Gandhi features in Real Men of Genius as the man who brought about India’s dream of self-government. He shines as a beacon to resistance movements throughout the world exemplifying the success of non-violence against terrorism which merely serves to exacerbate violence and hatred.
Mahatma, you were born on 2 October 1869 in Porbandar in India and married at 13?
Yes, I was named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
You read law in London and qualified as a barrister before returning to India?
That is correct. I went back to India in 1891 but two years later took a job in Durban.
What took you to South Africa?
The treatment of immigrant Indians in South Africa was absolutely dreadful. I was initially employed by them as a lawyer. Of course, I suffered the same discrimination while I was there.
I was thrown off a train because I refused a request to move from first-class. There were other incidents which included being refused accommodation at hotels, and even a magistrate required me to remove my turban which I absolutely refused to do.
You organised campaigns of civil disobedience. Could you explain a little about Satyagraha please?
It means devotion to truth and amounts to non-violent protest. To give you an example, in 1906 the Transvaal government legislated to compel Indians to register. We organised a mass protest meeting and I urged my fellow Indians to defy the law and suffer the punishment.
For seven years the struggle ensued and I and many of my companions suffered imprisonment or flogging for their refusal to cooperate or for burning their registration cards.
There was a massive public outcry against our treatment and I was able to negotiate a compromise with Smuts, the South African leader.
Satyagraha arms us with moral power rather than physical power. It seeks cooperation through truth and justice.
You returned to India for good in 1915?
I then joined the Indian National Congress. I became leader in 1920 and we declared Indian independence in 1930. The British refused to recognise it. There were eventually further negotiations and we participated in provincial government.
But before that you had, among other things, instituted a policy of boycotting foreign goods. I understand this was aimed particularly against British goods?
I advocated that khadi, or homespun cloth, be worn by all Indians instead of British made clothes. I implored our people, whether rich or poor, to spend some time each day spinning khadi in support of the movement for independence.
And isn’t it right that you also invented a small spinning wheel?
It was a portable device that could be folded up. In addition to boycotting the British products, it was also to include women for whom such matters were felt not to be respectable.
I also advised that British titles and honours should not be accepted and that we should boycott British schools and courts of law.
Would you say this was a successful campaign?
It was very successful over a wide area and from all sections of society. But as it was reaching its zenith, there was a violent clash in Utter Pradesh in 1922. I feared that this would provoke a backlash which might undo my work, so the mass civil disobedience protest was abandoned.
You were tried for sedition shortly afterwards?
Yes, and sentenced to 6 years but I was released after 2 years for an appendicitis operation.
It was in 1928 that Congress called on the British government to grand India dominion status and move towards complete independence, wasn’t it?
Yes; the alternative was that another campaign of non-cooperation.
There was no response so on 31 December 1929 we flew the Indian flag in Lahore. We celebrated national independence day on 26 January 1930.
That was followed by the salt march?
A new tax was imposed on salt in March 1930. From 12 March to 6 April I marched 241 miles to the sea to make salt myself and I was joined by thousands of others. It was a highly successful campaign but the British sent over 60,000 people to prison because of it.
After that, the British government negotiated with you.
Yes. I was invited to London but the negotiations disappointed me. Later there was a harder line taken against nationalism. Tensions grew. I demanded immediate independence in 1942 and the response was to send me to jail along with many other congress leaders.
In the meantime, Muslims worked for a separate Muslim state of Pakistan and, despite my opposition and on terms of which I disapproved, the British partitioned the land with India and Pakistan each being granted independence.
Your vision had been one of unity for Hindu and Muslim?
Yes, we had wanted the British to leave India but the
Muslim league wanted them to divide the country and leave.
My suggestion was that we obtained independence under a provisional government between Hindus and Muslims and we could afterwards decide the question of partition by plebiscite. I struggled to unite Hindus and Muslims.
After the Independence Act was brought into force in 1947 millions moved from one side to another and hundreds of thousands were killed in riots between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. I visited as many areas as possible to try to stop the bloodshed.
It was after you were imprisoned that your secretary died suddenly and, after 18 months in prison, your wife Kasturba also died?
That is sadly true. I also was released after two years when I suffered an attack of malaria and also required surgery. It wouldn’t have been good for the Raj if I had died in prison.
You were an advocate of non-violence?
There were many causes I was prepared to die for but none for which I was prepared to kill. I did come to realise, however, that at a particular level non-violence required great faith and courage which not everyone has.
Despite a life urging peace, your death came violently?
I was walking to address a prayer meeting when I was shot by Nathuram Godse, a fellow Hindu, who felt I had favoured Pakistan. He was very much against my doctrine of non-violence.
If I regret anything it is that I have been unable to prevent the ongoing unrest between Muslims and Hindus. I attempted to free the nation without recourse to violence, but still people mistakenly use violence in the belief that it will bring them what they want, but it is not so.
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