In preparation for my upcoming month long trip to India to meet with civil society groups I have been spending countless hours and hundreds of pages learning about Indian history and culture.  And strange as it might seem given my profession  I never really looked closely at Ghandi's  "Ahimsa" movement or analyzed the strategies he employed as an organizer.  I still feel like I have a lot to learn but did draw a few preliminary conclusions about Ghandi the organizer and leader. 

My general impression is that as an organizer Ghandi made many mistakes and misjudgements.  I think the work he did early in his career in South Africa to gain equal status for Indians was a huge dissapointment to him.  He repeatedly called upon his followers to undertake tactics that few of them could endure as well as he could.  By asking people to foresake their finanical considerations and submit to prison in an effort to shame the Boer led authorities and the British Crown, Ghandi broke a cardinal rule in organizing, we often fail if we ask people to do things that are too far outside of their experience.  That's always the challenge, to engage in a tactic burdensome to and outside the experience of authority figures but not transcend the limits of the leaders and activists who you are trying to help achieve real victories.  Poor Ghandi, this happened to him again and again in South Africa, and later in India too and it frustrated him enormously.  Many times he was able to secure some compromise and declare a level of victory but to little satisfaction to him or his followers.  So while Ghandi won very few individual battles, his very act of battling and personal sacrifice won him the admiration of millions of Indians, Britains, and Americans..which ultimately proved transformational.   Why did Americans matter?  Because FDR wasn't having any of Churchill's ambitions to maintain the British Empire in the context of World War II.  He felt the days of colonialism should be over, as did much of the British public and repeatedly took allied strategies put forward by Churchill to protect the empire for the sake of empire off the table.  My two cents at the moment.

I'm excited about going to India and learning more and will keep folks up to date during my trip on this blog.
Hamdy
8/25/2009 11:39:53

Hi Lauren, your article made me remember one of the most important sayings of Ghandi talking about freedom "They (the oppressors) didn't take it from us, we gave it to them". Wish you a very safe and useful trip to India.

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Lauren Coletta
8/25/2009 19:02:26

Thanks Hamdy!

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