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How History and Gandhi shaped the Rise of the new Indian Empire (Fall 2012)

            There is much debate today about where India fits into the long-term global economic picture.  Today India is the second largest populated country on the planet, outside of China. One can easily argue that lack of census data in both countries could make India the largest populated nation on the face of the earth, Given China’s one-child policy, India is easily projected to be the largest populated country on the planet in the future, and then for some time to come. India’s current economy and values do have a significant impact because of its potential markets to other countries in the world, as well as India’s companies competing for other business in many major market sectors world-wide. Regardless of what the current impact is today on local and global markets, India will someday play a larger role in shaping the future of the world.  

            Gandhi played an extremely influential role helping India achieve independence from the colonial British Empire, but by no means was he the main reason. History shows us that specific events and people are shaped by a wide degree of other factors, and that without these specific factors, it is really difficult to fully understand and appreciate what the significance of that event or person played. More importantly, it is nearly impossible to understand the accuracy of what is the prevailing opinion. History could be rewritten based on the opinions of a few, or the desire of a particular people, land, or culture to “popularize” that event or person. This is very dangerous and it is why history needs to be understood in context over time, and what forces drove that change. 

            In the case of Gandhi, most Western cultures today give him credit in shaping India’s independence, but little context is known by today’s generation that Gandhi was the benefactor of being at the right place at the right time in history to have such a large impact on the future of one nation, and that historical events were long in play that would have had a very large impact on India being its own country in the same or slightly longer period of time.  Gandhi was clearly a major part of that final outcome, but what other historical forces combined with his direction to forge the final outcome. The question then becomes how did Gandhi shape what was already in motion, and did he have an impact on changing that motion in a different direction, or did he just ride the wave and put his mark on it? Did his death provide one of the final blows to the British leaving, or had other economic and political forces left the British with no recourse by to “Quit India”? What type of nation would India be today without Gandhi having been involved, or the remapping of the World after WW II by Western Powers and Russian powers? What part did the vast world wide economic problems of the British after WW II have in their inability to govern as they did before, and how did that lead to Gandhi’s ability to use non-violent protest as an effective method to win India’s independence? How did the use of Indian troops fighting for the British have an impact on the mindset of Indians and their desire for freedom in a post WW II world? What subgroups were trying to achieve the same goal but with vastly different methods, and what influence did that have on India’s Independence? Which had more influence in the scope of the forces of historical change? How did Britain’s decision to split up India into separate Muslim (Pakistan) and Hindu Nations (India), impact the racial, political, economic, and cultural aspects of post WW II India, and how did that impact Gandhi’s position at that time?  How did the rising Cold War (Post World War II) and poverty in Europe effect India’s progress towards freedom, and how did that effect Gandhi?  These are very complicated topics in their own right, but their relationship to historical events and how they shaped the history of Gandhi and ultimately the independence of India and their position in the world today is of great importance.  It would not be possible to discuss all these events in this paper, rather this paper sets out to try and put some context to how different forces in history played an effect on Gandhi’s role in the independence of India, and in a slight way how that may have shaped what we see today in India.

Politics, Government, Economics, & Religious Historical Forces Converge to Form Modern Day India
            Great Britain has had a long history of Colonial domination. India became part of that Colonization through a series of wars and struggles. India had long been a strong trading partner with Great Britain, but through a series of wars with the French, and other British or French backed groups in India, Great Britain came to rule over the whole of India. It became “the Jewel in the Crown”, ultimately becoming the most important asset in the British colonial system, one which really defined them as the greatest real super power of the time. From Britain, through the Middle East, to India and Beyond, India became the central trading route for Great Britain. The British eventually acquired strong ties or other Colonial connections along that route. The vast make up of cultures, languages, religions, tribal politics, etc. was very complex. The British system united these types of differences in one main political thread, but differences would amass that would ultimately lead to many other wars and changes in cultures and actions across the entire world. Prior to British rule, India was dominated by many tribes and cultures (i.e. the Mughal Empire, Raj, etc). Over time this did pay a toll on the British and the cultures that they ruled. The rise and effectiveness of religions groups within the colonies fighting on moral grounds, as well as those in America, Australia, and elsewhere had an impact within the British system itself (slavery, use of force, taxation, import/export regulation, etc.). America and Australia had significant impacts on communities within those colonized British countries to help them desire their own freedom. This had long been a concept in mind.

            Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Porbandar, Gujarat, India in 1869. He was married in 1883 and moved to London to study law in 1888. He then moved to South Africa to work as an attorney. His time in South Africa, which was a Dutch Colony, was filled with very racist attitudes by the people against peoples of color, including Indians. This transformed his views of colonialism to where he then became a social advocate for change. There were many Indians working in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East.  He joined the Indian Civil Rights movement, which he then became the most recognized Indian Civil Rights activist on the earth. In 1916 he returned to India to fight for Indian independence and civil rights. In 1921 he became the de-facto leader of the INC (Indian National Congress), even though he never was its President. Through a series of protests, marches, and other peaceful actions, he was arrested and imprisoned by the British in 1922 (though 1924). Gandhi was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for Peace (1937-1939), but never won it. This is thought to be because the British Empire was opposed to it. After a rising series of more protests, and other items, Gandhi and his wife were arrested and imprisoned from 1942 to 1944 for starting the “Quit India” movement. His wife died in prison and his health became so bad they had to let him out in 1944.  He was assassinated by a Hindu Nationalist in January of 1948.  

            Those aspects that had significant impact within India during 1930 to 1947 were items like the purna svaraj--purna  pf 1930, where the Indian National Congress officially declared its independence from the British Empire. This created a swell of retaliation from the British.  In 1930 Gandhi also led a March to Dandi, which was to oppose the requirement by the British that specific products like sale had to be imported from British sources, which was ridiculous because India had many of its own sources. Gandhi was arrested for this, and then the British followed that up with the massacre of nearly 300 people in handling this situation in various areas.  At the time Great Britain got into World War II, Gandhi and others at the INC formed nation wide nonviolent protests with the slogan of “Quit India”. This was mainly a tactic to allow India itself to rely on its own resources. This failed, but had a long-term implication in unsettling the people of India towards British rule. On 14 and 15 August 1947, Great Britain gave away both British Pakistan and British India.The British decided to divide Punjab and Bengal, which were key provinces between mainly Muslim Pakistan, and mainly Hindu/Sihk northern This also caused tension in Kashmir. This ultimately created a war between Pakistan and India in 1947, which ultimately led to Gandhi’s assassination by a Hindu nationalist who felt that he had given far to many concession away to the Muslim community and also the Pakistani government during negotiations.

            During this same period the British had been through WW I and WW II. The world was drastically different. The British could no longer afford their colonial system after WW II. India had been through two world wars where a large part of their soldiers were used to fight abroad or battles within India with Indian sub-groups backed by Axis powers. Fighting in the Middle East broke out after WW II in British Colonies. After WWII, Britain left not only India and Pakistan, but nearly all its other holdings, including Jordan in 1946, Palestine in 1947, Sri Lanka in 1948, Myanmar in 1948, and Egypt in 1952. All of these territories broke out in major fighting nearly in the same time, not to mention what was going on in Palestine between the Arabs and the Jews in that same time frame after WW II. The world was in turmoil. America was trying to rebuild Europe and Japan. Communism and Democracy were at were in many of these countries. Each saw the other as their enemy and sought to take as much land or influence as possible. This even entered into the Indian continent. Clearly all of this activity played a role in speeding up the time line to Indian Independence. This is not to sell Gandhi short on his major contributions in bringing it about, it can clearly be seen that the British saw no way out, and they sought to try and build friendly post colonial relationships for trading and other such things. With all the damage that had taken place there was a minimal expectation by the British that keeping these colonies would be worth it, and that they would eventually lose so much more.

            British historians P.J. Cain and A.G. Hopkins described the hopeless situation of the British in India as “ungovernable”, and that India had slipped beyond control. The people were well on their way to complete mutiny. What I think is important to note about Gandhi is the “EXTRA” outrage it created with the people of India to see him imprisoned. This had a major influence on his health. These events played a large part in India getting its freedom. On another note about the future beyond this point in 1948, it can be seen that again politics, economics, and religion would play the largest part of shaping India to where it is today. Events in history don’t just happen, they are crafted from a long line of other events and people from the past.

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  2. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi By Tom Head, About.Com, “Civil Liberties”, http://civilliberty.about.com/od/raceequalopportunity/p/Mohandas-Gandhi-Biography.htm
  3. Mahatma Gandhi History Learning Site, http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/mahatma_gandhi.htm
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  5. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Wikipedia.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohandas_Karamchand_Gandhi
  6. Hitler, NOT Gandhi, Should Be Given Credit for the Independence of India in 1947, By Dr. Susmit Kumar, Ph.D. http://www.susmitkumar.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=100&Itemid=86
  7. What caused the fall of the British Empire, http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_caused_the_fall_of_the_British_Empire