Q. “Gandhi’s mystique consisted of a union of original ideas with a remarkable flair for tactics and an uncanny insight in the mass mind.” Elucidate.

Q. “Gandhi’s mystique consisted of a union of original ideas with a remarkable flair for tactics and an uncanny insight in the mass mind.” Elucidate. 


It was Gandhi’s mystique which enabled him to dominate the course of Indian freedom struggle and ultimately realizing the dream of Independent India. His charisma made him an acceptable leader of every section of society and helped him to organised one of the biggest mass movement against the colonial rule. ©

Three elements of his mystique:

  • His original ideas with a remarkable flair for tactics:
    • He believed in multi-class movement. To realize this, he always tried bring different groups on the same platform and cemented the inner fissures among various groups. This tactic is seen in his various programs.
      • the use of Satyagraha by Gandhi and the Congress in national movement brought different sections and classes of society together against the British rule.
      • Selecting issue of salt during civil disobedience movement, as it appealed to all sections of people.
    • Satyagraha: The movements had certain ideological framework whose centre was Satyagraha (i.e. ‘true force’).
      • This tactics was evolved by Gandhi in South Africa but after it had been fully developed it became a dominant element in India’s struggle for freedom from 1919 onwards.
      • For Gandhi, the Satyagraha was to be used so that by self suffering and not by violence the enemy could be converted to one’s own view. In involved weakening resolution of oppressor by insinuating a sense of guilt for the suffering they have part in causing.
      • Gandhi made a distinction between the Satyagraha and passive resistance:
        • The passive resistance has been conceived as a weapon of the weak and does not exclude the use of physical force or violence for the purpose of gaining one’s end.
        • Satyagraha has been conceived as a weapon of the strongest, and excludes the use of violence in any shape.
      • In practice, Satyagraha could assume various forms-fasting, non-violent picketing, different types of non-cooperation and ultimately in politics, civil disobedience in willing anticipation of the legal penalty.
        • Gandhi firmly believed that all these forms of Satyagraha were pure means to achieve pure ends.
    • Non-Violence:
      • It was accepted as a matter of principle.
        • Non-Violence formed the basis of Satyagraha.
        • For him, complete Non-Violence is complete absence of ill will against the one who have injured the person.
      • It also had a practical aspect, that was, use of violence would be a plea for the British to suppress the mass movement.
        • Non-violence also helped women participation, participation of masses, gaining sympathy of business industries etc.
        • He thought that use of violence would be plea for the British to suppress the mass movement.
        • Gandhi emphasised that non-violent Satyagraha could be practised by common people for achieving political,ends. But some time Gandhi took a position which fell short of complete non-violence.
        • His repeated insistence that even violence was preferable to a cowardly surrender to injustice sometimes created a deliate problem of interpretation.
        • In 1918 Gandhi campaigned for military recruitment in the hope of winning concessions from the British government after the war which cannot be easily recruited with the doctrine of non-violence.
    • Religion:
      • For Gandhi, religion could not be relegated to the realm of private opinion but must influence and permeate all activities of men. Gandhi was convinced that religion provided the fundamental basis for political action in India. e.g.
        • Gandhi took the Khilafat issue of the Muslims with a view to bringing them in the movement against the British government.
        • He also used the religious idiom through concepts like ‘Ram Raj‘ to mobilise people in the national movement.
        • He used stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata while appealing to women and Rural masses to participate in struggle.
    • Hind Swaraj:
      • It was the body of ideas which he illustrated in his book ‘Hind Swaraj’ (1909).
      • It reflected adverse effects of ‘modemisation‘ under the colonial rule on the artisans and poor peasantry in the countryside.
      • He critised railways as they had spread plague and produced famines by encouragihg the export of food grains. Here he saw Swaraj or self rule as a state of life which could only exist where Indians followed their traditional civilization uncorrupted by modem civilization.
      • Based on idea of Hind Swaraj, he took up the constructive programs like the programme of Khadi, village reconstruction and Harijan welfare (which included the removal of untouchability).
      • These tactics of Gandhi made the the whole country conscious of the new need for its social and economic reconstruction.
    • Swadeshi:
      • He advocated swadeshi which meant the use of things belonging to one’s own country, particularly stressing the replacement of foreign machine made goods with Indian hand made cloth.
      • This was his solution to the poverty of peasants who could spin at home to supplement their income and his cure for the drain of money to England in payment for imported cloth.
    • Struggle-Truce-Struggle (S-T-S):
      • Phases of a vigorous extra-legal mass movement and confrontation with colonial authority alternate with phases, during which direct confrontation is withdrawn, political concessions or reforms, if any, wrested from the colonial regime, and silent political work carried on among the masses within the existing legal framework, which, in turn, provides scope for such work.
      • Both phases of the movement are to he utilized, each in its own way:
        • to undermine the twin ideological notions on which the colonial regime rested — that British rule benefits Indians and that it is too powerful to be challenged and overthrown and
        • to recruit and train cadres and to build up the people’s capacity to struggle.
      • The entire political process of S-T-S’ was an upward spiralling one, which also assumed that the freedom struggle would pass through several stages, ending with the transfer of power by the colonial regime itself.
    • Dressing style and use of vernacular language:
      • He abandoned western style of clothing and adopted Dhoti and turban. He also used vernacular languages during his public meetings,
      • He used cloth as a symbolic weapon against the British rule. It also helped him in mobilising people who considered him as one of their own.
    • Theory of trusteeship:
      • Gandhi believed in the interdependence of capital and labour and advocated the concept of capitalists being ‘trustees’ for the workers.
      • Gandhi never encouraged politicization of the workers on class lines and openly abhorred militant economic struggles.
      • This way, he emphasised the broad unity that can and must be achieved on the basis of a larger objective among people divided on account of class or any other category.
    • However, many of the conceptions Gandhi used, developed and made popular were not new. Gandhi claimed no originality for himself. He said, “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as hills”.
      • Originality does not always lie in inventing new ideas. It also lies in giving old ideas new meanings and made practical and are popularised.
      • e.g. Swadeshi was one of the ideas, which was not new. Much before Gandhi, political reformers had talked of reviving indigenous industries. India had centuries-long traditions of indigenous industries.
  • He had deep insight into the mass mind:
    • Struggle-truce-struggle: He could see the fatigue among the people during long-drawn-out mass movement. So, he called off the movement when he got the opportunity of safe and honorable end of the movement.
    • Supporting Khilafat issue: He saw it as a unique opportunity for Hindu-Muslim unity.
    • Constructive program: Larger number of people could participate in national movement in their own way, even if not actively participating in mass movements.
    • Non-Violence: Attracted many participants like women.
    • Theory of trusteeship: Appealed to Capitalist, Landlord, labours etc
    • Chose issue of Salt: Which had no divisive element in it. Raising voice against this issue was acceptable to all sections of population.
    • Charkha and Khadi: Appealed to women, hindu-muslim unity.
    • Use of popular stories and symbols:
      • Gandhiji once talking to Hindu women said that British raj is like Ravan. We have to create a RamRajya. In creation of RajRajya, the role of Sita is important.
      • Talking to muslim women, he said that British Raj is like Shaitan.
    • His dressing style: He abandoned western-style of clothing and adopted Dhoti, which is a symbol of Indian poverty.
    • Language: He used varnacular language to communicate with the people.

However, there are some limitations of Gandhian mystique:

  • Gandhi’s critics sometime take the view that through the technique of Satyagraha, Gandhi succeeded in controlling the mass movements from above.
    • The dominant section in the peasantry and the business groups also found the Gandhian non-violent model convenient because they feared to lose if political struggle turned into uninhibited and violent social revolution.
  • The use of religious idiom prevented Gandhi and the national movement under his leadership from giving effective challenge to communalism.
  • Nehru did not subscribe to S-T-S strategy and believed that the Indian national movement had now reached a stage where there should be a permanent confrontation and conflict with imperialism till it was overthrown. The Congress, said Nehru, must maintain ‘an aggressive direct action policy.’ (Struggle-victory (S-V) strategy)
  • Rabindranath Tagore, B.R. Ambedkar and subhas chandra bose had some significant disagreement with him on various issues like, Varnashma systems, his approach towards freedom movement etc.
  • His emphasis of village economy has been seen by many as non-practical in modern time.

There was millenarian facet of Gandhian appeal (e.g. RamRajya). His ideas, tactics and insight into mind mass mind helped him rise as a symbol of power for powerless, a healer of miseries and sufferings and a messiahs.

Even in present time, his ideas and tactics are considered universal in nature and has been applied in freedom movements in different countries. e.g. by Martin Luther King during the American civil rights movement, Nelson Mandela during movement against apartheid. ©

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