Mahatma Gandhi: Return to India

Mahatma Gandhi: Return to India

Gandhi left South Africa forever and returned to India in July 1914. Initially he stayed at Shantivan ashram of Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. By 1917, he had established Satyagraha ashram on the banks of Sabarmati river .

In 1917, Gandhiji led a successful satyagraha campaign fighting for the rights of the indigo planters at Champaran. Champaran was a turning point in India’s freedom struggle. For the first time with peaceful means, Gandhiji declared that the British could not order me about in my own country’. Simultaneously, he tapped the power of the present masses and awoke their spirit of dignity and self-reliance.

In 1918, Gandhiji fought for the rights of the textile mill workers of Ahmedabad. Here for the first time he introduced a method of arbitration – fasting. Gandhiji felt this method eliminated violence and the compulsion which may present even peaceful struggles. `I fasted to reform those who love,’ stated Gandhiji. After considerable arbitration and negotiations, the mill owners agreed to the demands.

In March 1918, Gandhiji led a satyagraha for a peasants of Kheda. While in April, he appealed for a nationwide hartal protecting the enactment of the barbarous Rowlatt Act. However violence broke out and for the first time Gandhiji had to suspend the satyagraha calling it a Himalayan miscalculation. Gandhiji realised that a peaceful agitation could only be led by trained satyagrahis (non-violent soldiers).

In 1920, Gandhiji was elected the president of the All India Home Rule League. With no freedom in sight, he urged a resolution for satyagraha campaign of non co-operation.

Gandhiji decided upon an experiment of mass civil disobedience at Bardoli in 1922. He had to suspend the campaign owing to the outbreak of violence at Chauri Chaura. (The second campaign was extremely successful). Subsequently, he was arrested for seditious articles in `Young India’. Gandhiji was sentenced to six years in jail at the `great trial’ in Ahmedabad under Judge Broomfield.

In 1929 he was arrested for burning foreign cloth under the non-co-operation movement. In December, the Congress session at Lahore voted for complete independence (Sampoorna Swaraj). January 26 was proposed as Independence Day and Gandhiji launched the third all-India `satyagraha campaign’.

On March 12 1930, Gandhiji, 61, set off from Sabarmati with 79 satyagrahis on the historic Salt March to Dandi. Gandhiji and his followers covered 100 miles in 24 days to defy the `nefarious’ Salt Act. Such publicized defiance required imagination and dignity. Technically, legally nothing had changed, except that British imperialism suffered a moral defeat. Gandhiji was arrested and sent to jail without trial.

By 1931 January, he was released unconditionally and by March he signed the historic Gandhi-Irwin pact, which also ended civil disobedience or non-co-operation on a mass scale. By August, he sailed for London to attend the second round table conference. After returning from England, Gandhiji renewed the satyagraha campaign, the fourth nation-wide effort.

In 1932, against widespread opposition, Gandhiji began his `fast onto death’ protesting the British action of giving separate electorate to the untouchables. The fast ended after the British accepted the `Yerwada Pact’.

By 1933, Gandhiji disbanded Satyagraha Ashram and converted it into a centre for removal of untouchability (the oppressed class). Then he toured India to help end untouchability. He also founded the All India Village Industries Association.

In 1940 Gandhiji protested against Britain’s refusal to allow Indians to express their opinions regarding World War II by launching an individual civil disobedience campaign. 23,000 people were arrested in connection.

The year was 1942 and `Poorna Swaraj’ (complete independence) was still not in sight. The Congress passed the `Quit India’ resolution-the final nation-wide `Satyagraha campaign’ with Gandhiji as the leader. Before the campaign was launched, all the Congress leaders including Gandhiji were arrested.

They were imprisoned at Aga Khan Palace where Gandhiji began his fast to end deadlock between viceroy and Indian leaders. On Feb 22, his wife Kasturba, 74, died in prison. By May, Gandhiji was released unconditionally from the prison owing to decline in health. This was his last imprisonment. Gandhiji had already spent 2,338 days in jail during his lifetime!

In 1946, at the age of 77, Gandhiji began his four-month tour of 49 villages in East Bengal to quell communal rioting over Muslim representation in provincial government. In the subsequent year, he also travelled in Bihar to lessen Hindu-Muslim tensions.

Although Gandhiji participated in talks with Lord Mountbatten and Jinnah, he opposed the division of the country in India and Pakistan. However, the country was partitioned and India granted independence. Riots broke out. Gandhiji prayed, fasted and travelled extensively to stop people from rioting.

After 1946, Gandhiji’s efforts were devoted to Hindu-Muslim unity. Jinnah proclaimed August 16, 1946 as Direct Action Day. It was never clarified what it involved. But the Muslims responded to this call with vengeance. The great Calcutta killings followed. Gandhiji visited Noakhali and other areas to restore peace.

In 1948, Gandhiji undertook a fast for 5 days to bring communal peace in the country. On January 30, 1948, while holding a prayer meeting in Delhi, Gandhiji was shot dead by a Hindu fanatic Vinayak Nathuram Godse. He was totally opposed to Gandhiji’s efforts to bring about Hindu-Muslim amity. Thus ended the eventful life of the greatest apostle of peace that the world had ever seen.

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