Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 - 1948) most reverently known as Mahatma Gandhi was born in Gujarat. He was called by the people ‘Mahatma’ which means great soul. The people also called him ‘Bapu’ the father. Gandhi belonged to the business community of Gujarat. He studied law in England. Towards the end of the 19th century he arrived in South Africa to represent an Indian client. In South Africa, Gandhi, once traveling in the first class compartment reserved for whites only was thrown out of a train because he was not white. He started a movement for civil rights in South Africa and succeeded in changing some rules there. He left South Africa in 1915 and returned to India. His actions in South Africa already made him famous in India and on his arrival in India he was welcomed by the Indians as a hero. After his arrival in India, he was introduced to the leader of Indian National Congress, Gopal Gokhale, whom Gandhi considered as his political guru.
Gandhi had developed while in South Africa, a philosophy of struggle for political and human rights through non-violence. He started to convince Indians to use his philosophy to achieve political rights for Indians. At that period the leader of Indian National Congress was Lokmanya Tilak who was militant and was supportive of violent actions against the British. Gandhi opposed to these ideas of Tilak but he admired the other ideas of Tilak. He agreed with Tilak that Indian political struggle was a matter of the people of India and not only of the intellectuals. Gandhi like Tilak supported a cultural and social change in Indian society. In 1920 Tilak died and Gandhi became the leader of Indian National Congress.
Like other Indians whom the British fostered to 'think like the British', (see English in India) Gandhi's family also belonged to this group. Gandhi studied law in England. He dressed like an Englishman. After returning from South Africa (where he was discriminated because of his Indian origin) Gandhi changed his dressing style and began to dress like a simple Indian farmer. He remained in these simple Indian clothes even when he arrived again in England later on as a representative of the Indian National Congress, causing a complete surprise to his British counterparts. His philosophy was that all are equal and everyone should do all kinds of jobs. He built an ashram in which everyone did all different jobs. He even cleaned the toilet, which according to strict Indian customs was the job of the low castes and untouchables. Because of his revolutionary ideas many in the then elitist Indian society mocked at his philosophy. Later on, many of these mockers became his admirers and followers.
Gandhi's philosophy of struggle against the British was non-violent non-cooperation. He demanded from the Indians to restrain even if the British forces physically attacked them. He advised Indians to boycott anything British including British made garments, British universities, British courts and to refuse to follow respect and abide by British laws. He sometimes resorted to hunger strikes. Gandhi succeeded in sweeping the Indian people after him like no other Indian leader ever did before him. One of the famous Gandhi campaigns was the salt march. According to British law Indians could not produce salt, a basic food ingredient, but could only buy it from licensed salt factories, all of them were British owned. Gandhi organized in 1930 a 24 - day march to the sea and produced salt from the sea. In this march he gathered behind him the strength of hundred of thousands of people.
Mahatma Gandhi who became the leader of the Indian National Congress in 1920 did not always lead the Indian nationalist movement. There were periods when he was arrested and was completely isolated from the movement. Sometimes he severed from the nationalist movement for other causes. Even when he was the leader of Indian National Congress there were members in the Congress who did not accept his ideas. His opponents, who had other ideas about India even established movements within the Indian National Congress. In the early 1930s Gandhi even resigned from the leadership of the Congress because of growing criticism against his leadership. But from then on Gandhi became the father figure of the Congress. In 1942 Gandhi led the 'Quit India' movement.
Outside the Congress, Mahatma Gandhi also had many rivals who defied his political philosophy. His main rivals outside the Congress were Hindu nationalists. They saw in Mahatma Gandhi pro-Muslim trend. During India's independence there were many riots between Hindus and Muslims. Hundreds of thousands of people died in these riots. During these riots Gandhi, who was a Hindu, tried to be a middleman between Hindus and Muslims. Many Hindus did not like his stand and saw him as a traitor. After India's partition into India and Pakistan, Hindu nationalist blamed the Congress and specially Mahatma Gandhi for the partition. Mahatma Gandhi sometimes even attacked the Indian government as not being fair towards Muslims and towards Pakistan. He even intended to leave India and end his life in Pakistan. On 30 January 1948 a Hindu nationalist, Nathuram Godse shot him to death.
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