Gandhi's Gift: How Nonviolent Protests Fail and Succeed



Saumitra Jha, Senior Fellow, Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, FSI

Date and Time

May 6, 2021 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM


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About this Event: In this book project, we walk in the footsteps of the pioneers of the nonviolent approach to provide a reinterpretation of the histories of the great movements of the twentieth century from a game theoretic perspective, bringing to bear a host of new quantitative analyses to understand the challenges they faced, when they were successful at overcoming them and why. We develop a simple conceptual framework for understanding the strategies available to both the leaders and the followers of political movements, the media and outside audiences, as well as the regimes that they seek to influence, and how these decisions interact. We use this framework to highlight the presence of three key tensions that exist in many political movements.

These tensions include: those between the allure of violence and the seeming pedestrianism of nonviolence, between the need for numbers and the need for focus, and between organizations that depend on grassroots mobilization versus hierarchies and leadership. 

In light of the framework and new quantitative evidence, we then retrace and re-examine the decisions of the participants of the Indian Independence Movement in each of their three great nonviolent drives for change---the Non-Cooperation Movement of the 1920s, the Civil Disobedience Movement of the 1930s and the Quit India Movement of the 1940s---and how they succeeded or failed in addressing these tensions. At each step, we also discuss both grand strategy and the effectiveness of local tactics. We next compare the Indian experience with the movements that came after, including the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the Arab Spring and recent protests around the world. Finally, we draw on what we have learned to suggest ideas for better implement nonviolent protests today.


About the Speaker:Saumitra JhaAlong with being a Senior Fellow at FSI, Saumitra Jha is an associate professor of political economy at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, and, by courtesy, of economics and of political science, and convenes the Stanford Conflict and Polarization Lab. He is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. In 2020–21, he is a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.

Jha’s research has been published in leading journals in economics and political science, including Econometrica, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the American Political Science Review and the Journal of Development Economics, and he serves on a number of editorial boards. His research on ethnic tolerance has been recognized with the Michael Wallerstein Award for best published article in Political Economy from the American Political Science Association in 2014 and his co-authored research on heroes with the Oliver Williamson Award for best paper by the Society for Institutional and Organizational Economics in 2020. Jha was honored to receive the Teacher of the Year Award, voted by the students of the Stanford MSx Program in 2020.



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