Stafford Cripps, a British Labour politician had remarked: “Gandhi was no simple mystic; combined with his religious outlook was his lawyer-trained mind, quick and apt in reasoning. He was a formidable opponent in argument.”
For today’s generation, Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha and Civil Disobedience movement can be described as “Passive-Aggressive” fight for rights.
Gandhi-bashers love to attribute his socio-political freedom movements as failure, claiming it was Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s aggressive fight that scared the British. But let us not forget that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a lawyer with the British Government in South Africa and India before he denounced his profession and actively became a social activist cum political figure.
Mahatma Gandhi, the world’s beloved “Mahatma”, worked as a lawyer for 25 years before transforming himself into a passive reformer in India. Interestingly, he became a civil disobedient while being a lawyer. The experience that he acquired during his stint as a lawyer gave him an edge in fighting his battles with the South African and British governments for securing political, economic and social justice for India.
Mahatma Gandhi’s reasoning was supported by facts, which he considered an important part of “satya” (truth). And this he used to win over arguments and sway the masses with his ideologies. Defending the Indians in British-ruled South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi reasoned, “We are fellow members of the Empire. You should not be discriminating against us. We are not like these black people… We are different from them. And you should not treat us like them.”
It is unthinkable that the Mahatma could say such a thing, the one who advocated equality. But he did; because he had a nationalist affinity, and played mind games with the rulers for better treatment of Indians.
When Gandhi returned to India, he deployed a very subtle mind game: to play the victim card at the hands of the British. He was meek, non-aggressive, and imploring in his speeches, yet it was full of cunning rhetoric that made thousands of Indians support and join his call for freedom.
By 1920, his concept of Satyagraha made Mahatma Gandhi an enormously influential figure. History was witnessing a strange trend in politics: active participation in a passive march. The ruthless ways used by the Raj to suppress the movement were not working; the British were confused by the oxymoronic situation; how do they confront people, who just wouldn’t cooperate, but show no resistance when arrested and beaten!
Mahatma Gandhi started his movement for khadi as a relief programme for the poor masses living in India’s villages. As the freedom struggle gained momentum, weaving of khadi gained a nationalistic symbolism. It was a way of telling the British that Indians would not depend on the Imperial rules to provide for the basic needs.
The Civil Disobedience movement led by Mahatma Gandhi seems a very pacifying mode of protest, especially against an empire that had taken over almost the entire world. But long before Gandhi started his Civil Disobedience in India, he was famous for his Satyagraha movement in South Africa. His fanhood was huge, he was a strong figure to reckon, and of course the millions around world knew about him.
Mahatma Gandhi used all the tactics to emotionally beat the British: Satyagraha, dharna, gherao, fasts, and bandhs. When Gandhi was charged of sedition, he eloquently stated that Indians, robbed of their rights and dignity, could only resort to non-cooperation methods. His countrymen could demand for Swaraj only with non-violence means, because the British rule had crippled the Indian economy, and pushed them into the darkest phase of poverty. Indians were so poor that that they couldn’t afford guns to take on the strong well-heeled brutal administration. He attributed the empire of subduing the natives with “terrorism” and “organised display of force”.
Gnadhi dared to hold up the mirror to the British. He exactly told the authorities, how they were deceitful, and lived in their “delusional world”. He continued to resort to hunger strikes as a method of resistance, knowing the British government would not be able to withstand the pressure of the public’s concern for their beloved “Bapu”.
It played upon the psyche of the world. A frail nationalist leader threatening to take his life by refusing food was jeopardising the image of the empire, which pretended to believe that it was doing its every colony a service by “ruling” over them. Gandhi subtly turned the tables on the British; the Imperial rules were bent to accommodate his demands.