A short-heighted man, holding a slim stick, took a crowd to the marshy stretch of land in Dandi and picked up a lump of salt to awaken our sense of both victory and loss in one single instance. Gandhi’s salt march at Dandi, Gujarat (1930) looked like a simple instance of revolt, of invoking satyagraha or truth-force, but the lessons today’s nation builders can draw from it are infinite.

After launching entities like Swadeshi and Boycott movement, which outlined the principles of the national movement had limited purpose and attracted pockets of freedom fighters to public grounds, Gandhi wanted to do something big. One has to remember that what seems like a tale of heroism from a page of history was a risk someone took. Even back then, compelling the proverbial aam aadmi to sacrifice the stability of income and family and take on a government that can severely punish for any such display of rebellion, wasn’t easy. Burning heaps of fabric woven in Manchester wasn’t something everyone was doing. Gandhi learnt from his initial experiments that a broader, more demonstrative approach was now required to launch another entity whose appeal would be absolute and whose depth and reach would be unprecedented.

Another lesson to learn from Dandi is the need to create awareness on public problems. The British were granted a monopoly on the production and distribution of salt by the Salt Act of 1882 and Indians of the day were compelled to purchase salt from colonists despite the fact that it was widely strewn along its own shores. The British levied a high salt tax in addition to maintaining a monopoly on the production and sale of salt. Gandhi found a market gap and like a good social entrepreneur, strategized. Here was a commodity that was readily available, necessary for survival and in the hands of the colonisers. It touched a chord with everybody and triggered a civil disobedience movement where people broke out onto the streets in search of both salt and freedom, acknowledging instantly years of the perpetuity of their servitude in their own home.

BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution, was a tall leader and a humanist. He preceded the Mahatma with an act that might not have had the mass appeal of the salt march at Dandi but one that brought into clear focus inequalities seeped into our culture, our social systems.

The Bombay Legislative Council had adopted a resolution moved by S.K. Bole on August 4, 1923 that stated, “The Council recommends the Untouchable Classes be allowed to use all public watering places, wells and dharmashalas which are built and maintained out of public funds or administered by bodies appointed by Government or created by statute, as well as public schools, courts, offices and dispensaries”. The Mahad Municipality, part of Bombay Province territory, had reaffirmed this resolution in 1924. However, the resolution remained on paper. It was then that Ambedkar and his companions went to drink water from the Chavdar tank of Mahad on March 20, 1927.

In his book, ‘The Revolt of the Untouchables”, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol 5, he wrote, “The Untouchables, either for purposes of doing their shopping and also for the purpose of their duty as village servants, had to come to Mahad to deliver to the taluka officer either the correspondence sent by village officials or to pay Government revenue collected by village officials. The Chawdar tank was the only public tank from which an outsider could get water. But the Untouchables were not allowed to take water from this tank.”

The lesson from the man whose mind birthed the constitution was that policies made on paper must be assessed in the real world and fixed in the real world. He was practically chasing the written law backwards to ground zero, highlighting the municipal failures, lamenting over administrative as well as social fractures. He asserted through his move that there is a constant need to amend what is written out, as theory meets practice. Ambedkar did not make the constitution in his dorm room in Columbia, he made it here in the heart of the realities it serves to comprehend.

Effective nation building happens the needs of the nation are met with solutions that are perfect and in this day and age, one needn’t be yanked off a moving train in a foreign land to have an epiphany of about #nationbuilding.