The present article examines the Gandhian discourse during the Non-Co-operation Movement - viz. 1920-1922, which gives us rich insights into the Gandhian way(s) of mass mobilization. This article explores the unique way(s) in which Gandhi was trying to bring the mass into the nationalist struggle which was hitherto dominated by a few elites. Besides, it also looks at the necessities of the effective communication in a mass movement of such grand scale. Communication was essential not just to mobilize the mass, but also it was crucial due to various other reasons which have been discussed in the present article. Incidentally, Gandhi suffered from poor health throughout the period of the Non-Co-Operation Movement, still he nowhere compromised with the communicative aspect of the mass nationalism. His ways and techniques of communicating with the mass is something to reckon with in an era of democratic mobilization of the early twentieth century. In fact, it was his communicative skill and ability to establish rapport with the mass which made him one of the greatest mass mobilizers of Indian history.
'Mr. Chairman and Brethren- I am very sorry that my voice cannot reach all brothers..... you will excuse me for my inability to speak standing.'
This was one of the commonest ways in which Gandhi started most of his speeches at various places in the United Provinces (present day Uttar Pradesh/ U.P.) between October 1920 and August 1921. Out of thirty speeches which Gandhi delivered in the United Provinces during this period, he uttered the similar kind of statement on fifteen occasions.1 In fact, if we follow Gandhi closely between February 1920 and March 1922, he was writing extensively, trying to respond each and every letter received by him, making extensive tours throughout India, addressing a wide range of audience despite failing voice and poor health. One of the following schedules of Gandhi gives us a sense of how extensively he was engaged in touring the length and breadth of the country during this period [The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (hereafter CWMG), Vol. XVIII: 213].
|August 10,1920||Left Bombay|
|August 14||Ambur and Vellore|
|August 16||Tanjore and Nagore|
|August 21||Salem and Bangalore|
To quote Gandhi: 'We could not stay continuously for twenty-four hours at any place except Madras. Even in Madras, we did so only when we first arrived there……..invitations poured in from all over and we did not feel it proper to reject any. There was also a desire, of course, to convey our message to as many places as we could manage' [CWMG, Vol. XVIII: 213].
Now, the point is why Gandhi, despite all odds and poor health, went ahead with such an exhaustive schedule of touring and continuous writing? What was the need to respond everyone and address everyone? One way to answer this is to say that mass nationalism is a communicable act and what Gandhi was trying to do during this period was to communicate with the mass. However, this leads us immediately towards another question - what was the necessity to communicate with the mass so extensively? Was it merely to mobilize people and rally them behind the leaders or there were some other specific concerns involved in it? Also, there is need to examine the ways in which communication was established by Gandhi. The present essay attempts to examine some of these issues.
To begin with, both historically as well as historiographically, the era of Gandhian politics has been popularly referred to as the phase of mass nationalism in India. The nationalist movement in India before the arrival of Gandhi has been mostly described as 'politics of studied limitations' [Brown, 1972: 28] or 'a movement representing the classes' as opposed to the masses [Kumar, 1971: 4]. Nevertheless, the first grand experiment in this mass level nationalism was carried out in the form of Rowlatt Satyagrah (April 1919), followed by the Khilafat agitation, finally giving way to the Non-Co-Operation Movement to redress the 'wrongs' done to Khalifa, Punjab wrongs, and to attain swaraj. Now, for carrying a mass movement of such a grand scale as the Non-Co- Operation was, communication with the masses became necessary for many reasons. That is why we see that Gandhi during this period addressed the meetings of almost each and every class at various places in India - be it students, teachers, lawyers, merchants, peasants, workers, weavers, women, or even sadhus.2 At the same time he kept on responding numerous letters personally during this period. Interestingly, he responded to some anonymous letters as well [CWMG, Vol. XIX: 387-88].
In all these speeches and writings Gandhi tried to establish rapport with the class he was addressing. For this he resorted to unique methods. For example—while addressing the mass of peasantry and weavers, Gandhi on more than one occasion, identified himself as a peasant (kisan) or a weaver (julaha).3
Similarly, Gandhi frequently used the popular metaphors of Rama, Sita and Ravana, and the story of Ramayana to reach his audience and to convince them.4 In fact, Gandhi re-imagined the entire story of Ramayana where the British rule became 'incarnation of Ravana' and Indians 'heirs of Rama'. Similarly, the Non-co-operators came to be regarded as Sita, who despite several temptations offered by Ravana (here British rule), refused to enter into any agreement with Ravana [CWMG, Vol. XIX: 252]. Also, the women were urged by him to adopt Swadeshi (especially hand spun clothes) and give up their attraction towards fineries just like Sita who went on to manage with the bark of trees and did not accept any gift from Ravana.
Similarly, at one place, Gandhi compared spinning wheel as 'cow' and spun yarn as 'milk' that would make India self-sufficient - a necessary condition of attaining swaraj [CWMG, Vol. XXIII: 12]. Thus, Gandhi, in order to establish communication with the mass, frequently tried to show that he was from among them. Instead of showing sympathy, he frequently attempted to convince the people that he along with mass was living through the 'wrongs' done by the British government to Indian people. He adopted their way of life, he adopted their language, he adopted their metaphors, thereby mingling with them and establishing direct communication with them.
Now, moving towards the necessities of this communication, the first necessity was 'disciplined mobilization'. What Gandhi wished was not just 'mobilization' but 'mobilization in a specific manner'. And because of this his speeches and writings were often loaded with Do's and Don't's. He drew a thin line of distinction between democratic mobilization and, what he termed as, mobocracy [CWMG, Vol. XVIII: 240]. A single act of deviation might lead the mobilized one to the other side of the plank i.e. on the mobocratic side. For him, the greatest thing in the campaign of non-co-operation was to evolve order, discipline, and co-operation among the people and co-ordination among the workers [CWMG, Vol. XVIII: 93]. In fact, he went on to compare the band of non-co-operators with that of a 'non-violent army' fighting for swaraj. According to him, a 'non-violent army' demands, or should insist upon, greater discipline, self-restraint and orderliness than what are necessary in an army equipped with arms [CWMG, Vol. XXI: 140]. In fact, for Gandhi, self-control in speech, in action, and in thought were essential characteristics to become a 'Vaishnava'.5
Gandhi repeatedly warned people that if they ever loose temper or resort to violence, then in that case it would be for him a choice of evil, and evil though he considered the contemporary government to be, he would not hesitate for the time being to help the government to control disorder [CWMG, Vol. XVIII: 96].
Gandhi laid so much emphasis on order and discipline that he did not just condemn the acts of violence or loot by the mobilized mass; rather he also wanted complete order on railway stations, at meetings, etc. In fact, he had nightmare experiences at many railway stations6 and meetings7 owing to over- enthusiasm of the mass. That is why he went on to issue several guidelines in this regard [CWMG, Vol. XVIII: 242-44]. However, the people rarely followed these guidelines and often overstepped them in their enthusiasm despite frequent condemnation by Gandhi.
Thus, Gandhi throughout this period experimented with 'disciplined mobilization' by communicating with people, setting guidelines for them, condemning their undisciplined unruly behavior, etc. How much he succeeded in this is, however, a matter of debate. Some historians have regarded it as 'imperfect mobilization' [Pandey, 1978], whereas some other have argued that there could never be a perfect mobilization as Gandhi's messages and speeches got tremendously metamorphosed while reaching the mass because of the pre- existing prejudices, interests and mentality of the mass [Amin, 1984: 1-61]. Whatever the case was, one thing is clear that Gandhi at least attempted for 'perfect mobilization'; it is different thing that whether he could achieve that or not. And in this attempt of 'perfect mobilization' communication gained tremendous significance.
Further, as argued earlier, communication was necessary to establish rapport between the leaders and the masses and for this Gandhi personally responded to many of the letters and questions of the mass and tried to convince them somehow or other regarding his tactics to attain swaraj. In these correspondences Gandhi displayed extreme pragmatism in some cases. The best example of this was his opinions regarding the use of khaddar / khadi (hand woven cloth). Gandhi, during the Non-Co-Operation Movement, laid central emphasis on using hand spun and hand woven cloth made inside the country as a way to achieve swaraj. However, the ways in which he tried to convince people to use khadi were unique.
He emphasized on khadi not so much for its political utility (i.e. attaining swaraj) but he continuously associated it with the economic and moral well- being of the Indian mass. He continuously argued that by adopting khaddarIndia can save 60 millions of Rupees from being annually drained out of the country which would then be distributed among the countrymen, thereby uplifting poverty [CWMG, Vol. XVIII: 176].8 He also talked about the benefits of khadi being the alternative source of income for the peasants especially during famines. Also khadi had moral benefits as it could safeguard Indian women from falling into the clutches of the mill-owners and immoral overseers, contractors, etc. And if people would follow all this, they would ultimately get swaraj as well. So, Gandhi propagated khadi in such a way that swaraj appeared as a distant/long-term charm associated with khadi; before that, there were many immediate economic benefits which were associated with it. In fact, for the masses swaraj was more welcomed in its economic sense rather than in its political sense.9 Gandhi was responding to this by making swaraj a condition for freedom from hunger and cheap cloth.
Similarly, Gandhi knew that it may be difficult for many people to suddenly discard the fineries and adopt rough khadi, hence he advised that those who could not use khaddar as their outer costume, they can use it for making underwears. And even if one was not inclined to use it for personal wear, it could be used for making caps, towels, wipers, tea-cloths, satchels, bed sheets, beddings, holdalls, carpet prices, cushions, covers for furniture, etc. Those who wanted to use coloured khadi, so that it would not get dirty soon, they could get it dyed Turkey red in swadeshi dye [CWMG, Vol. XVII: 354]. Also khadi could be used to make school bags and hammocks for children. Chairs, couches and other articles of furniture could be covered with it [CWMG, Vol. XVII: 341]. All this clearly shows Gandhi's pragmatism to make khadi popular. In the later stages Gandhi even advocated 'pandals' (canopies) of meetings to be made up of khadi [CWMG, Vol. XIX: 456].
In the heyday of the Non-Co-Operation Movement, when Gandhi wished people to use khadi even for personal wear, even then Gandhi took cognizance of the poor people and their practical problems. He knew that it was hard for poor people to suddenly throw away all of their cheap foreign mill clothes and buy new expensive handmade khadi clothes. To solve this Gandhi suggested that poor people for a time being may manage merely by using loin cloth of khadi. To set an example he himself renounced all clothes and started managing only with a loin cloth and chaddar [CWMG, Vol. XXI: 180-81].
Also, in order to popularize khadi, he frequently flashed the examples of some prominent personalities using khaddar. Most frequently uttered examples were that of Sarla Devi Chowdharani,10 Mrs. Mohani,11 Madan Mohan Malviya's commitment to persuade ranis (queens) and rajas (kings) to spin, etc.12 Gandhi was flashing these examples as India at that time was still a deeply hierarchical society and nobility was considered as 'natural leaders' or 'mai-baaps' by the masses to a great extent. Thus, Gandhi was exploiting the traditional channels of communication to popularize khadi. All-in-all, Gandhi brilliantly used communication to convince people regarding khadi and to popularize its use.
Similar kind of Gandhian pragmatism can be seen on another issue. When a correspondent asked that if teachers of national institution should have strong moral character then does this not mean that a teacher who smokes and drinks should be kept out of such institutions? Replying this Gandhi argued that in case of drinking 'we have certainly risen to a high enough level to be able to do without a teacher who drinks', but in case of smoking, he argued: 'I dare not say the same thing with regard to smoking. I know from experience that a person who smokes may be upright in other ways' [CWMG, Vol. XXI: 327]. This was probably because in the Indian villages smoking, especially a peculiar form of it 'hukka' was quite popular;13 and Gandhi knew this thing. So, here again one can see Gandhian pragmatism while communicating or responding There was an economic aspect also associated with Gandhi's extensive touring and communicating with people. In many meetings, Gandhi urged the audience, especially the women, to contribute money in the Swaraj Fund by giving jewelleries etc. For example, Gandhi, after addressing a women's meeting at Calcutta on Jan 25, 1921, in the end, spread his chaddar and urged the ladies to part with what they loved most. Eventually there was a shower of gifts which literally filled up his chaddar [CWMG, Vol. XIX: 275]. Similarly, in many of his correspondences he urged people to actively contribute in the Tilak Swaraj Fund. Here also he often gave examples of so and so contributing this much, in order to encourage others. In one of his speeches he even urged people that those coming to station platforms to hear him or to have his darshan should bring money with them [CWMG, Vol. XX, 112]. So, economic aspect was also attached with touring, meetings, etc.
At the same time communication was also necessary to assure the people against misappropriation of funds. For example, responding to a letter where the correspondent had doubted that what would happen to fund once Gandhi would not be there to exercise control over it such as in the case of his sudden arrest; Gandhi argued that there was a full record being maintained by the Provincial Committees, of all kinds of donations etc., that he used to collect at various places and there was no chance of misappropriation [CWMG, Vol. XX: 80-81]. Elsewhere, he also assured a correspondent that leaders like Ali brothers were not using fund for their personal comforts [CWMG, Vol. XX: 385]. So, communication also gained significance to clear the doubts of the people and to cultivate among them faith on the leaders.
Communication was also necessary to do away with the rumours associated with Gandhi and his powers. In one of his notes Gandhi clearly denounced of his being the messenger of God [CWMG, Vol. XX: 385]. In fact, there were instances where Gandhi and other leaders were represented as Krishna and Pandavas. Gandhi criticized all such things and called it 'blasphemy' [CWMG, Vol. XX, 361]. Similarly, in one of his notes Gandhi condemned the superstition of asking 'mannat' in his name [CWMG, Vol. XXI: 325].14 He clearly stated that wherever people are found using my name in this way, they should be dissuaded from doing so [CWMG, Vol. XXI: 326]. However, Gandhi himself found that the more he repudiated these things, the more they were practiced [CWMG, Vol. XXI: 353, question no. 3]. In fact, subaltern historians, like Shahid Amin, have dealt with a whole lot of rumours attached with the mystical powers of Gandhi as 'Mahatma' [Amin, 1984: 1-61]. Nevertheless, Gandhi through communication continuously attempted to do away with these rumours.
Also, communication gained significance to counter the governmental propaganda and bogus advertisements that were floating in the air during the Non-Co-Operation Movement. As far as the governmental propaganda is concerned, we have evidences of several governmental circulars being issued during the Non-Co-Operation period to counter the effect of the movement and to convince people that the entire movement will ultimately harm India. For example, in Bihar, one of the official circulars stated that: 'All officers subordinate to the Collector and District Magistrate are desired to take steps to make people realize, that in as much as India produces less than her population requires, a boycott of foreign cloth and its destruction or export must inevitably lead to a serious rise in prices, which may lead to a serious disorder and looting, and that these consequences will be the result, not of any action on the part of the Government but of Mr. Gandhi's campaign' [CWMG, Vol. XXI: 32]. In the similar vein, the Bihar Government Publicity Bureau issued leaflets in Hindustani giving ten reasons why foreign cloth should not be boycotted [CWMG, Vol. XXI: 385]. Following were the stated reasons -
- Cloth manufactured in India is not sufficient for our needs.
- People having used to wearing fine cloth for a long time find it heavy to wear garments made from Indian yarn.
- Even Indian mills use foreign yarn for the fine cloth they weave.
- If we give up foreign cloth, we shall be in the same plight we were in 1905, when owing to swadeshi agitation Indian mills sent up prices and drained our wealth. Thus, mill-owners will fatten themselves on our ruin.
- So long as foreign cloth is imported, there is competition between Indian cloth and foreign cloth, and thus the mill-owners cannot raise prices very high.
- There are not enough mills and handlooms in India for the cloth required.
- Hand-spinning is not profitable because it yields no more than two annas per day.
- Handlooms produce very little; therefore much cannot be produced from them.
- By such boycott there will be great unrest and commotion, and India's progress will be greatly arrested.
- By the rise in the price of the cloth the poor will suffer much and discontent will spread all over.
In the wake up of these counter-propagandas carried out by the government to reduce the effect of nationalist propaganda, the need of communication and reaching to common people became necessary for the leaders to convince the mass. Again, Gandhi responded to this in his typical way of communication - viz. by using popular metaphors. For example, in one of his writings handling the issue of misrepresentation of things by the Government and newspapers, he argued: 'It would never have been possible for Ravana to carry off Sitaji if he had appeared before her as the demon which he was. He could do so only by assuming the form of a Sadhu. When saintliness is thus used as a cover, destruction soon overtakes the man' [CWMG, Vol. XXI: 141]. Obviously, here 'Ravana' has been used metaphorically for the 'government' and 'saintliness' or 'disguise of Sadhu' for the counter-propaganda carried out by the government to misguide the 'innocent people' represented here as 'Sita'.
Not only this, many Indians were also using bogus advertisements during this period to reap handsome profits by taking advantage of the swadeshi atmosphere. For example, Gandhi repeatedly received information about forged mill-made rough cloth being sold as khadi or some 'swadeshi store' selling cloth made up of foreign yarn; and in each case Gandhi issued several guidelines to identify the genuine khadi [CWMG, Vol. XX: 385-86, 405-06, 520-21; CWMG, Vol. XXI: 52-53]. Similarly, bad spinning wheels were reported to be sold by saying that it could yield more yarn in less time. In this regard also Gandhi in one of his notes issued guidelines to test the spinning wheel before purchasing [CWMG, Vol. XIX: 523-24].
Not just khadi, Gandhi even came across the incidences of unlawful use being made of his name to sell any product or to collect fund. For example, once Gandhi came across an incidence of a tobacco company using his name to sell cigarettes which were called 'Mahatma Gandhi Cigarette' [CWMG, Vol. XIX: 216]. Similarly, he got information about a girl claiming herself as Gandhi's daughter [CWMG, Vol. XIX: 216; CWMG, Vol. XXII: 314]. Similarly, a person called Motilal Puncholi hailing from Udaipur claimed himself as Gandhi's disciple to preach temperance. However, Motilal Puncholi used to preach temperance in grossly 'un-Gandhian' manner. He was reported to be surrounded by an 'armed' crowd of admirers and establishing his kingdom or some other- dom wherever he went. He also claimed to have miraculous powers [CWMG, Vol. XXII: 315] Similarly, instances were reported where Muslims were forced to abstain from meat eating and vegetarianism was preached in the name of Gandhi [CWMG, Vol. XX: 110, 146]. So, communication was necessary to overcome all these instances of misuse of Gandhi's name.
Last but not the least, as the movement progressed need of communication increased manifold to keep the people non-violent and pacified. It should be noted that despite all efforts being made by Gandhi to keep people non-violent, instances of people resorting to violence came to be reported again and again during the entire course of the Non-Co-Operation Movement. One should not think that Chauri Chaura violence, after which Gandhi rolled back the entire movement, was the first incident of violence as it generally appears to be in popular perception. Conversely, it was the last instance of violence during the Non-Co-Operation Movement. Before that there were major riots in Malabar, Bombay, Arrah and elsewhere. Also there were instances of people looting the bazaars, etc. in their over-enthusiasm. Gandhi was well aware of all this and that is why during the last three-four months of the Non-Co-Operation Movement he repeatedly urged for maintaining peace and order and not to resort to violence. In fact, these instances appeared to him as indicators not to launch the civil disobedience phase of the Non-Co-Operation Movement.