V.N. O’key/Kamat’s Potpourri

The Salt March

© K. L. Kamat
The Dandi March to Make Salt
The Dandi March : A simple act of making salt
shakes the British Empire

In early April, 1930 Gandhi, 61 years old, reached Dandi after walking 241 miles in 24 days. He then defied the law by making salt. It was a brilliant, non-violent strategy by Gandhi. To enforce the law of the land, the British had to arrest the satyagrahis (soldiers of civil disobedience) and Indians courted arrest in millions. There was panic in the administration and Indian freedom struggle  finally gathered momentum both inside and outside of India. The picture of Gandhi, firm of step and walking staff in hand (shown above) was to be among the most enduring of the images of him.

See more Pictures of Dandi March in Congress Archives

Smiling Gandhi
Smiling Gandhi
Photograph by V.N. O’key, circa 1945

 

Gandhi takes on Domestic Problems

In 1932, Gandhi began new civil-disobedience campaigns against the British. Arrested twice, the Mahatma fasted for long periods several times; these fasts were effective measures against the British, because revolution might well have broken out in India if he had died. In September 1932, while in jail, Gandhi undertook a “fast unto death” to improve the status of the Hindu Untouchables. The British, by permitting the Untouchables to be considered as a separate part of the Indian electorate, were, according to Gandhi, countenancing an injustice. Although he was himself a member of an upper caste, Gandhi was the great leader of the movement in India dedicated to eradicating the unjust social and economic aspects of the caste system.

In 1934 Gandhi formally resigned from politics, being replaced as leader of the Congress party by Jawaharlal Nehru. Gandhi traveled through India, teaching ahimsa and demanding eradication of “untouchability.” The esteem in which he was held was the measure of his political power. So great was this power that the limited home rule granted by the British in 1935 could not be implemented until Gandhi approved it. A few years later, in 1939, he again returned to active political life because of the pending federation of Indian principalities with the rest of India. His first act was a fast, designed to force the ruler of the state of Rajkot to modify his autocratic rule. Public unrest caused by the fast was so great that the colonial government intervened; the demands were granted. The Mahatma again became the most important political figure in India.

© K. L. Kamat
The Salt March
Man of Firm Step

 

 

Independence for India

When World War II broke out, the Congress party and Gandhi demanded a declaration of war aims and their application to India. As a reaction to the unsatisfactory response from the British, the party decided not to support Britain in the war unless the country were granted complete and immediate independence. The British refused, offering compromises that were rejected. When Japan entered the war, Gandhi still refused to agree to Indian participation. He was interned in 1942 but was released two years later because of failing health.

 

Times of India/Kamat’s Potpourri
Men Carrying Gandhi, Noakhali
Men Carrying Gandhi, Noakhali

 

By 1944 the Indian struggle for independence was in its final stages, the British government having agreed to independence on condition that the two contending nationalist groups, the Muslim League and the Congress party, should resolve their differences. Gandhi stood steadfastly against the partition of India but ultimately had to agree, in the hope that internal peace would be achieved after the Muslim demand for separation had been satisfied. India and Pakistan became separate states when the British granted India its independence in 1947 (see: Tryst with Destiny — the story of India’s independence). During the riots that followed the partition of India, Gandhi pleaded with Hindus and Muslims to live together peacefully. Riots engulfed Calcutta, one of the largest cities in India, and the Mahatma fasted until disturbances ceased. On January 13, 1948, he undertook another successful fast in New Delhi to bring about peace, but on January 30, 12 days after the termination of that fast, as he was on his way to his evening prayer meeting, he was assassinated by a fanatic Hindu.

Gandhi’s death was regarded as an international catastrophe. His place in humanity was measured not in terms of the 20th century, but in terms of history. A period of mourning was set aside in the United Nations General Assembly, and condolences to India were expressed by all countries. Religious violence soon waned in India and Pakistan, and the teachings of Gandhi came to inspire nonviolent movements elsewhere, notably in the U.S.A. under the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and in South Africa under Nelson Mandela.

 

Churchill and Gandhi

© Corbis
Simplicity personified : Gandhi from Corbis Archives
The “Half Naked Fakir”

“It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor.”

– Winston Churchill, 1930

For Gandhi, simplicity was the way of life. When the British invited Gandhi for peace talks, Gandhi saw no particular reason to change his attire, which was same as millions of his fellow countrymen. Gandhi met with Lord Irvin with the advantage of having won a moral victory. “I have caused a great deal for trouble for your government. But as men, we can set aside our differences for welfare of the nation” he said to the immaculately dressed viceroy, on occasion of which Churchill is said to have made his infamous comments.Churchill, who considered himself a true democrat constantly opposed granting freedom to India. In more ways than one, Gandhi was a much  greater democrat, especially in believing in self-determination of people and the universal equality of mankind. Churchill was to be irritated further. The following year, Gandhi met face to face with Churchill during the Indian round table conference — “…I have an alternative that is unpleasant to you”  he told Churchill and his clan of imperialists. ” India demands complete liberty and freedom…the same liberty that Englishmen enjoy… and I want  India to become a partner in the Empire. I want to partner with the English people … not merely for mutual benefit, but so that the great weight that is crushing the world to atoms may be lifted from its shoulders”.

Winston Churchill loathed Gandhi. Gandhi  loathed none.

Gandhi and Wife Kasturba

Young Gandhi with Wife KasturbaYoung Gandhi with Wife Kasturba
Man and Wife : Mohandas and Kasturba

Picture taken in 1915 upon Gandhi’s return to India

“We were both thirteen. … the wedding meant no more than wearing new clothes, eating sweets  and playing with relatives”
— Gandhi recalling the day of his wedding.