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Gandhi, Non-Violence and Indian Independence

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Benjamin Zachariah helps to debunk the romantic 'Legend of the Mahatma'.

Front page of The Times of India on 15 August 1947, carrying news reports on the first Independence Day.Mohandas Gandhi’s reputation as the Indian spiritual and political leader who coordinated and led a successful national struggle for independence against British imperial rule on the strength of a non-violent movement survives largely intact. The legend of Mahatma Gandhi has it that he returned to India from South Africa in 1915, took control of and radically transformed the Indian nationalist movement, and led three great popular movements that eventually wore down the British government and led to Indian independence. These were the Non-Cooperation Movement, 1920-22, in conjunction with the Khilafat Movement for the restoration of the Caliphate in Turkey after the First World War (a coalition he proposed with Muslim political leaders in which he required his colleagues to accept him as Dictator – his word); the Civil Disobedience Movement, 1930-31 (unsuccessfully sought to be revived from 1932 to 1934); and the Quit India Movement of 1942. His ability to give voice to the authentic spirit of the Indian masses, so the story goes, was in stark contrast to those political leaders who used ‘western’ political idioms in pursuit of the goal of Indian independence. Gandhi’s reliance upon non-violent mass movements, furthermore, meant that the means remained as important as the end itself, and was never morally tainted. Yet this is a legend that requires much modification.


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