Of all the political events in Gandhi’s life, perhaps none is more famous than the Salt March of 1930. That theatrical act of defiance—in protest of the heavy tax on salt imposed by the British in India—catapulted Gandhi to new heights in his political career, as the image of this frail individual challenging a mighty empire captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of people around the world. Yet like many popular conceptions of Gandhi, this image is incomplete. Absent are the 78 members of the Satyagraha Ashram who accompanied him on his march, as well as numerous aides, lieutenants, and volunteers who worked behind the scenes to stage the historic event. There would have been no Salt March, no iconic Gandhi images, without them.
A month before the march, Gandhi’s colleague Vallabhbhai Patel led a team that canvassed arid Gujarat Province to determine the best route. Chief among their considerations were the route’s proximity to salt deposits and to towns where local government officials would be likely to resign their posts on Gandhi’s arrival in support of the protest, as well as easy access for the news media so that it could report on the march’s progress. Gandhi had become a master of employing media coverage to make his efforts successful, and he and his team orchestrated the march so that it would be a sustained media event. They plotted a trail for a three-week trek from Gandhi’s ashram in Ahmedabad south toward the Arabian Sea, paralleling the railway line, which would be the primary means for maintaining communication—by both post and messengers—between the marchers and the ashram headquarters, as well as the conduit for the media covering the march.
Meanwhile, at the Satyagraha Ashram, Gandhi’s secretariat was busy marshaling evidence demonstrating the link between the salt tax and the degradation of Indian society, and publishing it in Gandhi’s weekly journals Young India and Navajivan, where the arguments could be picked up by mainstream media outlets. Parikh and Desai scoured the vast print resources in the ashram—not only Desai’s personal library, but the main library, which housed the thousands of books that Gandhi had brought back from South Africa—for statistics about salt and the Salt Act. Desai used these figures in articles in Young India as well as in Gandhi’s communications with the imperial government and the speeches he helped Gandhi draft. Gandhi himself contributed to the information-gathering efforts, urging associates to send him publications and other sources of information on salt and related subjects.
Gandhi’s personal accounts and other articles from the Salt March and Desai’s pieces in Young India and Navajivan detailing the narrative drama of the march, along with reports and photographs in the mainstream news media,put the Mahatma and his cause before a growing audience in India and around the world. Yet the organizational sophistication behind Gandhi’s dramatic march never got a mention in the headlines the enterprise worked so hard to produce. Its invisibility was partly by design: By effacing their own efforts, Gandhi’s associates reinforced his image as a simple and self-reliant crusader.
via The Wilson Quarterly.