Dandi march (salt satyagraha)
One of the momentous events in the history of Indian struggle for independence was the Dandi Salt March, launched under the unparalleled leadership of M K Gandhi. With this historic event, The Civil Disobedience Movement was formally introduced on a nation-wide basis. Within the context of the Indian freedom struggle, the Dandi Salt March holds a place of paramount importance. The entire nation coalesced under the call of a single man, internalizing the cherished doctrines of ahimsa or non violence, and satyagraha or passive resistance. With an awakened political consciousness, all segments of the Indian community plunged into a battle, which till date is an instance of the indefatigable power of civilian resistance.
Circumstances Leading to the Dandi March
The political and social milieu of India was in turmoil following the formation of the Simon Commission for drawing up a constitution for India and the subsequent rejection of the Nehru Report. Gandhi requested the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, to mellow his stance in dealing with the constitutional crisis. On March 2nd 1930, Gandhi wrote a letter to the Viceroy wherein he highlighted an 11 point Charter of Demands. This included a considerable reduction in the Pound-Sterling-Rupee exchange rate, curtailing of military budget, a fifty percent reduction in land revenue, preservation of indigenous textile machinery, abolition of Salt Tax and releasing political prisoners. The British government did not react favorably to any of the propositions made by the Congress. The political segment of the country took no time to realize that the British government would not relent to any kind of persuasions. Anti British sentiments flared up as never before and the launch of a civil disobedience movement became inevitable. On February 15th, the Congress Working committee gave the authority to Gandhi and his followers to initiate the civil disobedience. The first step in this direction was the Dandi March.
Violation of British laws constituted an integral part of civil disobedience. The British salt tax law captured the attention of Gandhi and soon became the center of his anti British agendas. According to the British salt tax law, the sale or manufacture of salt by any other source barring the British government would be adjudged as a criminal offense, liable for punishment by law. Salt was extremely essential for the people of India, particularly for its temperate climate. The low-lying coastal regions of the country had extensive reserves of the mineral that were easily available to the laborers. The new salt tax law, however, impelled them to purchase the mineral that could be collected free of cost. In Gandhi's words; "There is no article like salt, outside water, by taxing which the sate can reach even the starving millions, the sick, the maimed and the utterly helpless. The tax constitutes, therefore, the most in human poll tax, the ingenuity of man can devise." Moreover, the issue of salt cut across class, caste, regional and ethnic distinctions and Gandhi could unite the entire country bound by a single cause. This oppressive salt tax law thus became the pivot around which the program of civil disobedience was designed. The British salt tax law provided the apt background against which a massive satyagraha struggle could be launched, throughout the country.
The Commencement of the Dandi March
When the Viceroy turned a deaf ear to the pleas of Gandhi, a disheartened Mahatma said; "On bended knees I asked for bread and I have received stone instead". In the letter to Lord Irwin, Gandhi had mentioned; "If my letter makes no appeal to your heart, on the eleventh day of his month I shall proceed with such co-workers of the Ashram as I can take, to disregard the provision of the Salt Laws." To give effect to this promise made by Gandhi in his letter to Lord Irwin, on the historic day of March 12th, he embarked on his Dandi March. Gandhi's entourage consisted of seventy nine members of his Sabarmati Ashram, who were well trained in the principles of satyagraha.
As part of the preparation of this massive satyagraha campaign, Gandhi addressed a mass meeting on 10th March attended by the inmates of the Sabarmati ashram. At the prayer meeting on 11th March at Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi invoked the inner strength of the satyagrahis and resolved to continue their non violent means of passive resistance until swaraj could be achieved in India. Finally, on 12th March at 6.30 a.m., Gandhi set out on his two hundred miles long journey, from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in the company of his few chosen followers. In this journey to Dandi, Gandhi's trail increased in size as thousands of inspired followers joined him in his march.
On 13th March Gandhi delivered a speech at Bareja, where he invited the villagers among whom there was a considerable number of Christians and Muslims, to join hands in supporting the cause of India's freedom. In his 14th March speech at Vasana, Gandhi asked the amassed audience whether they would believe him, if he made a prediction that a day would dawn when the British would apologize to the Indians. Gandhi addressed to the people of Dabhan on March 15th. In this speech he appealed to the people that if they have the armor of inner strength, they should boycott Government jobs, endorse khadi, reject foreign made goods and abandon alcohol. Armed with an innate commitment to the eternal spirit of truth and self righteousness, they should join the army of salt satyagrahis.
On 17th March Gandhi delivered a speech at Anand, wherein he urged the students to withdraw from their academic pursuits, until the salt satyagraha campaign achieved its goal. On 23rd March, he challenged the British government's capability to arrest him although he had embarked on a mission to disobey British laws. In the speech delivered on 25th March, Gandhi declared that he had decided to stay at the residence of a Muslim friend, from where he would undertake his satyagraha struggle. In his way Gandhi sought to garner the support of the Muslim community as well in his satyagraha campaign against the unjust British salt tax law.
On 26th March, 28th March and 29th March, Gandhi delivered speeches at Ankleshwar, the bank of River Keem and Bhatgam respectively. In Bhatgam, Gandhi condemned indulgence and extravagance and said that there is no place for these in a satyagraha campaign. Addressing the cloth merchants of Bombay who attended his speech at Sandihiyer on March 30th, Gandhi said that the involvement of the merchant class in the satyagraha struggle signifies their commitment to the cause of Indian's struggle for freedom.
On April 5th, Gandhi addressed the associated press at Dandi. He appreciated the government for resorting to absolute non interference, while he was on his march to Dandi. With the blessings of God, he communicated his noble intention to initiate civil disobedience in the company of his followers on 6th April. Since the incident of Jallianwallah Bagh massacre, 6th April had come to symbolize a day of self abasement and purging of the soul. The day, declared Gandhi would begin with fasting and prayer. On 6th March, Gandhi, on the Dandi beach, breached the British salt laws. He picked up a fistful of salt and mud and manufactured salt by boiling it in sea water. He urged his followers to violate the British Salt Tax law by manufacturing salt all along the sea coast. It was decided that the crusade against the salt tax would be carried on till April 13th that mark the National Week.
The Impact of Dandi March
The immediate repercussion of the Dandi march was the arrest of Nehru and several other delegates of the Congress. On 5th May, midnight, Gandhi was arrested from Karadi. The wider impact of Dandi march on all sections of the society was simply insurmountable. The entire nation joined forces with Mahatma Gandhi. Salt was being made and bought illegally throughout the country. Gandhi's popularity reached an all time high, with several new followers joining the troop of his satyagrahis. The Dandi episode unfolded a new chapter in the history of Indian nationalism. The large scale participation of the masses in India's struggle for freedom commenced with the Dandi march.
The event of Dandi March assumed a much wider significance as it not only remained a landmark incident in India's pre independence history, but took a symbolic significance that eternally appealed to the political and social scenario of the world. Dandi March has come to epitomize the inherent potential of any form of passive civilian resistance. It affirmed the halo of Gandhi as the Mahatma, for he proved to the world that the victory of a guide is in practicing what he preaches. His ideologies of satyagraha and ahimsa found physical manifestation in his simple gesture of picking up a stick and walking a distance of two hundred miles, as an expression of his denial and violation of British laws.