Dandi March and Civil Disobedience Movement, 1929-1930
The march on foot undertaken by Gandhi and seventy-eight Congress volunteers was the most significant event in the history of the breach of salt law in India. It was a disciplined band of nonviolent satyagrahis who were to present a new model of satyagraha which later on converted into a bigger movement at all-India level.
The satyagrahis were to face a fatiguing journey through heat and dust of the Kheda villages. Thousands of men, women and children accompanied the marching column for a few miles and thousands lined the route and showered flowers, coins, currency notes and kum kum at the satyagrahis.
Following the commencement of his epic Dandi March, a tremendous wave of enthusiasm swept over the entire country. The historic day was celebrated all over India. At a conference of the Congress leaders of Bengal a decision was taken to appoint immediately an ad hoc council to be called the Bengal Civil Disobedience Council, with the object of carrying out the programme outlined by Gandhiji.
In Bombay, a public meeting was held under the presidentship of K.F. Nariman. He exhorted the audience to get ready for the fight.
In Madras, at a public meeting at Tilak Ghat, prayers were offered for the success of Civil Disobedience campaign by the Madras District Congress Committee, Andhra Congress Committee, the Triplicate Congress Sabha and the political section of the Youth League.
In Lahore, a band of Congress volunteers paraded the streets. In Peshawar, the ‘Satyagraha Day’ was observed by taking out a procession and holding a public meeting. Resolutions reiterating the pledge of independence. Besides, a large number of volunteers were enlisted for the satyagraha.
Civil Disobedience Day was celebrated in Delhi in a meeting attended by about 10,000 persons, including a large number of ladies. Devdas Gandhi gave the detailed history of the salt tax and called it the most ‘barbarous’ tax which effected the poor classes, and pleaded for its abolition immediately. He also exhorted the people to observe complete but peaceful hartal if Mahatma Gandhi was arrested.
In Ahmedabad, a meeting of the Youth League was held in which a resolution was passed empowering the secretaries to enlist volunteers for Civil Disobedience Movement.
The ‘Dandi March Day’ was observed in Nagpur by hoisting the national flag. A procession passed through the main bazaars of the town, and, thereafter, a public meeting was also held. Gandhi’s letter to the Viceroy was read out and explained to the audience.
Similar celebrations were held all over the country and considerable enthusiasm was aroused with people for participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement. For the first time, a new spirit for the attainment of Swaraj—full and complete—was found bubbling everywhere.
The Viceroy informed the Secretary of State on 13 March 1930, ‘Most of my thought at the moment is concentrated upon Gandhi. I wish I felt sure what the right way to deal with him is.’
The same day Gandhi and his satyagrahis reached a small village, Aslali, where they were received well by the villagers. Gandhi emphasised the importance of salt and criticised the salt tax levied by the government. Next day, Gandhi, who was apprehensive of his arrest, informed Jawaharlal Nehru. He emphasised the importance of khadi, its production and use by the villagers. ‘Khadi is the foundation of our freedom struggle…. I request you to renounce luxuries and buy khadi from this heap before you’.
At Vasana, where the villagers had gathered to accord reception to the marchers and listen to their leader, Gandhi explained that abolition of the salt-tax or remission of some taxes would not mean swaraj for them. Winning of swaraj was not going to be so easy as they might think. It was only a way to it and by following it they would reach the goal of freedom Gandhi asked the students to leave schools and come out on the ‘battle-field’ and become ‘mendicants’ for the sake of the country. But he did not ask them to give up their studies for good, but only to give up book-learning so long as the struggle lasted.
Gandhi became a revolutionary when politeness and persuasion proved infructious. He indeed found peace in describing himself as a revolutionary and appealed that in a revolution of that nature which was calm, peaceful and truthful, people should get themselves enrolled regardless of the religious faith to which they belonged. He was confident that if they enlisted themselves with sincerity and if they could keep up their courage, the salt tax would have been abolished, this administration would have come to an end and all the hardships enumerated in the letter to the Viceroy as well as those which had not been enumerated would have to cease.
First Round Table Conference
The first Round Table Conference convened from 12 November 1930 to 19 January 1931. Prior to the Conference, M. K. Gandhi had initiated the Civil Disobedience Movement on behalf of the Indian National Congress. Consequently, since many of the Congress’ leaders were in jail, Congress did not participate in the first conference, but representatives from all other Indian parties and a number of Princes did.
The outcomes of the first Round Table Conference were minimal: India was to develop into a federation, safeguards regarding defence and finance were agreed and other departments were to be transferred. However, little was done to implement these recommendations and civil disobedience continued in India. The British Government realized that the Indian National Congress needed to be part of deciding the future of constitutional government in India.
Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, met with Gandhi to reach a compromise. On 5 March 1931 they agreed the following to pave the way for the Congress’ participation in the second Round Table Conference: Congress would discontinue the Civil Disobedience Movement, it would participate in the second Round Table Conference, the Government would withdraw all ordinances issued to curb the Congress, the Government would withdraw all prosecutions relating to offenses not involving violence and the Government would release all persons undergoing sentences of imprisonment for their activities in the Civil Disobedience Movement.