Gandhi’s path

Through the last two weeks of March and April 1930, Mahatma Gandhi continued his march on foot, along with 78 Congress volunteers from the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to the Gujarat coast; what the world knows as the Dandi March or Salt Satyagraha, a historic event.

Gandhi’s path

Mahatma Gandhi during the Dandi March in March 1930. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Through the last two weeks of March and April 1930, Mahatma Gandhi continued his march on foot, along with 78 Congress volunteers from the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to the Gujarat coast; what the world knows as the Dandi March or Salt Satyagraha, a historic event. Undoubtedly it was the most significant breach of salt laws in the country with salt marches and demonstrations taking place in Calcutta, Madras, Bombay, Lahore, Peshawar and Allahabad; in effect, the entire country was swept in the waves of enthusiasm roused by the Mahatma’s determination to challenge regressive British imperial policies.

“Gandhiji is the pilgrim on his quest of truth, quiet, peaceful, determined and fearless who would continue that quiet pilgrimage regardless of consequences,” said Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, as the march continued through dusty villages in the growing heat. In Calcutta, the fiery Congressman J.M Sengupta appealed to all men and women to enroll as volunteers. He said, “Bengal is on trial. She had always been in the vanguard of the country’s battle for freedom and cannot lag behind. Let us plunge head-long in the fight and regain the rights which are ours.” On the eve of Dandi March, on 11 March 1930, a 10,000-strong crowd at Sabarmati in Ahmedabad hung on to every word Mahatma Gandhi spoke in his characteristic soft style, explaining and exhorting, inspiring and urging the crowds at the same time: “In all probability this will be my last speech to you.

Even if the Government allows me to march tomorrow morning, this will be my last speech on the sacred banks of the Sabarmati. Possibly these may be the last words of my life here.” On 12 March 1930 Mahatma Gandhi and the growing number of Congress volunteers reached Aslali where he explained the economics of salt tax to the gathering: “Do not be content with merely wearing khadi and plying the spinning wheel, thinking you have done all that you could do. Take the case of your own village: For a population of 1700, 850 maunds of salt will be required. For 200 bullocks, 300 maunds of salt will be required. That is, total of 1,150 maunds of salt will be required.


The Government levies a tax of Rs. 1- 4 on one pukka maund of salt. Hence, on 1,150 maunds, which is equal to 575 pukka maunds, you pay a tax of Rs. 720. A bullock must be given two maunds of salt. In addition, there are 800 cows, buffaloes and calves in your village. Can your village afford to pay this amount in taxes every year? A democratic State is one which has authority to abolish a tax which does not deserve to be paid. It is one in which the people can determine when a certain thing should or should not be paid.” When the Mahatma reached Navagam on 13 March 1930, he shared his memories: “As I enter the Kheda District, memories ~ some sweet, some bitter – fill the mind. It was while working in the Kheda District I became one with the lives of people.

I have seen nearly all the villages here. I covered many of them on foot. I have come to Navagam in the middle of a battle. Vallabhbhai (Patel) had great expectations of the Kheda District. Having been arrested in this district, he has won glory for himself…It is after many days and nights of heart-searching that I have decided to stake my life on this last struggle, and to take my co-workers with me so that they, too, may sacrifice their lives. I depend on truth alone for winning this war. In the present struggle, which we have started to establish Ram Rajya, both the poor and the rich are ready to give me monetary help, but I look up to the people for strengthening me.” When the Mahatma reached Nadiad on 15 March 1930, he was overwhelmed: “I have visited Nadiad often but never before did I see such a huge mass of men. Bound by the chains of slavery, we are being crushed at present, and we want of shake them off. I am sure you have come here today not for my sake or for the sake of my troop of eighty, but because you hunger for complete freedom… Vallabhbhai’s services to Kheda District have been many and various.

That Vallabhbhai is now behind the prison bars. You have, therefore, a threefold duty to discharge. The imprisonment of Vallabhbhai is your imprisonment. Arresting him in Kheda is arresting Kheda itself. Of course by imprisoning Vallabhbhai, the Government has honoured him, but you, it has insulted. What is to be your reply to this insult? Your reply can only be winning complete freedom. How could you do that? I wish all Government servants to give up their jobs. Nadiad produced Goverdhanram and Manilal Nabhubhai.

Are there any heirs of these learned men now? What is the duty of the students in this city of learned men? And the duty of their sisters and mothers? It is up to you all to reply to these questions. You all have to enlist yourselves as volunteers.” His clarion calls are timeless lessons in simplifying political complexities and rousing self-respect in people. When the Satyagrahis reached Anand on 17 March 1930, the Mahatma said, “A satyagrahi’s path is the path of love, not one of enmity. It should be the ambition of a satyagrahi to win over even the most hard-hearted of enemies through love. How can one demonstrate that there is nothing but love underlying civil disobedience? Whereas ill-feeling burns others, love burns oneself, and purifies the other person.

This band of satyagrahis which have set out is not staging a play; its effect will not be merely temporary; even through death, it will prove true to its pledge-if death becomes necessary… Nothing will be better than if this band of satyagrahis perishes. Here in Anand, you have Narsinhbhai’s hut. Anand is the educational centre of the Patidars. Where can I give expression to the feelings within me if not before such an audience? I have come to you filled with great expectations. All the students who have entered their sixteenth year have united in giving up their studies, and the teachers too have joined them.” At Borsad, on 18 March 1930, the Mahatma spoke about loyalty: “At one time I was wholly loyal to the Empire and taught others to be loyal.

I sang ‘God Save the King’ with zest and taught my friends and relations to do so. Finally, however, the scales fell from my eyes, and the spell broke. I realized that the Empire did not deserve loyalty. I felt that it deserved sedition. Hence, I have made sedition my dharma. I try to explain it to others that while sedition is our dharma, to be loyal is a sin. To be loyal to this Government, that is to say to wish it well, is as good as wishing ill of the crores of people of India… To approve the policy of this Government is to commit treason against the poor. You should free yourselves from this latter offence. I believe I have done so.

Hence, I have become ready to wage a peaceful war against this Government. I am commencing it by violating the salt law… We must free ourselves from the yoke of this Government and we are prepared to undergo any hardships that we may have to suffer in order to secure Swaraj. It is our duty as well as our right to secure Swaraj.” When the marchers reached Ras, on 19 March 1930, Gandhiji referred to the 1924 struggle led by Sardar Vallabhbhai. He said, “Today we have entered the taluka in which Sardar Vallabhbhai was arrested and sentenced to prison and in which he had carried on such a vigorous struggle in 1924 that the Government had finally to admit its error and mete out justice that should not have required a struggle.

It is as if Sardar was sentenced to prison as a reward for having served you! The question now is what you can do to serve the cause for which he has been sent to jail and what I should do.” “Some of the Headmen and Matadars have handed in their resignations. I congratulate them,” he said. “However, there are still many who cannot abandon the line. I have not come across a single person who has accepted the post of a Headman for the sake of the salary attached to it.

Headmen have the privilege of perpetrating indignities on the people… The improper reason for their clinging to their posts is that this privilege satisfies their base self-interest or assists them in their work. But how much longer will you keep on doing your part in squeezing these villages? Have not your eyes yet been opened to the robbery that is being committed by the Government?” The Mahatma’s speeches continue to provide sustenance to India and a world fighting for its rights.

(The writer is a researcherwriter on history and heritage issues and a former deputy curator of Pradhanmantri Sangrahalay)