Gandhi’s symbolic Dandi March

Birendra P Mishra

In India, the famous Dandi March of Gandhi was re-enacted lately. It was organised recently as the “International Walk for Peace, Justice and Freedom” by the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation. However, it had also been re-enacted by the then prime minister late Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. It was on the morning of April 6, 1930 when Gandhi broke the Salt Act by picking up a handful of natural salt scattered in a vast, barren field lying between Dandi beach and Saifee Villa. He had reached Dandi on the evening of April 5 and stayed in the villa during the night before breaking the Salt Act after walking a distance of 388 km from the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to the Dandi beach of a far-flung village in Gujarat. He had set out for his journey on March 12, 1930 with his 78 followers and disciples. The issue of the salt tax had been attracting the people for several years. The British government had the monopoly over the production and sale of salt. The tax was about 1,000 per cent on the cost, which was considered as a blot on the revenue system. Indians were forced to spend a considerable fraction of their low income on salt. People were not allowed to make salt, and were forced to buy imported salt at a higher price including sales tax on the other. Indirectly, the government was helping British suppliers financially by importing salt from them to meet the huge national requirement.

Gandhi’s motto behind the Dandi March seemed to go beyond the limits of making salt and breaking the law, as this could have been done anywhere on the sea shore. Along the way he used to address large gatherings of people and with each passing day more and more people joined the March. In reality, the March to Dandi was no picnic. People were apprehensive of being shot dead. Moreover, they had to walk a distance of about 15 km every day. During the March, through his speeches in the villages, Gandhi always drew the attention of the people towards the social problems related to caste and class, Hindu and Muslim divide, untouchablity

and other orthodoxies, which were to be overcome. He utilised every opportunity in sharing his thoughts and deeds with the people. And he never failed to admonish his tired marchers to live austerely and endure all hardships, as they were India’s true representatives whose lives were to be compatible with India’s stark poverty.

After breaking the Act, he stayed in the seashore areas exhorting his disciples to make salt all along the seashore bearing all sorts of atrocities inflicted on them till he was arrested on May 4. By breaking the law, he wanted to tell his countrymen to identify the just and common cause first and then to accomplish it, resolutely resisting any opposition from any quarters. By injecting courage into the people to fight against injustice, he conveyed the moral message to the people. He stressed on spiritual virtues that he practised. Secondly, he wanted to show the rulers that the Indian masses could oppose the government by non-cooperation or civil disobedience. Thirdly, he experimented successfully with the most potent weapon of people’s participation on a mass scale in opposing the government, which later was to be used successfully in waging a peaceful struggle for freedom. Fourthly, he built contact with thousands of people around the area and made them aware of their fundamental rights. Lastly, he was able to give a severe financial jolt to the rulers by depriving them of their profit on salt trade, which was a red signal reminding them of their limited days in India.

Prof Mishra is former Election Commissioner