135 years ago, the British Raj passed “The 1882 British Salt Act” in India. Indians were banned from producing salt, from their own seawater. The colonial government agreed that Indians should buy salt from them and pay a salt tax for the privilege.
As leader of the Indian National Congress, Mahatma Gandhi was tasked with devising a peaceful plan to overthrow the Raj and ultimately achieve independence.
Gandhi travelled extensively across India to get some perspective and focus. With time away from distractions he was able to connect with the landscape, the people and focus on what was really important.
Having space and time to think triggered a simple yet powerful insight. Gandhi realised that to unify people of diverse religions and culture, he needed a simple commodity that everyone could focus on. Salt.
The Spring of 1930 saw a small group of Indians set off on the first Salt March. They marched 240 miles in peaceful but defiant protest, illegally farming salt from their own seawater, moving down the coast rallying support and momentum as they travelled. Culminating in a powerful publicity stunt, Gandhi illegally collected salt from a beach in front of the media as a symbolic act of defiance. News spread fast, influencing yet more Indians to flout the British imposed salt laws.
Initially met with ridicule from both the British and his own party, neither could have predicted the power of those Salt Marches.
Gandhi had identified the power of salt as a symbol which would resonate across class, culture and religion, “next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life.”
The next few months saw Gandhi and some 80,000 supporters arrested as illegal salt production gained momentum. It was the start of negotiations which eventually led to Indian independence in 1947.
It was focus and the chance to be distraction free which gave Gandhi the space to think deeply and come up with an effective solution.