“The civil disobedience movement of 1930-31, then marked a critically important stage in the progress of the anti-imperialist struggle”-Bipan Chandra.
Gandhi addressed an ultimatum to Viceroy Lord Irwin on 31 January, asking him to remove the evils of the British rule and also informed of his decision to undertake Dandi Satyagraha wherein the laws of the government would be violated.
The list of demands consisted the following:
(1) Prohibit intoxicants,
(2) Change the ratio between the rupee and the sterling,
(3) Reduce the rate of land revenue,
(4) Abolition of salt tax,
(5) Reduce the military expenditure,
(6) Reduce expenditure on civil administration,
(7) Impose custom duty on foreign cloth,
(8) Accept the Postal Reservation Bill,
(9) Abolish the CID department,
(10) Release all political prisoners, and
(11) Issue licenses of arms to citizens for self-protection.
Gandhi made it clear that if the 11 points are ignored, the only way out was civil disobedience. Breaking the salt laws of the government non-violently was the basic activity of civil disobedience. Along with this activity, activities like no tax campaign, no revenue and no rent (land tax) campaign became very popular in different parts of India.
After deciding to start the Dandi Salt Satyagraha, Gandhi addressed a letter to Lord Irwin on 2 March, 1930 intimating, “on the 11th day of this month, I shall proceed with such co-workers of the Ashram as I can take, to disregard the provisions of the salt laws. It is, I know, open to you to frustrate my design by arresting me, I hope that there will be tens of thousands ready, in a disciplined manner, to take up the work after me, and in the act of disobeying the Salt Act to lay themselves upon to the penalties of a law that should never have disfigured the statute book”.
Bipan Chandra et al. correctly point out “the deceptively innocuous move was to prove devastatingly effective”, as later day events successfully proved. Gandhi started his march, staff in hand with a band of dedicated peaceful Satyagrahis and reached Dandi on 6 April, 1930 and 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. Nearly 90,000 people belonging to all social groups spread over the whole of India participated wholeheartedly in this movement.
Significantly, for Indian women, the movement was the most liberating experience to date and the can be said to have marked their entry into public space. The British government resorted to cruel repression in spite of the total non-violent conduct of the movement by issuing more than a dozen ordinances.
The Indian National Congress was declared an illegal body and Gandhi was arrested on 5 May, 1930. The arrest of Gandhi infuriated the masses and they voluntarily expressed their solidarity with the movement.
The uncommon heroism exhibited by thousands of Satyagrahis throughout the breadth of India was really very commendable and exemplary as that of Thota Narasayya Naidu who held the flag in hand in spite of severe beating by the police of Machilipamam.
The national flag, the symbol of the new spirit, now became a common sight even in remote villages. While the civil disobedience was going on, the British government convened the Round Table Conferences. Gandhi did not attend the first one held in 1930.
Gandhi agreed to attend the Second Round Table Conference of 1931 and in this background only Gandhi-Irwin pact was concluded, which was variously described as a ‘truce’ and a ‘provisional settlement’.
By this agreement it was agreed upon:
(a) To withdraw all ordinances and pending prosecutions,
(b) To release all political prisoners except those who were guilty of violence,
(c) To restore the confiscated property of the Satyagrahas,
(d) To permit peaceful picketing of liquor, opium and foreign cloth shops, and
(e) To permit the collection or manufacture of salt, free of duty, by persons residing within a specific distance of the sea shore,
(f) The Congress agreed not to press for investigation into police excess,
(g) To suspend the civil disobedience movement, and
(h) To stop boycott and to participate in the Second Round Table Conference. In 1931 certain events – coming to power of conservatives, replacement of the Viceroy, and execution of Bhagat Singh – created an atmosphere of dejection in Gandhi and other younger Indian leaders. The Congress decided to restart the movement in January 1932.
As usual, the British government took stem steps to suppress the movement and in the meanwhile the British Prime Minister announced communal award in 1932. The civil disobedience movement continued up to 1934 and it was suspended in that year.
Bipan Chandra et al. observe:
“The civil disobedience movement of 1930-31, then marked a critically important stage in the progress of the anti-imperialist struggle”. But Anil Seal, the Cambridge historian observes “Civil disobedience, the salt march to Dandi (an astute move by Gandhi to play for time and to test opinion), his programme tailored to achieve the widest appeal (whether temperance, Khadi, enlisting women or social uplift, especially of Harijans) and the 60,000 or more who went to jails notwithstanding, failed to mobilize India’s millions.
Except here and there in Gujarat and the Godavari deltas and as a part of Midnapore, civil disobedience was not a mass movement. They had merely scratched a surface of Indian society. They had not shaken the British Raj and by 1933 they had in reality been defeated”. This statement of Anil Seal has been disproved by Bipan Chandra and Sumit Sarkar.