Mahatma Gandhi was neither a great warrior nor a king and yet he exercised greater power and commanded greater devotion than any king or warrior. Born at Porbander in Gujarat on 2nd October, 1889, he was married to Kasturba at an early age of thirteen.
After his matriculation at the age of eighteen, he went to England to study Law. In 1893, he went to Africa and stayed for more than 20 years. Here, he started his political career by founding the Natal Indian Congress and his non-violent struggle against imperialism began.
Gandhiji was greatly influenced by Ruskin, Thoreau and Tolstoy. His goal for Indians was to achieve “an exploitation-free society in which the ordinary individual can claim and defend his rights”.
On his return to India in 1915, Gandhiji set up an Ashram near Ahmedabad and took the vow of truth, non-violence, celibacy, fearlessness, self control, removal of untouchability, use of Khadi and other Indian¬ made products.
For this fight against British Imperialism, Gandhiji developed a unique weapon that of non¬-cooperation and Satyagraha. He was a firm believer in purity of means for achieving any end. He opposed the oppressors throughout his life through profoundly moral, truthful and non-violent means. Hate sin, and not the sinner, he taught.
Gandhi proved true to his philosophy when he pleaded guilty to the charge of sedition in his trial at Ahmedabad on 23rd March 1922 for his three articles in his magazine ‘Young India’. In his statement, he told the Judge: “Non-Violence is the first article of my truth. It is the last article of my truth”. He narrated the sad plight of the Indian masses under the British rule and fearlessly expressed his views about how the people or India was discriminated against vis-a-vis the Europeans under the British law-courts. Stating, that “Non-Cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good”, he emphasized the point, that one should stand against the evil but need not hate the evil doer. Thus, Gandhi tried to appeal to the conscience of the evil doer without demeaning himself by hating him. This remained the guiding principle throughout his life.
After his statement before the court, Gandhi was sentenced to six years imprisonment ‘thanked the Judge for his courtesy’. He was imprisoned again in 1930, 1933 and 1942 when he went on a hungry strike as part of campaign of the Civil Disobedience. However, later he collaborated with the British to gain independence for India in 1947.
Gandhi fought tooth and nail for his country’s freedom, but, to him freedom did not mean simply the liberation of the country from foreign rule. His concept of freedom or ‘Purna Swaraj’ connoted not only political freedom but also emancipation of man from all evils—social, political, economic etc. He believed in ‘Sarvodaya’ or affluence for all. All through his his life, he worked for the welfare of the poor and the downtrodden. This great saint politician fell victim to an assassin’s bullets on 30th January 1948.
It is also apt to mention here that when a Naga delegation under the leadership of Mr. Phizo met Gandhiji at Bhangi colony, New Delhi on 19th July 1947, he said, “The Nagas have every right to be independent”. He also said “we want you to feel that Naga Hills is mine just as much as it is yours”. When the Naga leaders informed him that they would declare themselves independent on August 15, 1947, Gandhiji asked in humour, “’Why not now? Why wait for August 15”. Such was his attitude and approach towards the Nagas political issue.
The Late Dr Albert Einstein in his observation said Mahatma Gandhi was the greatest political genius of the modern world. He further said that the power of his idea is bound to grow in the years to come.
(The writer is the Chairman Nagaland Peace Centre, Kohima)