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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 13, New Delhi, March 13, 2021

Lessons of Dandi March When on its 91st Anniversary Celebrations of 75th Anniversary of India’s Independence has Commenced | S N Sahu

Friday 12 March 2021

by S.N.Sahu*

The Government of India has decided to commence celebrations of the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, falling on 15th August 2022, by organising Azadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav on 12th March 2021, the day marking the 91st anniversary of historic Dandi March launched by Mahatma Gandhi on 12th March 1930 from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi to break iniquitous salt law and achieve independence for our country. Prime Minister of India Mr. Modi launched the Mahotsav on 12th March 2021 and said that Gandhiji through Dandi March “...gave the message of atma-nirbharta (self-reliance) and atma-vishwas (self-confidence). Mr. Modi also flagged off a padyatra (foot march) from Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat to re-enact Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi Yatra. By constricting the vision associated with Dandi March to only self reliance and self confidence Prime Minister is deliberately undermining its larger significance which encapsulates in its scope, among others, the right to dissent and protest against unjust law, the battle of right against might, gender equality, Hindu- Muslim unity and pluralism as opposed to homogeneity. It is worthwhile, therefore, to deeply reflect on deeper dimensions of Dandi March the significance of which endures beyond time and space.

Dandi March was an unprecedented and unique event not only in the history of India but also in the history of mankind surpassing the importance, method, scope and objective of possibly any other movement and march started at any time and any where in the world for freedom and independence. It is well known that it revolved around the breaking of salt law, which triggered the civil disobedience movement and aimed at achieving independence for our country. Entirely planned, designed and executed by Mahatma Gandhi it was an epoch making March which lasted only for 26 days, electrified the nation, awakened the world with its moral momentum and spiritual appeal and shook the very foundation of the British Empire. Beginning on 12th March it concluded on 6th April 1930 and encompassed in its scope the goal of political and economic independence and all round progress of what Mahatma Gandhi called the dumb millions of our country. It was a historic March undertaken by him following the Resolution he moved in the Lahore Session of the Indian National Congress in December 1929 demanding complete independence for our country.

It has to be studied and analyzed to understand its deep significance not only for the cause of our independence and our country but also for the cause of the world and the whole of humanity in the context of the problems and challenges of our age. It is eternally relevant for the issues it raised and the method it adopted and the manner in which it involved the vast masses of ordinary women and men in its marvelous and morally uplifting “battle of right against might”.

One of the fascinating and absorbing aspects of the Dandi March was the way Gandhiji reached out to the people from all sections of society particularly the ordinary men and women and the underprivileged and downtrodden among them and sought their support for the great March. His personal life of extraordinary simplicity and his identification with the common people of our country inspired and motivated them to follow him. But the way he appealed to their intellect and heart by understanding their suffering and exploitation and explaining to them about the reality in an intelligible manner helped them to comprehend their objective social and economic conditions and the need to change those by participating in the struggle for independence.

Disparity of Income and Wealth Caused by British Rule

For example he did not straight away take up the high-minded ideals of liberty and equality and tell them that the British rulers denied these to them and therefore they should rise against the foreign rule and oppression. He made them understood these ideals by educating them about the disparities of daily income between an average Indian and the then Viceroy of India and compared it with the average daily income of a Briton with the daily income of the then British Prime Minister. He pointed out that while the daily income of an average Indian was only 12 paise, the British Viceroy’s daily earning was Rs.700. He referred to the corresponding figure for an average British citizen and the Prime Minister of that country and said that it was Rs.2 and Rs.180 respectively.  He brought to the knowledge of the common people that while the British Viceroy was getting much over five thousand times India’s average income, the British Prime Minister was getting only ninety times Britain’s average income. On 2nd March 1930 i.e. 10 days before he commenced the famous Dandi March he wrote to the then Viceroy of India Lord Irwin about these chilling figures, conveyed him the crushing burden of the Zamindari system and exorbitant land revenue on the ordinary peasants and cultivators and thoroughly outlined the exploitation suffered by the people of India and the moral and spiritual degradation they were subjected to under the colonial rule. Giving reasons as to why he regarded the British rule a curse, he explained in that incisive letter to the Viceroy, “It has impoverished the dumb millions by a system of progressive exploitation and by a ruinously expensive military and civil administration which the country can never afford.” Stating that people were desperate and restless to liberate themselves from such an exploitative system he told the Viceroy the meaning of independence as understood by ordinary people. He wrote, “To them independence means deliverance from the killing weight”. Gandhiji thus interpreted independence in terms of the needs and aspirations of the common people and informed them and communicated with them in that language only. With rare sensitivity he understood the pulse and the hearts and minds of the people. He felt that by choosing an issue like salt which is commonly used by all people and by flagging their common sufferings regardless of their religion and language they could be united across the length and breadth of the country and be made the mainstay of the struggle for independence of India. He informed the Viceroy that the independence was essentially for the poorest in the land and he would strive for it through civil disobedience movement by violating the provisions of the salt law as he regarded the tax on salt “to be the most iniquitous of all from the poor man’s stand point”. Gandhiji communicated these facts to the people, informed them about their social and economic conditions and made them aware of their duty to join the struggle for independence. During the March he, through his speeches and writings, was driving home these points for enlisting their support. It constituted a remarkable effort to inform people who had the right to know about the cause of their suffering. Each step Gandhiji was taking during the March was a giant step for right to information. In a way he was spearheading a revolutionary movement for the right to information which is now at the heart of many movements launched by people themselves for defending the Right to Information Act which has been diluted considerably.

Right of People Over Natural Resources 

 One of the enduring lessons of the Dandi March was the right of the people over the natural resources which legitimately belonged to them. Gandhiji by choosing salt as the main theme of the civil disobedience movement was challenging the monopoly of natural resources by the mighty and powerful. In fact any body violating the salt law and inadvertently challenging the monopoly of the British Government to manufacture salt was being given exemplary punishment. Twenty three years before Gandhi commenced Dandi March, i.e. in 1907, a Bombay mill operative, while passing along the shorse picked up a little bit of natural salt deposited by sea. He was tried by the magistrate for infringement of the salt law and fined Rs. 10. The leading newspaper The Statesman wrote a piece “Fine for a Tola of Salt” and asked “ it possible, even in India, that the Government should allow so shameful a conviction to stand? ” It then lamentably remarked, “...this case throws a fierce sidelight as to how oppressive the salt tax has proved on the majority of the people of India, who cannot, labour how they will, manage to eke out a sufficient livelihood”. It reveled the magnitude of the burden of the tax on poor people of our country. By organizing the Dandi March Gandhiji was mobilizing public opinion against the oppressive salt tax and morally convincing the world at large that people had the inalienable right over the resources of the nature which was wrongly appropriated by the colonial rulers. The central message of Dandi March was in fact about the equitable distribution of resources and access of the poor to such resources so that the dumb millions to whom such resources belonged could become their owners. In the letter he wrote to Viceroy Lord Irwin on 2nd March 1930, which has been referred to earlier, Gandhiji wondered as to how “...we have submitted to the cruel monopoly for so long”. In fact on 10th April 1930, four days after the completion of the march, in an article in the Young India he wrote, “The British Empire was conceived in immorality, for it was to perpetuate the exploitation of India’s resources that it was founded.” The Dandi march by harnessing the power of the ordinary people aimed at restoring the right of the people on the resources of the nation. To day when ordinary people are in the forefront of the struggle against crony capitalism promoted consciously by the top leadership of our country. They are also for environmental protection and sustainable development. It is in such contexts the massage of Dandi march for fighting against the wreckless exploitation of natural resources, for the benefit of crony capitalists, assumes enormous significance.

Inclusive Approach of Dandi March 

One of the disturbing and dangerous trends of our time is the upsurge of forces which harp on exclusiveness and foster counter culture that has brought pressure on our inclusive identity and tolerant and pluralistic tradition. To fight against such forces and to defeat them we need to derive appropriate lessons form Dandi March. The entire plan of Mahatma Gandhi to undertake the March was based on inclusive approach. He wrote the letter to Viceroy, which was a blue print for our freedom from British rule and exploitation and asked a British gentleman Mr.Reynolds to carry it to the Viceroy. By selecting a British national to hand over the letter to the British Government he was consciously sending a powerful message to the rest of the world that our struggle for swaraj was based on the support of all sections of society including the English people. He wrote, “It was neither empty formulation nor a touch of vanity that prompted me to send an English friend with my letter to the Viceroy. By choosing Reginald Reynolds as my messenger, I sealed the bond between them and me. For my enmity is not against them, it is against their rule.” The universal vision behind the Dandi march needs to be invoked to strengthen our inclusive society. In the same letter he accused the British Government for all the time invoking the communal problem plaguing the land and sidestepping the real exploitation of people to perpetuate the colonial rule. He wrote, “You have unnecessarily laid stress upon the communal problem that unhappily affect this land. Important though they undoubtedly are for the consideration of any scheme of government, they have little bearing on the greater problems which are above communities and which affect them all equally.” In fact by taking up the salt he transcended the narrow confines of communal and caste barriers and brought about the unity of people professing diverse faiths. The way he opposed the salt tax was not only novel but also revealing for our times marked by calculated attack on minorities and aggressive promotion of majoritarianism by giving primacy to Hindutva.

Gandhi referred to the scriptures of all religions, drew from them support and strength to advance his argument that poor and women were exempted from tax and sensitized people that the British law imposing a heavy tax on salt was against the injunctions of all religious tenets and caused untold suffering to the poor and the downtrodden communities. Thus combining the religious and rational approach to explain the phenomenon of economic exploitation under British rule he appealed to the heads and hearts of all communities, enlisted the support of members of all denominations and prepared a common front against the British rule for achieving independence in a non-violent manner.

Gandhi as the Trustee of Hindu-Muslim Unity

Two days before Gandhiji started Dandi March Shri Shaukat Ali who joined hands with him during the Khilafat movement and eloquently proclaimed Hindu Muslim unity, accused Gandhiji that his March would herald Hindu raj in India. Gandhiji not only refuted the accusation but declared on the day of commencement of the March i.e. on 12th March 1930 that he along with his fellow workers were the trustees of Hindu- Muslim unity. While Marching towards Dandi a young man from Muslim community asked him a question regarding the future legislature of India and wanted to know the number of seats the Muslim community would get for their representatives. In his own characteristic way he replied, “Give me a seat in the legislative assembly only if there is any left after giving them to Muslims, Parsis, Christians and all others”. The breadth of vision, the broadminded approach and the tolerant outlook remained the driving force behind the Dandi March and need to be invoked to counter the divisive tendencies which stoke the flame of communalism and put at stake our unity, composite cultural ethos and above all invited international opprobrium for themselves and for the country. As the March was proceeding from Sabarmati to Dandi large numbers of Muslims, Christians and all other religious groupings lined the route, extended moral and material support to Gandhiji and his fellow marchers and blessed them to succeed in their mission. He received wide support from all communities for the cause of breaking the salt law. To dispel any notion that Muslims were aggrieved with him, he accepted the invitation from a Muslim friend from Dandi to stay in his house and declared that he would commence the Satyagraha from there. The message of unity among all religious communities is paramount importance in the context of what happened in Gujarat during February and May 2002 and what our country is witnessing in the form of polarisation and divisiveness in the name of religion. Such sinister developments have caused pain and suffering to all communities and tarnished the image of India in the comity of nations.

Gandhi Redefined Religion from the perspective of service to people

It is well known that Gandhiji was a deeply religious person, had a profound spiritual outlook and was a critique of organized religion. When he undertook the Dandi march he was sixty-one years of age. Many suggested him that the real Dharma for a man of his age was to go the Himalayas for the purpose of seeing God and attaining the liberation of soul. But his reply that he had learnt an opposite dharma and wanted to have Darshan of God through the March and by identifying himself with thirty crores of people of India, constitute a refreshing approach to religion which stands far above superstition, rituals and orthodoxy and stands for humanism and service to the humanity. He redefined theism and said a believer in God was one who established heart unity with Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Sikhs and men and women of every section of each community. In our own time when a counter culture of superstition and outmoded practices has been able to distort religious believes and practices and blinds people’s perception and prompts them to take resort to violent and inhuman action, it is pertinent to hark back to Mahatma Gandhi who redefined dharma as service of the people and who described the Dandi March as a sacred pilgrimage in quest of spirituality and purification of mind and body. Religion ceases to be religion if it is used to promote hatred and animosity and divide people and cause blood shed among them.

Role of Women in Dandi March 

One of the striking features of the Dandi March was the enthusiastic role played by women in supporting the March and actively participating in it. As part of the larger plan for civil disobedience movement they also carried out other activities such as promotion of Khadi, picketing of liquor shops and cleaning of villages and making rural people aware of the values and importance of sanitation and hygiene for keeping themselves healthy and free from disease. During the Dandi March Mahatma Gandhi appealed for support from all sections of society. Women responded to Gandhiji’s call, came in large numbers leaving their home and family and involved themselves in doing every thing possible to make it successful. They displayed remarkable courage and heroism in coming out of the four walls of the home and taking part in one of the greatest struggles of mankind for freedom and independence. Mahatma Gandhi himself acknowledged by eloquently saying, “... in this struggle for freedom, the contribution of women will exceed that of men”. He lamented that the burden of domestic work kept women away from the public life and deprived the nation of their service. In fact during the March when Gandhiji asked the village women if they knew Jawaharlal Nehru they said, “How can we know”? Stating that the women were not at fault for the ignorance, he blamed the attitude and outlook which was responsible for keeping them as house keepers, cooks, scavengers and drawers of water. He was hopeful that with the success of the March and the Civil Disobedience Movement the share of women in every activity of life would be as big as that of men. Women did come out of the narrow domestic walls and played a key role in galvanizing the Civil Disobedience Movement and becoming its torchbearers. The upsurge of women marked a new era for their awakening and empowerment. The publication of the British Government entitled “India in 1930-31” observed, “Thousands of them- many being of good family and high educational attainments- suddenly emerged from the seclusion of their homes, and in some instance actually from purdah, in order to join Congress demonstration and assist in picketing; and their presence on these occasions made the work the police were required to perform particularly unpleasant.” The progress of women in India owing to the Dandi March started by Gandhiji 91 years ago and need to be carried forward with redoubled vigour so that they, in the words of Mahatma, have as big as men’s share in the national affairs.

Vision of an Inclusive and Egalitarian Society 

Dandi March was a march for a society based on equity and justice. I have earlier argued that the Mahatma Gandhi was one of the ardent exponents of inclusive society. He wanted every sections of population to have access to social and economic opportunities of life. Dandi March covered many villages. Before he started the March Gandhiji asked his colleagues to give him a detailed socio-economic survey of each village he would pass through. In that Survey he specifically wanted to know if educational facilities were available for the residents of the village and if yes whether such facilities were open to the women and untouchables. Such concern to know if the marginalized and lowest sections of society had access to education brings out the vision of Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of a society which is inclusive and egalitarian.

Health Dimensions of Dandi March 

Dandi March was the March for the health of our people and nation. The lesson of the Dandi March for building the health of our people assumes enormous significance. One may be little curious to find out as to how a March conceived to break the salt law and start the Civil Disobedience Movement could have any link with the health our people. In fact during the March some of the marchers suffered from fever, some had swelling on their feet and one of them suffered from mild small pox. Mahatma Gandhi described them as small accidents and said that a lesson should be drawn from them. He wondered how his fellow marchers could not withstand the strain of ten to fourteen kilometers of walk daily and had to suffer the fatigue and tiredness. Even though he was a sixty one year old man and walking faster than others nothing happened to him. He was distressed by lack of strength of those who walked with him and wrote on 3rd April 1930, three days before he broke the salt law, about the need to do exercises. In his own words,

The modern generation is delicate, weak, and much pampered. If they will take part in national work they must take ample exercise and become hardy. And no exercise is as good as and as effective as long vigorous marches. Gymnastics and the like are good and may be added to walking. They are no substitutes for walking, justly called prince of exercises.

The modern generation he referred to has become weaker, extremely delicate and remained vulnerable to cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and diabetes due to reduced physical activity and lack of exercises. The health disorders affecting them are alarming and therefore the prescription of Mahatma Gandhi for ample exercises through long and fast walk and gymnastics is of relevance for all time to come.

In fact a deeper analysis of his writings and speeches during the March brings to us his remarkable insights for keeping ourselves physically fit. Before he started the March he wrote a detailed note outlining the way food would be prepared for the consumption of those who were participating in the march. He strictly prohibited the use of oil and spices to keep the health of the volunteers fit for the 240 kilometer walk. During the March when some enthusiastic workers used vehicles to get milk from Surat he felt sad and remarked, “Do not resort to motor cars on the slightest pretext. The rule is, do not ride if you can walk.” The proliferation of motorized transport and the increase of cars and vehicles per family and person have caused many health problems in developed countries. The same trend is emerging in our country and people are using cars and other motorised transport in the slightest pretext. “The rule is” as Gandhiji, said, “do not ride if you can walk”. This is almost like catchy health slogan coined during the Dandi March by the Father of our Nation almost in anticipation of the terrific increase of vehicle population and our use of such modes of transport at the grave risk of our health, economy and fuel. This is indeed the enduring relevance of Dandi March for our critical times.

The cause of Indian doctors was upheld by Gandhi during Dandi March 

While relating Dandi March to the issues concerning health of our nation my mind is drawn to the comment of the leading medical journal Lancet, being published from London. I think apart from the British Government all sections of the British society including the medical fraternity put pressure on Mahatma Gandhi not to go ahead with the March. The Lancet in its March 1930 issue cautioned that in spite of the growth of medical education in India the country would depend on British doctors for a long time to come. It reminded Gandhiji that he himself preferred a British surgeon to an Indian surgeon to get surgical treatment. Possibly the medical journal was suggesting that the struggle for independence if succeeded in freeing India from British rule might not be good for the public health of the country. Mahatma Gandhi wrote a piece entitled “A Vicious Insinuation” and refuted the charge that he preferred a British surgeon to an Indian one. He clarified that his surgeon Dr. Dalal could not arrive in time and therefore he had to take surgical treatment from a British surgeon. He then boldly asserted that he never felt the dearth of Indian physicians or surgeons of the highest caliber and proclaimed that on numerous occasions he himself had recommended many Europeans to go to Indian surgeons who did a commendable job in providing the European patients the best medical attention. He then forcefully stated that if British withdrew India would do well in every sphere including the field of medicine and health. How true was Mahatma Gandhi indeed! To day Indian surgeons and doctors are acclaimed the world over for their high caliber and talent. The Lancet medical journal, which condescendingly commented that India would depend on the British doctors for maintaining its public health, must be grudgingly noting that in twenty first century the National Health Service of England is critically dependent on Indian doctors. There are reports that if Indian doctors withdraw from the England the health service of that country would collapse. Besides, there are large number of patients from Europe and America who are visiting India to avail of the best medical facilities in the country at an incredibly low cost. It speaks volumes for the high quality doctors and medical care available in our country. The utterances of Mahatma Gandhi, a few days after he broke the salt law, that “I have never felt the dearth of Indian surgeons or physicians of the highest caliber” and “...if British withdrew India would be self contained in every department” have been amply vindicated.

Water Conservation - A fascinating Dimension of Dandi March 

One of the defining problems of our age is the shortage of water which has not only affected our country but also the whole world and threatened to create potential conflict zones. The issue of severe scarcity of water affecting the lives of people and causing deterioration of their health had agitated the minds of Mahatma Gandhi when he was in the midst of walk to break the salt law. In one of his speeches delivered on 30th march 1930 he painfully referred to the conditions in central provinces, distressingly noted that people suffered form want of food and water and expressed the desire that if any body could give him money he would first of all have wells dug for providing drinking water to the people. Again on third April 1930 i.e. three days before he broke the salt law he told his colleagues about the scarcity of water in Dandi and cautioned them to use it as if it was milk”. The warning note issued by Gandhiji to become conscious of water and use it as if it was milk sounds so intensely relevant for the twenty first century which may be described as the one of the most water stressed centuries in the history of mankind. One more pronouncement of Gandhiji made during the Dandi march relates to river, the condition of which has deteriorated and is causing worry to all. While crossing several rivers on the route he made a remark that “A river is after all an external sign of purification”. In fact the pollution of the river water and decline of the quality of water in ponds and other water bodies is the indicator of the impurities which have adversely affected the larger environment and for which we need to be mindful of our own action and take corrective steps to remedy the situation. Let us pay tribute to his vision, which could go beyond the immediate issues of his time and outline the vision of the future of mankind.

Dandi March An Exercise in Self Examination and Upholding the Culture of Accountability 

The Dandi March was in the words of Mahatma Gandhi was an exercise in self examination and purification. After walking for 17 days Gandhiji saw his co-workers engaged in bringing milk and oranges and other fresh fruits which were more than what was required. He also saw a huge light being carried by a poor man on his head during the night and being scolded by others to walk as fast as Gandhiji used to do. Those incidents saddened him and he delivered a speech the title of which was “Turning the Searchlight Inward”. He reminded his fellow workers that their goal was to purify themselves to the extent possible before they dedicated for the cause of civil disobedience. He told his colleagues that such a campaign could not be sustained by extravaganza. He reminded them the letter in which he brought out the huge gap in the daily income of the Viceroy and an average Indian and asked them how he would justify what he wrote if such extravaganza continued. He asked his colleagues to account for the money they had spent in getting milk and oranges. The statement of Mahatma Gandhi to ask his colleagues to account for the expenses is of paramount importance when there is so much attention focused on the issue of accountability as an indispensable aspect of good governance and there is such concern expressed for the erosion of accountability in every sphere of polity and society.

Gandhiji’ s distress to see a poor man carrying a heavy light on his head and his heartfelt pain expressed in his comments remind us of the central objective for which we fought for our independence. He was not only pained to see a poor man carrying the burden of light but also cautioned that if such practices continued he would launch a satyagraha against them. He stated that they all fought against the forced labour and were fighting for the rights of the dumb millions and said, “ Remember that in Swaraj we expect one drawn from the so-called lower class to preside over India’s destiny”. The self-questioning attitude and the ability to revive and restore the morale of the marchers by invoking the moral dimension of the struggle had the desired effect of his colleagues who not only rectified the mistake but never repeated them. Ninety one years after the Dandi march we need to recapture that spirit of that historic march and infuse values and morality in our national and public life.

Spiritual Basis of Dandi March 

For Mahatma Gandhi spirituality remained the source of strength. In the beginning of the Dandi march Gandhiji said, “The inner spiritual rules have a greater effect than the external and material factors. Such is the idea behind this march”. On anther day of the March he again said “On the principle that the greater includes the less, the national independence or material freedom in included in the spiritual”. In fact the spiritual force arising from discipline of body, mind and dedication to duty in a nonviolent manner electrified the nation and actuated every section of society to join the historic struggle for independence. None less than Lord Irwin, who while addressing the Central Legislative assembly, acknowledged,

Many times during the last twelve months thoughtful men and women must have pondered deeply over what has been their most poignant and perplexing feature. However mistaken any man may think him to be, and however deplorable may appear the results of the policy associated with his name, no one can fail to recognize the spiritual force which impels Mr. Gandhi to count no sacrifice too great in the cause as he believes, of the India that he loves.

Larger Objective of Dandi March- To Free the World from monstrous greed of materialism 

Three weeks after he broke the salt law in Dandi Mahatma Gandhi wrote “ The struggle is not only of Hindus or of Muslims or of any one community. It is of all Indians. And, if we go a step further, this struggle is for freeing the world from the monstrous tyranny of material greed; it is a struggle to prove that money is not God....” In other words the underlying message behind the historic Dandi March was spiritual. To day the world is facing unprecedented danger to the very existence of human civilization due to environmental degradation which is an out come of the what Gandhi had described as the “monstrous tyranny of material greed”. By expanding the goal of Dandi March from independence to the larger goal of freeing the world of the monstrous tyranny of material greed he was articulating the theme of sustainable development. The Arch Bishop of Canterbury has described the movement for preservation of environment as a major spiritual movement. In fact the degradation of spiritual basis of human civilization is at the root of ecological crisis posing grave danger to the very existence of life in the planet earth. The human greed manifested in the unrestrained multiplication of materialistic appetite has to be contained, arrested and reversed to save mankind. The universal vision of Mahatma Gandhi as incorporated in his Dandi March to free the world of the monstrous tyranny of material greed is of abiding relevance for a sustainable world order.

Gandhi’s Vow Not to Return to Sabarmati Ashram 

Seventeen years after the Dandi march India became independent. Gandhiji before commencement of the march vowed never to return to the Sabarmati Ashram unless India attained independence. He never retuned and he saw India emerging as a free nation. Thirty five days before we became a free country a friend of Mahatma Gandhi wrote to him saying that independence was nearer and therefore Gandhiji should come back to Sabaramati Ashram. At that time large parts of Bengal including Noakhali were badly affected by communal riots. Mahatma Gandhi in his own characteristic way replied “ Sabarmati too far Noakhali is nearer”. He eventually went to Noakhali and restored peace there by acting what Mountbatten called “as the one man army”. On the day when India awoke to freedom Gandhiji was not in Delhi but in riot affected parts of Bengal. Lure of office paled into insignificance in quest for compassion and dignity of life. The spirit of Dandi March prompted him not to remain confined in Delhi, the seat of power, but to proceed to the areas where people were suffering. His human touch, empathy and the practical spiritualism which were the driving forces behind the Dandi March provided solace and acted as balm to the victims of maddening communal violence. The commencement of the celebration of seventy fifth year of independence began on 12th March 2021 which marks the ninety first anniversary of Dandi March.

Mauritius Preferred to be Independent on 12th March, the day Gandhi Started Dandi March 

When Mauritius became independent in 1968 it chose to become independent on 12th March. Its leadership preferred that date because Mahatma Gandhi started Dandi March on that date in 1930. President of India Shri K R Narayanan during his State visit to Mauritius invoked that decision of the leadership of that country to become independent on the day when Gandhi started Dandi March on 12th March and quoted a Hindi poet of Mauritius who composed the line "Bara March ko Aaya Hamara August Pandrha", "On twelfth March came our August 15th".

 Our country is yearning for the spirituality, which became the guiding force behind the Dandi March. Let us and the leadership of India examine themselves and turn the search light inwards and revive a bit of the moral message of that epoch making March to celebrate 75th anniversary of India’s Independency . If we can do that we can take a purposive step towards realizing the goal for which Mahatma Gandhi and countless others dedicated themselves to the very end of their lives. Let us be inspired by the eternal message of the Dandi March, regenerate the polity, society and nation and salvage India from toxic majoritarianism and divisiveness in the name of religion and caste.

*(Author was Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan)

[This is an updated version of the earlier article published in the Mainstream, Vol.43, No.15, 2nd April, 2005, on the occasion of the seventy fifth anniversary of Dandi March]

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