The Civil Disobedience Movement led by M K Gandhi, in the year 1930 was an important milestone in the history of Indian Nationalism. During the Non-Cooperation Movement, the Indians learnt how philosophical tenets like ‘non violence’ and ‘passive resistance’ could be used to wage political battles. The programs and policies adopted in the movements spearheaded by Gandhi reflected his political ideologies of ahimsa and satyagraha. While the Non-Cooperation Movement was built on the lines of ‘non violent-non-cooperation’, the essence of The Civil Disobedience Movement was ‘defying of the British laws’. Through his leadership to the National Movements, he not only buttressed his political stance but also played a crucial role in unification of the country, awakening of the masses, and bringing politics within the arena of the common man.
Causes of the Civil Disobedience Movement
Simon Commission: One of the main factors was the Simon Commission. This was formed by the British Government that included solely the members of the British Parliament, in November 1927, to draft and formalize a constitution for India. The chairmanship of the commission rested with Sir John Simon, who was a well known lawyer and an English statesman. Accused of being an ‘All-White Commission’, the Simon Commission was rejected by all political and social segments of the country. In Bengal, the opposition to the Simon Commission assumed a massive scale, with a hartal being observed in all corners of the province on February 3rd, 1928. On the occasion of Simon’s arrival in the city, demonstrations were conducted in Calcutta.
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The Nehru Report: The British justified that ‘disharmony among the various groups in the country’ was the reason why Indians were not included in the Simon Commission. In 1925 and 1927, Lord Birkenhead, the Secretary of State, had challenged the Indian leaders to draft a constitution to which all parties would agree (keeping the communal disunity in mind). Representative of the congress, the league, the liberals, the Hindu Mahasabha, the central Sikh league, and a number of smaller groups representing labour, business and other interests, met in an all-parties` conference between February and May 1928. A select committee was appointed for the actual drafting of the constitutional scheme. Pandit Motilal Nehru with Tej Bahadur Sapru, sir Ali Imam, Sardar Mangal Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose as its members. The Nehru committee`s report as it was called was submitted on 10 August, 1928.
The Nehru report stated that the ‘next immediate step for India must be ‘dominion status’. The Nehru report was approved by the congress at Calcutta in December 1928. Gandhiji sponsored a resolution agreeing to ‘dominion status’ so long as the British accepted the Nehru constitution in its entirety, which should happen in one year. If they did not, congress would `organize a campaign of non-violent non-co-operation` which would include refusal to pay taxes. The failure of the Government to comply with the Nehru report finally made the Congress to launch Civil Disobedience Movement under Gandhiji.
The Launch of the Civil Disobedience Movement: First Stage
The Congress Committee met at Sabarmati in February, and invested Gandhi and those working with him’ with full authority to lead and direct the Civil Disobedience campaign. Gandhi was urged by the Congress to render his much needed leadership to the Civil Disobedience Movement.
On the historic day of 12th March, 1930, Gandhi inaugurated ‘The Civil Disobedience Movement’ by conducting the historic Dandi Salt March, where he broke the Salt Laws imposed by the British Government. Followed by an entourage of seventy nine ashramites, Gandhi embarked on his march from his Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi that is located on the shores of the Arabian Sea. On 6th April 1930, Gandhi with the accompaniment of seventy nine satyagrahis, violated the Salt Law by picking up a fistful of salt lying on the sea shore. They manually made salt on the shores of Dandi.
In the meantime, the First Round Table Conference was held in 1930, with no Congress member as the participant of the Conference. This led to the meeting of Gandhi and Lord Irwin, the viceroy in March 1931. Here they signed a pact, which came to be known as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. Accordingly, they agreed on the Discontinuation of the civil disobedience movement by the Indian National Congress participation by the Indian National Congress in the Round Table Conference withdrawal of all ordinances issued by the British Government imposing curbs on the activities of the Indian National Congress withdrawal of all prosecutions relating to several types of offenses except those involving violence release of prisoners arrested for participating in the civil disobedience movement removal of the tax on salt, which allowed the Indians to produce, trade, and sell salt legally and for their own private use.
Second Round Table Conference
Gandhi attended The Second Round Table Conference in London accompanied by Smt. Sarojini Naidu. At this Conference, it was claimed by Mahatma Gandhi that the Congress represented more than eighty five percent of the Indian population.
During this Conference, Gandhi could not reach agreement with the Muslims on Muslim representation and safeguards. Gandhi’s claim of the Congress representing majority was not endorsed by the British and also the Muslim representative. The final blow to Gandhi came when at the end of the conference Ramsay MacDonald undertook to produce a Communal Award for minority representation, with the provision that any free agreement between the parties could be substituted for his award. Thus, the Second Round Table Conference proved to be futile for the Indians and Gandhi returned to the country without any positive result.
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The political scene in India thereafter assumed an acute dimension. The Viceroy, Lord Willington, in the absence of Gandhi has adopted the policy of repression. The Gandhi-Irwin Pact was violated and the Viceroy took to the suppression of the Congress. The Conservative party, which was in power in England, complied with the decision to assume a repressive stance against the Congress and the Indians. The Congress was also held responsible by the government to have instigated the ‘Red Shirts’ to participate in The Civil Disobedience Movement, led byKhan Abdul Ghaffar and provoking the cultivators of U.P to refuse to pay land revenue. Adding to this was the serious economic crisis that took hold of the country. Under such circumstances, the resumption of The Civil Disobedience Movement was inevitable.
Renewal of the Civil Disobedience Movement: Second Stage
The Congress Working Committee took the decision to restart The Civil Disobedience Movement, as the British government was not prepared to relent. Gandhi resumed the movement in January, 1932 and appealed to the entire nation to join in. The Viceroy was also informed of the stance assumed by the Congress.
The police was given the power to arrest any person, even on the basis of mere suspicion. Sardar Patel, the President of Congress and Gandhi were arrested, along with other Congressmen.
Though the second phase of The Civil Disobedience Movement lacked the organization that marked its first phase, nonetheless, the entire nation put up a tough fight and the movement continued for six months.
Communal Award, 1932
Meanwhile, the failure of the Second Round Table conference convinced Mr. MacDonald to announce the ‘Communal Award’ on August 16, 1932. According to the Award the right of separate electorate was not only given to the Muslims of India but also to all the minority communities in the country.
The Award also declared untouchables as a minority and thus the Hindu depressed classes were given a number of special seats, to be filled from special depressed class electorates in the area where their voters were concentrated.
Under the Communal Award, the principle of weightage was also maintained with some modifications in the Muslim minority provinces. Principle of weightage was also applied for Europeans in Bengal and Assam, Sikhs in the Punjab and North West Frontier Province, and Hindus in Sindh and North West Frontier Province. Though the Muslims constituted almost 56 percent of the total population of Punjab, they were given only 86 out of 175 seats in the Punjab Assembly. The Muslim majority of 54.8 percent in Punjab was thus reduced to a minority. The formula favored the Sikhs of Punjab, and the Europeans of Bengal the most.
The Award was not popular with any Indian party. Muslims were not happy with the Communal Award, as it has reduced their majority in Punjab and Bengal to a minority. Yet they were prepared to accept it. In its annual session held in November 1933, the All India Muslim League passed a resolution that reads; “Though the decision falls far short of the Muslim demands, the Muslims have accepted it in the best interest of the country, reserving to themselves the right to press for the acceptance of all their demands.”
On the other hand, the Hindus refused to accept the awards and decided to launch a campaign against it. For them it was not possible to accept the Untouchables as a minority. They organized the Allahabad Unity Conference in which they demanded for the replacement of separate electorates by joint electorates. Many nationalist Muslims and Sikhs also participated in the conference. The Congress also rejected the Award in Toto.
Gandhi protested against the declaration of Untouchables as a minority and undertook a fast unto death. Though he managed to sign the Poona Pact with Dr. B. R. Ambedker, the leader of Untouchables in which the Congress met many of the Untouchables’ demands, the Communal Award was a blow to Gandhiji and he finally decided to suspend and withdraw mass satyagraha on 14th July, 1933. The movement ceased completely on 7th April, 1934.
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