Historians: What Exactly Did Ghandi Do?

      • Someone I was speaking to (okay, political-debate-style sparring with) spouted the slogan “Ghandi accomplished more with peace than anyone before him did with war”.

…Now I have seen this saying on t-shirts but don’t really know what it means (-it was not the Ghandi t-shirt that I had; mine simply had a picture of his smiling head and beneath it said “cool like Ghandi”).

When I asked the speaker to elaborate, they were unable to explain exactly what Ghandi did, except “promote peace”. And they were busy and had a lot of work to do and all. Anybody know?

One thing he did was spell his name Gandhi.

Extensive website on M.K. Gandhi.

The Gandhi Nobody Knows

Some of these critiques seem drawn from the rather negative contemporary Orwell essay on Gandhi that appears in most of his essay anthologies.

The short version is that Gandhi realized that the British did not have a large enough presense in India to rule the country without the cooperation of some Indians. Gandhi organized national campaigns to encourage Indians not to work in activities that supported British rule, thereby making the country “ungovernable” by the British. Gandhi also realized that British efforts to repress the Indian independance movement caused the British government to take actions which international opinion and domestic opinion in the UK would disapprove of. Gandhi framed these confrontations in a manner which would reflect most poorly on the British government and publicized them to sway support to his cause.

“The Gandhi Nobody Knows” article from Commentary also draws on the rather fanatically anti-Gandhian and anti-Indian writings of V. S. Naipaul. Gandhi certainly had his oddities and vices, but almost everything written about him by people who actually knew him suggests that he was far more kind, sensible, compassionate, humble, and principled than the Commentary essay suggests. All in all, a pretty biased, ill-informed, and out-of-date article.

On the other hand, the mkgandhi.org sources that the first link provides tilt pretty far to the other side, being frankly hagiographic. It’s hard to find Gandhi materials online that aren’t one or the other: either idealizing him as a saint of nonviolence, or trying to poke as many holes as they can in his legend.

I’d suggest reading a bit of the voluminous output that Gandhi himself wrote and judging for oneself what he was like. The site in the link is also pretty hagiographic, but has lots of original sources and some interesting articles.

Or if you just want a quickie biography to give you some idea of why Gandhi is considered such a hero, try this one.