THE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE CAMPAIGN BEGINS


In his letter to the Viceroy which was published in the last issue of the Reformer, Mahatma Gandhi informed his Excellency that if he did not received a satisfactory reply by the 11th instant, he would proceed with his co-workers to disregard the provisions of the salt law. The Viceroy's reply, conveyed through his Private Secretary, was very brief. It was dated March, 7th New Delhi as follows. "His Excellency the Viceroy desires me to acknowledge your letter of March 2nd. He regrets to learn that you contemplate a course of action which is clearly bound to involve violation of the law and danger to the public peace." Next day, Mr. Vallabhbhai Patel left Sabarmati to make arrangements for the reception in the villages, on the route to the seaside place selected for the commencement of operations, of Mahatma Gandhi and his company who were to march on Wednesday morning the 12th instant. At one of these villages, he was served with an order under the Police Act not to make any speech, and on his saying he would not obey it, he was at once arrested, put up before a Magistrate, was sentenced to 3 months simple imprisonment on his pleading guilty to the charge of disobeying the Police order, and taken and confined in the central prison at Sabarmati. Mr. Vallabhbhai Patel, or as he is popularly know Sardar Vallabhbhai, is the brother of the Hon. Mr. Vithalbhai Patel President of the Indian Legislative Assembly, and like him, is a Barrister-at-Law. He has been one of the inner circle of Mahatma Gandhi ever since the commencement of non-co-operation ten years ago. He was elected President of the important Municipality of Ahmadabad city five years ago, and showed a zeal, energy and initiative in the administration which was almost unique in non-official municipal executives and which made his regime memorable in the history of that large industrial city. His success as a practical administrator was recognised by the Bombay Government in their review of the work of the municipality. But his great achievement, which established his reputation as a born leader of men, was the organisation of the  peasanty of Bardoli, a large in the Surat district, to resist the increased assessment on their lands which Government had sanctioned.
The story of this movement which Mr. Vallabhbhai brought to a triumphant issue, has found an able and sympathetic chronicler in Mr. Mahadeo Desai who has written a very readable bok of 360 pages, published by the Mahatmaji's Navjivan Press,  Ahmedabad. Mr. Vallabhbhai maintained that the rules of Government regarding the revision of land assessment, had not been carried out in this case, and demanded a fresh enquiry. Government were obliged to grant it, and the report made by their own committee of two English officials, fully sustained Mr. Vallabhbhai's contention. Fresh orders were passed in supersession of those sanctioning the increase of assessement. This was an unprecedented event in Indian administration, and Mr. Vallabhbhai's fame as a leader rose high in the country. But he kept his head cool and was not in the least elated by his success. On the contrary, his experience gained during the struggle, turned his thought in the direction of constructive social work as the first necessity for setting the peasants on their feet and make them self-reliant. He began an intensive campaign against the curse of drink and carried it on with such effect that in several villages Government had much difficulty in selling the right of vending liquor to the people. In the midst of this campaign, he was called to preside over the Tamil Nadu political conference at Vedaranyam in the extreme south of the Peninsula. When a resolution of Independence was introduced, he thrust it aside as academic and it was not passed. This incident if of significance in connection with his imprisonment in the course of his activities in connection with the Lahore Congress resolution. Mr. Vallabhbhai was strongly opposed to the Lahore resolution both as regards Independence and civil disobedience along with several other staunch Congress workers. But when at Mahatma Gandhi's instance, it was adopted, he out of loyalty to Mahatmaji in whom he implicitly believes as a "pious saint" threw himself with his accustomed energy into the task set to him. His imprisonment is a serious deprivation to Mahatmaji who said at a mass meeting in Ahmedabad that he had not dreamt that Vallabhbhai would be arrested before him, and that without him he felt as if he had lost his right arm. 
But Mahatma Gandhi had made his plans. For a moment, he was impelled to start his own great march a day or two earlier on account of Mr. Vallabhbhai's arrest. But he dismissed this impulse and stuck to his original program. He went about the daily routine as if nothing unusual was about to happen. At the dawn of Wednesday the 12th instant, he had his usual prayer meeting for the inmates of the Ashram. His congregation on this occasion was enormously increased by hundreds of visitors whom he addressed exhorting them to non-violence and patient perseverance in the course in which he was embarking. Then he visited those who were sick in the Ashram and stepped out punctually at 6.30, as arranged, at the head of his band of implicit believers in non violence on his memorable march to the village of Dandi on the Surat coast where the law forbidding the production and removal of salt is to be deliberately and publicly violated. Up to the time of writing (Friday morning) the march is going according to time-table without interruption. The whole country is watching with breathless interest the result of this struggle in which the protagonists are a frail old man clad in a loin cloth and the sturdy Policeman with a stout lathi behind whom is ranged the whole strength of a mighty Empire. Let us not be unfair to that Empire. An autocrat would have solved the problem at least for the time being by hiring a gang of rufflans to deal summarily with the satyagrahis. Democracy has many faults but it has a moral conscience which is decisive in the long run. And it is not only the British democracy which is gravely exercised in mind over Mahatma Gandhi's great experiment. All the democracies of the world are watching to see how the British democracy will deal with this essentially moral problem. Let us hope that British statementship will prove fully equal to the occasion, and that now as in the long past Britain will maintain her reputation, to use the words of Swami Vivekananda, as the world's great political Guru. 

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