Born 6 days apart, these two Libras had many things in common, most prominent being their ability to use the press as a tool of political mobilization & driving meaningful dialogues.
Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan occupied the national centre stage in two epoch-making periods of Indian history. While Gandhi moved millions during his struggle against the mighty British Empire, JP stirred many in his campaign against the authoritative regime of Indira Gandhi. Gandhi in colonial times and JP in independent India represent two of the most versatile and powerful mass leaders in Indian tradition. What was common to them was their extraordinary skills in communications and use of the press as a tool of political mobilisation.
Both Gandhi and JP were communicators who understood the basic processes of the mass media. They both had their own newspapers and seemed to confirm with the classical description of the way the press enables discrete individuals to join together in purposeful groups. This common action, believed the two great leaders, was made possible because of instrumental political participation, which is essentially directed, to the achievement of concrete goals.
Both knew the importance of getting their messages across to the people, that would, in turn, prompt them to action. Though rooted in a mix of saintly and traditional languages of Indian politics, it is important to understand the difference of time periods in which Gandhi and JP were operating. Gandhi belonged to that generation when media was an instrument of articulation of public opinion. The authorities in the era when Gandhi lived used to rely on the contents of the newspapers up to a large extent. This was possible because of the kind of moderation with which the complaints were aired, and the restraint shown by them.
On the contrary, JP was operating in a time when the mass media were fairly well developed. Newspapers in different languages had proliferated and the increased literacy rates facilitated a wider reach of the media. Unlike the Mahatma, who targeted the masses, JP’s focus was more specific. It was more for political readership than mass consumption. Unlike Gandhi’s journals, Young India, Harijan and Navajivan, JP’s Everyman’s was conceived in a very specific setting and was primarily aimed at the educated class and policymakers. Gandhi, on the other hand, oriented his journals for the masses and published in Hindi, English and Gujarati.
What was common, however, was their belief in the power of the press in the shaping of public opinion. Both relied on the technique of conducting dialogue on various issues by creating a public sphere for it. Both treated the process of communication and the tool of the press as a force for change.
Thus apart from writing on issues that concern their immediate agenda like non-cooperation and total revolution, JP and Gandhi would also touch upon issues of wider relevance. Gandhi wrote on education in his weekly Harijan on 8 May 1937 issue: “I hold that true education of the intellect can only come through a proper exercise and training of the bodily organs e.g. hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose, etc…But unless the development of the mind and body goes hand in hand with a corresponding awakening of the soul, the former alone would prove to be a poor lop-sided affair..”
In the thick, if JP Movement, the April 12, 1975 issue of Everyman’s carried an article ‘Crimes against Harijans and Adivasis’ written by Madhu Limaye. “Untouchability has no sanction of law but it still rules the innermost recesses of the human heart. Unless men’s hearts are purified, unless the pernicious principle of dividing people into higher and lower castes based on birth is abolished, unless the youth of the country are inspired by a burning hatred of this inequality, and unless a genuine sympathy for a lot of the oppressed is created, how could one expect a change in the mental outlook of the common people?”
While the content of JP’s Everyman’s was basically political, criticising the politics and activities of the government of the day, Gandhi covered broader national agenda as he had a much larger audience to appeal to. It is pertinent also to note that while Gandhi was fighting an alien government and anti-imperialist forces, the focus of JP was much different. He was fighting a native anti-democratic government.
In addition to considering newspapers as the “most powerful vehicle for transmitting pure ideas in a concise manner…” and making them a tool to educate public opinion, Gandhi had equal regard for opinions expressed by his readers. JP came quite close to Gandhi in this respect. In fact, a large part of page two of Everyman’s was devoted to letters to the editor, that at times spilled over to page three also.
Both the communicators had to face the brunt of the respective regimes. While Gandhi’s Young India was forced to close down during the Civil Disobedience Movement, JP’s Everyman’s was gagged during the peak of emergency. Both the journals were perceived to be creating a great impact on people’s mind and propagating the movements. Gandhi’s Harijan was closed down forcibly during the peak of Quit India Movement.
Both gave space to contrarian views. Gandhi published a letter by C.F. Andrews criticizing ‘The Growth of Intolerance’, at the peak of the non-cooperation movement on the front page of Young India. One of the letters on page 2 of 18 May 1975 issue of Everyman’s titled ‘The movement and the men behind’, read thus: “JP relies too much on student power to achieve his goals. I feel that the students are generally not mature to be worthy of this faith. There may be a few individual students who think on the lines of JP, but as a force, they cannot be relied upon.”
Gandhi and JP both made the press partners in their campaign and mobilization efforts. They would both inform their readers about not only the development of movements and ideological moorings behind them but also chalk out a programme for future action.
In the middle of famous Bihar Movement, JP wrote a signed letter titled ‘come with me to parliament’ on March 2, 1975 issue of Everyman’s: “I have made an appeal to the countrymen to hold at least a million-strong demonstration at the Parliament in support of the people of Bihar. The National People’s Action coordinating committee has fixed March 6 for the demonstration.”
Similarly, Gandhi informed “How to Boycott Foreign cloth” during non-cooperation movement through his journal Young India: “The proposed a boycott of foreign cloth is not a vindictive measure but is as necessary for national existence as breath is for life… It is of the highest importance to know how it can be brought about even before the first day of August next.”
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.