Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

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Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand

Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand (mōhänˈdəs kŭˌrəmchŭndˈ) (gänˈdē), 1869–1948, Indian political and spiritual leader, b. Porbandar.

In South Africa

Educated in India and in London, he was admitted to the English bar in 1889 and practiced law unsuccessfully in India for two years. In 1893 he went to South Africa, where he was later joined by his wife and children. There he became a successful lawyer and leader of the Indian community and involved himself in the fight to end discrimination against the country's Indian minority. In South Africa he read widely, drawing inspiration from such sources as the Bhagavad-Gita, John Ruskin, Leo Tolstoy, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, and his personal philosophy underwent significant changes. His later political thought and his philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience was mainly shaped by his experiences in South Africa, the profound disappointment with the British legal system he experienced there, and his disenchantment with British social institutions he had once idolized. It was in South Africa that he developed the strategies he would later use in the struggle for the independence of India. He abandoned (c.1905) Western ways and thereafter lived abstemiously (including celibacy); this became symbolized in his eschewal of material possessions and his dress of loincloth and shawl. While in South Africa he organized (1907) his first satyagraha [holding to the truth], a campaign of civil disobedience expressed in nonviolent resistance to what he regarded as unjust laws. Although he served three prison sentences during his time in South Africa, his nonviolent protests and other activities were so successful that he secured (1914) an agreement from the South African government that promised the alleviation of anti-Indian discrimination.

Return to India

He returned (1915) to India with a stature equal to that of the nationalist leaders Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Gandhi actively supported the British in World War I in the hope of hastening India's freedom, but he also led agrarian and labor reform demonstrations that embarrassed the British. The Amritsar massacre of 1919 stirred Indian nationalist consciousness, and Gandhi organized several satyagraha campaigns. He discontinued them when, against his wishes, violent disorder ensued.

His program rested on four tenets: a free, united India with Hindus and Muslims allied; the acceptance of the doctrine of nonviolence; in India's villages, the revival of cottage industries, especially of spinning and the production of handwoven cloth (khaddar); and the abolition of untouchability (see caste). These ideas were widely and vigorously espoused, although they also met considerable opposition from some Indians. The title Mahatma [great soul] reflected personal prestige so high that he could unify the diverse elements of the organization of the nationalist movement, the Indian National Congress, which he dominated from the early 1920s.

In 1930, in protest against the government's salt tax, he led the famous 200-mi (320-km) march to extract salt from the sea. For this he was imprisoned but was released in 1931 to attend the London Round Table Conference on India as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. When the Congress refused to embrace his program in its entirety, Gandhi withdrew (1934), but his influence was such that Jawaharlal Nehru, his protégé, was named leader of the organization.

Indian Independence

In 1942, after rejection of his offer to cooperate with Great Britain in World War II if the British would grant immediate independence to India, Gandhi called for satyagraha and launched the Quit India movement. He was then interned until 1944. Gandhi was a major figure in the postwar conferences with the viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, and Muslim League leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah that led to India's independence and the carving out of a separate Muslim state (Pakistan), although Gandhi vigorously opposed the partition.

When violence broke out between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi resorted to fasts and tours of disturbed areas to check it. On Jan. 30, 1948, while holding a prayer and pacification meeting at New Delhi, he was fatally shot by a Hindu fanatic who was angered by Gandhi's solicitude for the Muslims. After his death his methods of nonviolent civil disobedience were adopted by protagonists of civil rights in the United States and by many protest movements throughout the world.


See his collected works (50 vol., 1958–72); selected writings, ed. by R. Duncan (1972); R. N. Iyer, ed., The Moral and Political Writings of Mahatma Gandhi (3 vol., 1986–87) and The Essential Writings of Mahatma Gandhi (1991); his autobiography (tr. 1927, repr. 1966); biographies by D. G. Tendulkar (8 vol., 1951–54), B. R. Nanda (1958, repr. 1989), L. Fisher (1959), G. Ashe (1969), S. Wolpert (2001), J. Lelyveld (2011), and R. Guha (2 vol., 2014–18); studies by J. V. Bondurant (rev. ed. 1965), E. Erikson (1969), J. M. Brown (1972), and A. von Tunzelmann (2007); F. Devji, The Impossible Indian (2012); A. Desai and G. Vahed, The South African Gandhi (2015); J. Brown and A. Parel, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Gandhi (2011).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand


Born Oct. 2, 1869, in Porbandar; died Jan. 30, 1948, in New Delhi. One of the leaders of the Indian national liberation movement; founder of the doctrine of Gandhism.

Gandhi was born in the Gujarati principality of Porbandar. His father was prime minister of a number of principalities on the Kathiawar peninsula. Gandhi grew up in a family where the customs of the Hindu religion were strictly observed; this had a great influence on the development of his outlook. After completing his juridical education in England in 1891, he practiced law in Bombay until 1893. From 1893 to 1914 he served as a legal advisor to a Gujarati trading firm in South Africa. Here Gandhi led a struggle against racial discrimination and the oppression of Indians, organizing peaceful demonstrations and petitions addressed to the government. As a result, South African Indians were successful in getting some discriminatory laws revoked. In South Africa, Gandhi developed the tactic of so-called nonviolent resistance, which he called Satyagraha. During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) and the Anglo-Zulu War (1906) he organized an Indian ambulance corps to aid the British, although he personally believed that the Boers and the Zulus were waging a just struggle; he regarded his actions as proof of the Indians’ loyalty to the British Empire, and felt that they ought to convince the British to grant India home rule. During this period Gandhi became acquainted with the works of L. N. Tolstoy, who had a great influence on him and whom he regarded as his teacher and spiritual mentor.

Upoń his return to his native land in January 1915, Gandhi became associated with the Indian National Congress Party and soon became one of the top figures in the Indian national liberation movement and the ideological leader of the Congress Party. After World War I a mass anti-imperialist movement arose in India, as a result of the sharp aggravation of the conflicts between the Indian people and the colonizers and because of the influence of the Great October Socialist Revolution. Gandhi realized that without mass support it would be impossible to obtain independence, self-government, or any other victories. He and his followers traveled throughout India addressing mass meetings and calling for a struggle against British rule. Gandhi limited this struggle to nonviolent means, rejecting any use of force by the revolutionary people. He also rejected class struggle and advocated the resolution of social conflicts by means of arbitration based on the principle of guardianship. Gandhi’s position corresponded to the interests of the Indian bourgeoisie, and the Indian National Congress Party supported it fully. Between 1919 and 1947 the National Congress, under the leadership of Gandhi, was transformed into a mass national anti-imperialist organization supported by the people. The drawing of the masses into the national liberation movement was Gandhi’s principal achievement and the source of his enormous popularity. The people gave him the title “Mahatma” (“great soul”).

Gandhi idealized patriarchal relations and preached the uniqueness of India’s historical development. He advocated the revival of the peasant community, village handicrafts, and cottage industry, through the widespread introduction of hand spinning and weaving, which he saw not only as a means of liquidating unemployment and improving the situation of the workers but also as a way of freeing the Indian economy from foreign domination. He fought against all manifestations of the British policy of “divide and conquer,” the inflammation of Hindu-Muslim differences, and the preservation of the caste of “untouchables.” During the rise of the national liberation movement in India (1919-22), Gandhi led a campaign of nonviolent noncooperation with the British authorities. However, in February 1922 the leadership of the National Congress, at his request, put a stop to this campaign as a consequence of the violence on the part of the residents of the village of Chauri Chaura against the British police, who had used arms against the participants in a demonstration. After this, the mass movement in India subsided.

From 1923 to 1928, Gandhi concentrated his political activity on campaigning for the revival of handspinning and weaving and the liquidation of the institution of untouchability. During a new rise of the anti-imperialist movement (1929-33) he led a campaign of civil disobedience directed against the government salt monopoly (the Salt March). In 1931 he compromised and concluded an agreement with Viceroy Irwin for the National Congress to halt this campaign; Gandhi agreed to represent the Congress at a round-table conference and the viceroy pledged to free the arrested members of the Congress and grant some concessions to the Indian bourgeoisie. In September 1934, Gandhi announced his withdrawal from the National Congress, but in fact he remained its leader until the end of his life.

Gandhi was frequently arrested and imprisoned (for example, in 1922-24, 1930-31, and 1942-44). Both in prison and out, he often went on hunger strikes aimed at achieving unity between Hindus and Muslims and to protest the institution of untouchability. Gandhi’s fasts produced great agitation among his followers and sometimes forced concessions from the government.

In 1942, during World War II, when the British government blocked the formation of an Indian national government, and in an atmosphere of rising anti-imperialist sentiment, Gandhi raised the demand “Quit India!” to the English colonizers, with the justification that only an independent India could resist the Japanese aggressors. During the rise of the mass anticolonial movement of 1946-47, which led to India winning its independence in 1947, Gandhi condemned the revolutionary eruption of the masses (including the Indian sailors’ uprising in February 1946). At this time he also spoke out against the bloody fratricidal conflicts between Hindus and Muslims that arose in connection with the preparation for and actual division of India into the two states of India and Pakistan. Gandhi called for the unity of Hindus and Muslims. On Jan. 30, 1948, he was assassinated by a member of a Hindu chauvinist organization.

The Indian people deeply revere the memory of Gandhi, a committed fighter for the cause of national independence. In Soviet historical literature until the mid-1950’s, there was an incorrect, one-sided evaluation of Gandhi’s role in the sociopolitical life of India and in the anti-imperialist struggle of the Indian people.


Collected Works, vols. 1-10. New Delhi, 1958-63.
Young India, 1919-1922. Madras, 1922.
Young India, 1924-1926 [vol. 2]. New York, 1927.
Basic Education. Ahmedabad [1956].
In Russian translation:
Moia zhizn’. Moscow, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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