Friday, September 11, 2009


Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand (1869-1948), Indian thinker, statesman, and nationalist leader who led India out of the British Empire. Gandhi, also known as Mahatma Gandhi, was born in Porbandar, in the modern state of Gujarat, on October 2, 1869, into a political Hindu family, both his father and grandfather having been prime ministers to the rulers of two adjacent and tiny princely states. After a mediocre career at school, he went to London in 1888 to train as a lawyer, leaving behind his young and illiterate wife, whom he had married when she was barely in her teens. Gandhi qualified as a barrister three years later and returned to India.

After an undistinguished performance in a legal practice in India, Gandhi left for South Africa in 1893 to serve as legal adviser to an Indian firm. The 21 years that he spent there marked a turning point in his life. The racial indignities to which he and his countrymen were subjected there turned the hitherto shy and diffident lawyer into a courageous political activist. Realizing that violence was evil and rational persuasion often unavailing, he developed a new method of non-violent resistance, which he called satyagraha and which he used with some success to secure racial justice for his people. Gandhi also reflected deeply on his own religion, interacted with Jewish and Christian friends, and evolved a distinct view of life based on what he found valuable in his own and other religions. He commanded a Red Cross unit in the South African Wars, and organized a commune near Durban based on the ideas of Leo Tolstoy.
Gandhi finally returned to India in 1915, after the government of the Union of South Africa had made important concessions to his demands, including recognition of Indian marriages and abolition of the poll tax for them. After travelling all over India to familiarize himself with the country of which he had only a limited understanding, he plunged into politics, and soon became the unquestioned leader of the Indian nationalist movement. Almost single-handedly he transformed the middle- and upper-class Indian National Congress into a powerful national organization, bringing in large sections of such hitherto excluded groups as women, traders, merchants, the upper and middle peasantry, and youth, and giving it a truly national basis. Following the Amritsar Massacre in 1919, Gandhi led a nationwide campaign of passive non-cooperation with the government of British India, including the boycott of British goods. He was first imprisoned by the British in 1922 for two years.
Convinced that independence had no meaning without a radical moral and social transformation, Gandhi launched a comprehensive programme of national regeneration. This involved fighting prejudices against manual labour, overcoming the urban-rural divide, developing love of indigenous languages, and eradicating the caste-based discriminatory practice of Untouchability. Gandhi also fostered among his countrymen national self-respect and confidence in their ability to overthrow British rule. He gave Hinduism an activist and social orientation, generously borrowed from other religious and cultural traditions, and became an inspiring example of a genuine inter-faith and inter-civilizational dialogue. He perfected the method of satyagraha that he had discovered in South Africa, added new forms of action to its repertoire, and developed what he called the “new science of non-violence” involving moral conversion of the opponent by a delicate “surgery of the soul”. His actions inspired the great poet Rabindranath Tagore to call him Mahatma (Sanskrit, “great soul”).
While fighting simultaneously on the social, economic, religious, and political fronts, Gandhi carried on an even fiercer battle at the personal level. Determined to become as perfect as any human being could be, he set about mastering all his senses and desires. From 1901 onward he embarked on daring experiments in sexual self-control. Rejecting the “cowardly” celibacy of traditional religions, he lived among and later slept naked with some of his women associates, both to probe the outermost limits of sexuality and to show that it was possible to attain “absolute” and child-like innocence. His moral courage, candour, and experimental vitality have few if any parallels in history.
Gandhi’s moral and political thought was based on a relatively simple metaphysic. For him the universe was regulated by a Supreme Intelligence or Principle, which he preferred to call satya (Truth) and, as a concession to convention, God. It was embodied in all living things, above all in human beings, in the form of self-conscious soul or spirit. Since all human beings partook of the divine essence, they were “ultimately one”. They were not merely equal but “identical”. As such, love was the only proper form of relation between them; it was “the law of our being”, of “our species”. Positively, love implied care and concern for others and total dedication to the cause of “wiping away every tear from every eye”. Negatively, it implied ahimsa, or “non-violence”. Gandhi’s entire social and political thought, including his theory of satyagraha, was an attempt to work out the implications of the principle of love in all areas of life.
For Gandhi, the state “represented violence in a concentrated form”. It spoke in the language of compulsion and uniformity, sapped its subjects’ spirit of initiative and self-help, and “unmanned” them. Since human beings were not fully developed and capable of acting in a socially responsible manner, the state was necessary. However, if it was not to hinder their growth, it had to be so organized that it used as little coercion as possible and left as large an area of human life as possible to voluntary efforts.
As Gandhi imagined it, a truly non-violent society was federally constituted and composed of small, self-governing, and relatively self-sufficient village communities relying largely on moral and social pressure. The police were basically social workers, enjoying the confidence and support of the local community and relying on moral persuasion and public opinion to enforce the law. Crime was treated as a disease, requiring not punishment but understanding and help. The standing army was not necessary either, for a determined people could be relied upon to mount non-violent resistance against an invader.
Since the majority rule violated the moral integrity of the minority and “savoured of violence”, and since unanimity was often impossible, all decisions in a non-violent society were based on consensus, arrived at by rational discussion in which each strove to look at the subject in question from the standpoint of others. For Gandhi, rational discussion was not just an exchange of arguments but a process of deepening and expanding the consciousness of the participants. When it was conducted in a proper spirit, those involved reconstituted each other’s being and were reborn as a result of the encounter. In extreme cases, when no consensus was possible, the majority decided the matter, not because it was more likely to be right but for administrative and pragmatic reasons. If a citizen felt morally troubled by a majority decision, that person was entitled to claim exemption from and even to disobey it. Civil disobedience was a “moral” right. To surrender it was to forfeit one’s “self-respect” and integrity.
A non-violent society was committed to sarvodaya, the growth or uplift of all its citizens. Private property denied the “identity” or “oneness” of all men, and was immoral. In Gandhi’s view it was a “sin against humanity” to possess superfluous wealth when others could not even meet their basic needs. Since the institution of private property already existed, and men were attached to it, he suggested that the rich should take only what they needed and hold the rest in trust for the community. Increasingly he came to appreciate that the idea of trusteeship was too important to be left to the precarious goodwill of the rich, and suggested that it could be enforced by organized social pressure and even by law. Gandhi advocated heavy taxes, limited rights of inheritance, state ownership of land and heavy industry, and nationalization without compensation as a way of creating a just and equal society.
In 1930 he proclaimed a new campaign of civil disobedience, calling upon the Indian population to refuse to pay taxes, particularly the tax on salt. The campaign involved a march to the sea, in which thousands of Indians followed Gandhi from Ahmadabad to the Arabian Sea, where they made salt by evaporating sea water. This highly symbolic and defiant gesture proved very effective. Once more the Indian leader was arrested, but he was released in 1931, halting the campaign after the British made concessions to his demands. In the same year Gandhi represented the Indian National Congress at a conference in London.
In 1932, Gandhi began new civil disobedience campaigns against the British. Two years later he formally resigned from politics, being replaced as leader of the Congress Party by Jawaharlal Nehru, and travelled through India, teaching and promoting social reform.
A few years later, in 1939, Gandhi again returned to active political life, attacking colonial policy over the federation of Indian principalities with the rest of India. When World War II broke out, the Congress Party and Gandhi decided not to support Britain unless India was granted complete and immediate independence. Even when Japan entered the war, Gandhi refused to agree to Indian participation. He was interned in 1942, but was released two years later because of failing health.
By 1944 the British government had agreed to independence, on condition that the Congress Party and the Muslim League resolve their differences. Despite Gandhi’s resistance to the principle of partition, India and Pakistan became separate states when the British granted India its independence in 1947. Bloody sectarian violence ensued.
Though Gandhi was born a bania, there was a powerful and endearing streak of the gambler and the outlaw in him. When Hindus and Muslims were engaged in fierce intercommunal strife in 1946 and 1947, he moved among them alone and unprotected, dared them to do their worst, and by sheer force of personality consoled the inconsolable, dissolved hatred, and restored a climate of humanity. When a bomb was dropped at one of his prayer meetings a few weeks later, he chided his frightened audience for being scared of a “mere bomb”. Through fasts, he quelled violence in Calcutta and New Delhi. When the government of independent India decided, with popular support, to renege on its promise to transfer to Pakistan its share of assets, he took on the entire country, and successfully fasted to awaken its sense of honour and moral obligation. This deeply angered a section of Hindu nationalists, one of whom, after respectfully bowing to him, shot him dead at a prayer meeting on January 30, 1948.
Gandhi’s intellectual influence on his countrymen was considerable. Some were attracted by his emphasis on political and economic decentralization; others by his insistence on individual freedom, moral integrity, the unity of means and ends, and social service; still others by his satyagraha and political activism. For some students of India, Gandhi’s influence is responsible for its failure to throw up any genuinely radical political movement. For others it cultivated a spirit of non-violence, encouraged the habits of collective self-help, and helped lay the foundations of a stable, morally committed, and democratic government. Gandhi’s ideas have also had a profound influence outside India, where they inspired non-violent activism and movements in favour of small-scale, self-sufficient communities living closer to nature and with greater sensitivity to their environment.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Nehru, Jawaharlal (1889-1964), Indian nationalist leader and statesman, who was the first prime minister (1947-1964) of independent India.
in IndNehru was born on November 14, 1889. His father was a wealthy Brahmin lawyer and politician from Kashmir who had settled in Allahabad in modern Uttar Pradesh. Nehru went to England at the age of 16 and was educated at Harrow School and the University of Cambridge. He returned to India in 1912 with a degree in natural sciences, and qualified to practise law as a barrister.
In 1919 Nehru joined the Indian National Congress, the principal nationalist organization of India, led by Mohandas K. Gandhi. Between 1921 and 1945 he was imprisoned nine times by the British administration for his activities for Indian independence. The Indian nationalist movement brought him into contact with the whole social spectrum of India, particularly peasants, and he came to the conclusion that the political struggleia must also aim at social equity and an end to mass poverty.
By the late 1920s Nehru had emerged as the leader of the younger, more militant section of the Indian National Congress; he founded, with Subhas Chandra Bose, the India Independence League within the Congress. It was at the insistence of the younger leadership that the Congress adopted complete independence, rather than dominion status within the British Empire, as its goal. To attain that object, the Civil Disobedience movement was launched in 1930 under Gandhi’s leadership, with Nehru as the President of the Congress. At his insistence, the Congress adopted a programme of “no rent” campaigns for the assertion of peasants’ rights against landlords and moneylenders. In the 1930s he adopted a socialistic ideology, which informed the new agenda of the party. In 1937 Nehru founded, again with Bose, the Congress Planning Committee, which anticipated the economic programmes of his government after independence.
At the outbreak of World War II, the British colonial government declared India to be a belligerent nation without any consultation. Despite his anxiety to help the anti-fascist alliance, Nehru agreed with the Congress policy of non-cooperation with the war effort. When the Cripps Mission seeking Indian cooperation on the promise of a post-war political settlement failed, the Congress, under the leadership of Gandhi and Nehru, decided to launch another movement of civil disobedience. Nehru was again arrested along with the entire leadership of the Congress.
Though the Congress leaders were imprisoned, negotiations were opened for transfer of power after the war, and a British Cabinet mission proposed a formula that conceded a large measure of autonomy for the Muslim-majority provinces in the east and the north-west of India, as demanded by the Muslim League and its leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. An interim government led by the Congress and the League, with Nehru at its head, was formed. Eventually the Cabinet mission’s proposal was rejected by the League because Jinnah interpreted a statement by Nehru as evidence that the Congress would renege on the agreement once the British had left. Following extensive riots between Hindus and Muslims in 1946, Nehru and the Congress accepted the partition of India, and the two separate states of India and Pakistan came into existence. India remained within the British Commonwealth of Nations, mainly at Nehru’s insistence.
In August 1947, following the final withdrawal of the British and the establishment of India as a self-governing dominion within the Commonwealth of Nations, Nehru was elected Prime Minister. The Indian Constituent Assembly gave India a federal constitution, but effectively power was concentrated at the centre and lay largely in the hands of Nehru. It was he who virtually determined the shape of India’s domestic and foreign policy.
At home, Nehru launched a policy of planned economic development with heavy emphasis on large-scale industries and multi-purpose projects. The economy was to be a mixed economy with a large share of investment in the state sector, based on protective policies of import substitution as well as restrictions on foreign investment. It was also to accommodate the Gandhian preference for small-scale handicraft industries with state subvention. Nehru secured substantial aid both from the West and the Soviet Union in his efforts at industrialization.
Abroad, Nehru initiated the policy of non-alignment and resistance to what he considered residues of Western colonialism. He visited China in the hope of developing a special relationship and enunciated his Five Principles of Coexistence. He emerged as one of the leaders of the non-aligned nations. However, the dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir leading to the outbreak of the Indo-Pakistan Wars with implicit Western support for Pakistan, as well as other events, induced policies that were often seen to be anti-Western. Nehru’s position on the world scene was rudely shaken when a dispute over the Sino-Indian border led to the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and a humiliating defeat for the Indian army. Nehru was forced to seek American assistance, and his position at home was also badly damaged. He died on May 27, 1964, in many ways a broken man. Yet his charisma survives in Indian eyes, and he is remembered as one of the world’s great statesmen of the 20th century.
Nehru was a prolific writer. His Discovery of India, written while in prison in 1944, and his autobiography are among his best-known works. His letters to his daughter Indira Gandhi, published as Glimpses of World History (1936), project a vision of cultural synthesis on a global scale, with the distinctive features of each culture fully preserved. His opposition to Western imperialism notwithstanding, Nehru was deeply attached to English culture and opposed to all forms of cultural chauvinism. An agnostic, he believed in secularism and rationality, with emphasis on a scientific approach as the preferred path to India’s progress. Yet he was profoundly respectful towards India’s rich religious and cultural inheritance.

indira gandhi

Gandhi, Indira Priyadarshini
Gandhi, Indira Priyadarshini, née Nehru (1917-1984), prime minister of India (1966-1977; 1980-1984), whose controversial political career ended with her assassination by Sikh conspirators.
Gandhi was born on November 19, 1917, in Allahabad, the only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, later the first prime minister of India. A graduate of Visva-Bharati University, Bengal, she also studied at the University of Oxford, England. In 1938 she joined the National Congress party and became active in India's independence movement. In 1942 she married Feroze Gandhi, a Parsi lawyer also active in the party. Shortly after, both were arrested by the British on charges of subversion and spent 13 months in prison.
When India won its independence in 1947 and Nehru took office as prime minister, Gandhi became his official hostess. (Her mother had died in 1936.) She also served as his confidante on national problems and accompanied him on foreign trips. In 1955 she was elected to the executive body of the Congress party, becoming a national political figure in her own right; in 1959 she became president of the party for one year. In 1962, during the Chinese-Indian border war, she coordinated civil defence activities.
Following the death of her father in May 1964, Gandhi became minister of information and broadcasting in Lal Bahadur Shastri's government. In this post she extended broadcasting time, liberalized censorship policies, and approved a television education project in family planning. When Shastri died suddenly in January 1966, Gandhi succeeded him as prime minister. The following year she was elected to a 5-year term by the parliament members of the dominant Congress party. She led her party to a landslide victory in the national elections of 1971.
In 1975 Gandhi was convicted of a minor infraction of the election laws during the 1971 campaign. Maintaining innocence, she charged that the conviction was part of an attempt to remove her from office and, instead of resigning, declared a national state of emergency on June 26. Although her conviction was soon overturned by the Indian Supreme Court, the emergency was continued. Gandhi placed many aspects of life in India under her strict control, instituted unpopular birth control policies including sterilization programmes, and thousands of dissenters were imprisoned. Many saw in these actions the influence of her younger son, Sanjay Gandhi, a political neophyte on whom she relied more and more for assistance. Hoping to demonstrate popular support for her regime, which critics contended was undermining India's democratic system, Gandhi called a general election in March 1977. She lost her seat in parliament, and the Congress party was defeated. In the elections of January 1980, however, she made a spectacular comeback and was able to form a new majority government. When Sanjay died in a plane crash that June, she began grooming her older son, Rajiv Gandhi, as her successor. On October 31, 1984, after she had moved vigorously to suppress Sikh insurgents and ordered the storming of the Sikhs' sacred Golden Temple of Amritsar, she was shot and killed by Sikh members of her security guard. Rajiv then served as prime minister until 1989.