Gandhi was born in a Hindu banya family in Porbandar state in Gujrat. He went to school in Rajkot where his father was diwan. In May 1883, he was married aged 13 to 14 year old Kasturbai Makhanji Kapadia from whom he had four sons. In November 1887, the 18-year-old Gandhi graduated from high school in Ahmedabad. He was allowed to go to London for further studies after he made a vow to his mother that he would abstain from meat, alcohol and women. In London he did his law from University College and bar from Inner Temple. In 1893, a Muslim Merchant Dada Abdullah offered him a job in South Africa where he spent 21 years and developed his views on politics and ethics.
At the request of Gokhale, Gandhi returned to India in 1915, and joined Indian National Congress. During the First world War, the Viceroy invited Gandhi to a War Conference and Gandhi wrote a leaflet entitled, Appeal for Enlistment, in which he wrote that we should have the ability to defend ourselves, that is to bear arms and to use them…If we want to learn the use of arms with the greatest possible dispatch, it is our duty to enlist ourselves in the army. He however said that he personally will not kill or injure anybody, friend or foe.
In 1917, the farmers of Champaran in Bihar appealed to Gandhi for help against their mostly British landlords who were forcing them to grow indigo and sell it to them at fixed price. Pursuing a strategy of non-violent protest, Gandhi won concessions from the authorities.
In 1918, floods and famine hit Kheda; Gandhi used non-cooperation technique to win suspension of revenue collection and release of prisoners.
Gandhi expected self-government from the British Government after the First World War for their support during the war but it did not come therefore Gandhi announced satyagaraha (civil disobedience), and to get the Muslim support, he joined the Khilafat movement to support the Ottoman Empire and Caliphate championed by the Muslims. The British government came out with Rowlett Act to counter civil disobedience movement and arrest anyone for preventive indefinite detention, incarceration without judicial review or any need for trial.
In his book, Hind Swaraj (1909), Gandhi declared that British rule was established in India with the co-operation of Indians and had survived because of their co-operation and if Indians refused to co-operate, the British rule would collapse.
In February 1919, Gandhi cabled the Viceroy that if British passed Rowlett Act, he would appeal to the Indians to start civil disobedience. On 9 April, Gandhi was arrested and people rioted. On 13 April Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place in which hundreds of civilians were killed which enraged India but Gandhi demanded that people stop all violence, stop all property destruction, and went on fast-to-death to pressure Indians to stop rioting. Gandhi emphasized swadeshi policy – the boycott of foreign made goods and advocated khadi (homespun cloth) to be worn by Indians. He asked every Indian, man or women, to spend time each day spinning khadi. He urged the people to boycott British institutions and law courts, to resign from government service, to give up British titles and honours. Thus to cripple the British Indian government. Gandhi was arrested on 10 March 1922, and tried for sedition and sentenced to six years imprisonment but was released in February 1924 for an appendicitis operation.
Gandhi launched a new Satyagraha against tax on salt by the famous Salt March of 12 March to 6 April 1930 for 241 miles from Ahmadabad to Dandi to make salt in which 60,000 people were arrested. The government decided to negotiate with Gandhi. The Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed in March 1931. The British Government agreed to free all prisoners in return of suspension of civil disobedience movement. Gandhi was invited to attend the Round Table Conference in London for discussions.
Gandhi resigned from Congress party membership in 1934 but returned to active politics again in 1936. Gandhi clashed with Subhas Chandra Bose who was elected president in 1938 and expressed a lack of faith in non-violence. Bose won a second term against Gandhi’s candidate, Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramyya. Bose left Congress when all front rank leaders resigned for his failure to follow Gandhi.
On Tuesday 19 March 1940, Gandhi addressed the Subjects Committee at Ramgarh, we are not only a democratic organization; we are also a fighting organization … when we are an army we are no longer a democracy. As an army we have to take orders from the General and obey him implicitly. His words must be law. I am your General … when you appoint me as your General then you must obey my command … condition about Charkha and Khadi has been there since 1920 … The more I think about non-violence, the greater virtue I find in it. I have been an outlaw since 1908. Before that I was so loyal that I wrote to Lord Chelmsford that I longed to have the same loyalty towards the empire as a Britisher had in his heart. I wrote those words because I am a believer in truth. Truth is my God and I could not have written anything else, if I wanted to be true to myself … I still believe that without Hindu-Muslim settlement there can be no Swaraj … If Muslims, who come to the Constituent Assembly through Muslim votes declare that there is nothing common between Hindus and Muslims, then alone I would give up all hope … These are my ways. You may call them weakness. If you want me, you must understand my ways. It is my constant endeavor to create goodwill in the opponent’s mind. I fight British Imperialism, but I have no quarrel with those who run the imperialist machine … you must know that compromise is my very being. I will go to the Viceroy fifty times if there is need for it … compromise will not be at the cost of country. I will not sell India…. I do not want to come in the way of anyone who wants to launch a struggle. But he can do so outside the Congress. If he wants to remain in the Congress he must follow the Congress program and policy … There is such a strength in Satyagraha that it never harms the man who uses the weapon.
On 23 March 1940 Gandhi wrote in Harijan that the freedom of British India means the freedom of states also … They are a new arrow from the quiver of the British … The people in States and British India are one … No power on earth can keep them in separation for all time. British law has allowed the Prince’s to regard as foreigners people from British India and from one state to another. And Princes exist on British sufferance. They cannot move without British permission. But they have unlimited control over their people.
On 23 March 1940, Gandhi wrote in Harijan in reply to an English friend, If you really mean to part with power and your war is not for consolidation of your empire but for democracy all round, then you will declare India a free country and let a Constituent Assembly elected on the basis of adult suffrage decide upon the form and content of her own government. No doubt there are difficulties about defense, about minorities and the Princes. The burden of solving these difficulties will be shifted from you to the constituent assembly.
On 24 March 1940, Gandhi wrote in Harijan, Congress can never seek the assistance of British forces to resist vivisection. It is the Muslims who will impose their will by force singly or with British assistance on an unresisting India. If I can carry the Congress with me I would not put the Muslims to the trouble of using force. I would be ruled by them for it would still be Indian rule. In other word Congress will have only a non-violent approach to every question.
On Tuesday 2 July 1940, Gandhi issued an appeal to every Briton wherever he may be to cease hostilities because war is bad accept method of non-violence for adjustment of relations between nations and informed viceroy that his services are at disposal of H.M.’s Govt. Statesman have declared that this is a war on behalf of democracy. I suggest that at the end of the war whichever way it ends there will be no democracy to represent democracy; …it is brutalizing man on a scale hitherto unknown. All distinction between combatants and non-combatants have been abolished … war is bad in essence. Let them take possession of your beautiful island with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but not your souls nor your minds. You will allow yourself, man, woman and child to be slaughtered but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them. This process or method I have called non-violent co-operation, not without considerable success in its use in India. They may tell you that our non-co-operation was not wholly non-violent that it was born of hatred. I wont deny it.
On 23 December 1940, Bose wrote to Gandhi, my fond expectation was that you would launch a mass movement as you had done in 1921, 1930 and 1932 … today it is clear that movement launched by you is not on the issue of our national demand for independence. Nor is this movement a mass struggle … we have to fight the arbitrary and high-handed action of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad at the present time. But this can never blind us to the larger issues before the country and there you can have our fullest co-operation, consistently with our political stand. I beg you to accept our offer of co-operation.
On 29 December 1940 Gandhi wrote to Subhas … I quite agree with you that that either of you is more than a match for the Maulana Saheb as far as popularity is concerned. But a man has to put conscience before popularity. I know that in Bengal it is difficult to function effectively without you two. I know too that you can carry even without the Congress. But the Congress has to manage somehow … as for your Bloc joining CD. I think with the fundamental difference between you and me, it is not possible till one of us is converted to the other’s view. We must sail in different boats, though their destination may only appear to be the same. Meanwhile let us love one another remaining members of the same family that we are.
On 18thFebruary 1941 Gandhi wrote to Mukundalal answer to Subhas Bose letter. The difference in our case is vital and fundamental. Independence secured through violence would have contents different from that secured through non-violent means, my notion of independence is independence of the poorest and lowliest of land. But in political language all of us communists, Socialists, Kisan-sabhites, Labourites and others must think of independence though all will have different meaning for the same word.
On 26 April 1941, Gandhiji wrote in Harijan that I am not perturbed by the apostasy either of Jawaharlal or Rajaji. They will return to non-violence with renewed zeal, strengthened by the failure of their effort … Jawaharlal advocates violence; advocates guerilla warfare against the Japanese and Rajaji wants arms and military training for the whole nation.
On Tuesday 30 December 1941 at Bardoli, following seven days of discussions in the Congress Working Committee, the congress working Committee resolved that only independent India can be in a position to fight for democracy. That day, Gandhi wrote a letter to the Working Committee saying that in the course of discussion in the Working Committee I discovered that I had committed a grave error in interpretation of the Bombay resolution. I had interpreted to mean that the Congress was to refuse participation in the present or all wars on ground principally of non-violence. I found to my astonishment that most members differed from my interpretation and held that the opposition need not be on the ground of non-violence. On re-reading the Bombay resolution, I found that the differing members were right and that I had read into it a meaning which its letter could not bear … It is my certain belief that only non-violence can save India and the world from self-extinction. Such being the case, I must continue my mission whether I am alone or assisted by an organization or individuals. You will therefore, please relieve me of the responsibility laid upon me by the Bombay resolution. I must continue civil disobedience for free speech against all wars with such Congressmen and others whom I select and who believe in the non-violence I have contemplated and are willing to confirm to prescribed conditions.
The congress Working Committee considered this letter and passed a resolution relieving him of the responsibility laid upon him by the Bombay resolution … but the committee assure him that the policy of non-violence adopted under his guidance for the attainment of Swaraj and which has proved so successful in leading to mass awakening and otherwise will be adhered to by the Congress … That Satyagraha has now proceeded for 14 months and about 25,000 congressmen have suffered imprisonment, while many thousands others offered satyagraha in the Frontier and elsewhere have not been arrested.
On 28 June 1942, Gandhi wrote, Non-violence demands strictest honesty, cost what it may. The public has to therefore suffer my weakness; if weakness it may be called … I could not guarantee foolproof non-violent action to keep the Japanese at bay. Abrupt withdrawal of Allied troops might result in Japanese occupation of India and China’s sure fall … Therefore I feel that if in spite of the acceptance of my proposal it is deemed necessary by Allies to remain in India to prevent Japanese occupation, they should do so, subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by the National Government that may be set up after the British withdrawal … is India a democracy. Are the states a democracy? Britain does not deserve to win the war on the ground of justice if she is fighting to keep her Asiatic and African possessions … I am unable to state that non-violent effort will make India proof against Japanese or any other aggression. I am not able to claim that the whole of India is non-violent in the sense required … So long as India lacks faith in the capacity of non-violence to protect her against aggression from without, the demand for the withdrawal of Allied troops during the pendency of war would be itself an act of violence, If the controllers of troop hold it to be necessary for their defense to keep them in India for that purpose and that alone…
On 12 July 1942, Replying to a Muslim correspondent Gandhi wrote in Harijan, surely Pakistanis want to convert the opposition, not to force it? Has an attempt been ever made to meet the opposition in a friendly manner and to convert it? I am sure the Congress is willing to be converted, let alone me ... The movement has only one aim that is of displacing the British power. If that happy event comes about and if it is followed by a stable government. It will most assuredly decide the fate of war, I hope in a non-violent manner … why should not the Muslims who believe in Pakistan but also believe in independent India join such a struggle? If, on the other hand, they believe in Pakistan through British aid and under British aegis, it is a different story. I have no place in it.
On Monday 13 July 1942 at Wardha, discussion on Gandhi’s draft resolution took place by the Congress Working Committee … The demand for the withdrawal of British power from India – which marks a new phase in the development of the Congress program - will necessarily have to be ratified by the All India Congress Committee …
The British are pouring blood like water and squandering gold like dust in order to preserve their liberty – or is it their right to enslave India and Africa? Why should Indians do less to free themselves from bondage?
On Wednesday 15 July 1942 at Wardha, Gandhi said if the British see the wisdom of recognizing the independence of India without reference to parties then, of course, negotiations are certainly possible … I can say that a free India will make common cause with Allies but I cannot say that a free India will take part in his militarism or she will choose her non-violent way. But I can say without hesitation or sense of shame that if I can turn India towards non-violence then I will do so. If such a conversion of 400,000,000 people is possible then it means the transformation of the whole world. I have no desire to oppose a free India Government and launch any movement against it if she chooses to help the Allies militarily.
On Thursday 23 July 1942, Manchester Guardian wrote that Wardha resolution suggests that if Britain would immediately withdraw, India would help her and Allies to resist aggression … Pandit Nehru and some other Congress leaders have said that they believe in armed resistance but Mr. Gandhi’s belief is that Indians would most effectively resist Japan and any other aggressor by pure non-violence. How is Britain to know what sort of resistance the proposed Indian government would organize? Daily Herald wrote, ‘Feeling, not thought; emotion, not reason, is governing these Indians who are planning a new civil disobedience’.
On Sunday 26thJuly 1942, Gandhi wrote in Harijan, If the Quaid-i-Azam really wants a settlement, I am more than willing, and so is Congress. He will forgive me for suggesting that his reply leaves on one the impression that he does not want a settlement. If he wants one, why not accept the Congress President’s offer that Congress and League representatives should put their heads together and never part until they have reached a settlement. Is there any flaw or want of sincerity in this offer? … Let me state my limitations. I cannot speak as a mere Hindu, for my Hinduism includes all religions. I can speak only as an Indian. If Pakistan as defined above is an article of faith with him, indivisible India is a faith with me. Hence there is a stalemate. But today there is neither Pakistan nor Hindustan. It is Englistan. So I say to all India, let us first convert it to original Hindustan and then adjust all rival claims. This is surely clear. After the restoration of India to the nation, there will be no Central Government. The representatives will have to construct it. It may be one Hindustan or many Pakistans.
Gandhi 77thbirthday on 2ndOctober 1945.
In Harijan an article ‘To my American Friends’ was published by Gandhi, ‘I have in America perhaps the largest number of friends in the West… You have given me a teacher in Thoreau, who furnished me through his essay on the Duty of Civil Disobedience scientific confirmation of what I was doing in South Africa, great Britain gave me Ruskin, whose ‘Unto This Last’ transformed me overnight from a lawyer and city dweller into a rustic living away from Durban on a farm, three miles from the nearest railway station, and Russia gave me Tolstoy, a teacher who furnished a reasoned basis for my non-violence. It was he who had prophesized in his letter to me that I was leading a movement which was destined to bring a message of hope to the down trodden people of earth. So you will see that I have not approached the present task in any spirit of enmity to Great Britain and the West. After having imbibed and assimilated the message of ‘Unto This Last’ I could not be guilty of approving of Fascism or Nazism, whose cult is suppression of the individual and his liberty. I invite you to read my formula of withdrawal or as it has been popularly called, ‘Quit India” with this background … I claim to be a votary of truth from my childhood. It was the most natural thing to me. My prayerful search gave me the revealing maxim, ‘truth is God’, instead of the usual one ‘God is truth’. That maxim enables me to see God face to face as it were. I feel him pervade every fibre of my being. With this truth as witness between you and me, I assert that I would not have asked my country to invite Great Britain to withdraw her rule over India, irrespective of any demand to the contrary, if I had not seen at once that for the sake of great Britain and the Allied cause it was necessary for boldly to perform the duty for freeing India from bondage. By that supreme act of justice, Britain would have taken away all cause for seething discontent of India; She could turn the growing ill will into active good will. I submit that it is worth all the battleships and airships that your wonder-working engineers and financial resources can produce … you have made common cause with Great Britain. You cannot, therefore, disown responsibility for anything that her representative do in India. … Is there anything wrong in Congress demanding unconditional recognition of India’s independence? It is being said: But this not the time. We say: This is the psychological moment for that recognition. For then and then only can there be irresistible opposition to Japanese aggression … I want you to look upon the immediate recognition of India’s independence as a war measure of first class magnitude.