Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience Movement
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Civil disobedience is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power. Civil disobedience is commonly, though not always, defined as being nonviolent resistance. It is one form of civil resistance. In one view (in India, known as ahimsa or satyagraha) it could be said that it iscompassion in the form of respectful disagreement. The Civil Disobedience Movement led by M K Gandhi, in the year 1930 was an important milestone in the history of Indian Nationalism. There are three distinct phases that mark the development of Indian Nationalism. In the first phase, the ideology of the moderates dominated the political scenario. This was followed by the prominence of the extremist ideologies. In the third phase of Indian Nationalism the most significant incident was the rise of MK Gandhi, popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi, to power as the leader of Indian National Movements. Under his spirited guidance, the National Movements of the country took shape. Factors Leading to the Civil Disobedience Movement
The prevalent political and social circumstances played a vital role in the launching of the Civil Disobedience Movement. The Simon Commission 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. In the wake of the boycott of the recommendations proposed by Simon Commission, an All-Party Conference was organized in Bombay in May of 1928. Dr MA Ansari was the president of the conference. Motilal Nehru was given the responsibility to preside over the drafting committee, appointed at the conference to prepare a constitution for India.
Barring the Indian Muslims, The Nehru Report was endorsed by all segments of the Indian society. The Indian National Congress pressurized the British government to accept all the parts the Nehru Report, in December 1928. At the Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress held in December, 1928, the British government was warned that if India was not granted the status of a dominion, a Civil Disobedience Movement would be initiated in the entire country. Lord Irwin, the Governor General, after a few months, declared that the final objective of the constitutional reforms was to grant the status of a dominion to India. Following this declaration, Gandhi along with other national leaders requested the Governor General to adopt a more liberal attitude in solving the constitutional crisis. A demand was made for the release of the political prisoners and for holding the suggested Round Table Conference for reflecting on the problems regarding the constitution of the country.
None of the efforts made by the Congress received any favorable response from the British government. The patience of the Indian masses were wearing out. The political intelligentsia of the country was sure that the technique of persuasion would not be effective with the British government. The Congress had no other recourse but to launch the Civil Disobedience Movement. In Bardoli, the peasants had already taken to satyagraha under the guidance of Sardar Patel in the year 1928. Their non tax agitations were partially successful. The Congress took the decision to use the non violent weapon of satyagraha on a nation wide scale against the government.
The Launch of the Civil Disobedience Movement
MK 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.
Dandi Salt March had an immense impact on the entire nation. Each and every corner of the country was gripped in a unique fervor of nationalism. Soon this act of violation of the Salt Laws assumed an all India character. The entire nation amalgamated under the call of a single man, Mahatma Gandhi. There were reports of satyagrahas and instances of law violation from Bombay, Central and United Provinces, Bengal and Gujarat. The program of the Civil Disobedience Movement incorporated besides the breaking of the Salt Laws, picketing of shops selling foreign goods and liquor, bonfire of cloth, refusal to pay taxes and avoidance of offices by the public officers and schools by the students. Even the women joined forces against the British. Those from orthodox families did not hesitate to respond to the call of the Mahatma. They took active part in the picketing exercises. Perturbed by the growing popularity of the movement, the British government imprisoned Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, in a bid to thwart it. Thus, the second struggle for attaining Swaraj launched by the Congress, under the able guidance of Mahatma, served the critical function of mobilizing the masses on a large scale against the British.
In the March of 1930, Gandhi met with the Viceroy, Lord Irwin and signed an agreement known as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. Gandhiji was arrested on 5th may 1930 just days before his projected raid on the dharasana slt works. The dandi march and the resultant dharasana satyagraha drew worldwide attention to the CDM through widespread newspaper and newsreel coverage. In fact, Satyagraha was such a step towards the disobedience movement that it came to sunonymous with Indian freedom struggle and non-violence. It continued for almost a year, ending with the release oF MG frm jail n after the discussions at the second round table conference with Viceroy Lord Irwin. The two main clauses of the pact entailed; Congress participation in the Round Table Conference and cessation of The Civil Disobedience Movement. The Government of India released all satyagrahis from prison.
Renewal of the Civil Disobedience Movement
On behalf of the Congress, Gandhi agreed to discontinue the movement, to stop the boycott of British commodities and to take part in the 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. Gandhi’s claim was not endorsed by the British and also the Muslim representative. On behalf of the government the Viceroy agreed to withdraw the emergency ordinances promulgated in connection with the Civil Disobedience Movement, to restore the confiscated property, to permit the people to collect or manufacture salt free of duty, to permit peaceful picketing of liquor or opium and foreign cloth shops and to set free all political prisoners except those who were guilty of violence. The pact had a mixed reaction. The left-wing of the congress felt that Gandhi had unwillingly sold India, while the conservatives in England thought that Irwin had sold Britain. The youth were disappointed with the bargain as it failed to save Bhagat Singh and his comrades from the death penalty. While Gandhi felt that the enthusiasm of the people was on the wane and a campaign might not last for long, the bureaucracy was worried about the failure of law and order.
To quote Zacharias, ” it was a victory of both sides and stands as a monument to the good sense and high patriotism of both parties thereto.” By entering into a pact with the congress, the Government had in away accepted the congress as a representative organisation of the Indians. The Congress ratified the pact at its session held at Karachi in March 1931 though protests were raised against it. Even Gandhi was shown black flags when he arrived because of his failure to reease Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru who were executed only two days before the Karachi session. The congress suspended the Civil Disobedience Movement and deputed Gandhi to be the sole representative of the Congress to participate in the Second Round Table Conference. The spirit of the Pact was already marred by the execution of Bhagat Singh and his comrades despite pleas from the Congress leaders for mercy. Lord Willingdon, who took overcharge as the next Viceroy began to breach the pact in several respects. In England, while the Second Round Table Conference was still in session, general elections took place and the conservative party came to power in November 1931.
The conservative government was in no mood to grant any concession to India. The Second Round Table Conference proved to be futile for the Indians and Gandhi returned to the country without any positive result in December 1931. The political scene in India thereafter assumed an acute dimension. The Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, in the absence of Gandhi, 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 held responsible by the government to have instigated the ‘Red Shirts’ to participate in The Civil Disobedience Movement, led by Khan 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.
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. Four ordinances were promulgated by the government to deal with the situation. 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. 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. In the mean while, the British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald announced the communal Award on 16 August 1932 by which the Depressed classes in India were to be assigned separate electorate seats in the legislature. Gandhi undertook fast till death to get it revoked.
Finally, the Poona Pact was signedby which the leader of the depressed classes, Dr. Ambedkar accepted representation of depressed classes along with the Hindus though their seats were reserved on the basis of their population. In the mean while, the Third Round Table conference was held from 17 November to 24 December, 1932.The congress boycotted it., The Civil Disobedience Movement was suspended, when Mahatma Gandi withdrew mass satyagraha on July 14th 1933. but suggested continuation of individual satyagraha upto 1934. Finally, the movement ceased completely on April 7th 1934 Consequences
This movement created dissension among the Hindus. The Mac Donald Award led B. R. Ambedkar to organize the depressed classes and wanted them to alienate from Congress for the fulfillment of their goal. The Muslims did not show their sympathy towards this movement, still then; Gandhi was able to mobilize the mass by this Civil Disobedience Movement. Conclusion
Although The Civil Disobedience Movement failed to achieve any positive outcome, it was an important juncture in the history of Indian independence. The butal repression and uncompromising attitude of the Government were primarily responsible for the failure of the Civil Disobedience Movement. The diversion of Gandhi’s attention towards the ‘Communal Award’ and the fate of the untouchables also were responsible for its failure. But this time it was the government which took the initiative and acted with a great swiftness and was determined to crush the movement. The repression was much more brutal and severe than before.
The movement failed because it could not achieve its aim. But the movement, on the otherhand demonstrated the awakening of political consciousness among the Indian masses. It was much more widespread than the Non Cooperation movement and brought to its fold certain fresh segments of the society into the struggle. The Civil Disobedience Movement was unique in many ways. It increased among Indians a spirit of fearlessness, self-reliance, toleration, sacrifice and boldness. It was the second great national movement which brought the Indian mass into the forefront of India’s struggle for freedom. The leadership of Mahatma Gandhi had a beneficial impact. Satyagraha was put on a firm footing through its large scale usage in the movement. Last but not the least India rediscovered its inherent strength and confidence to crusade against the British for its freedom