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How Participants saw the Movement

Early in 1930, Gandhi, Nehru, and the Congress were to make a call for purna swaraj, or complete independence from British rule in India. Coming out of what might be termed a political retirement, Gandhi searched his mind for some action that might ignite the nation and serve as the expression of the will of the general community. The course of action that Gandhi decided to undertake is revealed by a remarkable letter that he addressed to Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, a letter most unusual in the annals of political discourse.


Lord Irwin

"Dear Friend", he wrote to his political adversary on March 2, "I cannot intentionally hurt anything that lives, much less fellow human beings, even though they may do the greatest wrong to me and mine. Whilst, therefore, I hold the British rule to be a curse, I do not intend harm to a single Englishman or to any legitimate interest he may have in India."

Gandhiji with his followers

  • In a rather detailed analysis, Gandhiji was to note the vast inequities in the salaries paid to Indians and to British officials.

The average Indian earned less than 2 annas per day while the British Prime Minister earned Rs. 180 per day, and the Viceroy received Rs. 700 per day; more tellingly, the Prime Minister of Britain received 90 times more than the average Britisher, but the Viceroy received "much over five thousand times India's average income." While not desirous of humiliating the Viceroy, Gandhi apologized for taking a "personal illustration to drive home a painful truth", and asked him "on bended knee" to "ponder over this phenomenon." The system of administration carried out in India was "demonstrably the most expensive in the world", and it had only further impoverished the nation.

As he went on to inform Irwin, he intended to break the salt laws, a gesture that no doubt must have struck Irwin as bizarre. The British exercised a monopoly on the production and sale of salt: yet this was an essential ingredient, required by the poor as much as by the rich. "I regard this tax [on salt]", Gandhi wrote, "to be the most iniquitous of all from the poor man's standpoint. As the independence movement is essentially for the poorest in the land the beginning will be made with this evil." Since Gandhi intended no harm to the Viceroy himself, or indeed to any Englishman, he chose to have his letter delivered in person by a "young English friend who believes in the Indian cause and is a full believer in non-violence". The Viceroy, not unexpectedly, promptly wrote back to express his regret that Gandhi was again "contemplating a course of action which is clearly bound to involve violation of the law and danger to the public peace."

  • If the British were not prepared to combat the various "evils" afflicting India under colonial rule, Gandhi was prepared to commence a fresh campaign of "civil disobedience".

  • During the First World War, Indian merchants and industrialists had made huge profits and become powerful. Keen on expanding their business, they now reacted against colonial policies that restricted business activities.

  • The industrial working classes did not participate in the Civil Disobedience Movement in large numbers, except in the Nagpur region. As the industrialists came closer to the Congress, workers stayed aloof.

  • The Congress was reluctant to allow women to hold any position of authority within the organisation. It was keen only on their symbolic presence.

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