Sunday, July 24, 2011

Poorna Swaraj

Gandhi came back to active politics and attended the Calcutta session of the Congress in 1928. He now began to consolidate the nationalist ranks. The first step was to reconcile the militant left-wing of the Cingress. Jawaharlal Nehru was now made the President of the Congress at the historic Lahore session of 1929.

The Lahore session of the Congress gave voice to the new, militant spirit. It passed a resolution declaring Poorna Swaraj [Complete Independence] to be the Congress objective. On 31 December 1929 the newly adopted tricolour flag of freedom was hoisted. 26 June 1930 was fixed as the first Independence Day. The Congress session also announced the launching of a civil disobedience movement. But it did not draw up a programme of struggle. That was left to Mahatma Gandhi.

The Civil Disobedience Movement

The Lahore Congress had left the choice of the methods of non-violent struggle for Poorna Swaraj to Gandhi. He placed 11 points of administrative reforms before the British government. His important demands were [a] Salt tax should be abolished, [b] salaries of the highest grade services should be reduced, [c] Military expenditure should be reduced, and [d] All political prisoners should be discharged.

The government response to Gandhi’s demands was negative. The Civil Disobedience Movement was started by Gandhi on 12 March 1930 with his famous Dandi March. Together with 78 chosen followers, Gandhi walked nearly 375 km from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi, a village on the Gujarat sea coast. On 6 April Gandhiji reached Dandi, picked up a hand full of salt and broke the salt law as a symbol of the Indian people’s refusal to live under British made laws.

The movement spread very quickly. Violation of salt laws all over the country was followed by defiance of forest laws in Maharashtra, Karnataka and the Central Provinces. And refusal to pay the chaukidatri tax in Eastern India. Every where in the country people joined in hartals, demonstrations, and the campaign to boycott foreign goods and to refuse to pay taxes. Lakhs of Indians offered satyagraha. A notalable feature of the movement was the wide participation of women. Thousands of them left the seclusion of their homes and offered satyagraha. They took active part in picketing shops selling foreign cloth or liquor. They marched shoulder to shoulder with men in processions.

The movement stirred the brave and hardy pathans of north-western India. Under the leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffer Khan, popularly known as the Frontier Gandhi. The Pathans organized the society of Khudai Khidmadgars [or Servants of God] known popularly as Red Shirts. They were pledged to non-violence and the freedom struggle. Two platoons of Garhwali soldiers refused to open fire on non-violent mass demonstrators. This episode showed that national;ism was beginning to penetrate the Indian army. In the eastern corner of India the Manipuris took a brave part in the movement. Nagaland produced a brave heroine, Rani Gaidilieu, who at the age of 13 responded to the call of Congress and raised the banner of rebellion against the foreign rule. The Rani was captured in 1932 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Government tried to crush the movement through ruthless repression, lathi charges and firing on unarmed crowds of men and women. Over 90000 satyagrahis , including Gandhiji, were imprisoned. The Congress was declared illegal. The nationalist press was gagged through strict censorship of news. The police often beat up men just for wearing khadi or Gandhi caps.

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