Mahathma Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi) played a key role in winning freedom for India; introduced the concept of Ahimsa and Satyagraha. Mahatma Gandhi popularly known as Father of Nation played a stellar role in India’s freedom struggle. Born in a Bania family in Kathiawar, Gujarat, his real name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The title Mahatma came to be associated with his name much later. Before Gandhiji’s arrival on the Indian political scene, freedom struggle was limited only to the intelligentsia. Mahatma Gandhi’s main contribution lay in the fact that he bridged the gulf between the intelligentsia and the masses and widened the concept of Swaraj to include almost every aspect of social and moral regeneration. Paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his death, famous scientist Albert Einstein said, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a man as this walked the earth in flesh and blood”.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, at Porbandar, a small town on the western coast of India, which was then one of the many tiny states in Kathiawar. Gandhiji was born in middle class family of Vaishya caste. His father, Karamchand Gandhi, was a Dewan or Prime Minister of Porbandar. His mother, Putlibai, was a very religious lady and left a deep impression on Gandhiji’s mind. Gandhiji was a mediocre student and was excessively shy and timid. Gandhiji was truthful in his conduct right from the childhood.
It was in South Africa that Gandhiji’s transformation from Mohandas to Mahatma took place. Gandhiji landed at Durban and soon he realized the oppressive atmosphere of racial snobbishness against Indians who were settled in South Africa in large numbers. After about a week’s stay in Durban Gandhiji left for Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal, in connection with a lawsuit. When the train reached Pietermaritzburg, the capital of Natal, at about 9 p.m. a white passenger who boarded the train objected to the presence of a “coloured” man in the compartment and Gandhji was ordered by a railway official to shift to a third class. When he refused to do so, a constable pushed him out and his luggage was taken away by the railway authorities. It was winter and bitterly cold. This incident changed Gandhiji’s life forever. He decided to fight for the rights of Indians. Gandhiji organised the Indian community in South Africa and asked them to forget all distinctions of religion and caste. He suggested the formation of an association to look after the Indian settlers and offered his free time and services.
During his stay in South Africa, Gandhiji’s life underwent a change and he developed most of his political ideas. Gandhiji decided to dedicate himself completely to the service of humanity. He realized that absolute continence or brahmacharya was indispensable for the purpose as one could not live both after the flesh and the spirit. In 1906, Gandhiji took a vow of absolute continence. In the course of his struggle in South Africa, Gandhiji, developed the concepts of Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satyagraha (holding fast to truth or firmness in a righteous cause). Gandhiji’s struggle bore fruit and in 1914 in an agreement between Gandhiji and South African Government, the main Indian demands were conceded. Gandhiji returned to India in 1915 and on the advice of his political guru Gopal Krishna Gokhale, spent the first year touring throughout the country to know the real India. After an year of wandering, Gandhiji settled down on the bank of the river Sabarmati, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, where he founded an ashram called Satyagraha Ashram. Gandhiji’s first satyagraha in India was in Champaran, in Bihar, where he went in 1917 at the request of a poor peasants to inquire into the grievances of the much exploited peasants of that district, who were compelled by British indigo planters to grow indigo on 15 percent of their land and part with the whole crop for rent. Gandhiji’s Satyagraha forced British government to set up a inquiry into the condition of tenant farmers. The report of the committee of which Gandhi was a member went in favour of the tenant farmers. The success of his first experiment in satyagraha in India greatly enhanced Gandhiji’s reputation in the country.
Second World War ended in 1945 and Britain emerged victorious. In the general elections held in Britain in 1945, Labour Party came to power, and Atlee became the Prime Minister. He promised an early realization of self Government in India. A Cabinet Mission arrived from England to discuss with Indian leaders the future shape of a free and united India, but failed to bring the Congress and Muslims together. India attained independence but Jinnah’s intransigence resulted in the partition of the country. Communal riots between Hindus and Muslims broke out in the country in the aftermath of partition. Tales of atrocities on Hindus in Pakistan provoked Hindus in India and they targeted Muslims. Gandhiji worked ceaselessly to promote unity between Hindus and Muslims. This angered some Hindu fundamentalists and on January 30, 1948 Gandhiji was shot dead by one such fundamentalist Nathu Ram Godse while he was going for his evening prayers. The last words on the lips of Gandhiji were Hey Ram.