The emergence of Gandhi played a pivotal role in the history of Indian Nationalism. The development of Indian Nationalism occurred in three separate phases. It was the third phase of Indian Nationalism that witnessed the rise of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, as the man who took the country by storm with his novel political ideologies centered on the cardinal principles of ahimsa and satyagraha.
Armed with these ideological tools Gandhi shouldered critical responsibilities in the momentous events that finally led India to the path of freedom. Gandhi’s political ideals were merely an extension of his spiritual tenets, which were rooted in deep humanitarian values. Gandhi’s greatness lies not only within pioneering a unique fervor in Indian politics and the rise of the masses, but in the way he revolutionized the entire way of looking at politics as an extension of mankind’s inherent greatness, enriched with an innate belief in and commitment to truth. No wonder, he is revered as the Mahatma and has been immortalized as The Father of the Nation.
Under the British rule, many farmers in the Champaran district of Bihar were forced to grow indigo in their lands, much to their dismay. To fight this, a money lender named Raj Kumar Shukla reached out to Gandhiji and requested him to come and help them.
Gandhiji came down to this district on April 10 of 1917 with a band of lawyers, including Dr Rajendra Prasad, to fight it out with the British.
Gandhi and his lawyers travelled across the district to different villages, meeting farmers and taking note of their sufferings and complaints against the forced indigo cultivation. Ever since Gandhi arrived in Champaran, the British rulers started keeping a close eye on his moves. Finally, on April 15, he was given an ultimatum at Motihari by the commissioner to leave Champaran. To that, Gandhi responded that he wouldn’t leave, but was ready to bear “the penalty of civil disobedience”.
It was apparent now that Gandhi would be taken to jail for this resistance. As a response, scores of Champaran tenants turned up in protest outside the jail, police stations and courts. In the end, troubled by this unusual form of resistance that spilled no violence, the government was forced to let go of Gandhi.
The struggle against forced indigo cultivation continued. Now, however, the possibility of Gandhi’s arrest was more eminent. But he put together a plan, a chain of people who would take over the work if he, or anyone after him, was arrested. This way, the struggle would go on, with or without him. The struggle went on, the civil disobedience continued. The protests and hunger strikes ultimately ended with the abolishing of the cultivation of Indigo, or as it was known then, the tinkathia system.
The landlords under the British government were made to sign an agreement that granted the farmers more control over what they wanted to grow on their own lands, among other benefits. It was during this movement when Gandhi was first referred to as Bapu and Mahatma, or so goes the legend.
Ahmadabad Mill Strike
In Ahmedabad’s textile mills, Prices had gone up and the mill workers were demanding higher wages. The mill owners would not agree.
Gandhi sympathized with the workers and took up their cause. He launched a struggle and resorted to peaceful resistance. The workers proudly followed Gandhi and pledged their full support to him. They paraded the streets with large banners, and said they would not go back to work until a settlement had been reached.
Days passed. The mill owners were adamant. The strikers were getting impatient for they were faced with starvation. Their discipline became weak. Gandhi feared that some workers would break their pledge and go back to work. Gandhi did not want anybody else to fast. His fast was not against the mill owners, but against the lack of co-ordination and unity among the workers. The fast lasted only for three days. It influenced the mill owners so much that they came to an agreement with the workers.
Hardly was the mill workers’ strike over, when Gandhi had to plunge into the Kheda Satyagraha struggle. The Kheda district of Gujarat was on the verge of famine owing to failure of the crops. The yield had been so low that the cultivators, especially the poorer section, were unable to pay the revenue.
But the government insisted that the yield had not been so bad and that the cultivators should pay the taxes. Gandhi saw the justice of the cause of the cultivators and advised them to offer Satyagraha by not paying their taxes.
Many leaders, like Vallabhbhai Patel, Shankarlal Banker, Mahadev Desai and others, took an active part in this struggle. The campaign came to an unexpected end. There had been signs that it might fizzle out, but after four months’ struggle there came an honourable settlement.
The Government said that if well-to-do cultivators paid up, the poorer section would be granted suspension. This was agreed to and the campaign ended.
The Kheda Satyagraha marked the beginning of an awakening among the peasants of Gujarat, the beginning of their true political education. In addition it gave to the educated public workers the chance to establish contact with the actual life of the peasants