By the late 1930s, Mahatma Gandhi’s unique approach of peaceful non-cooperation had already made significant impacts against the British Raj. His philosophy led to the establishment of a national administration and local and national legislative assemblies in India, though still under British control. Gandhi’s fame was not just local but global, stemming from his acts of non-violent civil disobedience. His 241-mile Salt March was a protest against the British salt monopoly, characterized by its high tariff. This march did more than challenge salt laws; it ignited a unified Indian resistance against British colonial rule.
In the backdrop of Gandhi’s peaceful resistance was the rise of Adolf Hitler, whose aggressive policies in Germany were causing international alarm. By the mid-1930s, Hitler was defying the Treaty of Versailles by rearming Germany, remilitarizing the Rhineland, and forming alliances with Italy and Japan. His annexation of Austria in 1938 and his actions against Germany’s Jewish population were drawing global condemnation.
In 1938, Time magazine controversially named Hitler “Man of the Year,” not in praise but to highlight his dangerous influence. The magazine criticized his brutal policies, especially against Jews, and ominously hinted at the troubling times ahead due to Hitler’s actions.
Despite attempts at appeasement, like the Munich Pact of 1938, Hitler continued his expansionist policies, leading to the full occupation of Czechoslovakia by March 1939. This breach of agreement was a wake-up call for Britain, leading to a defense pledge to Poland in the face of German aggression.
Gandhi, observing the growing threat of war, took an unprecedented step. He wrote to Hitler in July 1939, addressing him as a ‘friend’ and urging him to reconsider his path towards war. Gandhi’s letter was a plea for peace, appealing to Hitler’s humanity and questioning the necessity of war for achieving his goals. However, this letter never reached Hitler, as it was intercepted by the British government.
Shortly after Gandhi’s attempt, the political landscape in Europe shifted rapidly. Germany signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, and Britain formalized its alliance with Poland. The invasion of Poland by Germany on September 1, 1939, marked the beginning of World War II, as Britain and France declared war on Germany in response.
Germany, facing opposition from Britain and France, advanced rapidly across Europe. By mid-1940, Nazi forces had occupied Belgium, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Norway. The Battle of Britain began in July 1940, marking a relentless bombing campaign against the British Isles. London endured a brutal period during which thousands of bombs were dropped, causing extensive casualties and damage.
In December 1940, Gandhi reached out to Hitler again. This time, his letter was longer and took a firmer tone. He reiterated his philosophy of befriending all humanity but expressed strong disapproval of Hitler’s actions. Gandhi’s approach reflected his unwavering commitment to peace and non-violence, even in the face of escalating global conflict.
Gandhi’s Communication with Lord Irwin
In the context of Mahatma Gandhi’s various correspondences, his letter to Lord Irwin, dated March 2, 1930, stands out as a pivotal moment in India’s struggle for independence. Gandhi wrote to the then Viceroy of India, informing him of his intention to break the British-imposed salt laws, a move that would later culminate in the historic Salt March. This letter wasn’t merely a notification; it was a strategic move, embodying Gandhi’s commitment to nonviolent protest and his skillful use of communication as a tool for resistance.
At the heart of Gandhi’s letter to Lord Irwin was a profound assertion of equality and justice. Gandhi argued that the oppressive salt laws were a symbol of the larger injustice and inequality perpetrated by British colonial rule. His message transcended the immediate context, touching on the broader themes of fairness and the inherent dignity of all people, regardless of nationality. This correspondence was a microcosm of Gandhi’s wider philosophy: that both nations and individuals deserve equal respect and treatment.
Purpose of Gandhi’s Letter
Gandhi’s letter to Lord Irwin was more than just a declaration of intent; it was a carefully crafted piece of persuasive writing. He aimed to sway the Viceroy by threatening nonviolent action and appealing to his sense of justice. Gandhi’s approach was to awaken a moral conscience in the British leadership, urging them to recognize and cease the oppression inflicted upon the Indian people. It was a call for the British to rectify their unjust policies, not through force, but through moral persuasion.
Gandhi’s Literary Style in His Correspondences
Gandhi’s style of writing, as reflected in his letter to Lord Irwin and other correspondences, was marked by simplicity, clarity, and directness. He avoided artificialities, preferring a style that mirrored his life principles. His writings, be it in journalism or personal letters, were a testament to his beliefs in non-violence and global peace. Gandhi’s communication was not just about conveying a message; it was about embodying the principles he stood for.
The tragic assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948, marked a somber end to his journey of non-violence and peaceful resistance. Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Vinayak Godse, a Hindu nationalist who opposed Gandhi’s approach towards the Muslim minority in India. This event was not just the loss of a leader but symbolized the challenges faced by ideals of non-violence and tolerance in a tumultuous world.
Gandhi’s Writing Legacy and Influence
Gandhi’s writings and letters, including those to figures like Hitler and Lord Irwin, reflect his steadfast commitment to his principles of non-violence and justice. His influence as a writer and thinker extended far beyond the immediate political context, inspiring global movements for civil rights and freedom. Gandhi’s literary legacy lies in his ability to use simple, clear language to convey profound truths, a style that continues to inspire and guide individuals and movements worldwide.
Facts About Gandhi
- Before his return to India, Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa, where he developed his political views and ethics. He was an early and outspoken critic of apartheid, fighting for the rights of the Indian minority in South Africa.
- Gandhi studied law at the Inner Temple, London, and initially attempted to establish a law practice in Bombay. He moved to South Africa for work, where his experiences transformed him into an activist.
- Gandhi was imprisoned multiple times in both South Africa and India. During these periods, he was prolific in his writings, which included reflections, essays, and books. His works from prison contributed significantly to his philosophical and ethical thoughts.
- Gandhi was known for his experiments with diet. He was a strict vegetarian and often experimented with his food choices to see their impact on his health. He also practiced natural medicine and was keenly interested in naturopathy.
- Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent resistance influenced civil rights movements around the world, including the American Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
- Gandhi observed a day of silence every week. He believed this practice helped him with self-discipline, reflection, and relaxation. During these days, he communicated with others through writing.
- During World War I, Gandhi initially supported the British effort and helped to recruit Indians for the war. This stance was part of his strategy to prove Indian loyalty to the British Empire in hopes of gaining independence.
- Aside from his letters to Hitler and Lord Irwin, Gandhi corresponded with other famous personalities and leaders of his time, including Leo Tolstoy and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
- In 1906, Gandhi took a vow of ‘Brahmacharya,’ a vow of celibacy and spiritual and practical purity. This was part of his broader commitment to personal discipline and self-control.
- Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times but never won. The omission has been widely regarded as a controversial oversight in the history of the Nobel awards.
Gandhi’s efforts to communicate with Hitler, though unsuccessful, underscore his dedication to peaceful resolution and his belief in the power of dialogue, even with those who seem the least likely to listen. His letters to Hitler, while a small footnote in the vast narrative of World War II, provide a poignant example of the lengths to which Gandhi was willing to go in his pursuit of peace.