Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – the greatest of leaders, champion of truth and non-violence, father of the nation – has been an inspiration for free men all over the world.
On the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, let us take a look at some of his most memorable speeches:
1. Benaras Hindu University Speech (4 February, 1916)
“If we are to receive self-government, we shall have to take it… freedom loving as it (British Empire) is, it will not be a party to give freedom to a people who will not take it themselves.”
In February 1916, Mahatma Gandhi was invited by Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya to speak at the inauguration of the Benaras Hindu University. The speech came as a shock to one and all present. The royal kings and princes, Annie Besant, and everyone else had come to expect the condescending tone adopted by Indian leaders towards the British. Gandhiji’s sharp criticism of the English language and demand for self-government jolted the audience and for the first time, the Mahatma showed signs of taking on the leadership of the country’s freedom struggle. This was the very first speech which would grow into a wildfire culminating in India’s freedom from the British rule.
2. Dandi March Speech (11 March, 1930)
“We have resolved to utilize all our resources in the pursuit of an exclusively non-violent struggle. Let no one commit a wrong in anger.”
It was on the eve of this historic Salt March to Dandi that Mahatma Gandhi outlined a well-thought out programme for non-cooperation. Setting out to manufacture salt from sea water with his followers, he called upon fellow Indians to defy the taxes imposed by the British. He asked Indians to give up foreign liquor and clothes, resist taxes, and avoid (British) courts and government offices. Not only did this speech compel Indians to join the freedom struggle and challenge the colonial rule but also influenced the Civil Rights Movement in the US decades later. It was instrumental in the introduction of the “satyagraha” into the Indian psyche.
3. Round Table Conference Speech, (30 November, 1931)
“I dare to say, it (the strife between Hindus and Muslims in India) is coeval with the British Advent, and immediately this relationship, the unfortunate, artificial, unnatural relationship between Great Britain and India is transformed into a natural relationship, when it becomes, if it does become, a voluntary partnership to be given up, to be dissolved at the will of either party, when it becomes that you will find that Hindus, Mussalmans, Sikhs, Europeans, Anglo-Indians, Christians, Untouchable, will all live together as one man.”
This is the speech that Gandhi delivered at the very first Round Table Conference. It is here that the British tried to convince Indian leaders to accept Dominion status citing communal disharmony and strife. A bold Mahatma Gandhi clearly called the British bluff and showcased India’s unity and secular spirit. Our nation’s history has been altered by British historians, he said, and once again we shall sing our song of love and brotherhood in unison.
4. The ‘Quit India’ Speech (8 August, 1942)
“I believe that in the history of the world, there has not been a more genuinely democratic struggle for freedom than ours.”
Smithsonian refers to this address as the “speech that brought India to the brink of independence”. Gandhiji’s address to the nation on the eve of the historic Quit India movement enshrines our ideals of Ahimsa (non-violence) and freedom. Calling upon the British to leave India voluntarily, Mahatma Gandhi inspired millions of Indians to seek out freedom from bondage and slavery. The novelty of his approach and the call to use non-violent means singled him out as one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.
5. Speech before His Final Fast (12 January, 1948)
“I yearn for heart friendship between the Hindus, the Sikhs and the Muslims. It subsisted between them the other day. Today it is non-existent. It is a state that no Indian patriot worthy of the name can contemplate with equanimity.”
India had gained its independence but this came with a terrible price. A painful and violent partition had led to a complete breakdown of communal harmony – a camaraderie that had existed for hundreds of years. Pained, the Mahatma took to fasting once more – another stand, another non-violent struggle, another sacrifice for the sake of our beloved nation and the well-being of all Indians. This speech of his, delivered days before his death, should be our religion, our inspiration in building a peaceful, more tolerant India.