Gandhi Ji was one of the central figures of the freedom struggle. Even before his return from South Africa, his stories from South Africa had made inroads into India through British Press.  After coming back, he adopted a saint-like dress and his simple rustic lifestyle attracted everyone’s attention. His disciplined lifestyle, emphasis on the principles of non-violence, untouchability, celibacy, regular prayers and intermittent fasting reinforced the public opinion about himself. His vision, philosophy and actions collectively coined the term Gandhism. Indian public perceived him as a saint and pious. By the time Gandhi Ji appeared on the political horizon of India, the masses had already been mobilized with the Anti-Partition Movement and the Swadeshi Movement.  Thus, before the Non-Cooperation Movement, when he said that he would get India independence within one year if the nation follows him, most of the leaders in Congress quickly fell in line. The masses paraded behind him in a disciplined way and within Congress, nobody could practically challenge his authority. Those who digressed from his guidance, could not survive in the Congress party. He was the undisputed high command of the Congress party irrespective of who was the President or the members of the working committee. It has been more than a century when Gandhi emerged on the stage of national politics in India. Now, after a century of Gandhism, there is a rise of nationalist wave and questions are being raised about the role of Gandhi Ji during the freedom struggle and the relevance of Gandhism in the modern world. On the other side, there is an advocacy group for Gandhi Ji and Gandhism. There is a need to qualitatively analyze Gandhi Ji’s contribution to the freedom struggle and the effectiveness of his Gandhism.

Gandhi Ji and his principles

It is believed that Gandhi Ji was a very principled and a saint like person, who would never bend on something going against his principles. Many staunch supporters of Gandhism are proud to make tall claims in this regard. A classic example given by them, in this regard is time suspension of the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1922 after the Chauri-Chaura incident. That shows his attitude of uncompromising on principles. If such examples are accepted at face value then definitely Gandhi Ji was a man of principles, however there are other examples pointing otherwise. He had suspended the Non-Cooperation Movement due to the Chauri-Chaura incident, but at the same time, he completely ignored the Jihadi violence during the Khilafat Movement and the Mopplah Movement. Here, it must be noted that he only had made Congress to join the Khilafat Movement and forge an alliance with the Muslims. Later on, there was much more mass violence at the pan India level during Quit India Movement, but neither Gandhi Ji called off the movement nor issued any general appeal to halt the violence.

He is also blamed by his critics that he did not seek clemency for Bhagat Singh, during his meeting with the Viceroy. The Gandhians often argue that he did not seek clemency for Bhagat Singh as he was against violence during the freedom movement. However, earlier he had successfully persuaded the Viceroy Lord Reading to deny the permission for prosecution of Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar under the charge of sedition, during the latter’s fiery speeches calling for violence.  during Khilafat Movement. He also demanded leniency for Abdul Rashid the assailant of Swami Shraddhanand of Arya Samaj. For any principled person, such a different type of behaviour under similar contexts is beyond comprehension.

He was very much against alcoholism. When Rajkumari Amrit Kaur complained to him about Bhulabhai Desai consumed liquor at a party, he denied him a party ticket for the Constituent Assembly election. However, he did not do the same when Maulana Azad unknowingly admitted during the same discussion with Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Nehru about his habit of consuming alcohol, in front of Gandhi Ji. Thus, Gandhi Ji was unbending with his principles will be a misplaced inference.

Gandhi Ji’s principles and his programs

Gandhi Ji emphasized Hindu Muslim unity and emphasized achieving the same using his principles. He even changed the lyrics of the original bhajan, by adding “Ishwar Allah Tere Naam.” The supporters of Gandhian ideology do believe that Gandhi Ji’s non-violent movements and methods helped India in securing freedom from British rule. So far all mainstream political parties have been supporting this narrative. This claim is also vehemently contested by the nationalist Indians of the 21st century. This hypothesis can be qualitatively tested with the degree of success of each movement and program of Gandhi Ji.  

Gandhi Ji’s view was that there must be a single freedom movement under the umbrella of Congress, which should follow his guidance and assured the contemporary Congress leaders that if everyone follows his guidance, the freedom can be achieved within a year. Thus, given his truth-speaking saint-like image and his South Africa stories people took his assurance at face value, there was no opposition to Gandhi Ji except Jinnah who left Congress in 1920.

At first, he merged Indian Home Rule League Movement with Congress in 1920. He hoped that because of his plan for Hindu Muslim Unity by supporting Khilafat Movement and non-cooperation with the Colonial government, the independence was not far away. However, that proved to be counterproductive as a limited self-governance that India achieved only in 1935, could have been achieved much earlier. Similarly, limited self-governance in Ceylon (modern Srilanka) was achieved in 1923, which was 12 years ahead of India.

His next program was forging the Hindu-Muslim alliance by Congress’s support to the Khilafat Movement. For that, he went out of the way to support Ali brothers. However, neither the Muslims nor Ali brothers appropriately reciprocated his goodwill gesture. Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar even participated in the Round Table Conference as a representative of the Muslim League and demanded a separate state for Muslims. Even later, the Muslim League was completely uprooted in the 1937 elections and had no mass appeal, At that time Gandhi Ji gave undue importance to Jinnah to seek the Muslim League’s support in the freedom movement. Gandhi Ji giving undue importance to Jinnah had put the latter on the high pedestal of politics making him the undisputed leader of Muslims. Finally, that resulted in the partition of India. He ensured the Qu’ran was publicly read in the temples but he could never facilitate bhajan or hymns in any mosque. Thus, Gandhi Ji’s program for Hindu Muslim unity failed to politically or socially yield any result. After independence also, proved to be a mirage despite all governments persistently using Gandhian principles.

Gandhi Ji’s principles and His non-violent movements

“De Di Hame Aazadi Bina Khadag Bina Dhaal, Sabarmati Ke Sant Tune Kar Diya Kamaal” is a movie song depicting the popular view about the effectiveness of Gandhian principles in achieving freedom from British rule. During the freedom struggle, Gandhi Ji launched and led four movements namely Satyagrah Movement, Non-Cooperation Movement, Civil Disobedience Movement and Quit India Movement. The effectiveness of Gandhism can be assessed from the degree of success of these movements, based on the demands acceded by the government and the steps moved towards freedom.

Satyagrah Movement was the first non-violent movement of Gandhi Ji and that is considered by some people as the first political experiment of his principles. During this movement, he raised the issue of Farmers of Champaran and Kheda and mill workers of Ahemdabad. The demand for Champaran Styagrah was the concessions for farmers which were already given to the farmers of Bengal nearly 50 years ago. These issues were very much of local nature, and hardly of any significance for national politics, except that the new method of non-violence and passive resistance was used. Notwithstanding of nature and limitation of the issues leading to Satyagrah, the movement was somewhat successful to prove the relevance of Gandhism to the masses.

Gandhi Ji launched Non-Cooperation Movement shortly after the First World War. He also made Congress join Khilafat Movement so that the united front of Hindus and Muslims can be placed before the British government. The main demands during the Non-Cooperation Movement were solutions for the Khilafat problem, proper remedy for the Jalianwala Bagh incident and Swaraj. The movement continued for nearly one and half years before Gandhi Ji abruptly suspended that due to the Chauri-Chaura incident. In effect, there was no sign of the British government considering those demands, even for negotiation. Whether that was another reason for suspending the Non-Cooperation Movement, we are agnostic in the need for evidence proving that either way. But, in certainty, Gandhi Ji’s principles and methods failed to cut any ice with the British government.

Civil Disobedience Movement was launched by a frustrated Congress again under the stewardship of Gandhi Ji. He gave an ultimatum to the British government by writing a letter to the Viceroy Lord Irwin. In that letter, he made 11 demands about prohibition, exchange rate and some administrative measures, expenditure reduction and tax/revenue concessions under a framework of dominion status. The Viceroy completely ignored his letter and he launched the movement with the call for Dandi March for Salt Satyagrah. The government used repressive measures. Later the Viceroy persuaded Gandhi Ji to participate in the Second Round Table Conference which eventually failed because of the Muslim League and Ambedkar. After Gandhi Ji’s return from England, the government continued to repression. After 4 years, the Civil Disobedience Movement was finally called off due to fatigue. The Civil Disobedience Movement, not only failed in achieving the political objective and the demands made but also shook the confidence of the masses in Gandhian methods and principles. That increased the revolutionary activities and the young generation started thinking of some sort of armed struggle at mass scale. 

At the peak of World war 2, under the pressure from the US, the British government sent the Cripps Mission which failed to reach an agreement with Indian parties.  The Quit India Movement was started again under the stewardship of Gandhi Ji as the British military was suffering massive losses in the Asia-Pacific region. The main demand was complete independence by an orderly British withdrawal from India. But, now the grass root level workers of Congress and the masses both were not averse to violence during Quit India Movement. They had been disappointed with Gandhian principles and methods towards political objectives. As a result of this, there was massive violence in which around 550 Post Offices, 250 Railway Stations, 70 Police Stations and 85 other government buildings were completely burnt. The Quit India Movement was brutally crushed by the British government without paying any heed to the demand for independence.

Thus, Gandhi Ji charmed the Indian masses with his saint-like simplicity and principled lifestyle and made the people follow his principles under his guidance. However, after 14 years (1920-1934) the patience of the masses ran out and their unconditional faith in Gandhism was somewhat shaken. Many of his followers had abandoned Gandhism even during his lifetime that too before independence.

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