In 1932, Gandhi began new civil-disobedience campaigns against the British. Arrested twice, the Mahatma fasted for long periods several times; these fasts were effective measures against the British, because revolution might well have broken out in India if he had died. In September 1932, while in jail, Gandhi undertook a “fast unto death” to improve the status of the Hindu Untouchables. The British, by permitting the Untouchables to be considered as a separate part of the Indian electorate, were, according to Gandhi, countenancing an injustice. Although he was himself a member of an upper caste, Gandhi was the great leader of the movement in India dedicated to eradicating the unjust social and economic aspects of the caste system.
In 1934 Gandhi formally resigned from politics, being replaced as leader of the Congress party by Jawaharlal Nehru. Gandhi traveled through India, teaching ahimsa and demanding eradication of “untouchability.” The esteem in which he was held was the measure of his political power. So great was this power that the limited home rule granted by the British in 1935 could not be implemented until Gandhi approved it. A few years later, in 1939, he again returned to active political life because of the pending federation of Indian principalities with the rest of India. His first act was a fast, designed to force the ruler of the state of Rajkot to modify his autocratic rule. Public unrest caused by the fast was so great that the colonial government intervened; the demands were granted. The Mahatma again became the most important political figure in India.
When World War II broke out, the Congress party and Gandhi demanded a declaration of war aims and their application to India. As a reaction to the unsatisfactory response from the British, the party decided not to support Britain in the war unless the country were granted complete and immediate independence. The British refused, offering compromises that were rejected. When Japan entered the war, Gandhi still refused to agree to Indian participation. He was interned in 1942 but was released two years later because of failing health.
By 1944 the Indian struggle for independence was in its final stages, the British government having agreed to independence on condition that the two contending nationalist groups, the Muslim League and the Congress party, should resolve their differences. Gandhi stood steadfastly against the partition of India but ultimately had to agree, in the hope that internal peace would be achieved after the Muslim demand for separation had been satisfied. India and Pakistan became separate states when the British granted India its independence in 1947.
Mahatma Gandhi was unquestionably a great man, both in personal force and in political effect. He moulded the character of the struggle for freedom in India, and impressed his own ideals upon the new governing class that came into power when the British went home.