Gandhi: Your assessment of his character & contribution to winning Indian Independence?

Sep 2015
Sri Lanka
what did Dr Amerdkar have to say that wasn't positive, Rajeev?
In a rare radio interview to the BBC one year before his death, he explained the duplicitous core of the Mahatma with chilling lucidity. “I knew Gandhi better than most people because he opened his real fangs to me, and I could see the inside of the man. Gandhi was all the time double-dealing. He ran a paper in English and another in Gujarati, and if you read them both you will see how he was deceiving the people. In the English paper he posed himself as an opponent of the caste system and of untouchability and that he was a democrat, while in the Gujarati one he supported the caste system and professed all the orthodox dogmas that have kept India down all through the ages. Someone ought to write his biography by making a comparative study of the statements he made in these papers. The West reads only the English paper. Gandhi never wanted real upliftment of the Dalits. All he cared about were issues of absolutely no consequence to us like temple entry. Gandhi was never a reformer.”
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Nov 2014
Birmingham, UK
yes I remember reading about the incidents when Dr Ambedkar was campaigning for a reservation of Parliamentary seats for untouchables, and the hunger strike Gandhi undertook in 1932 to prevent this; I believe the result of his hunger strike was inter-communal rioting that killed many untouchables.
Oct 2015
what did Dr Amerdkar have to say that wasn't positive, Rajeev?
Ambedkar talked candidly about Gandhi in an interview to BBC on 26th Feb 1955. He gave his assessment of Gandhi as a ruthless politician and a tough negotiator. Impression was based on negotiations between Gandhi and Ambedkar during 2nd Round Table Conference (1931) and later during finalization of Poona Pact (1932). I guess mostly of the latter.

Full interview is also available on Youtube. I may add at this of his life was Ambedkar sounds a rather disillusioned man.

Following is the link to 4 minute extract from the interview (English).

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Oct 2015
yes I remember reading about the incidents when Dr Ambedkar was campaigning for a reservation of Parliamentary seats for untouchables, and the hunger strike Gandhi undertook in 1932 to prevent this; I believe the result of his hunger strike was inter-communal rioting that killed many untouchables.
Do not recall riots and/or killing of untouchables connected with Poona Pact (1932). Can anyone please give some primary reference?
Aug 2019
. He ran a paper in English and another in Gujarati, and if you read them both you will see how he was deceiving the people. In the English paper he posed himself as an opponent of the caste system and of untouchability and that he was a democrat, while in the Gujarati one he supported the caste system and professed all the orthodox dogmas that have kept India down all through the ages.
Is there any proof of Dr Ambedkar's allegation? All of Mahatma Gandhi's works must have been archieved. So it's better to get information from primary sources, in this case Gujrati articles from Gandhi's publication.
Dr Ambedkar was man of immense scholarship but he turned bitter in his later life.
Maybe Mahatma Gandhi used different type of tactics to convince different readers afterall in the end he was a skilled politician. There is enough to criticize about Gandhi and his methods but his work for 'untouchables' seems to be genuine.
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Oct 2015
Initially, around 1920, Gandhi's approach to Caste was to remove "untouchability". He was okay continuing occupational pattern of son continuing father's occupation.

However, if I remember correctly, later his approach changed. In 1940s he was completely against all aspects of Caste system, even if it meant 'destruction' of Hinduism.

By the way, Nathuram Godse, the man who assassinated Gandhi, was also against Caste system.
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Aug 2017
While Gandhi was obviously not a perfect human being, my assessment on the whole is quite positive. His words and conduct regarding Hindu-Muslim relations in the months leading up to his assassination were exemplary and emblematic of the founding ideals of India. My account below is based on Chapter 1 of Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi with original sources provided. Some quotes from the text or from the sources are within the quote environment for readability. I apologize for any poor formatting on my part as I was quite tired when I wrote this up.

When the Muslim League instigated the first instance of pre-Partition inter-communal violence in Calcutta around August-September 1946 (Direct Action Day), Gandhi traveled there and trudged through difficult terrain to console the Hindus who had suffered disproportionately in the riots. "In a tour of seven weeks he walked 116 miles, mostly barefoot, addressing almost 100 village meetings."

When Hindus retaliated against Muslims in Bihar with the support of local Congress leaders, he traveled to Bihar to console the Muslims. As Hindu and Sikh refugees began pouring into Delhi, he traveled there to contain sentiments of retribution and revenge against Muslims living in India.

Two weeks before the designated day of independence, he left Delhi. After spending four days in Kashmir, he again returned to Calcutta where the communal rioting had still not subsided after a year. On the afternoon of August 13, 1947 he set up residence in the Muslim-dominated neighborhood of Beliaghata, in a "ramshackle building open on all sides to the crowds," to see whether "he could contribute his share in the return of sanity in the premier city of Calcutta." His decision to fast and pray on August 15th to end the communal violence were cut short by independence day celebrations which saw "almost unbelievable scenes of fraternity" in some of the worst-affected areas of Calcutta.

“While Hindus began erecting triumphal arches at the entrance of streets and lanes and decorating them with palm leaves, banners, flags, and bunting, Muslim shopkeepers and householders were not slow in decorating their shops and houses with flags of the Indian Dominion.”
Gandhi nonetheless held a prayer meeting at the Rash Bagan Maidan in Beliaghata, which drew a large crowd. Sources on the size of the crowd vary from 10000 to 30000. Gandhi welcomed the celebrations but expressed hope that these scenes of fraternization between Hindus and Muslims “was from the heart and not a momentary impulse.”

Both communities had drunk from the “poison cup of disturbances”. Now that they had made up, the “nectar of friendliness” might taste even sweeter...perhaps as a consequence Calcutta might even “be entirely free from the communal virus for ever.” He also expressed concern that “madness still raged in Lahore”. Perhaps one could hope that “the noble example of Calcutta, if it was sincere, would affect the Punjab and other parts of India.”
Unfortunately, violence flared yet again in Beliaghata. On August 31st, a Hindu youth was attacked by Muslims and retaliatory violence followed and spread. By the dusk of September 1st, more than fifty people lay dead. That night, Gandhi decided he would go on a fast.

“But how can you fast against the goondas [hooligans]?” asked a friend. Gandhi’s answer, according to an eyewitness, was as follows:

“I know I shall be able to tackle the Punjab too if I can control Calcutta. But if I falter now, the conflagration may spread and soon. I can clearly see two or three [foreign] Powers will be upon us and thus will end our short-lived dream of independence.”

“But if you die the conflagration will be worse”, replied the friend.

“At least I won’t be there to witness it,” said Gandhi; “I shall have done my bit.”
Gandhi began his fast on September 2nd. Amazingly, by the next day, both Hindu and Muslim “hooligans” came to him and lay down their arms.

Mixed processions for communal harmony were taken out in different parts of the city. A deputation of prominent politicians, representing the Congress, the Muslim League, and the locally influential Hindu Mahasabha, assured Gandhi that there would be no further rioting. The Mahatma now broke his fast, which had lasted three days.

The peace held, prompting Lord Mountbatten to remark, famously, that one unarmed man had been more effective than 50,000 in Punjab.
A British-owned paper in Calcutta, The Statesman, that had long opposed Gandhi and his politics had this to say about the outcome of his fast:

On the ethics of fasting as a political instrument we have over many years failed to concur with India’s most renowned practitioner of it...But never in a long career has Mahatma Gandhi, in our eyes, fasted in a simpler, worthier cause than this, nor one calculated for immediate effective appeal to the public conscience.

- Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action, ch. 5, "The Calcutta Fast"
On September 7th, Gandhi left for Delhi and had initially hoped to proceed onto the Punjab. On his arrival to Delhi however, he was regaled with tales of violence perpetrated against Muslims.

“The Muslims of Delhi were frightened. Their homes and places of worship had come under increasing attack. Gandhi was told that no fewer than 137 mosques had been destroyed in recent weeks. Hindu and Sikh refugees had forcibly occupied Muslim homes. A quaker relief worker reported, "The Muslim population of Delhi of all classes - civil servants, businessmen, artisans, tongawallahs, bearers - had fled to a few natural strongholds" - such as Purana Qila, the great high-walled fort in the middle of the city; and the tomb of the Mughal emperor Humayun. In the Purana Qila alone there were 60000 refugees, huddled together in tents, "in the corners of battlements and in the open, together with their camels and tongas and ponies, battered old taxis and luxury limousines."

- In the Margins of Independence: A Relief Worker in India and Pakistan
In response, Gandhi postponed his trip to Punjab. Throughout September and October, he

“went round hospitals and refugee camps giving consolation to distressed people.” He appealed to the Sikhs, Hindus, and the Muslims, to forget the past and not to dwell on their sufferings but to extend the right hand of fellowship to each other, and to determine to live in peace.” He “begged of them all to bring about peace quickly in Delhi, so that he might be able to proceed to both the East and West Punjab.” Gandhi said “he was proceeding to the Punjab in order to make the Mussalmans undo the wrong that they were said to have perpetrated there [against the Hindus and the Sikhs]. But he could not hope for success, unless he could secure justice for the Mussalmans in Delhi.”
Such statements were, given the state of affairs, not universally well-received, particularly by many refugees inflamed with desires of retribution for the wrongs they had suffered in West Punjab and with sympathies to the ideals of the RSS. On Sunday, December 7th 1947, the RSS held a large rally at the Ramlila Grounds in Delhi which affirmed their goal of the “solidarity of the Hindu society” and its desire to “march forward on its path…[not to] be deterred by any authority or personality.” The authorities and personalities referenced were naturally the Congress party and Gandhi/Nehru with their commitment to secularism and communal harmony. Gandhi’s meetings in Delhi were often disrupted by refugees who objected to readings from the Koran or who demanded why he was not concerning himself with the suffering of Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan.

“In fact...Gandhi “was equally concerned with the sufferings of the minority community in Pakistan. He would have liked to be able to go to their succor. But with what face could he now go there, when he could not guarantee full redress to the Muslims in Delhi?”

Tendulkar, Mahatma
Aug 2017
(continued from the above post, I had to truncate it as I reached the character limit)

As attacks on Muslims in Delhi continued, Gandhi decided to fast yet again starting on January 13th with a few aims in mind. To the people in India, he pointed out if they did not believe in the two-nation theory that was the founding ideology of Pakistan, then they would have to demonstrate within their capital of Delhi that Hindus and Muslims could live in harmony. To the government of Pakistan, he inquired, “how long can I bank upon the patience of the Hindus and Sikhs, in spite of my fast? Pakistan has to put a stop to this state of affairs (Pakistan's treatment of religious minorities in the wake of the Partition)”. To the government of India, he made the end of his fast conditional on the transfer of Pakistan’s share of the “sterling balance” (the debt incurred due to Indian contributions to WW2), 550 million rupees. New Delhi had up until then withheld the sum due to Pakistan’s attempts to seize Kashmir, which Gandhi viewed as unnecessarily spiteful.

On the evening of January 15th, India relented on releasing the money owed to the government of Pakistan. On the following day “More than 1000 refugees signed a declaration saying that they would welcome back the Muslims of Delhi and allow them to return to their homes. But Gandhi wanted more authoritative assurances.” With his health rapidly failing “the doctors issued a warning: “It is our duty to tell the people to take immediate steps to produce the requisite conditions for ending the fast without delay.”

On January 17th, a Central Peace Committee was formed under the leadership of the Constituent Assembly (the body formed to write the Constitution of India), Rajendra Prasad. Other congressmen were among its members, as were representatives of the RSS, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema, and Sikh bodies. On the morning of 18th January they took a joint declaration to Gandhi, which satisfied him enough to end his fast. The declaration pledged “that we shall protect the life, property and faith of Muslims and that the incidents which have taken place in Delhi will not happen again.”

While the leaders of these organizations were chastened, many of their followers were still angry. While Gandhi was fasting in Birla House, refugees marched place the place shouting “Let Gandhi die”. On January 20, there was even an attempt on his life by a Punjabi refugee Madan Lal who threw a bomb at Gandhi in Birla House while he was conducting a prayer meeting. Fortunately, none were injured and Gandhi, undeterred, spoke at a prayer meeting on January 26th hoping that “the worst is over”, and that Indians would work

“for the equality of all classes and creeds, never the domination and superiority of the major community over a minor, however insignificant it may be in numbers or influence.” He also expressed the hope that “though geographically and politically India is divided into two, at heart we shall ever be friends and brothers helping and respecting one another and be one for the outside world.”
Sadly, only 4 days later, he was shot dead by Nathuram Godse who later justified his actions by citing the provocation of Gandhi’s

“constant and consistent pandering to the Muslims...culminating in his last pro-Muslim fast [which] at last goaded me to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhi should be brought to an end immediately.”

Robert Payne, The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi
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Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
New Delhi, India
RSS is against caste system because that introduces schisms in Hinduism, their first concern. I prefer Narayana Guru to Ambedkar. Narayana Guru achieved caste equality without introducing any schisms. All the caste conflict in India today is a gift of Ambedkar.