Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi - Encyclopedia

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"MOHANDAS KARAMCHAND GANDHI (1869-), Indian political leader, a member of the bania, or trading and moneylending caste, was born at Porbandar, in Western India, where his father was for twenty-five years Dewan, or chief minister, of the State. He proceeded to England in 1888 and was called to the bar at the Inner Temple. After practising for eighteen months at Rajkot in Kathiawar, he went to South Africa in 1893. Here he placed himself at the head of the Indian community and organized a campaign of " passive resistance " against various measures of anti-Asiatic legislation. As a result of the inevitable collision with the authorities which ensued he underwent a term of imprisonment. At that time he held that it would be a calamity to sever the connexion between England and India, and during the Boer War he volunteered for service with a corps of Indian stretcher-bearers. In Dec. 1914 he returned to India and in 1916 opened an asram, or retreat, at Ahmedabad in the Bombay Presidency. During the lifetime of G. K. Gokhale he remained under his moderating influence; but after his death in Feb. 1915, he became wholly obsessed by the teachings of Tolstoy, to which he had been attached in early life and which he now grafted upon those of the Bhagavadgita. Tolstoy's " letter to a Hindu " (written on Dec. 14 1908) was not actually addressed to him, but it contains all the essential features of the " non-cooperation " agitation which was initiated by him after the passing of the Rowlatt Act in the autumn of 1918, and which was one of the prime factors in the Punjab disturbances of April 1919. The object of Satyagraha, or " civil disobedience," which inculcates abstinence from all forms of active association with British rule and an attitude of hostility towards Western civilization in general, is to compel the grant of " swaraj," or full self-government. In Aug. 1920 Mr. Gandhi announced that success would be attained in a year, provided that an " indissoluble union " was brought about between Hindus and Mohammedans and a " conscious voluntary effort" was made by the masses in the matter of treating the " untouchable " castes as " blood brothers " (Freedom's Battle, 1921). In neither direction was appreciable progress achieved, although Mr. Gandhi, in order to "buy the friendship " of the Mussulmans " at a critical time in their history " (ibid.), identified himself with the extreme wing of the Khilaf at movement, which demanded the restoration of the Turkish Empire to the status quo ante bellum. Complete failure meanwhile attended a systematic attempt to wreck the first elections held in the autumn of 1920 under the Montagu-Chelmsford reform scheme. Mr. Gandhi's austere asceticism earned for him the title of " Mahatma " and a reputation for the possession of supernatural powers. His own sincerity, it may be noted, was not impugned, but his visionary gospel of " soul force " as opposed to brute force was brought into discredit by the violent and unscrupulous methods adopted by his followers and by the strong anti-British flavour which their propaganda assumed.

See J. J. Doke, M. K. Gandhi: an Indian patriot in S. Africa (1909); Freedom's Battle (collected speeches: Madras, 1921).

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