Gandhian Personality
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Gandhian Personality

 The Gandhian phase in Indian National Movement is the most dominant phase. The interplay of belief systems along with Gandhi’s practical methods gave a new light to the movement. The staunch support for Truth and Nonviolence shown by Gandhiji became one of the foremost pillars of the movement.

            Gandhi’s methods were practical and were developed and tested in South Africa. The practice of Satyagraha (Truth) was intertwined with Ahimsa (Non-violence) which gave pureness to any type of movement. His aptitude for nursing gave him the courage to form an ambulance corps amidst the Boer war in South Africa and help the victims of war. [1] The formation of the Natal India Congress was solely based on the practice of truth for the sake of justice. These methods were reflective of Gandhi’s personality as well as his conviction in faith.

The personality of Gandhiji is difficult to assess but an attempt can be made. The Big5 factors of personality [2] assess the traits of any individual based on five factors viz. Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Openness to experience. If we have to assess him based on these factors, he would score very high on conscientiousness and agreeableness, high on Extraversion and Openness to experience, and low on Neuroticism.

The conscientiousness dimension is reflective of being in an organized state, weaving the daily routine with the order, and having a sense of dutifulness to one’s self. These traits were observed by Gandhiji in letter and spirit. He would follow a simple practice of charkha as a duty for being self-sufficient. Similarly, his idea of keeping simple dietary habits mirroring having order in life. As a believer in vegetarianism, even in difficult times like poor health, he didn’t let the usage of non-vegetarian food like beef tea. [1]

If there is a violation of any of his principles, he would withdraw or repent for the chaos to maintain the conscientiousness dimension. For instance, the Non-cooperation movement (NCM) was withdrawn when it included murderous violence at Chauri Chaura in 1922, a direct violation of his principles. Again the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) was withdrawn when some order was established with the then Viceroy Lord Irwin, famously called the Gandhi-Irwin pact, and to participate in the second round table conference in London in 1931, in the hope of Swaraj.


The Conscientiousness dimension is highly infectious in itself. [3] That is if one possesses this dimension and shows it to the outer world then it is likely to get emulated. Especially, if a personality like Gandhiji, who in itself is a role model for current and future generations to come, showcases it then there are bound to be various followers. The national movement had a lot of Gandhian like Sardar Patel, J B Kriplani, etc. They too had a fair sense of conscientiousness in them. Thus, when leaders show conscientiousness in their daily practice then it leads to a belief amongst the masses too. This was one of the primary motivations among the masses to participate in huge numbers in all the Gandhian movements.

The fasting methods can be attributed to his personality dimension of agreeableness. This dimension manifests itself in maintaining social cohesion, trust, empathy, compassion etc. If there are competing interests within the society, Gandhiji would fast to reach a conclusion. The Ahmedabad Mill strike, where he demonstrated his first hunger strike method, was due to conflicting interests of mill owners and workers. He continued fasting on various occasions throughout the movement and the best possible demonstration was his fast on the day of independence itself. The competing interest of a nation with partition and without partition was the major reason. Gandhiji simply stated that he is happy for India’s independence while sad for partition and hence he is both happy and sad. This was a competing interest within himself or with his emotions. Thus, he fasted to take solace in himself.

Apart from that, Gandhiji wished for an equitable society. He vouched for untouchables to have a respectable position in society and used the term “Harijan” or God’s own people for them. [1] He again fasted for the treacherous Communal Award by the British who had the sole intention of dividing the society through separate electorates. This time he had to fast to make B R Ambedkar aware of the policy of Britishers and reach an agreement with him through the Poona pact. These traits are manifestations of agreeableness to create public trust in society.

However, too much agreeableness [4] also leads to certain problems both for an individual as well as for society. This is because, in trying to maintain continuous cohesion, tough decisions are not taken until and unless there is a collapse of trust and empathy. It was very good for Gandhiji to hold talks with Mohammad Ali Jinnah for reaching a compromise and avoiding partition, essentially following the principle of conflict resolution and peaceful negotiation. But the latter took it as an opportunity to raise his stature and became the sole person responsible for the voice of Pakistan. This is a situation where sticking with agreeableness leads to accommodating non-agreeable traits of people in society. For Gandhiji, he would have gone and talked to several other people also to reach a compromise. His manifestation of agreeableness was to maintain peace, love, and brotherhood in society. And to achieve these goals, he would have left no stone unturned. No doubt, there were other political and religious reasons for partition, but agreeableness also played a significant part.

The Extraversion dimension is the degree of being extrovert to introvert or vice-versa. To elaborate, extroverts are outgoing, social, talkative, and not socially phobic. On the other hand, introverts are individuals who have an emotional outbursts seeing other people and like to remain alone. Obviously, Gandhiji showed the character of extraversion with his easily interact able nature to a large gathering of people irrespective of caste or class. His willingness to travel abroad as well as within India is a reflection of this trait. Along with confronting British policies out rightly, he would also frame the course of a movement by discussing with other leaders. However, no one can be scored absolutely on the above dimensions. People who are extroverts also like some period of “me” period and for Gandhiji, it was the period of prayer. Similarly, an introvert also likes to be outward in a small group, preferably one’s family.

Gandhiji’s scoring on Openness to experience or the creativity dimension has to be high because of new methods evolved for the national movement. In an increasingly industrialized atmosphere of the early 20th century, he gave a boost to charkha for a thrust to give livelihoods to poor strata. Another creative method for the mobilization of poor masses was the evolution of a Struggle-Truce-Struggle (STS) strategy. The STS can be considered as a manifestation of the Pomodoro technique. [5] This technique revolves around doing a task, typically 25 minutes and then taking a break for 5 to 10 minutes. The loop is repeated based on an individual plan. The STS strategy was similar in that a continuous mass struggle had to be followed by a period of break, helping in the rejuvenation of the masses. He firmly believed that a mass movement cannot go indefinitely to uproot the colonial powers. The fighting capacity of the masses is limited and a suitable break can help in building strength for more sacrifices. A truce period also gave time to the British Empire to respond to nationalist demands. Much of the withdrawal of Gandhian movements can be seen in the light of ST’s strategy also.

The last of the Big5 traits is Neuroticism. It means a person’s proneness to negative emotions like fear, anger, anxiety etc. A psychopathological-ridden person will score high in this dimension. The desirable trait for a healthy individual is to score low and be prone to positive emotions like happiness, joy, hope, gratitude etc. Undoubtedly, Gandhiji would score low in this dimension. His major source of strength to avoid negative emotions came from his hope and faith in a supreme being. The principle of abiding by one’s own principle itself is good enough to not be neurotic. So, a conscientious person, like Gandhiji, will score low on neuroticism.

There were many Gandhians in the past, there are many Gandhian today and there will be many more in the future as the Gandhian spirit progresses and dominates in the world to search for absolute truth. Their personality, with a fair degree of variability [3], can be considered on similar lines as explained above and hence a Gandhian personality is desirable who seeks truth and meaning in life.

[1]        M. K. Gandhi, The Story Of My Experiments With Truth, Fingerprint! Publishing, 2009.

[2]        R. M. PT Costa, “The NEO Personality Inventory manual,” Psychological Assessment Resources, 1985.

[3]        A. Lim, 15 June 2020. [Online]. Available:

[4]        G. W. H. A. Habashi MM, ” Searching for the prosocial personality: a Big Five approach to linking personality and prosocial behavior,” Pers Soc Psychol Bull, vol. 42(9), 2016.

[5]        F. Cirillo, 13 July 2021. [Online]. Available:

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