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THE LIFE OF MAHATMA GANDHI
Write Dope on Pnuk part 29
Mahatma Gandhi is a guy that, I guess, most of us only know from the Ben Kingsley portrayal. This book written by an American journalist who met him a couple of times fills in much of his background.
Grandson, nephew and son from a string of prime ministers in a minor state, travelled to London to study to be a lawyer in 1888. In 1893 he landed in South Africa and here he eventually won his first victory for the Indians. He hadn’t tried to get equality, rather to just have his fellow Indians treated fairly. He also served South Africa well as a medical officer during the Boer War and the Zulu revolt of 1906. It was also during this time that the Russian aristocratic Christian/anarchist Tolstoy came to influence and inspire him.
Back in India during World War One Gandhi actively encouraged his fellow countrymen to join up to fight, this was in part to try and prove to the Imperial regime that Indians were worthy of equality. Another part was that if you hadn’t opposed the Empire in peacetime, you had little justification to do so in time of war. Gandhi was often a man of contradictions. One of his first campaigns in India was to raise the status of the Untouchables, something he strove for all his life in the face of much opposition from Hindu fundamentalists. In 1917 he also became involved in protest against the harsh treatment of the indigo sharecroppers in the Champaran region. For Gandhi, the result he wanted here was not so much recompense for the peasants as recognition that they had to be treated fairly. The principle outweighing the prize.
From here he became involved in a textile workers dispute, leading indirectly to his belief that India should be independent in its own cotton manufacture and that foreign products should be boycotted. This in turn lead to his village-centric view for the future. Power down to the people, not centralised to an elite. In the early ’twenties it was salt and the tax thereon which became his focus, another instrument of the British rule. All this was moving him towards the need for India to have greater autonomy, either as a Dominion within the Empire (like Canada or Australia) or, when this wasn’t forthcoming, independence within the Commonwealth. He wasn’t the only one agitating for political freedom, but he had a belief that this could be achieved peacefully.
Unfortunately along the way he earns the wrath of fundamentalist Hindus and of certain Moslem factions. Jinnah comes across particularly badly in this biography.
By the end of the book you feel that Gandhi, while playing an important part, was not the only force to remove the British. Gandhi, though, wanted to do it with dignity, and would have been happier to fail peacefully than to win through violence. Perhaps his real legacy was as proof to those colonies in the Third World that the Western powers were not unassailable, that independence could be earned. Something sections of the West have not yet come to terms with.
The book has some flaws, the index being particularly shoddy, but certainly made me want to know some more about a few of the other people mentioned.
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