The more one writes about Gandhi, the more remains to be told. For example, little has been said about his genius for marketing. Without it possibly, he might not have been able to spread his message of non-violence. Remember in his days the media of communication was limited. The most relevant of his legacies is his genius for creating a system for national awareness of freedom. The finest example of a system that has worked in our country is that of Gandhi’s.
His struggle for India’s freedom was an integral package which mobilized the masses, harnessed their political energies and, at the same time, promoted their socio- economic welfare. His discovery among the masses of the desire for freedom and establishing his credentials as a superleader were the first links in his system. It is unlikely that so many across the country would have cared to listen to him had he not attained the stature of a Mahatma. In our society, a speaker is more important than his speech; a leader matters more than his leadership. Gandhi with all his wisdom but without his Mahatmahood might have been a voice in the wilderness.
To be a Mahatma, a message was not enough. The message had to be communicated across the subcontinent, to its many towns and villages. There were few highways in those days and most villages were difficult to approach. Illiteracy was high and not many read newspapers, most of which were British owned. Languages were many. Even when the radio came in 1927, it belonged to the rulers. And yet Gandhi cut across all these barriers with the help of the charkha and khadi. Apart from helping the landless in the villages to earn more, the spinning wheel explained to all Indians what the struggle for freedom was all about.
This instrument of communication was more eloquent than any words could have been. Gandhi was able to achieve mass involvement by espousing the cause of the Dalit. By demonstrating his care for the most downtrodden of society, he was able to convince everyone that his struggle was for the betterment of all Indians. This was yet another link in Gandhi’s package. Having inspired the Indian masses, having communicated with and involved them in the freedom struggle, the problem would be to give them the weapons to fight with. Guns were no answer.
For one, the British had many more of them. For another, violence would have confined the struggle to some young revolutionaries to the exclusion of common people, old and young, women and children. The fight could not then have been a mass struggle. Gandhi found the answer in non-violent noncooperation. He invented satyagraha which was a weapon any Indian could wield. Thus Mahatamahood, the charkha and khadi, the cause of the Dalits and satyagraha were all essential links in an integral system.
A full package of strategies and weapons that inspired and involved so many Indians together in achieving a national goal. And all this without disrupting general life or unduly hurting any section of its people. If anything, the spinning wheel and the war on Dalits helped to improve the lot of the poorest Indians. True, Gandhi’s was primarily a political mission for a subject people. Today’s challenge is mainly a socio-economic one. The package therefore has to be different. But there is a great deal we could borrow from this unwritten book of Gandhi’s genius for a system.
Without this aptitude for marketing, Gandhi might not have attracted virtual worship from so many people. having said that effectively he was more packaging and publicity, less a product. Gandhi’s first adventure in Indian policy was by joining the Khilafat movement. Since he was the only Hindu volunteer of repute, he was made President. Incidentally, Mohamed Ali Jinnah stayed away from the movement. The project failed when Mustafa Attaturk, the new modernizing leader of Turkey dethroned him and exiled the Sultancum- Caliph to Paris. The movement not only failed but the failure came as a big blow to the Muslims in India who reacted by starting a series of riots against Hindus.
The first massacre took place in Malabar, then in Kohat of Baluchistan followed by the Sindh riots. Gandhi’s advice to the Hindus was that they should stay on and prove their courage by getting killed. Dr BR Ambedkar has written that India witnessed a communal civil war for twenty years between 1920 and 1940. In 1921, Gandhi launched the non-cooperation movement. It was meant to be strictly non-violent but unfortunately at Chauri Chaura in UP, a group of disgruntled people set fire to the police station and killed all the policemen there. The incident upset Gandhi so much that he called off the movement. This was the second feather of failure in Gandhi’s cap after Khilafat. The third one came when his Civil Disobedience movement was launched on the arrival of Sir John Simon and his Commission in 1930 in India about how further the country should be ruled.
What Gandhi did not approve was the absence of Indians on the Commission. But the disobedience did not go far and a cordial Gandhi-Irwin (Viceroy) Pact was signed before long. Gandhi alone represented the Congress at the Second Round Table Conference, 1931, in London called by British Prime Minister Ramsay Mac- Donald. Gandhi claimed that Indians were one except for the British rule. He took a week to prove this unity. He held meetings without number with the Indian leaders who were attending the Conference. Nothing emerged and Gandhi had to openly confess his failure. When World War II began, the British took it that the whole empire was behind London.
The Congress objected, and as a mark of protest, all its ministries in the provinces resigned. The Muslim League got an opportunity in whichever legislative assembly it was present in some strength. In August 1942 followed the Quit India movement which resulted in all significant Congressmen being arrested. That lay further space open for the Muslim League which took great strides in preparation for Partition. Searching for Gandhi’s political success was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Yet his popularity remained wide and stable. The widespread impression in India was that Gandhi had won its freedom. He certainly had brought about an awareness among the people how freedom was important. But at the end, it was Netaji Subhas whose exploits convinced the British rulers that the time was up for them to leave.
It was Netaji who had attracted some 50,000 soldiers of the British Indian army taken prisoner by the Japanese in Malaya (now Malasiya) and Singpore who had defected and joined Bose’s Indian National army (INA). The rulers in London had noted that if soldiers who had sworn loyalty to the Crown could break their vow, who else could be relied upon to continue to loyally serve the empire? Its administration depended on lakhs of Indian staff and officers. Inspired by the example of INA, the naval sailors mutinied on the streets of Bombay and Karachi during February 1946. This was the last blow to the Crown which made it decide to quit India. Netaji’s contribution was decisive but it was downplayed by the Congress government that followed. Subhas Bose was left to be forgotten. On the other hand, as V.P. Menon, Advisor to Viceroy Mountbatten said, Gandhi lived for Muslims and eventually died for Muslims.
(The writer is an author, thinker and a former Member of Parliament)