Mohandas Gandhi was born on October 2nd, 1869. His father was chief minister in the Porbandar state in the Indian Empire. As a young boy he read many Hindu Scriptures and Indian Classics, and this gave him a foundation for his work in later years. Due to the customs of the region at that time, at age 13 he was married to a 14-year-old girl. They went on to have four sons.
In 1888, Gandhi traveled to London and studied law in University College London and was trained as a barrister. He wanted to establish a law practice in London but instead he accepted a job from an Indian firm in South Africa.
In South Africa, he witnessed and experienced racial discrimination. This led him into politics as he fought for the rights of Indians in South Africa. It was in South Africa that he earned the honorific ‘Mahatma’ which means “high-souled” or “venerable” in Sanskrit.
In 1915, when he returned to India, Gandhi entered politics and began speaking at the National Indian Congress. He spoke out against certain British policies that discriminated against Indians. He was arrested a few times in his life, but his first arrest caused a mass protest outside the jail, forcing the judge to let him go. Gandhi employed non-cooperation, non-violence and peaceful resistance as his “weapons” in the struggle against the British. His most famous protest was the Salt March. To protest against the British monopoly of salt, he organized a 388-kilometer march to the sea at Dandi, Gujarat to make salt himself. This campaign was successful and the colonial government decided to negotiate with Gandhi.
His leadership approach embraced three lessons, these were (i) personal growth, (ii) the value of power, and (iii) the importance of saying ‘no’.
First, Gandhi understood the importance of personal growth in his life. Despite being an accomplished leader in his community, Gandhi always sought out greater understanding through study of religious scripture. He once said, “Constant development is the law of life; and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.” Gandhi also believed that we had to be the change we want to see in the world. If we want to have a positive impact on the world, we have to first develop those positive qualities in ourselves — good habits, discipline, humility etc.
Second, in the fight for independence against the British, Gandhi knew that if they fought using conventional means, they would not win. Instead, he decided that adopting a nonviolent approach would be much more effective. Against the mighty British, tactics such as fasting, hunger marches and political rhetoric became weapons as Gandhi used the power of influence and persuasion to win the support of Indian people across the country. This involved the clear articulation of his vision, the ability to motivate and inspire, and the courage to lead from the front during tough times.
Third, Gandhi famously said “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” He demonstrated his resolve to this principle throughout his life, with adhering to his principles of nonviolent protest. Notably, when he served as leader of the Indian National Congress Party, he refused to participate in, or condone the violence committed by other party members. He believed that the man whose words of silence and peace echoed louder; than any shouts of violence or screams of rebellion. Gandhi showed to the world a message that keeps on inspiring.
Through the application of these leadership lessons, Mahatma Gandhi became a political and spiritual leader of India. He helped India gain its independence and is honored in India as the ‘Father of the Nation’. His life inspired others to employ non-violence in fighting for civil rights.
As a consequence of his leadership and World War II, an intensified desire and demand for independence grew. India was eventually partitioned along religious lines and Pakistan was created. The division of India sorely upset Gandhi who believed in religious unity. Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a fellow countryman and Hindu extremist. A loss that was mourned deeply by his country and around the world.