Gandhi’s Initiation in Politics

 To commemorate the Mahatma’s birth anniversary: 2 October 1869

By Chit Dukhira

Mahatma Gandhi spent 21 years (between 1893 and 1914) in South Africa where he had gone to work as a lawyer. There he fought for the downtrodden against the racist and tyrannical authorities through satyagraha (passive resistance).

The Mauritian Thambi Naidoo was his lieutenant during his campaign there. While conceding that many problems of South African Indians remained unsolved, Gandhi thus wrote in his Indian Opinion of 8 July 1914: “The struggle that went on for eight years has come to an end, and such an end as (…) hardly any other movement in modern times has been crowned with.”

Called to the bar in London and hosted in South Africa by wealthy Muslim traders at first, Gandhi was now, when returning home for good, groomed in socio-political affairs. He was at home with the Indian masses with whom he easily identified himself in culture including dress. The physical and spiritual training, in addition to the practice in journalism that he gave to the inmates and others at the Phoenix Settlement in Natal and the Tolstoy Farm in Transvaal had proved useful in the success of his peaceful but defiant march. His European friends like Polak, Kallenbach, Revd Doke and Revd C F Andrews had given Gandhi all their support in his struggle in South Africa.

Gandhi explained all his acts including the expenses incurred for public cause at meetings or receptions organised throughout the country before his definite departure. Yet, a number of the Indians, especially from the trading sector, queried him about the funds. He told his critics that he had left all the related documents and books with Polak who would obligingly furnish particulars to those interested. As he had decided in or around March 1911, a public trust was created for the Phoenix Farm, which, including the machinery and the other assets of the Indian Opinion, was valued at £5000. The Tolstoy Farm had been wound up in January 1913.

On 18 July 1914, Gandhi left South Africa definitely for India where he was to pursue even more passionately than in South Africa his outstanding and successful battle with the authorities that led to independence of the country. Inspired by truth and ahimsa (non-violence), he attached special attention to the use of just and fair means against the oppressive British Empire. In 1930, Gandhi used satyagraha, an unprecedented tactic that he developed in South Africa, during his decisive Salt March in India which eventually led to its Independence in 1947.

The Mahatma’s contributions to national freedom in India as well as, though indirectly, in Mauritius, especially through his envoy Manilal Doctor, and in South Africa are well known. For the Independence of Mauritius, the Father of the Mauritian Nation, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, chose 12 March in remembrance of 12 March 1930 when Mahatma Gandhi had launched his Salt March. Nelson Mandela, an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, widely regarded as being next to him among the great moral leaders of the 20th century, liberated South Africa in 1994.

* Published in print edition on 1 October 2010

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