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This chapter is an excerpt from Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘The Discovery of India’. It talks about the coming of Mahatma Gandhi into Indian politics, and how it shaped the course of the Indian freedom struggle. Gandhi aroused the masses and gave them hope, and helped India and its people achieve their freedom from British rule.
Gandhi Comes into Indian Politics
The end of World War I brought India repressive legislation instead of peace. The people felt humiliated and angry. They seemed helpless. A large number of people were unemployed.
Everyone wondered how India could be pulled out of such poverty and depression. For many generations, Indians had offered their blood and toil, tears and sweat, and this had made them weak.
And then Gandhi came like a powerful current of fresh air, like a beam of light through the darkness, like a strong wind that awakened people’s minds. He did not descend from heaven, but emerged from among the common people, speaking their language.
He told the countrymen to get rid of the system that produced such poverty and misery. Political freedom took a new shape. The essence of his teaching was fearlessness and truth, and always keeping the welfare of the masses in view.
The dominant emotion in India under British rule was fear, and Gandhi taught us to raise our voice against it. With fear comes falsehood, so truth follows fearlessness. The Indian people did not become much more truthful than they were, or change overnight, but there was still a psychological change.
There was a psychological reaction too, a feeling of shame at our long submission to a foreign rule that had degraded and humiliated us, and a desire to submit no longer, whatever the consequences might be.
There was no person as truthful as Gandhi. That was a dangerous quality in a politician, because he spoke out his mind and even let the public see its changing phases. Gandhi influenced millions of people in India.
His call of action had two aspects. One was challenging and resisting foreign rule, and the other was fighting against our own social evils. Apart from the basic objective of the Congress − the freedom of India – and the method of peaceful action, the Congress’s goal of national unity also involved the solution of the minority problems, and the raising of the depressed classes, and the ending of the curse of untouchability.
Gandhi’s Methods to Fight the British
Realizing that the main instruments of British rule were fear, prestige, the co-operation of the people, and certain classes who benefited from British rule, Gandhi attacked these. Titles were to be given up. New standards and values were set up. Rich men, anxious to flaunt their riches, adopted simpler ways.
He sent the Congress leaders to the villages. Peasants began to take active part in the freedom struggle. The Congress leaders saw the villager in his mud-hut, always hungry, and learnt more about Indian economics than they did from books.
Gandhi wanted to build an India in which the poorest would feel that it was their country, in whose making they would have an effective voice, an India in which there would be no high class and low class of people, an India in which all communities would live in perfect harmony. There would be no untouchability, and it would be free from intoxicating drinks and drugs. Women would enjoy the same right as men. This was the India of Gandhi’s dreams.
Indian culture, according to Gandhi, is neither Hindu, Islamic, nor any other, fully. It is a fusion of all. He wanted all religions to coexist peacefully in India.
Such a confident man, standing for equality and freedom, fascinated the masses of India and attracted them like a magnet. He gave them the hope of a bright future. Thus, he effected a huge psychological revolution not only among those who followed his lead but also among his opponents and the neutrals who could not make up their minds about what to think and what to do.
Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation, was indeed a great man. He understood the ways in which the British were weakening India and its people, and used his intelligence and values to fight them. He gave hope to a despairing nation and led it towards its freedom.