Friday, April 4, 2014

Dandi March - Salt Satyagraha

The national movement made qualitative advance in 1930s. After the declaration of Poorna Swarajya, the country was far more imbibed with the Congress ideology and with Gandhian techniques than it had been in 1920s. The people were convinced that Gandhi meant what he said regarding non-violence though he himself seemed to have modified his position slightly. He now accepted the possibility that some violence might break out but, so long as the movement remained essentially non-violent on the whole, he would continue the battle. Economic factors also favoured the mounting of a new campaign.

There was acute economic depression in the country which had a telling effect on all classes, especially the poor. The slump in food prices had affected the farmers and peasants while in the urban areas there was considerable working class unrest. The Indian National Congress had given Gandhi and the Congress Working Committee full power to start the campaign of civil disobedience including non-payment of taxes. The Working Committee in turn gave full power to Gandhi to start the campaign at a time arid place of his choice.

On 2 March, Gandhi addressed a letter to the Viceroy announcing his decision to start the salt satyagrah and explaining the grounds on which the decision was taken. The Viceroy’s reply was short and curt. He regretted that Gandhi was embarking on a course of action which was violation of law and public peace.

Why did Gandhi choose salt tax as a central issue for Civil Disobedience Movement?

  1. The abolition of salt tax had been advocated in India generally and by. Gandhi in particular long back during his struggle in South Africa

  2. In his blanket indictment of the British rule in Hind Swaraj, Gandhi had stressed that ‘the salt tax is not a small injustice’.

  3. In his 11 points sent to the Viceroy, the salt tax had been raised to the level of basic reform. However, it was not until 5 February that it was reported in the press that Gandhi would undertake Civil Disobedience movement in connection with the salt issue.

  4. It was only on 27 February that Gandhi himself outlined the reason for selecting the issue of salt tax. He wrote, ‘next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life., It is the only condiment of the poor.... There is no article like salt outside water by taxing which the State can reach even the starving millions and the sick, the maimed and the utterly helpless. The tax constitutes the most inhuman poll tax that ingenuinity of man can devise'.

  5. The salt issue for Gandhi acquired two essential components: the indispensable moral emphasis - particularly suffering of the helpless population and the suggestion that resistance to the tax must touch virtually everyone and certainly, the ‘starving millions'.

  6. Through the issue of salt, Gandhi gave the message of ‘outrageous injustice’ in which already destitute millions were made to carry on an unjust burden: a tax not on an unnecessary item (such as tea) but on a primary need, a commodity equivalent to air and water which belongs to all and which everyone has a natural right to consume.

  7. As Sumit Sarkar writes, salt was linked with Swaraj as the most concrete and universal grievance of the rural poor. It afforded, like khadi, the chance of paltry but psychologically important extra income for peasants through self help and like khadi, once again, offered to urban adherents the possibility of a symbolic identification with mass suffering. ’ Even the Viceroy admitted that Gandhi planned a fine strategy round the issue of salt.

Dandi March - Salt SatyagrahaAfter deciding the issue of the Civil Disobedience, the next step was to devise the strategy for starting the movement. It was decided that Gandhi alongwith a band of seventy-eight members of Sabarmati’ ashram - men belonging to almost every region and religion of India - would march from Ahmedabad through the villages of Gujarat to Dandi 240 miles away on the sea coast and break the law by manufacturing salt illegally and openly. After he has violated the law, illegal manufacturing and sale of salt should begin. The march started on 12 March 1930 - a march which had no parallel in history. It generated a great deal of fervour and patriotic sentiments. It received enormous publicity and attention not only from the entire country but also from the world over. Gandhiji reached Dandi on 5 April 1930.

Next morning, he walked into the waters of the sea, took his bath, returned and picked up a lump of salt and violated the law. This technical violation of the Salt Law was a signal to the country to start the Disobedience Movement - a movement which surpassed all other movements in the country. The rank and file volunteers began defying the salt law. Swift law breaking movements spread all over the country. Salt making, salt peddling, courting arrest, suffering brutal attacks, going to jails handcuffed or bound with ropes, forcible breaking of meetings, shootings, confiscation of properties, became the order of the day.


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