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Day 5 – Q 2.What do you understand by the instrument of ‘Satyagraha’? When and how did Mahatma Gandhi use this tool against the British. Was it effective? Critically comment.

2. What do you understand by the instrument of ‘Satyagraha’? When and how did Mahatma Gandhi use this tool against the British. Was it effective? Critically comment. 

‘सत्याग्रह’ के उपकरण से आप क्या समझते हैं? महात्मा गांधी ने अंग्रेजों के खिलाफ इस उपकरण का इस्तेमाल कब और कैसे किया। क्या यह प्रभावी था? समालोचनात्मक टिप्पणी करें।


Satyagraha is a technique developed by Gandhiji to oppose the exploitative policies of British. It was based on Truth and Non-violence. It was based on the philosophy that evil could best be countered by non-violent resistance. It is a technique to of resisting adversaries without violence.


Gandhiji in South Africa after the Pietermaritzburg incident took up the cause of African Indians. he witnessed the ugly face of white racism and the humiliation and contempt to Asians who had gone as labourers were subjected. It was then he first used the tool of satyagraha to organise the Indian workers to enable them to fight for their rights.

He used it during the phase of passive resistance in 1906 to oppose exploitative British policies of the time in South Africa.

Satyagraha being effective:

In Africa:

  • Against registration certificates (1906): Gandhiji formed passive resistance Association to conduct the campaign of defying the law and suffering all the penalties resulting from such a defiance. Gandhiji and his followers publicly burnt registration certificates. In the end, there was a compromise settlement.
  • Restrictions on Indian Migration: was defied by crossing over from one province to another and by refusing to produce licences though they knew they would be jailed.
  • Protest against Transvaal Immigration Act by illegally migrating from Natal into Transvaal.

Gandhiji was successful in bringing the British to the negotiating table who conceded to the conceded the major Indian demands.

In India: 

  • Champaran Satyagraha: Gandhiji defied the order of by the authorities to leave the town and prepared to face punishment. After the enquiry and negotiations, he was successful in partial compensation to peasants under tinkathia system.
  • Similarly, in Kheda Satyagraha, Gandhiji defied the British by uniting peasants against paying taxed and finally was able to strike a deal to return all confiscated property and reduce the increase in rate.
  • It was again used during Non-cooperation movement, salt satyagraha, quit India movement and it saw partial successes like participation in 2nd RTC, negotiations under August offer-Cripps mission-Cabinet mission, INA trials (popular pressure) and so on.

Satyagraha being Ineffective:

  • Even where satyagraha was successful, it was only partial. The British always found ways to concede to limited demands be it be in Champaran, Kheda etc.,
  • Satyagraha had limitations: 
    • Maintaining non-violence was a challenge. For instance, Gandhiji had to withdrew non-cooperation movement in 1922 after the Chauri-Chaura incident.
    • Sustaining satyagraha for long time was difficult. It was natural as it is not possible to sustain any movement at a high pitch for very long. For e.g. Gandhiji had to withdraw the civil disobedience movement in 1934 as the movement was showing fatigue.
    • The capacity of masses was limited and they faced practical difficulties while adhering to principles of satyagraha. E.g. Khadi being costly, students leaving colleges facing unemployment etc., 
  • British defied Gandhiji’s demand many a times as sometimes satyagraha seemed harmless. E.g. Even though Gandhiji secured concession from Lord Irwin and participated in 2nd RTC, the subsequent viceroy (Birkinhead) denied any further role to Congress after understanding the limitations of satyagraha.
  • Opposition among Indians themselves against satyagraha made it ineffective several times. For E.g during the negotiations of cripps mission etc., Muslim league did not head to satyagrahas of Gandhiji. Even among congress leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose were skeptical of satyagraha as effective tool and did not support it.
  • In spite of several fast unto death satyagrahas by Gandhiji, the communal holocaust could not be prevented on the eve of partition.


Satyagraha was a novel and an ideal way of struggle introduced by Gandhiji. It gave the Indian National Movement, a moral strength to oppose the British. As Subhash Kashyap observes – though the technique of satyagraha might have delayed the freedom for India, it ensured that the freedom is won the right way.

Additional information:

Basic tenets of Satyagraha: 

  • A satyagrahi was not to submit to what he considered as wrong, but was to always remain truthful, non-violent and fearless.
  • A satyagrahi works on the principles of withdrawal of cooperation and boycott.
  • Methods of satyagraha include non-payment of taxes, and declining honors and positions of authority.
  • A satyagrahi should be ready to accept suffering in his struggle against the wrong-doer. This suffering was to be a part of his love for truth.
  • Even while carrying out his struggle against the wrong-doer, a true satyagrahi would have no ill feeling for the wrong-doer; hatred would be alien to his nature.
  • A true satyagrahi would never bow before the evil, whatever the consequence.
  • Only the brave and strong could practise was not for the weak and cowardly. Thought was never to be separated from practice.
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