Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who is hailed as the father of our nation in my opinion is one of the most effective PR practitioners. He was a master strategist and understood his target audience very well and crafted the communication accordingly.
Although he held no office, he was able to captivate the minds of India’s millions, and also took control of Congress and its highly educated, sophisticated and cynical leadership. It was his passion, careful consideration and discipline which got him the recognition.
Let me discuss briefly the reasons why I think he was the ultimate PR personality:
The Salt march:
The Salt march was probably one of his most powerful campaigns which had a wide spread support. The Salt Acts imposed on Indians prohibited them from collecting or selling salt. Indians were forced to buy salt which was a natural resource and a staple in the Indian diet. The British, who, in addition to exercising a monopoly over the manufacture and sale of salt, also exerted a heavy salt tax.
Gandhi the brilliant strategist thought that a Mass civil disobedience was the best way to tackle this issue. In March 1930 Gandhi and 78 of his close associates marched from Sabarmati ashram, some 240 miles to the Arabian sea to take a pinch of salt. He informed the government well in advance about his intention to break the law to make salt. The British government threw people in jail for violating the law and censored the press. Despite that, the Media covered the event in great detail and people across the nation followed suit even though Gandhi was already in prison. Jails in India were filled with 60,000 Satyagrahis whom the British imprisoned.
Effective use of media:
Gandhi was probably one of the greatest journalist of all time, and the publications he ran and edited were probably the greatest ones the world has known. In 1904 in South Africa, he had taken over the editorship of the ‘Indian Opinion’ and published it in English, Tamil and Gujarati, sometimes running the press himself.
He is known to have written on all subjects; he wrote simply, clearly and forcefully. His writing was passionate and burning indignation. He believed that the objective of a newspaper, is to understand the popular feeling and give expression to it; to arouse among the people certain desirable sentiments, and the third is fearlessly to expose popular defects. He took up journalism more as a service to public and he was devoid of any personal ambitions. He used his writing as a vehicle to present his various experiments to the public.
He believed in powerful symbols and designed a headgear as a symbol of Indian unity which later came to be known as the Gandhi Topi. His own dress was one of the foremost and most visible symbols he adopted–the loincloth and shawl of homespun fabric –which he deliberately chose, after careful consideration, to show solidarity with India ’ s grinding poverty.
This eventually got him a name of ‘half naked fakir’ from Sir Winston Churchill. This way of dressing was Gandhi’s rebuke to the pretensions of the imperialists and became his trademark attire.
By the time that India’s independence was won, the homespun cloath or Khadi was inextricably woven into the fabric of India’s life. Even today Khadi is the unofficial uniform of India’s political leaders.
Gandhi is seen as one of the world’s great inspiring public speakers. He could inspire all classes of people whether they were freedom fighters, thinkers or even the farmers. He was very articulate and considerate in expressing his thoughts. His talk was authentic and could move the whole nation into action.
He created influencers who believed him and championed on his behalf. The way Gandhi worked was to identify the Sarpanch or the administrative head of a village, influence him to practice the simple, ideal ways of the Gandhian philosophy, after which the whole village followed suit.
Campaigns for social justice:
Gandhi launched himself into campaigns for social justice; especially the two movements where he actively participated – the Champaran movement to save the indigo plantations and the Kheda Satyagrha – mill workers union in Gujarat. Gandhi supported the causes by resorting to satyagraha and wrote letters to the various editors of publications informing them about the development of the movement that he was participating in. The government finally relented and relief was provided to the aggrieved.