Purna Swaraj is the term the Indian nationalists used for complete self-rule apart from the British Empire. The Indian tri-color flag was officially raised by Indian National Congress President Jawaharlal Nehru in Lahore on New Year’s Eve of 1929 as a statement of Purna Swaraj.
January 26, 1930 the Congress promulgated the Declaration of Independence of India from Great Britain. Congress and nationalists had become resolved to attain total self-rule of their country. The document, in part, said:
“…The British government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually. We believe therefore, that India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj…”
Following the issuance of the Declaration of Independence, Indians and British waited for the next action by Mahatma Gandhi. They didn’t need to wait very long. In February, Gandhi decided to focus on Britain’s salt monopoly. The official government had passed laws, in 1882, to fully control production and distribution of salt in India. Just as America had its Boston Tea Party, so India had its Salt March.
Unlike the American colonists, Gandhi gave a full warning to the British Raj. This was one aspect of Gandhi’s policy of “satyagraha” or total non-violent protest. He addressed a letter of notice to the Viceroy Lord Irwin on March 2, 1930, that on March eleventh, he and his ashram would start to break the 1882 Salt Act if Irwin refused to meet the Congress’s demands.
Gandhi and the congressional Working Committee mapped out the march from his ashram near Ahmedabad, southward to the village of Dandi on the Arabian Sea. On the shore, Gandhi would then commit his act of civil disobedience. Irwin shunned the letter and ignored Gandhi’s invitation for talks.
After giving Irwin an extra day, Gandhi and his party of 78 followers began the 240-mile trek to the shores near Dandi. The Mahatma believed that salt would be the issue to unite all the castes, regions, and towns in the peaceful aim of Purna Swaraj. He encouraged Indians to break the Salt Laws by producing and distributing salt themselves. This would be a major, peaceful challenge to the authority of the Raj.
Along the route, Gandhi’s party stopped at villages where he campaigned against the Raj’s salt monopoly and encouraged Indian officials to resign from office. In addition to salt, he asked all Indians to boycott foreign textiles. As the party journeyed southward, the number of marchers snowballed into the thousands. The protest march also developed into a major international newspaper and radio event.
Gandhi and the mass of people reached Dandi on April fifth. The next morning, the Mahatma reached down and picked up a handful of mud and salt, this technically broke the British Salt Act. In the following days, millions of others broke the laws by either purchasing it illegally, or producing it themselves. In all instances, they refused to pay the salt tax.
On April 24th, Gandhi sent another letter to the Viceroy, informing him of Gandhi’s plans to hold a non-violent protest at the salt works south of Dandi at Dharasana. This time, however, the Raj police arrested him on May fourth, a few days ahead of the protest. Other members of the ashram attempted to lead volunteers to participate in the peaceful protest. They were also arrested and jailed. In the end, Sarojini Naidu, a Working Committee member and poet, led volunteers in the activity.
The string of protests were met by British forces armed with steel-tipped batons. Hundreds of the non-violent volunteers were beaten back, badly injured, and arrested. All the while, foreign journalists reported and filmed the marches and police brutality. International condemnation for the British crackdown soon ensued.
The protests were forced to an end on June sixth. As a result, the Indian National Congress, the Working Committee, and allied groups were outlawed and their property was confiscated by the Raj. Emergency powers and laws were imposed in the summer of 1930. Curfews were imposed and large assemblies and marches were banned, outright.
In response to British repression, more acts of law-breaking and civil disobedience erupted. Raj police and the British Army resorted to beatings and shootings to suppress the protesting civilians. The violence by the Raj eventually caused protesters to retaliate with some instances of violence.
More than 60,000 Indians were arrested and imprisoned by the British Raj. The repression backfired and people began taking pride in defying the British and serving jail sentences. The boycotts of foreign cloth, defying the Salt Act and witholding salt taxes increased in strength.
By the end of 1930, the civilian campaign dwindled due to the mass arrests of leaders and volunteers. Workers stopped attending protests and religious differences between Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs began to surface. Public opinion soon favored some sort of peaceful agreement with the Raj. A conference in London was held in January of 1931 to consider constitutional changes in India. On January 24th, Viceroy Lord Irwin announced that Working Committee members would be released from prison, unconditionally.
After Gandhi’s release, he and Viceroy Irwin finally held talks. On March fifth, the negotiations ended and were signed. The National Congress would halt the satyagraha protests, while the Raj would repeal the regressive orders, withdraw the police, allow organizations to resume operation, and to free political prisoners. Even though the Salt Act would stay in effect, the Raj would no longer interfere with small-scale manufacture of it for private use.
Some Indians were displeased with the truce, and some continued acts of civil disobedience. Gandhi journeyed to London as the only Congressional representative. Those talks became deadlocked and no steps were made towards Indian independence. The cycles of disobedience, Raj violence, and peace resumed until an intermission for World War Two interrupted the Indian independence movement.
The Blue Jay of Happiness often quotes Gandhi. “The roots of violence: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principles. “