Towards Civil Disobedience
Towards Civil Disobedience

BACKGROUND: Contextually, from Swadeshi and Boycott Movement 1905 to Gandhian Non-Cooperation Movement 1920-1922, the strategy for accomplishing “SWARAJ” or “DOMINION STATUS” for India had transitioned through various phases- from Extremist strategy to Revolutionary Phase-1, from Militant Nationalism to Home-Rule Movement, and from Home-Rule Movement to Gandhian Non-Cooperation Movement and thereafter in the 1920s, it became bi-directional- 1. Swarajist Party embraced the policy of impeding Legislative Councils and 2. Revolutionaries of Second Phase adopted destructive methodology and political assassination for terrorizing imperialists and thereby contending for “SWARAJ” but what had been achieved by Indians? Conceivably, the straightforward answer could be “NOTHING… NOTHING AT ALL.”

Though from Revolutionary Phase-I to Revolutionary Phase-II, the nationalists failed to acquire SWARAJ for India this transitional phase from the 1920s to 1930s witnessed the ideological evolution of not only revolutionaries who were involved in this setting but also national leaders who were performing constitutionally in a direction that the nationwide demand became more explicit and precise, from SWARAJ to POORNA SWARAJ, from DOMINION STATUS to COMPLETE INDEPENDENCE. It was Gandhian unsuccessful yet historic “Civil Disobedience Movement” that captioned the starting point of non-violent revolution towards complete independence.

This article critically examines the ideological development of Gandhian nationalist struggle for independence from Non-Cooperation Movement to Civil Disobedience Movement by focusing at the chronological sequence of events like- Delhi Manifesto, Nehru’s Declaration for “Poorna-Swaraj”, Gandhian Vision for “Salt-Satyagraha”, Gandhian Civil Disobedience Movement and Round-Table Conferences etc. At last, I evaluated the differences between the Non-Cooperation Movement and Civil Disobedience Movement for adequately understanding the effectiveness of these movements.


Gandhian Planning Strategy for Satyagraha
Gandhian Planning Strategy for Satyagraha

Aftermath the suspension of Non-Cooperation Movement, Gandhi had been convicted to 6-years of detention in Yerwada jail in 1922 on the pretext of publishing three seditious articles in “Young India” but later on, he was unconditionally remitted in 1924 on health issues. Back from imprisonment, he noticed the resurgence of Second-Phase of Revolutionary Terrorism in India whom he thoroughly condemned and the political growth of Swarajists who were intrepidly operative within the legislative councils for thwarting the excruciating colonial decisions like Public Safety Bill. However, Gandhi assisted Swarajists in Belgaum Session, 1924 and called them the integral part of Indian National Congress but he mostly remained politically passive.

During 1924-1928, Gandhi was constructively campaigning for building strong and stable Hindu-Muslim relations, women empowerment and eradication of untouchability but by 1928, Gandhi re-thought to re-enter into politics but instead of direct entry, he re-travelled throughout India for refurbishing his non-violent nationalist emotions in India for a remarkable political action in near future. Meanwhile, the Viceroy of India Lord Irwin declared on 31 October 1929 that the government aspire to constitutionally provide India with what nationals had been invariably demanding-“Dominion Status” for India. Although there was no-specification of time gravitated towards Irwin’s Declaration, the nationalists published a Delhi Manifesto on 2 November 1929 that enumerated following points:

  1. Round-Table Conferences that had been promised by the colonial government should concentrate on the instantaneous enactment of the new constitution procuring dominion status to India.
  2. Indian National Congress should have majority representation in the Conference.
  3.  There should be a general amnesty for political prisoners.


When this manifesto was brought to Irwin for consideration, he blatantly renounced it that infuriated the national leaders all over the country. Consequently, Jawaharlal Nehru, being the President of Lahore Session of Indian National Congress 1929, proclaimed “SWARAJ” or “COMPLETE INDEPENDENCE” as the goal of INC. Other important decisions that were taken in Lahore Session are followed:

  1. Complete Boycott of Round-Table Conferences
  2. Congress Working Committee was designated to commence a civil disobedience program that will involve the resignation from government office, statuses and non-payment of taxes etc.

Amidst the slogans of Inquilab Zindabad on the banks of River Ravi on 26 January 1930, Jawaharlal Nehru hoisted the newly-adopted tricolour and declared the target of nationalist movement is to secure “Poorna Swaraj.” On this auspicious occasion, thousands of the national leaders and rainbow-like gathering from all over the country pledged for “establishing poorna-swaraj.” This day was fixed as the “INDEPENDENCE DAY” which marked the advent of the large-magnitude national struggle for complete independence.

Soon after the extravaganza of Independence Day, Gandhi dispatched a letter to Viceroy Lord Irwin on 31 January 1930 for defining their 11 demands ranging from the nullification of salt taxes to reduction of land revenue by 50 per cent which if not accepted will force the nationals to initiate Civil Disobedience Movement but he completely ignored this ultimatum and stayed expressionless. Now with no route left, tormented Gandhi proclaimed his decision to march against the authoritative imposition of “salt-taxes” that deprived masses to manufacture the indispensable domestic product SALT at home. He asserted- “Salt tax is the most inhuman poll tax the ingenuity of man can devise.

Salt Satyagraha
Salt Satyagraha

Glimpsing on the character of dictatorial salt taxes, one could easily comprehend the horrendous aftermaths of this colonial legislation- Levying high tariffs on the sale of a domestic item like salt and monopolizing its production could result in starvation of thousands of destitute and economically poor masses, could prohibit the public accessibility to natural spaces, could not merely annihilate the natural sources but also the national expenditure.

Sensitized of these pernicious impacts, Gandhi eventually inaugurated Salt Satyagraha or Dandi March on 12 March 1930 for transgressing the salt-laws.  Escorted with 78 of his trusted followers, Gandhi started his revolutionary 240-miles march from his ashram in Sabarmati to Dandi and after 24 days, he picked up a lump of salt and violated the salt-law on 6 April 1930. Like Ambedkar’s revolutionary action to drink water from Chavadar Tank during Mahad Satyagraha 1927, Gandhi’s violation of salt laws 1930 was the extensive manifestation of initiation of Civil Disobedience Movement throughout India.

Nerved of smouldering disaffection amongst satyagrahis, Irwin re-suggested Indian National Congress in July 1930 to attend Round-Table Conferences for re-considering the demand of dominion-status for India. For discussing this matter, Motilal Nehru and Jawaharlal Nehru went to Gandhi in Yerwada jail in August 1930 and finalized three demands-“Right of Succession from Britain”, Complete National Government with defence and financial powers, and Independent Tribunal for settling British financial claims but no decision had been taken whether to attend RTC or not.

Although Gandhi was arrested on 4 May 1930 for defying the colonial salt-legislation and the ferocious protests were conducted in Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta against his detention but the gigantic waves of civil disobedience that surged as a reaction of his action throughout India remained broadly uncontrollable and impeccable.

FIRST ROUND-TABLE CONFERENCE [November 1930 -January 1931]

Roundtable Conference
Roundtable Conference

Eventually, Viceroy of India Lord Irwin convened the First Round Table Conference between November 1930 and January 1931 in London that was chaired by Prime Minister of Britain Ramsay MacDonald. It had been attended by the representatives of different sub-sections of Indian society- the delegates of Muslim League, Hindus, Justice Party, Sikhs, liberals, Parsis, Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans, landlords, labour, women, universities, Sindh, Burma, princely states, and the representatives from the Government of India but was completely boycotted by the premier political party of India i.e. Indian National Congress and the pre-eminent nationalist Gandhi.

Although substantial decisions regarding formation of the federation, protection of minorities etc. were taken, none of them was implemented because the colonial government realized the urgent need to involve Indian National Congress with the formation of the constitutional framework for India.


Immediately after the completion of First RTC, Gandhi and the members of Congress Working Committee who had been arrested during Civil Disobedience Movement were unconditionally discharged on 25 January 1931 and thereafter, the series of proceedings were facilitated between Gandhi and Lord Irwin by Tej Bahadur Sapru and M.R. Jayakar for mutually negotiating the dissension. As a climax, Gandhi-Irwin Pact or Delhi-Pact was signed in Delhi between them on 14 February 1931 that emphasized the following points:

Ø  Irwin, as the representative of British Imperial Government, accepted the Gandhian demands for remitting fines, manufacturing salt in coastal areas for personal usage, withdrawal of emergency ordinances, releasing the political prisoners who were not convicted of violence etc. but he also rejected two demands- a public inquiry into police accesses and commutation of Bhagat Singh and his comrades from a death sentence to a life sentence.

Ø  Gandhi, as the representative of India, agreed to withdraw the ongoing Civil Disobedience Movement and promised Congress participation in future Round-Table Conference.

On contextual analysis, it could be noticed that Gandhi-Irwin Pact was conflicted and criticized on the expansive scale for primarily two reasons- 1. Firstly, Gandhi, in accordance to Delhi Pact, suddenly suspended the civil-disobedience movement that left the masses not only despondent but also bewildered and consequently, when the movement was later resumed, it couldn’t gravitate larger public. 2. Secondly, Gandhi’s failure to prevent the death sentence of Bhagat Singh and his comrades in Gandhi-Irwin Pact further added fuel to public’s fury that they collectively demonstrated with black flags to welcome Gandhi in Karachi Session of INC.

One month after Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed, Indian National Congress conducted its special session in Karachi to publicly endorse this pact under the president-ship of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Two important resolutions that were adopted in Karachi Session, March 1931 dealt with fundamental rights of citizens and national economic program. Under Resolution of Fundamental Rights, the citizens are intended to be empowered with freedom of speech and expression, right to assemble and to vote, equality before law irrespective of caste, gender or race, free-primary education and protection of socio-cultural and linguistic interests of minorities etc. while under Resolution on National Economic Programme, it included:

  • Reform in the land revenue and rent on land to give relief to small peasantry and exemption of revenue in case of uneconomic landholdings.
  • Reduction in military expenditure by at least one half of the present scale.
  • Relief from the agricultural indebtedness.
  • Control on usury and money lending.
  • Improvements in the working conditions, improvement in the living wage, limited hours of work and protection for women workers.
  • Right to form unions for workers and peasants.
  • Government ownership and control of key industries, mines, and means of transport.
  • Regulation of currency and exchange rate in the National interest.


In the meantime, the National Government replaced the Labour Government in England and Lord Willingdon was appointed as the Viceroy of India who organized the Second-Round Table Conference on 7 September 1931 in London. Like First Round Table Conference, it had been attended by the representatives of different sub-sections of Indian society- the delegates of Muslim League, Hindus, Justice Party, Sikhs, liberals, Parsis, Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans, landlords, labour, women, universities, Sindh, Burma, princely states, and the representatives from the Government of India but this time Gandhi arrived as the sole-representative of Indian National Congress.

It is during this conference in London that Gandhi clearly stated that Indian National Congress is the political body of All-India and therefore, he politically represents all the micro and macro-sections of India and therefore, rejected the demand of communal representation of Muslims, Depressed Sections, and other minorities.

Gandhi-Ambedkar Clash
Gandhi-Ambedkar Clash

According to Gandhi, the communal representation to Depressed Sections would infinitely disintegrate the untouchables from Hindus, as reflected in his words:

Separate Electorates to the “untouchables” will ensure them bondage in perpetuity… Do you want the untouchables to remain “untouchables” forever? Well, the separate electorates will perpetuate the stigma. {Gandhi in Second-Roundtable Conference}

According to Ambedkar, the communal representation to depressed sections will empower the socially-paralyzed section with crucial political safeguards that will uplift their socio-political status in society:

“We, the Depressed Classes, demand a complete partition between ourselves and the Hindus… We’ve been called Hindus for political purposes, but we’d never been acknowledged socially by the Hindus as their brethren.” [From K.N. Kadam’s “Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and the Significance of His Movement” page no. 33]

[For Gandhian and Ambedkar perspective on this topic, refer to ‘From Separate Electorates to Caste Reservation: Understanding Radical Ambedkar Ideology for Uplifting Dalits in India 1920-1930’]

Amidst the dissension between the radical Ambedkar and the pre-eminent Gandhi over the subject of communal representation, the Second Roundtable Conference also proved to be irrelevant and politically insignificant and it ended on 1931 without any concrete result.

Back in India in December 1931, Gandhi discovered the new phase of government repression that had surged during his absence. He came to know that Congress had been illegalized and Nehru and other political activists had been arrested on seditious charges and many more. Irked at the futility of Delhi-Pact, Gandhi re-launched Civil-Disobedience Movement by the end of December 1931 and eventually unprepared but enraged masses participated in the movement. Later, Gandhi was arrested on 4 January 1932.


By August 1932, British Prime Minister, based on the conclusions of Indian Franchise Committee or Lothian Committee, declared the communal representation and reserved seats for depressed classes,   Muslims, Europeans, Sikhs, Indian-Christians, Anglo-Indians and even Marathas. It popularly came to be known as “Communal Award.” While in prison, in September 1930, Gandhi resisted against this colonial decision by announcing his fast unto death. Amidst a lot of political pressure, Ambedkar who was aware of the Brahminical anger on Dalits over Gandhi’s demise compromisingly negotiated with him in form of Poona Pact on 24 December 1932. Under this pact, he managed to get 147 reserved seats in Provincial Legislature and 18% of the total population in Central Legislature for Depressed Classes. 


By the end of 1932, Third Round Table Conference was also convened which like first Round-Table Conference had been attended by the representatives of various sections of Indian society but was boycotted by Gandhi and therefore, it remained almost un-noticeable. Based on the recommendations of these Round-Table Conferences, the Government of India Act 1935 was enacted. By 1934, the backbone of this movement seemed to lose strength and Gandhi finally withdrew this movement in April of that year.


From Non-Cooperation Movement to Civil Disobedience Movement, there was a dynamic strategic shift and development in Gandhian political ideology of Non-Violence and Satyagraha while the policy of non-cooperation stressed on non-violently boycotting the government based institutions and positions, the philosophy of civil disobedience could be considered as an extrapolation of this basic theorem of non-cooperation since it not only empowered masses to withdraw its support from imperialists but also empowers them to disobey the repressive colonial laws and protocols.

Therefore, the gravitation towards the Civil Disobedience Movement was incredible and much more than that towards the Non-Cooperation Movement which made the former comparatively more effective than the latter. In the long term, both Gandhian movements can be called impactful for integrating India against Imperialism.


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