The Salt March Begins in India

Around , a flurry of articles began to appear in the English-language press about the possibility of a tax resistance campaign in India in service of the nationalist independence campaign there. Here are some examples.

From the Devon and Exeter Gazette:

Indian Boycott.

Passive Resistance Projected.

The All-India Congress Council, following the failure of the talk between the Viceroy and Congress leaders, has drafted a resolution declaring that Swaraj, in the Congress creed, shall mean complete independence. As a preliminary step towards organising the campaign for independence, the resolution declares a complete boycott of the Central and Provincial Legislatures, and calls upon Congressmen to abstain from participating, directly or indirectly, in future elections, and upon present members of the Legislature to tender their resignations. It also authorises the All-India Congress Committee, whenever it deems fit, to launch a programme of civil disobedience, including non-payment of taxes.

The resolution will come immediately before the Congress for consideration.

The Bardoli tax strike had taken place the previous year and had proven the power of the tactic for wresting concessions from the government. Lord Irwin, Viceroy of India under the British imperial government, had been negotiating with the Indian National Congress, but those negotiations collapsed on .

Here’s another report, from the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail:

The outlook in India has taken a turn for the worse. The Working Committee of the All-India National Congress has drafted an extreme resolution rejecting the round table conference proposed by the Viceroy. The resolution advocates complete independence and the Dominion status scheme is dropped. The Committee proposes to boycott the Central and Provincial Legislatures from which Congressmen will be asked to resign. The Congress Committee seeks power to launch at any moment a programme of passive resistance including the non-payment of taxes. Possibly the majority of Congress do not accept these views but the general feeling in India appears to be that the rank and file will drop into line with the leaders.

And here’s how the Albuquerque Journal reported the news (via a United Press wire report):

Revolt Talk in India Growing; 80,000 Gather to Take Action

Sunday May See, at Lahore, Declaration of Independence From the Rule of Great Britain

Refuse to Pay Tax; Passive Resistance

That Is Suggestion of Mahatma Ghandi [sic]; But Hot Heads Want to Proclaim Open Warfare

 — Eighty thousand Indians, about to proclaim their country free and independent of Great Britain, jostled and fought their way to the meeting place of the Indian national congress . The declaration of independence, which will be followed by refusal to pay taxes, participate in the legislative assembly under British rule, and by a general policy of passive resistance, probably will be introduced at the first plenary session .

The weather was bitterly cold, but the delegates, inspired by their religious beliefs, suffered willingly. Many delegates from the Punjab were observed to had [sic] added a warm coat — obviously made in England — to their turbans and wide trousers. However, many from the south, thinly clad, suffered intensely, in compliance with the boycott against foreign cloth ordered by Mahatma Gandhi.

The ascetic and spiritual leader of the hopes and aspirations of millions of Indians added merely a strip of cloth across the shoulders to his loin cloth.

Talk of Revolt

While Gandhi is opposed to violence and has consistently urged an attitude of merely passive resistance, hot heads in the convention muttered of revolt.

At ’s session of the subjects committee, N.C. Kelkar of Bombay led the opposition to Gandhi’s resolution proclaiming the policy of the congress. Kelkar moved an amendment urging the president of the congress, Jawaharlal Nehru, to call another convention of all parties, similar to the one which framed the famous Nehru report, before finally changing the creed of the congress.

The first open rupture came , when Subhas Chandra Bose, of Bengal, resigned from the working committee and walked out with [24?] followers. His action was in protest against a ruling [made?] by Motilal Nehru (the elder) in the Bengal election dispute, which took control of the party in Bengal from Bose.

From the Devon and Exeter Gazette:

Indian Trouble Launched.

Congress Adopts Gandhi Resolution.

Passive Resistance.

Mr. Gandhi’s resolution was adopted by the All-India Congress by an overwhelming majority.

The resolution expresses appreciation of the efforts of the Viceroy towards a peaceful settlement of the National movement; declares that no good purpose would be served by attending a round-table conference; declares that Congress shall in future mean complete independence; calls for a complete boycott of the Central and Provincial Legislatures; calls for present members to tender their resignations; and authorises the All-India Congress Committee to launch a programme of civil disobedience, including non-payment of taxes. — Reuter

The edition of the paper suggested that the campaign hadn’t gotten off to a very good start:

Indian Passive Resisters.

A Poor Start.

The non-tax movement started in Bandabila has practically collapsed. Its leader has been further charged with attempted murder in connexion with an assault on a collecting agent. — Reuter

The following report, from the Western Morning News and Mercury concerns an action that predated the Congress resolution and was a spontaneous, grassroots satyagraha that gained Gandhi’s support after it was launched. It seems to have been about local grievances rather than about the independence struggle:

Farmers Satisfied

End of Forced Labour Dispute in India

Following the settlement of the dispute at Khakharechi, a village in Kathiawar, those taking part in the “civil disobedience” campaign have resolved to cease further activities with regard to the dispute.

The leader of the local farmers, who was arrested for his part in the resistance to the system of “forced labour” and certain taxes which were thought to be unjust, has now been released, and declares that the farmers are quite satisfied with the settlement.

When the passive resistance campaign began Mr. Gandhi expressed his approval of it. — Reuter.

The cherry on top of this campaign would be Gandhi’s famous salt march. The following report, from the Yorkshire Post, touches on the salt tax angle for the first time:

Civil Disobedience in India.

Mr. Gandhi Plans Along Two Lines.

Defiance of Salt Tax.

Mr. Gandhi’s concrete proposals for the campaign of passive resistance with the Government have been tentatively formulated, and will be informally explained to the members of the Congress Working Committee, which meets .

Mr. Gandhi’s one object has been to evolve a plan of action which should not run the risk of being interrupted by a repetition of the tragedy at Chauri Chaura, which led to the suspension of his non-co-operation movement, and it is stated that he has arrived at a suitable formula.

His proposal seems to be that Congress should not directly control or lead a campaign of civil disobedience, but should agree to give moral support to the Council of War which should conduct the operations in selected areas in the country. It is learned that Mr. Gandhi is prepared to meet the contingency which may arise if Congress refuses to play a merely passive part. His move then will be to start a campaign without the authority of Congress.

Alternative Methods.

Mr. Gandhi seems to be inclined to favour alternative methods, to be adopted according as best suits the area selected. A no-tax campaign on the lines of Bardoli may be adopted where the atmosphere has been prepared, while concerted defiance of the Government salt monopoly may be decided in other places. Later a proposal will be carried out along two lines; firstly the production of salt by the people wherever natural facilities offer; secondly the organisation of the dock-workers at Calcutta and other ports, with a view to securing their united refusal to handle imported foreign salt. — Reuter.

The Western Morning News and Mercury brought us up to date as the Salt March was about to begin:

India No-Tax Campaign

Lack of Success in Some Districts

Mr. Gandhi’s March Propaganda

It is understood that Mr. Gandhi contemplates leading the first batch of volunteers from the Sabaramathi Ashram (seminary) on foot so soon as the period of notice given to the Viceroy expires. This procedure is regarded by Mr. Gandhi and his followers as calculated greatly to help on his propaganda.

The Congress Committee of the Tamilnadu district, north of Madras, meeting at Vellore , says a Madras message, passed a resolution welcoming the Congress Working Committee’s decision authorizing Mr. Gandhi to initiate civil disobedience, calling upon the Tamilnadu people to give every assistance and co-operation to the campaign, and authorizing Mr. Raja Gopala Chari, one of Gandhi’s lieutenants, to determine when and in what manner the campaign shall be started in this province. — Reuter.

Mr. Benn Questioned

Commons Statement on Tax Resistance

Replying to Mr. Wardlaw Milne (Con., Kidderminster), in the House of Commons , Mr. Wedgewood Benn, Secretary for India, said that in certain districts in Bengal attempts had been in progress for some weeks to organize resistance to the payment of the Union Board Tax with the assistance, or at the instigation of, the local Congress Party.

According to his latest information, except in the one district of Bandabilia, they had met with no success. At Bandabilia the movement began as long ago as , but the tax was now being collected with less difficulty in certain villages in Burmah.

There had been a recrudescence of the resistance to the capitation tax, but this had now collapsed. He had no information as to any instances in connection with the salt tax.

Finally, the march began, and an Associated Press was there to file this report, which I take from the Reading [Pennsylvania] Times of :

Gandhi Starts on Rebel March

150,000 See India Mystic Leave ‘College’ with 70 Followers

 — Mahatma Gandhi, Indian leader and mystic, led his pioneer band of volunteers out of his quarters here at and started his march to the Gulf of Cambay, opening his campaign of civil disobedience to the Indian government.

As Gandhi, with a firm step despite his 61 years, emerged from his “Ashram,” or college of devotees, at the head of his volunteers a great shiver of excitement ran through the throng. Almost the whole population of Ahmadabad, nearly 150,000 normally and swollen by visitors that have been flocking here for days to see Gandhi depart, was present.

Gandhi will address the villagers at Asali, through which he will pass at about .

Refuse to Pay Tax; Demand Independence

The departure of Mahatma Gandhi and his 70 volunteers on their 20-day march to Jalalpur, not only opens their civil disobedience campaign against the Indian government, but begins in earnest the latest struggle of Indian Nationalists for emancipation from British rule.

The history of their demands shows a constant increase in the measure of emancipation sought. Until this year they had asked first, for home rule, then for Dominion status within the British empire, and finally for complete independence. It is now the last that they are fighting for.

“Civil disobedience” embraces the non-payment of taxes and similar resistance to the government.

The Taunton Courier of told the story this way:

India Peril.

500,000 Demonstrate at Bombay.

Salt Tax Effigy Thrown Into Sea.

Rebel Leaders Sent to Jail.

Crowds, estimated at 500,000, including thousands of women and children, thronged into Bombay on to take part in the demonstration announced by Mahatura [sic] Gandhi to be the last day of the so-called National Week, when the salt tax was formally “killed and buried.”

From sunrise the dense throngs trailed out to Chaupatti sands, carrying pots to take sea-water home, and the streets resounded with patriotic songs, and catch-phrases as “The salt law has been broken.”

The proceedings culminated towards sunset, when crowds went out to the beach, and an effigy of the Salt Act was thrown into the sea.

Obviously actuated though the crowds were by some sort of mysterious enthusiasm, their behaviour was orderly, and the day was not marked by any untoward incident.

Gandhi’s volunteers observed the day as a partial fast, eating once only in 36 hours, and they refrained from collecting or disposing of salt.

Gandhi appealed to a large crowd of men and women who had gathered in a dry creek under a blazing sun, “to pass through the heat of misery,” and not to throw stones at Government officials.

Meanwhile, there came a report from Bombay that two bomb outrages had occurred in connection with the Great Indian Peninsula railway strike.

Extremist Leaders Imprisoned.

Police Rounding Up Salt Law Breakers.

Events moved swiftly in India on with the imprisonment of two extremist leaders.

Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, president of the All-India Congress, was arrested at Allahbad on a charge of infringing the Salt Law.

He was seized at the railway station on the point of leaving for Raipur, and taken to gaol.

News of his arrest spread through Bombay like wildfire, and within a few minutes the cotton, bullion, seeds, and share markets had suspended business. Members of the Bombay Congress Committee immediately decided to observe a “hartal” (day of mourning).

Later the pundit was brought up at Naini and sentenced to six months’ simple imprisonment. There was a demonstration in front of the gaol, where a large number of people gathered waving national flags.

Meanwhile, at Calcutta, Mr. Sen Gupta, the Mayor, and five students, were sentenced to six months’ rigorous imprisonment for sedition, conspiracy, and obstructing the police.

The Swarajist Mayor was arrested while reading proscribed literature to a meeting of students.

Sixteen persons were also arrested at Lucknow on and five in Bombay for offences against the Salt Law.

Gandhi’s Sons Arrested.

Mr. Gandhi’s son, Ram Das, who was arrested for breach of the salt laws at Bhimrad, has been sentenced to six months’ rigorous imprisonment. Mr. Jarunalal Bajaj and two other volunteers have each been sentence to two years’ rigorous imprisonment and fines of £20. They were accused of inciting a crowd to lawbreaking.

While his father was looking in vain for a policeman who would lock him up on , another of Mr. Gandhi’s sons, Davi Das Gandhi, and Mr. Shanker Lal, president of the district congress, were arrested for making salt at Salumpur. Altogether 25 volunteers were arrested and 13 of them were detained in custody.

Gandhi himself was arrested in the wee hours of and would be held without trial until .

Another article on the same page said that “untouchables” in India were going to start their own passive resistance campaign to interfere with Gandhi’s march by blockading it as a way of highlighting their own struggle. This is the first I’d heard of this.

Finally, this comes from the Mason City, Iowa Globe-Gazette, also via Associated Press:

Refuse to Pay Tax to British

“No Swarage, No Revenue,” Say 50,000 Indian Peasants.

 — Non-payment of taxes, one of the planks of the civil disobedience campaign platform, appears to be gaining ground in some sections of India.

All-India national congress reports say that 50,000 peasants of the Bardoli region have left their homes, resolved not to pay land taxes until Swaraj, or home-rule is established. Many left their household goods, chattels, crops behind, the government confiscating and auctioning them off.

The peasants are said to have for their slogan, “No Swaraj, No Revenue.” The leaders of the movement declare the peasants will not pay until Mahatma Gandhi is released from jail and has ordered them to pay.

The Bardoli district has an area of about 222 square miles containing 123 villages with a total population of 88,000 of whom 82,000 are rural. The annual land revenue exceeds $133,000.