Background of Civil disobedience movement

    • Jawaharlal Nehru, who had done more than anyone else to popularise the concept of purna swaraj, was nominated the president for the Lahore session of the Congress (December 1929) mainly due to Gandhi’s backing, (15 out of 18 Provincial Congress Committees had opposed Nehru).
    • The following major decisions were taken at the Lahore session
      1. Round Table Conference to be boycotted
      2. complete independence declared as the aim of the Congress
      3. CWC authorised to launch a programme of civil disobedience including non-payment of taxes and all members of legislatures asked to resign their seats
      4. January 26, 1930 fixed as the first Independence Day, to be celebrated everywhere
    • December 31, 1929 At midnight on the banks of River Ravi, the newly adopted tricolour flag of freedom was hoisted amidst slogans of Inquilab Zindabad.
    • To carry forward the mandate given by the Lahore Congress, Gandhi presented eleven demands to the Government and gave an ultimatum of January 31, 1930 to accept or reject these demands. The demands were as follows.
      1. Reduce expenditure on Army and civil services by 50 per cent. Introduce total prohibition. Carry out reforms in Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
      1. Change Arms Act allowing popular control of issue of firearms licences. Release political prisoners. Accept Postal Reservation Bill. Specific Bourgeois Demands. Reduce rupee-sterling exchange ratio. Introduce textile protection.
      1. Reserve coastal shipping for Indians
      1. Reduce land revenue by 50 per cent.
      1. Abolish salt tax and government’s salt monopoly
    • With no positive response forthcoming from the Government on these demands, the Congress Working Committee invested Gandhi with full powers to launch the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) at a time and place of his choice. By February-end, Gandhi had decided to make, salt, the central formula for the CDM.
    • Why Salt was Chosen as the Central Formula?
      1. As Gandhi said, “There is no other article like salt, outside water, by taxing which the Government can reach the starving millions, the sick, the maimed and the utterly helpless. It is the most inhuman poll tax the ingenuity of man can devise.”
      1. Salt in a flash linked the ideal of swaraj with a most concrete and universal grievance of the rural poor (and with no socially divisive implications like a no-rent campaign).
      1. Salt afforded a paltry but psychologically important income, like khadi, for the poor through self-help.
      1. Like khadi, again, it offered to the urban adherents the opportunity of a symbolic identification with mass suffering.
    • Spread of Salt Disobedience
      1. In Tamil Nadu, C. Rajagopalachari led a march from Tiruchirapally to Vedaranniyam.
      2. In Malabar, K. Kelappan led a march from Calicut to Poyannur.
      1. In Assam, A powerful agitation was organised against the infamous ‘Cunningham circular’ which forced parents, guardians and students to furnish assurances of good behaviour.

Gandhiji started the program by marching with his followers from Ahmadabad to Dandi to break the salt tax. Gandhiji even asked women to participate in the movement by picketing in front of liquor shops.

Boycott on foreign cloth was strictly followed even by mill owners. In north where scope of salt Satyagraha was less people defied government authority by not paying chowkidari tax. No rent no revenue campaigns too were started in some states. 

Round table conference

The Simon commission submitted the report but no mention was made in it of dominion status. This infuriated the moderates. The round table conferences that were held to discuss with the parties but congress did not participate in this exercise which rendered it useless.

The British prime minister announced that the congress would be participating in the round table conference. Viceroy released Gandhiji and all the leaders of the congress so that they could respond to the PM’s message. The congress working committee then authorized Gandhiji to hold discussions with viceroy. In these talks Gandhi Irwin pact was signed which was a provisional settlement.

Under this pact all political prisoners not arrested for violence were released. The confiscated lands not yet sold were returned, government employees who had resigned were given leniency, the making of salt was allowed on coastal villages and non violent picketing was allowed. Congress also agreed to withdraw the civil disobedience. They would also participate in the second round table conference.

The decision of not returning land of those who had lost it to third party and no decision on commutation of death penalty of Bhagat Singh and others was criticized. The congress met in Karachi after the pact was signed to endorse it and let Gandhiji participate in the second round table conference. However six days earlier Bhagat Singh and others were hanged even though Gandhiji tried his best to save them he couldn’t. All along Gandhiji’s route to Karachi he was greeted with black flags.

Results of the civil disobedience movement:

  1. 90000 were imprisoned [thrice that of non cooperation movement]
  2. import of foreign cloth, liquor fell
  3. Government revenue from cigarettes and rent was affected.
  4. Elections to legislative assembly were boycotted.

Drawbacks of the movement:

  1. The participation of Muslims was less due to the advice of the communal leaders and the government’s efforts to push communalism as response to nationalism.
  2. Industrial workers didn’t participate in large number except in Nagpur.

The civil disobedience movement was the most popular and organized mass movement of the freedom struggle.

Karachi Session of the Congress

The Karachi session in 1931 was known for the drafting of the fundamental rights and the national economic program. This was for the first time that congress decided what Swaraj meant for the masses.

  1. Basic civil rights of free speech, free press, free assembly, and freedom of association;
  2.  equality before the law irrespective of caste, creed or sex;
  3.  neutrality of the state in regard to all religions;
  4.  elections on the basis of universal adult franchise; and
  5.  free and compulsory primary education.
  6.  relief of agricultural indebtedness and control of usury;
  7. Better conditions for workers including a living wage, limited hours of work and protection of women workers;
  8. The right to organize and form unions to workers and peasants; and state ownership or control of key industries, mines and means of transport.
  9. Culture, language and script of the minorities and of the different linguistic areas shall be protected.

Karachi Session

    • . Two resolutions were adopted — one on Fundamental Rights and the other on National Economic Programme — which made the session particularly memorable.
    • The resolution on National Economic Programme included—
      1. substantial reduction in rent and revenue
      2. exemption from rent for uneconomic holdings
      3. relief from agricultural indebtedness
      4. control of usury
      5. better conditions of work including a living wage, limited hours of work and protection of women workers
      6. right to workers and peasants to form unions
      7. state ownership and control of key industries, mines and means of transport.
      8. The Karachi Resolution was to remain, in essence, the basic political and economic programme of the Congress in ten years.
      9. Result of Round table Conference

Gandhiji went to attend the second round table conference in London. The British political opinion was against giving any concessions to India. The government had handpicked communalists, careerist, landlord, bureaucrats for the round table conference. It wanted to show that congress didn’t represent majority. At the conference the British refused to concede the demand for freedom. Hence Gandhiji returned empty handed.

The British policy meanwhile had changed and their stance hardened. The new policy discarded all truce provisions and declared Gandhiji couldn’t be treated as equal with the government. Also it had prepared for a showdown with the nationalists to prevent any revival of the movement. The government had armed itself with draconian ordinances and martial law. It had unleashed brutality on peaceful picketers. Thousands were arrested and put in jails.

Second Phase of Civil disobedience

When Gandhiji landed back the congress working committee had called for a meeting to discuss the revival of civil disobedience. But government arrested all top leaders of the congress. The draconian ordinances passed were to establish martial law. Non violent protestors were brutally oppressed. No tax and no rent campaigns to were treated with harshness.

Though the people fought back the leaders couldn’t build a tempo and the movement was crushed. In all the second phase of the civil disobedience movement lingered till 1934 and then was withdrawn by Gandhiji.

Many leader like SC Bose and Vithalbhai Patel criticized Gandhiji’s decision. They wanted the congress to be reorganized with new leader. But the decision was due to the fact that people needed to rest and regroup for the next fight. They had not lost their faith in congress yet.

Compared to Non-Cooperation Movement

    • The stated objective this time was complete independence and not just remedying two specific wrongs and a vaguely-worded swaraj.
    • The methods involved violation of law from the very beginning and not just non-cooperation with foreign rule.
    • There was a decline in forms of protests involving the intelligentsia, such as lawyers giving up practice, students giving up government schools to join national schools and colleges.
    • Muslim participation was nowhere near the NonCooperation Movement level.
    • No major labour upsurge coincided with the movement.
    • But massive participation of peasants and business groups compensated for decline of other features.
    • The number of those imprisoned was about three times more this time.
    • The Congress was organisationally stronger.

Strategic Debate following the withdrawal of the civil disobedience movement

    • There was a two-stage debate on the future strategy of the nationalists— firstly, what course the national movement should take in the immediate future, i.e., during the phase of non mass struggle (1934-35), and secondly, in 1937, over the question of office acceptance in the context of provincial elections held under the autonomy provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935.
    • At this stage two perspectives were put forward.
      1. There should be constructive work on Gandhian lines. There should be constitutional struggle and participation in elections to the Central Legislature (due in 1934).
      1. A strong leftist trend within the Congress represented by Nehru was critical of both constructive work and council entry in place of the suspended civil disobedience movement as that would sidetrack political mass action and divert attention from the main issue of struggle against colonialism. Instead, this section favoured resumption and continuation of non-constitutionalist mass struggle, because the situation was still revolutionary owing to continued economic crisis and the readiness of the masses to fight.

Solved Question Papers

Q.Who of the following organized a march on the Tanjore coast to break the Salt Law in April 1930? (UPSC CSAT 2015)

    • V.O Chidambaram Pillai
    • C. Rajagopalachari
    • K. Kamaraj
    • Annie Besant

Ans . B

  1. He was arrested in April 1930 for leading a salt march from Trichinopoly to Vedaranniyam on the Tanjore coast.

Chapter Review

Score more than 80% marks and move ahead else stay back and read again!

Q1:Most organised mass movement of independence
1.non cooperation
2.civil disobedience
3.Quit India
4.Rowlatt satyagraha


Q2:Civil disobedience was stopped due to
2.hanging of Bhagat singh
3.jallianwala baug tragedy
4.Irwin pact


Q3:Results of the civil disobedience movement
1.Boycott on foreign cloth
2.salt Satyagraha
3.No rent no revenue campaigns


Q4:Industrial workers didn’t participate in Civil Disobedience in large number except in


Q5:Karachi Session of the Congress was significant due to declarations of
1.fundamental rights
2.national economic program
3.This was for the first time that congress decided what Swaraj meant for the masses