religious backgrounds of its citizens, our struggle for freedom is remarkable in that all Indians, irrespective of their backgrounds, came together to fight and agitate against foreign rule in India. Freedom, for them, was an emotional issue, and our leaders brought about the realization in the masses that political independence was the very birthright of every Indian. The leaders of the national movement subscribed to different ideologies, and paths to achieve their goal of independence. Firebrand freedom-fighters like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdeo, Ram Prasad ‘Bismil’, Ashfaqullah Khan and Chandrashekhar ‘Azad’ adopted the revolutionary path and laid down their lives in the nation’s service. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose too, advocated the use of force to oust the British from our land, and made the supreme sacrifice for the nation.
Mahatma Gandhi, known in the heart and mind of every Indian as ‘Bapu’, adopted the path of non-violence – ahimsa, and the nation as a whole followed in his footsteps. Our leaders, treading the trail blazed by the Mahatma, made sacrifice after sacrifice and endured great misery and pain, including the tribulations of imprisonment, but continued undeterred on the path of non-violence and civil disobedience. There were countless warriors in this epic struggle, and it is not possible to recount the immense sacrifices and contributions of each of them.
In the movement for the independence of India, Mahatma Gandhi stands out like a colossus. A lawyer, educated in Britain, Mahatma Gandhi first adopted the principles of non-violent civil disobedience against the British in South Africa, in agitating for the rights of the Indian Community there. After his return to India, he joined the freedom movement under the inspiration of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, whom Gandhiji acknowledged as his political mentor and guide. He led various social campaigns in India to ameliorate the lot of the poor and downtrodden, eradicate the scourge of untouchability, bring about the emancipation of women in a patriarchal society and bring about an all-encompassing unity and brotherhood amongst the members of all castes and religions.
He introduced his principles of non-violence and satyagraha in the agitations at Champaran and Kheda, to protest against the oppression of the farmers in those areas. Gandhiji’s moral and political stature was such that he was invested with the executive authority of the Indian National Congress in 1924, and he reorganized the party under a new Constitution and adopted the goal of swaraj first propounded by Lokmanya Tilak. Gandhiji also espoused the cause of swadeshi as an extension of his platform of non-violent protest, and promoted the use of the charkha. He was the initiator and moving force of the Non-co-operation movement in India. Gandhiji also led the nation on the historic Dandi March to protest against the tax levied by the British government on salt. This courageous and historic act galvanized the nation against the atrocities and excesses of the foreign rule. Gandhiji went on to lead the nation in the Civil Disobedience Movement and the Quit India Movement, both initiated by him, which eventually resulted in India achieving her freedom. Gandhiji single-handedly united the nation against the British rule, and created a feeling of nationality and brotherhood amongst all Indians.
Gandhiji was undoubtedly the most morally and politically influential figure in the freedom movement. Such was the respect and reverence he commanded, that national leaders irrespective of their ideological and political persuasions, followed him, and treated his words as commands. Though a lawyer by training, Gandhiji had the qualities of a judge, and played a major role as an arbitrator whenever a dissent, dispute or disagreement arose between the national leaders, and several times intervened to bring about unanimity and concordance for the greater cause of India’s freedom struggle.
Gandhiji was an immensely charismatic personality and a personification of sacrifice, selflessness, truth and love for every India irrespective of their caste, creed and religion. His simple raiment, merely a dhoti, were internationally known, and became a symbol for the principles and values he stood for. A relentless crusader for freedom, and imbibed in himself the qualities of a true saint, a mahatma, and therefore, he is known the world over as Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi neither aspired for, nor coveted material things, and his sole aim in life was to achieve independence for India, and moral, social and economic emancipation for the masses. Words fall short to describe the genius and greatness of this giant among men.
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