Dandi March and Namak Satyagraha

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Context: All around the world there is are protests by the people against their governments. In recent times there is an increase in this protest which has taken the form of Violence in many cases. Here is a person who believed in truth and non-violence stood against the mighty British empire and showed his protest by taking salt as the symbolic representation of his dissatisfaction towards the British rule in India.

Mains: GSI- Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.

The civil disobedience movement marks an important event in the history of India. This event is important not because of mere people protest but it included the people from all sections of the society. The Dandi march was easily the most significant organized movement against the British Raj after the non-cooperation movement of the early 1920s. Typical Indians who were guided by the caste and religious diktat have forgone their prejudices and came forward to participate in this movement. Here we try and understand what made Gandhiji take this decision and his idea about choosing salt as the symbolic representation.

Gandhiji since his release from prison in 1924 remained aloof from direct politics and concentrated his energies on constructive programs, such as the untouchability removal campaign, promotion of the use of spinning wheel, etc., During this time congress itself divided among the “nochangers” and “prochangers”.

  • Nochangers: They supported Gandhian ways of constructive work
  • prochangers: They preferred to revert to constitutional politics.

Notable events after the 1920s

  • Gradually the prochangers become more powerful under the leadership of C.R Das and Motilal Nehru and launched the swaraj party within congress.
  • In Bengal the Hindu-Muslim pact forged by C.R. Das in 1923 broke down, culminating in a fierce riot in Calcutta in April 1926. 
  • In the election of 1925-26 religious issues were freely exploited by Hindu orthodox groups led by Madan Mohan Malaviya.
  • The conditions of depressed class people not got improved. They were first organized in 1926 under the banner of an exclusive organization by Rao Bahadur M.C. Rajah.
  • First of all, a major crisis for the export-oriented colonial economy culminated in the great depression in the late 1920s.
  • The prices of exportable agricultural cash crops went down steeply-by about 50% in general-affecting the rich peasantry.
  • As a result, in the 1920s there was a powerful and conscious Indian capitalist class that organized itself in 1927 under the banner of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FICCI).
  • The year 1928-29 was the peak period of labour unrest in India, witnessing about 203 strikes spread over all parts of the country.
  • In 1927 statutory commission under sir john Simon was appointed to review the constitutional system in India. This created a protest all over India due to the non-inclusion of Indians in the commission.
  • Nehru Report was finalized in 1928.
  • The Bardoli Satyagraha was launched in 1928 by Vallabh Bhai Patel.
  • The “Irwin Offer” of 31 October 1929, proposed a Round Table Conference.
  • On 31 January Gandhiji, therefore, announced an eleven-point ultimatum for Lord Irwin.

The above developments show that Indian society was divided into many factions. Different stakeholders had different interests in society. So certainly a unifying factor was missing in these developments. When the British government announced that it is going to increase the tax on salt this caught much controversy.

Even Gandhiji commented, “There is no other article like salt, outside water, by taxing which the government can reach the starving millions, the sick, the maimed and the utterly helpless… it is the most inhuman poll tax the ingenuity of man can devise.


History of the British salt tax in India
  • The first rules imposing Salt Tax were made by the British East India Company, as early as 1759. Since then, at different points in time, the Company first and the British government after 1857, played with the amount of salt tax levied, to suit their strategic imperatives.
  • In 1878, a uniform salt tax policy was adopted for the whole of India, both British India as well as the princely states. Both production, as well as possession of salt, were made unlawful by this policy. 
  • On several occasions, the tax on Indian salt was raised to enable the import and sale of English salt in the country. In order to harmonize regulations over the supply of salt, the British passed the India Salt Act of 1882.
  • This created a government monopoly on the manufacture and sale of salt. Salt could be manufactured and handled only at official government salt depots, with a tax of one rupee of four annas on each maund (82 pounds).
  • In 1878, a uniform salt tax policy was adopted for the whole of India, both British India as well as the princely states. Both production, as well as possession of salt, were made unlawful by this policy.
  • The salt tax, which was one rupee and thirteen annas per maund in Bombay, Madras, the Central Provinces, and the princely states of South India, was increased to two rupees and eight annas and decreased from three rupees and four annas in Bengal and Assam to two rupees and fourteen annas, and from three rupees to two rupees and eight annas in North India.
  • The 1882 Salt Act gave the British a monopoly in the manufacture and sale of salt. Even though salt was freely available on the coasts of India, Indians were forced to buy it from the colonizers.


Gandhiji's Approach- Salt Satyagraha
  • Gandhi decided that if there was anyone product through which the civil disobedience could be inaugurated, then it was salt.
  • “Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life,” he said, explaining his choice, even though many in the working committee of the Congress were not too sure about it.
  • The British government, including the Viceroy Lord Irwin, too did not take the prospect of a campaign against the salt tax too seriously.
  • Before starting the Civil disobedience movement Gandhiji gave an eleven-point ultimatum to the British government to accept.
  • He declared, there would be no civil disobedience and congress would participate in any Round table conference only if the demands were accepted.
  • But the British government did not respond to the Gandhiji's demand and by this India was ready to launch one of the biggest movements in colonial History by the name of salt/Namak Satyagraha. 
  • Addressing a massive gathering in Ahmedabad on March 8, Gandhi declared his decision to break the salt laws.
  • “That is for me one step, the first step, towards full freedom,” he said as quoted in historian Ramachandra Guha’s book, ‘Gandhi: The years that changed the world (1914-1948)’.
  • Guha wrote, “Gandhi wanted this to be a long march, or pilgrimage perhaps, where his leisurely progress would enthuse people along the way and attract wider publicity too.”
  • Finally, he decided on Dandi to be the point at which the salt law would be broken.

What happened during the march?

  • There was great excitement in Ahmedabad on the eve of the march. A large crowd gathered around the Sabarmati ashram and stayed through the night.
  • He gathered his walking mates, a group of 78 men, who were bona fide ashramites. These included Manilal Gandhi from South Africa and several others from all across India.
  • There were thirty-one marchers from Gujarat, thirteen from Maharashtra, lesser numbers from the United Provinces, Kerala, Punjab and Sindh, with Tamilnad, Andhra, Karnataka, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa sending one man apiece.
  • The diversity was social as well as geographical, for among the chosen marchers were many students and khadi workers, several ‘untouchables’, a few Muslims and one Christian.
  • Even though women too wanted to be part of the march, Gandhi preferred to keep it restricted to men alone.
  • They started out at 6:30 AM, amidst a large group cheering them along with flowers, greetings and rupee notes.
  • On their way, they stopped at a number of villages, where Gandhi addressed large crowds with fiery speeches on the need to boycott the salt tax.
  • “Indescribable scenes of enthusiasm marked the progress of the march of the Swaraj Army on this fourth day….. The rich and the poor, millionaires and mazurs [workers], ‘caste’ Hindus and so-called untouchables, one and all, vied with one another in honouring India’s great liberator,” noted a report in the Bombay Chronicle.
  • Other newspapers, particularly the international ones like the Time magazine and The Daily Telegraph, though provided a much bleaker picture of the march.
  • Gandhi reached Dandi on April 5. The following day, early morning he proceeded along with the other marchers to the sea, where he picked up lumps of natural salt lying in a small pit.
  • The act was symbolic, but was hugely covered by the press, and was the beginning of several other acts of civil disobedience in other parts of India.
  • “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire,” said Gandhi while picking up the salt in his hand.
  • “Now that the technical or ceremonial breach of the Salt Law has been committed it is open to anyone who would take the risk of prosecution under the Salt Law to manufacture salt wherever he wishes and wherever it is convenient. My advice is that the workers should everywhere manufacture salt to make use of it and to instruct the villagers to do so,” he told a representative of the Free Press.

What was the significance of the Dandi march?

  • The popularity gained by the march shook up the British government. It responded by arresting more than 95,000 people by March 31. The following month Gandhi proceeded to Dharasana salt works from where he was arrested and taken to the Yerawada Central Jail.
  • As Gandhi broke the salt laws in Dandi, similar acts of civil disobedience took place in other parts of India.
  • In Bengal, for instance, volunteers led by Satish Chandra Dasgupta walked from Sodepur Ashram to the village of Mahisbathan to make salt. K.F Nariman in Bombay led another group of marchers to Haji Ali Point where they prepared salt at a nearby park.
  • The illegal manufacture and sale of salt was accompanied by the boycott of foreign cloth and liquor. What started as salt satyagraha soon grew into mass satyagraha.
  • Forest laws were flouted in Maharashtra, Karnataka and the Central Provinces. Peasants in Gujarat and Bengal refused to pay land and chowkidar taxes.
  • Acts of violence too broke out in Calcutta, Karachi and Gujarat, but unlike what happened during the non-cooperation movement, Gandhi refused to suspend the civil disobedience movement this time.

Parallel Movements all over India

  1. Non-payment of revenue in ryotwari areas.
  2. The no-chowkidar-tax campaign in the zamindari area.
  3. Violation of forest laws in the Central Provinces.
  4. In April 1930, C. Rajagopalachari organized a march from Thiruchirapalli to Vedaranniyam on the Tanjore coast to break the salt law.
  5. K. Kelappan, a Nair Congress leader famed for the Vaikom Satyagraha, organized salt marches in the Malabar region.
  6. Andhra Region District salt marches were organized in east and West Godavari, Krishna, and Guntur.
  7. Under Gopalbandhu Chaudhuri, a Gandhian leader, salt satyagraha proved effective in the coastal regions of Balasore, Cuttack, and Puri districts of Odisha.
  8. On May 21, 1930, Sarojini Naidu, Imam Sahib, and Manilal took up the unfinished task of leading a raid on the Dharasana Salt Works.
  9. A no-revenue campaign was organized; a call was given to zamindars to refuse to pay revenue to the government in the United Province.
  10. Rani Gaidinliu, a Naga spiritual leader took this movement in the Northeast part of India.

These movements signified that Indians can unite against the common external force like the Britishers. The Britishers came down a step from their high-handedness and made an offer on 31st October 1929 which was called as “Irwin Offer” for Round table conferences.

Gandhi-Irwin Pact

  • This Gandhi-Irwin Pact Delhi Pact, also known as the Delhi Pact, placed Congress on an equal footing with the government.
  • Irwin on behalf of the government agreed on-
    1. immediate release of all political prisoners not convicted of violence;
    2. remission of all fines not yet collected;
    3. the return of all lands not yet sold to third parties;
    4. lenient treatment to those government servants who had resigned;
    5. right to make salt in coastal villages for personal consumption (not for sale);
    6. right to peaceful and non-aggressive picketing; and
    7. withdrawal of emergency ordinances.
  • The viceroy, however, turned down two of Gandhi’s demands
    1. a public inquiry into police excesses, and
    2. commutation of Bhagat Singh and his comrades’ death sentence to life sentence.
  • Gandhi on behalf of the Congress agreed
    1. to suspend the civil disobedience movement, and
    2. to participate in the next Round Table Conference on the constitutional question around the three lynch-pins of the federation, Indian responsibility, and reservations and safeguards that may be necessary for India’s interests (covering such areas as defence, external affairs, the position of minorities, financial credit of India and discharge of other obligations). 

So the movement was withdrawn through the Gandhi-Irwin Pact of 5 March 1931 and Congress agreed to participate in the Second Round Table Conference to discuss the future constitution of India. But the negotiations with the British Government failed and Gandhi returned empty-handed from the conference. The Civil disobedient movement was renewed with greater vigour but evidently evoked less enthusiasm.

Future Implication of Salt Satyagraha

  • For Congress, however, the Civil Disobedience movement was by no means a failure. It had by now mobilized great political support and gained a moral authority, which was converted into a massive electoral victory in 1937.
  • In this first election under the Government of India Act of 1935, which offered a franchise to a larger electorate, Congress achieved an absolute majority in five out of eleven provinces, i.e., Madras, Bihar, Orissa, C.P. and U.P., the near majority in Bombay and became the single largest party in Bengal, which was a Muslim majority province
  • But this office acceptance also symbolized the victory within Congress command structures of the right-wingers who preferred constitutional politics to agitational methods of Gandhi.


By this, we can understand that Gandhiji has unified Indians against the Britishers under the salt tax. This movement touched the untouched part of society. People who are protesting against their governments today can learn many valuable things from the walks of life of Gandhiji.

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