(Online Course) GS Concepts : Mordern Indian History – Methods of Gandhi and Reasons for His Popularity

Subject : Modern Indian History
Chapter : The Beginning of The Gandhian Era

Topic: Methods of Gandhi and Reasons
for His Popularity

Question : Give a brief description of Methods of Gandhi and
reasons for his popularity ?


It is not overtly difficult to imagine the British- officials
and non-officials along with many Indians- cringe with apprehension and
foreboding every time Gandhi took up a cause and set out to deal with it.
Curiously enough, he managed to do this, and guided and urged Indians towards
freedom through peaceful means Satyagraha. The most potent legacy of Gandhi to
India and also to the world is the technique of Satyagraha of which truth,
ahimsa, and self-suffering are integral tools. However, these tools are not
meant to be confined to political fight but to be lived by Gandhi did not refute
the external influences in the formation of his ideas and thoughts, yet the
manner in which they were executed and expanded, bears his particular hallmark.

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Satyagraha developed as passive resistance during his protest
against the Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance in 1906, South Africa. But soon he
adopted the term ‘Satyagraha’. Satya is derived from the Sanskrit roots ‘sat’
that means truth’, and ‘agraha’, which means ‘grasp’. In 1921, Gandhi announced
that it literally meant ‘holding on to truth and therefore ‘truth-force’ or
‘soul-force’. It intended to replace methods of violence with a movement based
entirely upon truth. According to Joan Bondurant, it is basically an
ethic-principle, the essence of which is a social technique of action. It
involved peaceful violation of specific laws mass courting of arrests, nartals,
and marches. It also gave scope for negotiations and compromises which were more
than often not clearly understood by the people themselves.

There is an essential difference between Satyagraha and
passive resistance. Passive resistance either suggests lack of capacity to
employ violence or tends to be a preliminary step to violence. It can also be
employed side by side with violence. The extent of sacrifice in passive
resistance is also limited. Satyagraha on the other hand, comprising of three
main elements – truth, ahimsa, and self-sacrifice, constitutes a larger
conception. Countering claims that this was cowardice, Gandhi claimed Satyagraha
as the weapon of the strong. This claim is based on his belief that it is easier
to injure other than one’s own body. However, an essential difference was made
between cowardice and non-violent conduct. Given a choice between violence and
cowardice, Gandhi admitted that he would prefer violence, as cowardice is always
demoralizing and non-violence is not. In fact, he opined that ‘…the votary of
non-violence has to cultivate the capacity for the, sacrifice of the highest
order to be free from fear… He who has not overcome all fear cannot practice
ahimsa to perfection’ (Harijan 1940). Essential to understanding the technique
of Satyagraha is the role and place of its three elements – Truth, ahimsa, and
self-sacrifice, and their inter connectedness.

In short, the connection between the three elements of
satyagraha ran as follows. Every form of protest or search is to be done by
means of truth, nonviolence and self-suffering. The protester is not to fight
for what he believed in with hate, dislike or violence. It was the
responsibility of the fighter to win over the opponent by showing him the
latter’s wrong doings and mode of operation was through love and out of a sense
of responsibility (on behalf of the satyagrahi) ‘The test of love is tapasya and
tapasya means self-suffering’ (YI 1922). Gandhi was against submission to
humiliation and opined that in every case a satyagrahi must refuse to do that
which his conscience forbids him to do and must do all to preserve his dignity
even at the cost of his life. According to Gandhi, problems and issues can be
resolved through reason and suffering, which can only be strengthened by the
eyes of understanding.

Reasons for Gandhi’s popularity- According to Ravinder Kumar
Gandhi’s charisma and his us of religion account for a part of the wide response
he generated. He opines that an essential reason for Gandhi’ success lay in the
fact that he was astute enough to know and gauge where the social loyalties of
the people lay and in the manner in which these loyalties could be evoked. These
loyalties lay in religion, caste and communities rather than class. Religion was
the main arena of the loyalty and this belief is evident from Gandhi’s appeal to
the Muslims to join him by bringing into the Indian sphere the issue of distant
Turkey during the Khilafat movement.

Sumit Sarkar opines that the non-violent methods and a
carefully controlled mass participation found acceptance amongst the business
groups and locally well-off sections of the peasantry as they all would have
suffered loss on account of a uncontrolled and violent mass participation.
Gandhis criticism of everything related with modern industrial civilization as
outlined in Hind Swaraj while unrealistic found resonance in the people who had
suffered on account of the modernizing forces under the colonial rule. Thus, his
programmes of Khadi, village reconstruction and Harijan welfare promised
improvement however limited they might be.

The role of rumours also cannot be denied in spreading the
popularity of Gandhi in a predominantly illiterate society which was also
undergoing a period of suffering and tensions. Gandhi was ascribed with powers,
often superhuman, and a Messianic personality was bestowed upon him by the
oppressed. Gandhi’s strong religious tendencies .and the manner in which he wove
it in his message related with upliftment, village reconstruction, and condition
of the country among others was understood by the people. His use of plain
language made him more approachable and identifiable to the people. Moreover,
Gandhi picked on issues and examples which million of Indians either felt
acutely about or could easily identify. For example, cow while was an important
religious symbol was also economically central to the peasants. Hence the
various remonstrations on abuse and off hand care of the cows were heard by the
people. During the Khilafat Movement, Gandhi realized the importance of the
Caliphate as an Islamic symbol for the Indian Muslims and he sought to utilize
it for forging Hindu-Muslim unity. Similarly, Gandhi with his knowledge
understood the grievances of the peasants with the Salt Laws one chose to start
the Civil Disobedience Movement by breaking the Salt Laws and gained mass
participation in the process. In addition, Gandhi’s style of dressing,
travelling by third class, eating simple meals, spinning, etc all added to his
appeal. Yet on the other hand, his constant use of religion especially Hinduism,
served to cause discomfort amongst the Muslims The need to the peasants to be
saved by God-like figure might sound elitist but remains an undeniable fact
during the national movement this Godhead was the Mahatma Gandhi. And this deep
seeded belief also accounts for the continued popularity of Gandhi in spite of
repeated failures of various movements started by him.

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