Gandhi’s Opponents Knew the Danger of His Salt March

Gandhi’s salt march campaign was ridiculed by some at the time for focusing on what was seen as an insignificant, unimportant tax. One parenthetical remark inserted editorially at the end of a contemporary news report on the campaign read:

[Instead of being the “crushing burden” that it is frequently alleged to be, the salt tax, which is one of the few methods open to the Government of India to obtain money from the bulk of the native population is calculated to be equal to two fifths of 1 percent of the average amount spent on food a head.]

Another dispatch helpfully explained that there was a perfectly good reason why Indians should be prohibited from harvesting or trading their own salt — of course, this policy was only for their own good:

It is necessary that the production of salt should be highly organised and controlled by a single authority in order that there can be an equitable distribution of the supply over so extensive an area. If Gandhi’s plan for salt production as a home industry were adopted vast and densely crowded areas where there are no local deposits of brine would have to import salt from other countries at great cost.

Other pro-British news reports at the time ridicule the salt marchers for making only tiny amounts of “by no means palatable” salt that was then seized by the authorities, ostensibly “on the grounds of public health.”

But Gandhi understood the symbolic significance of the campaign, and his opponents did as well, as the following article shows. This comes from The Canberra Times on :


Precautionary Measures in India

Gandhi and his followers are likely to be given little opportunity of breaking the salt tax as part of their campaign of civil disobedience.

The Government has employed hundreds of labourers who are guarded by police and are engaged in destroying the salt crystals which are lying on the seashore near Danmi, the spot where Gandhi proposes to inaugurate his campaign by gathering the salt tax [sic] without the payment of revenue.

The police and labourers are boycotted by the villagers in the neighbourhood and have to journey to a village ten miles away to procure food. Large forces of police are concentrating at Julalpur where Gandhi is due to arrive in a few days.

Importance is attached to the departure of the Sikhs to discuss with the Viceroy the future action of the Bombay Government with regard to Gandhi.

That’s right: the government was so afraid of Gandhi’s campaign that they employed hundreds of people to destroy naturally-occurring salt deposits on the seashore rather than let his satyagrahi army harvest it when they arrived.

The shunning of these official saboteurs and of the police by neighborhood villagers is another interesting note, and shows how the march was also being used as a rallying point to promote solidarity in the nonviolent insurrection.

I wasn’t as enthusiastic about volunteering for VITA this year as I have been in years past. But after running in to the IRS analyst who runs the local program at which I’d been volunteering — while wearing my “Tax Resisters Aren’t Buying It” sandwich board at a recent demonstration — I decided to give it another go.

Said analyst tactfully pretended he hadn’t noticed my protest sign, and I helped four people do their tax returns — each one qualifying for a refund: for some, thousands of dollars.