Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

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.

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