Civil Disobedience Movement
By the end of 1921, the movement was turning violent at many places. Gandhiji decided to withdraw the non-cooperation movement in February 1922. Even many Congress leaders were fatigued by mass struggles and wanted to participate in the elections to the provincial councils. The provincial councils were set up by the Government of India Act of 1919. Many leaders were of the opinion that it was important to oppose the British policies by becoming a part of the system.
The older leaders, like Motilal Nehru and Motilal Nehru formed the Swaraj Party (within the Congress) and began to argue for a return to council politics.
The younger leaders; like Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru; were in favour of more radical mass agitation and pressed for full independence.
This was a period of internal debate and dissension within the Congress. This was also the period when the effect of the Great Depression was being felt on India. Agricultural prices began to fall from 1926. The prices collapsed in 1930. The whole country was in turmoil because of the effects of Great Depression.
The British government constituted a Statutory Commission under Sir John Simon. The commission was made to look into the functioning of the constitutional system in India and suggest changes. But since all the members in the commission were British, the Indian leaders opposed the commission.
The Simon Commission arrived in India in 1928. It was greeted with the slogan Go back Simon. All parties joined the protest. In October 1929, Lord Irwin announced a vague offer of dominion status for India but its timing was not specified. He also offered to hold a Round Table Conference to discuss the future constitution.
The radical leaders within the Congress became more assertive. They were not satisfied with the British proposal. The liberals and moderates were in favour of the dominion status, but they were losing their influence in Congress.
In December 1929, the Lahore Congress was presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru. It passed the resolution of Purna Swaraj or full independence for India. It declared 26th January 1930 as the Independence Day and gave a call to the people to take a pledge to struggle for complete independence. But the celebrations attracted little public support.
It was then left to Mahatma Gandhi to correlate the abstract idea of freedom to more concrete issues of everyday life.
Mahatma Gandhi believed that salt could be a powerful symbol to unite the whole nation. Most of the people; including the British scoffed at the idea. Abolition of the salt tax was among many demands which were raised by Gandhiji through a letter to Viceroy Irwin.
The Salt March or Dandi March was started by Gandhiji on 12th March 1930. He was accompanied by 78 volunteers. They walked for 24 days to cover a distance of 240 miles from Sabaramati to Dandi. Many more joined them in the way. On 6th April 1930, Gandhiji ceremonially violated the law by taking a fistful of salt.
Effect of Salt March
The Salt March marked the beginning of the Civil Disobedience Movement. Thousands of people broke the salt law in different parts of country. People demonstrated in front of government salt factories. Foreign cloth was boycotted. Peasants refused to pay revenue. Village officials resigned. Tribal people violated forest laws.
Response of British Rulers
The colonial government began to arrest the Congress leaders. This led to violent clashes in many places. Mahatma Gandhi was arrested about a month later. People began to attack the symbols of British rule; such as police posts, municipal buildings, law courts and railway stations. The government’s repression was quite brutal. Even women and children were beaten up. About 100,000 people were arrested.
Round Table Conference
When things began to take a violent turn, Mahatma Gandhi called off the movement. He signed a pact with Irwin on 5th March 1931. This was called the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. As per the Pact, Gandhiji agreed to participate in the Round Table Conference in London. In lieu of that, the government agreed to release the political prisoners.
Gandhiji went to London in December 1931. The negotiations broke down and Gandhiji had to return with disappointment.
When Gandhiji came back to India, he found that most of the leaders were put in jail. Congress had been declared illegal. Many measures were taken to prevent meetings, demonstrations and boycotts. Mahatma Gandhi relaunched the Civil Disobedience Movement. By 1934, the movement had lost its momentum.