Born in Porbandar, Kathiawar, Gandhi studied law in London and, in 1893, gave up a wellpaid legal practice in Bombay to work in South Africa for £1 a week, where he spent 21 years opposing legal discrimination against the Indian population. On his return to India in 1914, he developed an interest in the Swaraj (freedom) movement and soon rose to prominence in the Congress Party, becoming its president in 1924. In 1930, he led a famous Salt March to the Dandi coast in defiance of the government’s tax on salt. He chose civil disobedience, noncooperation and fasting as means to oppose the injustices he linked to the British Raj.
During World War II, Gandhi described the Cripps’ proposals of 1942 as “a post-dated cheque” on a crashing bank and he was instrumental in the launch of the Congress Party’s ‘Quit India’ campaign which led to his arrest, on 9th August 1942, and imprisonment until 1944.
In the years that followed, Gandhi continued to campaign for Indian independence whilst doing whatever he could to prevent the adoption of any strategy involving partition as a means of satisfying conflicting political demands. However, talks with Mohammed Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League, in 1944 were unsuccessful. In 1946, Gandhi held talks with the British Cabinet Mission but he opposed their proposals which he saw as advancing the prospects for partition. In May 1947, he greeted the British decision to grant independence as “the noblest act of the British nation”. Both before and after the announcement on independence, many of his energies were absorbed in dialogue with Muslim and Hindu leaders in efforts to ease communal violence, the prayer meetings that were part of his daily routine, and fasts to shame the perpetrators of violence.
Gandhi marked 15th August 1947 with a 24-hour fast in Calcutta. The independence he had sought for so long came at too high a price, partition, and the problems of hunger and communal violence continued to trouble him. On 30th January 1948, he was shot dead by a Hindu extremist in New Delhi.