Karol Bagh | GS Foundation Course | 28 March, 8 AM Call Us
This just in:

State PCS

Drishti IAS Blog

People Who Influenced Gandhi

  • 26 Sep 2022

 "Be the change you wish to see in the world." 

This is the famous saying of the “Father of the Nation” and the foremost proponent of ahimsa and satyagraha - Mahatma Gandhi. It would not be a hyperbole to say that Mahatma Gandhi left no one in the world unaffected by his teachings. He was one of the most influential political and spiritual figures of the 20th century. As a lawyer, politician, and activist, he participated in the fight for social justice and India's freedom from British rule. He led widespread initiatives to promote fundamental human rights, reduce poverty, improve women's rights, promote inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony, and end the caste system's inequities.

As we all know, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born into a Hindu Modh family on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, Gujarat. His father, Karamchand Gandhi, served as Porbanadar's Chief Minister (diwan). Putlibai, his mother, was the homemaker. When he wed Kasturbai (Ba) Makhanji at age 13, it was arranged by his parents. Gandhi was raised with the values of tolerance and the non-harming of living things.

Gandhi's political career began in South Africa, where he organised a civil disobedience movement to protest against the unfair treatment of Asian settlers. Along with many books, Mahatma Gandhi found inspiration in admirable personalities. Gandhi considered Raychandbhai and Gopal Krishna Gokhale as his mentors. Gandhi and Tolstoy communicated frequently. Both shared the same heroes—Buddha, Socrates, and Mohammed Sahab—and similar perspectives on morality and the truth. Gandhi was deeply moved by Tolstoy's book, "The Kingdom of God is within you." He was also enchanted by John Ruskin's work "Unto this Last", which he adapted as "Sarvodaya" and chose to use as a teaching tool.

He returned to India in 1916 and assumed control of the National Freedom Struggle. After liberation warrior and Congressman Baal Gangadhar Tilak passed away in August 1920, Gandhi essentially took over as the congress's single navigator. During the First World War, Gandhi passionately backed the British. However, India did not receive the promised freedom at the end of the war. Therefore, Gandhiji started many campaigns to persuade the British to grant India independence. The Non-Co-operation Movement (1920), the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930), and the Quit India Movement (1942) are the major movements of M. K. Gandhi.

The Great Personalities who influenced Gandhi

Gandhi's ideas are original in and of themselves, but they have ideological roots as well. Gandhi has described the sources of his inspiration for some of his sayings in his writings. It may be argued that his exposure to the West while living in London forced him to reevaluate his views on some religious, social, and political issues. Many western writers and philosophers highly influenced him as he was developing his beliefs and non-violent way of conflict resolution. When some of them were introduced to him while he was living in England, others were presented to him while he was living in South Africa. Here are a few people who significantly impacted Gandhi's rise to the "Mahatma."

Tolstoy’s Influence on Gandhi

“Leo Tolstoy's life has been devoted to replacing the method of violence for removing tyranny or securing reform with the method of non-resistance to evil. He would meet hatred expressed in violence by love expressed in self-suffering.”

 Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi: An Autobiography 

Gandhi was greatly influenced by Tolstoy's concept of "simplicity of life and purity of purpose." The most exemplary author of this era, Tolstoy, was a Russian nobleman with wealth and serfs who had participated in the Crimean War. However, he understood the pointlessness and injustice of violence and wealth. To concretise the lost teachings of Jesus, of early Christianity, and the Sermon on the Mount, he released his serfs, began working like them, and authored some literary works on theological, social, and political philosophy in his later years.

Tolstoy's writings were infused with the idea of "love as the law of life" and the non-violent ideas that are built on love for all people. MK Gandhi was deeply inspired by Leo Tolstoy's critique of institutional Christianity and belief in the love of the spirit. He came across Tolstoy's article, “A letter to a Hindu”, which promoted a nonviolent strategy over the violent one that the Indian youth were seeking to use to free India. In a letter, Gandhi informed Tolstoy of the struggle of the Indians in Transvaal (South Africa). In addition to naming his ashram “Tolstoy Farm”, Gandhi communicated with Tolstoy. “The Kingdom of God Is Within You” by Leo Tolstoy, published in 1894, is regarded by Gandhi as being on par with “A Plea and Civil Disobedience”. Gandhi and Tolstoy both used the concept of love to resolve conflicts in their lives. Thus began their connection during Tolstoy's final year on earth. Gandhi continued to look up to Tolstoy as one of his primary influences. It was the result of this influence of Tolstoy's ideas that helped Gandhi to remain firm on the philosophy of truth and non-violence even after continuous atrocities by the Britishers.

Thoreau’s Influence on Gandhi

While living in South Africa, his commitment to the idea of non-violence was motivated by reading David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience." At the time, the colonial government's "Asiatic Registration Act" was being opposed by the Indian community in the African nation. Every Indian over the age of eight was required by law to register with it and have the issued card at all times; failure to do so may result in a fine, a jail sentence, or expulsion. He studied Thoreau's article On the Duty of Civil Disobedience while he led his "Passive Resistance" protest against the new law passed by the apartheid regime. Henry David Thoreau was an American naturalist, writer, poet, and philosopher. He was a prominent transcendentalist best known for his book “Walden” and his essay "Civil Disobedience," which was written in 1849 at the age of 32. Gandhi was already engaged in civil disobedience in South Africa when he read Thoreau. He took not only the name of the cause he would later promote but also accepted the methods of breaking the law to demand its revision. Thoreau's name first appeared in 1907 in Indian Opinion, a newspaper that Gandhi was then serving as editor. Gandhi praised Thoreau's argument as "incisive" and "unanswerable". Thoreau's belief that a righteous man belongs in prison under an unjust regime deeply affected Gandhi, who called him his "master." He even claimed that the American philosopher had given his non-violent style of agitation scientific validation. And today, when we look back at various civil disobedience moments led by him, we can find the impressions of Thoreau's philosophy in them.

Socrates’ Influence on Gandhi

Gandhi first discovered Socrates' "Apology" while he was imprisoned during the Transvaal movement in 1908; it is a literary modification of the famous speech the Athenian philosopher delivered while on trial in 399 BC. Socrates of Athens is known as the "Father of Western Philosophy." As one of the most well-known personalities in history, he established the grounding for every aspect of Western philosophy with his contributions to the growth of ancient Greek philosophy. Socrates proclaimed his willingness to give his life for his beliefs even though he did so on military terms. The word Apologia means "defence" in classical Greek. He stated that abandoning one's goal shouldn't be justified by fear of death. Gandhi referred to the thinker as "a soldier of truth" and said that the concept of self-sacrifice inspired him to develop the principles of the Satyagraha movement. Immediately after being freed from prison, Gandhi published the "Apology" translation in Gujarati as a series of articles in Indian Opinion.

Gokhale’s Influence on Gandhi

During the Indian independence struggle, Gopal Krishna Gokhale was a political figure in India who was considered "liberal" and a social reformer. Gokhale was the founder of the Servants of India Society and a leading member of the Indian National Congress. Gokhale advocated for social changes and Indian self-rule through the Society, the Congress, and other legislative organisations he served in. Gandhi thought of Gokhale as the Ganga, where one may take a cleansing bath in the revered river. Gokhale's position in Gandhi's heart was unmatched in the political realm. Gokhale represented the aspiration of spiritualising values of life in politics, and Gandhi staunchly upheld this ideal. It is essential to remember that Gokhale is the subject of seven separate chapters in Gandhi's autobiography. In his autobiography, “My Experiments with Truth”, where Gandhi devoted much space to his guru, Gandhi offers an interesting reflection on his relationship with Gokhale. On October 12, 1896, Gokhale and Gandhi first met in Pune. Gandhi recalls that day: “I found him (Gokhale) on the Fergusson College grounds. He gave me an affectionate welcome, and his manner immediately won my heart. This was my first meeting with him, and yet it seemed as though we were renewing an old friendship.”


Throughout his life, Gandhiji was influenced by several great thinkers, but if we delve deeper into the character of this great Mahatma, we will ultimately conclude that his everlasting desire to learn and imbibe new ideas led him to get influenced by many great thinkers.

In today's world, we often see conflicts between different ideologies. Our generation can learn a lot from this trait of Mahatma Gandhi to respect, understand, and adopt the positive teachings of people belonging to different cultures & beliefs. Only then can we truly make a diverse world that nurtures individual ideas.

 Aarifa Nadeem 
Aarifa Nadeem is from Jhansi, UP. She has qualified UGC NET in Tourism Administration & Management and is currently pursuing her PhD. in Tourism from Bundelkhand University, Jhansi.

SMS Alerts
Share Page