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Great message by the Mahatma
With his unique mode of communicating non-violence, Gandhi led India to independence. It is one of the ideals that holds value till date
Speeches and debates during an election campaign are a common feature and an integral part of the political system world oevr. This is a way of communicating views and ideas to the audience.
While doing so, many speakers shout, scream and gesticulate. On the other hand, there are others who are soft and articulate well in manners and words. Yet many of them lose elections and are defeated. It is a failed communication for both types of speakers.
Addressing an audience, big or small, is a hundred-years-old technique to sway large masses by leaders. The glorious phase of communication in the political history came when Mahatma Gandhi entered into the public life of India.
It was the time of the freedom struggle of India against the British Empire. Gandhi, who emerged as a spiritual and a political leader by converting his spiritual powers into a political one, freed India from the bonds of slavery. Though he gave public speeches, he used a unique mode of communication which proved to be very successful.
Life in South Africa dramatically changed Gandhi from being a barrister to a fighter for social justice as he faced discrimination, commonly directed at blacks and Indians. Gandhi was thrown off a train while holding a valid first-class ticket. He very well realised this discrimination and this finally gave birth to a rebel Indian national leader.
Before him was poverty and a completely fragmented Indian society in narrow domestic walls, divided into princely states, castes, languages, lifestyle and many other diversities. To compound it, there was no sense of nationhood, the vision of one nation — ‘Hindustan' — was missing.
On the contrary, a small island called Britain was united and equipped with arms and ruling over the unorganised and divided Indian masses. He felt the need to first unify people of all States, religions, caste, and creed by a political philosophy which was unique and acceptable to every Indian to connect with the poorest of the masses.
The Mahatma can be proclaimed as the best psychologist of all time as he truly understood the strengths and weaknesses of the human mind. The young extremist Indian men were desperate and violent and were dying for the country, but the British counterpart was unshakable by individual acts of bravery, and freedom, a remote possibility.
To Gandhi, violence could not be the strategy and answer to state power. He believed that love for the country with extreme levels of tolerance and non-violence, deeply present in the mindset of the people, can get him freedom.
Belief in non-violence got much deeper in his mind and soul through every experiment of truth that he did in past which yielded him desired results. He knew a very subtle aspect of human psychology — violence can be curbed by violence but non-violence can never be stopped by a gun.
Only a disciplined approach to a life of sacrifice and beholding the true spirit of nationalism could uproot the foreign rulers from this country. Holding non-violence on the one hand and truth on the other, he stood alone before the Indian masses, less like a political leader and more a spiritual leader, in sharp contrast to the virulent speeches of other leaders and those who supported violence. It was a unique communication which the Indian public was ready to embrace.
In few words and in his feeble voice of truth and non-violence, Gandhi aroused the dormant spirit of the people of India to fight and struggle against British Raj. Non-violence, as it was practised, redefined the strength of the Indian people in relation to a ruler who had to depend on the gun for the establishment of its authority.
Unarmed Indians, except a minority which supported the British Empire, with no rights to defend themselves, bounced back from a slumber like a monolithic rock.
Non-violence and truth turned into a symbol of power, the strength of conscience, a way to confront a brute empire. This meant constant effort on the part of the leaders of the independence movement in raising the spirit of the large masses of common people — not just a small section of determined revolutionaries as had been the case of other great revolutions. Gandhi was a rebel like other leaders but he was a silent rebel.
To speak in one voice, in a chorus, in similarity in colour and clothes, he gave a special character to the people living in utter poverty of villages. Diverse people of India wearing different clothes turned into a uniform khadi wearing rebels, who challenged the uniform of the British Army and its stooges.
Gandhi reinvented the charkha as a weapon and created a khadi-wearing army. For long sustenance of a struggle, economic independence is a first requirement and Gandhi made a virtue of this age-old skill of Indians. He said, “Khadi is meant for everyone. Even a depraved man, a sinner, a drunkard, a gambler, anybody, can wear it. But the sacred quality of khadi is that it is a
symbol of freedom. Those who wish to live in free India ought to wear khadi.”
In a quiet way, khadi was an assault on the industries of Manchester, a huge blow to the British economy, a subtle message to the trade-loving British Empire and its rulers.
To reach the heart and mind of the most deprived classes of the society, he dug into the Indian cultural history and reinvented in his own way a very silent communication. It can be traced back to the Bhakti movement of India when saints like Kabir, Rahim Das, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu straddled large
swathes of Indian countryside and connected all the sections of the society.
When Gandhi cleaned the public toilets in his ashram, the message very well resonated with the untouchables of the country. He went further in Champaran when he threw off all his clothes and wore what the poor peasants wore.
This was a very power-packed communication, less audible and more visual. When he walked down the streets, millions followed him that evoked awe among critics and respect from his countrymen.
This stunned many and brought forth the famous remark of Sir Winston Churchill, “A seditious fakir striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceregal Palace to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.”
Few had heard of the word ‘satyagraha' coined by Gandhi, and few understood it and most had no faith in its efficacy as a way of struggle against a powerful nation. The ‘appeal to truth' was a weapon unknown to the world and a game changer in the history of mankind.
Based on truth and non-violence, it echoed with spiritual India and brought millions of people on the streets. The power of guns and arms of an Empire had no answer to a huge number of unarmed people staging silent protests. ‘Dharna', or what they called ‘morcha' had only one weapon — an appeal to truth.
It is still baffling to historians and intellectuals around the world as to how Gandhi could turn a finer aspect of a civilisational legacy for such world phenomena. It influenced Martin Luther King Jr and James Bevel in campaigns during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and many other social justice and similar movements. The Hindi song, De Di humein azadi bina khadag bina dhaal, Sabarmati ke sant tune kar diya kamaal, is tribute to a man who picked up finest words from books of world religions and used them as a political philosophy of the country and the world.
(The writer is a national media consultant. Views expressed here are personal)
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