After the Non Cooperation Movement, the flame of nationalism was kept alive in different ways. It was, however, from the latter part of 1927 that the mass anti-imperialist upsurge began to look upwards. As earlier, the stimulus was provided by the British by announcing an all-White commission to recommend on the future constitutional status of India. That no Indian should be there on a body that claimed to decide the political future of India was an insult none could tolerate. A boycott of the Simon Commission was announced and was endorsed by many organizations. However, the Congress soon turned the boycott into a national movement. The action began as soon as Simon and his friends landed in Bombay. They were greeted with a hartal and people participated in mass rallies, processions and black-flag demonstrations. It was during these anti-Simon demonstrations that the Sher-e-Punjab Lala Lajpat Rai fell to the lathi-charge in Lahore. It was his death that Bhagat Singh and associates tried to avenge later.
The Simon boycott movement provided the first taste of politics to a new generation. They played an active role in this movement and also gave it a militant flavor. JL Nehru and Subhash Bose emerged as the leaders of this new wave and travelled across the country addressing youth conferences. The upsurge among youth also provided a useful ground for socialist ideas. JL Nehru had returned from Europe in 1927 after attending the Brussels Congress of the League against Imperialism. He also visited the erstwhile USSR and was deeply impressed with socialism. All these laid the foundations of the socialist trend which became quite strong within the Congress and also led to the formation of the Congress Socialist Party.
The year 1929 saw the passing of the Purna Swaraj or the Complete Independence Resolution in the Lahore Congress session. Jawahar Lal Nehru did the most to popularize the idea of complete independence and it was under his Presidency that the Congress passed the Complete Independence Resolution. On the banks of the river Ravi in Lahore, at midnight on 31st December 1929, the Tricolor was unfurled amidst cheers and jubilation. Amidst the excitement, there was a grim resolve because the year to follow was to be one of hard struggle. On 26th January, 1930, Independence Pledges were read out and collectively affirmed at mass meetings all over.
The Lahore Congress of 1929 had authorized the Working Committee to launch a programme of civil disobedience, including non-payment of taxes. In mid-February, the Working Committee invested Gandhiji with full powers to decide its timing and the manner. The expert on mass struggle was desperately in search of an effective formula. The plan was brilliant, though few realized its importance initially.
Gandhiji, along with 78 members of the Sabarmati Ashram, was to march from Ahmedabad ashram through the Gujarat villages for 240 miles. On the Dandi coast, he would break the salt law by collecting salt from the beach. The seemingly simple move proved devastatingly effective. And in realty, when the movement actually started, he had the entire nation behind him. On April 6, 1930, by picking a handful of salt, Gandhiji inaugurated the Civil Disobedience Movement, a movement that remained unparalleled in Indian history for mass participation.
After the ritual start by Gandhiji at Dandi, it was followed by similar breach of salt laws in Tamil Nadu by C. Rajagopalachari and in Kerala by K. Kelappan. In the North West Frontier Province, the Khudai Khidmatgars (The Red Shirts Movement) led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan played extremely active role. The government’s gamble of non-interference in the movement had not paid off. In fact, it was puzzled over what to do. “If we do much, Congress will cry repression, if we do too little, Congress will cry victory” was the government line.
Eastern India became the scene of a new no-tax campaign ----- refusal to pay the chowkidara tax. Chowkidars, paid out of the tax levied on the villages, were guards who supplemented the small police force in the rural areas. They were particularly hated because they were spies for the Government and often retainers for the local landlord. The movement was against this tax and for resignation of chowkidars. In Gujarat, in Khera district, a determined no-tax campaign was launched ---- refusal to pay land revenue. Defiance of forest laws assumed a mass character in Maharashtra, Karnataka and the Central Provinces, especially the tribal areas which had been the worst affected by restrictive forest laws.
Uttar Pradesh was the setting of movement ---- a no-revenue, no-rent campaign. It called upon the zamindars to refuse to pay land revenue to the government, the no-rent was a call to the tenants not to pay rent to the zamindars. The movement also popularized new forms of mobilization --- Prabhat Pheris, Patrikas or illegal newssheets, magic lanterns, Vaanar Senas of small boys and Manjari Senas of girls etc.
The Government’s response to the movement was ambivalent. Gandhiji’s arrest came after much vacillation. Thereafter, ordinances curtailing civil liberties were issued and civil disobedience organizations were banned in several states. Meanwhile, the Simon Commission Report, which did not mention the Dominion Status( which had been demanded in the Motilal Nehru Report) and was also a regressive document otherwise, further upset even the moderate political opinion.
After much deliberation, a Round Table Conference was held between the Congress and the British in London. Thereafter, the discussions between Lord Irwin, the Viceroy and Gandhiji resulted in the Gandhi-Irwin Pact which provided for the release of all political prisoners, the return of confiscated lands, and leniency towards government employees who had resigned. The Government also conceded the right to make salt for consumption to villages on the coast, and also the right to peaceful and non-aggressive picketing. The Congress, in return, agreed to discontinue the movement. It was also clear that the Congress would participate in the next Round Table Conference.
The Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930-31 was a critical phase in nationalist movement. Around 90000 people were jailed, thrice that of the number Non Cooperation Movement. Imports from England had fallen by half. Many diverse social groups had been politicized, it was a movement that engulfed all socio-economic classes, making it a truly mass movement.
However, the Muslim participation was nowhere close to what it was during Non Cooperation Movement. The appeal of communal leaders to stay away, combined with active government encouragement to communal politics, were to blamer. The support that the movement had got from the poor and the literate was remarkable. The IGP of Bengal, EJ Lowman, noted with bewilderment,” I had no idea that the Congress could get the sympathy and support of such ignorant and uncultivated people….” . For the Indian women, the Civil Disobedience Movement was the most liberating experience and can be truly said to have marked their entry into the public space.