As a student of history, I have the opportunity to study the life of two great Asian nationalist leaders, Dr. José Rizal of the Philippines and Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi of India. As an amateur historian, I am not going to make an argument on who is better or who is greater. Both Rizal and Gandhi are great heroes that belong to great generation of Asian nationalist leaders (Andres Bonifacio, Rabindranath Tagore, and Sun Yat-Sen) born in the decade of 1860s.
First, as I pointed out earlier, both were born in the decade of 1860s. Rizal on June 19, 1861 and Gandhi on October 2, 1869.
Both Gandhi and Rizal sent to Europe with financial support from their brothers and pursued higher education (law and medicine, respectively). Thus, both were Western educated and as a result started Asian nationalist enlightenment.
Rizal became a member of an anthropology society while Gandhi became a member of a vegetarian society.
Both nationalist leaders spoke multiple languages. Rizal speaks more than 20 languages while Gandhi speaks three.
Rizal’s grandfather served in the Spanish Cortes (parliament) while Gandhi’s grandfather and father serves in their princely state’s executive government.
Rizal attempted to start a new Filipino colony in Borneo while Gandhi was involved in an Indian colony in South Africa.
Rizal has mixed relationships and impressions with the Spanish Governor-Generals just as Gandhi have mixed relationships and impressions with the British Governor-Generals. Rizal was admired and hated by the Spaniards and other Europeans just as Gandhi was admired and hated by the British and other Europeans.
Rizal calls for independence through “education” while Gandhi calls for independence through “satyagraha”.
Rizal’s failure was the violent Philippine Revolution while Gandhi’s failure was the partition of India.
Both leaders survived assassination attempts before their deaths.
Rizal died through firing squad (December 30, 1896) while Gandhi died through assassination (November 30, 1948).
In the end, Rizal became the greatest Asian nationalist leader of the 19th Century while Gandhi became the greatest Asian nationalist leader of the 20th Century.