On 29th December at Lahore Congress, the youthful Congress President Jawaharlal Nehru announced that complete independence was the goal of India. It was to be,
“Complete freedom from British dominion and British imperialism. The embrace of British India is a dangerous thing”
he loudly declared in his address.
In that historic session on the last day of December 1929, Mahatma Gandhi moved his significant resolution on “Purna Swaraj”. To that anxious gathering of the session, Gandhi held out the immediate prospect of a Civil Disobedience Movement.
This resolution was passed by the Congress on that day without any opposition. The Congress tricolour National Flag was unfurled by the President Jawaharlal that signalized the declaration of independence. Inquilab Zindabad or Long live the Revolution became the Slogan of countless throats of the session.
At the dictates of Gandhi and in pursuance of the Congress resolution, many members resigned from legislatures. Some members however did not resign and formed a Congress Democratic Party under the leadership of M.R. Jayakar who assumed the role of the leader of the opposition in Central Assembly. The 26th January was observed as the Purna Swaraj or Complete Independence Day.
All over the country, the people took the pledge of independence. In that pledge freedom was described as the “inalienable right of the Indian people” and the British Government in India was accused of depriving the people of their freedom, of exploiting the masses and of ruining India “economically, politically, culturally and spiritually”.
The people further pledged to carry out the Congress instructions issued from time to time for the purpose of establishing “Purna Swaraj”. The Congress Working Committee authorised Gandhiji to start Civil Disobedience and when he thought it proper. The nation was waiting in breathless suspense for the leadership of Gandhiji.
The Government saw in it a direct threat to the empire. The Viceroy Lord Irwin came to believe that the resolution would result in a revolutionary violence. Consequent upon the situation the Secretary of State advised the Viceroy to resist the temptation of taking any action in any part of India on the mass rather to pick responsible leaders and deal with them.
On 2nd March 1930, Gandhiji wrote his famous letter to Lord Irwin communicating his decision to launch the Satyagraha campaign by manufacturing salt at Dandi. The attention of the people and the Government centered on Gandhi from the beginning of the New Year. Gandhiji himself was in search of his step to begin the movement. During this critical period Rabindranath Tagore met him at Sabarmati Ashram on 18th January.
In their talk, Gandhi told him “I am seriously thinking and I do not yet see any light coming out of the surrounding darkness”. Mahatma in his deep insight suddenly thought of a novel way to defy the Government and break its law. It was the Salt Satyagrah.
Gandhiji decided to march from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi, a small village on the Gujarat sea-coast, where he decided to make salt in defiance of the Salt Law regulations more as a symbol of protest. The march began on 12th March, 1930, with only 78 followers headed by Gandhi. They reached Dandi on 5th April after covering a distance of 241 miles.
On the morning of 6th April Gandhi and thousands and thousands of people gathered on the seashore of Dandi. Gandhi violated the Salt Laws. Sarojini Naidu standing by his side cried “Hail Deliver”. The touching scene signaled the beginning of countrywide waves of Civil Disobedience. Processions, lathi charges, arrests, hartals went on throughout the land with unabated energy.
The Congress was declared illegal. All the leading personalities were put inside the jails. Everywhere people disregarded other unfair laws besides breaking the Salt Laws. The Police made countless arrests but there were always more Satyagrahis ready to offer themselves for imprisonment.
The Dandi March became a historic march. As Mahatma marched forward thousands upon thousands of men and women gathered on the route day after day to pay their homage. Villagers came from distant places to see the march. Roads were decorated with flowers and flags. The jubilant mob shouted slogans “Mahatma Gandhi Zindabad”. These activities exposed the character of the Indians and their involvement in the movement that alarmed the imperialistic Government.
Those who, at first, doubted the very approach of Gandhi that a small object like common salt could not be an issue of a mighty national movement changed their opinion. The Dandi March appeared to them as a symbolic march day after day to the battle front to win the freedom. Gandhi at the age of 61, holding a bamboo staff in hand as prop he was walking fast towards the destination like a colossus striding triumphant over the length and breadth of the country. The march raised the public feelings to a feaver heat and all eyes were focused on its daily progress.
On 9th April 1930, Gandhi prepared a programme for the movement and instructed the people to manufacture contraband salt in every village and picket in front of liquor and opium shops. Students were asked to leave Government schools and colleges. Employees were requested to resign their services. Hindus were asked to eschew untouchability. Gandhi said by the observance of the above methods, we would attain Purna Swaraj which was knocking at the doors of India.
As the movement reached a new dimension that upset even the Government anticipation, Government resorted to severe repression. Repressive Laws, mass arrests, torture, firings, lathi charges and police excesses became common occurrences.
There was virtually a reign of terror all over India. But people continued to manufacture salt on the seashores and laws were broken elsewhere systematically. Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan were arrested. Finally Gandhi was arrested on 4th May and sent to Yeravda Central Jail.
These arrests intensified the movement. Boycott of the Working Committee encouraged social boycott of Indians who supported the British. The movement all through remained non-violent. The heroism of the Satyagrahis and the brutality of the Government reached their climax when the Satyagrahis raided the salt depot of Dharsana in the Surat district. No-tax compaign started at many places in Gujarat, Bihar, Bengal, and U.P.
In Maharastra, the Central Provinces and Karnataka Satyagrahis organized peaceful violations of the forced laws. In Peshawar Khudai Khidmatgar volunteers roited after the arrest of their leader Badshah Khan. Hindu soldiers of the Garhwal Rifles called in to put down the riots, refused to fire on their Muslim compatrists. They declared “India’s army is to fight India’s enemies but other Indians”. The people took control of the towns for a week and set up a parallel Government.
In the Manipur the Nagas revolted against the people. The echo of this unparallel movement was heard in the towns and tribal regions which showed the strong determination of the people. The Government won deeply impressed by the spontaneity and magnitude of the movement and keenly felt the necessity of resuming deliberations with Gandhi for a settlement of the issues involved.
Efforts were made to pursuade Gandhiji to agree to participate in the proposed Round Table Conference at London as suggested by Simon. The negotiations failed and the British Government decided to go ahead with the proposed Round Table Conference. Congress refused to attend the conference but representatives, of liberal parties, Muslim League, and other parties and the Princely States attended the conference at London in November 1930.