The role of Gandhi in the development of Indian nationalism

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Gandhi is a renowned world figure famous for his works in Indian nationalism. It was his aim to free the Indian Nation from the grips of the British imperial rule. Unlike, other famous nationalist freedom fighter of our time Gandhi was particularly known for his religious and non-violent approaches to nationalism. Being a lawyer by career he spent his early years working in the field of law but after working for rights campaigns he built up a strong sense of morals and objectives, this linked with his strict religious ideals turned him into a public figure and stirred him towards politics in later life.

So much of a public man he became in was imprisoned by the British rulers three times during his life for various reasons relating to his nationalist movement. Gandhi was a man respected by all parties involved in India for his works and indeed the way he went about them.

His ultimate goal was indeed achieved in 1947 with the bill of Indian Independence being past. It was not exactly how he envisaged it with the partition of India and the birth of Pakistan also emerging which were issues Gandhi worked to prevent. Mohandas K.

Gandhi was born in 1869 in Western Indian in the state of Gujarat. He was born into a Hindu family and went on to have an arranged marriage at the age of thirteen to his wife Kasturbai Makanji.

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Gandhi was sent to London in 1888 an exile to study Law as the wish of his father. In 1891 he passed his BAR exam and returned to India to pursue a career in Law, however he ended up in South Africa working for African Indians in their fight against equality. He only intended in going to South Africa for one year but ended up staying for twenty.

It was these years that shaped his life, religious ideologies, and political thinking. Whilst in South Africa through his works he started to become a house hold name both with South African Indians and British officials, still no more than a successful lawyer, he set up his own news paper in which he could publish his ideas and build up support. It was also during these South African years that he developed his devotement to religion. It was this religion that primarily gave him guidance in his life.

He was a staunch vegetarian and would not touch meat even when advised by doctors on medical grounds. His diet consisted of just fruit, nuts, bread and vegetables. He also believed that he could only eat 5 things a day and fasting was important to help bear the pain of the Indian suffering. He was fanatical about cleanliness and in particular sanitation. These beliefs proved to be the bases of his every day life; he led a simple life with no luxuries even when available to him. He read, wrote and prayed every day along with exercise.

Later on in his life he developed the need for spinning as a religious act which also featured in his daily routine. Any other matters he performed during his day had to be fitted in around his chores. Although a large majority and indeed most influential years of Gandhi’s life were spent in South Africa building his ideologies and support it was not until he left Africa and returned to India in 1915 that his fight for Indian nationalism really began. Under the supervision of his mentor Gokhale, Gandhi returned to India a relatively unknown character.

Gandhi was advised by Gokhale to, for the time being, keep his ideas to him self and to take time out to travel around India and observe from the outside the political scene. He did this for three years in which although remaining absent from politics still watched attentively the events of the Congress and only became involved after the 1919 Rowlatt bills were rushed through which restricted the civil liberties of the Indian population. These bills came as a shock to most Indians including Gandhi.

The Indian National Congress had been working towards giving more liberties to Indians not restricting them. Gandhi used Satyagraha to secure withdrawal from the Rowlatt legislation. He travelled the country trying to implement his pledge to the masses. These tactics of non-co-operation tends to lead to a high degree of respect between adversaries, which ultimately serve as the basis for a settlement of their disputes.

Gandhi influenced the people to close their businesses and to fast and pray in protest against the hated legislation. Satyagraha can only succeed if one’s rival, no matter how harsh, unjust or imperialist, is also somewhat honourable and is reluctant to use or endorse force or violence'(Brown, J. M. Gandhi prisoner of hope). Gandhi believed this to be true of the British and on the whole was successful with them, as they did not commit massacres. Having said that, the actions following the Rowlatt bills were marred by rioting in Amritsar and two local leaders were arrested. An angry mob that had gathered and demanded for their release rampaged in the streets killing 5 Europeans.

Under the orders of General Dyer, troops opened fire into the crowd. Nearly 400 were killed and 1,200 injured. The British set up the Hunter Committee to look into the events of the Amritsar Massacre, but the Indian National Congress boycotted it and set up their own committee which included Gandhi. His non-violent non-co-operation pact had not gone to plan; he publicly condemned both the mob and the British officials for the incident. Gandhi hoped that the government would make amends the wrong caused by a few erratic officers but in fact they were not dealt with at all.

Reluctantly Gandhi now concluded that this government was not one that could be worked with and rather than finding a way to work with it, it was now time to end it. Gandhi’s views on the British Empire may not have changed so rapidly were it not for another part of Indian politics, namely the Khilafat movement. This was the Muslim Indians annoyed about the peace terms Turkey would get from the victorious Allies. Gandhi was fearful that this anger would turn into violent actions against the British, so he agreed that by his terms to lead the Muslim community.

Gandhi again implemented non-violent non-co-operation having now support of the Muslims. He called for boycotts of elections, schools and courts. He asked all Indian government officials to resign from their positions which a number few arrested and imprisoned for. This was linked by Muslim no-tax initiatives. In 1922 however Gandhi called for an abrupt end to the non cooperation pact to the surprise of most due to the out break of violence where 22 police officers where killed. Gandhi was arrested and imprisoned for his part for two years.

By the time he was released Hindu-Muslim relations had broken down with the new Muslim league formed to rival that of the Indian National Congress. The government of India Act 1919 was essentially the main piece of legislation that changed India. Under section 84 of the said Act, a statutory Commission was to be appointed at the end of ten years to determine the next stage in the realisation of self-rule in India. As a result, the Simon Commission was sent to the sub-continent under the command of Sir John Simon. All members of this commission were British.

This was regarded as highly insulting to the Indians and immediate protest was raised from all the important political parties. When the Simon Commission arrived they were greeted by masses of people armed with slogans and chants. All major political parties of India, except for the Shafi League of Punjab, boycotted the Simon Commission. After the failure of the Simon Commission, there was no alternative for the British government but to ask the local people to form a commission themselves. They knew that the two main parties the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League had large differences in opinions.

Nonetheless the Secretary of State for India asked them to draw a draft of the Act on which both Hindus and Muslims could agree. The Indian leaders accepted the challenge and for this purpose, the All Parties Conference was held at Delhi in January 1928. More than 100 officials of almost all the parties of the sub-continent gathered and participated in the conference. Unfortunately, the leaders could not agree on much and no conclusion was reached. The second meeting of the All Parties Conference was held two months later in March, but again nothing had changed and no conclusion was reached.

The only positive work that came from the conferences was the appointment of two sub-committees, but again due to the differences between the Hindus and the Muslims nothing came from these organisations and no results were achieved. When the All Parties Conference met for a third time in Bombay on May 19 1928, there was hardly any prospect of an agreement following the recent failures. It was then agreed that a small committee should be appointed to work out the details of the constitution. Motilal Nehru headed this committee. This committee consisted of 10 members two of which were Muslim.

The committee worked for three months at Allahabad and as a result produced the ‘Nehru Report’. This Nehru Report recommended that a declaration of Rights should be inserted in the constitution assuring the fullest liberty of conscience and religion. The Nehru report was rejected due to mainly Muslim opposition, however it did act in semi-unifying the divided Muslim groups against the report, which they considered a Hindu document. Furthermore the Muslims felt that simply rejecting the report was not sufficient so they issued their own set of demands.

It was at this stage in Indian History that several Muslim leaders and thinkers first spoke out about the separation of Muslim India. Allama Muhammad Iqbal addresses the All India Muslim League as president at Allahbad in 1930. He proposed that due to the Hindu biased Nehru report and the British neglecting their views through the Simon Commission, the Muslim Indians would be better set by breaking away from Hindu India and chalking out their own territory in the North-West. He defined the Muslims of India as a nation and suggested that there could be no possibility of peace in the country unless and until they were recognised as a nation.

In rejection of the Simon Report Gandhi launched his campaign of civil disobedience. This included all of his previously seen tactics such as tax evasion, the boycotting of school and colleges, and the exclusion of local businesses. This time however saw something different from the 1922 non-co-operation pact which was Gandhi’s objection to the salt tax which he felt was to high so much so that it was too much of a burden on the poor peasants. So in their defensive he embarked on the Salt March.

This consisted of him walking with followers from his Ashram all the way to the sea covering a huge 241 miles. The trip lasted 24 days with the party stopping during the night and during the heat of the day only. When they arrived at the sea they collected the water and boiled it to purify the salt content. Upon doing this the British government began arresting those who had violated the law. People were killed and beaten and over 60,000 were imprisoned including Gandhi. The imprisonment of Gandhi was seen not to achieve anything in the wider picture so his release was agreed in 1931.

On his release he returned to India new tensions over independence were arising and support for Gandhi experienced a drop, with the Congress seeing him as a failed politician and its view of civil disobedience nothing more than an ambitious but fruitless cause. Gandhi as a result cancelled his failing campaign and withdrew from his leadership of the Congress which was taken up by Nehru. Under Nehru the nationalist cause picked up, but many efforts were fought out between Jinnah the leader of the Muslim League rather than against the British.

The mid 1930’s saw a huge grow in hostilities between the Muslims and Hindu groups including what is now called the Congress-League war. Partition came to the fore front of Indian Nationalism and the idea of Independence was for the time being left behind. Gandhi made his views about this matter clear; he had no interest in the partition of India and could only see independence as a whole nation. However during this period opinions grew and it seemed unlikely a solution could come other than the emergence of a new Muslim state.

In 1939 the talks of independence came back to front Indian politics. The outbreak of war and now taken the British attention away from India. When the viceroy proclaimed India’s involvement in the war outrage was sparked across the country. No British official had consented to Indian support in the conflict, however the Congress saw this as a chance to reach their goal and replied that support would only come after independence. The British rulers talked vaguely about discussions occurring at the end of the war but did not commit to anything at that time.

With the congress failing to get a result Gandhi once again returned to lead the Congress and again returned to his policy of non-co-operation but on an individual level. Gandhi made a series of demands to the British threatening wide spread civil disobedience. He started the quit India movement and demanded that the British move leave India, but due to their focus on the World War the British had little time for politics and simply declared congress illegal and once again for the third time in his life Gandhi was arrested and shipped off to prison.

His arrest lead to an abundance of support and violent outbursts were experienced all over India. Thousands of people were arrested and killed all over India. The British found it hard to concentrate on the problems in India with such serious issues of their own security happening in Europe. After Gandhi’s release from prison in 1944 negotiations once again resumed immediately, the governor general proposed the formation of a national government, but these talks broke down due to the congress’ failure to recognise the Muslim League.

Rioting between the groups broke out once again and certain areas were on the brink of civil war. In 1946 Nehru took charge of an interim government with Jinnah abroad only to promote the Muslim desire for a new Muslim state. Mountbatten the governor general announced that the Muslim states would be given elections to determine what they wanted in terms of an all India nation or one split a separate Muslim territory. He also announced that on the 15th August 1947 the British would leave India and it would become an Independent state. So, Gandhi’s role in this event?

Well clearly he was apart of it, he was involved in a lot of key policies and indeed spent most of his life working toward achieving independence. However so had a lot of people, so was it really Gandhi that brought about change. Gandhi arrived on the national scene rather late, and in the first half of his political life he was considerably fond of the British Raj. He enjoyed his education in England and spent a long period of his life in South Africa working towards Indian equality, but he was hardly an anti-imperialist radical or revolutionary.

Gandhi was critical of colonial rule but generally his outlook of the British was one of loyalty and this is highlighted through his work and support during World War 1. When he returned to India in 1915 he was a successful lawyer and hard only touched on politics but not in a professional manor. It was not until 1920 that Gandhi became famous for his work in Indian Nationalism, by which time he was 51 years old. This is hardly a good example of a fanatical Nationalist movement figure. Gandhi is consider to be the ‘father of the Indian Nation’ (J. M. Brown Prisoner of hope) and has become a saintly world figure, but how much of his popularity has come from the aftermath of his death, indeed he was a popular man before but his political career was certainly flawed through out. Mainly problems he came across were not answered with solutions and his political policies all revolved around the same theme of non-co-operation and civil disobedience. Perhaps it was these campaigns that have shot him into the limelight as a great saintly figure, but even these in themselves were not much in the development of Indian Nationalism.

In my opinion the British would have continued to hold onto India and the rest of its empire for as long as possible, however the outbreak of war brought with it too many problems. They could not afford to put any efforts into maintaining order in India during the war, all their efforts were geared towards the European conflict. It can be argued that Gandhi was responsible for this pressure during that time but I think it was inevitable that India would be returned after the war. Gandhi was a man of his time, he had lots of visions for India and was a deeply religious man.

All about him was good and he worked for the good of his nation. However in the question of his role in Indian nationalism, he was not responsible for the emergence of the idea and one could not say it was him who eventually reached the goal. What he did do though was to make the idea and principles reach nation wide, his role in the nationalisation was to spread the word. Ironic considering his religious nature. It can be said he nurtured Indian Nationalism that in that way had a part to play but none the less I think he still retains a little too much credit.

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The role of Gandhi in the development of Indian nationalism. (2017, Dec 15). Retrieved from

The role of Gandhi in the development of Indian nationalism
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