Gandhi’s early career and activism

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  • Gandhi was the first Indian barrister to have come to South Africa.
  • He was faced with various racial discriminations within days of his arrival in SA.
  • He led the Indian struggle in SA.
  • The first phase of Gandhi’s political activities from 1894-1906 may be classified as the ‘moderate’ phase.
  • He set up the Natal Indian Congress and started a paper called Indian Opinion.
  • By 1906, Gandhiji, having fully tried the ‘Moderate’ methods of struggle, was becoming convinced that these would not lead anywhere.
  • The second phase, begun in 1906, was characterized by the use of passive resistance, Satyagraha. There was no fear of jails.
  • South Africa prepared Gandhiji for leadership of the Indian national struggle:
    • He had the invaluable experience of leading poor Indian labourers.
    • SA built up his faith in the capacity of the Indian masses to participate in and sacrifice for a cause that moved them.
    • Gandhiji also had the opportunity of leading Indians belonging to different religions.
  • South Africa provided Gandhiji with an opportunity for evolving his own style of politics and leadership.
  • Gandhi returned to India on January 9, 1915
  • He founded the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad in 1916
  • Initially he was politically idle. He spent his time studying the situation of the country.
  • He was deeply convinced that the only viable method of political struggle was satyagraha.
  • During the course of 1917 and early 1918, he was involved in three significant struggles – in Champaran in Bihar, in Ahmedabad and in Kheda in Gujarat. The common feature of these struggles was that they related to specific local issues and that they were fought for the economic demands of the masses.
  • Champaran Satyagraha (1917)
    • Peasantry on the indigo plantations in Champaran, Bihar was excessively oppressed by the Eurpoean planters.
    • On the invitation of the peasants he went to Champaran and began to conduct a detailed inquiry into the condition of the peasantry
    • The government was forced to set up a committee with Gandhi as one of the members. The sufferings of the peasants was reduced.
    • Others in this movement: Rajendra Prasad, Mazhar-ul-Haq, J B Kriplani, Narhari Parekh and Mahadev Desai.
  • Ahmedabad Mill Strike (1918)
    • Dispute between workers and mill owners
    • Gandhi advised workers to go on a non-violent strike. He himself took to fast
    • Owners yielded and gave a 35 percent increase in wages to the workers
  • Kheda Satyagraha (1918)
    • Despite crop failure in Kheda the government insisted on full land revenue
    • Gandhi advised the peasants to withhold payment.
    • Govt issued instructions that revenue should be collected from only those farmers who could afford to pay
    • Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel played a major role in this satyagraha.
  • Impact of these early experiences
    • Brought Gandhiji in close contact with the masses
    • He identified his life and manner of living with the life of the common people
  • He had three main aims
    • Hindu-Muslim Unity
    • Fight against untouchability
    • Raising the social status of the women
  • Gandhiji’s first major nation-wide protest was against the Rowlatt Bills in 1919. He formed the Satyagraha Sabha whose members took a pledge to disobey the Act and thus to court arrest and imprisonment.
  • Satyagraha was launched. The form of protest finally decided was the observance of a nation-wide hartal accompanied by fasting and prayer.
  • However, protests were generally accompanied by violence and disorder.
  • In Punjab, the situation was particularly violent. Genral Dyer was called to control the situation. On 13 April, Baisakhi Day, General Dyer ordered to open fire on unarmed crowd in Jallianwala Bagh. The government estimate was 379 dead, other estimates were considerably higher.
  • Gandhiji, overwhelmed by the total atmosphere of violence, withdrew the movement on 18 April.
  • Difference between earlier methods of struggle and satyagraha
    • Earlier, the movement had confined its struggle to agitation. They used to hold meetings, demonstrate, boycott etc
    • Through Satyagraha they could act now.
    • The new movement relied increasingly on the political support of the peasants, artisans and urban poor.
    • Gandhiji increasingly turned the face of nationalism towards the common man
  • Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
    • On April 13, 1919 a large crowd had gathered in Amritsar to protest against the arrest of their leaders, Dr. Saifudding Kitchlew and Dr. Satyapal
    • General Dyer opened fire
    • Widespread criticism. Tagore returned his knighthood.

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