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A tactic of civil disobedience, passive resistance, and non-cooperation developed by M. K. Gandhi in South Africa (1907–14), where it enabled him to unite the disparate Asian community and force the South African government to repeal many of its discriminatory acts.

In India, Gandhi led three satyagraha campaigns, though in each case these were more about uniting nationalist opposition behind himself, than about forcing the British out of India, which remained a more long-term objective. His first satyagraha (1920–2) saw him become the uncontested leader of Congress. It also marked a last period of nationalist cooperation between Congress and the Muslim League. He hoped to restore this unity in the second satyagraha of 1930–4, when he embarked on his Salt March. Though spectacularly successful in demonstrating his leadership of Congress and the volatility of British rule against united Indian resistance, this time Gandhi failed to unite the Muslims behind the campaign. Instead, the Muslim League responded with Iqbal's demand for a separate Muslim homeland in the west.

Finally, the third satyagraha, also known as the Quit India Campaign, represented an attempt to maintain his authority over the radical wing of Congress led by Bose, which demanded resistance against Britain because of its declaration of war on Germany on India's behalf in 1939.

Thus, while failing to keep the unity of the nationalist community, the satyagrahas did maintain the unity of the predominantly Hindu Congress. They were successful because of their focus on Gandhi's personality and leadership, and the existence of a liberal colonial government which, on the whole, did allow a free press, and which was constrained by the rule of law. This explains why the method was less successful in other contexts, e.g. in South Africa under apartheid, where such tactics were rendered ineffective by the extent of state repression and the absence of an independent press.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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