Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mahatma Gandhi's contribution to India's freedom struggle

A movie was released in Bollywood called Bhagat Singh which was largely anti-Gandhi Many of my friends who saw it said they have no reverence left for Gandhi as he didn't really do anything for freedom struggle.

I recently read two books - one on Essays on History of India by Bhishm and After Tamerlane by John Darwin (both considerably fat history books), and I started understanding and appreciating Gandhi's genius and strategy.

Before we talk about that we need to talk about why Britishers came to India. They/ East India company came basically for trade - spices, salt (there were no fridges then and they used this for preserving meat) and most ofcourse cotton (we and china used to clothe most of the world). Earlier they just wanted to trade with India and it was lucrative enough for them. It so happened that during the revolt of 1857 (which lots of people don't know that 200 british woman and children were killed) after which the Britishers became aggressive in colonizing India. Also britishers wanted to capture China and they had competition from both japan and russia, so India seemed a good base to keep an eye on china. Colonizing India was a huge resource drain on them as they had to bring large troops to India (Swiss canal being under Sweden meant that they had to go all around Africa to come to India). Also India was under several rulers Mughals, Marathas, the Bengal guy. One needed to have force everywhere to control India. So they started building the railways to mobilize the forces and the british army.
Congress that came in earlier didn't really want freedom as that seemed far fetched. They instead wanted an arrangement - something like Canada. Where Britishers rule but the congress governs locally. The congress that time consisted of elite north indian scholars who were mostly hindu. Muslims were not part of them. Gandhi wrote on Hinduism and muslims and his theories had won the hearts of both muslims and hindus especially harijans. At the same time Ottoman empire crashed and lots of muslims in India didn't have a leader to look up to (the muslims were united under the turkey's ruler for a long time - he was their spiritual leader - quite like the Pope). So they started seeing Gandhi as their well-wisher. (A guess of Gandhi that worked and made him extremely valuable to congress).
Well now Gandhiji rejected the idea of British columbia-like setting for India. He wanted full freedom. At the same time spinning wheel was invented in the west and it could produce cloth 200 times faster than the indian craftsmen and britishers didn't want cotton from India anymore. So to even out the expenses of having India as colony they started levying huge taxes (remember Lagaan movie). They also started exerting cultural supremacy where there was stress on Indians wearing the clothes made in their factories.
Gandhiji felt that it is difficult to beat them by force but very easy to beat them by making India non-lucrative for them. So he started his non-cooperation movement. He resisted the concept of India and withheld Panchayati raaj, he encouraged charkha to protect the local industry and created ressitance against the foreign clothes that britishers wanted to sell to india. He held the dandi march for salt.
At the same time WW-II happened and US in exchange for help asked britisher for all colonies in asia. Britishers gave every colony except india. One of the biggest fears of nehru around that time was that India shouldn't goto America because though america will not colonize it (Roosevolt had taken a moral stand that we will not colonize any country but will control it - a stand that US takes even today), America will take control over trading in India - something that would affect India economically. Anyways, Britishers having lost heavily during war and now, because Gandhiji involved the mass (the other thing that Gandhi was right in formulating was that the masses will bring about the changes and not a handful of people and involved masses using non-violence) and there was non-co-operation to large extent that it became increasingly expensive to sustain india as a colony. Hence britishers left India (ofcourse after a very unfortunate partition whose story i will tell later). So when folks say that without gandhiji we would have gotten freedom. The answer is yes - in 1990s but not so early in 1947. We owe him atleast 50 years of fresh air!

10 comments:

kadav said...

Nice narration and analysis. Gandhiji knew very well that he can not get freedom by war so he took path of non-violence.
We Indian follow Gandhiji's path of non - violence but unfortunately Muslim do not and we are called coward.
Gandhiji philosophy is irrelevent in today's world.

Abhinav Goyal said...

:) interesting take on the subject. several points of discussion though ... truth is as usual, somewhere in the middle ...

arati kadav said...

so what's your theory ?

Siddhesh said...

Unfortunately, this theory of making India unattractive worked very well! With the license raaj and other "self reliance = self restriction = non competitiveness" policies that Nehru and gang imposed on India, the fresh air didnt translate into opportunities and growth for well over 50 years, led to the coining of the phrase "hindu rate of growth", and pretty much pushed us into oblivion until a turbanned gentleman changed the course of our history!

Abhishek said...

I totally agree about what u said about Gandhi. My grandmother was a gr8 INC follower and i owe some of my respect of Gandhi to her. But the i also remember how i never saw the film Gandhi even once during its many early runs on DD. that was until a classmate n i were chosen for an interschool quiz oN Gadhi in class 8th. we studied thru the week, he went thru 'my experiments with truth' and i read a monograph on Gandhi (dont remember the author). We won the quiz and promptly cycled to a shop where wetreated ourselves to samosa and icecream (daysof innocence. While eating it struck bothof us together that we had fallen in love with Gandhi. I have subsequently seen 'gandhi' every time itwas aired. What captivates me most is how he galvanized the entire nation, how peope wud always want to listen to him,how maulana or nehru or patel might not have always agreed with him but went with his decisions, not because of mass clout,but because of their respect and willingness to follow him. Its always easy to be an armchair scholar and dissect history, but these people did at tremendous personal costs what they thought was best for the nation.

arati kadav said...

Nice - I have read is autobiography and also on his associates. I even read Kasturba's biography. Actually i had prepared for Sevagram PMT that has a subject on Mahatma Gandhi too.

You should read "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy - I just started it. That is one of the books that we was greatly influenced by and derived his world view from. It is 900 pages of extremely fine prin and 500 characters. Really tough read but it is a nice book so far.

arati kadav said...

btw are you abhshek from wwi ?

Abhishek said...

What's kasturba's biography called, would like to read that. Had borrowed 'War and peace' from a cousin when i was in college, but got intimidated by the size. thats on my 'to read' list.
this is abhishek vaidya, we were in Shivaji Science during JC. Have been reading ur blogs quite often.

arati kadav said...

ok ok - i know you abhishek vaidya - you dont have to remind me where we met

Basav Biradar said...

yes i totally agreewith your view point.unfortunately today's youth or so to say our generation totally undermines Gandhiji's contribution to India's independence struggle. All the other battles led by Subhas chandra bose, Bhagat Singh were just tiny incidents which sound heroic but did not influence masses hence did not gather strength.