(Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Porbandar, 1869 – Delhi, 1948) Thinker and leader of Indian nationalism. He was the most important figure in the political and social scene of India during the first half of the 20th century and one of the most influential personalities in contemporary history.
Gandhi spent his childhood in an orderly and collected family environment that left an indelible mark on him. His father was a high-ranking state official and his mother retained a passionate and operative religious faith that went back to the ancient and sacred Brahmanic and Hindu traditions. Having followed a regular course of study in his homeland, and when he was in his early twenties, he maintained for three years a first direct contact with Western culture, living in London, where he hoped to perfect his studies in law.
He then returned to India, but he did not stay there for long. The ideals that guided his whole life, and which are identified with an ardent love for India (whose ancient civilization and some glorious epochs of its triennial history appeared to him as firm basis for the desired national union) and with an innate need to carry the difficult mission with a spirit of love and charity towards the whole of humanity, began to be revealed publicly with the generous impulse with which Gandhi (having moved in 1893 to South Africa) was dedicated to realizing the work of redemption and of moral and social elevation of many thousands of Indians residing there.
Numerous and varied were his humanitarian initiatives; instituted agricultural colonies and hospitals, and, above all, he tried to eliminate the castes and religions that divided his people. In its relations and in its inevitable clashes with the governmental authorities of South Africa it inaugurated a method of struggle, or better of resistance, that maintained the respect for the human person and avoided the armed revolt: already in South Africa, in 1906, it put in practice the “Satyagraha” (“obstinacy for truth”), known in the West as “passive resistance.”
He returned in late 1914 to India, where he led a secluded life until 1918, the end of the First World War. From this year Gandhi was practically the head of the nationalist movement. Its flag, initially a simple autonomy that was based on economic autonomy, which was to be achieved through “non-cooperation” and then with civil disobedience, would eventually become the symbol of national independence (“svaraj” ).
Gandhi on the march of salt (1930)
1920 marks an important date in the life of Gandhi, because it was precisely this year, on the occasion of the extraordinary session of the Indian National Congress in Calcutta and the ordinary one held shortly afterwards in Nagpur, when Gandhi achieved great personal success: the first session was approved, and in the second ratified, the implementation of a gradual passive resistance, desired and ardently advocated by Gandhi as a method of fighting against colonial oppression. He then became the first figure, not only in the Congress but in all of India. This year, the title of “Mahatma” goes back to the same people who gave it a spontaneous impulse of enthusiasm and devotion; Gandhi would pass to posterity with this appellation, which literally means “the magnanimous”
The successive periods of Gandhi’s life show an uninterrupted series of episodes during which he continued his political activity, with more or less long pauses spent in hard prisons. From 1930 it is a vigorous direct call to the people, written entirely by Gandhi and sanctioned by the Congress, in which it feels to vibrate all the passion and all the love of Gandhi by its mother earth and its yearning to free it from the foreign domination. Of that same year is his courageous performance against the laws of a monopoly of the salt and its memorable march of three weeks, bold and symbolic at the same time, realized amid the uncontrollable enthusiasm of the crowds along the route that separates the city of Ahmedabad of the small seaside town of Dandi.
At the end of 1931 participated in London in the second conference of the Round Table for the establishment in the country of a constitutional government, but the conference marked a failure for the Indian cause. Returning to his homeland, Gandhi lived for some years away from official politics, but devoted to his passionate attention to social problems, especially to the marginalized caste of the “untouchables.” He reappeared on the political scene in 1940, during World War II, and with indomitable perseverance continued to fight (always helpless) for those ideas whose faith never turned away, and maintained an unshakable hope until the day of his assassination.
Chief and master of his people, Gandhi guided him to the achievement of the goal he had dreamed ardently; a year before his death, India’s independence came true, but not his desire to merge Hindus and Muslims into unified coexistence. And this was indeed a thorn, to which were added the bitter disappointments and pains for the violence and the ravages that accompanied the birth of the Indian Union and Pakistan.
Gandhi did not spend his existence in the traditional solitary hermitage, but was driven by the love of his motherland and his brothers to live (except for some brief parentheses) in the midst of the world, and to practice and maintain their ascetical virtues between the little edifying contact with the rulers and political methods of the twentieth century. The sentiment of kindness and affectionate sweetness which is the dominant note of Visnuism is reflected even in what was its political weapon, non-violence (ahimsa).
His repeated and painful facts (he made sixteen, the last few days before his end in an attempt to achieve religious peace for all of India) were proof of a complete surrender to his cause and achieved the devotion of the masses; his passionate word excited them, their prayers and their invocations to the Rare God, recited in public, moved and snatched the audience. Gandhi acted politically in ways that were in stark contrast to the prevailing practice and considered the principle according to which the end justifies the means, a principle which an Indian political master, Kautilya, had exalted and put into practice with an unscrupulous realism many centuries before.
But the method, which could be described as evangelical, preached and put into practice by Gandhi achieved the desired triumph. The disconsolate announcement made to the people that the father (“bap”) had been murdered, the subsequent pain of the people impressed by the news of the tragic end and the consecration of their ashes, religiously submerged in many sacred rivers of the immense country, revealed to the world that India had lost its greatest saint of the modern age.
As a valuable legacy of his activity aimed at the good of his compatriots and the independence of his country in the framework of an extraordinary philanthropic and humanitarian conception has remained his work titled History of my experiences with the truth (which in its first writing dates to about twenty years before his death), as well as a large number of articles published in magazines and newspapers, numerous official speeches in India and in England, and the numerous family and paternal addresses addressed to the people and whose lively and religious memory is still maintained.