Mahatma Gandhi. The proof of revolutionary political philosophy

Pre-University Paper 2018 17 Pages

History - Asia


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The British Empire in India

3. Biography Mahatma Gandhi
3.1. Early years
3.2. Gandhi in South Africa
3.3. From the lawyer to the resistance fighter – Gandhi’s philosophy
3.3.1. Gandhi’s relationship with the British
3.3.2. Gandhi’s non-violent resistance by the example of the Salt March
3.4. The Indian independence movement

4. Aftermath till now

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

“I have met Lenin, Churchil[l], Franklin D. Roosevelt, Wilkie, Stalin, Litivinov, Atlee, Einstein [...] and other famous people. I have never met a more remarkable person than Gandhi.”[1]

This quote from the American journalist Louis Fischer already demonstrates Gandhi’s uniqueness concerning his accomplishment and principles. Gandhi: a Hindu, thinker, philosopher, lawyer and, last but not least, a leader of an entire country. He is a legend who achieved the independence of a whole nation and a completely new understanding of psychological warfare. In this paper I want to illustrate that a philosophy which contradicts our modern notion of revolution absolutely was successful and will continue to be. Eventually, Gandhi’s life is the proof of its success.

Before I began my research on Gandhi, it had been just a famous name for me which I associated with India. My knowledge about his philosophy was very little, why I decided to write a paper about Gandhi. I realised his philosophy is a field about which the most people do not know the deeper sense. Therefore, I want to inform the readers of the characteristics and aim of Gandhi’s philosophy.

First of all, I am going to describe India’s former political situation. The other part of the paper is structured like a short Biography of Gandhi. After the basic information about his early life and his important phase of life in South Africa, it continues with Gandhi’s relationship with the British and the main part, Gandhi’s philosophy. To show the true success of his philosophy I use his most known campaign, the Salt March. After the Indian independence movement, the last and biggest success in Gandhi’s life, I refer to the aftermath of his life till now. Thereby I concentrate on the reactions of the people to Gandhi’s action and the present use of his philosophy.

2. India as a part of the British Empire

The Mughal Empire was the dominant power in India in the 17th century but it was clear that it would come towards an end. In the same time European powers expanded their trade to India to cover their demand and to gather raw material. The British East India Company (EIC) managed to eliminate most of the competition. Especially in the second half of the 18th century the British expanded their sphere of control to India, so they became more and more a political power. The Battle of Plassey under the leadership of Robert Clive, which was provoked by the inhuman imprisonment of Europeans, was the first step for the development of the British rule in India. As a result, the EIC conquered Bengal in 1757 and the exploitation of India increased. It was also the end of the independence of the Mughal Emperors. In London in 1772 it was decided to appoint Warren Hastings as the governor of Bengal, yet it remained a rule in the name of the Mughal Emperor. The oppression of Indian workers escalated and numerous wars were the result of the Mughal Emperors’ efforts to persist against the EIC.

Due to attempts at reform and the violation of religious customs Indian soldiers caused the Indian Rebellion of 1857. In 1858 British force quelled the badly organised rebellion. The EIC was considered the main cause of the Indian Rebellion, consequently, it was dissolved and the new empire British Raj was established by transforming the occupied territories of the EIC into a Crown Colony. The particularity of British Raj was the distribution of the territories. About two-thirds of India was under direct rule, whereas the other territories were Princely States under British supremacy. The British Raj included today’s India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In 1876 Queen Victoria was declared the Empress of India, which meant a change in the British politics. The aim of the rule was from then on the maintenance of the rule instead of a reform of the Indian society. Every five years a viceroy was sent to Kolkata. Even if there were changes, the British superiority continued to exist. As a consequence, the handling of Indians was characterised by rapes, violation and racism. This promoted the isolation of the British and the social distance between the British and the Indians. Especially the rule of Lord Robert Lytton as the Viceroy of India between 1875 and 1880 represented the opposites of the British imperialism. On the one hand, the British celebrated the planned foreign policy measures, on the other hand, there was the famine of the Indians.

3. Biography Mahatma Gandhi

3.1. Early years

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, mostly called “Mahatma”[2] Gandhi, was born in Porbandar on 4 October 1869. He was the youngest son of Karamchand Gandhi and his fourth wife, Putlibai. The family belonged to the Bania caste of the Vaishyas, the traders, thus they were members of the third caste and the social upper class. However, the tradition as traders ended with Gandhi’s grandfather. Even if Gandhi’s father had no education, “his rich experience of practical affairs”[3] secured him a good stand as Prime Minister. Furthermore, the Gandhis practised the Vishnuism and were strict vegetarians.

At the age of seven Mahatma Gandhi and his family moved to Rajkot where his father became a member of the Rajasthanik[4] Court. With the beginning of primary school Gandhi already had difficulties in English, nevertheless, he was a good student overall. The bigger problem was his shyness which would turn out to be an obstruction over and over again. In 1882 Gandhi’s parents arranged for the 13-year-old boy to marry Kasturbai Makanji who was at the same age. Together they raised four sons. As a young husband Gandhi tried to control the activities of his wife as much as possible. His fears, jealousy and sexual needs consistently caused quarrel.

After his father died in 1886 Gandhi should follow the family tradition as the only boy in his family who finished his high school education. At the end of his first semester at a college in Bhavnagar his family decided to send him to England to finish his studies there under the condition that he vowed continuing his abstemious life[5]. The Bania caste was against his intention to go abroad, consequently, they threatened him with banishment but he still maintained his decision. On 4 September 1888 Gandhi sailed for England. In 1891 Gandhi passed the bar examination and returned to India to act as a lawyer.

Back in India he found out about the death of his mother which had been kept secret for a year. In addition, neither Gandhi’s resumption in the caste nor his professional start was successful. “Gandhi’s lack of understanding of the Indian legal system coupled with his extreme shyness prevented him from representing his clients [in court ably]”[6]. Fortunately, the company Dada Abdulla & Co. needed an Indian lawyer in Pretoria, South Africa, so Gandhi accepted the offer and left India again in 1893.

3.2. Gandhi in South Africa

During his way to Pretoria Gandhi experienced the discrimination against Indians, especially in the British occupied territory Natal. Within one year Gandhi successfully concluded his legal dispute and “decided to remain in Natal to combat the legal and social discrimination against the Indians”[7]. Subsequently, he established the Natal Indian Congress in 1894. The professional success achieved the reduction of his shyness as well.

In 1896 Gandhi realised the continuance of his duty, wherefore he decided on taking his family to South Africa. To inform the Indians about the situation of the South African Indians Gandhi published the Green Pamphlet which consequently made waves in South Africa. On his return to “Durban in January 1897 [Gandhi] was attacked by a mob of Europeans”[8]. After Gandhi’s input in the Second Boer War he temporarily returned to India in 1901 with his family. One year later the South African Indians had the opportunity to illustrate their concerns to the British colonial minister Chamberlain that is why Gandhi sailed back for South Africa together with his family. In Transvaal Gandhi was rejected as he wanted to meet Chamberlain. As a result, he set up at Transvaal and established his own office in Johannesburg in 1903. Additionally, Gandhi founded the journal Indian Opinion based in Durban. “[I]nspired by reading [John] Ruskin’s[9] essay ‘Unto This Last’ [Gandhi] decided to set up the Phoenix Community on a farm [near] Durban, where he also printed [...] the new journal”[10], in 1904. By reason of deciding to retain his office Gandhi had to travel between Johannesburg and Durban. In 1906 the “Zulu Rebellion” resulted in a turn in his life and his relationship to the British.

3.3. From the lawyer to the resistance fighter - Gandhi’s philosophy

3.3.1. Gandhi’s relationship with the British

As a child Gandhi’s image of the British was affected by their predominance. Indians tried to become as powerful as British, so they began to compare their way of life with the British. One of Gandhi’s schoolmates convinced him to eat meat due to the fact that this would be the secret of the British strength[11]. Even if the consumption of meat caused a guilty conscience, Gandhi kept this sin secret from his parents and continued for a while. Nevertheless, Gandhi’s relationship to the British was first influenced by his studies in London. England or at least the British education was considered the way to success and wealth. Gandhi’s “family only agreed to send him to England [...] in the hope that he would in turn be qualified for holding high political office”[12].

At the beginning of his journey, Gandhi had problems to establish contacts or even to conduct a conversation due to his poor command of English and his shyness. In addition, he “continually [thought about his] home and country”[13] despite the help of his companion Dr. Pranjivan Mehta. He had doubts whether the journey would be useful in such a “strange”[14] place, anyway, he tried to find the right lifestyle in England. He recognised that the British attached importance to the external appearance, so he let himself be blinded by his enthusiasm for British lifestyle. Later Gandhi realised that his studies and the related responsibilities towards his family were more important than his adapting to the British. Furthermore, his new appearance was alien to him. Regardless of his efforts to become British he felt uncomfortable because the British lifestyle was not the life with which he could identify himself. For him it was more an “impossible task of becoming an English gentleman”[15]. Over time, life in London got easier and better for Gandhi, even if he adhered to his belief and habits.

Another experience which shows Gandhi’s attitude towards the British is his arrival in Durban in 1897. As he came ashore, a mob of Europeans attacked him until the wife of the police commissioner rescued him. The cause of this attack was his Green Pamphlet. The British took offence because of the allegations regarding the handling of Indians in South Africa. Although the assault gave Gandhi pain and he had to hide for several days, he dispensed with any police report and persecution. Gandhi did not want any revenge because he tried to solve the discrimination against Indians peacefully as an intermediary. Even though he gave the administration of Natal the liability of this attack, his patience and conviction of reaching equality through initiative helped him to stay on his way. This event illustrates that the relationship between the Indians and the British was characterised by prejudices, lack of understanding and violence on the part of the British or in general the Europeans.

Though Gandhi experienced lots of violent incidents with the British, he stayed helpful and open-minded towards them. “During the Boer War (1899-1902) Gandhi surprised many of his followers by organizing an ambulance corps to help the British”[16] because he saw this support as a possibility to “demonstrate their loyalty as citizens of the British Empire, despite their lack of citizen rights”[17]. Initially, the British did not really want the voluntary services of the Indians but they understand that they need all kinds of help and agreed to found an ambulance corps. During the war the relationship between the British and the Indians showed mutual respect and support. Actually, the British admired the Indians’ help but it was not enduring.

So far, not an experience was decisive enough to alter Gandhi’s relationship with the British. This should change through the Zulu Rebellion. Again, Gandhi supported the British in the war. This time Gandhi found out the extent of the British dominance. “[H]e was horrified at the inhuman, vicious treatment of the Zulus by the British”[18] why he decided to “forswear cooperation with evil and to devote himself totally to serving humanity”[19]. During the war Gandhi had enough time to think about the way of life he would need to serve the humanity and realised that he would have to resolve his spirit of any unnecessary needs and tasks. Thus the Zulu Rebellion did not only cause a change of his behaviour towards the British but also a change in his way of life. From that moment Gandhi’s readiness increased and achieved a new level. With regard to his relationship with the British he stopped to improve the image of the Indians which the British had, but tried to assert equality to put an end to the British superiority.

3.3.2. Gandhi’s non-violent resistance by the example of the Salt March

During his stay in South Africa Gandhi devised a new strategy for his future campaigns against Indian oppression. It was characterised by his religious faith, political understanding and moral principles. The mentioned strategy is his non-violent resistance or also known as Satyagraha.

Satyagraha is a neologism of Satya (truth, love) and Agraha (strength, insistence), hence it means the strength and defence of the truth through non-violence[20]. The aim is to accept the own suffering, so that the opponent recognises his mistakes. As a result, it should reach reconciliation without fight. A satyagrahi should never forget that “[t]he purpose of [S]atyagraha is to convert [the opponent and] not to coerce”[21]. For Gandhi it was important to talk about Satyagraha and not about Passive Resistance. “Satyagraha differs from Passive Resistance as the North Pole from the South. The latter has been conceived as a weapon of the weak and does not exclude the use of [...] violence for the purpose of gaining one’s end”[22]. Furthermore, Satyagraha consists of Gandhi’s Concept of Truth (Satya) and Non-Violence (Ahimsa). Both are closely related, for which reason Gandhi said:

“[I]t is not possible to [...] find Truth [without ahimsa]. Ahimsa and Truth are so intertwined that it is practically impossible to [...] separate them. They are like the two sides of a coin [...]. Nevertheless ahimsa is the means; Truth is the end”[23].

The implementation of both concepts has lots of conditions[24]. Without them it is nearly impossible to achieve the mentioned aim why it is often called “an attempt to live in accordance with [...] Truth”[25]. It can also be described as an attempt due to the fact that every human at least pursue non-violence as an aim in the subconscious. But the essential prerequisites are a strong willpower and truthfulness.

The first involves self-sacrifice and fearlessness. Only your willpower is the basis to success. The number of attendees is not significant concerning your achievement. Gandhi was aware of the difficulty of such a way of life and the fact that all the unnecessary in life would prevent him from success. His trust in human nature and insistence on the truth led him to live in asceticism. It included a life in modesty and chastity. He received any support of his wife to find the spiritual force for his non-violent resistance.


[1] Das, Ratan: The Global Vision of Mahatma Gandhi. Sarup & Sons, New Delhi 2005, p. 305

[2] It means “great soul”.

[3] Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand: Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Translated by Mahadev Haribhai Desai, Courier Corporation, n. p. 1948, p. 2

[4] Rajasthan is India‘s largest state and located on the north western side. It shares a border with Pakistan.

[5] cf. Arp, Susmita: Gandhi. Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2007, p. 20

[6] Deats, Richard L. / Jegen, Mary: Mahatma Gandhi, Nonviolent Liberator: A Biography. New City Press, New York 2005, p. 21

[7] Carter, April: Mahatma Gandhi: A Selected Bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group, London 1995, p. 8

[8] Ibid., p. 9

[9] John Ruskin (1819 - 1900) was an English art critic, artist, writer, social philosopher and an established power of the English society in the 19th century.

[10] Ibid., p. 10

[11] cf. Arp, Susmita: Gandhi. Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2007, pp. 15 ff.

[12] Carter, April: Mahatma Gandhi: A Selected Bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group, London 1995, p. 5

[13] Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand: An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth. Translated by Mahadev Desai, The Floating Press, n. p. 2009, p. 85

[14] Ibid.

[15] Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand: Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Translated by Mahadev Haribhai Desai, Courier Corporation, n. p. 1948, p. 45

[16] Deats, Richard L. / Jegen, Mary: Mahatma Gandhi, Nonviolent Liberator: A Biography. New City Press, New York 2005, p. 26

[17] Carter, April: Mahatma Gandhi: A Selected Bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group, London 1995, p. 9

[18] Deats, Richard L. / Jegen, Mary: loc. cit.

[19] Ibid.

[20] cf. Fischer, Louis: Gandhi: Prophet der Gewaltlosigkeit. Translated by Wilhelm Heyne Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, München 1983, p. 45 f.

[21] Richards, Glyn: The philosophy of Gandhi: a study of his basic ideas. Curzon Press, London 1991, p. 53

[22] Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand: Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha). Courier Corporation, New York 2012, p. 6

[23] Ibid., p. 42

[24] See Appendix C, p. 21

[25] Richards, Glyn: loc. cit., p. 1


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
586 KB
Catalog Number
13 Punkte
Mahatma Gandhi philosophy revolution revolutionary independence British Empire proof political Gandhi




Title: Mahatma Gandhi. The proof of revolutionary political philosophy