Gandhis roll i Indiens självständighetskamp – Fakta vs Propaganda

I dagens historieskrivning tillskriver man gärna Gandhi en avgörande roll i kampen för att britterna militärt skulle lämna Indien. Författaren menar att detta inte är korrekt. Läs och ta reda på varför.

Satyagraha and Indias freedom Movement
By: Dr.Dipak Basu. 10/10/2007 3:17:53 PM
(The author is a Professor in International Economics in Nagasaki University, Japan)

Yogi Ramdev’s courageous statement that we must not forget the role of the revolutionaries in the freedom movement of India has called for a reexamination of the role of Mahatma Gandhi and his Satyagraha. “Satyagraha’ literally means insistence on truth. According to Gandhi, the doctrine of Satyagraha “came to mean vindication of Truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but ones own self. Satyagraha and its off-shoots, non-co-operation and civil resistance, are nothing but new names for the law of suffering.”

Recently the Prime minister Manmohan Singh went to South Africa to celebrate the centenary of Satyagraha, which was started in 6 September 1906 in South Africa as a protest against the identity card that the non-Europeans were asked to carry in that country. What that got to do with Indian freedom movement against the British Empire is the question. The answer given by the official historian is that Gandhi through Satyagraha fought the mightiest empire of the world in a peaceful way, which is novel in both theory and application.
However, the truth is very different from the official version of history of the freedom movement in India.

Gandhi in South Africa:

Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893 as an employee of a Gujarati merchant for a year. When he agreed to stay on in South Africa to serve the Indian community, he was provided retainers by Indian merchants to enable him to live in proper style as a barrister and entertain Europeans. He helped found the Natal Indian Congress, which was an elite organization, just like the Indian National Congress at that time, restricted to the very rich people and the empire-loyalists.

Gandhi had visited India for five months in 1896 and met a number of public leaders to secure their support to redress the grievances of Indians in South Africa. In his second visit for a year in 1901-2 he attended the Congress session in Calcutta and spent more than a month with G.K. Gokhale, who was very loyal to the British and was opposed to the ideas of freedom movement of Tilak, Lajpat Rai, Chittaranjan Das, Surendranath Banerjee and Bipin Pal. Thus, Gandhi has joined the Empire-loyalist camp within the Congress, disinterested in the Swaraj movement of Tilak.

Gandhi’s first Satyagraha:

Returning to South Africa, Gandhi began to defy the Transvaal Asiatic Ordinance, where the government wanted all Asiatic, Arabs and Turks to carry a pass all the time to prove their eligibility to stay in South
Africa. It was not a big issue, as in most countries even today foreigners must carry such documents anyway. Throughout the Satyagraha, Gandhi emphasized that it was not so much for the rights of the Indians in South Africa as for the honour of the motherland, but which “motherland’ Gandhi was talking about was not clear. One of the most dramatic events of the Satyagraha was the burning of the passes. The question is did that help the Indians in South Africa. The answer is definitely negative. Indians were rounded up and deported in
many cases. The campaign lasted for over seven years, and in 1913 hundreds of people went to jail – and thousands of striking Indian miners faced imprisonment and injury.

Even when General Smut decided to meet Gandhi, it was made clear that there would be no further immigration of the Indians to South Africa. Passes were withdrawn temporarily but soon after laws were passed to restrict the non-Europeans into designated areas in every cities; that was the beginning of the legal racial segregations in South Africa. By all means Gandhi’s Satyagraha was not a success, but that had not
stopped certain people and the English language media in India at that time to propagate Gandhi as victorious against a racist government of British origin for whom Gandhi had worked as medical orderly in the
war against the Dutch settlers in South Africa and became a recruitment agent during the First World War. Gandhi had practically no contact with the African and their liberation movement. Maureen
Swan wrote in her book, “Gandhi: the South African Experience’:  In choosing not to attempt to ally with the articulate politicized elements in either the Coloured or African communities, Gandhi facilitated the implementation of the divisive segregationist policies which helped ease the task of white minority rule in South Africa. 

The European rulers in South Africa enforced racial segregation and differential policies despite of Gandhi are Satyagraha and tried to incite Africans against the Indians and attempted to degrade the
status of the Indians to just “coolies”.  
When Gandhi left South Africa, he still believed in the British Empire
though tentatively. He said, Though Empires have gone and fallen, this empire may perhaps be an exception….it is an empire not founded on material but on spiritual foundations….the British constitution.
Tear away those ideals and you tear away my loyalty to the British constitution; keep those ideals and I am ever a bondsman. (in Martin Green, Gandhi: Voice of a New Age Revolutionary)

Impacts of Gandhi on South Africa’s freedom struggle were practically insignificant. Mainly African ANC (African National Congress), like its counterparts in the adjacent Portuguese colonies in Mozambique,
and Angola, was strongly influenced, financed and armed by the Soviet Union and was not at all interested in non-violence methods of Gandhi. Nelson Mandela, in his speech from the dock in April 1964, pointed out
that he and his colleagues had decided to undertake organized underground and armed resistance in order to avert uncontrolled violence unleashed by the racist government of South Africa against the black and coloured people.

Gandhi returned to India in 1914. Gandhi himself had twice volunteered for service in the First World War for the British, in France and in Mesopotamia, because he had convinced himself that he owed the empire
that sacrifice in return for its military protection (in Martin Green, Gandhi: Voice of a New Age Revolutionary).

Gandhi’s Second Satyagraha :

Through extraordinary good fortune, due to the deaths of Tilak by September 1920 Gandhi in an  extraordinary political coup was elected himself as the president of the All-India Home Rule League and steered a resolution in favour of Non-Cooperation to preserve the Khilafat but got rid of the freedom movement in the Congress session in Calcutta. Later all the important leaders of the Congress, Bipin Pal,
Surendranath Banerjee, Ajit Singh were either expelled or neutralized by Gandhi. Tilak had gathered about Rs.10 lakhs, a huge sum these days to finance his freedom movement. Gandhi used that up to please the
followers of Turkish Khalifa, who was defied by the Muslims in the Turkish occupied Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and in Turkey itself by the reforming leader Kamal Attaturk. Gandhi and the Muslim leaders of
India were ignorant about these political developments in the Middle East.

The agitation to save the Turkish Sultan by the “Non-Cooperation’ of the Congress party was initiated by the Khilafat leadership, not by the Congress. Gandhi without consulting other leaders of the Congress
made these two issues his own by presiding over the All India Khilafat Conference in Delhi in November 1919, and started his programme of peaceful non co-operation with the British included boycotts of
British goods and institutions to protect the Turkish Sultan, leading to arrests of thousands of the people for defying British laws. Thus, the second Satyagraha has nothing to do with the freedom movement of
India and was a regressive movement to preserve the violent crude feudal Sultanate of Turkey who had colonized a vast part of the world, from Iraq to Greece with its inhuman rule.

The Khilafat movement was discredited by the Muslims in Malabar Coast who had resorted into massive violence to slaughter the Hindus in Kerala and Mysore. Gandhi called off the Khilafat movement after the
Chauri Chaura violence without even consulting his Muslim allies. Gandhi’s decision created deep consternation in Congress circles. Subhas Chandra Bose wrote: To sound the order of retreat just when
public enthusiasm was reaching the boiling point was nothing short of a national calamity. The principal lieutenants of the Mahatma, Deshbandhu Das, Pandit Motilal Nehru and Lala Lajpat Rai, who were all
 in prison, shared the popular resentment. I was with the Deshbandu at the time, and I could see that he was beside himself with anger and sorrow. (quoted from Indian Struggle by Subhas Chandra Bose, p.90)

Motilal Nehru, Lajpat Rai and others sent from prison long and indignant letters to Gandhi protesting at his decision to which Gandhi replied that men in prison were civilly dead and had no claim to any
say in policy. In March 1922, Gandhi was sentenced to six years imprisonment. He was released after two years, but by then the political landscape had changed dramatically. The Congress Party had split and Hindu-Muslim unity had disintegrated. Sri Aurobindo said:”When Gandhis movement was started, I said that this movement would lead either to a fiasco or to great confusion. And I see no reason to change my opinion. Only I would like to add that it has led to both.”

Gandhi’s third Satyagraha:
Gandhis political influence was minimal for some years, until the Calcutta Congress in December 1928, where he demanded dominion status for India, and threatened a nation-wide campaign but he had also
expelled Srinivas Iyenger from the Congress for demanding complete independence of India. Subhas Chandra Bose was expelled along with more than 200 of his followers from the Congress party for similar
reason in 1939.

On March 12, 1930 Gandhi started a March in Dandi, Gujarat to break the law, which had deprived the people of his right to make his own salt, although for most of the people of India it was only symbolic as
they never did used to make their own salt in any way. On April 6, 1930 Gandhi broke the Salt law at the sea beach at Dandi. This simple act was immediately followed by a nation-wide defiance of the law.
This movement came to be known as Civil Disobedience Movement. Within a few weeks about a hundred thousand men and women, thinking mistakenly that it was the beginning of the freedom movement, were in
jail, throwing mighty machinery of the British Government out of gear. Gandhi was arrested on May 5, 1930.

After his arrest, a more aggressive non-violent rebellion took place in which 2500 volunteers raided salt depots at Dharsana. In April 1930 there were violent police-crowd clashes in Calcutta. Approximately
over 100,000 people were imprisoned in the course of the Civil disobedience movement (1930-31), while in Peshawar unarmed demonstrators were fired upon by the British. Gandhi withdrew himself
from the movement. Sacrifice of the people was in vain. The British government had never withdrawn the tax on salt.

In January 1931, the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, ordered the release of Gandhi and together they signed the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, which called for an end of Congresss civil disobedience. In August, Gandhi went to
London to represent the Indian National Congress at the Second Round Table Conference; the first one was held without Congress participation in November 1930. That Conference in 1931has failed
mainly because of the change of government in Britain.

Gandhi returned to India and decided to resume the civil disobedience movement in January 1932. India was  then under the repressive policies of the new Viceroy, Lord Willingdon. The Indian National Congress had
been outlawed. Gandhi had restricted the civil disobedience movement to him and suspended it completely in 1934.Gandhi then had started his campaign against untouchability. Thus, Gandhi’s second Satyagraha also
could not achieve anything much because Gandhi as usual refused to continue it. That was Gandhi’s last and  the only Satyagraha as a mass political movement for the freedom movement.

Quit India movement is not a Satyagraha:

In 1942, Japan already liberated Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Subhas Chandra Bose hoisted Indian flags there. Free India government in exile or Azad Hind Government was recognized by the Soviet Union,
Japan, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Imperial China. Indian national army and Imperial Japanese army was on the doorstep of the British India. Gandhi refused to be outsmarted by Netaji Subhas and started his last mass movement, which was not a Satyagraha.

In August 1942, Gandhi gave forth the slogan Quit India for the British but he had no plan how to execute the programme. The Congress passed a resolution on 8 August 1942, which stated that, the immediate
ending of the British rule in India, was an urgent necessity both for the sake of India and the success of United Nations. The congress resolved to launch a mass Civil Disobedience struggle on the widest
possible scale for the vindication of India’s unalienable right to freedom and independence if the British rule did not end immediately. The day after the resolution was passed, the Congress was banned and
all the important leaders were arrested including Gandhi. That provoked spontaneous demonstrations at many places and people resorted to the use of violence, not Satyagraha, to dislodge the foreign rule.

Unarmed crowds faced police and military firing on many occasions and they were also machine gunned by low- flying aircraft. Repression also took the form of taking hostages from the villages, imposing
collective fines, whipping of suspects and burning of villages. By the end of 1942, over 60,000 persons had been arrested. Martial law had not been proclaimed but the army did whatever it wanted. The brutal
and all-out repression succeeded within a period of 6 or 7 weeks in bringing about a cessation of the struggle. As usual Gandhi already withdrew himself from that movement within a few days after it has

Since 1942, Gandhi was busy making plans to partition India to create Pakistan, the idea of which Gandhi has accepted even in 1940, according to both B.R.Ambedkar and Sri Aurobindo. Nehru and Patel as
representative of Gandhi were in regular consultations with the Vice-Roy of India on how best to help the British war efforts against Japan and the Azad Hind Fauz. Freedom movement was not in their mind.

Gandhi had initiated a number of his personal Satyagraha on a number of issues unrelated to the freedom movement; most of these were not successful. Sri Aurobindo made this comment about Satyagraha:

Gandhi fasted in the Ahmedabad mill-hands strike to settle the question between mill- owners and workers. The mill-owners did not want to be responsible for his death and so they gave way, without of course, being convinced of his position. But as soon as they found the situation normal they reverted to their old ideas. The same thing happened in South Africa. He got some concessions there by passive  resistance and when he came back to India it became worse than before.

Gandhi’s fast in Calcutta in 1947 has ended communal riot only in Calcutta for a while, but thereafter the whole country engulfed itself in communal murders and mayhem. Gandhi’s fast in 1948 to force the
newly independent India government to pay the due financial share to Pakistan was against his closest admirers and disciples, and it was bound to be successful. However, these have nothing to do with the
independence movement.


It is a common belief in India and in the Western world that Gandhi through his non-violence Satyagraha has gave India independence from the British rule. The truth is somehow very different.

According to the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, during whose regime India became free, the creation of the INA( Indian National Army) and mutiny the RIN ( Royal Indian Navy) of February 18-23 1946
made the British realise that their time was up in India. An extract from a letter written by P.V. Chuckraborty, former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, on March 30 1976, reads thus:

“When I was acting as Governor of West Bengal in 1956, Lord Clement Attlee, who as the British Prime Minister in post war years was responsible for India’s freedom, visited India and stayed in Raj
Bhavan Calcutta for two days. I put it straight to him like this: “The Quit India Movement of Gandhi practically died out long before 1947 and there was nothing in the Indian situation at that time which made
it necessary for the British to leave India in a hurry. Why then did they do so?’ In reply Attlee cited several reasons, the most important of which were the INA activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, which
weakened the very foundation of the British Empire in India, and the RIN Mutiny which made the British realise that the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to prop up the British. When asked about
the extent to which the British decision to quit India was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s 1942 movement, Attlee’s lips widened in smile of disdain and he uttered, slowly, “Minimal’.”

(in Anuj Dhar’s website:; Dhanjaya Bhat, The Tribune, February 12, 2006; Majumdar, R. C., Jibanera Smritideepe, Calcutta, General Printers and Publishers, 1978, pp. 229-230; R.Borra, “Subhas Chandra Bose, The Indian National Army, and The War of Indias Liberation’, The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1982 (Vol. 3, No. 4), pages 407-439;

Indian soldiers of the Royal Indian Navy have started their revolt at Bombay harbour on 18 February 1946 in association with the growing unrest in India when the British had started mass executions of the
members of the Azad Hind Fauz, as reported in The Hindustan Times, 2 November 1945. From the initial flashpoint in Bombay, the mutiny spread and found support all over India, from Karachi to Calcutta and
involved 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 soldiers. Industrial workers in Bombay area joined in. In Madras and Pune the British garrisons had to face revolts within the ranks of the Indian
army. However, both the Congress and the Muslim League betrayed that revolt. Although both Gandhi and Jinnah condemned it, but it had a decisive role for the independence of India by forcing the British to
realize they cannot depend on the Indian in the army, navy or in the air force. Lord Mountbatten has described India in 1946 as a burning ship in the mid-ocean.

Famous historian Ramesh Chadra Majumdar dismissed the contribution of Satyagraha to the eventual independence of India. He said, ” The campaigns of Gandhi… came to an ignoble end about fourteen years
before India achieved independence… In particular, the revelations made by the INA trial, and the reaction it produced in India, made it quite plain to the British, already exhausted by the war, that they could no longer depend upon the loyalty of the sepoys for maintaining their authority in India. This had probably the greatest influence upon their final decision to quit India. (Majumdar, R.C., Three Phases of Indias Struggle for Freedom, Bombay, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan).

Thus, one should not just believe in the official version of the recent Indian history, which has propagated that only Gandhi and Nehru through the Satyagraha has brought freedom to India. The reality is quite different, but was hidden so far due the massive state power to advertise Satyagraha, which as a mass movement has failed everywhere whether in India or in South Africa.

Dr.Dipak Basu

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