Brief notes on the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930-32)

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Gandhiji looked for a focal point around which the movement would revolve. He noted that at that time there was great resentment and unrest in the country against the Salt Tax just passed. Salt is the cheapest and commonest article of food. The production of salt was a government monoply and in 1930 half of the retail price represented tax. Gandhi had learned through experience that to rouse the masses it was necessary to use symbols they could easily recognize. He realized the political potency of common salt and turned it into the gun powder of the freedom struggle. Like a genius he linked the essential need of every Indian to the larger goal of freedom for every Indian. He appealed to the Viceroy with his eleven point programme, failing which he would start his Civil Disobedience Movement. When Lord Irwin, the Viceroy did not pay any attention to his demands, Gandhi was left with no alternative but to start his second major struggle against the British Raj.

On 12 March, 1930 Gandhi along with 78 chosen followers began a march to Dandi, a Sea Coast village in Gujarat to break the Salt Law, as it was a legal offence to prepare Salt even from the sea water. Tremendous enthusiasm was displayed by the people during the march. Gandhiji along with his followers violated the Salt Law on 6 April 1930 by making Salt. The March was symbolic signal for breaking Salt Law all over the country. This act was symbol of the Indian people’s refusal to live under British-made laws and therefore under British rule. Gandhi declared, “The British rule in India has brought about moral, material, cultural and spiritual ruination of this great country. I regard this rule as a curse. I am out to destroy this system of Government.” The Dandi March was historic. Subhash Chandra Bose compared it with Napoleon’s March on Paris on his return from Elba and with Mussolini’s March on Rome.

Gandhi urged the people to celebrate April 6 -13 as the national week and to manufacture contraband salt, picket liquor shops, opium dens, foreign cloth dealers’ shops, burn foreign clothes and to leave the government colleges and services. The country responded readily to the call. The Civil Disobedience Movement also known as the salt satyagraha spread like wild fire. Everywhere people joined hartals, demonstrations and the compaigns to boycott foreign goods and to refuse to pay taxes. Even the peasants withheld payment of revenue and rent. One of the most remarkable phenomena was the way in which Indian women helped the movement by organizing the picketing of liquor and foreign cloth shops. They marched shoulder to shoulder with the men in processions.

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The movement even reached the extreme north-western corner of India. Under the leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan popularly known as ‘the Frontier Gandhi’, the pathans organised the society of Kudai Khidmatgars and joined the freedom struggle. Similarly, the movement found an echo in the eastern most corner of India. The Manipuris took an active part in it and Rani Gaidinliu, of Nagaland joined the movement. She was captured in 1932 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The government launched a policy of repression by firing, lathicharges and arrests. Gandhi was arrested on 5 May, 1930. Thousands of satyagrahis were imprisoned. The press was declared illegal. The struggle continued vigorously for six months more after the arrest of Gandhi. The people revealed remarkable power of organisation, initiative and resourcefulness. But the bulk of Muslims kept themselves away from this movement and the Muslim League refused to join it.

Meanwhile, the British Government summoned the First Round Table Conference in London on 12 November 1930 to discuss the Simon commission Report. But the congress boycotted it. Realising the futility of talks in the absence of the representatives of the congress, the conference was adjourned sine die on 19 January, 1931. The conference simply brought to surface the differences of various communities and sections in India. The Government now made attempts to negotiate an agreement with the congress so that it would attend the Round Table Conference. Accordingly Lord Irwin released Gandhi and other members of the congress working committee. Gandhiji met the Viceroy to discuss the possibility of a rapprochment with the government. After a long and protracted negotiations for fifteen days, an agreement was reached on 5 March 1931 known as the Gandhi – Irwin Pact.

On behalf of the Congress, Gandhi agreed to discontinue the movement, to stop the boycott of British commodities and to take part in the Second Round Table Conference. On behalf of the government the Viceroy agreed to withdraw the emergency ordinances promulgated in connection with the Civil Disobedience Movement, to restore the confiscated property, to permit the people to collect or manufacture salt free of duty, to permit peaceful picketing of liquor or opium and foreign cloth shops and to set free all political prisoners except those who were guilty of violence. The pact had a mixed reaction. The left-wing of the congress felt that Gandhi had unwillingly sold India, while the conservatives in England thought that Irwin had sold Britain. The youth were disappointed with the bargain as it failed to save Bhagat Singh and his comrades from the death penalty. While Gandhi felt that the enthusiasm of the people was on the wane and a campaign might not last for long, the bureaucracy was worried about the failure of law and order. To quote Zacharias, ” it was a victory of both sides and stands as a monument to the good sense and high patriotism of both parties thereto.” By entering into a pact with the congress, the Government had in away accepted the congress as a representative organisation of the Indians. The Congress ratified the pact at its session held at Karachi in March 1931 though protests were raised against it. Even Gandhi was shown black flags when he arrived because of his failure to reease Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru who were executed only two days before the Karachi session. The congress suspended the Civil Disobedience Movement and deputed Gandhi to be the sole representative of the Congress to participate in the Second Round Table Conference.

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The spirit of the Pact was already marred by the execution of Bhagat Singh and his comrades despite pleas from the Congress leaders for mercy. Lord Willingdon, who took overcharge as the next Viceroy began to breach the pact in several respects. In England, while the Second Round Table Conference was still in session, general elections took place and the conservative party came to power in November 1931. The conservative government was in no mood to grant any concession to India. Gandhi returned to India in December 1931 as a dejected person. After arrival in India he found that the new government of Willingdon resorted to measures of repression, and repeated attempts were made to cow down the spirit of Indian nationalists. Gandhi decided to resume the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1932. All leaders of the congress were arrested and repression was let loose with vengeance. Inspite of this, the movement continued with all intensity for more than six months.

In the mean while, the British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald announced the communal Award on 16 August 1932 by which the Depressed classes in India were to be assigned separate electorate seats in the legislature. Gandhi undertook fast till death to get it revoked. Finally, the Poona Pact was signedby which the leader of the depressed classes, Dr. Ambedkar accepted representation of depressed classes along with the Hindus though their seats were reserved on the basis of their population. In the mean while, the Third Round Table conference was held from 17 November to 24 December, 1932.The congress boycotted it. In June 1933, Gandhiji advised for the suspension of the mass Civil Disobedience, but suggested continuation of individual satyagraha upto 1934. Finally, the movement was suspended by the congress in April 1934.

The butal repression and uncompromising attitude of the Government were primarily responsible for the failure of the Civil Disobedience Movement. The diversion of Gandhi’s attention towards the ‘Communal Award’ and the fate of the untouchables also were responsible for its failure. But this time it was the government which took the initiative and acted with a great swiftness and was determined to crush the movement. The repression was much more brutal and severe than before. The movement failed because it could not achieve its aim. But the movement, on the otherhand demonstrated the awakening of political consciousness among the Indian masses. It was much more widespread than the Non Cooperation movement and brought to its fold certain fresh segments of the society into the struggle. It strengthened the determination of the Indians to gain independence and thus can be considered as a step towards it.

The deliberation at the Third Round Table Conference led to the passing of the Government of India Act of 1935. Accordingly, elections were held for provincial legislature in 1937 and the congress won in six provinces. The congress formed ministry in six provinces and later formed coalition ministry in two other provinces. But the ministers resigned in October 1939 when the Indian Government made India a party to the second World War on behalf of Britain without consulting the Indian leaders. The Muslim League celebrated 22 December 1939 as the day of deliverance when the congress ministries resigned.

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On 8 August, 1940, the government proposed the so-called ‘August Offer’ and sought cooperation of all political parties on conditions that Dominion Status would be given to the Indians after the war and constitution would be framed by the Indian representatives. Both the congress and the Muslim League rejected it. Gandhiji proposed for ‘Individual Satyagraha’ and it began on 17 October, 1940. Vinoba Bhave became the first Satyagrahi. The ‘Individual Satyagraha’ was simply a moral protest against the forced entry of India into the war. Although Gandhi wanted to keep the number of satyagrahis limited, yet by the end of the movement in December 1941, 20,000 people had courted arrest. The entry of Japan in the war created a serious danger to India. The Government felt the necessity of compromising with the Indians. So it released the satyagrahis unconditionally and in December 1941 the congress suspended the movement.

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