Last week was the 93rd anniversary of the culmination of the Dandi March. On April 6, 1930, having walked for 24 days and nearly 400 kilometres, Mahatma Gandhi made salt from the sea. By some accounts, he picked up a handful of salt mud and announced, “With this salt, I am shaking the foundations of the empire.” Gandhi was breaking a law that had been in force for 42 years. The idea to mix salt with a protest march was possibly last-minute. In his book On the Salt March, Thomas Weber quotes Gandhi as having said some years later, “I had not the ghost of a suspicion how the breach of Salt Law would work itself out… But like a flash, it came.”
Pinch of salt
The ceremonial gesture happened in the early hours of April 6 and then, in the afternoon, some people from the Dalit community came to meet Gandhi. They had a campaign of their own. Dr B.R. Ambedkar had launched the Kalaram Temple Entry Satyagraha at Nashik that March. Ram Navami was two days away and Dalits wanted to participate, but the temple doors were obdurate. (If you knew this already from school history texts from whenever, that would be something.) Whatever it is that Gandhi said did not satisfy them. For a while, it appeared this campaign and that would clash.
That Ram Navami day of 1930 was fraught with tension. There was agitation outside the temple, chaos and consequent injuries, but there was no entry. Gandhi was accused of sacrificing the Dalit cause for Swaraj. He was aware of this criticism, but he had his own theory of timing --- a near-equal society could be achieved only once Swaraj was a reality. He held the British government responsible for fanning trouble. Weber quotes Gandhi as having said: "The Government knows that the Sanatanists are in the wrong. But what has it done?… It was open to the authorities to get together the Sanatanists and reason with them. It was open to them to reason with the untouchables and ask them not to precipitate a fight. But this required an impartial mind… the Government is not disinterested. It rejoices to see the parties quarrel and then side with the strongest.”