LIFE OF GANDHI 1869-1948
Chapter 05: The Epic March, 1928-1931
Sequence 01 The Calcutta Congress was held in December 1928 under the Presidentship of Motilal Nehru. A revolutionary spirit was aroused in the youth of the country. A controversy raged round Dominion status and Independence. Representing the younger generation, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subash Chandra Bose opposed the all-parties' report supporting Dominion status.
Effecting a compromise, Gandhi moved a resolution that gave a year's grace to the Government for granting Dominion Status and warned, "In the event of its non-acceptance by December 31, 1929 the Congress will declare complete Independence as its goal."
2 Political tension was mounting. A rude awakening came on April 8, when Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt dropped two bombs in the Central Assembly as a protest on b:half of those who had no other means left to give expression to their heartrending agony.
3 Deploring the incident, Gandhi appealed to the people to pursue non-violence with redoubled vigour.
4 Gandhi's epoch-making autobiography his experiments with truth till 1920 appeared in two volumes. "My life from this point onwards," argued he, "has been so public that there is hardly anything that the people do not know about it."
5 Gandhi hailed the young President-elect of the Congress, "Jawaharlal is pure as the crystal, he is t.-uthful beyond suspicion ... He has, by his bravery, determination, application, integrity and grit captivated the imagination of the youth of the land. The nation is safe in his hands."
6 The year of grace was coming to an end ... The forty-fifth session of the Indian National Congress met on the banks of the Ravi on the outskirts of Lahore.
7 Motilal Nehru handed over charge of the Congress Presidentship to Jawaharlal.
Son followed father and declared himself a socialist and a republican. Independence, for him, meant complete freedom from British domination and British imperialism.
The overflowing enthusiasm was for a symbol and an ideal. The atmosphere was surcharged with the gravity of the occasion.
8 At the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1929, as the old year yielded place to the new, Gandhi's historic resolution on independence and the action to be taken was passed. The flag of Indian independence was unfurled amidst deafening shouts of 'Inquilab Zindabad''-long live revolution ... India's cry for independence resounded all over the world ...
9 To give a start to the campaign, January 26, 1930, was observed as Independence Day ... The vast multitudes all over the country solemnly pledged, ... "We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom ...
"We hold it to be a crime against man and God to submit any longer to a rule that has caused disaster to our country..."
10 The celebration gave the necessary impetus to Gandhi convincing him that time was ripe for action.
11 He published an eleven-point manifesto stressing that total prohibition, reduction of the land-revenue and the military expenditure and abolition of the salt-tax were the vital needs of the people.
12 "Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life," wrote Gandhi.
13 In a letter to the Viceroy, he announced his intention "If my letter makes no appeal to your heart, on the eleventh day of this month, I shall proceed to disregard the provisions of the salt law ...As the independence movement is essentially for the poorest in the land, the beginning will be made with this evil."
14 On receiving a 'no' from the Viceroy, Gandhi exclaimed, "On bended knees I asked for bread and I received stone instead... "
15 Gandhi resolved that he would himself perform the first act of civil disobedience by taking salt illegally from the sea with select Ashram inmates for whom non-violence was an article of faith.
16 India was preparing to vindicate its right to freedom. On March 9, 1930 crowds and crowds of men, women and children forded the river Sabarmati. Seventy-five thousand people met and in Gandhi's presence took the pledge, "... without achieving freedom for our country, we shall not rest in peace nor will the Government get peace."
17 Gandhi devoted all his time and energy to an intensive preparation of the Ashram for the final conflict at the appointed hour... Every one was on the tiptoe of expectation.
18 On the eve of the historic salt march, Gandhi touched the tender chords of the people's hearts when he said, "these may be the last words of my life on the sacred banks of tho Sabarmati... We have resolved to utilize all our resources in the pursuit of an exclusively non-violent struggle. . .Women can stand shoulder to shoulder with men in this movement."
Hoping that the stream of civil resisters would flow unbroken, he gave the instruction, "after I have broken the law wherever possible, civil disobedience of salt laws should be started by manufacturing, purchasing and selling contraband salt ... May God keep off all obstacles from the path in the struggle that begins tomorrow."
Sequence 1 On March 12, with the coming of daylight, India's soul was awake... More and more eager and throbbing crowds collected ... Prayer having been sung, the pilgrim was ready to make the great beginning of the great movement ...
2 ... The long awaited hour arrived and he was there. Great march for liberty began. Gandhi started on his 241-mile-long trek from the Ashram to Dandia village on the sea-coast along with his chosen band of seventy-eight Ashram inmates, symbols of the national determination with a strong resolve and undaunted look...
As the epic march began, multitudes thundered out their welcome to the revolution and expressed their will to do and die through the cries of 'Inquilab Zindabad'.
Sixty-one year old Gandhi, with his undying faith in the justice of the cause he was pursuing, and in the success of the great campaign he had embarked upon, marched at the head of the procession with quick and unfaltering steps.
3 "The pilgrim marches onward on his long trek through the seas of humanity, to the appointed place, where India is first coming to grips with the great British Empire", observed Jawaharlal Nehru.
4 "Staff in hand, he goes along the dusty roads of Gujarat, clear-eyed and firm of step with his faithful band trudging along behind him. Many a journey he has undertaken in the past, many a weary road traversed. But longer than any that have gone before is this last journey of his, and many are the obstacles in his way. But the fire of great resolve is in him and surpassing love of his countrymen. None that passed him can escape the spell and men of common clay feel the spark of life. It is a long journey, for the goal is the independence of India and the ending of the exploitation of her millions."
5 The soldiers of freedom marched all along the distance of thirteen miles to Aslali, the first halt.
The villagers gave a ceremonial reception to the Satyagrahis on the outskirts of the village.
6 After the day's march through heat and dust, Gandhi and his followers entered the village dharmashala for the night's rest.
7 In the evening the prayer meeting was held in the village. Gandhi explained his mission, "the soldiers of the first batch had burnt their boats the moment the march began" ... He added that he would not return to the Ashram until the salt act was repealed and Swaraj won.
He expounded the real nature of democracy, "We want to establish a Government which will not do anything against the will of the people." He exhorted the villagers to take to the spinning wheel, to look to the sanitation of the village and to treat the untouchables with brotherly love. He also urged them to join the movement to break the most inhuman poll-tax as it would be a step forward on the way to Swaraj.
8 Next morning, the people of Aslali saw Gandhi stride away with his pilgrim band to the next stage in the journey to the sea.
9 Daily, Gandhi tramped about ten miles... On the way he spoke on his familiar themes beseeching the people to abjure alcohol, abandon child-marriage, and when the signal came, to break the salt law ... As the procession marched through village after village, people followed the fortunes of this marching column from day to day and the temperature of the country went up ...
The army was marching in a disciplined manner. The agile general in front was indeed a source of inspiration to all...
The march continued and the message of sedition came in clearer and firmer tones.
In ten days, the marchers covered 115 miles-half the distance between Sabarmati and Dandi ...
The pitch of the people's emotion was rising, and so was the readiness for sacrifice... On the fifteenth day, the band reached Broach and crossed the river Narmada.
10 April came; Gandhi drew near to the sea and the country waited for the word to begin civil disobedience... Gandhi conducted his daily prayer meetings and spoke at all the halting places.
Seeking the people's co-operation for righteous struggle, he observed, "Satyagraha cannot succeed without a spirit of purity and self-sacrifice... "
The rebel preached the duty of disloyalty. "Loyalty to a state so corrupt is sin, disloyalty a virtue." In the area traversed, several village-headmen threw up their Government jobs.
Gandhi admonished his hosts for being lavish and extravagant in welcoming the marchers... "In your hospitality towards servants like us, you will have to be miserly rather than lavish."
He was confident of enlisting the co-operation of the people... It was his feeling that women would contribute more to the struggle for Swaraj than men ... Gandhi voiced his firm determination to win Swaraj "Either I shall return with what I want or my body will float in the ocean."
11 Monday was a day of rest every week. Gandhi insisted on the Ashram routine being followed by everyone of the pilgrims, especially in three essentials-prayer, spinning and writing the daily diary.
"That rigorous self-discipline will generate in us", said he, "a force which will enable us to retain what we have won."
Sequence 1 Truth was once again on the march ... Never was the wave of patriotism so powerful in the hearts of Indians, as it was on this great occasion ...
2 The eyes of the world were focussed on Gandhi and on Dandi a small village on the seashore in Gujarat, which was preparing to receive streams of men and women.
3 Dandi, the destination of the great march, was in sight. After a two hundred and forty-one mile long trek lasting for twenty-four days, the pilgrims reached the promised land on the morning of April 5... Sarojini Naidu received Gandhi and his followers on the outskirts of the village... On reaching Dandi, Gandhi felt greatly relieved "God be thanked for what may be termed the happy ending of the first stage in this, for me at least, the final struggle for freedom."
4 Gandhi arrived at his sea-side resort for rest.
5 After relaxing for a few hours, he set out to prepare the people for the war against the salt tax that was to begin next morning.
6 Addressing the eager crowds gathered under the banyan tree, Gandhi reaffirmed his decision to break the salt law. "God willing, I expect, with my companions to commence actual civil disobedience tomorrow morning... Sixth April has been to us, since its culmination in the Jalianwala massacre, a day for penance and purification... I am positive that the greater the purification, the speedier will be the glorious end for which the millions of Indians consciously or unconsciously are striving... " He issued a warning. "Those who fear the Government will leave... only those who are prepared for jail-going and for receiving bullets should accompany me tomorrow morning... May God always be with us."
7 On April 6, the first day of the national week. Gandhi's morning prayer was more than usually solemn. He gave final instructions for the struggle and nominated Abbas Tyabji and after him Sarojini Naidu as his successors...
Soon after, Gandhi with his Satyagrahis proceeded for a bath in the sea before launching the struggle amidst deafening cries of "Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai"... The leader and his followers bathed in the sea.
After the dip into the sea, walking at a slow pace in solemnity, Gandhi picked up a lump of natural salt on the seashore and the nefarious monopoly was broken ! This was the signal for which the nation had been long waiting...
8 The act performed, India had its cue... It seemed as though a spring had been suddenly released all over the country.
The agitation and disobedience spread to the farflung regions... India was seething in revolt. It was open to any one who would take the risk of prosecution under the salt law to manufacture salt, wherever he wished and wherever it was convenient. The main thing was to commit a breach of the obnoxious law.
The programme impressed the multitude and made them act in an organised way... In town and villages, everywhere within reach of the sea, salt manufacture was the action of the day... Due to the abounding enthusiasm of the people, this programme spread like a prairie fire...
9 Most striking was the part of women in the national struggle. In the hour of trial they came out in large numbers from the seclusion of their homes and threw themselves into the struggle... Gandhi observed, "In this non-violent warfare, women's contribution should be much greater than men's... To call women the weaker sex is a libel; it is man's injustice to woman... If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with woman."
10 Many curious expedients were adopted to produce salt... It was waved about in triumph and often auctioned for fancy prices ...
Nowhere had a law been more peacefully and yet more defiantly disobeyed ... All honour to the people who were fighting this unequal battle with bravery and a firm determination to go through the brutalities and tortures perpetrated on them ... There were numerous prosecutions, more numerous arrests, far more numerous detentions, forcible seizures of salt and brutal and savage assaults on the people.... and yet there was unbreakable peace everywhere and greater determination to prosecute the campaign. The war against the salt tax continued.
On the thirteenth of April ended the most glorious of all the national weeks since 1919...
11 Leaders were being removed from the midst of the people. On the arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress President, Gandhi observed, "It is an affront offered to the whole nation."
12 The arch offender was kept free and his activities continued unabated. Day after day, he went to the surrounding villages and delivered the message of disobedience.
"This Indian Empire was conceived in immorality.. . Let us therefore pray and work for the destruction of this demonstrably immoral system with the national creed of non-violence."
... Sisters should picket liquor-shops, opium dens and foreign cloth shops, for who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than women ? "Foreign cloth undermines the economic foundations of the nation and throws millions out of employment. So, young and old in every home should play the takli and spin."
... "testing time seems to be coming faster than I had expected. We must accustom ourselves to standing unmoved in the face of cavalry or baton charges, or bullets."
Sequence 1 Gandhi sounded a warning to the "Black Regime". "If the Government neither arrest nor declare the salt free, they will find people marching to the shot rather than be tortured."
He explained the difference between freedom and licence. "Freedom is a fruit of suffering, licence imposes suffering upon society" and labelled the Government as a Government of unbridled licence.
On the promulgation of the ordinance of the Press Act, Gandhi advised the pressmen to be prepared for handing over their property along with their bodies to the authorities rather than sell their souls.
2 In a mango-grove at Karadi - a village near Dandi, Gandhi set up his camp. He sensed that the time had come for greater acts of rebellion. In a draft letter to the Viceroy, he announced his intention to raid the Dharasana salt depot-"It would be cowardly on my part not to invite you to disclose in the full the leonine paws of authority and to give the victims an opportunity for greater and greater suffering... success is the certain result of suffering of the extremist character, voluntarily undergone."
3 Gandhi and his disciples had gone to sleep in the palm-leaf-hut at Karadi. At dead of night on May 4, a sudden tramping of feet was heard, disturbing the quiet repose of the camp. A party of armed constables entered Gandhi's shack to arrest him under Regulation XXV of 1827.
His message to the nation was "India's self respect is symbolised, as it were, in a handful of salt in the Satyagrahi's hand. Let the first holding it, therefore, be broken but let there be no voluntary surrender of the salt... I would like our people to make the highest sacrifice-of gaining life by losing it... ."
The state prisoner was taken to his old quarters in the Yeravada Central Jail and was detained without trial under the most arbitrary law.
4 Men, women and children of all communities and classes in India joined together and proclaimed their determination to win liberty or to die... India waged a relentless struggle facing hardship cheerfully on the part of high purpose and noble endeavour ... It was in this readiness to suffer that the moral power of this movement resided.
Massive raids on salt pans and depots were organised ... true soldiers of India, without care of fame or reward, laboured unceasingly and peacefully... Civil disobedience everywhere was answered with firing and barbarous lathi charges... Those struck down fell sprawling ... Government measures became more and more intense and brutal ... The non-violent satyagrahis showed marvellous endurance and discipline. Thousands courted imprisonment and suffered all manner of privations ...
Here was India being governed forcibly under an absolute dictatorship... The bureaucracy were for more and more ruthless measures... Every kind of civil liberty was suppressed ...
With various repressive ordinances following each other in quick succession, grew the opportunities of breaking them ...
Presses were seized and news bulletins appeared in cyclostyle to break the law of sedition.
The boycott of foreign cloth and picketing of liquorshops was intensified. The peasantry were in fine mettle and the no-tax campaign was started ... The events had given the people confidence in their national strength and stamina ...
India was in full revolt... Scores of members resigned from the legislature... The Congress Committees were declared illegal ... the police began mass arrests... The leadership of the campaign passed from one person to another in quick succession, India became a vast prison house and yet they laid down their lives at the altar of freedom. It was a gruelling battle and it went on for months ...
5 With the viceroy's consent, Tej Bahadur Sapru and M. R. Jayakar went to Gandhi in the Yeravada Prison for peace parleys.
6 On Gandhi saying that Congress President Jawaharlal Nehru's must be the final voice, the Nehrus, Motilal and Jawaharlal, were brought to Yeravada from the Naini prison to confer with him.
7 After discussion with the negotiators, the Congress leaders declared that "an unbridgeable gulf" separated them from the British position.
They maintained that the wonderful mass response to the movement was its own justification, and laid down the minimum conditions for its withdrawal. The document stressed the right of India to secede from the Empire.
8 On his unconditional release on January 26, 1931, the anniversary of Independence Day, Gandhi remarked, "I am hankering after peace if it can be had with honour", and hurried to Allahabad, the home of Motilal Nehru, who was mortally ill.
9 Motilal Nehru passed away on February 6. With mingled pride and grief, Gandhi paid his tribute, "The pyre is being dedicated at the altar of the nation."
10 A crucial meeting of the Congress Working Committee held at Anand Bhavan, Allahabad expressed its abiding faith in civil disobedience and passed Gandhi's resolution laying down conditions for a truce, demanding general political amnesty and immediate cessation of repression.
Always willing to go out of his way to meet the opponents and seeking to break the barriers of anger and distrust, Gandhi decided to leave no stone unturned to attain peace and undertook to negotiate with the Viceroy.
11 He came to Delhi for an interview with Lord Irwin and stayed at Dr. Ansari's house.
12 On February 17, the half-naked fakir, as Winston Churchill called Gandhi, went to the Viceroy's House to parley with "the representative of the King Emperor".
13 As the talks progressed, Gandhi soon summoned the members of the Congress Working Committeee for consultation.
On his return from the Viceroy's House, he used to explain every point that arose in the discussion to the members of the Working Committee, which was constantly in session ...
14 Gandhi was fully occupied ... He met many people and talked on different matters ...
He appealed to the sense of service in women and asked them to join him and share his aspiration of making the spirit of service permeate the atmosphere by becoming humble servants of the country ...
While the Gandhi-Irwin talks were suspended for a few days, Gandhi addressed a huge gathering in the Queen's Garden. "I may say this much that these talks have been conducted in a most friendly manner and with much sweetness ... What will be the result, I cannot say. The result is in the hands of God. It is His will that will prevail ... The people's duty is to continue to do what India expects of them ... ."
15 After eight meetings spread over three weeks, the Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed on March 5, 1931. The settlement was 'provisional' and 'conditional'. The vital question of the objective of independence remained. .. "It is not wise to say which is the victorious party" remarked Gandhi.
16 The prison gates opened ... Thousands of civil disobedience prisoners were discharged and welcomed by the people.