Defiance of Salt Tax
The Salt Acts were chosen by Gandhi for contravention in a general Civil Disobedience Movement because they not only appeared to be basically unjust in themselves, but also because they symbolised an 'unpopular, unrepresentative and alien government.'
Revenue realised from the Salt Tax amounted at this time to £25,000,000 out of total revenue of about £800,000,000. These laws were held to work a hardship on the people, especially the poor and to constitute the taxation of a necessity.
Gandhi wrote his first article on Salt as early as 14 February 1891, when he was a young man of twenty-two years of age, in The Vegetarian. He described the utter poverty of his fellow country-men who lived on bread and salt, a 'heavily taxed article'.1While he was in South Africa, he paid a tribute in the Indian Opinion to Walter Francis Hely-Hutchinson, Governor of the colony of Natal who had expressed his views against the salt tax and regarded its continuance as a 'great shame' for the British government. Hutchinson considered the salt tax a 'barbarous practice' which 'ill-becomes the British Government' and pleaded for its abolition.2
The tax levied on salt in India has always been a subject of criticism. This time it has been criticized by the well-known Dr. Hutchinson who says that 'it is a great shame for the British Government in India to continue it, while a similar tax previously in force in Japan has been abolished. Salt is an essential article in our dietary. It could be said that to a certain extent, the increasing incidence of leprosy in India was due to the salt tax. Dr. Hutchinson considers the salt tax a barbarous practice, which ill becomes the British Government.'3
In 1909, Gandhi again wrote from South Africa that the tax should be abolished immediately and this demand was repeated, though not stressed over the years.4Besides, in the Hind Swaraj, he made out a special point in his comment that 'The salt-tax is not a small injustice'.5
The salt tax had a long and an 'ugly' history. With the establishment of the rule of the East India Company in India, it was considered to be a good source of income. At first, this tax was imposed in the form of 'land rent' and 'transit charges', and in 1762, this was consolidated into duty. Thus India, in particular Bengal and the surrounding provinces were in turn, rendered dependent upon imported salt from Liverpool, Spain, Romania, Aden and Mussawah.6 Oppressed with the burden of extravagant charges, the indigenous industry soon found itself unable to compete with its English rival which was making determined efforts to capture the market. The figures given below the imports of British salt into Calcutta, reveal the inevitable result.7
With the passage of time, a duty of four to five Shillings per maund was levied on salt which was manufactured in Bengal by the East India Company's agents and also on salt obtained from the mines of the Punjab and other Indian states.8
In 1835, a salt commission was appointed to review the policy of the government in respect of the salt tax. It recommended that Indian salt should be taxed to enable the sale of imported English Salt from Liverpool to India. Consequently, the salt price increased. Subsequently, the Salt Act set up a government monopoly on the manufacture of salt and its violation was made punishable with confiscation of salt and six months imprisonment. In 1888, the salt tax was enhanced by Lord Dufferin, not as a permanent fiscal measure, but only as a temporary expedient.9
The penal sections of the Salt Act were strictly enforced by the salt-revenue officials. Section 39 of the Bombay Salt Act which was practically the same as section 16-17 of the Indian Salt Act (XII of 1882) empowered a salt-revenue officer to enter any place where illicit manufacture was going on. In case of resistance, he could break open any door and remove any other obstacle to his entry upon or into such land, building, enclosed place or premises and take possession of or destroy salt illicitly manufactured. He was empowered to seize in any open space, or in transit, any article which he had reason to believe to be contraband salt and any package or covering in which such article was found and the other contents, if any, of such package or covering in which the same was found, and any animal, vessel or conveyance used or intended to be used in carrying the same.10 Besides he could detain and search and, if he thought proper, arrest any person, whom he had reason to believe to be guilty of any offence punishable under this or any other law for the time being in force relating to salt revenue, or in whose possession contraband salt was found.11
Section 50 of the Bombay Salt Act laid down that all contraband salt, and every vessel, animal, or conveyance used in carrying contraband salt, and all goods, packages, and coverings in or among which contraband salt was found, and every apparatus, implement, utensil or material employed for the manufacture, excavation, collection or removal of salt without a license or for the purpose of utilizing natural salt or salt-earth contrary to any of the provisions of this Act or any rule made thereunder was liable to be confiscated.12
Section 10 of the Indian Salt Act (Act XII of 1882) laid down that any person convicted of an offence under Section 9, after having been previously convicted of an offence under that section or section II of the Inland Customs Act, 1875, or under any enactment repealed by that Act, could be punished with imprisonment for a term which could extend to six months, in addition to the punishment which could be inflicted for a first offence under section 9. Every such person could, upon every subsequent conviction of an offence under section 9, was liable to imprisonment for a term which could extend to six months in addition to any term of imprisonment to which he was liable at his last previous conviction.13
Besides, at several annual sessions of the Indian National Congress, particularly in 1885, 1888, 1892 and 1902, the salt tax was subjected to criticism by the prominent Congress leaders. In the first session of the Indian National Congress held in 1885 in Bombay, a prominent Congress member, S.A. Swaminath Iyer pleaded against the salt tax.14
'It would be unjust and unrighteous if the tax on salt should be increased. It is a necessary article both for human as well as animal well-being.... it would be bad policy and a retrograde movement to raise the tax, especially at a time when the poor millions of India are anxiously looking forward for a further reduction of the tax... As any increase, therefore, of this tax will fall heavily upon the masses of the people of the land, I would strongly urge upon the attention of this Congress the necessity of its entering its strong protest against any attempt on the part of Government to raise the tax on salt'.
In 1888, at Allahabad Congress, Narayan Vishnu, a delegate from Poona, criticised the salt tax. '...You can hardly realize the terrible hardship involved to our people in paying, now, a two rupees eight annas duty on salt which costs one anna, on which, not so very many years ago, we paid a duty of only ten annas. At its present rate, our poor people cry out dreadfully about it.... Let them tax articles of luxury—tax them as heavily as is possible without creating smuggling, but do not let them go on raising a tax on the necessaries of life and adding to the burdens of the poor, because it is easy, and they have no voice.15
The resolution on salt tax was passed without any problem. 'That this Congress do put on record its disapproval of the recent enhancement of the salt tax as involving a perceptible increase to the burden of the poorer classes, as also the 'partial adoption, in a time of peace and plenty, of the of the only financial reserve of the Empire.'16
The sentiments against the salt tax were echoed in 1892 at the Allahabad Congress. '....We do not know when the tax will be reduced. So that there is every necessity for our repeating this prayer in the interests of the masses, and we earnestly hope that it will he granted before long'.17
Similarly, at Ahmedabad, the Indian National Congress resolved, 'That the Congress strongly protests against the present high duty on salt, and in view of the fact that the prevalence and spread of many diseases are now traced to the insufficiency of salt consumed by the Indian masses and that the accounts of the Government of India have now been showing large surpluses year after year, the Congress urges that Government should be pleased to reduce the salt tax by at least the amount of its enhancement in 1888.'18
Gopal Krishna Gokhale was even more pronounced in his views and more severe in his language. His attacks on the salt tax were profusely illustrated with facts and figures, as when he pointed out how a basket of salt costing 3 pies was made to cost 5 annas.19
The mode of taxing salt varied from province to province. In Bombay, it took the form of an excise duty; in Bengal, it was denied chiefly as customs duty on imported salt, and in Madras, North India and the Punjab, it was included in the price fixed by the government on its own production .20
Besides Gandhi, the issue of salt tax was taken up by other leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji, one of the notable Congress leaders of his times and the first economic historian of the nineteenth century. He echoed his sentiments against the salt tax in his famous speech in the House of Commons on 14 August 1894 in which he leveled trenchant criticism against the salt tax. He stated, 'Then the Salt Tax, the most cruel Revenue imposed in any civilised country provided Rs. 8,600,000/- and that with the opium formed the bulk of the revenue of India, which was drawn from the wretchedness of the people... It mattered not what the State received was called—tax, rent, revenue, or by any other name they liked—the simple fact of the matter was, that out of a certain annual national production the State took a certain portion. Now it would not also matter much about the portion taken by the State if that portion, as in this country, returned to people themselves, from whom it was raised. But the misfortune and the evil was that much of this portion did not return to the people, and that the whole system of Revenue and the economic condition of the people became unnatural and oppressive, with dangers to the rulers. So long as the system went on, so long must the people go on living wretched lives. There was a constant draining away of India's resources, and she could never therefore, be a prosperous country. Not only that, but in time India must perish, and with it perish the British Empire.'21
George Hamilton echoed the same sentiments during his speech in the House of Commons in 1895 ' ....Time has, however, now come when the Government finds itself in possession of larger surpluses and it is, therefore, its duty as guardian of public exchequer, to reduce taxation on salt.22
Whereas under the Mughal Emperors the salt requirement was met by indigenous production, under the British rule, British interest predominated and salt imported was encouraged. During 1914-25, thirty-five per cent of the salt requirement of India was met by the government manufactures; thirty per cent was imported and the rest thirty-five per cent was manufactured by licences subject to a payment of exercise.23
In November 1922, when Basil Blackett was appointed Finance Member to the Government of India, one of his first deeds was to double the salt tax in February 1923, when he produced his first budget. The doubling of the salt tax therefore was the worst move which the government could have taken. The Indian Legislative Assembly promptly threw out this provision of the Finance Member, but the Viceroy, Lord Reading, as promptly restored it by virtue of his power of certification.24
From time immemorial the people had been accustomed to manufacture salt from sea-water or from the soil. That right had been taken away from the people by the British government. It prohibits the people from utilising the salt which has been given by nature and forces them to import it from abroad.25
The salt duty was severely criticised in 1925 by the Taxation Enquiry Committee in its report. It termed this duty as poll tax on the plea that it fell on the necessaries of life to the extent that salt is essential for physical existence.26The bulk of it was paid by those who were least benefited by the state expenditure. Salt was also required for various industrial and agricultural operations and also for cattle. Unless it was issued duty free for these purposes, some burden was inevitably thrown upon the industries in which it was used.27
Before coming to power, Ramsay MacDonald had denounced the Salt Act in his writings as well as public statements. He condemned the salt tax as a blemish on the British Indian fiscal system and called it an exaction, oppression, and a survival of the general exploitation of India's poverty by a profit making company.28
Gandhi and other Indian leaders quoted Ramsay MacDonald in support of their opposition to the salt law. British officials also found themselves in an embarrassing situation to defend their contradiction. All this might have helped in dulling the edge of the government's retaliation.
Gandhi clearly understood that salt was the only relish which the teeming poor in Indian villages could afford to their monotonous diet. Next to water and air, it was perhaps the greatest necessity of life, the only condiment of the masses and indispensable for land, life and several industries. Thus by choosing the salt law for his act of defiance of British Laws, Gandhi exhibited his political genius and shrewdness. Apparently, the incidence of the salt tax was very insignificant and trifling, but he made the Indian people believe that this tax on a natural product from the sea water and consumed by every person and animal was symbolical of human oppression.29 By calling on the people to pick up salt from the earth or distil it from the sea as their natural right, Gandhi seemed to be rallying the forces of nature on his side.30 He believed that by breaking the salt law, he would be able to demonstrate even to the poorest that Civil Disobedience had been started with a view to helping them and it was intended to be their popular movement.
An article like salt was an absolute necessity and requirement for everybody and it could galvanise the masses, classes, businessmen, intellectuals, women and students into action. In fact, the salt satyagraha was also the symbol of 'revolt' and resurgence of the Indian people. It could be made into a highly emotional issue.
Before the inauguration of salt satyagraha at an all-India level, Gandhi made it a point to open a dialogue with the Viceroy. The media of such a dialogue could be through correspondence in the initial stage and then a meeting with the Viceroy. He, therefore, initiated such a move by writing a letter to Lord Irwin in the first week of March 1930.
Gandhi wrote a lengthy letter to Lord Irwin on 2 March apprising him of the prevailing social, economic and political conditions in the country. Indeed, before embarking on Civil Disobedience he wished to find a way out by approaching the Viceroy with facts and figures which touched upon the British administration as a whole vis a vis the people of India. He made it clear in the opening lines of his letter, 'Whilst, therefore, I hold the British rule to be a curse, I do not intend harm to a single Englishman or to any legitimate interest he may have in India'.31 He, however, showed his resentment and opposition to the evils of the British rule had impoverished the 'dumb millions' by a system of progressive exploitation and by a 'ruinously' expensive military and civil administration which our country could never afford. Politically, it had reduced the people of India to the helpless position of serfdom. Besides, it has sapped the foundations of Indian culture, and by the policy of cruel disarmament, it had degraded us spiritually.32
Gandhi stated that he and many of his countrymen had hugged the 'fond' hope that the proposed Round Table Conference might furnish a political solution agreeable to the long-awaited demand of the Congress leadership. But when the Viceroy said plainly that he could not give any assurance that he or the British cabinet would pledge to support a scheme of full Dominion Status, the Round Table Conference could not possibly furnish the solution which vocal India was consciously and the 'dumb' millions were unconsciously thirsting.33
'It seems as clear as daylight that responsible British statesmen do not contemplate any alteration in British policy that might adversely affect Britain's commerce with India or require an impartial and close scrutiny of Britain's transactions with India. If nothing is done to end the process of exploitation India must be bled with an ever increasing speed.34
Gandhi pleaded that the terrific pressure of land revenue, which furnished a large part of the total must undergo considerable modification in an independent India. Even the much wanted permanent settlement benefited the few rich Zamindars, not the ryots. The ryot had remained as helpless as ever: he was a mere tenant-at-will. 'Not only, then, has the land revenue to be considerably reduced, but the whole revenue system had to be so revised as to make the ryot's good its primary concern. But the British system seemed to be designed to crush the very life out of him. Even the salt he must use to live was so taxed as to make the burden fall heaviest on him. The tax showed itself more burdensome on the poor man when it was quite evident that salt was the one thing he must eat more than the rich man individually and collectively.35
Besides, he reminded the Viceroy about the expensiveness of the British administration in India. The Viceroy was getting Rs. 21,000/- per month, besides many other indirect 'additions'. The British Prime Minister was getting £5,000/- per year i.e. over Rs. 5,400/- per month. Thus the former was getting over Rs. 700/- per day against India's average income of less than annas two per day. The latter got Rs. 180/, per day against Great Britain's average income of nearly Rs. 2/- per day. Thus the Viceroy was getting much over five thousand times India's average income. The Prime Minister was getting only ninety times Britain's average income. 'On bended knees I ask you to ponder over this phenomenon..... I have too great a regard for you as a man to wish to hurt your feelings. I know that you do not need the salary you get. Probably, the whole of your salary goes for charity. But a system that provides for such an arrangement deserves to be summarily scrapped. What is true of the Viceregal salary is true generally of the whole administration.'36
Elaborating his point emphatically, Gandhi stated that India was to live as a nation. If the slow death by starvation of her people was to stop, some remedy must be found for immediate relief. The proposed conference was certainly not the remedy. 'The matter resolves itself into one of matching forces. Conviction or no conviction, Great Britain would defend her Indian commerce and interests by all the forces at her command. India must consequently evolve force enough to free herself from that embrace of death.'37
Emphasising his faith in the creed of nonviolence and the efficacy of his belief against the forces of violence Gandhi explained that non-violence could be an intensely active force, and it was his purpose to set in motion that force as well against the organised violent force of the British rule as against the unorganised violent force of the growing party of violence. 'To sit still would be to give rein to both the forces above mentioned. Having an unquestioning and immovable faith in the efficacy of nonviolence as I know it, it would be sinful on my part to wait any longer.'38
This nonviolence was to be expressed through Civil Disobedience, for the moment confined to the inmates of the satyagraha ashram, but ultimately it was designed to cover all those who would choose to join the movement with its obvious limitations. Gandhi explained, 'I know that in embarking on nonviolence, I shall be running what might fairly be termed a mad risk. But the victories of truth have never been won without risks, often of the gravest character. Conversion of a nation that has consciously or unconsciously preyed upon another, far more numerous, far more ancient and no less cultured than itself, is worth any amount of risk.'39
In the end, he respectfully invited the Viceroy to pave the way for immediate removal of those evils, and requested him to open a way for a real conference between equals, interested only in promoting the common good of mankind through voluntary fellowship and arranging terms of mutual help equally suited to both. 'But if you cannot see your way to deal with these evils and my letter makes no appeal to your heart, on the 11th day of this month,'40 I shall proceed with such co-workers of the Ashram as I can take, to disregard the provisions of the salt laws. I regard this tax to be the most iniquitous of all from the poor man's standpoint. As the independence movement is essentially for the poorest in the land the beginning will be made with this evil.'41
Lord Irwin's reply was brief and was simply an expression of regret that Gandhi would be 'contemplating a course of action which is clearly bound to involve violation of the law and danger to the public peace.'42
Left with no other alternative after the Viceroy's brief, blunt and unhelpful reply, Gandhi made up his mind to make preparations for the historic march with a handful of devoted workers. In a prayer meeting at the Sabarmati ashram on 5 March, he fixed up 12th March for the campaign and asked the ashramites to get ready in five days. They were asked not to worry about food or water. When it was suggested that four or five women might be allowed to go along, Gandhi who did not wish to take women in his march, explained, 'Only men will accompany us. Women and others will stay in the Ashram. Women will have enough opportunity to offer satyagraha. Just as Hindus do not harm a cow, the British do not attack women as far as possible. For Hindus it would be cowardice to take a cow to the battle-field. In the same way it would be cowardice for us to have women accompany us.'43
Five days before the historic march Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was arrested at Ras and he was convicted. Such a step by the British government was criticised by the Congress leadership and was greatly resented the people. Gandhi commented, 'The fight has now commenced and we have to carry it to its conclusion. People should celebrate the Sardar's arrest and the sentence passed on him by observing a general hartal. I request the mill-owners to close the mills, the students to absent themselves from their institutions and all shop-keepers to close their shops.... Our struggle must remain nonviolent from beginning to end.''44
The next day, in a speech at Ahmedabad Gandhi explained to his audience that the time had come when they and he would be finally tested. 'I had never dreamt that Sardar Vallabhbhai would be imprisoned so soon. I think his services to Gujarat, and more particularly to this city, exceed mine a hundred times..... I am eager to get arrested at any cost. I want to deprive the Government of its illegitimate monopoly of salt. My aim is to get the Salt Tax abolished.' He expected them to put into practice the pledge which he had drafted for them. It ran as follows:
'We the citizens of Ahmedabad men and women, hereby resolve to follow Sardar Vallabhbhai to jail or win complete independence. We shall have no peace, nor will we let the Government have any, till we have won complete independence. We believe that India's freedom is to be won through peaceful and truthful means.'45
To seek their confirmed, committed and assured support in this national task, Gandhi expected that thousands of men and women present there would raise their hands and take the pledge for which he had been training the country in general, and the citizens of Ahmedabad in particular, for the last fifteen years, and which was taken at the time of the labour strike there. At this bidding, thousands of hands were raised.46 Thus Gandhi became quite sure about the ungrudging support and loyalty of the people in Ahmedabad directly and in India as a whole when he was to give the final call for people's participation in his movement.
The choice for the route of the historic march was made with due considerations to various options. Some constructive workers from the Surat district told Gandhi that there were many facilities in their area for easy manufacture of salt. Moreover, complete peace was likely to be preserved there and, along with it, help from the general public was also very probable.
Due to these considerations, the choice fell on Jalalpur taluka for the marching corps. When the struggle for Swaraj was launched at Bardoli, the Jalalpur Taluka had applied for being chosen for the honour and Gandhi had several 'sweet memories' of his experience of the place. The constructive programme there was in a flourishing state. Besides the taluka had many facilities for the manufacture of salt and the people there were full of enthusiasm and in every way ready to participate in the struggle.47
Gandhi was quite sanguine about the participation of the people of Jalalpur taluka and of Gujarat in the Satyagraha, 'I hope the whole of Gujarat will join this time. If Gujarat takes the initiative, I have no doubt that the whole of India will rise up.... I, therefore, look upon this struggle as the final test. If countless multitudes join the struggle and if peace is preserved, we shall win Swaraj earlier than we imagine.48
The tentative programme for the historic march was chalked out three days earlier, but some preliminaries were yet to be finalised. Gandhi issued some instructions to be strictly carried out by the marchers during their long journey on foot. The satyagrahi party was expected to reach each place by 8 o'clock in the morning and to sit down for lunch between 10.00 and 10.30 A.M. No rooms would be needed for rest at noon or night, but a clean, shaded place would be enough to have a bamboo-and-grass covering.49
It was assumed that the people in the villages would provide the satyagraha volunteers with food, cooked or uncooked. It would be the simplest food. Nothing more than roti or rotla or kedgaree with vegetables and milk or curds, would be required. As a principle, sweets if presented, would be declined. Vegetables were to be merely boiled, and no oil, spices and chilies, whether green or dry, whole or crushed, would be added or used in the cooking. The ghee for all the meals together should not exceed three tolas per head. One tola in the rab, one served separately to be smeared on the bhakhri, and one to be put into the kedgaree. 'For me goat's milk, if available, in the morning, at noon and at night, and dates and three lemons will do.'50
Mahatma Gandhi advised the marchers to carry their own bedding, so that the villagers would have to provide nothing except a clean place for resting in. The villagers were not to incur any expense on account of betel leaves, betel-nuts or tea for the party. He was very keen to know each and every minute detail about the villages his satyagrahis were to visit during the march. He therefore sought information about population, number of men, women, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis, etc., number of untouchables, boys and girls studying in the school, number of spinning-wheels, the monthly sale of khadi, number of people weaving khadi exclusively, salt consumed per head, salt used for cattle etc., number of cows and buffaloes in the village, the amount of land revenue paid and at what rate per acre, the area of the common grazing-ground if any, drinking habits of the people and educational and other special facilities, if any, for the untouchables.51
Two days before the march, the prayer meeting at Sabarmati ashram was attended by about 2,000 persons. At the end of the meeting, Gandhi exhorted the audience. 'Everyone is on the tip-toe of expectation, and before anything has happened the thing has attracted world-wide attention.... You have come here because you have been familiarized by now with the idea of seeking voluntary imprisonment .... Supposing ten men in each of the 700,000 villages in India come forward to manufacture salt and to disobey the Salt Act what do you think can this Government do? Even the worst autocrat you can imagine would not dare to blow regiments of peaceful civil resisters. I want you to take your courage in both hands and contribute in men towards the struggle which promises to be fierce and prolonged. I certainly expect the city of Ahmedabad, the Ahmedabad of Vallabhbhai, who is already in jail, to furnish an unlimited supply of volunteers to keep the stream unbroken, in case batch after batch happen to be arrested and marched to jail.'52
In an interview to the Manchester Guardian, Gandhi admitted with all seriousness that this might be his last chance, and if he did not seize it, it might never come again. He did not believe that there was any solution to the Indian problem except the one he had then proposed.53
While preparing for the historic march, Dr. Rajendra Prasad had suggested that a message of Mahatma Gandhi might be recorded so that it could be played in every nook and comer of the country and in all the villages after he was arrested. The reply he gave shows his indomitable faith in truth and its ultimate success. He said, 'If there is truth in my message, then whether I am inside or outside the jail, people are bound to pay need to it. But if there is no truth in it, then in spite of all your efforts, and even with the help of gramophone, you would not be able to carry it to the people. If the satyagraha we are going to start is really satyagraha, that is to say, if it means an insistence on truth, and if we are prepared to go ahead on the basis of truth and nonviolence, it is bound to succeed, whether people hear my words or not, and whether my voice reaches their ears or not. Therefore, a record like this is neither necessary nor likely to be of any help.'54
When Gandhi started his march, he took a vow that he would return to the ashram after the attainment of Swaraj or not at all. He kept this promise, for he never returned to the Sabarmati ashram. After the Civil Disobedience Movement, he went to Wardha, where he spent some time before moving on to a village nearby which came to be known as Sevagram.55
In another prayer meeting on 11 March at Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi made it clear that they would win the goal for which they were marching or die in the attempt to win it. There could be no turning back for them. They would keep on their fight till swaraj was established in India. 'This will be the last fight. The soldiers who accompany me must note that there was to be no retreat.... Only with complete victory could we return to this place.'56
Prof. Haridas T. Mazumdar, one of the prominent volunteers in this historic march, in an article in The Bombay Chronicle stated, 'The great movement has come, the movement for which Gandhi has been labouring all his life .... The most historic and the most dramatic event of the century will take place on the morrow when Gandhi and his faithful band of followers commence their march for the sea-coast with a view to violating openly and deliberately the provisions of the Salt Act and manufacturing contraband salt'57
As the time for the march was approaching nearer Gandhi began to show much anxiety to give a message to the people so that a particular line of action might be adhered to when he was on the move and not on the scene to advise and guide them. He made it perfectly clear that he and his associates had resolved to utilize all their resources in the pursuit of an exclusively nonviolent struggle. 'Let no one commit a wrong in anger.... My task shall be done if I perish and so do my comrades. It will then be for the Working Committee of the Congress to show you the way and it will be up to you to follow its lead.'58
Gandhi suggested that the movement would still remain in control in the hands of those Congressmen who believed in nonviolence as an article of faith. He advised Congressmen to do nothing in contravention to the authority vested in him, so long as he had not reached Jalalpur.59
'But once I am arrested, the whole general responsibility shifts to the Congress. No one who believes in nonviolence as a creed, need therefore sit still. My compact with the Congress ends as soon as I am arrested. In that case there should be no slackness in the enrolment of volunteers. Wherever possible, civil disobedience of salt laws should be started. These laws can be violated in three ways. It is an offence to manufacture salt wherever there are facilities for doing so. The possession and sale of contraband salt (which includes natural salt or salt earth) is also an offence. The purchasers of such salt will be equally guilty. To carry away the natural salt deposits on the seashore is likewise a violation of law. So is the hawking of salt. In short, you may choose anyone or all of these devices to break the salt monopoly.'60
The Mahatma advised the satyagrahis to obey the orders of the local leaders. Where there were no leaders and only a handful of men had faith in the national programme, they might do what they could, if they had enough self-confidence. 'The history of the world is full of instances of men who rose to leadership by sheer force of self-confidence, bravery and tenacity. We too, if we sincerely aspire to Swaraj and are impatient to attain it, should have similar self-confidence. Our ranks will swell and our hearts strengthen as the number of our arrests by Government increases.'61
'I shall eagerly await the news that ten batches are ready as soon as my batch is arrested. I believe there are men in India to complete the work begun by me today. I have faith in the righteousness of our cause and the purity of our weapons. And where the means are clean, there God is undoubtedly present with His blessings. And where these three combine, there defeat is an impossibility for a satyagrahi, whether free or incarcerated, is ever victorious. He is vanquished only when he forsakes truth and nonviolence and turns a deaf ear to the Inner Voice. If, therefore, there is such a thing as defeat for even a satyagrahi, he alone is the cause of it. God bless you all and keep off all obstacles from the patch in the struggle that begins tomorrow. Let this be our prayer.'62
Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress president, was also informed of the developing political situation in the country. Gandhi had no doubts about his arrest. 'Things are developing extraordinarily well. Offers of volunteers are pouring in. The column will proceed with the march even though I may be arrested.'63
Gandhi also sent a message to the Bombay Provincial Congress Committee and agreed with the Committee that Jamnalal Bajaj's direction and advice in Bombay at that time would be of greater benefit to the province as a whole. We hoped that Bombay would make the fullest use of his presence and would take a leading part as had been its wont in the movement of emancipation.64
Gopal Krishna Gokhale is reported to have said that Gandhi was capable of turning heroes out of clay.65 Indeed, Gandhi was very meticulous about the dates, direction, locale, objectives, participants, leadership, strength of opposition, reaction of opponents and above all the results. The task undertaken and executed by him varied form one circumstance to another. He always evolved tactics to meet the specific situation, both 'offensively and defensively.'
Louis Fischer, the famous biographer of Mahatma Gandhi, depicted the scene at the ashram thus. 'India bubbled with excitement and curiosity. Scores of foreign and domestic correspondents dogged Gandhi's footsteps in the ashram: what exactly would he do? Thousands surrounded the village and waited. The excitement spread abroad. Cables kept the Ahmedabad post office humming. 'God guard you,' the Reverend Dr John Haynes Holmes wired from New York'.66
The Bombay Chronicle stated, Great March for Liberty Begins—Ashram Besieged by Eager Crowds.'67
Streams of khadi clad men and women had flowed to the ashram all night through to have a darshan of the Mahatma and witness the great march. The number of persons had swollen to well nigh ten thousand, when the evening prayer was held in the campus of the ashram. Among them were journalists and camera-men from far and near and correspondents of some British newspapers as well. The Times of India reported, 'enormous crowds are making their way to Mr. Gandhi's Ashram. The long stream of cars is reminiscent of Queen's Road Bombay after the races. Most have come out of curiosity and hope to hear Mr. Gandhi make his last utterance before the great trek.'