Though the non-cooperation movement was suspended, yet it left a ray of hope for the people. However, a group for Congress leaders likes C.R. Das, Motilal Nehru etc. were dissatisfied with the sudden suspension of the movement.
They formed a separate party known as Swaraj Party and were ready to contest in elections for Council entry. Their purpose was to oppose the government from within.
In the election of 1923, the Swaraj Party secured absolute majority in Bengal and Central Provinces. But gradually they joined the Gandhian movement.
In 1927, the British Government appointed the Simon Commission consisting of seven members of the British Parliament with Sir John Simon as its chairman. The Commission was to look into the functioning of the Government of India Act 1919 and to suggest further constitutional reforms for India. Since not a single Indian was included in it, the National Congress rejected to co-operate with the Commission. Everywhere, the Commission was greeted with hartals, black flags and slogans of Simon Go Back’.
In such a hostile atmosphere, the Commission completed its inquiry and submitted its report. But before the report could be considered by the British parliament, the Government proposed to convene a Round Table Conference to determine the nature of future constitutional reforms in India. Being challenged by the British Government to prepare a constitution acceptable to all political parties in India, the Congress appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Motilal Nehru. The Nehru Committee Report suggested for a representative government in India like other dominions such as Canada and Australia. But the British Government even did not assure a Dominion status for India.
In such circumstances, the Congress session was held at Lahore in 1929 where the Congress dropped. The Nehru Report and instead of Dominion status, it demanded Poorna Swaraj”. The historic Independence Resolution was adopted and the tri-colour flag of independence was hoisted at the midnight of 31st December 1929. The Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi presented a definite challenge to the British Government. The Congress also authorized Gandhiji to start a Civil Disobedience Movement which can lead India in the direction of complete independence.
As the British Government did not show any interest in providing meaningful political concessions to Indians, Gandhiji decided to start the Civil Disobedience Movement.On 2th March 1930, Gandhiji wrote his famous letter to Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India, narrating the evils of the British rule, He also communicated the decision to launch the ‘Satyagraha’ campaign by manufacturing salt at Dandi, a village on the sea coast of Gujarat, in case his eleven point demands were turned down by the Government.
Some of these demands were abolition of salt tax, reduction of the land revenue, reduction of military expenditure and expenditure on civil administration, imposition of custom duty on foreign cloth, release of all political prisoners, and prohibition of intoxicants etc. When Lord Irwin did not pay any attention to his demands and warned him of the consequences of his action, Gandhiji was left with no alternative but to start the Civil Disobedience Movement.
On March 12, 1930, Gandhiji led a march from his Sabarmati Ashram with his 78 followers and reached the sea at Dandi on 5th April 1930. The distance covered was 241 miles. There was tremendous enthusiasm among the people during the march. On the morning of 6th April Gandhiji and other ‘Satyagrahis’ prepared salt as an instance of braking the Salt Law. In response to Gandhiji’s call for Civil Disobedience, the people of India in large number took part in the movement.
Mostly the activities of the ‘Satyagrahis’ were taking out processions, holding of meetings, boycotting of foreign goods, withholding payment of and revenue, picketing before the liquor shops, violating restraint orders, distributing leaflets among the people, celebrating national weeks etc.. Thousands of women also came out of their homes to participate in the movement and even did not fear of imprisonment. The imperialistic government was made alarmed. The people who first doubted the very approach of Gandhi that a small object like salt could not be an issue of a national movement, now were forced to change their opinion.
Government resorted to severe repression. Mass arrests, torture, firing, lathi charges and police excesses became common incidents. The Congress was outlawed and nearly ninety thousand people were put behind the bar. On 5th May 1930, Gandhiji and other top leaders of Congress were imprisoned. Meanwhile, the British Government summoned the First Round Table Conference at London on 12 November 1930 to discuss the Simon Commission Report. But when Congress boycotted it, the conference was adjourned sine die.
Gandhiji and other important leaders of Congress were released from jails in the last week of January 1931. The situation forced the British Government to negotiate with the Congress for a rapprochement. As a result of a long negotiation, on 5th March 1931, the Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed. The government agreed to remove all repressive ordinances, to restore the confiscated property, to set free all prisoners except those who were guilty of having committed any violence.
The government also allowed the manufacture of salt by the people and for peaceful picketing before the liquor shops and foreign goods shops. Il return, the Congress agreed to suspend the Civil Disobedience Movement and to attend the Second Round Table Conference. With this pact, the government indirectly accepted the Congress as the representative organisation of the Indians.
Since the British Government did not accept any important demands of the Congress, the pact was made subject to criticism. The Congress ratified the pact at the Karachi Session of march 1931. But there was protest against it. Even Gandhi was shown black flags when he arrived to attend the session.
It was due to his failure to get the release of Bhagat Singh and two of his comrades who had been given death sentence and were executed only two days before the Karachi session of the Congress. However, the Congress suspended the Civil Disobedience Movement and deputed Gandhiji as the sole representative of the Congress to participate in the Second Round Table Conference.
In the Second Round Table Conference, Gandhiji made it clear that India would think of Dominion status, if it was to be given at once and in full and also India would be made equal with Britain. But the Conservative Party which came to power in the general elections of November 1931, refused to concede the demands of Gandhiji. So Gandhiji could not achieve any practical success and returned empty handed. Lord Irwin was replaced by Lord Willingdon as the Viceroy of India and he revived again the repressive policy of the government.
The new Viceroy regarded the Gandhi—Irwin Pact as dead and gone. The moment Gandhiji reached India, he was arrested along with many other leaders. A reign of terror was let loose. In this circumstance, Gandhi decided to revive the Civil Disobedience Movement and it was again started in January 1932. The Viceroy was determined to crush the movement. All important Congress leaders were arrested, their property was confiscated, the Congress organisation was declared illegal. Despite the police atrocities, the movement continued for more than six months.
In August 1932, the British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald announced the “Communal Award” by providing separate electorate to Muslims, Sikhs, Europeans and the other depressed class. Gandhiji started his fast till death which created a deep emotion among the leaders of all sections of the people. An agreement known as Poona Pact was signed with the leaders of the oppressed classes.
The Pact provided representation to depressed classes along with the caste Hindus and their seats were to be reserved on the basis of their population. However, it is alleged that the Poona Pact shifted the attention of the Indian leaders from the central motive of the movement. When Gandhiji became concerned with the Harijan movement, his lion became weak on the Civil Disobedience Movement.
Usually the movement lost its vigor and vitality. The congress off- sally suspended the movement in May 1933 and withdrew it in April 1934. Besides the oppression of -the British Government, the disunity among the Indian leaders were primarily responsible for the failure of the Civil Disobedience Movement. Moreover, the diversion of Gandhiji’s attention towards the sensible communal issues was another factor which highly contributed for the weakening of the movement.
However, this movement is memorable in the history of India. It was more widespread than the previous one. Mass participation provided the Congress a new all-India status. Therefore, the government decided to give encouragement to communal, regional and other forces which would work against the Indian unity. But the Poona Pact saved the Indian society.
Though the Congress boycotted the Third Round Table Conference, yet after the conclusion of the conference a white paper was published in May 1933, which became the basis of the Government of India Act 1935. This Act was far away from the demand of the Congress and was totally disappointing. Yet the Congress decided to participate in the election which was announced as the provision of the Act.
The Congress was able to form government in six and coalition government in two other out of the total eleven provinces. The Congress Governments resigned in October 1939 when India was made a party with the Britain in the Second World War without any consultation with the Indian leaders. The British Government encouraged communalism to the maximum extent by giving support to the Muslim League. When the Congress was out of power, the Muslim League observed it as the “Day of Deliverance”. With the support of British Government, the Muslim League demanded a separate homeland for Muslims on the soil of India in May 1940.
In order to win the support of Indians for Britain’s war efforts, the Viceroy of India, proposed the so called “August Offer” on 8th August 1940. It promised to grant Dominion Status to India and also assured the framing of the Constitution by the representatives of India after the end of the war.
Both the Congress and the Muslim League rejected the offer. With the direction of Gandhi, individual Satyagraha was started. But when Japan entered the Second World war against the Allies, Britain was forced to change its attitude. In order to have some sort of understanding with the Indians, the British Government sent a Mission to India under Sir Stafford Cripps in March 1942.
The Mission talked to the leaders of the different sections of India. Finally, it offered for the Dominion status to India after the war. Cripps also gave the proposal of a Constituent Assembly consisting of the elected members of the Lower House of Provincial Legislatures and representatives of Princely States to formulate a Constitution for India. But the Cripps proposal was rejected by both the Congress and the Muslim League.
The Congress Working Committee reiterated the demand for freedom before India could join the war. But the Conservative Government of Britain did not desire to share power with the Indians during the war. The Muslim League rejected the proposal as it did not clearly pointed to the formation of a separate state for the Muslims.