Gandhi's ideas might seem eccentric, but they helped liberate a nation—and have much to teach us todayby Yasmin Khan / October 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
Five years after the first volume, Ramachandra Guha has produced the second part of his impressive biography of Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi Before India (2013) dealt with the less familiar stage of Gandhi’s life from 1869 to 1914. It covered his childhood and early years in Gujarat, west India, his time as a law student in London and his life in South Africa, where he started to develop his political ideas and methods about non-violent passive resistance—or satyagraha—in order to defend the rights of the Indian minority. In this second volume Gandhi appears in his mid-forties, back in India for the first time in decades and fully formed by his experiences abroad.
Gandhi landed in Bombay on 9th January 1915 ready to launch campaigns against British colonialism. He caught unawares both Raj officials and timid Indian moderates, who reacted with alarm. Yet the sheer excitement Gandhi unleashed among the new generation of nationalists was thrilling. Young men such as the future prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave up promising legal careers, threw aside their western clothes and built alliances with poor peasants in the villages.
Between 1917 and 1922, satyagraha-inspired civil disobedience rocked the Raj. By 1919, Gandhi was heading nationwide protests against what he called the “obnoxious” Rowlatt bills—repressive legislation proposed by the British to combat the spectre of revolutionary terrorism. He encouraged strikes, marches, resignations from government jobs and the rejection of western goods. More civil disobedience followed in 1930-4, starting with the iconic Dandi salt march. Later, the Quit India movement of 1942 undermined the British war effort, not least by winning support from the US. All this culminated in Indian independence, declared on 15th August 1947.
Gandhi’s non-co-operation with the colonial power—which resulted in him being imprisoned several times—is the best-remembered part of his story. But in daily life Gandhi was engaged in less dramatic but equally important forms of activism and social work: running ashrams, fasting, spinning, publishing, journalism, travelling, public speaking and, most of all, arguing. Indeed, Guha argues that “Gandhi’s life in India was, among other things, a series of often intense and long-running arguments.”
This book shows Gandhi in close-up: a man of focused and urgent energy, busily making himself present across the country, directing himself not at…