Along with other nationalists, Gandhiji was also aroused by the Rowlatt Act. In February 1919, he founded the Satyagraha Sabha whose members took a pledge to disobey the Act and thus to court arrest and imprisonment. Here was a new method of struggle.
The nationalist movement, whether under moderate or extremist leadership, had hitherto confined its struggle to agitation.
Big meetings and demonstrations, refusal to cooperate with the government, boycott of foreign cloth and schools, or individual acts of terrorism were the only forms of political work known to the nationalists.
Satyagraha immediately raised the movement to a new, higher level. Nationalists could now act, instead of merely agitating and giving only verbal expression to their dissatisfaction and anger.
The movement, moreover, was to rely increasingly on the political support of the peasants, artisans and the urban poor. Gandhiji asked the nationalist workers to go to the villages.
That is where India lives, he said. He increasingly turned the face of nationalism towards the common man and the symbol of this transformation was to be khadi, or hand-spun and hand-woven cloth, which soon became the uniform of the nationalists.
He spun daily to emphasise the dignity of labour and the value of self-reliance. India’s salvation would come, he said, when the masses were wakened from their sleep and became active in politics.
And the people responded magnificently to Gandhi’s call. March and April 1919 witnessed a remarkable political awakening in India. Almost the entire country came to life.
There were hartals, strikes, processions and demonstrations. The slogans of Hindu- Muslim unity filled the air. The entire country was electrified. The Indian people were no longer willing to submit to the degradation of foreign rule.