Civil Disobedience Movement by Mahatma Gandhi

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Civil Disobedience Movement by Mahatma Gandhi

Civil Disobedience Movement

On 31st January 1930, after a few weeks of reflection, Mahatma Gandhi submitted an ultimatum to Irwin. While avoiding any mention of a constitutional change, Gandhiji echoed a number of popular demands, particularly a reduction in military expenditure, a decrease in the land tax by 50 per cent and the abortion of the salt tax as well as of the government’s monopoly of its sale. As the salt tax was paid by even the poorest India, Gandhi made it the cornerstone of his Civil Disobedience campaign.

Lord Irwin, the Viceroy rejected Gandhi’s eleven-point ultimatum. Gandhi responded to this by undertaking the Salt March’ from 12 March to 6 April across Gujarat from Ahmedabad to the salt works of Dandi. He was accompanied by seventy-one members of his ashram. The Salt March evoked an immense popular response. Everywhere, crowds decided to make salt and to sell it directly, while the farmers stopped paying their land taxes. The popular radicalism that it generated also inspired militant revolutionaries in the Punjab and Bengal although Gandhi never endorsed their line. On 18th April revolutionaries led by Surya Sen carried on the sensational Chittagong armory raid in Bengal.

The civil disobedience movement in its first phase (1930-31), had a more visible impact than the non-cooperation movement ten years earlier. In several regions, the colonial administration was almost paralyzed by the resignations of small functionaries in the villages. There were constant protests that were often large-scale. The total number of arrests rose to more than ninety thousand. The government repression, from the month of May, became perceptibly harsher. Cases of police brutality against unarmed Satyagrahis were widely reported in the international press. Despite all this, the movement remained on the whole non-violent, which testified to the increased influence of Gandhi both on the Congress and on the masses.

The civil disobedience movement is different in many respects from the non-cooperation movement. The participation of students, of the urban intelligentsia and of the working class was much more limited. The big cities, like Bombay or Ahmadabad, appeared as the strongholds of the Civil Disobedience Movement. The success of the movement in the countryside was, however, remarkable. It also touched new regions. In the Northwestern Frontier Province Khan Abdul Gaffar who came to be known as Frontier Gandhi led his followers in a massive uprising. His followers were known as ‘red shirts’ as they wore red coloured kurtas. The organisation that he had created with peasants and small landowners was called the Khudai Khidmatgar (the servants of God). Ghaffar Khan became a devoted follower of Gandhi and became leading member of the Congress.

The other distinctive feature of the Civil Disobedience movement was greater participation of women for the first time in a mass struggle. On this count the civil disobedience movement was an important advance. On the other side however the participation of the Muslims actually declines.

While suppressing the first phase of the Civil Disobedience Movement, the government of Lord Irwin however continued negotiations. Political parties were invited in November, 1930 to a Round Table conference. As the Congress refused to attend the meeting, the meeting served no purpose. The Second Round Table Conference was held in January, 1931. In the meanwhile the Congress leadership was released from prison. They agreed to attend the conference on condition that the government would withdraw the repressive laws and let the political prisoners free. This was agreed upon both by Gandhi and Lord Irwin.

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