Who is a revolutionist?
Voculabary.com defines revolutionist as “someone who wants to change the world — not just sitting around talking about it, but actually doing something to bring about change.” Webster’s and Dictionary.com have similar explanations.
Historically, any story, fiction or otherwise, ever written on any revolution has a protagonist (the revolutionist) and an antagonist (the system). The oppressor does everything to keep the oppressed under his thumb, and the oppressed fight back. Cliche right?
Now imagine a story where the oppressed are fighting back, yet they are not the state’s enemy. They’re getting hammered, yet they’re not retaliating. The protagonist is in jail, yet the revolution is not ending. He is not hiding, nor is he in exile. He is working with his oppressors somehow to bring the change. Now that’s a fairy tale, a pulp fiction. But actually, it’s not. India won its freedom precisely the way described in these few lines, and the revolutionist, in this case, was Gandhi.
Unbelievable, yet true, Gandhi, unlike any other revolutionary figure in his era, was heard, read, and respected by his oppressor. For a long time into India’s freedom movement, the British could not foretell how Gandhi led and won the war towards freedom.
It was a kind of protest, which no one yet understood. The British Empire, which ruled a large portion of the world then, had faced armed revolutions, mutinies, and guerrilla wars. However, this kind of passive protest was unique and different, and by the time the British could understand its seriousness, the whole country was already into the movement.
In the first part of this blog, I briefly explored the British Raj’s industrial system. The model was ingenious. Create factories across the colonies, produce unfinished goods, ship them to Manchester or Liverpool, get them branded, and sell it back to the colonies for higher prices.
That was the sole reason the non-corporation movement was not a political protest. It was economical. India would suddenly stop buying from the British while continue producing unfinished supplies. This created a surplus stock with no sales, causing an economic imbalance. Hurt them where it matters, they say, and that’s what Gandhi did. Unlike the protests before Gandi came into active politics, this protest was easy to achieve, economically viable, low-risk, and doable by every able body.
In the book Hind Swaraj, Gandhi mentions self-sacrifice and self-dependability on multiple occasions. He creates a framework of how self-sacrifice is the only way to get the British out of the country. His vision of freedom was the one that India wants. Not the kind of freedom given by the British.
How to get independence the right way.
What is the correct way to get freedom? The answer to this question is quite vague. However, if you look into the history of various freedom movements worldwide, one can create a connection between them all.
If I oversimplify a freedom movement, I would say that there are two primary classifications, an armed revolution and a peaceful one. When Gandhi was making a comeback to active politics, various countries were engaged in fierce conflicts to attain freedom. All of these revolutions were armed conflicts. The Czars were overthrown by the Bolsheviks, Italians raged a war was against the Nazis, and in the Persian Gulf, there was a war against the ottoman empire.
Gandhi was against an armed conflict in India for multiple reasons. First, the morale to fight in an open-field battle succumbed post the 1857 revolution. Secondly, extremism was against the idea of the Indian National Congress party. Lastly and most importantly, Gandhi knew the difference between attaining freedom through armed revolution vs. getting one by forming a government. The first of the two simply brings a change of regime, keeping the commoners just the way they were before, while the latter creates an ecosystem, which involves everyone who participated in the freedom movement.
That is the only reason, despite multiple British attempts to give India partial freedom during the 1940s, Gandhi was adamant about attaining Poorn Swaraj, the independence India wants, the way they want. Something he wrote and visioned in his book written in 1915. However, to attain a freedom for all, Gandhi had to involve people from every sect. A mass movement.
Creating a mass movement.
As Gandhi forayed into Indian politics, he immediately understood that India is a scattered and fragmented society, deeply influenced by religion and cast differences. The country then had a faux rule by the so-called princely states, which were too frightened to let go of the glorious past. They were controlling the masses while getting owned by the Britsh. To create a mass movement, Gandi, had to connect with the people.
He needed to understand the issues, which bind the people of the country together. Despite cast, religion, or status, he wanted to have common grounds with everyone. That is why he decided to explore the country first, and railways became his tool. India was getting connected by the railway lines, the distances were getting shorter, but the class difference was increasing. While the first class of Indian railways was spacious, it was reserved only for the British, and the third class was meant for Indian travelers. That’s where Gandhi went.
In his short journal, Third class in Indian railways, Mr. Gandhi writes a complete account of the people he connected during his travels in the third class of railways. This was the perfect place and platform to understand the real issues faced by the men and women, the country’s working class. He understood that even before he frees the country from the colonist, he has to free his countrymen from other social issues such as women’s rights, sati pratha, divorce laws, and the caste system.
As I have been saying all through the blog, Gandhi is one-off India’s most exemplary politician. He made these social issues his own and started speaking against them on every platform possible. He adopted the Dalits as his own. This made him the hero of the masses.
Gandhi understood this concept quite well. Talking about the issues relevant to the masses gave him and the Indian National Congress much-needed popularity. The party, which was once deemed a party for intellectuals, suddenly transformed into a labor party.
The politician for all sides.
The beauty of this mass movement was that somehow, the British, who were earlier using force to squash any gatherings, were left in a state of disarray. I mean, it was Indians fighting against a society, which was made by the princely states. The British police were helpless as it was not a direct confrontation against the empire. However, these movements were removing the princely states’ stronghold, the British Raj’s economic backbone. When the word spread out about Mr. Gandhi’s exploits in the social issues, he became the center of attraction for many British citizens.
This was also the time and age where a lot of scholars were translating Indian writings into English. This made the views of scholars such as Rabindra Nath Tagore reachable to the British. Soon after, Gandhi was famous in Britain. A flock of people assembled and listened to his ideas of freedom, vision of a society, and how India wants its cultural freedom. Despite being arch-rival to the Raj in India, Mr. Gandhi was often heard in the British parliament’s halls. That in itself speaks about his legacy as a politician.
What defines Gandhi?
It has been more than 150 years of his Birth and nearly 75 years of his assassination. Mr. Gandhi is still considered one of the greatest men to be born on the planet. Long after he died, he influenced Nelson Mandela and Dr. King, who walked on this footstep of non-violence. As I said in my last blog, we all Indian’s are born out of Gandhi. Our first natural solution to a conflict is non-violence. Never take arms if we can solve this through discussions. I feel unfortunate that I read Gandhi at the age of 35, but I am happy I did that, and now I know that what kind of idealogy I will be picking up in the following years of my life.
I only urge my readers that once in their life, read Gandhi, just any book, and understand the futuristic vision this man had for the world. I believe that Gandhi was much more than a saint (mahatma). I think he is by far the most prominent politician India had ever produced.