Gandhi’s Life – Part 10
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Biographies|
Biography of M.K. Gandhi
Nonviolent War is Declared
Gandhi was permitted to take his spinning wheel to jail with him. He contentedly spun, read, and worked on his autobiography. In January, 1924, he suffered an attack of acute appendicitis, and the British feared that if he died in their hands India would revolt. They summoned Indian surgeons, but Gandhi was too sick to wait. A British doctor operated but only after Gandhi signed a statement saying he had no objections.
The operation was successful, but Gandhi recovered slowly. He was released from prison on February 5, after serving not quite two years of his term. But during that time his movement had collapsed. He himself had forbidden civil disobedience, and the people had abandoned noncooperation.
Worse than this, however, the Hindus and Moslems were no longer working together but had turned daggers toward each other. This was a great blow to Gandhi who wrote, “Hindu-Moslem unity means home rule. There is no question more important and more pressing than this.”
Dismayed and heartsick, Gandhi withdrew from politics and set about cleansing India of her sins. “My belief,” he said, “is that the instant India is purified India becomes free, and not a moment earlier.”
To purify India and to ease the growing animosity between Hindus and Moslems, Gandhi announced he would fast for twenty-one days, beginning September 18. He reserved the right to drink water, with or without salt. “It is both a penance and a prayer,” he said. “I respectfully invite the heads of all communities, including Englishmen, to meet and end this quarrel which is a disgrace to religion and to humanity.”
To dramatize his own goodwill he fasted in a Moslem household. While the fast lasted millions of Hindus and Moslems pledged to love each other eternally, but when the fast ended the spell ended as well. Gandhi’s suffering was meaningless, for the great religious bloodbath was yet to come.
For the next few years Gandhi concentrated on uplifting India rather than exacerbating the British. His aims remained constant — Hindu-Moslem unity, the abolition of untouchability, and the use of homespun cloth to build village industries and employ India’s poor.
He remained in the Congress party but without enthusiasm for it had returned to the control of the intellectuals who scorned the masses and were primarily concerned with substituting themselves for the British. Nevertheless, he was elected President of the Congress for 1925. He spent the year traveling through India, preaching his gospel and raising money for his cause. He was an enthusiastic fund raiser who charmed and wheedled the wealthy into parting with jewels and gold to support his programs. “It costs a great deal of money to keep Gandhi living in poverty,” one of his followers said affectionately.
Wherever he went he was adored by the crowds who often heard not a word he said but huddled close to receive his blessing. To his horror one sect began to worship him as a god, and an old man, with a photograph of Gandhi around his neck, came before him to thank him for a miraculous cure. “It is not I but God who made you whole,” Gandhi replied testily. “Will you not oblige me by taking that photograph off?”
In 1926, weary with traveling and speeches, Gandhi retired to his ashram for a year of silence. Actually he was silent only on Mondays; the rest of the week he chatted with disciples and visitors. But most of the time he wrote for his newspapers, using them to spread the gospel of truth-force.
In 1927 Gandhi again toured India. To his platform of nonviolence, homespun, unity, and equality for untouchables he added equality for women and abstinence from alcohol and drugs. He suffered a slight stroke that year, but after a few months he resumed his mission. Then, in November, he was summoned by the Viceroy and informed that a British commission was coming to investigate conditions in India and offer recommendations for reform. The commission would be all British and all white.
The Indians were incensed. Once again their fate was to be cast for them by their conquerors. They decided to boycott the commission. When it arrived in February, 1928, the streets were hung with black flags and people shouted, “Go back!”
Gandhi decided the time had come to resume satyagraha. Suspended in Bardoli six years earlier, it was resumed in the same place the month the commissioners came. The taxes of the peasants of Bardoli had been increased twenty-two percent. They were told not to pay.
The government confiscated their animals, equipment, and farms, and jailed hundreds, but the peasants remained both adamant and nonviolent. On June 12 a sympathy strike was observed throughout India and contributions poured in from all parts of the country. The British gnashed their teeth and shook their fists, but in August they cancelled the tax increase and returned the confiscated land and property. Satyagraha had finally won in India.
Now everyone awaited Gandhi’s next move. At the annual Congress meeting in December, 1928, he agreed that if India did not receive dominion status in one year, he would lead the fight for independence. Most members of the Congress and most Indians believed the final struggle would be violent, but Gandhi would not agree. “If India attains what will be to me so-called freedom by violent means she will cease to be the country of my pride,” he said.
Gandhi spent 1929 crisscrossing the country, preparing the masses for the great struggle. When the Congress party met in December, with Jawaharlal Nehru as its president, the year was up. A resolution was passed calling for total independence and secession from the Empire. War had been declared with civil disobedience the sole weapon and Mahatma Gandhi the general of the armies. It was he who would decide how and when the first battle would be fought.
This biography was written by Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht and is reprinted here with the permission of the copyright holder.
All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.
What’s your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report!