MAHATMA GHANDHI, He was not anyone's idea of a charismatic leader. Just a short, thin, shrivelled man, with what Sarojini Naidu called `Mickey Mouse ears’ and a twinkle in his eyes. He talked of ahimsa, or non-violence and ahimsa would finally disarm the British.
When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi finally returned to India from South Africa at the age of 46, his arrival was preceded by his formidable reputation as a political leader. Moments after having docked at Bombay, he was asked to lead the National Movement.
Gandhi, however, declined, opting to get to know India thoroughly. The first causes he chose to associate with were minor local affairs, and the nationalist leaders of the time did not know what to make of this almost too-mild, too-moral and too-impractical maverick.
During 1917-18, with revolutionary conspiracies being on the rise within the country, the British grew progressively uneasy. To counter these, Justice S A T Rowlatt proposed the Rowlatt Acts. Among other things, this act empowered the government with special wartime controls that included the right to try political cases without a jury, and gave the provincial governments along with the centre, the power to imprison without trial. Gandhi, in his typical style, said that the repressive Rowlatt Acts raised issues of trust and self-respect, and hence needed be met with a moral response in the form of a hartal, or a protest that entailed striking work on April 8, 1919
Non Co-operation Movement
In 1920, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian National Congress launched the first movement of protest – the Non-Cooperation Movement. It involved surrendering all titles, honorary offices and nominated posts in local bodies. Government functions and darbars were to be boycotted. Parents were requested to withdraw their children from government schools and colleges. Indians stayed way from the British courts and army, and were to stand for elections to government and legislative bodies. Ahimsa or non-violence was to be observed strictly.
The magnitude of the Non Cooperation Movement amazed every political leader in India. Gandhi’s approach was not so meek after all. The idea appealed immensely to popular imagination and suddenly, in a single sweep, the Non-Cooperation Movement had touched every man on the street. People came out in droves to support Gandhi and his movement.
The government machinery did not actually break down, but came under visible strain. Unfortunately, at a time when the movement was showing signs of success, in Chauri Chaura, a mob of 3000 people killed 25 policemen and one officer. Similar incidents had taken place earlier on November 17, 1921, in Bombay and on January 13, 1922, in Madras. On February 7, Gandhi suspended the movement. He was arrested on March 13, 1922. Suddenly, the future of swaraj, or self-rule within a year seemed uncertain.
Gandhi came under fire from several quarters for disassociating himself from the Non-Cooperation Movement. The man of the masses took the masses along when he made his exit. and this was not to be the only time when differences of opinion cropped up in the Congress about Gandhi's actions. and each time, in the end, people invariably gave in to the Mahatma. Gandhi had won over the heart of an entire nation.
In 1927 the British government set up a committee headed by Sir John Simon to review the state of affairs in India. However, the committee that came to be known as the Simon Commission did not include even a single Indian. The Congress took umbrage to the omission.
At this time, young radicals like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose were insisting on making total independence the goal of the Congress. At midnight, on December 31, 1929, Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the Tricolor on the banks of the river Ravi in Punjab and the Congress called for purna swaraj, or complete Independence. January 26, 1930, was declared as Independence Day. From February 14 to 16, 1930, the Congress Working Committee met at Gandhi's famous ashram in Sabarmati and requested him to launch the Civil Disobedience Movement ‘at a time and place of his choice.’
On February 27, the plan for the agitation was made public. The entire nation was in ferment. Everyone, including the British, was curious to see what the Mahatma would do next.
On March 12, 1930, accompanied by 78 colleagues of the Sabarmati Ashram, Mahatma Gandhi embarked on a 60-mile march to the sea coast of Dandi. He intended to defy the new salt taxes that the government had levied and that would directly impact each and every peasant. To begin with, the government thought it better to ignore the event. However, soon the entire country was abuzz with hartals, protests, agitations, processions. The rising tide of discontent had to be checked. Gandhi was arrested on May 5, 1930. Abbas Tyabji took the relay to lead the movement. When Tyabji was arrested, Sarojini Naidu, the nightingale of India, replaced him.
All over India, the mood was upbeat, the atmosphere tense and the people on the streets. Louis Fischer wrote about the Civil Disobedience: "The British beat the Indians with batons and rifle butts. The Indians neither cringed nor complained nor retreated. That made England powerless and India invincible."
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