Gandhi for Capitalists

The story is history, very famous history at that.

How a solitary Indian lawyer took on British imperialism and won, gaining independence for India. Independence was at one time presumed impossible, with Mohandas K. Gandhi’s strategy of nonviolent protest openly mocked and derided by the British. Yet not only did Gandhi carry the day and win his country’s struggle for independence, it was the Gandhi model that was later used by an American minister named Martin Luther King, Jr. to finally end the American segregation system put in place by Democrats for a century following the Civil War.

The recent spontaneous eruption of impromptu "tea parties" – demonstrations modeled after the Boston Tea Party of 1773 to protest against the Obama plan to socialize America – is the first sign that Gandhi-style rebellion against the government is in the American air.

First, a quick history.

British rule of India first took shape with the appearance on the subcontinent of the British East India trading company in 1617. After 1764 British authority was effectively asserted, with the British "Raj" or reign, beginning in an official sense in 1858. By 1876, Queen Victoria was officially proclaimed the "Empress of India." Inevitably, Indian politics was quickly roiling with displeasure at the arrogant rule of the British. In 1885 the Indian National Congress was founded. The "Congress Party" as it became commonly known eventually emerged as the backbone of the growing movement for Indian independence.

It was Gandhi who developed what was called the strategy of "non-cooperation" with the British government. In its own way, this was a 20th-century version of the 1773 Boston Tea Party that Americans are refocusing on today in the wake of Obama’s draconian tax and spend pronouncements. In that incident Bostonians protested a British-imposed tax on tea by disguising themselves as Mohawk Indians and, under cover of darkness, boarding three tea-bearing British ships that lay alongside a local wharf. The offending 342 casks of tea, worth almost $2 million in current dollars, were unceremoniously dumped into Boston Harbor. Nothing else on the three ships was destroyed or damaged. The fuse of what became the American Revolution, already burning, burned faster after all of this, exploding finally in the Declaration of Independence three years later.

Gandhi’s version of this protest involved two Indian staples, salt and homespun cloth. Salt was a common commodity of India. Mined from salt mines, it was a necessity of everyday Indian life. It had been produced for thousands of years. Under British rule, there was a British monopoly on salt. Replicating the mistake they made with the Americans and tea (although tea was not an American commodity it was a much-cherished and imported one), the British established the India Salt Act of 1882. The tax, doubled in 1923, also made it illegal for Indians to manufacture salt themselves outside the system established by London.

Gandhi, surely unintentionally channeling Bostonian Samuel Adams, blithely informed the astonished British Viceroy, the Obama of his day, that in nine days resistance to the Salt Tax would begin. Said Gandhi of his fellow Indians to the Viceroy in language relevant to today’s Americans: “But the British system seems to be designed to crush the very life out of him. Even the salt he must use to live is so taxed as to make the burden fall heaviest on him.” The Viceroy in an uncanny imitation of the Obama “I won” style of governing, simply ignored Gandhi. He didn’t even bother to reply. So as promised, in nine days, Gandhi and 78 others began what history calls his Salt March or March to Dandi, Dandi being a small coastal village along the Indian Ocean. The march, over some 240 miles, riveted not only the country but the world. By the time he arrived in Dandi Gandhi’s march had thousands of participants who had in turn been hailed by roadside crowds of as many as a hundred thousand in one village and fifty thousand in another and so on.

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March 4, 2009