Syllabus: General Studies Paper 1 (Modern History): What is Gandhism?



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Syllabus: General Studies Paper 1 (Modern History)


What is Gandhism? Explain its birth, nurture and influence on generation of non-violent leaders. ( 15 Marks)



Gandhism was the ideology of the Indian national liberation movement led by the national bourgeoisie. Its basic political principles and characteristics were the attainment of Indian independence by peaceful means, through the nonviolent participation of the broad popular masses in the liberation struggle and the unification of all Indians in the independence struggle, irrespective of religion, nationality, caste, or class, under the leadership of the Indian National Congress. The basis of Gandhism was the principle of nonviolence. Developed by Gandhi and accepted by his followers, the tactic of nonviolent struggle for independence was named Satyagraha 


Gandhism Born in India.

  • Gandhiji inherited much from his father, he learnt a lot from “his rich experiences of practical affairs”. This helped him in solving many intricate problems of social and political life on a practical basis.
  • Gandhiji’s mother, influenced his religious thoughts. Gandhiji was influenced by his mother’s ‘saintliness and deep religious nature’.
  • Satya Harishchandra’s story had strong effect on Gandhiji’s thoughts. Gandhiji ‘s religion of truth was developed from here.
  • Gandhiji was also influenced by the teaching of Jainism which preaches the well-known extreme view of non-violence, Buddhism also influenced him a lot. Gandhiji was a true disciple of Buddha, adopted and practiced the same code of morality for achieving ‘moksha’ or salvation.
  • Many religious books also influenced Gandhiji’s thoughts and ideas. Bhagavadgita ranked the first among them.
  • Gandhiji was also greatly influenced by the life and teaching of Swami Vivekananda. Vivckananda’s conception of ‘Daridranarayan’, the Poor-  as God , was adopted and practiced by Gandhiji himself. The service of the poor was the service of GOD.
  • Gopala Krishna Gokhale was the first Indian political leader who introduced the principles of religion’ in to public life and tried to spiritualize it. Gandhi was much influenced by him and acccpted Gokhale as his political ‘Guru’. Truth and Ahimsa incarnate and will therefore fear none and be feared by none”


Gandhism nurtured under western influence.

  • The Western thinkers like Tolstoy, Ruskin, Thoreau, Socrates Carlyle and Emerson also influenced Gandhi.
  • Leo Tolstoy the Russian writer, whose book ‘The Kingdom of God is within You’ made Gandhiji a firm believer in Ahimsa. The principle of non-violence is based on love for the entire mankind.
  • John Ruskin, His book” Unto This Last” was one of the most decisive influences of Gandhiji’s life. He believed that ‘Sarvodaya’, that – ‘the good of the individual is contained in the  good of all’.
  • Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience ‘Civil Disobedience’ greatly influenced Gandhiji’s movements in India.
  • Carlyle’s French revolution and this book confirmed the glory of’ non-violence in his mind.
  • Gandhiji was also influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson, from which he derived that Education is a tool for character formation.


Gandhism in South Africa:

South Africa was the crucible that forged Gandhi’s identity as a political activist and was an important prelude to his return to India, where he played a pivotal role in securing its independence from British rule in August 1947.

  1. About two lakh Indians were settled in South Africa. There Indian especially indentured were treated as slaves. And rest suffered from racial discrimination and the problem related to public rights, trading and property rights. Moreover, they were exposed to various humiliations in their daily life, The South African activism and a successful anti-indenture movement made Gandhi a special person amongst the oppressed population of India.
  2. Champaran Satyagraha which resembles the anti -indenture movement. The Champaran Satyagraha is commemorated as an awakening of Indian peasants against the colonial planters and policies in India.
  3. Disenfranchising bill by the Natal government compelled Gandhi to launch his struggle in South Africa. In 1893, he formed ‘Indian National Organization’ comprises of Indian community of Natal, with the objective of securing wide support from people and government in India and England against the bill.
  4. In 1906, the Transival government introduced Asiatic Registration Bill. – according to which every Indian men, women and children above eight had to register and give finger and thumb impression on the registration form – failing to which would be considered as a serious offence and the guilty was supposed to be either deported or punished. The step was taken again to humiliate immigrants Indians. Further it gave the authority to the police to enter into any Indian’s house to check the papers and Indian have to produce these certificates whenever demanded. On July 1, 1907 this new law came into being. Gandhi launched a new technique of struggle i.e. Satyagraha (Truth force) and he formed an organization called Passive Resistance Association.
  5. In 1913, the order of Supreme Court declared that all the marriages, which were done on their cultural or Indian rites (i.e. all Hindu, Muslim, Parsi marriages) became illegal and their children illegitimate. After Gandhi sathyagraha movement , marriage performed according to Indian rites were declared legal. Thus, after these measurement taken by Smuts , Gandhi called off the Satyagraha movement in South Africa after 8 long years.


How Gandhism became inspiration to a generation of non-violent leaders both in and outside India

Outside India:

  • Nelson Mandela, great leader of the South African people and another giant of the 20th century anti-colonial struggle, who adopted Gandhiji’s idea of non violence to overcome apartheid.
  • Martin Luther King, civil rights leader who adopted non-violence as the weapon of choice to help millions of African Americans fight for their rights.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese leader who was under house arrest for many years, derived great deal of inspiration from Gandhi. From Gandhi she learnt that for a doctrine of peace and reconciliation to be translated into practice, one absolute condition needed is fearlessness. Aung San Suu Kyi knew this, and that was the secret of her success amid all the darkness and loneliness against a brutal and hostile regime. One of her essays opens with the statement that “it is not power that corrupts, but it is fear.
  • Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Pashtun Independence activist, was another leader who was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. Khan went on to lead a non-violent movement against the British Raj among the Pashtuns in Peshawar, currently the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.


In India:

  • Vinoba Bhave was an Indian nationalist and social-reform leader who inherited Mahatma Gandhi’s spiritual mantle. Bhave’s most notable contribution was the creation of the bhoodan (land gift) movement.
  • Anna Hazare is an Indian social activist who led movements like village swaraj to promote rural development, increase government transparency, and investigate and punish corruption in public life. In addition to organising and encouraging grassroots movements, Hazare frequently conducted hunger strikes for approval of lokpal bill.
  • Jayaprakash Narayan, who was influenced by the ideas of sarvodaya, led  Bihar Movement and Total Revolution In 1974, he led the students’ movement in the state of Bihar which gradually developed into a popular people’s movement known as the Bihar Movement. It was during this movement that JP gave a call for peaceful Total Revolution.


Gandhiji said India attained freedom through Non-violence; therefore, she must be able to maintain it through that very force. His simple theme is that instead of war-armies wedded to violence and bloodshed, there should be peace-armies, which should be prepared to throw themselves between the invading army and their own country. 

If we say that the twenty-first century is the century of the common man, then we see that Gandhism has even more relevance in this age, and Gandhiji will inspire generations of individuals fighting for goodness of the society. If today we find that Gandhism is in severe test in countries like India, it is not because there is certain inherent weakness in Gandhism, but it is because we have not seen in India, strong leaders with the required courage and conviction to fight the evils in society. We may borrow Gandhi’s own words on Ahimsa, and say that Gandhism is only for the courageous people.


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