Return to India after apprenticeship in South Africa
Following his apprenticeship during 21 years, though not spent continuously, in South Africa where he self-trained in legal practice, public speech making, journalism, writing generally, spirituality, ahimsa and satyagraha, fasting for the public and negotiation with authorities, besides courting imprisonment for public cause, Gandhi returned home in 1915. After one year devoted to learning more about the complex Indian society and the vast country of which he visited various distant places, he got involved in public and social work equipped with the practical experience and theoretical knowledge he had acquired in London and South Africa where he had studied Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. His daily companion remained till the end the ancient, but perrenial, holy Gita.
Forefront in India’s National Politics
Upon the death in Bombay on 1 August 1920 of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a giant amongst the freedom fighters and the most prominent one of the time in India, Gandhi came to occupy the forefront of the Indian nationalist movement. There was opposition from some members of the old guard of the Indian National Congress (INC) on some issues of its programme at the special session of 4 September 1920. However, at its annual session in Nagpur in December 1920, the INC formally concurred with Gandhi’s patriotic independence-oriented activities. With his simplicity and piousness, coupled with his astute political flair, he became the country’s first nationally acclaimed leader.
As from September 1921, to drive home to the public the importance of homespun cotton and simplicity, Gandhi, the great intellectual who was always dandy during his student days in London, where he even studied ball room dancing during his spare time, abandoned his dhoti and kurta and even cap, which he was wearing in South Africa where also he had been at first always well-clad. He henceforth wore just a loincloth reaching his knees, besides his head being shaved and bare.
The Prince of Wales’ visit in November 1921 was boycotted during the Non-Cooperation Movement 1920-1922 that Gandhi had launched. But he interrupted it, despite protests from such leaders as Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose, in the wake of the Chauri Chaura incident that took place on 5 February 1922 when 21 constables and a sub-inspector were burnt alive inside the police station. From this time, there was a break until the next such campaign called Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). An artist in politics, Gandhi stopped one phase of his campaign only to prepare the country more actively against the imperialists. Not satisfied with the first campaign, he undertook a five-day fast for penance.
For his articles considered seditious published in his organ Young India on 19 September and 15 December 1921 as well as 23 February 1922, Gandhi was imprisoned for six years, following what was known as the Great Trial, in Ahmedabad. Before pronouncing the judgement, Justice Broomfield had pointed out: “The law is no respecter of persons. Nevertheless, it will be impossible to ignore that you are in a different category from any person I have ever tried or am likely to have to try. It would be impossible to ignore the fact that, in the eyes of millions of your countrymen, you are a great patriot and a great leader. Even those who differ from you in politics look upon you as a man of high ideals and of noble and even saintly life.” (Louis Fischer, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi).
Gandhi became INC president in 1924, as elected at its annual session at Belgaun. But this election was “something in the nature of an anticlimax, for he had long been the permanent super-president.” (Jawaharlal Nehru, An Autobiography, 1936) .The INC was restructured, becoming broad- and mass-based.
Salt March 1930
On 12 March 1930, Gandhi initiated the CDM, the first step towards purna swaraj (complete Independence), the INC’s now avowed goal. With a staff in hand, Gandhi led as from 6.30 a.m. a 241-mile march of 78 voluntary participants. The procession from his Satyagraha Ashramai, in Ahmedabad, to Dandi lasted 24 days (12 March-5 April 1930). The volunteers, trained for the march and to cope with the crowds, carried neither arms nor sticks. Called the Dandi March and meant to protest against the imposition of the salt tax, thus also referred to as Salt March, it was an act of public defiance in the engagement for India’s Independence. It sparked off the Indian freedom movement, igniting the notion of mass civil disobedience across the country. Representative of the population in geographical, social and religious terms, the satyagrahis were followed by a huge crowd.
The 61-year old Gandhi walked more than ten miles every day. His daily routine consisted of waking up at 4 a.m., writing by the moonlight and talking to the participants after the 6 a.m prayers. He addressed public meetings, encouraging the boycott of foreign cloth, the adoption of the khadi and abstention from taking alcohol. The daily march started at 5.30 a.m., and Gandhi did not retire before 9 p.m. For him, the whole movement was a pilgrimage. He enforced such discipline amongst the marchers too. Besides the morning prayers, they daily devoted some time to spinning and entering notes in the diary. At the first stop at Aslali, 13 miles from Ahmedabad, Gandhi told the crowd that he would not return to his Satyagraha Ashrama until the salt law was annulled and Independence obtained. Together with his followers, he reached Dandi on 5 April 1930.
After the next morning prayers, they all bathed in the sea. At 8.30 a.m., as scheduled, Gandhi transgressed the specific law. He scooped up some saline water. After this ceremonial gesture, he exhorted his followers to make their own salt, defying the British authorities. Vividly illustrating peaceful resistance against oppression, the Salt Satyagraha was the best example of all Gandhi’s such campaigns. It was a vital political milestone, auguring the end of British imperialism in India. General patriotic turmoil across the country followed the March. Countless Indians responded to Gandhi’s call, peacefully provoking the authorities. Illicit manufacture of salt was embarked upon massively, and salt depots raided. Police reacted violently. About 100,000 people were imprisoned. Textile and railway workers went on strike. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first to be arrested on 14 April 1930, was jailed for six months for breaking the law. On 30 June 1930, his father Motilal was arrested and also purged six months’ imprisonment.
At its meeting of June 1930, the INC Working Committee made such recommendations as continued civil disobedience and violation of the salt law, total boycott of foreign cloth, British banks, insurance companies, shipping and other businesses, picketing of liquor shops and start of a campaign to pay no tax. The projected boycott was put into practice. The picketers were jailed, but others continued with similar demonstrations. Dressed in orange khadi saris, women picketed the shops selling foreign goods. They included Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba, and Swarup Rani, Motilal Nehru’s wife. On 30 June, the Working Committee was declared illegal. Its president, Motilal Nehru, was put in the Naini Prison where his son Jawaharlal already found himself. Within one month, 67 newspapers and some 55 printing presses were closed down. The Navajivan Press was likewise seized. Gandhi’s Young India and Navajivan started coming out in cyclostyle.
The second CDM was launched in 1932 in the wake of the introduction by the British authorities of 13 ordinances considered detrimental to Indians. Gandhi now covered the entire, vast India not only by railway and motor car but also on foot. “In this way, he gathered his unique knowledge of
India and her people, and in this way also scores of millions saw him and came into personal touch with him, ” Jawaharlal Nehru wrote before 1936 when he added: ”I do not think any other human being has ever travelled about India as much as he has done.” P. 202, Jawaharlal Nehru’s  An Autobiography, 1936, republished in 2004).
Round Table Conferences in London and After
Of the three Round Table Conferences 1930-1932, Gandhi, as also decided by the INC, attended only the second one which was held from 7 September to 1 December 1931. During his then 84-day stay in the UK, he “concentrated more on convincing the British people than on debating with the British government at the Conference,” being rather involved in “lectures, speeches, forums, press interviews, trips, innumerable individual appointments and answering a mountain of mail – all with a view to conquering Britain’s heart.” (Louis Fischer, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi, Harper-Collins Publishers, London, 1997). The Conference, of which he attended, though with boredom, all the meetings at plenary and committee levels, resulted in a failure.
Achieving Independence 1947
In a final bid for Independence, Gandhi embarked upon the Quit India Movement after the resolution adopted by the INC at its session in Bombay on 8 August 1942. The entire nation rose up in a mass upheaval on the very next day. Most of the INC prominent leaders were jailed. Gandhi first opposed Partition. But then he gave way. He was assassinated in 1948 after India had won Independence, with one-third of its territory carved out to become the islamic Pakistan, today a reality.