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Dandi March and The Civil Disobedience Movement—1930-31

Dandi March and The Civil Disobedience Movement —1930-31 : On the 91st anniversary of the historic salt march led by Mahatma Gandhi from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in Gujarat, the Prime Minister of India flagged off a symbolic 386-kilometer ‘Dandi march’, following the same route. 

  • The PM also launched Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav to celebrate 75 years of India’s Independence.

Analysis 

  • The 24-day march from March 12 to April 5, 1930 was a tax resistance campaign against the British salt monopoly. 
  • The 1882 Salt Act gave the British a monopoly in the manufacture and sale of salt. 
  • Even though salt was freely available on the coasts of India, Indians were forced to buy it from the colonisers. 
  • Based on Gandhi’s principle of non-violence or Satyagraha, the march marked the inauguration of the civil disobedience movement.
  • Even though women too wanted to be part of the march, Gandhi preferred to keep it restricted to men alone.

Analysis (in details)

  • In mid-February, 1930, the Congress Working Committee invested Gandhiji with full powers to launch the Civil Disobedience Movement at a time and place of his choice. 
  • Gandhiji’s ultimatum of 31 January to Lord Irwin, stating the minimum demands in the form of 11 points, had been ignored, and there was now only one way out: civil disobedience.
  • By the end of February, the formula began to emerge as Gandhiji began to talk about salt: ‘There is no article like salt outside water by taxing which the State can reach even the starving millions, the sick, the maimed and the utterly helpless.
  • The tax constitutes therefore the most inhuman poll tax the ingenuity of man can devise.’ 
  • On 2 March, he addressed his historic letter to the Viceroy in which he first explained at great length why he regarded British rule as a curse: ‘It has impoverished the dumb millions by a system of progressive exploitation…’
  • He then informed the Viceroy of his plan of action, as he believed every true Satyagrahi must.
  • Gandhiji, along with a band of seventy-eight members of the Sabarmati Ashram, among whom were men belonging to almost every region and religion of India, was to march from his headquarters in Ahmedabad through the villages of Gujarat for 240 miles. 
  • On reaching the coast at Dandi, he would break the salt laws by collecting salt from the beach.
    • Gandhiji painstakingly explained his plans, gave directions for future action, impressed on the people the necessity for non-violence, and prepared them for the Government’s response: ‘Wherever possible, civil disobedience of salt laws should be started . . . Liquor and foreign- cloth shops can be picketed. We can refuse to pay taxes if we have the requisite strength. The lawyers can give up practice. The public can boycott the courts by refraining from litigation. Government servants can resign their posts…’
  • On 6 April 1930, by picking up a handful of salt, Gandhiji inaugurated the Civil Disobedience Movement, a movement that was to remain unsurpassed in the history of the Indian national movement for the country-wide mass participation it unleashed.
  • Once the way was cleared by Gandhiji’s ritual beginning at Dandi, the defiance of salt laws started all over the country. 
  • In Tamil Nadu, C. Rajagopalachari led a salt march from Trichinopoly to Vedaranniyam on the Tanjore coast. 
  • In Malabar, K. Kelappan, the hero of the Vaikom Satyagraha, walked from Calicut to Payannur to break the salt law.
  • On 23 April, the arrest of Congress leaders in the North West Frontier Province led to a mass demonstration of unprecedented magnitude in Peshawar. 
  • Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan had been active for several years in the area, and it was his mass work which lay behind the formation of the band of non-violent revolutionaries, the Khudai Khidmatgars, popularly known as the Red Shirts — who were to play an extremely active role in the Civil Disobedience Movement. 
  • The Peshawar demonstrations are significant because it was here that the soldiers of the Garhwali regiments refused to fire on the unarmed crowd.
  • On May 21, with Sarojini Naidu, the first Indian woman to become President of the Congress, and Imam Saheb, Gandhiji’s comrade of the South African struggle, at the helm, a band of 2000 marched towards the police cordon that had sealed off the Dharasana salt works.
  • Along with the women, students and youth played the most prominent part in the boycott of foreign cloth and liquor. 
  • In Bombay, for example, regular Congress sentries were posted in business districts to ensure that merchants and dealers did not flout the foreign cloth boycott. 
  • Eastern India became the scene of a new kind of no-tax campaign — refusal to pay the chowkidara tax. 
  • Chowkidars, paid out of the tax levied specially on the villages, were guards who supplemented the small police force in the rural areas in this region. 
  • They were particularly hated because they acted as spies for the Government and often also as retainers for the local landlords. 
  • The movement against this tax and calling for the resignation of Chowkidars, and of the influential members of chowkidari panchayats who appointed the Chowkidars, first started in Bihar in May itself, as salt agitation had not much scope due to the land-locked nature of the province. 
  • In Bengal, for instance, volunteers led by Satish Chandra Dasgupta walked from Sodepur Ashram to the village of Mahisbathan to make salt. 
  • K.F Nariman in Bombay led another group of marchers to Haji Ali Point where they prepared salt at a nearby park.
  • The illegal manufacture and sale of salt was accompanied by the boycott of foreign cloth and liquor. 
  • Acts of violence too broke out in Calcutta, Karachi and Gujarat, but unlike what happened during the non-cooperation movement, Gandhi refused to suspend the civil disobedience movement this time.
  • In Bengal, the onset of the monsoon, which made it difficult to make salt, brought about a shift to anti-chowkidara and anti-Union Board agitation.
  • Defiance of forest laws assumed a mass character in Maharashtra, Karnataka and the Central Provinces, especially in areas with large tribal populations who had been the most seriously affected by the colonial Government’s restrictions on the use of the forest.
  • In Assam, a powerful agitation led by students was launched against the infamous ‘Cunningham circular’ which forced students and their guardians to furnish assurances of good behaviour.
  • Frustrated by the repeated snatching of the national flag from their hands, the satyagrahis came up with the idea of stitching khadi dresses in the three colours of the national flag, and thereafter these little, ‘living flags’ triumphantly paraded the streets and defied the police to take away the national flag!’
  • U.P. was the setting of another kind of movement — a no-revenue, no-rent campaign. 
  • The no-revenue part was a call to the zamindars to refuse to pay revenue to the Government, the no-rent a call to the tenants not to pay rent to the zamindars. 
  • In effect, since the zamindars were largely loyal to the Government, this became a no-rent struggle.
  • The movement also popularized a variety of forms of mobilization. 
  • Prabhatpheris, in which bands of men, women and children went around at dawn singing nationalist songs, became the rule in villages and towns. 
  • Patrikas, or illegal news-sheets, sometimes written by hand and sometimes cyclostyled, were part of the strategy to defy the hated Press Act, and they flooded the country. 
  • Magic lanterns were used to take the nationalist message to the villages.
  • Children were organized into vanar senas or monkey armies and at least at one place the girls decided they wanted their own separate manjari sena or cat army!
  • The Government’s attitude throughout 1930 was marked by ambivalence. The Congress Working Committee was not declared unlawful till the end of June and Motilal Nehru, who was functioning as the Congress President, also remained free till that date. 
  • Meanwhile, the publication of the report of the Simon Commission, which contained no mention of Dominion Status and was in other ways also a regressive document, combined with the repressive policy, further upset even moderate political opinion. 
  • Madan Mohan Malaviya and M.S. Aney courted arrest. 
  • In a conciliatory gesture, the Viceroy on 9 July suggested a Round Table Conference and reiterated the goal of Dominion Status. 
  • He also accepted the suggestion, made by forty members of the Central Legislature, that Tej Bahadur Sapru and M.R. Jayakar be allowed to explore the possibilities of peace between the Congress and the Government. 
  • In pursuance of this, the Nehrus, father and son, were taken in August to Yeravada jail to meet Gandhiji and discuss the possibilities of a settlement. 
  • Nothing came of the talks, but the gesture did ensure that some sections of political opinion would attend the Round Table Conference in London in November. 
  • The proceedings in London, the first ever conducted between the British and Indians as equals, at which virtually every delegate reiterated that a constitutional discussion to which the Congress was not a party was a meaningless exercise, made it clear that if the Government’s strategy of survival was to be based on the constitutional advance, then an olive branch to the Congress was imperative.
  • This all culminated on 5 March 1931 in the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, which was variously described as a ‘truce’ and a ‘provisional settlement.’
  • The Pact was signed by Gandhiji on behalf of the Congress and by Lord Irwin on behalf of the Government, a procedure that was hardly popular with officialdom as it placed the Congress on an equal footing with the Government. 
  • The terms of the agreement included:
  • the immediate release of all political prisoners not convicted for violence, 
  • the remission of all fines not yet collected, 
  • the return of confiscated lands not yet sold to third parties, and 
  • lenient treatment for those government employees who had resigned. 
  • The Government also conceded the right to make salt for consumption to villages along the coast, as also the right to peaceful and non-aggressive picketing. 
  • The Congress demand for a public inquiry into police excesses was not accepted, but Gandhiji’s insistent request for an inquiry was recorded in the agreement. 
  • The Congress, on its part, agreed to discontinue the Civil Disobedience Movement. 
  • It was also understood that the Congress would participate in the next Round Table Conference.
  • The terms on which the Pact was signed, its timing, the motives of Gandhiji in signing the Pact, his refusal to make the Pact conditional on the commutation of the death-sentences of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, (even though he had tried his best to persuade the Viceroy to do so), have generated considerable controversy and debate among contemporaries and historians alike. 
  • The Pact has been variously seen as a betrayal, as proof of the vacillating nature of the Indian bourgeoisie and of Gandhiji succumbing to bourgeois pressure.
  • However, as with arguments relating to the withdrawal of the Non Cooperation Movement in 1922 after Chauri Chaura, these perceptions are based on an understanding which fails to grasp the basic strategy and character of the Indian national movement. 
  • For one, this understanding ignores the fact which has been stressed earlier — that mass movements are necessarily short-lived they cannot go on for ever, the people’s capacity to sacrifice, unlike that of the activists’,, is not endless. 
  • And signs of exhaustion there certainly were, in large and important sectors of the movement.
  • The participation of Muslims in the Civil Disobedience Movement was certainly nowhere near that in 1920-22. 
  • The appeals of communal leaders to stay away, combined with active Government encouragement of communal dissension to counter the forces of nationalism, had their effect. Still, the participation of Muslims was not insignificant, either.
  • For Indian women, the movement was the most liberating experience to date and can truly be said to have marked their entry into the public space.

 

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