While discussing the ideology of nonviolence, in the context of the Indian freedom struggle, one name that reigns sovereign is that of Mahatma Gandhi and his tenets of civil disobedience. One of the most profound acts of civil disobedience conducted by the Indian National Congress (INC) was the Salt March.
Firstly, in order to comment on the Gandhian principles of Satyagraha, one needs to understand that Gandhi had a cosmocentric view of human beings. Cosmocentrism is a view in which the cosmos is believed to be a part of a system called yajna, founded on the basis of interdependence. Analysing this concept further, it was believed that the universe is a common inheritance of all living beings, hence, equal entitlement of resources and the spirit of mutual accommodation is a prerequisite. Being influenced by the theory of rationality and morality, believers of this ideology were affirmative of the fact that diversity should be cherished and the rights should be respected. Thereby, showing us the basis for Gandhian nonviolence, Ahimsa. Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word which means ‘The largest love’ or ‘The greatest charity’. If related to the theory of rationality or the cosmocentric view, there is a sense of interdependence that is seen due to Ahimsa being related to a charity.
The reason for this salt march was a reaction to the heavy imposition of tax on salt that Britain had imposed on India. Following the principles of Satyagraha, the march was symbolic of the overarching struggle between truth and deceit or right and wrong. Salt was a household need for all Indians, as Gandhi noted. Therefore, he indicated that the tax was outright cruel as the poor Indians could not afford it, hence taking away one of the necessities, thereby, downright proving Indians to be inferior and exercising the status quo. Furthermore, he insisted that the citizens should be self-reliant and make salt on their own, as was done by their ancestors.
One of the biggest advantages of the salt march as other acts of civil disobedience was its gargantuan participatory strength. Gandhi had increased the participatory strength using multiple tactics, some of which could be put under philosophical scrutiny. For example, in order to gather most of the satyagrahis from the temples, he propagated the salt march from a religious perspective, wherein, one would wash their sins of breaking the law by purifying themselves through making salt. Secondly, he claimed the salt march to be a holy war against tyranny, thereby, pitting good against evil. In order to gather the Muslim and Christians, he used similar analogies wherein this salt tax was blasphemous. Gandhi had convinced that this was not only a politico-economic subversion but a social and status subversion as well. One of the primary reasons as to why non-violent movements might seem successful is because of its great participation strength, which is due to the lower number of risks.
However, the sheer number of people protesting diluted the cause for the protest, thereby making it look illegitimate. This seeming illegitimacy of the movement was a rather profound problem for the Indian National Congress. The movement, rather than a part of the independence struggle, was seen as a congregation of the people who lived under the shelter of Gandhi. Additionally, to further heighten this illegitimacy, there were marchers who were allowed to rest and given delicacies to eat whilst the march was going on. If seen from an aerial viewpoint, this did not seem like a struggle at all, as all the comfort was given, hence undermining the very process in which this social disobedience was carried out. If critically analysed, it is seen that the salt march, from the aforementioned perspective was a failure, at its very onset. Adding on to this flawed process, the gathering of the participatory strength had an immense influence of religion, specially comparing the march to a holy war and bringing in philosophical understanding, specifically rooted in Hinduism. This could have created a spirit of communalism and radicalism, which could potentially incite violence.
If Salt March is seen as the sole contributing factor for India’s Independence, then this notion of a nonviolent movement being successful in achieving the required target would be incorrect. As stated above, the freedom struggle considered multiple ideological angles from different freedom fighters, whose contributions cannot be discredited. Many of these ideologies delved into clear violence, also known as revolutionary arms struggle. For example, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), led by Bhagat Singh, had carried out multiple violent forms of dissent. One of the most profound acts of violence is the throwing of bomb in the legislative assembly as a protest against the farmers bill, which took away the right to protest from the farmers against the harsh imposition of tax. This was further amplified by the murder of an English officer named Scott who allegedly murdered Lala Lajpat Rai whilst he was carrying out a non-violent protest against the Simon Commission. These actions of the HSRA sent shockwaves in England as well, which is when the aforementioned organization was seen to be a profound aspect in creating fear in the minds of the oppressors. Therefore, yet again, it is seen that non-violence was not the only method which helped to cause a change in the regime. Analysing this further, the Salt March could be seen as a failure as it was diluted with other violent factors, thereby overshadowing the legitimacy of non-cooperation or satyagraha as a profound form of dissent, in the larger context.
It is of common knowledge that non-violent resistance movement often fail if the regime that is being protested against is too brutish in nature, which would go to any extent to curb dissent. It is of no controversy that the imperial regime in India was dastardly brutish in nature. Multiple accounts of these inflicted violence are seen, especially, to curb civil disobedience movements. One such example is that of Jallianwala Bagh shootout in Punjab, which took place after the Salt March. In 1919 a huge public meeting was organized in Jallianwala Bagh as an act of defiance to the law banning such gatherings. Whilst this protest was carried out in the form of civil disobedience, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer instructed his troops to fire at the protestors mercilessly, blocking all the exits. Therefore, it is seen that non-violent movements did not result in success. Therefore, the Salt March, being the penultimate symbol of non-violent protest did very little in being a part of the Indian freedom struggle, apart from inspiring other non-violent protestors to carry out such methods, most of which was supressed by the heinous imperialism.
There is sufficient evidence that the Salt March did not revolutionise the way protests were carried out in India, neither did it create a tectonic shift in the regime. This is primarily because after the salt march, preceding Gandhi’s arrest, whilst many of the supporters held on to the Gandhian values, others chose violence as a path, as a form of aggression to his arrest. In fact, Gandhi himself called off the movement and admonished their behaviour, rendering the entire movement to be futile.
In conclusion, claiming that the Salt March was absolutely futile in the Indian independence struggle would be incorrect. It did set a spark in millions, who were overwhelmed with the sanctity of non-violence and therefore followed the Gandhian values. However, if seen from a broader perspective, there are multiple reasons as to why the March, as a poignant example of civil disobedience, could be rendered as an academic failure.