The name Mahatma Gandhi invokes so much respect in peoples’ mind even today. The Nobel prize committee has said their only regret is that Gandhi was not awarded Nobel peace prize in his lifetime. He truly mobilized masses and took freedom struggle to a whole new level. This is my take on why non-violence worked.
When Gandhi slowly moved at the helm of Indian National Congress, he was occupying the place vacated by B.G. Tilak, a Charismatic leader with a multifaceted talent. Tilak was historian, mathematician, a shrewd politician and a journalist. He was the first one to proclaim the intent of complete political freedom. His famous proclamation “Swaraj is my birthright..” had the same effect on Indian freedom struggle as the slogan “No Taxation without representation” on American revolution.
Having Tilak made clear what is the final goal and set the foundation of movement in principle, the challenge for Gandhi was to mobilize the masses in the right direction. This was a difficult challenge.
To understand the difficulty, we have to understand the condition Indian masses were in at the dawn of 20th century. British had got the whole of India under their control. New education systems, universities were being built. Infrastructure was being put in place. Caste system was abolished in official matters. The horrific traditions like “Sati” (burning of the widow) were being outlawed.
For the first time the common person had access to all the knowledge, legal system, water , temples and so on, no matter what was his/her caste or social/economic status.
At the same time tremendous economic exploitation was going on. Indian industry was bleeding to slow death and huge amount of wealth was leaving India on its way to Britain.
British people lost no opportunity to tout the benefits of colonization. This created a moral dilema in common person’s mind. They could not justify a violent struggle against sombody who had done some good things to them (and promised to do more good). This moral dilema severely weakened the resolve of the masses and made unification difficult.
With Gandhi’s principle of non-violence, this moral dilemma was solved. Suddenly there was clarity. People were not attacking British government. They were just protesting to British officers about the things they did not like.
In fact the moral dilemma was now created in British minds. Should they use force against the people who broke the laws they made? That would backfire against their own propaganda of being a beneficent ruler. Or should they refrain and use a soft approach because there was no violent threat? That would only encourage more people to join the struggle.
This dilemma gave rise to a lot of debate in British parliament and British media. British tended to look at themselves are not only militarily and technologically superior, but also morally superior. Their military superiority was unchallenged, but for the first time somebody challenged their moral superiority. For the first time somebody made them look bad in the eyes of the world and possibly in the eyes of themselves. And if the situation was not handled properly, things would go out of control and eventually their control over their ‘Crown Jewel’ India would be challenged.
This giant paradigm shift led to mobilization of masses and deep and wide spread of freedom struggle.
But even though the non violence strategy was critical in taking the struggle to masses, it could not take it beyond a certain level. The final push, the Quit India movement, was mostly active violent struggle. The second world war had crippled the British Raj. Thus Quit India, combined with uprising in Indian Armed forces, delivered the critical knockout punches in the final round and sealed the deal once and for all.
Non violence did not succeed because it was noble. It succeeded because it was smart choice in the given situation.
Filed under: Britain, History, India, Politics, Strategy Tagged: | british, Colonialism, congress, freedom struggle, gandhi, History, India, morality, noble, non violence, principle, quit india, smart, Strategy, tilak