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Summary Article: Gandhi, Mohandas K.
from Propaganda and Mass Persuasion: A Historical Encyclopedia, 1500 to the Present

This Indian nationalist leader, more commonly known by the title Mahatma (great soul) Gandhi, was born in Kathiawar, India. Gandhi trained as a lawyer in London and practiced law in Bombay. In 1893 he moved to South Africa and spent the next two decades fighting racial discrimination. In 1914 he returned to India and joined the struggle for home rule. Realizing that violent resistance would lead to further violence, he resorted to nonviolent methods of opposition. This approach both frustrated British rule and demonstrated Indian restraint, which deepened the gravity of the Indian cause before a global audience. In 1930 Gandhi led a mass march to the sea, where he proceeded to boil a small pan of seawater and collect the salt residue—in direct violation of the British government’s salt monopoly. He repeatedly used the hunger strike as a means of bringing the British to the negotiating table and was frequently jailed for his political activity. Every aspect of his life served as an argument against British domination and in favor of his vision of a return to a purer way of life for India. He wove his own clothes and, whether in India or on a visit to London, sought the company of and championed the poor and the needy. As a lawyer, he also understood the value of the well-turned phrase. When asked about European civilization, he quipped that it sounded like “a good idea.” His leadership was instrumental in winning Indian independence in 1947, but his mystical vision of India’s destiny was not strong enough to contain the various factions warring within India. Seeing India riven by violence between Hindu and Muslim, Gandhi sought to restore order through a fast for peace. In January 1948 a Hindu fanatic murdered Gandhi on his way to a public prayer service. Gandhi’s life illustrated the propaganda value of nonviolence and provided a powerful model for the African American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

See also Civil Rights Movement; Indian Subcontinent; Ireland; King, Martin Luther, Jr.; Peace and Antiwar Movements (1945–)

  • Gandhi, M. K., An Autobiography. London: Penguin, 1982.
  • Watson, Francis. Gandhi. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • Nicholas J. Cull
    Copyright 2003 by Nicholas J. Cull, David Culbert, and David Welch

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