Revealed: Gandhi’s secret Public Relations techniques. You can use them too, to become a PR superstar!

Mahatma Gandhi reading the newspaper

By Karnvir Mundrey, Chief Ideation Officer, Atharva Marcom

Gandhi. A lawyer from a humble background. He managed to communicate complex ideas into mass movements. Pretty much a PR professionals dream. Over the last few month, the research team at Atharva Marcom has been pouring over books, videos and other material – to discover – how did the lawyer from Durban, become a PR BOSS!

Here is what we found

1. “Mahatma” content marketing in writing.

  1. Mahatma Gandhi, was a prolific writer and wrote hundreds of articles and opinion columns in the newspapers.

Gandhi, who had adopted the British taste for self-deprecation, once said that ‘I have no university education worth the name. My high school career was never above the average. I was thankful if I could pass my examinations. Distinction in the school was beyond my aspiration.’

Mahatma Gandhi writing.

Yet no twentieth-century politician or reformer so intensely immersed himself in the thoughts and actions of ordinary people. Even between campaigns he ran a weekly newspaper “Indian Opinion” much of which he wrote himself.

Gandhi was a wonderfully clear writer, who (as one contemporary remarked) had developed a prose style ‘all his own, composed of short sentences shot-out like shrapnel in a feu de joie at a new-year parade, dynamic in force and devastating in effect’. The Trinidadian writer Seepersad Naipaul told his son (the future Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul) that good literature boiled down to ‘writing from the belly rather than from the cheek’. While most people wrote from the cheek, added Naipaul père, ‘Gandhi’s writing is great’ because he wrote from the belly.

Tip 1: Write a lot, from the belly!

2. “Mahatma” content marketing in speaking.

Mahatma Gandhi was a prolific speaker, boldly taking the podium and speaking his ideas. Public speaking helps one connect with the audience, as well as they see you as real. It also gave Gandhi, an instant platform to test his ideas and invite feedback.

The Mahatma addressing a crowd!

Some of his most popular speeches include:

1. Benaras Hindu University Speech (4 February, 1916)

“If we are to receive self-government, we shall have to take it… freedom loving as it (British Empire) is, it will not be a party to give freedom to a people who will not take it themselves.”

In February 1916, Mahatma Gandhi was invited by Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya to speak at the inauguration of the Benaras Hindu University. The speech came as a shock to one and all present. The royal kings and princes, Annie Besant, and everyone else had come to expect the condescending tone adopted by Indian leaders towards the British. Gandhiji’s sharp criticism of the English language and demand for self-government jolted the audience and for the first time, the Mahatma showed signs of taking on the leadership of the country’s freedom struggle. This was the very first speech which would grow into a wildfire culminating in India’s freedom from the British rule.

The Speech of Mahatma Gandhi recorded in Kingsley Hall, London in 1931

2. Dandi March Speech (11 March, 1930)

“We have resolved to utilize all our resources in the pursuit of an exclusively non-violent struggle. Let no one commit a wrong in anger.”

It was on the eve of this historic Salt March to Dandi that Mahatma Gandhi outlined a well-thought out programme for non-cooperation. Setting out to manufacture salt from sea water with his followers, he called upon fellow Indians to defy the taxes imposed by the British. He asked Indians to give up foreign liquor and clothes, resist taxes, and avoid (British) courts and government offices. Not only did this speech compel Indians to join the freedom struggle and challenge the colonial rule but also influenced the Civil Rights Movement in the US decades later. It was instrumental in the introduction of the “satyagraha” into the Indian psyche.

3. Round Table Conference Speech, (30 November, 1931)

“I dare to say, it (the strife between Hindus and Muslims in India) is coeval with the British Advent, and  immediately this relationship, the unfortunate, artificial, unnatural relationship between Great Britain and India is transformed into a natural relationship, when it becomes, if it does become, a voluntary partnership to be given up, to be dissolved at the will of either party, when it becomes that you will find that Hindus, Mussalmans, Sikhs, Europeans, Anglo-Indians, Christians, Untouchable, will all live together as one man.”

This is the speech that Gandhi delivered at the very first Round Table Conference. It is here that the British tried to convince Indian leaders to accept Dominion status citing communal disharmony and strife. A bold Mahatma Gandhi clearly called the British bluff and showcased India’s unity and secular spirit. Our nation’s history has been altered by British historians, he said, and once again we shall sing our song of love and brotherhood in unison.

4. The ‘Quit India’ Speech (8 August, 1942)

“I believe that in the history of the world, there has not been a more genuinely democratic struggle for freedom than ours.”

Smithsonian refers to this address as the “speech that brought India to the brink of independence”.  Gandhiji’s address to the nation on the eve of the historic Quit India movement enshrines our ideals of Ahimsa (non-violence) and freedom. Calling upon the British to leave India voluntarily, Mahatma Gandhi inspired millions of Indians to seek out freedom from bondage and slavery. The novelty of his approach and the call to use non-violent means singled him out as one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.

5. Speech before His Final Fast (12 January, 1948)

“I yearn for heart friendship between the Hindus, the Sikhs and the Muslims. It subsisted between them the other day. Today it is non-existent. It is a state that no Indian patriot worthy of the name can contemplate with equanimity.”

India had gained its independence but this came with a terrible price.  A painful and violent partition had led to a complete breakdown of communal harmony – a camaraderie that had existed for hundreds of years. Pained, the Mahatma took to fasting once more – another stand, another non-violent struggle, another sacrifice for the sake of our beloved nation and the well-being of all Indians.

Tip 2: Speak on different occasions. Let your audience know you!

3. “Mahatma” Travel

Travel has always been challenging, time consuming and expensive. One of Gandhi’s greatest lessons was moving to South Africa.

In 1915, stepped off the SS Arabia at Bombay Harbour. Gandhi had spent the previous two decades in South Africa, where he made a name for himself representing the civil interests of prosperous merchants of Indian origin as well as the political rights of indentured labourers of Indian origin in a society divided along racial lines. Before that, he had also spent a few years as a (fairly mediocre) student in England.

From the film “Gandhi”, depicting the Mahatma’s travel across India.

It’s no surprise that traveling takes you outside of your comfort zone. In fact, this is perhaps why people crave traveling to the extent they do.

In psychology, there is this concept of the “Big Five,” which refers to the five dominant characteristics that describe a person’s personality.

These traits include neuroticism, openness, extraversion, conscientiousness and agreeableness.

The more travelers interact with new people and immerse themselves in a new culture, the more their goals are aligned with the openness personality trait.

Through his life, Gandhi travelled more than any other person in the history of India’s freedom struggle. There may actually be a direct correlation between a person’s travel and his popularity, and people’s acceptance of your ideas.

“In his first few months in India, Gandhi was continuously on the move. He had no office or secretariat—not even a permanent address. Only a few letters written to him in this period survive. They suggest that he was becoming known across the country.

In April he was invited to the third Andhra conference, to be held in Vizagapatnam in the middle of May. The conference was part of a wider movement to create a cohesive state of Telugu speakers, then spread across different provinces and chiefdoms. Its organizers hoped that Gandhi, by blessing the Andhra movement, would endorse the ‘spread of knowledge and culture through the medium of the mother-tongue and the speedy realisation of Indian nationhood by the division of the country into autonomous units on linguistic basis’.

 In the same week, a letter in Hindi was posted to Gandhi from the Himalayan foothills. ‘Since you are touring India now and have decided to serve the country,’ it said, ‘please improve the conditions of the people in the Himalaya.’ The writer enumerated the problems of hill peasants: the extraction of forced labour by officials, restrictions on access to forests (a vital source of fuel and fodder), no proper schools for their children. ‘Since you are an experienced man,’ the correspondent told Gandhi, ‘I have related our problems to you. Please come to Naini Tal and Almora, so that I can acquaint you with our difficulties. . . . Do begin the good work from here and carry on till Cape Comorin.’42 Some letters asked for advice, others offered it. A Bombay editor wrote to complain about Gandhi’s strident criticisms of modern life, since despite its many faults, ‘Western civilization, taken as a whole, tends more strongly to justice for all than any older civilization.’ ‘Your career and character is such a vast public asset,’ the editor told Gandhi, ‘that one feels that it is a pity it should be rendered less useful than it might and should be by this prejudice, as I must hold it to be, against modernity as such.’

“After the special session of the Congress in Calcutta, Gandhi resumed his travels. In October, he toured the Punjab and the United Provinces; in November, the Bombay Presidency and his native Gujarat. The magnificently detailed chronology of his life by Chandubhai

Dalal tells us that he visited nineteen towns and cities in the first month, and as many as twenty-nine in the second. Everywhere, he spoke at public meetings and, before or after these meetings, talked to delegates likely to attend the Congress session in Nagpur in December.”

Tip 3: Travel often, and wide.

4. “Mahatma” Fund Raising

Make no mistake. Gandhi was a wealthy man when he returned from South Africa. But he was also an amazing fund raiser.

Consider these excerpts from available writings.

“The next day, a crowd in excess of 5000 (including many women) heard a local merchant speak of the simplicity of their home-town hero. The shawl Gandhi was wearing perhaps cost two rupees, he said, but due to wear and tear it was now worth less than two annas. However, since it had been worn by Mohandas Gandhi, he would pay 100 rupees for it. Gandhi handed over the shawl and asked the merchant to donate the money to charity.”

Once the Kheda settlement was secured, Gandhi came back home to Kasturba and the ashram. The construction was proceeding smoothly, supervised by his nephew Maganlal. Gandhi hoped to provide accommodation for 100 people and install sixteen looms. This would cost 1,00,000 rupees, of which 40,000 had been collected. For the balance he approached his friend Pranjivan Mehta. ‘I have to tax you for a large amount,’ wrote Gandhi to Mehta. ‘Please give, if you can, what I have asked for, so that my anxieties can end.’

Mahatma Gandhi raising funds for the freedom struggle. Public Relations is expensive!

In the coalfield town of Jharia, where there was a large community of Gujaratis, he held a public meeting, and collected 60,000 rupees in cash and jewellery. A lady in the crowd put her gold necklace around Kasturba’s neck and was about to adorn her wrists with gold bracelets. Kasturba protested—taking off the necklace, she said the collection was for the nation’s swaraj, not for her personally. The lady then gave Gandhi the necklace, but begged Kasturba to at least wear the bracelets. As Mahadev Desai wryly noted in his diary: ‘Kasturba refused—with the result that the Swaraj fund was robbed of the bracelets.’

While mobilizing popular support, Gandhi also set about collecting money for his movement. The Congress had started a ‘Tilak Swaraj Fund’, for which Gandhi had set a target of Rs 1 crore (equivalent to 10 million, or 100 lakh). Each province had been assigned a target of its own. Gandhi first focused on Kathiawar, the part of Gujarat where he had himself been born and raised. ‘Kathiawaris claim me as one of themselves,’ he wrote. ‘Their love for me will now be tested. If, despite their love for me, I fail in convincing them, how can I ever hope to win over other Indians?’16 The Kathiawaris contributed Rs 2 lakh to the Tilak Fund, four times the target specified for them.

The British-ruled areas of Gujarat responded even more energetically to Gandhi’s call. The state contributed more than Rs 13 lakh, almost half coming from Ahmedabad alone.17 Gandhi next trained his eye on the city of Bombay, whose Gujarati merchants belonged to three distinct religions: Hinduism, Islam and Zoroastrianism. While Gujarati Hindus and Gujarati Muslims had long supported Gandhi, the Parsis were mostly Empire loyalists. In an open letter ‘To the Parsis’, Gandhi recalled the ‘sacred ties’ that bound him to them, such as the mentorship of Dadabhai Naoroji and the support given to his movement in South Africa by the Parsis.

Some Parsis were persuaded by his appeal. One, from the famous Godrej family that manufactured safes and almirahs, donated Rs 3 lakh to the Tilak fund, by far the largest single contribution. ‘Mr. Godrej’s generosity,’ remarked Gandhi, ‘puts the Parsis easily first in India.’ Meanwhile, his friend Parsi Rustomji had sent Rs 52,000 from South Africa.19 Gandhi appealed for funds through print, and in person. He spent almost a month in Bombay, going from one locality to the next, gathering notes, coins, cheques and jewels. On 26 June 1921, some 20,000 people gathered in a merchant’s godown in central Bombay, to present a purse to Gandhi. As one eyewitness reported, ‘The heat was oppressive and owing to the over-crowding the audience endured much discomfort.

Many of them unable to bear it any longer left the place before Gandhi arrived, but dropped their contributions into the collecting boxes as they left. Gandhi, however, stuck it out to the end, intent only on the collection of as large a sum as possible.’ Gandhi collected nearly Rs 5 lakh in this one meeting. These included small donations by individuals as well as larger contributions by guilds or trade bodies. Other days in Bombay were even more successful. In C.B. Dalal’s chronology of Gandhi’s Indian years, the entry for 30 June 1921 reads: ‘Bombay: Visited, accepted purses from, and addressed various institutions and organizations’. From the intelligence reports of the Bombay government, we can flesh out the day in greater and richer detail. Gandhi’s first meeting was at the northern suburb of Borivili.

Collecting Rs 45,000 from its residents, he then traced his way back to the city. At 1 p.m. he visited the Mangaldas Cloth Market in the company of the Ali Brothers and Sarojini Naidu, collecting upward of Rs 35,000. He then attended a meeting of Lohanas at Mandvi, around three thousand-strong, some eight hundred women among them. This Gujarati merchant caste had raised Rs 1,10,000 for their compatriot. The Lohanas were advised by Gandhi ‘to use Swadeshi clothes, to give national education to their children and to take up national work’. Gandhi’s next stop was Grant Road, where, at 3.30 p.m., he met the jewellers of Bombay. A group collection of Rs 10,000 was offered to him, after which a jeweller named Gulab Devchand handed over the impressive sum of Rs 2,32,000, ‘together with an address which was written out on a khadi handkerchief and contained a prayer that God would help Gandhi in reaching the goal of Swaraj to which they all aspired’.

Gandhi’s merchant friend Revashankar Jagjivan gave him Rs 25,000, while a further Rs 60,000 ‘were collected from small associations and bodies, including the Grass Merchants, Plumbers, etc. . . .’ At 5 p.m., the indefatigable Gandhi was in the posh locality of Colaba. Here, after the Colaba cotton merchants had presented him a purse of Rs 1,54,000, ‘two bales of cotton were also put up for auction; the one on which Gandhi was sitting went for Rs 6,100; the other, not so pleasantly favoured, only fetched Rs 2,500’. Gandhi’s next meeting was with the Parsis, at a place well suited for a community which pioneered modern Indian drama—the Excelsior Theatre. ‘The leaders of Parsi Society were conspicuous by their absence’; but sections of the Parsi middle class were present, among them the prominent lawyer K.F. Nariman.

A purse of Rs 30,000 was handed over, after which ‘Gandhi and the various Parsi speakers flattered each other on their many noble qualities and achievements, and Gandhi suggested that the Parsi ladies should come out and assist the volunteers on picketing duty’. Gandhi then seems to have been taken by his minders for supper. The next meeting, the last for the day, started at 9.30 p.m. It was organized by the Mandvi District Congress Committee. Admission was by tickets priced at Re 1 and Rs 2. Some 10,000 people were present, and ‘the usual speeches advising the use of Swadeshi cloth instead of foreign and the adoption of the Charkha were made by Gandhi, the Ali Brothers and Mrs. Naidu’. About a lakh of rupees was collected along with a few items of jewellery.

It had been an exhausting day for Gandhi, but also a productive one.

Tip 4: Good Public Relations is expensive. Make sure you have the funds for it.

5. “Mahatma” connect with Journalists and Influencers

Apart from running his own newspapers, he constantly kept in touch with the editors of the time.

When he arrived in India, and visited Madras, Gandhi’s host was G.A. Natesan, editor of Indian Review. Natesan was an early admirer, raising money for Gandhi in South Africa, publishing pamphlets by and about him. Gandhi attended several receptions in his honour, variously organized by Gujarati, Christian and Muslim groups, with one all-embracing ecumenical party hosted by Natesan himself.

Gandhi was constantly in correspondence and dialogue with the newspaper editors of the time – providing content of editorial value.

Mahatma Gandhi at The Hindu office in Mount Road, Madras

Each time a decision of significance was taken, Gandhi ensured an editor was present. Take this except:

“In the last week of February, Gandhi convened a meeting in his ashram in Ahmedabad. Those in attendance included Vallabhbhai Patel, Sarojini Naidu, the Bombay merchant Umar Sobani and B.G. Horniman, the British-born, India-loving editor of the nationalist newspaper, the Bombay Chronicle. At this meeting a ‘Satyagraha Pledge’ was drawn up, whose signatories would court arrest unless the Rowlatt Bills were withdrawn.

Gandhi’s writings were now appearing regularly in a weekly called Young India. This journal was started by Shankarlal Banker and Umar Sobani in Bombay. In May, the government suspended the widely read Bombay Chronicle newspaper and deported its editor, B.G. Horniman, for taking the side of the anti-Rowlatt agitators. To fill the gap, Young India now became a biweekly. Gandhi and Mahadev Desai also began the process of shifting it to Ahmedabad.

While it was being published in Bombay, Young India carried advertisements. Those paying for space included soap and almirah merchants, jewellers, booksellers, an orphanage that was an ‘ideal institution for Homeless Hindus of all ages and both sexes’, and a certain A. Ratna and Co., Madras, who for Re 1 plus postage would supply a ‘fine photo of Mr. M.K. Gandhi’.

After the magazine shifted to Ahmedabad in early October 1919, it reverted to being a weekly, and stopped carrying advertisements. Young India now reprinted, in full, statements and speeches by Gandhi. Each issue also carried one and frequently several articles especially written by him for the journal. In the autumn of 1919, for example, Gandhi published more than a dozen articles about the Punjab—these dealing with the plight of the families whose members had been killed in the Amritsar firing, miscarriages of justice and the apathy of officials.”

Tip 5: Stay connected with the media.

Gandhi was definitely a Mahatma! He knew how to handle the information, media and how to be an influencer. Atharva Marcom salutes one of the greatest public-relation superstar the world has known!

Atharva Marcom is India’s best public relations firm. Get in touch with Atharva Marcom, to get your ideas and communication to the world – and change it! Write to atharvamarcom@gmail.com

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This article has used Ramchandra Guha’s book “Gandhi”, as an extensive reference.

1 comment
  1. Dr Shailendra Chaudhari
    Dr Shailendra Chaudhari
    March 25, 2020 at 9:18 pm

    Beautuful research work done on Mahatma ji.
    Congratulations.

    Reply
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