Sunday, August 16, 2009

Free thoughts on Independence day

I was watching the movie “Gandhi” on Sony Pix and one thing about the Mahatma struck me.

Not only was the Mahatma a great saint and leader, he was a brilliant political strategist.

Consider, his use of non-violence as the principal weapon against the British. By doing so, not only did the Mahatma seize the moral high ground, but he also changed the battle-field, which went from one of ships and guns to that of prayer and lathis. What the Mahatma recognized was that there was no way any Indian army could defeat the British. What could defeat them was an unequal battle that would render their superiority useless. Gandhiji also understood the deep moralistic element of British colonialism – the British never considered themselves as conquerors, they always considered themselves to be on civilizing missions. How could you explain a civilizing mission that beat up and shot people for making salt? Gandhiji exploited this loophole in the British consciousness brilliantly.

The Mahatma also knew the importance of holding the moral high ground, not unlike the high ground that the Indian army fights to hold in Siachen. His suspension of the non-cooperation movement after the Chauri-Chaura incident was one instance, where he took the risk of losing the cause to uphold the principle, and by corollary, the moral high ground.

He was also a brilliant popular leader, one who knew the importance of symbolism in the Indian psyche. Gandhiji knew what moved the people, how he could connect to the people, and had a finger on the collective pulse of the people. Be it the salt satyagraha, or the prayer meetings, or burning western clothes, Gandhiji always selected symbols that he knew would move the people.

Finally, it was the Mahatma who recognized the dilemma of the 1920s Congress. That it was a movement of the elite that the  commoners had no use for, and that as long as the 300 million Indians didn’t want independence, the British would have no motivation to leave. It was the Mahatma who transformed the Congress from a debating club to a mass movement, transforming the face of India and the world in the process.