Sunday, 21 January 2018

Good Practices in Corporate Governance: Lessons from Mahatma Gandhi

More than a hundred years ago, in the first decade of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi had told business persons about building and leading an ethical and profitable enterprise. This he demonstrated through his own life and work of a lifetime offering accessible approaches between the comprehensive and fragmentary. Mahatma Gandhi had said in 1931 while addressing business houses that voluntary discipline is prerequisite for corporate freedom. This remains true even in today’s corporate world aspiring to establish good practices in corporate governance. 
In the year 1927, Mahatma Gandhi advised top industrialists GD Birla and Purushottam Das Thakurdas to establish an association of business organizations in India known as the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce in India. In his address in the 4th AGM he said,' the industry should regard themselves as trustees and servants of the poor...' by collectively working for the good of the people.
In the 21st century “Corporate Governance” includes all the activities involved in governing corporations. Corporate Governance takes place on four interconnecting levels: Systemic, Intergroup, Interpersonal and Personal governance. Every one of us, regardless of our role and status, is involved in one or more of these levels.  If all the government and governance systems and the people in them are working well, in a perfect world, business can be conducted smoothly, fairly, honestly, without hitches for the general good of all. It is a society in which trust is taken for granted. There are many boards, companies and responsible investors that make a positive difference. However, as we all know, the world is far from perfect.
Good governance enables sustainable wealth creation whereas unethical governance erodes everything that enables decent sustainable living for the common good. Poor corporate governance, usually through a combination of incompetence or criminal or corrupt practices, causes the eventual long-term destruction of whole communities and countries. Boards of directors are responsible for the corporate governance of companies. The legacies they leave behind will determine whether our children live in a healthy or unhealthy world. The quality of board performance makes a huge difference as the focus should remain on ethical behavior including accountability, transparency and integrity.
The world’s economic experience in the first decade of the twenty first century demonstrated that far from being optional in business, let alone incompatible with profit sound ethics are integral with the process of commerce and are essential to sustained profitability.
Mahatma Gandhi’s life and work as a transformational leader offers inspiration and guidance to the modern and aspiring business leaders in building and leading ethical and profitable enterprises. For this reason Mahatma Gandhi comes out as the most powerful motivator who had mastered the elements of personal leadership and institutional management and formulating a strategy for breaking out of conventional thoughts, outworn traditions and received wisdom. Mahatma Gandhi could have told any business person this very thing a hundred year ago during the first decade of the twentieth century.     
Mahatma Gandhi measured all decision against truth, injustice, violence, disparity, favoritism and was able to make decisions governing the collective life that is a company and other enterprises. Certain core values that he had practiced and lived accordingly are transparency, accountability and integrity amongst many others.     
‘A leader is only first among equals’ - Mahatma Gandhi
The essential unity of mind, word and deed was Mahatma Gandhi’s simple definition of Truth. He practiced what he advised others to do. What appeared to others as a difficulty was natural to him. Such resolve gave him strength to perform acts which had wide symbolic resonance. 
Accountability in the public sector is broader than in the private sector (Ole Ingstrup and Crookall, 1998). In the private sector, everyone in the company is accountable to its board. The public sector is also accountable to a board of sorts: the minister, cabinet and legislature. But the public sector has additional accountability to its employees and to its customers, the citizens who use the services – as well as to its non – customers, the citizens who don’t use the service.
Mahatma Gandhi had also advised to the business and other enterprises that ‘A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption on our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider on our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.’
It is a different kind of accountability, more subtle and indirect. Therefore, in general accountability for performance and the obligation that public functionaries (elected and appointed officials) have to give a satisfactory explanation over the exercise of power, authority and resources entrusted in them on behalf of the public (tax payer). Subsumed with this definition is a myriad of legal, oral and ethical obligations that come with the occupancy of any public office (Sarji, 1995). Accountability is therefore an ethical virtue, since ethics concern principles and rules that govern the moral value of people’s behavior. Improving ethics is crucial to enhancing accountability and vice-versa.
In all the organizations Mahatma Gandhi was associated; he took care not to take funds disproportionate to its needs. He made the public activity self-sufficient, bereft of debt and accounted for every expenditure. He insisted on accepting valid criticism, had the courage to accept his mistakes publically, avoided the habit of exaggeration and reformed colleagues. Today, many of these may be common rules, but he was a person who was setting up new values in society. His leadership can be seen in such measures too. 
‘Let hundreds like me perish, but let the truth prevail, but let the truth prevail. Let us not reduce the standards of truth even by a hair’s breadth for judging erring mortals like myself’-Mahatma Gandhi 
Mahatma Gandhi understood Truth in simple terms,’ speak what you think and act in accordance with your speech.’ This simple definition of truth is his testimony of his transparency. This is what we see in his personal life as well as in his public life. He practiced what he preached and set an example for others to follow. Now, in the first half of twenty first century, the metaphorical extension of the meaning a “transparent” object is one that can be seen through. With regard to the public services, it means that holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest demands it (Chapman, 2000). Radical transparency in management demands that all decision making should be carried out publicly. Therefore, transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government and its agents are doing.
Mahatma Gandhi’s honesty and transparency made him admit all his in- experiences, his follies and his fears without hesitation and fear. The unity between means and ends made him strive for a nonviolent mode of arriving at truth. The harmony between all aspects of his life made him insist about the need for the moral values in all the realms of life.
Mahatma Gandhi had said that ‘A leader is useless when he acts against the prompting of his own conscience’
Integrity is one of the most important and oft-cited of virtues. The concept of integrity has to do with perceived consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcome. When used as a virtue,  term “integrity” refers to a quality of a person’s character. Some people see integrity as the quality of having a sense of honesty and truthfulness in regard to the motivations for one’s actions. Persons of integrity do not just act consistently with their endorsements, they stand for something: they stand up for their best judgment within a community of people trying to discover what in life is worth doing. Some commentators stress the idea of integrity as personal honesty: acting according to one’s beliefs and values at all times. Speaking about integrity one can emphasize the “wholeness” or “intactness” of a moral stance or attitude. Some of the wholeness may also emphasize commitment and authenticity. In the context of accountability, integrity serves as a measure of willingness to adjust value system to maintain or improve its consistency when an expected result appears incongruent with observed outcome. Some regard integrity as a virtue in that they see accountability and moral responsibility as necessary tools for maintaining such consistency.
Mahatma Gandhi accomplished any given task with honesty and hard work. Once a decision was made he gave his all to it. From June 24, 1884, from the age of 25 years his decisions which were personal acquired a public dimension. His energy became the power of the Indian community. The individual was transformed into a public person. He had intense sense of self-respect and a matter of self-respect became the challenge of the self-respect of the community. The characteristics of a moral leader manifested in him due to his integrity.
 The new age expert Halfon (1989) offers a different way of defining integrity in terms of moral purpose. Halfon describes integrity in terms of a person’s dedication to the pursuit of a moral life and their intellectual responsibility in seeking to understand the demands of such life. 
Mahatma Gandhi faced many times the very problem of balancing in decision making but he had the courage of conviction which is one of the keenest tools for good governance. He used to act on his intellect through introspection and questioning. His entire life demonstrates that the future progress requires both preparedness for failure and the strategy for recovery. He had advised that true satisfaction lies in the effort than in the achievement.
For Mahatma Gandhi the cardinal virtue was fearlessness. If you learn that, he declared, ‘nobody would be able to keep you down. People can be forced to do anything, but they cannot be forced to obey willingly. He advised his followers to regards any institution or enterprise in which they were involved as a family, in the sense that each member has his own life and his own role to play, yet all are united in the commonwealth.
In the end, the business leader must think and act with the wellbeing of every stake holder in his mind. This may mean, sometimes, making unpopular decisions departing from perceived wisdom exercising judgment and discretion in carrying out their official duties.  Ethics certainly is a part of this corporate fairness of mind, but so are the other values. Formulating and living up to the sound core values is the commitment to truth, after which Mahatma Gandhi observed, ‘nothing more need to be said, truth always triumphs… Truth always wins.’ 

The path that Gandhi took is open to all those willing to adopt his principles and dedication. 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Lessons in leadership from Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi march

Dandhi March with Mahatma Gandh and his 79 followers 
Through the Dandi march Gandhi wanted to show to the world that nonviolence is powerful weapon in the important, ‘battle for Right versus Might.’ He had said, ‘this is an opportunity of a lifetime.’ As in  all Gandhi’s satyagaha and marches a basic set of rules were followed in the Dandi march-the issue was clearly identified on the issue on which the struggle would be launched, it’s ‘Truth’ was highlighted to the opponents and negotiation was requested , the opponent and the news media were fully informed  of the campaign’s objectives and plans, funds were raise and the effort was to economize on expenditure and trouble  so as to sustain the satyagraha as long as necessary and sustainable arrangements were made for identifying leaders in case of arrests,  care of those who would be injured or arrested, as well as for their families.    
According to the eminent scholar Anand Kumarasamy in his book on ‘Gandhi on Personal Leadership’ ,  Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru would write many years later, ‘Many pictures rise in my mind of this man {Gandhi} ….but the picture that is dominant…is as I saw him marching, staff in hand, to Dandi on the salt march in 1930. Here was the pilgrim on his quest of truth, peaceful, determined and fearless, who would continue that quest and pilgrimage, regardless of consequences.’
The prime elements in Gandhi’s satyagraha, fasts, padayatras, marches, prayer meetings and negotiations with political rivals and the British rulers were-transparency, methodical humane approach and insistence on ‘purity of means’ to achieve the desired goals. His methodical approach is best seen in the historical ‘Dandi march’, through which one can take lessons of Gandhi’s outstanding leadership achievements. Gandhi’s leadership, completely self-made sprouted and grew to full stature as his ‘Experiments with Truth’ and application of the ‘Eternal Verities”, to his daily challenges progressed. He neither had the benefit of personality development, communication, organization, management or leadership courses, nor good looks nor great oratory. His only guidance came from his ‘inner voice’ writes the eminent scholar P.A. Nazareth in his book ‘Gandhi’s Outstanding Leadership’
The Indian National Congress had declared January 26th as the ‘Poorna Swarajya’ day in Lahore. In the cities and towns thousands of people recited a declaration of independence to show their support for ‘swaraj’. ‘We believe that it is the inalienable right of Indian people, as of any other people to have freedom, and to enjoy the fruit of their toil and have the necessities of life so they may have full opportunities for growth.’ On January 18th, 1930, poet Rabindranath Tagore paid Gandhi a visit. He asked him what he had in mind for India. Gandhi said he did not know. ‘I am furiously thinking night and day’, he replied, ‘and I do not see any light coming out of surrounding darkness’.
Courage of conviction
The country was eager for the civil disobedience movement after the Lahore Congress. People awaited Gandhi’s announcement of the program anxiously. For many days he had groped in vain for inspiration. Finally it had come to him in a flash. Once he was convinced of the program, Gandhi had not wasted his time and placed it before the country. Gandhi believed that the moment was now ripe for the new dramatic and completely non-violent campaign: the Salt Satyagraha. His ingenuity lay in being transparent.
The issue of civil disobedience was made public. In his letter to the Viceroy, Gandhi had declared that he would break the Salt Act by marching from the Sabarmati Ashram. He had addressed the British Viceroy in India, addressing the letter as ‘Dear Friend’. This was always a part of the Gandhian method; in his world view, there were no enemies, because he was fighting the evil of the system and not these individuals. The letter announced the date of commencement of the movement as 11 March, 1930 which was later changed to 12 March, 1930. It was still not certain as to where the march would conclude.
When the British Viceroy rejected eleven demands Gandhi had articulated as the essence of self-government in his letter, he decided to directly attack the salt law, which taxed staple of rich and poor alike-and also outlawed the manufacture of one’s own salt, as well as the purchase of untaxed domestic salt.  Gandhi, the satyagrahi, hated the sin, but not the sinner.  He wrote, ‘They said they did not want to meet me saying ‘talking to you is useless.’  Hence Gandhi ji said ‘when I asked for rotis, they gave me stones in return.’
Judith Brown's biography of Gandhi, ‘Prisoner of Hope’ expertly evokes the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi as a multi-faceted genius who introduced a new sense of social reform, political opposition, and spiritual idealism.  Brown extols salt march as a ‘superbly ingenious choice’.
Martin Luther king jr. once said ‘If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable.’ The salt march was his favorite Gandhi story. According to historian Taylor Branch, King would tell the story with gusto. When he described Gandhi picking up the salt in Dandi, King would exclaim, ‘It seems, I could hear the boys at number ten Downing Street in London, England, say, ‘it is all over now’!
Why salt?
When Gandhi announced his plan, even his close aides and associates were completely unconvinced. The Indian National Congress was mystified and incredulous. Of all things, why salt? Many leaders had felt that the choice of salt tax as an issue was insignificant and that it would divert the attention from the more significant issue of complete independence or Poorna Swaraj. Their apprehension was laid to rest by the reception that the Dandi march received. The courage and forbearance of the people across the country were such that the skepticism of the critics was dissolved.  Gandhi had outlined his plan to ‘raid’ the salt works at Dharasana in his letter to the Viceroy of India. He was arrested before he could carry out the ‘raid’. With his arrest the non-violent agitation gathered more strength according to Narayan Desai, Eminent Gandhian in his book ‘My Life is My Message’.
Gandhi once again proved that he was no mere saint like figure, but also a superb strategist, a practical idealist. He said he was an idealist who put the ideas into practice immediately. Dandi march would prove to be his masterstroke, as it was a plan that was at once simple and brilliant. Salt for Gandhi, was largely symbolic; by choosing salt as an issue, Gandhi was showcasing the heartlessness of an Empire that would tax something so basic and essential to the human diet. It served as a powerful symbol of a callous and cruel colonial exploitation, imposing burdens on the already poor millions. What was even more ridiculous that salt could be made freely on the sea shore, yet no Indian was allowed to make it.  If ever a law could be unjust, here was one. Above all, given the essential nature of its use this issue would cut across all lines of caste, creed, state and language. Finally, it was a powerful issue for the Indian women struggling to feed her family.
Organizational skills and Charisma
Gandhi’s organizational skills are best seen in the manner in which he reconstructed the Indian National Congress between 1915 to 1930. Gandhi knew that the salt satyagraha would be a definitive step towards freedom. This experiment in non-violence suppressed the sporadic but widespread incidents of violence and infused people with positive energy. The reason was that Gandhi, the practical idealist had the vision that he would walk to the seashore and make salt. In one of the most illuminating moment of India’s non-violent struggle for freedom, Gandhi chose Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who could execute his vision perfectly. This was the finest example of the executive foresight of the Mahatma. 
Starting from Ahmedabad on 12 March 1930 with 79 of his well-trained, handpicked followers  Gandhi led a 240 -mile long march to the sea at Dandi, where he intended publicly to break the law by ‘making salt’- that is gathering natural sea salt that had crystallized under the sun on the beach. The Dandi march, in which every detail was carefully planned, passed through areas well prepared for satyagraha and whose progress was eagerly followed by Indians all along the route to Dandi, on the coast of the Arabian Sea. The marchers did not carry a single flag or banner.  Gandhi walked fast, but he increased his speed further to save himself from the rising dust and those wanting to touch his feet. Three film crews captured this walk and, Gandhi’s fast paced walk became legendary.
The Gujarat Vidyapeeth had deputed ‘Arun Tukdi’, a vanguard that reached the stops as an advance party that gave Gandhi all the information about the villages. Gandhi, who understood the Indian villages more than anyone else, explained the economics, the ethics and the politics of the salt law. He was to do this all along the route of the Dandi march. The march was a means of awakening the people. 
Leading by example
Gandhi’s great achievement in including the band of  satyagrahis who accompanied him in the Dandi march , and subsequently many other such  people from  India and abroad , to join him is ample proof of his incredible charisma. The Sabarmati Ashram was buzzing with excitement as everyone in the Ashram was awake on the night between the 11th and 12th March, 1930.  There were long lines of vehicles along with people of the entire village who had assembled there. When the whole Ashram was awake, the only person who was sleeping soundly was Gandhi.  He was not worried about what was going to happen the next day and so he slept!  He had this unique quality of ‘Sattva’, or calmness of mind which enabled him to remain positive even under all difficult circumstances.
The group walked in the early morning, rested during the hottest part of the day and walked to that evening destination in the late afternoon. At nights they slept at Dharmashalas, or village inns, instead of in private homes. That way there would be no retaliation against the home owners who might welcome them. Each village provided Gandhi with an opportunity to lead by example. It was not enough for Gandhi to march on an average of 12 miles (19 kms) a day over dusty roads in the hot month.  
Communication skills
Gandhi also kept up heavy writing schedule. He wrote regular articles and on March 24, 1930 he produced seven articles for ‘Young India’. Gandhi’s communication skills transformed India’s freedom struggle from one waged by a small elite, urban group into a mass movement in which millions of Indians from every stratum of society enthusiastically participated. It was the largest ‘people power’ struggle in the history.
His historic salt march and his publicly breaking the salt law was a communication masterpiece. News about it was carried in over 1000 newspapers worldwide. The New York Times editorialized that whereas Britain had lost America on tea, it was losing India on salt! TIME magazine put him on the front cover of its January 4, 1931 issue as the ‘Man of the Year.’  
Gandhi picking up a fistful of  salty mud., April 6th , 1930  
The event, which was widely covered by the press, thrilled the nation and electrified the world, and when Gandhi reached the ocean and picked up a fistful of salty mud on April 6, 1930, Indian began making and selling illegal salt everywhere. Gandhi and others were quickly rounded up, but their arrest only raised the pitch of the resistance and increased the intensity of the world’s focus on India, finally pressurizing the British Viceroy into repealing the salt tax and other repressive measures according to the management guru and author Alan Axelrod.
Triumph of Spirit of the Non Violence
The remarkable and unprecedented events of Dandi culminated at the Dharasana salt works. Gandhi was now in prison, but another protégé of Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu, led a group of 2500 volunteers and Satyagrahis in a non-violent raid into the salt works. Web Miller, the American journalist from Chicago Daily News, who was the eye witness to the events of 21 May, 1930 recounts, ‘Next leader was Manilal Gandhi, second son of Gandhi walked amongst the foremost of the marchers. As the throng drew near the salt panes they commenced chanting the revolutionary slogan’ Inquilab Zindabadintoning the two words over and over again. The leaders who had the ropes, attempted to lasso the posts holding up the barbed wire, intending to uproot them; the police ran up and demanded that they disperse. The volunteers refused. The column silently refused the warning and slowly walked forward…Suddenly, at a word of command; scores of native police rushed upon the advancing marchers and rained blows on their heads with steel shod lathis. Not even one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins. From where I stood, I heard the sickening whack of the lathis on the unprotected skulls. The waiting crowd of watchers groaned and sucked in their breath in sympathetic pain at every blow.’     
In the order of leadership Naraharibhai Parikh was the fourth. Lathis were showered on Naraharibhai and blood was oozing from his head and covered the whole of his body. Gandhi was not there but 40 representatives of the press were there to collect news as Naraharibhai fell down unconscious. When asked for a message he said, ‘I am doubly blessed, because till now the leaders were arrested and the volunteers had to face physical assault. And now, I first faced the blows and then I am being arrested and that is why I am doubly blessed.’
The pious sacrifice of Dharasana created conditions that allowed a representative of the enslaved people to negotiate with the representative of the Empire as an equal.
Those were the days of the Salt Satyagraha, but even after that the mood of agitation continued as active youth took on the agitation with determination, ready to be martyred. Gandhi’s color had rubbed onto everyone. And if there was one reason above this, it was that everyone had tasted the Sabras or Salt of Independence with greater enthusiasm as Gandhi lifted a pinch of salt at the Dandi shore:  Swaraj was now at the doorstep. 
Gandhi had viewed the civil disobedience movement as a challenge to the spreading violence in the country. He believed that if the spirit of non-violence became pervasive the forces of violence would weaken. He had therefore, also announced that the struggle would continue even if incidences of violence were to occur. These were testing time, for and every incidence of violence caused him deep personal pain. He shared his feelings with the readers of Navajivan, April 27, 1930 ‘This is a struggle between violence and non-violence. To the extent that I am non-violent in spirit, non-violent remedies will occur to me; and these I shall put before the people so long as I remain free. In my absence also, if there spirit of non-violence has become general, people will follow non-violent methods. Those who have not come under the spell of non-violence are bound to do so in the end if the true spirit of non-violence comes to prevail among the people.’
The civil disobedience movement became stronger after Gandhi’s arrest in 1930. A much greater surge of sacrifice was seen in 1930-31 when all people from all walks of life joined the struggle. The crucial lesson we learn from all these examples is that while conscience helps us distinguish right from wrong, it is our courage that enables us to speak out and take actions against injustice and cruelty. It is courage that makes it possible to stand up for what we believe in.
Gandhi’s salt march united all Indians in peaceful protest for independence. Gandhi’s philosophy for nonviolent action overpowered the British government and his actions influenced civil rights movement around the world like defiance campaign against Apartheid Laws in South Africa 1952, U.S. civil rights movement in 1963, Cesar Chavez and the Delano Grape Strike in California 1965 and many more.

The path that Gandhi took is open to all those willing to adopt his principles and dedication. 

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Collective Sanitation as Practiced by Mahatma Gandhi

A picture taken in 1930, shows a man believed to be Mahatma Gandhi with broom
Collective cleanliness 
 As I grew up in the Sewagram Ashram founded by Gandhiji in 1936, the picture that is etched in my mind is of our joyous participation in the collective cleaning drive in the Ashram. Oh , what joy it was for us children to walk with our own jhadu (broom), tokri (basket) and a little khurpi (shovel) and  phawada (spade) and  march out in  teams to our allocated area for taking part in systematic community sanitation for three quarters of an hour each morning under the leadership of our elders. The time that we spent in cleaning the surroundings, especially the toilets, are one of the happiest memories of my life. Everything became so clean and the night soil was composted into pits that turned magically into Sone khaad, used as manure in the farms.  The habit of cleaning the toilets has continued even today and it is with great pride that my family gets involved in this task.
 For centuries, perhaps from the feudal ages or even earlier sanitation is considered to be a mean activity in India. The job used to be done by the members of a particular caste of people who were treated differently. Although every mother does the cleaning of the children and women sweep the household, cleaning of streets and latrines were left to the so called untouchables.
Even as a child, Gandhiji could not accept the idea of untouchability. When Dedhabhai came to clean the toilets in the Gandhi household in Probandar, his mother Putli Bai forbade Mohan, or Moniya as she used to call him from playing with him. It was unbearable to Mohan who for once could not comply with his mother’s orders.  Dedhabhai and Mohan became friends. Many years later, he told Dr. Ambedkar that he was wedded to untouchability much before he was wedded to Kasturba. His tireless campaign against untouchability had undoubtedly shaken the very foundation the system. However, untouchability was not eradicated from the country. Even today untouchability is present despite Gandhiji’s campaign and Dr. Ambedkar’s constitution and laws.
Phoenix Settlement
Gandhiji began cleaning the toilets in South Africa as well. Ever since he established a community in Phoenix, he made cleaning of the campus a common activity for everyone. Cleaning of the toilets, which was considered to be the dirtiest of jobs was voluntarily taken up by Gandhiji himself until it became a natural part of the whole process of sanitation. 
In Sewagram too, the collective sanitation became a fine art and developed into a scientific activity, when most of the members joined the activity and some of them became leaders in planning and organizing the activity for the whole community. Everyone, from Gandhiji to the little ones in the Ashram used to carry the basket on their heads!
Experiments with different types of latrines were also conducted in the Ashram to make the cleansing process free of offensive smell and to use night soil for fertilizing the farms. It developed into a process that made it both hygienic and economically productive.  But perhaps the most important dimension of the process was the social one. A task that was abhorred by the higher caste Hindus was turned into a daily ritual by Gandhiji in his Ashram.  One of Gandhiji’s methods of introducing his Ashram life to newcomers was to allot the task of cleaning the toilets. It was both a test of their willingness to change their lifestyle and an act of initiation in the Ashram way of living. 
Once Srimanarayan, a young educated youth from London School of Economics had come to seek an audience with Gandhiji in the Sewagram Ashram. He had come with big dreams of changing the Nation; eagerly awaiting his turn to tell his ideas to Gandhiji. On the appointed day of his meeting, even before he could utter a word, Gandhiji with a smiling face and soft voice instructed him to join the collective sanitation for which he was ready to leave. My mentor, Narayanbhai Desai was a teenager at that time and was responsible to perform the role of the senior partner to the beginners. He told me that it was most interesting for him to see the novice passing through almost a mental crisis in the earlier stages. His task was to present them the process in as pleasant a way as he could! 
The process
The sanitation duties would rotate from time to time giving the Ashramites experience in various processes and preventing them from being bored. Preparing some of the implements such as brooms and preparing compost-pits were also part of the community sanitation activity. Community sanitation was Gandhiji’s revolutionary method of social change, being a constructive revolt against untouchability. When Gandhiji turned his steps towards the villages, the prosperous Indians could hardly imagine what kind of villages captured Bapu’s attention.  From the beginning of his stay in Maganwadi, Bapu had begun going to the adjoining village to clean the faces from the streets and yards, where people normally relieved themselves. This was no jungle hamlet far from the railway track, but a village right by the city of Wardha reminisces Narainbhai Desai.
This work had two purposes. One was to encourage the villagers to adopt better habits of sanitation and the second was to show that proper Hindus could undertake such work. The job of ‘sweeper’ was assigned to an outcaste community, to fulfill this function.  But teaching such lessons to the villagers was no easy task as we are seeing even in today’s times. For months on end the villagers looked on Gandhiji, Mahadevbhai and their companions as ordinary sweepers.  Only, these were better, because they took no money for their work!  
‘Go over there. It is dirtier on that side.’ So said one who had just eased himself, pointing to the spot he had soiled. In the Sabarmati Ashram it was dumping the buckets of ‘night soil’ into compost pits, and to scrub the buckets with coconut-leaf brooms. But here things were different.  When my father questioned him about what good was this work, as it doesn’t affect people. To that Gandhiji said,’ the bane of untouchability is no ordinary blemish on our society. We will have to perform a prolonged penance to remove it.’ Gandhiji was so enthusiastic about sanitation and a stickler for cleanliness that he maintained that if he had his way he would be out there sweeping those roads himself. Not only that, he would plant flowers there and water them daily. Where there was dung of heaps today, he would make gardens. ‘Sweeping is an art in itself, he said. 

Village sanitation program
Health, sanitation and beauty were apparent outcomes of village sanitation programme; Gandhiji wanted to tackle the question of the biological resource of natural fertilizers and disposal of human and animal waste. Perhaps his fastidious habits of personal hygiene were inherited from his mother Putlibai, who was particular about religious observances.
Perhaps it is also the time we learn from the Japanese people, how to keep the surrounding and the neighborhood clean. During my recent trip to Tokyo and Kyoto in October 2104, I chanced upon group of elderly in uniforms, brooms and cleaning materials, who were keeping the sub ways, hotels, rooms, roads and all the public places spic and span, like only the Japanese can. Their dedication, commitment and diligence is something to learn from.  From their childhood, Japanese children are taught to clean. Called o-soji, this is a part of their education.

Even the Japanese audience of the recent World Cup matches in football demonstrated to the world how much they value cleanliness. Though their team lost, after the match was over, all of them rose as one and cleaned the stadium as though to do their natural duty of maintaining cleanliness and order all around.  Can we learn from them?  After all, it was just 66 years ago that our Father of the Nation demonstrated to us that cleanliness is next to Godliness.  

Mahatma Gandhi- the Servant Leader

Mahatma Gandhi returned to India in 1915 as the leader of successful movements; by now he was acquainted with many important leaders of the Congress. He was invited by them to participate in the meetings of the Congress and was given due respect by the leaders. Clad in the garb of a peasant, Gandhi saw himself as an ordinary worker of the Congress. He was firm in his principles, code of ethics and views but remained extremely polite and courteous. He looked upon the leaders of the previous generation with great respect.

Gopalkrishna Gokhale, whom Mahatma Gandhi considered his political guru, had given Gandhi a valuable advice, ‘Keep your eyes wide open; your ears too, but do not speak in public.’ It was to first understand India. Gokhale ji had given another piece of advice, which was to, if possible, try and spiritualize the politics. When Mahatma Gandhi was busy in South Africa, Gokhale ji had said in the public meeting that a ‘person like Gandhi has not been born in our country in the last 1000 years and he is not sure when in the future another would come like him’. 

On his return to India, Mahatma Gandhi decided that to understand India; he would travel only by train in third class to know the people of this country, to understand the core of their faith, of what they believe in. After a year, he had fully understood the plight of the millions in India. He saw that the real India lives in the villages; the great masses of India remained unconcerned even about political independence. They were cut off from the leaders and their promise of swaraj.  The Amritsar Congress of 1919 was the first Congress where Mahatma Gandhi’s views acquired significance. In the following one year his involvement with the Congress acquired a different character.

He came, he won and he conquered. This is what people thought in India as Mahatma Gandhi emerged as the leader during the Congress session in 1919. By the time the Congress met for its annual session in 1920 at Nagpur, he was amongst the leading figures of the Congress. The Congress acquired a truly national character with the non-cooperation movement. After fifteen years, the Congress decided to give up the policy of adopting resolution, drafting petitions, holding special sessions and advocated a strategy of direct action. This signaled the basic change in the role of the Congress. Mahatma Gandhi was clear about the methods to be adopted for the programs for Nation building focusing on constructive activities and that’s what his advised the Indian National Congress in 1934 to pursue.

Mahatma Gandhi created standards for all of us for bringing about transformative change in any collective endeavor.  The eminent Gandhian, Narayan Desai writes in his book My Life is my Message, that Gandhi’s revolution was two sided. On the one hand he was trying to convince the Congress to adopt a program of non-cooperation and on the other hand; he was hoping to build the nation through simple but concrete programs. For both these, the methods were based on truth, non-violence and purity of means. His clarity on the efficacy of his methods was unusual and novel for the country at that time. The Congress, its organizations and the many associations for constructive work became his vehicle.

The greatest achievement of non-cooperation, civil disobedience and quit India movements and programs was that it created a large group of dedicated men and women, professionals, lawyers, teachers, and political leaders who were willing to sacrifice their all for the country.  It was required of them not to cooperate with the unjust or injustice. Gandhi had realized that untruth, injustice, oppression and tyranny last only so long as their victim accepts them. The moment on learns to say NO to injustice, their edifice collapses immediately. This was true for the political, the economic and the social order. He said,’ I believe that it is possible to introduce uncompromising truth and honesty in the political life of the country…’

And how did Mahatma Gandhi bring spiritualization in politics? The path he took was especially suited for him. As he knew that the means were in his hands, but ‘the end was in the hands of God’.  ‘I will first examine the means and only then will I adopt them’, he had said. There were ways through which he attempted to give politics a spiritual color.  The first was his insistence on ‘purity of means’ that he adopted; and the means were of Non-violence and truth.  The second may have been that ‘Service to Mankind is Service to God’ which has come down to us through Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and Swami Vivekananda. It is through these that the spiritualization of politics was achieved and he undertook his constructive programs.

Mahatma Gandhi’s upmost desire was to restore the dignity of the poorest of the poor. This he understood was only possible through selfless service. He had said ‘Service which is rendered without joy help neither the servant, nor the served, but all other pleasure and possessions pale into nothingness but before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.’

He felt in communion with himself in the midst of the poor and unhappy. Their joys and sorrows became his. The ills that plagued them perturbed them deeply, while their goodness made his heart dance with joy. He felt oneness with the people and according to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru there was no one who knew the pulse of the people better than Mahatma Gandhi.

In fact, one can trace the motive for working for a cause larger than his own personal desires or needs, continuing from his childhood, through his youthful days to the end of his life. He was involved in politics for the same reason. His life was a ceaseless quest for Truth and the incessant desire to measure him on the scales of truth. Mahatma Gandhi’s definition of truth is very simple, speak as you think and act as you speak. There should be unity of thought, word and deed. He was a leader who did what he said. There was no difference between what he did and what he said.  The leadership quality that one sees clearly, is that he was one leader who kept the Nation above himself and his organization.

At that time, communication media was in its infancy. The best way to communicate with the masses still remained through the word of mouth. Though people were illiterate, India had attentive ears. It could hear the soft, soothing voice of Mahatma Gandhi, who spoke in a language that they understood clearly, straight from his hearts.  He was one who lived amongst them, in an ashram, dressed just like them. Indians, though respected the bejeweled rich Maharajas and Nawabs, accepted Mahatma Gandhi as their own and gave him their hearts. 

The main impetus behind Mahatma Gandhi’s attempt at forging unity in the country was religious, that is, moral and spiritual motivation. He would not have entered the political realm without the spiritual motivation. Spirituality, bound the leader and the masses together in an invincible thread of love and respect as the servant leader marched forth leading the nation for fifteen years through the Indian National Congress. Mahatma Gandhi employed symbols and allegories that would immediately speak to the audience; while speaking to the large groups his language was replete with cultural references. If educated persons asked about his views he used language familiar to such a person.

In the book Gandhi’s Outstanding Leadership, P.A. Nazareth mentions that by empathizing with the masses, praying, working and living with them, selecting simple issues like cotton and salt which they understood Gandhi managed to enthuse and inspire them, convince them that truth, non-violence and purity of means were effective weapons for India’s political, social and economic emancipation, that a mere 100,000 Englishmen in India could not rule its 350 million people if the latter refused their cooperation and were willing to suffer the consequences, that all Indian, men and women, rich and poor, high caste, low caste and untouchables had a vital role to play in the liberation of India. Concurrently he also managed to train, plan, fund raise, finance, lead and effectively control vast group of people with desperate interests and backgrounds. Millions responded to his call; they spun cotton, they burnt foreign cloth, they submitted to beatings and imprisonment and refrained from violence.   
Through the leadership qualities like service, self- sacrificial love, spirituality, integrity, simplicity, emphasizing follower needs, and modeling Mahatma Gandhi cultivated public opinion that truth and non-violence were integral to the life of the country. Transparency was seen in all his actions throughout his life. There was no difference between his personal life and public conduct. He uttered what he thought and acted according to what he uttered. And how did he do this? By cultivating the courage of conviction, by being steadfast to his no-comprise zone, by insisting on purity of means of adhering to truth and non-violence in every sphere. For Mahatma Gandhi, the laudable ends could never justify means because such means contaminated even the noblest of objectives. Purity of means was what he insisted on while confronting discrimination, slavery, oppression, injustice and violence.

What was the reason for emergence of Mahatma Gandhi as a leader in the country? He had new methods to offer and the country saw the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi as a leader. His qualities also satisfied the aspirations of the people. With him to lead the Congress, the struggle for freedom had ceased to be an exclusive preserve of the elite. He had taken it to the common people.  He was a common man himself. He spoke the language of the people that was culturally rooted. He had exceptional command over the English language, but insisted on using his broken Hindustani. His simple life of labor, the willingness to undergo voluntary self-suffering and his faith in the oneness of all souls was in itself an example. He awakened the power of the people by reposing faith in them.

Mahatma Gandhi’s personality uniquely combined humility with self-confidence, serenity with enthusiasm. He was willing to understand his own limitations and shortcomings and subject himself to the most sever discipline to rid him of all defects. This man had a quality that attracted the educated and the illiterate alike. It was open for all to see. His words matched his action. Hindustan needed action not merely eloquence. The people of India went to Mahatma Gandhi with hope, expectation and desire. They hoped that this man who understood their suffering would lead them to swaraj.

It was a unique coming together people and leader. His quest for perfection led him to search for the truth with the people. He did not run away from politics, though to him it was not the primary quest.  Why did the masses of India love him? Mahatma Gandhi believed that the reason was his affection and love for the poor of the country. He communicated the intricate aspects of Truth, like the sages had communicated the most incommunicable knowledge by simple formulation: ‘Speak the truth’, ‘Follow your dharma’. He communicated it through his life by establishing unity between his individual life and public conduct and that is how it reached the hearts of people.

In 1934, Mahatma Gandhi resigned even from the primary membership of the Congress. He wanted the Congress to take up the constructive activities for Nation building. The Congress Working Committee often met in his presence and did not stop seeking his council. He either remained a president or a mentor to constructive work organizations established by Congress. The country saw the leadership of Gandhi for about 15 years.  Mahatma Gandhi was a revolutionary who thought about the need to remove violence and at the same time how to establish a non-violent society; a society without oppression, a society without authoritarian government. And this Mahatma Gandhi meant to do with Constructive programs to cover the maximum sectors of society; the financial sector, the social sector, the educational sector and the political sector. The political strength of constructive activity was not clearly seen by the county as much as Mahatma Gandhi wanted it to be.

‘The best way to find your self is to lose yourself in the service of others’ Mahatma Gandhi had said.


Mahatma Gandhi first met Jawaharlal Nehru at the annual meeting of the Indian National Congress in the year 1916 at Lucknow. That was the year of his marriage with Kamala. In his autobiography,  Nehru writes "My first meeting with Gandhiji was about the time of Lucknow Congress during the Christmas, 1916. All of us admired him for his heroic fight in South Africa, but he seemed very distant and different and un-political to many of us young men. He refused to take part in Congress or national politics then and confined himself to the South African Indian question. Soon afterwards his adventures and victory in Champaran, on behalf of the tenants of the planters, filled us with enthusiasm. We saw that he was prepared to apply his methods in India and they promised success." This first meeting was enough to impress Nehru regarding Gandhi and the charm of this relationship increased and flourished with passing time.

According to the Gandhian Scholar, Narayan Desai, in 1919, some months after the massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh, General Dyer was travelling back to Delhi by train after disposing before the Hunter Commission. All the berths in his compartment were occupied by soldiers, save one. Later in the night, a passenger came and occupied it. General Dyer was chatting with his fellow passengers and boasting of his deeds. He had no idea that the Indian passenger in his train was none other than Jawaharlal Nehru. Describing this incident, Nehru wrote, ‘He pointed out how he had the whole town at his mercy and he felt like reducing the rebellious city to a heap of ashes, but he took pity on it and refrained.’These boastful words echoed his statement before the Hunter Commission.
For about eight months the government of India tried to put a veil of secrecy over the atrocities in Punjab. Sin is closely related to darkness; it considers itself immune under the cloak of secrecy.
The young Nehru began taking active interest in the national problems after the Punjab incident. He was assigned to work along with C.R.Das, who investigated the incidence of atrocities in Amritsar. He also had the opportunity to observe Mahatma Gandhi from close quarters.  He recorded his first impression of Mahatma Gandhi, saying:
‘During the Punjab inquiry, I saw a great deal of Gandhiji. Very often his proposal seemed novel to our committee and it did not approve of them. But almost always he argued his way to their acceptance and subsequent events showed the wisdom of his advice. Faith in his political insights grew in me.’
The day after General Dyer’s massacre in Jalliawalan Bagh, Gandhiji commenced his 72 hours fast in Ahmedabad. On 21st July 1919, he announced in Bombay that he was suspending the civil disobedience movement and would not resume it because of violence in “Chauri Chaura” village of Gorakhpur district of the united provinces, where the police had opened fire on a peaceful large procession. The principals of ahimsa integral to this decision were revealed to the country some two years later.

This decision caused much debate and consternation among the non-cooperators. Nehru questioned the wisdom of that decision to suspend the movement. Later he answered these and other question himself.
“As a matter of fact even the suspension of civil resistance in February 1922 was certainly not due to “Chauri Chaura” alone, although most people imagined so. That was the last straw. Gandhiji has often acted almost by instinct… At that time our movement, in spite of its apparent power and the wide spread enthusiasm, was going to pieces. All organization and discipline was disappearing; almost all our good man were in prison and the masses had so far received little training to carry on by themselves… These were probably the reasons and influences that worked in Gandhi’s mind, and granting his premises and the desirability of carrying on with the technique of non-violence, his decision was right. He had to stop the rot and build a new.”
In Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru had found the absolute leader who was capable of handling the entire nation says Siddhartha Dash in his book on Gandhi and Nehru. This quality he found missing in almost all the Indian political leaders of the time. Even Motilal Nehru was highly impressed and influenced by Mahatma Gandhi's inner strength and self-confidence. The greatest quality that went in favor of Mahatma Gandhi was his image. General masses could identify themselves through Gandhiji. In the initial stages of his political career, Jawaharlal Nehru found everything regarding Mahatma Gandhi amazing and great. His plan of action in any field attracted Nehru to a great deal. Nehru's admiration for Gandhi grew in the Satyagraha Sabha in 1919 to defy the notorious Rowlatt Act.
On 8th November 1927, the viceroy announced the appointment of the royal commission to consider the future constitution of India. Mrs. Anne Besant inaugurated the boycott committee, formed to oppose the Simon commission. A public meeting was held at the Shraddhanand Park for declaring the boycott of British goods as the first step for the attainment of Swaraj. Gandhiji was following the Indian reaction to the Simon commission with great interest. Two things interested him deeply.  One, the country was united in its opposition to the royal commission and the Congress and the Muslim League had passed almost similarly worded resolution, where they had stated that non- inclusion of Indians was an insult to India’s self-respect. Both these organization felt that the Indians should have the right to determine the future of their country. The police assaulted peaceful protesters at many places and in places where the law and order was in the hands of white officers the repressive character of the state became more apparent. Unfortunately, Lala Lajpat Rai sustained grave injuries and succumbed to this on 17th November 1928.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote in the Young India when the news of the assault on Lala ji had reached him “Well done!  Now we shall not be long in getting Swaraj”, explaining the importance of Martyrdom. His response to Jawaharlal Nehru is indicative of the caring and intimate relationship that the two of them shared. He wrote, “My love to you. It was all done bravely. You have braver things to do. May God spare you for many a long year to come and make you His chosen instrument for freeing from yoke.”
Jawaharlal Nehru had assumed the responsibility of the working secretary of the congress after his return from Europe in 1927. Mahatma Gandhi wrote to him after the 1927 Madras session of the congress saying, “If I can advise you, now that you are working secretary of the Indian national congress, it is your duty to devote your whole energy to the central resolution, i.e. of unity and the important but secondary resolution, i.e., boycott of the Simon commission.”
By the end of 1929 the Congress recognized that it would be required to enter into a direct confrontation with the government and that civil disobedience movement was imminent. The organization looked towards Mahatma Gandhi for leadership. A president was required for the Lahore Congress. Mahatma Gandhi was tuned to the new youthful winds blowing across the Congress. He clarified his views on the issue of the president ship of the Congress in two essays: ‘Who should wear the Crown?’ appeared in the Navjivan on 4th August 1929, and ‘My Limitations’ was published in the Young India of 12th September 1929. 
In this article he also said that Jawahrlal Nehru should become the president of the Congress. Gandhi felt that Nehru had everything to recommend him. He has discharged with devotion and ability the office of the secretary of the Congress.  Nehru’s bravery, determination, application, integrity and grit had captured the imagination of youth.  He was in touch with the Labour Party and was closely acquainted with European politics, which allowed him to assess the Indian political situation. Reflecting on his own influence on the masses Mahatma Gandhi said:
‘So long as I retain the affection of our people, there is not the slightest danger of my not being without holding office to make the fullest use of such powers, as I may possess. God had enabled me to affect the life of the country since 1920 without the necessity of holding office. I am not aware that my capacity for service was whit enhanced by my becoming President of the Congress in Belgaum.’

The AICC elected Nehru as the President for the Lahore session of the Congress.  Most members of the AICC were eager for a struggle by the beginning of 1930 and like other leaders of the Congress; Nehru knew that if a struggle of non-payment of taxes or civil disobedience is to be waged no one could lead the movement as well as Gandhi.  
Mahatma Gandhi wanted the wisdom and the courage of the youth to be harnessed for the nonviolent struggle of independence and so he wanted the congress to elect the young leaders as President.  It was Gandhi who had insisted that Nehru be appointed the Congress President of Faizpur Congress in 1936.
Nehru was influenced by the socialist thoughts and dreamt of complete independence.  His training and intellectual disposition allowed him to appreciate the idea of freedom over that of Swaraj. Narayan Desai says in his book ‘My Life is My Message’ that it is important for us to note clearly the differences between Nehru and Gandhi.  Mahatma Gandhi did not give a rebuttal to all the arguments raised by Jawahalal Nehru, instead he asked Nehru to openly protest or come and meet him for an exchange of views.  Both Gandhi and Nehru gave significance to practical and pragmatic issues and did not allow their ideological differences to come in the way of the primary objective of attaining national freedom.
On 15 January 1941, Mahatma Gandhi had stated ‘Some say Pandit Nehru and I were estranged. It will require much more than difference of opinion to estrange us. We had differences from the time we became co-workers and yet I have said for some years and say so now that not Rajaji but Jawaharlal will be my successor.’
Mahatma Gandhi had great fondness for Jawahalal Nehru. To Gandhi, a man like Nehru is rare. A man of sterling character, fearless and therefore reposed a deep trust in Nehru. It was because of his liking that he projected Nehru on the national scene. Gandhi believed that the success of independence movement and national reconstruction depends on the sacrifice of the young generation. Nehru represented the aspirations of younger generation. Nehru effectively harnessed Gandhi’s popularity and charisma to fulfill these objectives. Gandhi also wanted to utilize the energy of this youthful leader, his ability to view the issues in a larger perspective and his enthusiasm for the task of attaining swaraj.  Both had to make compromises in order to work towards a shared objective. But their differences about the long term vision for India persisted but Nehru’s heart was submitted to Gandhi; His intellectual core was formed by western thinking, his emotions bound him to Gandhi, the two retained their regards and mutual reverence for each other.
On the night of 30th January, 1948 Jawaharlal Nehru gave these words to the millions of hearts:
‘…The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shown in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illuminated this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years and a thousand years later that light will still be seen in this country and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented the living truth, and the eternal man was with us with us with his eternal truth reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom.”