Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Gujarat in 1869; he grew up to become one of the greatest figures of the twentieth century. His life ended abruptly when he was assassinated on 30th January 1948. Gandhi was among the most successful leaders by his own standards, but the least successful especially in the eyes of many. It is said that he was charismatic but at the same time deliberate and analytical. Largely he was much a product of his times; however, he got most of his inspiration from the Bhagavad-Gita, which was written thousands of years before he was born. Gandhi was an orator, a politician, an intellectual, and a writer. There is no doubt that Gandhi was a very complex man, a man who attracted both admirers and critics, but also believed very much in simple things. His people called him Mahatma a word that means great soul, and Bapu that means father. He was therefore both of these two things not just to his homeland India, but also to tens of thousands of people around the world (Jerome 1999, p3).
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He was born in a Hindu family that was politically minor, a family whose beliefs were largely influenced by a non-violent religious group called Jainism, a group that was strictly vegetarian. Both Gandhi’s father and grandfather were once Prime Ministers of small princely states in India. When his father passed on, Gandhi was 16 years old, a tragedy that greatly hurt him, especially when he remembered that he was with his wife at the time instead of being at his father’s side when he died. This has been a bone of contention with some arguing that this may have been the cause of his celibacy vows later on in his life, while others deny this saying that the vows were made long after the father’s death as a way of strengthening his determination to enable him focus exclusively on his values. In fact, Mahatma had four sons. He was what many called a bland scholar who later decided to train as a lawyer in London, where he spent his time from 1888 to 1891. He did this against the fear of his people that he will break the convention, and against his wish not to leave his illiterate wife alone. Nevertheless, his zeal and determination to avoid temptation and learn some new ideas drove him on. For instance, Gandhi liked the New Testament of the bible but disliked the Old Testament. He moved to South Africa in 1893 after unsuccessfully trying out his law practice back home, while in south he worked as an advisor to a very rich Muslim Indian community. He moved back to India in 1901 to rejoin his wife only to return in 1902 on request from the South African Indian community (Schraff 2008, p 16).
Gandhi stayed in South Africa for a total of 21 years. Just a week into his stay there, a critical event in his life occurred, while travelling on a train, he was asked by a European to leave the First Class compartment. This was despite the fact that he had the right ticket; this was followed by other racial injustices in his first years there. Mahatma bore his two main ideas while staying in South Africa, these were the Swaraj that stood for independence for India, and spiritual renewal for each Indian, and Satyagrha that symbolized truth, love and non-violence. It is worth noting that Satyagraha was more than just civil disobedience, just as Gandhi saw, passive resistance can easily transform into active resistance and eventually violence. However, he felt that respect for the other party was important and therefore he forbade any form of violence. His main objective was to completely, transform India and its people (Ghandi and Tutu 2007, p. 56).
While still in South Africa, Gandhi learned many things form Christian and Jewish friends and developed tremendous respect for ideas of Leo Tolstoy among others. In his work, Tolstoy stated that all government is based on war, and that all these evils can only be countered via passive resistance. He also involved himself in helping out those in need. For instance, he was the Red Cross leader, leading a unit in the Boer war of 1899, an initiative that saw him appreciated by the British. He fought for the rights of many Indians living in South Africa. The intense suffering of the Zulus in 1906 left Gandhi deeply moved, he therefore organized an ambulance corps to Zululand. He noted in his autobiography that one of his principle joys was nursing. He went to great lengths just to see that others lived a comfortable life. He used as a tool to express his deep sense of sorrow at disappointments from loved ones, to atone for the misdeeds of his followers, to stir spiritual feelings in others and appeal to their moral sense, and to reconcile quarrelling parties. It is recorded that he fasted 17 times during the whole of his life time (Herndon 2010, p1).
All these activities and initiatives earned Gandhi fame and popularity back home; attributes that gave him instant platform for his actions when he went back. Gandhi was always civil in his activities even towards the oppressive British leaders. He trusted his duties to the empire particularly during times of crisis. He demonstrated this by the many ambulance groups that he organized during the British World War 1 and when he recruited troops to fight for the British back home in 1918. He was simply pro-Indian, pro-truth, and pro non-violence. In short, Mahatma was pro-human rights, an attitude that he took with him back to India. He left South Africa with a strong foundation for his philosophy in life, a confirmed method of organizing people in order to get political results, a reputation that was growing very fast, and a personal self confidence that was huge. In India, he led many initiatives largely on humanitarian grounds. He led his country to independence but was opposed to some of the government’s policies. For instance, he was very muc opposed to Hindu-Muslim divisions. This government opposition led to his assassination by Nathuram Godse who was a Hindu extremist, on January 30th 1948 (Gandhi 2008, p 647).
Gandhi learned most of his leadership skills during his stay in South Africa and refined them in India. As earlier stated, he was naturally charismatic; he had a feel for the needs of his followers, a fact that made him to strive to learn the methods and develop the tools that would enable him lead them better. What he learned is very much instructive to many leaders today. He was a very good example of the leadership model proposed in “leadership truths”. What this means is that he had a value system that was solid like a rock from which all his initiatives came from. As a leader, he always wanted to make changes and not just any change, but important changes at every turn in his life. He had a relationship with his follower that was totally independent (Darshan 2007, p1).
To understand better his leadership, one has to look at his beliefs. As earlier highlighted, his wide range of interests and learning enabled him to gain knowledge and a diverse assimilation of other faiths. He was a great learner and experimenter in about all aspects of his activities and in the whole of his life on earth. Everything he did revolved around his beliefs. He saw a direct relationship with one’s God in Islam, the unity of life in Hinduism, and love in Christianity. To him religion was what an individual did but not what one believed, that everything was about an individual’s actions. People learn from the western doctrines about the mind or body, or the mind, body or soul with the ego and the id as distinctions of the mind. Gandhi on other hand came up with his own theory of the human being, borrowing from teachings from Hindu together with his own additions. Some of which appear to be inconsistent from others, though this should not be seen as some intellectual immaturity but as a reflection of his learning process over time (Jayabalan 1998, p1).
He saw humanity in four parts, the body that splits in two, the physical body and the senses by which individuals communicate with their surroundings. Secondly, there is the mind; he distinguished intelligence (Buddhi) and consciousness (Chetana). Thirdly, Gandhi classified the third part of humanity as the spirit (Attman) just like the other Hindus. This is important especially in understanding his Satyagraha, a value he designed to reignite the spiritual self in everyone. The fourth part is the moral disposition or the psychological that is unique to every person. He strongly believed that spiritual renewal is the gateway to personal freedom (Dasa 2005, p 39).
What makes me admire Gandhi is his strict belief in truth, he saw it as everything, and that it was embedded in the concept of spiritual renewal and non-violence or simply the Satyagraha and the Swaraj. He saw that Satyagraha was not just a political technique but a moral statement that guides one on how to act politically. This was seen in his actions, if events were not well conducted, Gandhi refused to act and on many occasions, he called off protests that he had organized or other activities until proper conduct was made. He related truth to cleanliness, humility, poverty and celibacy, to unity of religions and beliefs and lastly to the goodness of mankind. He believed strongly that individuals are capable of doing good, an attribute that enabled him succeed as a leader, and a reason for his failures in life. He was born with truth, lived with truth, and died in truth. He was a man with a simple heart free of pretensions and deceit. Even his enemies admitted that Gandhi did not know how to pretend or lie. Despite all these, Gandhi did not take credit or proclaim himself as a truthful person, rather he saw himself as an ordinary man who had failings in his life. This simplicity that Gandhi carried with him beats many leaders of today; he was a man that many of us will like to have as a leader today (Dasa 2005, p 2).
Whole life on other revolved about actions, to initiate positive change, an area where he both succeeded and failed, but he never gave up but sought ways to move forward in search for improvement spiritually and socially, not just for individuals but for the whole nation at large. He succeeded in some of the changes and failed in others, where he succeeded, sometimes the success took years long after the action, to be felt. For instance, the Salt tax was fully repealed after independence. At every point, his actions were solidly directed at a specific change that he wanted to bring about. His life was dedicated to serving others and unselfishly representing their needs. His charisma together with spirituality served to add more value to his rationalism in dealing with each issue that came his way. They helped him in evaluating how to motivate and lead his followers in the best way possible (Simerjeet 2009, p1).
Gandhi saw the future as a combination of the moral, the spiritual, and the practical, and through consistently applying this vision, he managed to lead his followers well. He believed that people should take responsibility for their own situation; he believed the lack of self respect among the Indians paved way for the British to rule them. He therefore embarked on making them belief in themselves and taking the situation in their own hands, to get their own independence. He only chose causes that were of importance to his followers bringing alive the visions of how success will look like in them. This was seen in his initiatives in an effort to bring a fair treatment of people while in South Africa, the repealing of the Salt tax and eventually the actual independence of the Indian people. He did not just use flowery visions or philosoophical statements, but aimed at laying out objectives that were concrete; those that people could buy into and act upon. As a leader, he managed to come up with a powerful and appropriate vision to the group of his followers. Intellectually, he could write very complex works just to make sure that all understand his point, but he could also express the feelings of those he led in simple and eloquent ways. When explain why the Indians needed the freedom from the salt tax, he picked up a handful of salt on the beach in a practical expression of the need. This act has since been used by many leaders in their leadership (Ghandi & Tutu 2007, p 8).
It can be said that Mahatma used few unique organizational methods, but clearly, he knew how to get his followers in the right place and for the right purpose. As it was seen right from his life in South Africa, arranging ambulance corps, setting up formal protest organizations, and raising funds and sometimes recruiting troops to fight in the war, he was naturally an organizer. Literally, Gandhi lived the life that he wanted others to live. He showed precisely how people should behave both in high profile political positions and in the normal day to day life. When one looks at the philosophy and structure of the constructive program, where Gandhi uses a spinning wheel, he or she sees a symbol of revolution and a demonstration method of how to build a perfect India. He believed strongly that nothing can make humility and cleanliness come alive than the act itself, something he practically liked doing. He did many chores like cleaning the latrines and many others. Words were also his greatest enabling tool; these ranged from writing protest letters, to the constructing of the Indian Congress Party’s constitution. His dedication to actions enabled his followers to emulate him. His greatest phrase was, “do what I do, not what I say”, a phrase that enabled and energized his followers at the same time (Gandhi &Brown 2008, p 276).
Mahatma had a unique way of uniting people; his life was a combination of freedom and discipline not just for himself, but for his followers also. Empowering people with methods and desire for Satyagraha was his greatest success. When his followers faced attack or even prison, they were alone but connected in spirit to their fellow protesters. They were free to do whatever they pleased keeping in mind that they had a contract with Gandhi as well as with each other. He desired to serve them just as they also served him and their cause. It is believed that his believe in the goodness of everyone blinded him from the frailty of human nature. That allowing those who cannot overcome temptations to go free can lead to unpredictable consequences. This emerged in the partition violence (Gandhi, Merton, & Kurlansky 2007, p 42).
He had the gift of choosing causes that will bring maximum impact and with the highest probability of touching every individual. He fought for the good of many unlike the leaders of today who place their interests first before those of the people they lead. For instance, many members of the congress did not approve of Gandhi’s Salt tax issue. It was seen as a minor issue in the fight for India’s independence, but the salt march organized by Gandhi, caught the imagination of the whole nation, the global media and eventually the whole world. It was not just that he could energize on a global scale, but he could also touch the souls of individuals. A good example is where a judge hoped that Gandhi will be leniently dealt with despite the fact that the judge to serve a mandatory sentence on him. His humility and care to all including his opponents implied that almost every person he met had an emotional response to him and his actions. He knew how to manage contradictions and also how to set the stage for resolving them, he always wanted every one to stay peaceful, free from any worries. (Dasa 2005, p 34).
As it has been outlined, Gandhi had some profound influence over the whole world. His effects were, and are, still being felt in the present world. His selflessness and the desire to help others enabled saw the creation of the world’s largest democracy. He showed the world how to think and act upon systems of values. This influenced the thinking of many important world figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Directly, Gandhi influenced Civil Rights Movements in the United States, that later led to the broad concerns of human rights and activities that happen in the present world. When looked at practically, his Swadeshi focus formed the basis for India’s industrial policy, a contribution that bore fruits during the leadership of Nehru. He came up with his own methods to solve problems in a situation where other methods had failed. He went great lengths to see his dreams fulfilled to extent of going against tradition. He understood within him that the British could not be fought with force, he therefore went ahead to come with another way. He saw that power lay in the ordinary people; he therefore inspired men and women in the country to fight for a common goal. He was not bothered with the lack of resources. He leadership style was follower-centred, and one that strictly weighed the existing conditions before coming up with a strategy. He believed that justice could not be achieved by gaining power over others, but by gaining power over oneself, that people must become the change they want to see. His style of leadership was a perfect example of adopting style to suit the culture. If what he did was good or bad, the fact remains that there was never a leader before, and after like him, one who will unite Indians, and make them forge forward on a common cause of demanding for their rights (Rudolph H. & Rudolph 1983 L. P 63).