Gandhi @150: Rethinking India’s Non-Violent Revolutionary

2019 marks the 150th birth anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi. To many he remains an inspirational figure – the apostle of peace who almost single-handedly led the struggle to free India from the yoke of empire. Contemporary activists involved in climate change, peace and anti-imperialist movements point to Gandhi as the iconic exemplar of non-violent resistance. But in the era of decolonising education, it has been agreed to remove a statue of Gandhi in Ghana over accusations of racism, and the #MeToo campaign, has ignited controversy over his attitude towards women. Inspiration and controversy also apply to his non-violent approach – both its efficacy and effectiveness. Gandhi’s mass movements in many respects lay at the intersection of the disparate interests of varied social constituents: corporate magnets, landlords, rich peasants, and workers, poor and landless peasants, untouchables and forest dwellers. This paper will locate Gandhi’s life, ideas and work within a larger process and examine the contradictions of how he stimulated mass movements for social change, but then strove to limit their impact within certain bounds. As such, Gandhi was arguably a contradictory revolutionary. This paper will interrogate Gandhi’s non-violence as a political strategy and argue that only by making a distinction between his intentions and outcomes can we unravel this enigmatic ‘non-violent revolutionary’. In this way the relative successes, limitations and weaknesses of his peculiar approach can be addressed.