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Gandhi in Bombay: towards swaraj

The symbiotic relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and Bombay spanned many decades and only strengthened over time. Their shared story is both unique and informative. In the history of India’s freedom struggle towards Swaraj or self-governance under Gandhi’s leadership, Bombay deserves special mention. The city, now known as Mumbai, welcomed Gandhi on his return from South Africa in 1915 and the warmth displayed by its people towards Gandhi has never diminished. During the freedom struggle, the people of Bombay discovered new opportunities to flourish under Gandhi’s leadership. It’s illuminating to glimpse the historical events that characterised this symbiosis between the man and the city by exploring archival materials, including photographs, and reading excerpts from Gandhi’s writings.

Bombay vibrated with vitality and energy during the freedom struggle. A number of important events demonstrated the fearlessness and determined involvement of the people of Bombay, including the Hartal against the deportation of independence supporter B. G. Horniman, participation in the Khilafat movement, the boycott of the Prince of Wales, the protest against the Simon Commission, and participation in the Civil Disobedience and Quit India movements. Chief among these was Gandhi’s first nationwide protest, the satyagraha against the unjust Rowlatt Act in 1919, a move that made him an undisputed leader of the nation. Bombay’s citizens enthusiastically supported Gandhi’s calls for the satyagraha and the collection of funds for nationalist causes. The city also served as the site for the launch of the non-cooperation movement in 1920. In 1921, Gandhi responded to generous contributions to the Tilak Swaraj Fund by bestowing Bombay with the title “the beautiful.”

this relationship is both illuminating and enriching as it reveals the journey of this extraordinary leader and this wonderful city to independence

Events like the spectacular bonfires of foreign clothes in the compound of the Elphinstone Mill at Parel in 1921 attracted the attention of the nation. Nonviolent demonstrations, meetings, and the prabhat pheries (early morning processions) became familiar sights in Bombay, particularly after Gandhi’s Salt March in 1930. In 1942, the city’s response to his speech for the Quit India movement was unprecedented. Delivered at the All-India Congress Committee session on 7 and 8 August at the Gowalia Tank maidan, a park in Bombay, Gandhi’s call to ‘Do or Die’ left an indelible mark on the India’s history. After the session, the city protested against the British rule through hartals, processions, demonstrations, and outbursts of popular unrest. The operation of the Congress Radio from Bombay during 1942 was a highlight of the movement and was supported by The Bombay Chronicle which played a notable role in covering Gandhi’s movements and activities.

These are just some of the exciting and unexplored facets of Gandhi’s activities in Bombay and the city’s response to them. It is remarkable to learn how Gandhi drew support from women, small merchants, shop-keepers, and students. Bombay responded brilliantly to his determination and this unique amalgam created history. A contemporary re-examination of this relationship is both illuminating and enriching as it reveals the journey of this extraordinary leader and this wonderful city to independence through non-violent means.

Featured image credit: Bombay – Gateway of India by Rajendrakumar Sahani. CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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