The Romance of Salt

The Romance of Salt

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Book Specification

Item Code: IDE399
Author: Anil Dharker
Publisher: Lotus Collection Roli Books
Language: English
Edition: 2005
ISBN: 817436298X
Pages: 238 (Color Illus: 7, B & W Illus: 17)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8" X 5.8"
Weight 500 gm

Book Description


The Dandi Salt March of 12 March 1930 need not have happened at Dandi, it need not have been about salt and it need not have been a march. What made the event a landmark in India's freedom struggle was the synthesis of these disparate elements into a unit, which was so breathtaking in its simplicity that it captured the world's imagination. But then, Mahatma Gandhi always had a gift for striking imagery.

The march's genesis goes back, in a sense, to the appointment of the Simon Commission. On 2 November 1927, prominent Indian political leaders like Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Dr. M.A. Ansari and M.A. Jinnah were summoned by the Viceroy and handed over a document announcing the appointment of a Royal Commission to be headed by Sir John Simon. Gandhi, who had to travel over fifteen hundred kilometers to get to Delhi, wondered why the document couldn't posted. Especially because the composition of the commission and its terms of reference were so disappointing.

The surprising element in the appointment of the commission was its timing: the Indian Reforms Act of 1919 under which the British governed India, contained a clause for a review of the constitutional position after ten years. The two involved parties saw this bit of legalese in their own light: British politicians of the ruling Conservative party saw it as an escape clause; Indian nationalists saw it as a route to future concessions. Either way, the review wasn't due until 1929. In bringing forward the date by two years, the British Government was being too clever by half: it sought to convey the impression that it was being too clever by half: it sought to convey the impression that it was being sympathetic to nationalist aspirations; while in fact, the real reason was different. The portents in Britain clearly indicated that the Labour government would win the forthcoming general elections. The conservatives wanted to ensure that they rather than Labour appointed the commission for India.

People, of course, saw through the ruse. Anger mounted even further when Lord Birkenhead, Secretary of State for India, announced the composition of the commission. Except for the chairman Sir John Simon, its other members were seen as 'second flight men'. Worse, all seven members were white and British. In a commission which was to look into the constitutional position of India, there wasn't included a single Indian. As it happened, Lord Sinha, an Indian life peer in the British parliament, was available and would have provided a sop to nationalist sentiments.

Birkenhead's arrogance in ignoring these feelings resulted in the commission being seen, not as a body which would give serious consideration to constitutional matters, but as an inquisition by empire builders into the fitness of Indians for self-rule.

Such a notion galvanized the Congress. It decided to boycott the commission 'at every stage and in every form'. Nationalist feelings were aroused so strongly that parties of every political affiliation came together on an anti-Simon programme.

Birkenhead's response was to set a challenge. I have twice in three years during which I have been secretary of state, he said, invited our critics in India to put forward their own suggestions for a constitution to indicate to us the form in which in their judgment any reforms of constitution may take place. The offer is still open.

These were the beginnings of a process, which culminated in the Indian congress Lahore Declaration of December 1929. A series of All-Parties Conferences took place in India to draft a Constitutional Scheme. The Nehru Report, a project headed by Motilal Nehru, was presented at the last of the All-Parties Conferences. It advocated a parliamentary system of government under a dominion status for the country. The younger elements of the congress wanted nothing less than complete independence. Thus there were now two camps in the Congress: the older, more careful leaders led by Motilal Nehru advocating dominion status, opposed by the younger, more radical group led by his own son Jawaharlal Nehru.

These camps were heading for a collision in the Calcutta Congress session of December 1928. Gandhi became the mediator and affected a compromise: the Nehru Report was adopted. The government was given a year to accept its provisions in toto. If, however, it had not been accepted by 31 December 1929 congress would raise the stakes and demand Complete Independence. And fight for it, if necessary, by using non-violent non-cooperation.

In that one year, a great number of things happened. Industrial labour was getting militant with strikes in Bombay and Jamshedpur. Violent acts, termed 'terrorist outranges' took place in many parts of the country, the most famous of them being Bhagat Singh and B.K. Datt's bombs famous of them being Bhagat Singh and B.K. Datt's bombs hurled into the Central Legislative Assembly. Not to kill anyone, they said, but 'to make the deaf hear'. A bomb had also gone off under the Viceregal train as the Viceroy neared Delhi from a trip to South India. Such signs of unrest were to be seen everywhere and violent acts were applauded throughout India, with the young anarchists being regarded as heroes and martyrs.

After that, all roads had to lead to Lahore. Especially when it was clear that whatever the nationalist sentiments, whatever the act of violence and whatever the British concern about the law and order situation, the government wasn't going to relent on political issues, whether based on dominion status or otherwise. A lot of that had to do with the fact that even if the government in Britain was getting more liberal, there was a very strong feeling in Britain, and especially in the British parliament, against making any 'concessions' to the Indian political leadership. The Viceroy, setting in Delhi and feeling the heat of direct action, proposed. British MPs, sitting in London and feeling the fervour of possession, disposed.

The Lahore Congress was held in the last three days of 1929. Under the president ship of Jawaharlal Nehru (his name was put up, incidentally, by Gandhi), the Congress adopted a resolution asking for Swaraj, Complete Independence. The plan of action was to include boycotting elections and resignations from government political positions. Details were to be worked out by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) which was authorized, 'whenever it deems fit, to launch upon a programme of Civil Disobedience including non-payments of taxes'. 26 January was declared 'Purna Swaraj' (Complete Independence) Day. Purna Swaraj Day wasn't meant to be the start of Civil Disobedience. The day was marked instead by the unfurling of Independence flags and hundreds and hundreds of people throughout the country declaring:

We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy and fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life so that they may have full opportunities of growth. We believe also that if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them, the people have a further right to alter it or to abolish it.

We hold it to be a crime against man and God to submit any longer to a rule that has caused this fourfold disaster to our country. We recognize, however, that the most effective way of gaining our freedom is not through violence. We will therefore prepare ourselves, by withdrawing, so far as we can, all voluntary association with the British Government and will prepare for Civil Disobedience, including non-payment of taxes. We are convinced that if we can but withdraw our voluntary help and stop payment of taxes without doing violence, even under provocation, the end of this inhuman rule is assured. We therefore hereby solemnly resolve to carry out the Congress instructions issued from time to time for the purpose of establishing Purna Swaraj.

Although the All India Congress Committee was authorized to formulate a plan and put it into action, everyone knew that the onus was squarely on Gandhi's shoulders.

Did Gandhi have a plan? Would a new campaign be called off just as it was gathering steam as Gandhi did in 1922 following the killing of twenty-two policemen in Chauri Chaura? The second question bothered Congress radicals, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru. Gandhi's response came in a press interview: 'I am trying to conceive a plan whereby no suspension need take place by reason of any outside disturbance – a plan whereby Civil Disobedience once started may go on without interruption until the goal is reached. In his weekly journal, Young India, he elaborated on the idea a bit further. 'To English friends', Gandhi began his article 'that Civil Disobedience may resolve itself into violent disobedience is, I am sorry to have to confess, not an unlikely event. But I know that it will not be the cause of it. Violence is there already corroding the whole body politic. Civil Disobedience will be but a purifying process and may bring to the surface what is burrowing under and into the whole body.

As to the first question of whether he had formulated a plan, his reply to Rabindranath Tagore was frank. I am furiously thinking night and day. But I do not see any light coming out of the surrounding darkness.

For Gandhi, the problem stemmed from a reality everyone shied away from but which he, in his usual frank way, enunciated: 'It is a gross misrepresentation of the true situation to say that the masses are impatient to be led to Civil Disobedience, and that I am hanging back. I know well enough how to lead to Civil Disobedience a people who are prepared to embark upon it on my terms. I see no such sign on the horizon. But I live in faith.

In spite of this gloom, Gandhi knew that he had a core group ready and prepared for action. If the country is able to do nothing and I see the fitness of the ashram inmates, something can certainly be done through them.

The inmates of Sabarmati Ashram were certainly ready for the Civil Disobedience Movement. The regime they were subjected to was though and unrelenting. They were the men and women closest to Gandhi, certainly in the physical sense, and being close to Gandhi was certainly not the most comfortable place to be in.

From the Jacket:

When Mahatma Gandhi set off for the historic Dandi March on 12th March 1930, why did he choose salt as a symbol of British imperialism? Why did the East India Company throttle, then kill the salt industry in Bengal and Orissa? Why did the British build a hedge which stretched over 3000 km just to thwart salt smuggling?

Salt, that innocuous substance we dismiss as common salt, has played an uncommon role in the history of mankind. Wars have been fought over it, Kings and emperors have enriched their treasuries by imposing tax on it, odes have been written about it, it even played a role in the French Revolution. Myths and superstitions have grown around it, babies are baptized with it and evil spirits are banished by it.

'Salt, Another four-letter word for Life. We take it for granted, dismiss it as common salt, but without it, we couldn't exist. It's in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. It's in semen and in urine. It's in our biological tissue and is a necessary component for the functioning of cells.

In short, salt literally gives life. In Hinduism in fact, that's how the world began, with the churning of the primordial sea. Our seas teem with life, their fecundity seems limitless and their salty waters sustain our life.'

The Romance of Salt takes you on a fascinating journey through history featuring this magical substance. You will never look at a salt shaker in the same way again.

About the Author:

At various stages in his life Anil Dharker has been an engineer, a film critic, a film censor and a promoter of New Cinema (with the National Film Development Corporation). He has worked in television as producer and anchor, as well as heading a new channel then poised to take off. His television criticism was published in Sorry, Not Ready to rave reviews. He is best known, though, as a journalist, as editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, The Independent, Mid-Day and Sunday Mid-day, as well as a columnist for The Times of India, The Hindu, Mid-day, Khaleej Times and Gulf News. His column Dharker's Dilemma had a large following amongst both passionate loyalists and infuriated readers.



Part 1
Prologue 3
The Ashramites of Sabarmati 9
The Choice of Weapons 20
The Girding of Loins 28
The Medium and the Message 43
The Final Countdown 54
The March to Dandi 81

Part 2
The Stuff of Life 119
Salt Through History 129
Salt Wars 139
Dead Sea, Live Seas 148
Superstition and Myth 153
The Way of All Flesh 161
Literature, Art and the Cellars Market 172
See How It Runs 196
Ladies of Salt 207
Giving Life to Life

Select Bibliography 226

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