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Mahatma Gandhi

(1869—1948) political leader and religious and social reformer

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Indian nationalist and spiritual leader. After early civil-rights activities as a lawyer in South Africa, in 1914 Gandhi returned to India, where he became prominent in the opposition to British rule and was frequently imprisoned. The President of the Indian National Congress (1925–34), he never held government office, but was regarded as the country's supreme political and spiritual leader and the principal force in achieving India's independence. The Salt March to Dandi (1930) was followed by a campaign of civil disobedience until 1934, individual satyagraha, 1940–41, and the ‘Quit India’ campaign of 1942. As independence for India drew near, he cooperated with the British despite his opposition to the partition of the sub-continent. In political terms Gandhi's main achievement was to turn the small, upper-middle-class Indian National Congress movement into a mass movement. In intellectual terms his emphasis was upon the force of truth and non-violence (ahimsa) in the struggle against evil. His acceptance of partition and concern over the treatment of Muslims in India made him enemies among extremist Hindus. One such, Nathuram Godse, assassinated him in Delhi. Widely revered before and after his death, he was known as the Mahatma (Sanskrit, ‘Great Soul’).

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