August 31, 2015
By SCOTT S. SMITH
INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY
Mohandas Gandhi grew up in India, went to London for law school, helped gain Indian independence in 1947 and was gunned down in 1948. AP View Enlarged Image
Mahatma Gandhi led India to independence while becoming the conscience of the world. In the process, he transformed himself, the attitudes of his followers and the political order — from America and South Africa to the Philippines and Eastern Europe.
Time magazine ranked Gandhi the third most influential person of the 20th century, behind Albert Einstein and Franklin Roosevelt.
“Gandhi’s mission was not really the liberation of India,” wrote Eknath Easwaran in the preface to the 2002 edition of “The Essential Gandhi,” edited by Louis Fischer. “India was essentially a showcase, a stage for the world to see what nonviolence can accomplish in the highly imperfect world of real life.
“He began with his personal relationships, aware that he could not expect to put out the fires of anger elsewhere if the same fires smoldered in his own home and heart. … He gives us a glimpse of our potential as human beings.”
Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) was born in the state of Porbandar in northwest India on the coast of the Arabian Sea, part of the British Empire, where his father was a state administrator. His mother, Putlibai, was much loved by Gandhi, the youngest of four children to the couple.
At 13, Gandhi was married to the 14-year-old Kasturba and they would have five children. At 36, he would take a vow of celibacy to focus his passion on social action.
Off To England
He was a mediocre student and barely passed the entrance exam for college at 18. His parents wanted him to get a law degree and succeed his father, so they sent him to the prestigious Inner Temple law school in London in 1888.
- Led the movement for India’s independence.
- Overcame: Power of the British Empire.
- Lesson: Know your most fundamental value and hold to it no matter what.
- “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
He graduated and returned to India to pass the bar in Bombay in 1892, but was too shy to effectively cross-examine witnesses. So he accepted a job in Pretoria, South Africa, to give legal advice to Indians.
Soon after his arrival, he was in the first-class section of a train when an official ordered him to leave because “coloreds” weren’t allowed. He refused and was ejected at the next stop, but raised such a commotion that the stationmaster arranged for him to be permitted in first class the next day.
During the final leg of the trip by stagecoach, a white passenger who was boarding wanted his seat, pulled him out of it and beat him until other passengers intervened.
The experience turned Gandhi into a fiery activist, leading a movement the next two decades to protect Indians’ rights in South Africa.
He promptly read writings on civil disobedience by Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy, as well as Indian scriptures on the importance of not killing, to develop his philosophy of nonviolent action.
Hoping to earn goodwill from the British, Gandhi led a 1,100-man medical corps in 1899 during the war with the Boers, settlers of Dutch ancestry, as well as another in 1906 in the fight against the Zulu. Afterward, he achieved many of his goals to protect Indians, but often spent time in jail on the way there.
Gandhi returned to India in 1915 at the request of the Congress Party, which wanted to help improve the lives of Indians and increase self-government.
By the time of Gandhi’s birth, the British East India Co., licensed by the crown, had controlled most of the subcontinent for a century and drained its wealth.
In 1857, after Indians in the British army revolted against abuse, London imposed direct rule.
“Forced to grow crops for export instead of local use and then taxed heavily, hundreds of thousands of villages lost all capacity to sustain themselves,” wrote Easwaran. “Cities became nightmarish extremes of wealth and poverty, Calcutta the most notorious example. Some 400,000 Indians died of starvation in 1825-50, rising to 15 million in 1875-1900, the years in which Gandhi would come of age.”
The odds were long for 390 million poor and illiterate Indians to throw off the rule of an empire that controlled a quarter of the world’s land. To do it nonviolently seemed preposterous; the only success had been the American Revolution.
During World War I, Gandhi hoped to gain goodwill by encouraging Indians to join the British army. But in 1919, the massacre of 379 unarmed demonstrators at Amritsar shattered hope for government cooperation with his movement to improve the lives of the majority of poor Indians.
Gandhi organized successful protests against landlord abuses of peasants and worked on Muslim grievances to broaden his base of Hindus. In 1920 he urged a boycott of British goods, advocating economic self-sufficiency.
In 1930 he organized defiance of a law that banned Indians from making salt, with the government having a monopoly.
He marched with thousands to the Arabian Sea and sparked salt-making protests all over the nation, resulting in 60,000 arrests.
On A Roll
“Gandhi was jailed for almost nine months, but what authorities had dismissed as a minor act of political theater swelled into a nationwide cry for independence,” wrote Tom O’Neill in National Geographic magazine. “A broad array of India’s populations — high caste and low, male and female, Hindu and Muslim — for the first time joined in protest against British rule. He had infused India with a revolutionary blend of politics and spirituality.”
Gandhi also sought advances by his own people. Starting in 1932 he demanded better treatment by Hindus of the Untouchables, who did the dirtiest work that made them impure, according to tradition.
He also advocated more rights for women, including more educational opportunities and a ban on child marriage. His efforts to lift the masses earned him the title Mahatma (Great Soul), but he also made enemies at home and abroad.
“Gandhi was a complex human being and his moral views evolved considerably as he became a national leader,” Srikumar Rao, author of “Happiness at Work,” told IBD. “Much of the criticism uses selective quotes form a young Gandhi, even when he later espoused a different vision, and ignores the cultural context in which he functioned. He is revered not because he was perfect, but because of his unremitting efforts to grow morally and spiritually and his unique ability to evoke the best in those he came in contact with.”
When World War II broke out, Gandhi offered non-battlefield support for the British army, but Congress leaders were offended as Indian forces were marshaled without consultation.
Jail And Death
He then cooperated with British war aims, conditional on immediate self-government as a colony, but was rebuffed and imprisoned from 1942 to 1944 along with 100,000 other protesters.
During this time, his wife died in prison and he caught malaria that almost killed him.
As for not helping resist the fascist Axis powers, his defenders point out that most Americans did not want to get involved until the Pearl Harbor bombing in December 1941.
As the Indian independence movement gained strength after the war ended in 1945, Muslim leaders demanded a separate state in the northwest and northeast, to be called Pakistan (the eastern part split from Pakistan in 1971 and was renamed Bangladesh).
The British granted freedom to India and Pakistan in August 1947, prompting 12 million to move across the borders, sparking riots in which half a million died.
Gandhi vowed to fast to the death unless the slaughter stopped, bringing it to a halt.
Norwegian historian Jens Seip observed that had Gandhi not exerted his influence, the bloodshed would have been much greater.
Joseph Lelyveld, author of what many call the the most balanced study of Gandhi’s career, “Great Soul,” said the keys to his success were “moral commitment, selfless courage and persistence that still has the power to inspire.”
In January 1948, a Hindu nationalist, furious with Gandhi’s concessions to Muslims, shot him point-blank. Over 2 million joined his funeral procession as the nation mourned.
Louis Mountbatten, the last British viceroy of India, who had come to admire him, said that Gandhi’s “death is truly a loss to mankind which sorely needs the living light of those ideals of love and tolerance for which he strove and died. … The world will not see the like of him again, perhaps, for centuries.”