GS Mains History Q&A: 5

Q.5 Mahatma Gandhi was neither a Moderate nor an Extremist but influenced by both. Discuss. 


Gandhi’s political thoughts were inspired by to both the Moderates and the Extremists and he used the techniques of both in a more practical and dynamic way. He adopted the goal of moderates, i.e. self-rule via non-violent techniques and wedded it with the means of extremists.

  • G.K. Gokhale, a prominent Moderate was considered as the political guru of Gandhi. He also drew upon B.G. Tilak’s mass-based politics and adopted it on a national scale.
  • Unlike the Moderates, Gandhi firmly believed in the revolutionary potential of the masses. This belief had been strengthened by his experiences in South Africa.
  • Gandhi believed in ‘self-reliance’, as propagated by Swami Vivekananda and encouraged empowerment of masses, education in vernacular languages and popularisation of local custom and traditions.
  • Gandhi did not believe in complete separation of religion from politics. He supported the Khilafat movement despite its deeply religious overtones. However, he encouraged only the moral aspects of religion and shunned the orthodoxies and rituals used by the extremists.
  • Gandhi adopted the extremist idea of using Swadeshi products (e.g. Khadi or homespun cloth) and popularised constructive works on a wider scale.
  • Though Gandhi considered non-violence as infinitely superior to violence, he also said: “I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.”